Monday, 30 September 2013

A Dearth of Blackberries.


This has turned out to be a bad year for blackberries. Not only are the berries very late in ripening, but they are small and dry. Indeed many of them seem to have given up on the notion of ripening altogether and remain as small green and shriveled up husks of summer disremembered.


Despite spending almost an hour searching through the local hedgerows this morning my efforts only produced enough fruit to half fill a very small bowl. If a heavy crop of blackberries is nature telling us that a hard winter is in the offing then I think that the 2013/14 winter is likely to be one of the mildest on record! Mind you that would be a fair exchange.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Basil Smells

I do really like the smell of Basil. There is a certain Mediterranean aspect to its pungent freshness. It brings back memories of luscious holidays and appetising foods, permeated with herbs and garlic. This year I grew quite a lot of basil in the greenhouse, between the pepper plants. They did considerably better than those plants which had to suffer a life outside. I have already frozen a quantity of basil leaves and today's picking will either end up in the freezer or dried in airtight jars.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Around the Bridges of Londonderry

It must be at least seven years since I have taken myself around the circular run of Londonderry, crossing the Craigavon Bridge and what is still referred to as the New Bridge. That was my selection for yesterday's exertions.


Thankfully I hadn't arranged to meet up with anyone. I know that I wouldn't have been good company. Running does give you time for solitude; time to consider; time to think. You might not come to any earthshaking conclusion, but at least you only have yourself to fall out with. Mind you it tends to be rather easy falling out with yourself. You know the trigger points. You question yourself; question your actions; question your decisions and suspect your answers have been incorrect.


I ran in an anticlockwise direction, crossing the New Bridge initially and then running up through the Bay Road Park. The tide was out and several oyster catchers were sieving the mudflats. An ancient jogger staggered past me running in the opposite direction. His running apparel would not have looked out of place on Stanley Matthews. Still he was making the effort. He wasn't joining his contemporaries at the bowling club or slipping on his slippers to watch day time television. Hopefully I will have the willpower to be running at his age. It doesn't seem that far away. It isn't.


The run turned out to be slightly longer than I had anticipated. When I reached St Columb's Park the pathway running below Rockport Park , Caw Park and the various " 'waters," was closed. Strange that. I thought it had been completed for the recent marathon. Maybe it needs to be repaired!


The bridges of Maddison County aren't as high.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cauliflower Days

Cauliflower Head, 24th September 2013


I pulled the first of the cauliflowers yesterday, a fine specimen with a tight creamy white curd. It was almost twelve inches in diameter so quite a lot of eating. Somewhat surprisingly cauliflower freezes well and they will also keep for several weeks if hung upside down in an airy, cool environment, provided you spray the protective leaves with water.


The portion of the cauliflower allocated for consumption last night was given a coating of cheese sauce. This proved to be a satisfactory accompaniment.


As well as the traditional cream coloured heads there are various hybrid cauliflowers with purple, lime green and even orange curds. Personally I would not be a fan of these ,"exotics." My experience is that they are more difficult to grow and produce smaller heads. There is also the fact that the colour fades during steaming even with the assistance of lemon juice.


Monday, 23 September 2013

Garden Tidy Up

Late September and October provide the weeks for the garden's pre winter tidy up. Today's balmy weather prompted me to start on this seasonal task, Picking the balance of the broad beans and uprooting the denuded bean plants was the first task on the list. I haven't shelled the beans as yet, but I suspect that I will end up with seven or eight pounds.


The runner beans were the next vegetable to suffer the final cull of the year. There weren't that many pods left, but enough for a couple of meals. I left the courgette marrow pants intacto, but five good sized courgettes were excised from below their turgid leaves. Hopefully I will be able to pluck a few more baby marrows before the first frosts fatally burn the plants to death. I also picked a few squashes. They weren't that large, but beneath that knobbly skin I suspect that there will be sufficient flesh to provide a few soups.




Saturday, 21 September 2013

Female Bishop for Church of Ireland.

One wouldn't have thought that the appointment of a Bishop for the Church of Ireland's Diocese of Meath and Kildare would have raised a great deal of public attention, but it has. The original appointee, Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson, who had been elected in January of this year, subsequently declined the appointment after aspects of his personal life came to the fore. One would have thought that the reconvened Electoral College would have then appointed a very conservative, non contentious candidate, a safe pair of hands whose appointment would have passed under the radar of the media. No one obtained the requisite majority vote and the decision passed to the House of Bishops. Equally one would have expected them to, "play safe," but they haven't. They have appointed Rev Pat Storey as the first female bishop of the Anglican Communion in the British Isles.


I don't but doubt that she will prove to be very capable, but I have to concede that if given a vote I would have selected a male. My decision would not have been based on theological grounds, (I wouldn't pretend to be sufficiently well read to even attempt such an argument even if I supported it). No, my decision would have been on very shallow grounds. I just don't like change. I like constancy. I like tradition.


I wonder whether the decision of the House of Bishops is truly reflective of the voice of the laity?



Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Muddy Day Out.

A Range Rover Sport was the model that I had chosen to undertake the off roading in at the, "Land Rover Experience," day at Baronscourt.


Not unsurprisingly we weren't just let loose on the forest tracks in the hope that we would return with an intact vehicle. Every vehicle had its instructor or, in our case, an instructress by the name of Jill. She was certainly very knowledgeable about its mechanics as well as being able to issue appropriate instructions so that we didn't plonk our right feet on the brake when descending, or oversteer. I don't doubt for one minute but that the technical explanations were totally correct, but they were above my head and I was after all trying to steer this horseless carriage. A petrol/diesel head I am not.


It really was quite remarkable how sure footed this Range Rover was. That I could appreciate. Deep ruts and slippery surfaces were all treated with equal disdain by this luxurious workhorse.


We went round two circuits. The first of these took us up Bessy Bell which rises up behind the ducal seat. A strange name for a mountain. To get to the summit we had to drive through the Bessy Bell Windfarm and its ten turbines. It is rather strange to look down at a Windfarm rather than having to raise your eyes to it.


The second circuit which was closer to the house was somewhat shorter ,but probably a more difficult course with more mud and slippier surfaces. I suspect that Jill gave a sigh of relief when we had the car back in the courtyard with only a good coating of Co Tyrone mud spoiling Its paintwork.


Land Rover and Baronscourt Mud


Today promises to be a day of driving a rather expensive vehicle at silly angles up and down rutted slopes and through swollen becks. The venue for this jaunt is Baronscourt Estate, just outside Newtownstewart. I think that I must definitely have been on the B list for this beano as I was only approached with an invitation last week. Still a freebie day out was not to be sniffed at and I deigned, (graciously in the circumstances), to accept Mr Land Rover's invitation to churn up the mud in the demesne of the 5th Duke of Abercorn.


I wonder how much our Indian cousins are paying His Grace to rent this backdrop for their event? It is strange and not a little disappointing that ownership of both the Land Rover and the Jaguar margues should have passed to the sub continent.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Plastic Bags and Plastic Notes.


It has been a strange week for plastic. It has been vilified and lauded almost in the same breath. Young Cleggy, otherwise known as Nick Clegg, has announced that a 5p plastic bag tax will be levied in England from 2016. I wonder how he came up with this great political wheeze? Could the fact that both Wales and Northern Ireland are already making the charge and that Scotland will be doing likewise from 2014 have had any bearing on the febrile mind of the member for Sheffield Hallam? No doubt he will point to this announcement with great pride at the next general election. It really does show what an important role Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems play in the coalition government.


Meanwhile that dear old lady of Threadneedle Street, the Bank of England ,has risked social obloquy by proposing that plastic banknotes be introduced. There is now to be a period of consultation with a final decision being made in December. We are being told that the new polymer notes will last longer and will prove to be more economical in the long term. And then there is the real clincher of an argument. You can leave them in your trouser pockets and give them a jolly good clean in the washing machine! I for one do not want a plastic, "Winnie," in my wallet come 2016.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Stroke City Park Run


The life of an aged runner saw me turn out for a Park Run this morning. This was my third ever Park Run and third venue visited. Portrush and Ballymena respectively provided the locales for runs one and two. Today I travelled to Londonderry for the standard 9.30 start.


Four others from my training group were among the sixty eight individuals who turned out for this invigorating start to the day. We had arranged to do a drill session after the run so we were under strict instructions not to race. This was to be an AT effort, maybe seventy five seconds back from race pace. The starting point was on the quay just downstream from the Council Offices. We ran up towards the Peace Bridge, crossed it and then ran to a turning point in St Columb's Park before retracing our steps. Obviously the course has been measured, but it didn't feel like five kilometres. Maybe it was the bright morning sunshine and lack of wind that made the time pass so quickly.


Friday, 13 September 2013

Financial Services

A financial advisor chappie called with me today. Previously I had been dealing with his father. The older generation was always running late and always rushing and always trying to make up time. I was never impressed with that. He advised me by letter that I would receive six monthly reports. This was apparently an aspiration. Not a reality.


What then of the younger generation? Well he arrived on time - a definite positive. Although he was probably in his early thirties he was somewhat hesitant in his presentation. He was nervous and this was very evident. I asked him what the FSCS protection limit for investments was. He did not know. I did. Who was the advisor? He would have liked me to sign client agreement forms there and then. I didn't. When I read through them after he had left I noted that I was being asked to contract with an entity which was wrongly described. It does not exist! An error of omission certainly, but I do like accuracy.


Should I sign up to this firm? I shall have to consider the quality of the advice. It flaunts its qualifications yet a partner cannot answer a very basic question , albeit one of a regulatory nature.





Thursday, 12 September 2013

Cucumber Pickings.



My hybrid telegraph cucumber/gherkin plants are now providing rather a lot of their mixed race fruit. I will not however be saving any seed from them. The advantages and looks of the parent plants' fruit are lost in this illicit first generation cross. I suspect that the bulk of today's picking will be converted into chutney. At least that will mean that I will not have to look at their rough skin and be reminded of their stunted growth.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Moira Pottery Company

I was recently given four items of Hillstonia pottery, an ornamental jug and three planters. It seems that the manufacturer, (perhaps, "thrower," is the more accurate term), of these items was the Moira Pottery Company Limited.


Initially I thought that this business might have had a Northern Irish heritage, but this was not the case. It operated from a site some five miles outside Burton-on-Trent. Operations seem to have commenced in 1922, with incorporation following in 1928. The pottery closed in 1972 just after it had celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with the publication of a commemorative booklet. The buildings were demolished and the site became part of an opencast coal mine.


I think these items date from the mid 1960's. One of the planters still has the original price on its base, - 5/7. The planters are designed for the growing of bulbs, particularly hyacinths. I might buy some.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A Grave Visit

A friend mentioned to me at the weekend that he had accompanied his mother on a quest for her grandparents' grave. I suspect that that was what prompted me to visit the graves of my both sets of grandparents this pm. The two graves are in the same cemetery, not much more than sixty yards apart.


It is hard not to be melancholy when you stand amidst the serried ranks of tombstones, cold tablets of granite and marble. Thoughts leaf through the decades, uncovering half forgotten memories. The grandfathers died first, 1964 and 1965; then my maternal grandmother in 1968 and finally my dad's mother in 1977. I can still see them and hear their voices. I can even smell the tobacco from the pipe that my paternal grandfather habitually had clamped in the corner of his mouth. The ripples of memory circle out and lap against the shore of the present.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Numbers Game.

I have just read an article on the website of the Londonderry Sentinel regarding the attendance figure for the recent All Ireland Music Festval which was held in the city. The total number of people attending the week long hooley is reported as having been approximately 430,000. The BBC has stated that this year's festival has been described by organisers as the biggest ever. One might think that a few pats on backs would be due, but was the event the number success that is being claimed?

A spokesperson for the event's co-ordinating committee has apparently told the Sentinel's reporter that the figure of 430,000 for attendees was calculated by using the spatial capacity of the city centre. If I am correct in my interpretation of this phraseology this is tantamount to saying that the attendance figure for any event equates to the capacity of the venue. So if a band played a sixty thousand seater arena that would necessarily mean that it was playing to a packed audience of screaming fans even if the entire audience decided to forego the pleasure. A rather novel mode of calculation! I cannot imagine that a statistician would be happy with the modus operandi, but then again I am reminded of that well known quotation which Mark Twain wrongly attributed to Disraeli.

Friday, 6 September 2013

An iPad App.

I don't have very many, "apps," on the old iPad and most of those I do have are free ones. Last Christmas I read an article, in I think The Telegraph, recommending an app called iXpenselt.lite. It can be used to track income and expenditure and one can set a monthly or weekly budget. The initial app is free, but once you have posted a certain number of entries, ( it took me about three months to get to this stage), you then have to pay a small fee to enable you to continue to use the facility. The paid for app is called iXpenselt. I am only using it for expenditure, but I do find it useful. It is surprising just how much you spend on certain things. With an app like this it is obviously important that you enter all of your spend. If you don't then the figures, stats and graphs are worthless. Thankfully you receive a reminder to make the necessary entries every day. There may be similar applications which are equally as good or even better, but I have to say that I am very happy with the functionality of this particular iPad application.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Emptying of the Beach


The playground bell has emptied the beaches of children with their high pitched shrieks as they run into the waves daring each other to be the first to get fully submerged in the frothy tide. The ice cream vans have retreated to the housing estates in search of calorie junkies and the lifeguards are twiddling their thumbs willing someone to enter the water and maybe even get into a little difficulty. Anything to relieve the leaden monotony. This is the lot of the small coastal resort at the end of the summer season.


Soon the lifeguards will resume their alter egos, sign up for this year's student loans and order their round of drinks at the union bar. The residents are claiming back their locale. Within a few weeks the beaches will once more be the preserve of dog walkers, the local "characters," who insist on having their invigorating dip in the briny every day of the year and myself in search of a change of scene for my training. The solicitude of the empty beach is to be welcomed.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Regularity of Figs.


The baby fig tree is now providing its second crop of the year. These are the figs that have done all their growing this year. I expect to pick about thirty during the next two to three weeks. Perhaps not enough to produce something akin to that proprietary syrup that seemed to be so much a part of Britain's post war medicine cabinet, but certainly enough to add a certain something to a few fruit salads. I wonder if modern youth's rejection of exercise has resulted in increased sales of syrup of figs and prunes? Strange the thoughts that go through one's mind!


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

To eat or not to eat that is the question.

Reports of strange giant fungi caused me to amble along a local road this morning to view the cause of this rural excitement.


There were four of them growing in the verge. One appeared to have been kicked by a passerby and was looking decidedly the worse for wear. Another had turned an orangey colour and was most definitely past its best. The remaining two had just about reached maturity and were unscathed save for a few nibbles from some long departed slug or snail. They looked a bit like white, cyclist's helmets that had been tossed into the grass and they were about twelve inches across. It would seem that they might well be giant puff-balls in which case they provide a lot of good eating. If they are not then I suppose the worse case scenario is death by poisoning!


I wonder whether I should return to their secret location and pick them?


Monday, 2 September 2013

Mean Beans

I have been pulling broad beans for about a fortnight now. The crop is reasonably good, but despite the support system which I put in place the winds have definitely played havoc with the plants. They are lying at various angles of repose. The flowers did however set well and I should have a good few pounds of produce for stashing away in the freezer.


With the yield not having been affected unduly by the buffeting of the wind I know that I should not object too much, but I don't like things being untidy. I will have to devise a more full proof system. Perhaps wide mesh chicken wire stretched horizontally at various heights would do the trick. Next year I will have the problem solved.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Athletic Weekend

This weekend effectively marked the end of track and field athletics in Northern Ireland for another year. Yesterday the Mary Peters Track in Belfast hosted the Northern Ireland Masters Athletics Championships. Some years this can be a rather badly supported event, but yesterday the aged Peter and Pamela Pans arrived in, if not exactly hordes, then certainly swarms. There was a good smattering of athletes from the Republic of Ireland and even a few from Scotland and England. Some of these yearly, "blow ins," could probably be described as émigrés, others were just eager to compete against their peers.


I decided to drop down in distance yesterday, electing for a 200m and a 400m. I also had a few runs down the triple jump runway. A reasonably successful day. I managed to keep ahead of the second placed athletes in my events.


Not being used to all out sprinting and jumping I have to concede that I had a few aches when I woke up this morning and some of them were not too dull. Despite this I paddled off to the Northern Ireland Relay Championships for the last track race of my very truncated season. I had been asked by my club to run a leg in a masters team that had been entered in the distance medley relay. Today's venue was Londonderry's Templemore track. This must qualify as the windiest track in the UK. There is no shelter. Why the local council never planted a shelter belt around it is beyond logical comprehension. My compatriots for today's racing are primarily road runners so the changeovers were perhaps not the slickest ever viewed, but at least, unlike the British 4x100m national team we managed to get the baton around the track.


Now for stamina training and the dubious, very dubious joys of cross country!