Friday, 29 November 2013

Winter Training

Eight degrees centigrade, (forty six degrees farenheight in real money). Not a bad temperature for late November in Northern Ireland. The problem is that I have just returned from the slightly warmer climes of Lanzarote. Seventy six to forty six is a marked and unpleasant difference.


I have always thought that reducing the winter by a few weeks is a good idea. Unfortunately I am not in a position to head off to Happy Valley for the entire winter as certain of my forbears did. To them Lanzarote would have been a bit, "nouveau," and not quite pukka and maybe they would have been right. Well ok they would have been, but it is nice to get away from frosts, rain and winds, if only for a short time. Running and training in a temperate climate devoid of mud and rain is an easy selection.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

More Food for Londonderry?

I note that Northern Ireland's present Environment Minister, one Mark Durkan by name, has decided to recommend a mixed use planning application at Rossdowney Road, Londonderry which is to incorporate a new food superstore, (so says the Derry Journal.). Mr Durkan is reported as saying that the development will benefit the local area and the Waterside as a whole. I wonder whether the owner of the neighbourhood supermarket which is located some fifty yards from this new development would wholeheartedly agree with Mr Durkan? I think that I know the answer to that question.


Perhaps there have been food shortages in the Waterside area of Londonderry with emergency supplies being trucked in, but if there have been I haven't heard of them. In addition to the neighbourhood supermarket already referred to there is a larger supermarket within approximately six hundred yards and a large Tesco within seven hundred yards. How many supermarkets do we require? What evidence of need is there for another outlet at the top of the human food chain? I would accept that the local economy may benefit from some short term construction jobs, but if this feeder of waistlines is constructed will there be a net increase in employment in food retail in the catchment area of this, "superstore." two or three years hence? Logic says no unless there is an increase in population, or BMI's are allowed to increase, or there is a major problem with intestinal worms!


Monday, 25 November 2013

Time and Memory

Austerlitz. - W. G. Sebald. - Penguin Books

A friend gave me this book to read. He thought that I would enjoy the quiet meditative quality of its prose and its slightly melancholy attachment to time and memory. I did.


The Austerlitz of the story is Jacques Austerlitz who as a five year old is put on a Kinder-transport by his mother, Agáta and sent to England. He is placed with foster parents and brought up by them in a cold Methodist manse in Wales. He becomes Dafydd Elias and his formative identity is erased from him just as unbeknownst to him his parents are being literally erased as a result of die Endlösung. It is only after the death of his foster mother and the mental decline of his foster father that the then teenage schoolboy first discovers his true name.


Slowly, almost imperceptibly half forgotten memories flutter across his memory. He ignores these little signposts of recollection, consciously blanking out what may be his past, but with age he is inexorably drawn backwards to his heritage and the future that was taken from him.


As Sebald so presciently states, time is the executioner of our future. With incessant regularity it slices away at what is yet to come.


Cheese comes from Plants and Pasta Comes from Animals

These are among the beliefs held by a substantial percentage of the UK's schoolchildren so states the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). It seems barely within the bounds of belief that children are growing up so divorced from the countryside and without any true knowledge of where their food comes from.


BNF's research involved some 27,500 schoolchildren. Almost one in three of the 5 to 8 year old primary school children involved in the survey were of the view that cheese came from plants, ( perhaps their teacher had plonked a cheese plant in front of them at some stage and told them to draw it!) and more than one in six of the 8 to 11 year olds were proponents of the view that pasta came from animals. I am trying to imagine what animal they think produces raw pasta. Presumably a herbivore?


Lack of basic knowledge was not restricted to younger children, the research reported that ten percent of secondary age children thought that tomatoes grew underground.


How have we come to this pass? The advent and growth of the supermarket and the proliferation of ready meals with the original ingredients processed beyond recognition must bear some responsibility as must the innate laziness of our vacuum packed society. Maybe however it is simply a reflection of our increasing lack of direct personal knowledge of agriculture and food production. I wonder how many of the 27,500 children have a parent or other relative directly involved in agriculture, horticulture or fishing? Precious few I suspect. It would have been interesting to have given the children a tongue sandwich and then queried them on where the tongue had come from - or been!


Friday, 22 November 2013

Sir John Ross, PC. QC.

Born on 11th December 1853 John Ross was the eldest son of Rev. Robert Ross and his wife Margaret Christie. Rev. Ross had been installed as minister of Fourth Londonderry Presbyterian Church, (Carlisle Road) on 29th March 1850 and was to remain in this position until his death on 1st July 1894.


The young Ross's elementary education included a period at the Model School, Londonderry, (it had opened in 1862), before proceeding to Foyle College where his contempories included Percy French. He subsequently entered Trinity College Dublin where he graduated with a BA in 1877 and LLB in 1879. A member of Grays Inn, (1878), he was called to the Irish Bar in 1879 and practiced on the North West Circuit. He took silk in 1891 and was elected a Bencher in 1893.


Like many of the legal profession he entered politics and served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for the City of Londonderry from 1892 until 1895 when he was defeated. The following year at the age of forty three he was to become the youngest judge in the United Kingdom when he was elevated to the Bench as the Land Judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland. He holds the honour of being the first Presbyterian Irish High Court Judge. In 1902 he was sworn into the Irish Privy Council and in 1902 he was created a Baronet. In 1921 he reached the apogee of his legal career when he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was to be the last individual to hold this appointment, it being abolished in December 1922 at which time Sir John retired to London, but ultimately returned to Northern Ireland to live at Dunmoyle Lodge outside Sixmilecross where he was to die on 17th August 1935. He was succeeded to the baronetcy by his only son Sir Ronald Deane Ross KC, MC , MP who for a time was Recorder of Sunderland.


Sir John's wife whom he married in 1882 was Katherine Mary Jeffcock Mann, the only daughter of Lieut. Col. Deane Mann of Dunmoyle. The match was not approved of by the Manns. The young Ross had two great failings so far as the Manns were concerned, -that he was not from a landed family and his Presbyterianism. Whilst the couple did not exactly elope, Miss Mann is reputed to have walked from her father's seat to Sixmilecross where she took an early morning train to Dublin and then married Ross at St. Michan's Church, (Parish Church to the Law Courts of Ireland), with her parents being absent. The honeymoon was apparently spent riding a tandem from Dublin to Donegal.


Despite the initial antipathy if not hostility between the young couple and the Manns it is clear that relationships must have improved as Dunmoyle would ultimately belong to the Ross's. The house and its large conservatory were demolished in the mid 1960's.


A brother of Sir John Ross, Stuart C. Ross was for many years a solicitor in Londonderry. His firm was ultimately taken over by a nephew (?) Frederick Bond who continued trading under the style of "Stuart C Ross & Co," until his death, when the business was subsumed into a larger practice and the name disappeared.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gym Challenge

Gym work can be a bit boring. By its very nature it has to be repetitive, slowly building up flexibility, muscle strength or length. Accordingly when I saw a gym challenge being advertised I thought that I would give it a rattle. There was a choice of three levels of difficulty. Despite not being built along the lines of Mr Atlas I elected to attempt the most difficult level, - more reps, slightly heavier weights. The aim was to complete the exercises as quickly as possible, wasting as little time as possible between the nine constituent parts.


So what did I have to do? The following exertions made up the elements of the challenge :-

1.5 k Static Bike ride

500m row - level 10

60 hip flexors

50 press ups

80 box step ups - 20kg

60 sit ups

40 shoulder presses - 16kg

800m treadmill run at 10 degree angle.

30 Bench presses - 40kg.

It didn't prove to be quite as difficult as I thought it might, so perhaps I judged my pacing slightly incorrectly. The exercises which I found to be the toughest were probably the sit ups and the bench presses, or more accurately the last four or five reps of each. The clock stopped at something over eighteen minutes. Now for some practice and a rerun me thinks.




Monday, 18 November 2013

Concept Rowing Contest.

My indoor rowing tends to be a very solitary affair, home alone in the cellar with the concept rower and the radio playing loudly. Yesterday however I competed in a rather low key contest. Five concept rowing machines had been lined up in a row and they were linked to a large overhead screen. Ten individuals took on the 2000m challenge.


There was no attempt to seed individuals or split them into light weights and heavy weights, though for the most part the weight categorisation was fairly obvious. Five were selected at random for the first heat, self included. The large screen displayed the rowing rate of the competitors and the gaps in metres between everyone. It was not long into the row before I realised that there was no one in this heat who was going to push me. To achieve any half reasonable time I would have to force my own pace. My finishing time was 7.33.7 so very mediocre, but I was a minute a head.

The second heat panned out in a very similar way. Again there was someone who was appreciably better than the other contestants. He had more upper body strength than myself and with two hundred metres to go I was sure that he would beat my time, but I think that he must have then reached his lactic tipping point and his stroke rate slowed slightly. He finished in 7.34.1.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Cost of the Van Man.

When does performing for free result in ratepayers having to stomp up £36,000? The answer is when that performer is an individual by the name of Van Morrison. Apparently this individual has been granted the Freedom of the City of Belfast for the contribution he has made to the City. Not being a follower of his musical genre, whatever it might be, and not knowingly having listened to any of his little ditties I will refrain from commenting on whether this was a meritorious decision or not. In any event the decision was take by the city fathers and Mr Morrison now has all the quodos which attaches to a Freeman of the County of the City of Belfast and of course all the benefits.


In recognition of this great honour which was being bestowed upon him by his city of birth Mr Morrison volunteered to perform for free. The rub was that whilst he might be performing free gratis and for nothing the cost of his performance would not be free because his band and crew would require to be paid. Presumably there is also the matter of paying for security staff and stewarts at the Waterfront venue.


I have to confess that on reflection I have some sympathy for Morrison's band and crew, but why was the decision made not to charge for the tickets? Some two thousand free tickets were apparently released to the Belfast populace via a lottery system. I am told that fans will readily pay £50 and more to hear their crooner of choice. Imagine if Belfast City Council had made a profit on the event! A terrible suggestion I know but it is actually permissible.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Village Resting Place

Yesterday's events determined yesterday's apparel. It was another of those days where a dark suit was taken from the wardrobe to the accompaniment of white shirt and sombre tie. Black shoes completed the Stygian uniform. Yet another funeral required my attendance. Thankfully this was not a trajic death that was being honoured, but no funeral can be anything but sad. I cannot understand why clergymen exhort us with phrases about funerals being days to celebrate the life of a deceased. They are days of sadness, sorrow, memories and sometimes regret.


The funeral service was held in a small village church. Friends, neighbours and relatives made up the congregation. The deceased's late husband had been a farmer and many of those in attendance had complexions that vouched that they too were horny handed sons of the soil. They twisted their necks from side to side, uncomfortable with the restriction of collar and tie.


I cannot remember a time when I did not know the deceased. She was married to a first cousin of my mother and their farm provided what seemed like a boundless playground for my childhood energy. Their large family, four boys and two girls meant there was always someone to play football with, to chase and be chased by. She didn't benefit from quite the longevity of her husband, but after eighty six years I don't suppose she thought she had had a short life, but then again human nature always demands more.


The liturgy of the funeral service may be comforting, but I suspect that a rational dissection of those familiar words and phrases might have caused many of those sitting in that small rural church to intone, "Sapiens nihil affirmat quod non probat," - a wise man asserts nothing he cannot prove.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Wooden Pile


Whilst my wood splitting may have been temporarily halted as a consequence of the breaking of the shaft of my sledge hammer I have already managed to provide myself with more than two cubic metres of logs for the winter of 2015/16. Despite the physical effort involved I do enjoy blocking firewood. There is a certain simple satisfaction in providing yourself with your own fuel.


My Sunday running companion is a joiner by trade. He waxes lyrical on the qualities of various woods. Not a man of many words nor particularity demonstrative he talks feelingly of the colour and qualities of our native trees. If anyone overheard our post run conversations on the grain and colour of different woods and how easy or hard they are to cut they would probably regard us as a couple of sad old buffers. Well maybe we are, but we do appreciate the turn, grain and smell of the wood and the heat provided by the logs resulting from our travails.


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Bright Chard

Chard - Bright Lights

Swiss Chard must be one of the most colourful inhabitants of the vegetable garden. The fine specimen which features in the above photograph is a bit of a rogue plant. It is not growing next its fellow chard plants in the designated row, but rather it sprang up amongst the potatoes. Perhaps some blackbird or robin stole a seed from the row which I sowed in late spring and dropped it amongst the drills of potatoes!


It is inevitable that frosts will soon be a regular feature of the night hours. So as to provide the chard with some protection against the drop in temperatures I will place bell cloches over the better plants so that I can continue cropping them through the winter months. With a modicum of effort it is just about possible to have Swiss Chard available right throughout the year even without a tunnel house.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Portrush Parkrun Revisited

I paddled along to Portrush this am to participate in the Parkrun along the resort's East Strand. Bad decision! It is about a year since I ran in this event and it was silly of me to think that the experience would be any better. It wasn't. It was much, much worse.


I suppose that I can sort of understand why a Parkrun was established at this location. The scenery is pleasant enough, even in winter and if I had been sitting in a hostelry eighteen months ago with the mellowing affects of several snifters circulating through the bloodstream I might well have nominated this locus for a Parkrun. However on the following day I would have realised the stupidity of the notion. For a one off event fine, but this is not a suitable venue for a regular Saturday run.

You are always going to have a stretch of soft sand to wade through at the start and then again at the end, but of much more relevance are the vagaries presented by the tides. Today the high tide was scheduled for 11-20 am and there was little or no firm running. In an attempt to keep to the best of the running you just had to ignore the advancing tide and splash through it. Several horses had clearly been exercised along the beach in the early morning and the craters left by their hooves posed a definite danger most especially when the tide covered them. Picking ones way along the beach hoping that you are not going to snap an ankle can surely not have any attractions for anyone. It doesn't for me.

I don't doubt the enthusiasm of the organisers and volunteers at this event, but I do question the retention of the particular locus. Certainly keep a Parkrun in Portrush, but move it off the sand.


Garlic Planting

It was a good year for garlic, lots of large bulbs with fat creamy cloves. Rather than buying in garlic to plant for next year's crop I chose some of this year's largest bulbs to split up and provide me with my seed cloves. I have probably planted slightly too many cloves but I do like garlic and it does seem to have various health benefits. Still if they do all come and survive the winter, one hundred and fifty garlics might be slightly too many!

With rabbits still proving a problem in the garden I have surrounded the newly planted garlic patch with protective chicken wire. My shotgun toting friends have still not appeared to rid me of these turbulent pests.


Friday, 8 November 2013

A Sledge for Christmas.

A bright morning, but there was a definite nip in the air. It is often said that wood heats you twice, when you cut it and when you burn it. With this trueism fixed firmly in my mind I decided to block a few rings of wood.


The exercise most definitely warmed me up. I was starting into the third ring when the weight of my trusty sledge hammer was suddenly dissipated. The shaft had decided to part company with the head. Clearly I had not appreciated my own strength! Well perhaps fifteen years of active use of the sledge might have been the real reason for the partition of wood and metal. I will now have to persuade one of my practically minded friends to fit a new shaft to my weapon of wood destruction. It's either that or put a sledge hammer on the old Christmas wish list.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

City of Derry Building Society to Disappear

It isn't that long ago that Londonderry had three independent building societies; the Oakleaf Building Society; the City of Derry Building Society and the Londonderry Provident Building Society.


The ,"Oakleaf," was the first to disappear. It was 1980 when it was taken over by the Anglia Building Society. On 1st September 1987 the Nationwide Building Society amalgamated with the Anglia Building Society which then became known as the Nationwide Anglia Building Society. The original City of Derry Building Society was taken over by the Nationwide Anglia on 30th September 1987. That left the Londonderry Provident Building Society as the sole local building society. It changed its name to the City of Derry Building Society on 1st January 2001.


The directors of this minnow of the financial world, (£42.6m), have now announced that the Society is to merge with the much larger Progressive Building Society. In view of the respective sizes of the two entities it might be more accurate to talk about a takeover rather than a merger. The members of the City of Derry Building will have to vote for the subsuming of their Society in the Belfast based Progressive, but presumably the necessary hari-kari vote will be passed.


It is interesting and perhaps a little ironical to note that in the Accounts and Reports of the City of Derry Building Society for the year ending 31st December 2012 it is stated that the Directors, "are fully committed to the Society's future as an independent mutual building society owned by its members." Clearly ten months is a long time in the financial world!



Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Spill Rail Connector DW12C

Car safety is clearly an important issue, but it does seem strange that vehicle recalls occur with such frequency, most especially since car production lines are now so automated. Monday's postal delivery brought me one of these safety related recall letters from Mr Tata's scribe. It informed me that there might be a problem with the, "spill rail connector," of my horseless carriage.


What a spill rail connector actually is I have no idea, but apparently a few vehicles have as a consequence of this mechanical aberration experienced fuel weeping which in a worse case scenario could result in under bonnet smoke or fire. I guess that this probably does warrant a recall!


The letter assured me that this was a, "no-charge," recall. Rest assured Mr Tata that I had no intention of paying for a vehicle check necessitated by a fault in one of your factories! Anyhows it wasn't a no cost recall. My car was not collected, checked and delivered back to me. I had to drive to the dealership, wait around for the necessary check to be carried out and then drive home. Bang went my morning. I was assured that my vehicle did not have a defective spill rail connector. Hoorah!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Honking Afternoon


Today's manoeuvres saw me driving through Ballykelly in the direction of Londonderry. Even with the noise of the traffic I could hear the plaintiff honking of swans calling to their brethren in the skies over Lough Foyle. To my right, in the fields immediately below the road, there were several hundred mute swans. I pulled over to have a closer look. There were obviously rich pickings in these stubble fields.

The birds were grazing the ground with satisfied and noisy intent. Every so often a few more squadrons of their kin made rather untidy landings, eager to join the feast. Whilst food was clearly the reason for their presence they all seemed to have an equal degree of wariness of the road. Surveying the fields occupied by the swans it was as if their was an invisible electric fence some twenty yards into the fields. They fed up to this line but did not cross it. It was quite strange to see.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Donkey Serenade

I don't suppose that very many of those who, "happen upon," this post will know of or have heard of, "The Donkey Serenade." To me it did seem an obvious title, but I suppose that is because I grew up watching grainy musicals on the very small box in the drawing room. No glorious technicolor then and just about a choice of stations. It wasn't that long after the everyday story of country folk had experienced the death of Grace Archer. Another reference to something which will mean nothing to most people!


I have always liked donkeys. The fine specimens in the above photo are kept by a farmer a few miles from where I live. He presently has four donkeys as well as a Shetland pony and foal.


My maternal grandfather bought me a donkey when I was about three. This was kept at his farm and every week I would inspect my donkey and be led around on it. Unfortunately my grandfather's ill health and subsequent demise meant that my first and largest pet had to be disposed of. The farm suffered the same fate. I often play the, "what if," game. What if my grandfather hadn't suffered ill health and died at what now seems the very early age of sixty five? Would he have kept the farm? Would I have been gently introduced to the notion of taking over his farm? I suspect so, but I will never know.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sunday Duathlon.

My usual Sunday morning training was sidelined today. Instead of a brisk six mile run and various strengthening exercises with a nearish contempory I had committed myself to a run leg in a duathlon, (run, bike, run). Our team toed the line with a total of 95 years of experience. Most of the years, if not the experience was supplied by yours truly. A world champion kick boxer, a good cyclist and a rather geriatric runner, this was the make up of today's dream team.


I had been told that the event would be quite low key, but in the event ninety three individuals were at the start line including a few relay teams.The first leg was run by the son of my usual Sunday training companion. He finished his 3k strongly and passed three individuals in the run in to the changeover to bring us in a very respectable twelfth. The team, "nomme," then set off on his bike ride. No news from the course, so it was a matter of keeping warm and waiting for his arrival back at transition. The first competitor rode in, pulled on his running shoes and headed off on his second run. Some forty seconds later the next competitor arrived. Then my teammate. He had moved us from twelfth to third. It was not going to be a matter of running in the pack!


My run was over an out and in course, with the first half being slightly downhill and as a consequence the second half being slightly uphill. I managed to pass the second placed runner within a kilometre and at the turn I could see that I was catching the leader, but unfortunately not quickly enough. He still had fifteen seconds on me at the end and of course he had completed the entire duathlon without any team assistance. One does have to place these things in context.


Munchies courtesy of our cyclist's momma followed our exertions. A welcome repast.



Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Expense of Power

Mr Cameron is proposing that additional powers, including that of raising certain taxes, should be given to the Welsh Assembly. One cannot but think that as well as being something of a preemptive strike so far as the Welsh balkanisationists are concerned that this is also a message to the Scottish electorate, - stay loyal to the Union and you can have more regional power.


Why cannot it be recognised that the regional assemblies are just an additional and unnecessary level of government? Imagine the financial savings that could be achieved from dissolving these regional talk shops for good. No MSP's, no MLA's and no MWA's and none of their support staff including the layers of civil servants pandering to their egos.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Colonel Charles Patton Chambers.

This son of Foyle College and Empire joined the East India Company in 1856. He served throughout the Indian Mutiny and was in Agra during its siege. He fought in the second battle of Agra. This action would prove to be a precursor to the relief of Lucknow. In 1858 Chambers is recorded as being a Lieutenant with the 48th Bengal Native Infantry. By 1876 the then Captain Chambers was promoted to the rank of Major. A further promotion followed and on 23rd July 1879 his retirement on half pay and with the honorary rank of Colonel is formally recorded in the London Gazette. He is described as being late of the 107th Foot. A son, Charles Colhoun Chambers MC served in the Great War with 12th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and was killed in action in Flanders on 10th July 1916 at the age of 27. Colonel Chambers died in 1927(?) at King's Langley, Herts at the age of 91.


Sources: London Gazette, The Magazine of Foyle College.