Monday, 30 December 2013

Jackets for Chickens

I was half listening to Radio 4's, "You and Yours," programme today when an item caused my ears to prick up. I was being informed about jackets for chickens. Surely this was an item for April 1st.? But no this was a serious albeit rather esoteric article.


Apparently a firm with the appropriate name of, "Omlet," has developed a jacket to keep chickens cosier during the winter months. Omlet is known for their chicken coops and they had been contacted by various of their customers who thought that their garden chickens looked cold in the snow and frost. They are currently retailing a high vis jacket and a tweed version. The high vis jacket is available in yellow or pink and it can be purchased for your clucking friends at the ever so reasonable price of £20 per twin pack.

Designing a jacket for a chicken is not as easy as you might think. The bird's shoulders have to be left uncovered so that its balance is unaffected. Six prototypes were looked at before the final version was decided upon. This does not interfere with the bird's dust bathing and sits high enough up so that the bird's feet cannot get stuck in it. A snug fit is achieved with velcro fastenings. Over one thousand of these winter warmers have been sold already and no doubt today's radio airing will help sales.

I wonder if Omlet will diversify into woollen jumpers for sheep and leather jackets for cattle?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Power of the Sea.

Today's pergrenations saw me in Portrush. The recent high winds had subsided, but there was enough wind for a few kite flyers to launch their kites over the beach. They were fairly basic kites, but still more colourful and lighter than those of my youth. My maternal grandfather made two or three kites for me. He used bamboo for the skeleton and the actual kite and its sail were constructed with brown paper. Not very hi tech but they did fly and I enjoyed the time with my grandfather. Unfortunately he died when I was eight years of age. He was only sixty six when he died. At the time I Ithought he was an old man. Now he would have been almost a contemporary. If he had had better health and managed to stagger on eight or ten years I know that my life and career path would have been very different. Whether that would have been better or more enjoyable is debatable, but I suspect that it would have been.


The storms and high seas have clearly impacted on the North coast of Northern Ireland. Huge slabs of concrete on a slipway at Portrush's East Strand have been thrown asunder. The strength of the waves that caused this damage is rather frightening. Nature definitely has the upper hand in this battle.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

City of Culture - The passing of the Baton.

The burghers of Hull must be so so excited that they are to succeed Londonderry as the UK's City of Culture. Imagine the joys they have in store. They might get a lovely white tent for a year and if they are very lucky they will host that pinnacle of the cultural world aka the Radio One Roadshow. No doubt they will also have a pyrotechnic display and some balloons and a few locals will strum their guitars, while others will stick a finger in one ear and entertain their doting mummies and daddies to culturally important pop songs. They might even have a ballet troupe arrive in town. I can see the queues already!


They will also become very well acquainted with the, "L," word during their tenure of the City of Culture accolade. This is a very important word which must only be uttered in reverent and hushed tones. Local councillors will tell everyone who will listen and those that won't, that there will be a great legacy. The owners of local businesses will be told that they are being presented with a huge commercial opportunity.


The residents of Hull should also remember that this recently generated honorific is held in such national high esteem that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will probably not have her ministerial car driven in their direction. MarIa Miller was just too busy over the last year and didn't manage to locate Londonderry on her sat nav.


I wonder if Hull will be not only the second UK City of Culture, but also the last?


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Gold in those Bottles.


Farm diversification is certainly one of those buzz terms at the moment. BBC NI have screened two series of Nick Hewer's "Farm Fixer," which tackles this very topic.


Diversification is I think a good idea, but if farms are not to become theme parks and yet further venues for the sale of coffee the diversification must be of a truly agricultural nature. That is what has happened at the Kane's Broglasco Farm at Myroe Limavady in the shadow of Binevenagh. In little more than seven years the Kane family have developed a very viable business producing rapeseed oil from what was previously a cattle feed crop. Availing of the history of the nearby Broighter Gold find in 1896 and naming their product , "Broighter Gold," has been a contributing factor to their success. This has been a true story of sustainable agricultural diversification.

Building on the success of the original, "Broighter Gold," oil the Kane family have recently produced various types of infused oil, including basil and chilli. I suspect that their sampler pack will figure on the Christmas list of many score of Northern Ireland's gourmets - and gourmands.


More Winter Colour in the Garden

Winter Jasmin

It may be almost Christmas, but that does not mean that there is no colour in the garden. The colours may be more muted, but they do bring a vibrancy to the winter's day which in some ways is more marked than the lusciousness of the ripe summer garden. There is that obvious contrast between the dull darkness of the dank days and the slightly apologetic brightness of the winter flowering shrub.

Last Rose of Summer?

Red Twig Dogwood - 22nd December 2013
Pink berried Rowan. 22nd December 2013
Pink berried Rowan. 22nd December 2013

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Salads



A week from today and the bulk of the Christmas gorging will have been concluded. By that stage I suspect that I will be looking for lighter meals. In anticipation of this impending change of diet I decided to check on the salads which I have growing in the greenhouse. Although I have not supplied them with any heat I have placed a fleece tunnel over them. I have several cos lettuce and mustard plants growing on and apart from a few small slug holes they all seem to be quite healthy and with no frost damage. It looks as if I will have a good crop of salad leaves for cutting and consuming in the aftermath of Christmas.


The Attractions (?) of Cross Country Running.

I had the dubious pleasure of running my first cross country race in 1969. There wasn't any option in the matter of participation. The entire school was obliged to ,"toe the line," in this annual running carnival. There were three races based on age, juniors, intermediates and seniors and you were running for the glory of your School House.


I didn't enjoy the slip and sliding of Cross Country running then and despite many score of similar races in the intervening forty four years I have never grown to enjoy this genre of the sport of running. Undoubtedly it helps build strength and many athletes and their coaches swear by its importance to their winter training regime. Personally I am more inclined to swear at it. Wet feet, mud caked kit, sodden spikes, continually adjusting your stride pattern and being at constant risk of ending up face down in a muddy puddle. Is it really that strange that I should want to avoid these winter experiences? I don't think so.

It has been suggested that I divest myself of £6 for the pleasure of experiencing a cross country race tomorrow. I suspect that I will not be expending funds. As Flanders and Swann correctly noted the glories of mud are for hippopotami.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Wireless Concert.

In an age where music is so readily available this advertisement of 1928 emphasises the changes that have occurred in the intervening years. It seems rather odd to think that a, "radio concert," would draw customers into a restaurant, but clearly the proprietors of, "Stevenson's," viewed that this was at the cutting edge of entertainment for the afternoon tea drinking classes. Despite the sepia tone that the image brings to mind the reality is that the British Broadcasting Company Limited was only founded in 1922 and it was on 1st January 1927 that the British Broadcasting Corporation was established. Listening to the wireless would have been something of a luxury and even a novel experience for many people just ten years after the end of the Great War.


I can't remember when this establishment finally closed down, but I suspect that it was in the early 1970's. I can certainly remember digesting various comestibles within its doors during the 1960's.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

An Old Shoe Shop

This advertisement from 1889 recently caught my eye. I have quite vivid memories of McCutcheon's shoe shop in Butcher Street. They had an agency for start-rite shoes and as a young child I was dragged along to their premises to have my shoes fitted. Indeed my first pair of shoes was purchased from this emporium.

They had a strange piece of equipment which enabled the staff member to see whether a shoe had enough space around a child's foot. This machine was undoubtedly at the forefront of 1950's and early 1960's technology, but how it worked and how safe it was I really don't know. From the front it looked a bit like a lectern or a low pulpit. The subject of the examination stepped onto the machine from the rear and manoeuvred forward as far as possible so that his or her shoe encased feet were thrusting forward into an aperture. There was a viewing window on the top of the machine and the assistant considered the scene through this and then pronounced on whether the selected shoes were the correct size for the young feet.

During the course of my memory the business was owned by the Cunningham family who lived at 1 Carlisle Terrace from the time of the construction of that house at or about the date of this advertisement until it was sold by the widow of the late Cecil Cunningham in the early nineteen eighties to a gentleman by the name of William Coulter. For many years the Cunninghams provided lodgings for the Assize Court Judge.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Shoes Maketh Man

My trusty Grenson shoes were becoming very down at heal - literally. I suppose I shouldn't complain too strongly. I do like these sturdy foot covers and there was no question of throw out and replace. No this was a job for the cobbler. After ten years and two, "rehealings," they are old friends, not just a functional cover for the old plates of meat.

There do seem to be fewer of these artisans than there used to be. I suppose this is a reflection of people tending to invest in cheaper shoes and deciding that it is more economic for them to replace worn footwear rather than repairing it. Personally I think that it proves to be easier on the pocket in the medium to long term to invest in a good quality shoe that moulds to your foot and which you repair and maintain. Anyhows the old friends were deposited with the local cobbler last Friday to have their lopsided heals excised and replaced. I collected them today after parting with the non princely sum of £9.00.

A level gait is resumed.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Holiday Read.

The Frozen Dead - Bernard Minier - Mulholland Books


Most of us will read more books whilst on holiday than we normally do. I certainly fall within this category. One of the books which I read during my recent lazy hazy sojourn was a translation of Bernard Minier's debut novel, "The Frozen Dead." What I can still remember of my O- level French forty years after the event would not be adequate to read this book in Minier's native tongue.


If one has to allocate a book to a specific genre and I suppose one must, then I think the best description for this one is probably, "crime thriller."


The backdrop for the novel is the French Pyrenees. The opening scenes involve the discovery of the decapitated body of a horse owned by a well connected local industrialist. This prompts a Toulouse police officer by the name of Servaz being sent to take charge of the resultant enquiry. The story is related through this Latin quoting character and a psychologist by the name of Diane Berg. This latter individual has just commenced work in an institution for the criminally insane which happens to be in the same valley as the equine remains were discovered in. Servaz comes across as a believable character, Diane Berg less so.


Two murders follow and there is the disturbing discovery at all three crime scenes of the DNA of one of the, "residents," of the secure unit. A nearby and now abandoned children's summer school will prove to have a connection to the deaths.


The build up to the denouement is well paced although I did find the actual climax of the novel slightly weak. However perhaps that is being rather churlish because as a holiday read it was enjoyable, - good escapism. I believe that Minier has now brought out a second novel and I would be tempted to add it to my reading list.


Death of Stamp Collecting?

Like many of my generation I was introduced to stamp collecting at quite a young age. Looking back I suppose that I cannot have been more than five or six years of age when my maternal grandfather presented me with my first stamp album. It had quite a colourful cover featuring several dozen stamps and the words, "Stamps of the World," were emblazoned across it just in case I forgot what I was to affix to its ninety six pages. In common with my childhood friends, we all seemed to start collecting stamps at about the same age, I joined the school stamp club and we spent hours swapping stamps and floating them off the corners of envelopes. It was I think seen by our parents as a pastime which had some educational merit and we were encouraged in it.
I suspect that if I now returned to my alma mater that stamp collecting would not feature as a hobby undertaken by many of the pupils. The electronic age and the birth and growth of the internet have totally changed how children spend their leisure hours. With the burgeoning of e mail and various other messaging services and social media in general the raw material of stamp collecting is in any event becoming less and less prevalent. The numbers of letters neatly folded into envelopes and with adhesive stamps affixed to the top right hand corner is declining year on year.
The world's postal authorities are still producing endless drifts of new stamps but in my view they have for the most part become gaudy sticky labels compared to the results provided by the engravure method of stamp production which arguably reached its apogee in the 1930's.

Maybe this is a pastime which has had its day and should now be allowed to pass into a footnote of social history.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Winter Colour in the Garden

Iris Foetitissima


It really is surprising what colour you can have in the winter garden. Of course there is the vivid red of the holly berry and the purple hues of the ivy and come the end of January there will be the pristine white flowers of the early snowdrops, but other colours can brighten up the winter months.

I had a brief saunter around the garden this pm after my mornings training session. The orange of the iris berries cannot be missed, nor the pale pink of the vibernum flowers. The fragrance of the latter is something which will fill a warm room with its sweet flavours. The winter months should not be written off automatically.


Friday, 6 December 2013

On the Cusp of the Year

As I am on the very cusp of what I refer to as my, "Heinz Year," I decided to treat myself to a couple of fingers of cold tea lookalike liquid tonight. I have to concede that I do like a nice whiskey. Training is scheduled for 9.30 am tomorrow so a refill is perhaps something that I should refrain from, tempting though it undoubtedly is. A thickish head is not something which recommends itself to a stomach churning hill session!


Well maybe an itzy bitzy refill!


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

That won't do nicely Ulster Bank

Yet again Ulster Bank and its parent, (RBS) have been having problems with their computer systems. Internet banking hasn't been accessible; credit and debit cards haven't been accepted and money could not be accessed from cash points.


Apologies have of course been forthcoming with some poor member of staff being wheeled out in what is becoming a very familiar damage limitation exercise. Even his lordship, ( well maybe the next birthday honours!) the Chief Executive has thought it appropriate to apologise.


Compensation has been promised for, "those left out of pocket due to these systems problems." The 2012 computer shutdown cost the Ulster Bank some £18 million in compensation payments to customers. The glitches may have been fixed or patched over more rapidly this time, but I suspect that the loss of confidence and even anger which this most recent debacle has engendered may result in consequential losses for Ulster Bank which far exceed that figure of £18 million.


It is rather disconcerting to hear RBS's Director of Customer Relations announce ,"that the Group still did not know the cause of the glitch." Will the problem reoccur?


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Londonderry's Mr Mainwaring?


There is no doubt that banking has undergone remarkable changes over the last forty to fifty years. Interest rate swaps; currency swaps; commodity swaps; derivatives et alii would seem like the vocabulary of an extra terrestrial entity to the 1950's and 1960's bank manager. The recession has prompted calls for the return of old fashioned banking, but the traditional Bank manager as personified in the character of Mr Mainwaring will not return to our high streets. The Bank branch network is shrinking as people are prodded into using internet banking. Lending decisions are taken as the consequence of credit scores. Bank Managers now have very little autonomy. Knowing your account holders, their backgrounds and their families is no longer the important factor it once was. Banking is now a very objective exercise with little room for personal knowledge and other subjective imput.


It is nearly forty years since I opened a cheque account with the Ulster Bank. The branch manager who I saw for this momentous event was very definitely a traditional Bank Manager. Apart from the lack of a moustache he didn't look unlike Captain George Mainwaring. Berry Hackett, aka, "Laughing Boy," certainly had the same build as Mr Lowe. I can't remember when he was first appointed as manager, but I suspect that it was in the early 1960's. At that time there was a long polished mahogany banking counter in the Branch with the cashiers in cubicles, no security glass and no crocodile queuing. Very definitely another era, a time when Bank Managers were provided with a house by their Bank. If my memory serves the Ulster Bank had their manager's house on the Culmore Road.



Monday, 2 December 2013

Beetroot Not Beaten Yet.

I omitted to lift the balance of the beetroot prior to flitting off on holiday. Clearly there cannot have been any severe frosts in my absence. The leaves are still untouched by winter's cold hand and the, "beets," are unscathed. I pulled a few of the beetroot to roast for tonight's munchies and I can now report, having consumed the said vegetables, that they provided a very acceptable accompaniment to the evening repast.


There are frosts forecast for the end of this week so I must remember to harvest the remaining beetroot and store them in sand filled boxes tomorrow or Wednesday.



Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sunday Run

Holidays do provide a welcome interlude and yes the warm temperature of foreign climes is enjoyable, but there is something reassuring about being back home and reverting to the everyday routine. For me that meant meeting up with my usual Sunday am running partner at Roe Valley Country Park today. Coincidentally we came across one of my former running companions, one of his sisters and her husband. Famiy life has meant that he has had to ease back from training in recent years. We joined them for our warm up. It seemed so natural that we were back running side by side and reminiscing about races of yore and our long standing running friends and acquaintances.

I yearn for life to stay the same, but age, responsibility and events provide hurdles which can't always be cleared.