Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kerry Blue and Primary School

The day started off in exciting fashion when young Matthew from across the road knocked the door and presented me with a curly haired terrier. 'Twas very likely a full bred Kerry Blue if I know my dogs. It was a lolloping, friendly, tonguey sort of a dog when presented with humans. However, as soon as it met Stenchbreath it jumped on top of her and got medieval on her neck. To quote the Kerry Blue wikipedia entry "they have always been loyal and affectionate towards their owners and very gentle towards children but were often considered downright mean toward other animals including other dogs." I concur on this limited evidence.

So I tied the animal to the fence with Stenchbreath's spare lead and phoned the Dog Warden. I got an answering machine and left a message. Then I rephoned the answering machine half an hour later. Next I rang the council switchboard and politely asked what I should do with the creature. They finally got a warden to contact me and said they'd send someone out.

With the situation in hand I went out for an afternoon stroll. I met a young girl coming down the road shouting what sounded like "Taxi! Taxi." When I got closer she asked me if I'd seen her dog Pepsi and after asking her for a description I reckoned the captured beast was hers. She set off with with barely a by-your-leave and soon child and animal were reunited to scenes of unbridled joy. Champagne corks were popped, the sky was black with tossed hats etc etc and the dog warden was turned around and set on his way via a quick phone call. Which was lucky for the wee girl, as I don't think brer pooch was licensed.

The second part of the day's exciting adventures was a trip to my old primary school. Built in about 1975, the old school building has come to the end of its lifespan and is being demolished in favour of gleaming new facilities on the same site. The 1970s seem to have been the era of the jerry-built school with their flat leaky asphalt roofs and flimsy corrugated plastic window fittings. Compare this to the many sturdy Victorian school buildings, built to last like the churches of the day & still in use.

I was a bit apprehensive about going because I didn't really enjoy primary school and thought it might evoke bad memories. But it was fine. Everything was amazingly familiar, even though I hadn't set foot in the place for well over 20 years. It wasn't like stepping back in time, it felt like I'd never been away. Maybe that's because I've worked as a primary school since.

The only person I talked to out of my year was a person I see regularly anyway. The only teacher
I talked to didn't remember me. But it was good to have a look around the old place. Everyone was enjoying themselves but we were unceremoniously chucked out at 9.00pm sharp. First time I've ever been forced to leave the school gates. And I didn't even claim my free styrofoam cup of boxed red wine.

The current pupils told me they are getting a week off while the building is demolished, but they're annoyed because they have to bring work home with them. It's a hard knock life.

Someone has put my P1 class photo on Facebook. I wish I got still grow my hair like that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Credit Crunched

The credit crunch comes to Ballyholme. Not one of the houses on this street are worth less than half a million quid so I doubt if there's too much belt tightening going on here. Maybe that's part of the writer's message.

However, unemployment is rising steeply in North Down. The dole office are taking on extra staff and staggering sign on times.
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Sisyphus clears the sand at Ballyholme

Every month or so North Down Borough council sends a backhoe digger and a lad with a shovel down to Ballyholme Beach to clear the sand from the lower part of the promenade. They dump the sand in mounds, as seen to the left and below; these were much bigger a day ago but the tide has already eaten most of them away. Their Canute inspired efforts are completely pointless; within a few days the sand has already starting building up again.

When I were a lad there wasn't any sand on this part of the path. Is it a sign of global warming, with rising sea levels driving the sand onto shore? Perhaps the promenade has become eroded by the constant crashing of sea, sand and stone? Maybe.

However, the failure of the council to upkeep the groynes is the most likely culprit. The entire landscape at Ballyholme Beach was a magnificent piece of Victorian engineering, with its raised promenades, sea walls, sweeping grass banks, bridges and elevated roads above. Central to the enterprise are the aforementioned groynes. Recognizing that the tide sweeps along the bay from west to east, these sea defences were added at regular intervals to prevent the sand from building up at the Groomsport side of the beach.

Sadly the century-old groynes are succumbing to the elements & are in dire need of repair. I read in the local paper that this would cost £40,000. It doesn't seem a lot to save a genuine tourist amenity, particularly as the water service are currently installing new drains to (hopefully) solve the pollution problems.

Meanwhile, the council has just voted in an 8.1% increase in rates, the second largest rise in the province after Fermanagh. In order to save a little money, £14,0000 to be exact, our representatives voted that toilet blocks should no longer be opened during the evening. One councillor, who manages to combine his local duties with a well-paid MLA job at Stormont, claimed that families or tourists wouldn't use the facilities, only "late night revellers." Yes, on the long summer evenings in June & July everyone in this town goes to bed at 6pm leaving Bangor in the hands of crazed drunks hanging out at the bogs.

I have heard dark rumours that the monster, monstrously expensive new wind turbine at Balloo isn't fit for purpose. I'm all for renewable energy - as long as it works. Maybe our DUP members have installed a deliberate 'own goal' to fuel Sammy Wilson's righteous crusade for more carbon emissions.

Here's the path in question; two days after the clearance team have left the sand is already starting to build up on the left hand side.

Click on the photos and they become huge.
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Masterchef 16/2/09

Welcome to Masterchef for semi-final time. Now, Masterchef doesn't have semi-finals and a final in an FA Cup knockout head-to head style. Instead, they start off with a big load of contestants and whittle away until they decide have enough left to contest a final. It's more like Big Brother. Sometime this seems cruelly arbitrary, as in last week's "best of the best previous losers" quarter-final when a poor lass didn't even get to cook. She was shown the door because she couldn't identify a random selection of fishes and root vegetables laid out on a table. Less 'Masterchef' than 'Master of bizarre parlour games.'

So tonight, we've got 6 contestants and tonight we're paring them down to 4. I presume that by the end of the week we'll have 3 left, in time for next week's finals.

So it's Angela, Andy, Chris, Christopher, Dennice and Mat livin' the dream.

It's just one simple task tonight. CHICKEN! CHICKY-CHICKY-CHICKY-CHICK-CHICK-CHICKEN! They have one hour to produce a restaurant quality chicken dish. Sadly no-one is doing twizzlers, and there's nary a jar of Chicken Tonight in sight.

First up it's Chris, a 40 something call centre manager who wants 'a life in food' which could be a bit Peter Greenaway but probably has a different meaning. He has Cypriot heritage but usually cooks Thai food, though tonight he's gone all retro and is doing a simple meat and veg dish - chicken baked with leeks and bacon, carrots, Tarragon sauce and a spud gratin.

Next we have Angela, a 22 year old office temp. Has something of the Nigella about her. She's "wildly exciting" claims Torode. Giddyup! She's heavily into experimenting. With her cooking. She wowed the judges with her Basil and Lemon (!!!!) tart in the last round. Determined to keep on with her crazee concoctions, tonight she's offering chicken stuffed with aubergines & pine nuts, a peach and basil sauce (!!!!!) and peach and potato cakes (!!!!!!????!!!!.) Good luck with that.

Christopher ticks the Masterchef cliche checkcard early doors by announcing he "wants to open a deli." I'm still waiting for the Masterchef contestant who wants to open a burger stand. He's young, he's hip, he's happening, but he's inexperienced as he hasn't been at it long. And he hasn't been cooking long either. He's doing a sort of Chicken Wellington, bird stuffed with mushrooms and baked in flaked pastry. Sounds pleasant to me.

Andy is the comeback king, the best of the best of the best of last year's losers from last week's quarter final week. His magnificent ravioli got him here, described as one of the best dishes ever by the judges. Even better than that Heinz ravioli in tomato sauce your mum gave you for tea when you were a kid? I doubt it, that was a quailty tea. He's described as 'arrogant' by Greg and he proves this by doing pretty much eff-all with his chicken: a quick fry with a noodle side-salad that seems to require minimal effort. It looks more Ready Steady Cook than M'Chef. Will it be enough?

Matt is a forager. He collects his own food. Even dives for it. If it's a choice between a five minute trip to Tesco's for scallops or a six hour round trip to the seaside to fanny about underwater with a waterproof torch & an oxygen tank he'll choose the latter. Possibly. He has a weird Kiwi-English garbled accent and looks like Tolkien's Gimli. His food is plain and rustic and he freely admits he can't do that fancy-dan presentation. It's chunky and hearty and there's plenty of it. I like him, and think he's good.

Lovely Afro-Carribean lass Dennice is a social worker and mum of four. She's got eff-me boots and a magnificent barnet not seen this side of the glory days of Jason Lee that makes her look like a walking palm tree. She's very nervous. She's cooking chicken, carrots and a thing called a polenta & onion cake. For those who remember Chris Morris' fictional drug 'Cake' on the infamous Brass Eye episode: that's what Dennice's polenta and onion cake looks like. It's roughly the same size too.

So, down to the judging. "Your time is up, step away from the benches!" bawls Gregg, with the air of a LA cop with his finger on the Tazer trigger.

And so, we'll hastily summarise the results:

Angela - her peach and basil based nonsense was as awful as it sounded. G & T give her short shrift, basically telling her it's complete crap, and the tears well up before she gets shirty and defends her experimental style. She's gorn.

Christopher - One part of his dish is too salty, the other part is underseasoned, but otherwise it's delicious.

Andy - Gets told off for doing eff all but his food is lovely & the noodle salad is crunchy & crispy with a delightful sauce.

Matt - Gets told off for having too much chicken and too much meat, no balance. Sounds ridiculous, what? Don't listen to them Matt, serve it large and hearty like you're feeding a coachload of Texans. If it's too much I'll get a doggy bag.

Dennice - While her food is being judged she's shaking and quivering like the proverbial shitting dog. All well and good apart from the ridiculous big polenta cake. I'm no gourmet but even Blind Tony could see that. It's like "a big alien thing that's landed on the dish."

So the six entrants retire while G & T go through their brief deliberations. They return to the maudlin strains of Adele's 'Hometown Glory' before that low, ominous one note Moog tone kicks in, straight out of Pertwee-era Dr Who, that always gets played to signify high tension in this programme.

Thumbing their noses at the BBC's equality & diversity guidelines, all four men remain. The two ladies are shown the door, wiping their eyes to the strains of a rawking Coldplay tune, while the fellas clink champagne flutes. And so onto "the most intense cooking experience of their lives..........."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The day after Valentine's Day


A deflated heart-shaped balloon tied to a tree. Insert your own metaphor/simile.
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Italy - Ireland

Italy - Ireland was brutal. On the eyes. The second half was mostly one long, continuous scrum. In the first half both sides played like they had just taken up the sport and were becoming acquainted with the rules as they went along.

Tomás O'Leary used the ball with the slow deliberation of a chess grandmaster pondering his next move. Surprisingly his replacement, mini-me Peter Stringer, looked far better. He was so much much more decisive & sharper.

Heaslip had another great, rampaging game at number 8. This seems to be a golden age for 6 Nations no.8s. Think I'd still rather have Harinordoquy but Heaslip is growing in stature.

Ronan O'Gara has unfortunately started where he left off from the World Cup. He's badly short of form when kicking from hand to boot. He missed touches off penalties, had a kick charged down and dived into blind alleys when running. He's lucky he no longer has David Humphreys competing for the out-half spot. Ireland are winning despite of him, a dangerous situation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The noise

I finally discovered what was making the clanking, grinding noise on my bike which occurred once per wheel revolution. I discovered this when my left pedal worked its way off in the midst of heavy traffic on the High Donaghadee Road. The nut holding it had been gradually working its way loose.

It was one of those awkward embedded nuts that required a socket set to tighten. So I went to the nearest Poundland style shop to buy one. I hunted high and low amongst the jam-packed shelves of string, torches and allen keys until I found one.

I expected to pay a couple of quid but it was £4.99. Robdogs. Needs must and desperation drive a hard bargain so I gritted my teeth and bought it.

I went out to my tethered bike and ripped open the packaging. I soon realised I had been sold a pup as the sockets were all tiny. Only the largest one fitted my pedal nut. But it did the job. I went to tighten up the nuts holding the rear wheels to the frame but all the sockets were too small for them. Bah.

So I went to tighten up the nut holding the right pedal. But as I did so the socket holding device thingy broke. The mechanism gave way and refused to tighten any more, no matter how hard I pleaded with it. I felt like crying for a minute until I realised I was right outside the shop and after a panicky minute hunting through pockets I found the receipt (but not before finding countless other receipts dating back over the past year for a variety of big ticket items like headache tablets, fruit juice and chewing gum.)

I told the 12 year old behind the counter my problem and he called over a 15 year old and after he inspected the mechanism and briefly tried to convince me it was working, I firmly assured him it wasn't. So I got my £4.99 back and my bike is repaired. Result! Well, partially repaired. The rear wheel keeps rocking from side to side. Might need a new one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


It's the three best losers from the last series tonight. Before we've started Gregg's little voice piece at the start shouts to us "THIS WILL CHANGE LIVES!" as if it's something important, like X factor or Gladiators. Well, if the contestant wins this round, and the next, and the next after that, then they get an awful job cooking food all day for hard to please diners. Otherwise, they get to enjoy their 15 mins & it's back to the day job. Unless Gregg intends to disembowel the losers and serves their guts up to Torode on a bed of wasabi.

Tonight we've got -

Mark - big eared, big nosed, Ricky Sbragia/prop forward type. Ex Forces. Can probably catch his own food before he cooks it, expect a main course of wild elk or somesuch.

Rachel - pretty blonde, scary pale blue killer eyes, posh Dublin 4 West Brit accent. Housewife, wants to open a deli, husband on €150,000 a year I'd say, no less.

Anna - Nice plain Northern lass, seems a bit dull, but goes raspberry red in the kitchen when under pressure. Her voice stays steady and dull at all times.

First up is 'stamina day.' They've got to go to a posh London hotel to cook breakfast. 100 daft sods with money than sense have turned up. Who eats breakfast in a posh restaurant with la-di-da waiters and that? Revolution, backs, wall, etc. And the food is more Little Chef than haute cuisine. You can have eggs, lots of eggs - poached, scrambled or in an omelette. Then there's the bacon, sausage and I think I spot a pot full of simmering baked beans, presumably out of a tin. I wonder how much they charge? I'd bet there's not enough notes to wipe your arse from a fifty.

The omelette is the only fancy part, because it has little crunchy bits in it, onion or peppers or somesuch. Rachel is on omelette duty but she screws up the first one, it flops all over the plate like well trodden dog's mess. She pronounces herself "confused" by omelettes, probably not the best idea when you're on national TV auditioning for a catering role. But her second omelette is nice and crispy. The mumbling Italian chef in charge gives her a grudging thumbs up.

Anna is in charge of poached eggs. She screws up her first lot, I don't know how, how many ways can you screw up poached eggs?

Mark is in charge of scrambled eggs. He doesn't screw up. I suppose if they had a fourth contestant he'd be in charge of minding the toaster.

Then the contestants are flipped and tossed into a black cab and it's off to Kensington for the day shift. At another, virtually identical posh restaurant the contestants have to design and prepare their own main courses for more eager paying punters. "THIS IS SERIOUS!" bawls a grinning Gregg. Gordon Brown, Barack Obamas, Shimon Peres, The Talibans, are you watching? They're going to COOK! FOOD!

So, Rachel chooses big ole prawns with their shells and tails left on, sitting on a bed of couscous, with chorizo. I bloody hate having to shell my own prawns. Anna chooses sea bass and new potatoes. Mark has steak and spud rosti, with some foul looking green paintlike sauce pished all over the rim of the plate.

Torode and Gregg keep hovering about, sticking their grinning mushes through gaps in shelving like a pair of culinary peeping Toms. I would have been tempted to 'accidently' tip a pan of hot oil over the pair.

Mark is perfect at first but as the orders keep coming he cooks a steak for too long on one side. The chef informs him of the complaint and he goes puce, swears loudly and looks like he's going to cry. But he pulls his s-h-one-t together after that.

Anna keeps slightly burning the sea bass and the chef makes her throw it in the bin. Oh the humanity! It was only slightly singed, surely Gregg could have eaten it. I wish me & Stenchbreath were there, we'd have fished it out the bins.

Rachel's dish goes down a treat. She wins this round, despite omelette confusion early doors.

Back to Masterchef HQ for a two course meal. I may have missed some of this bit due the multifariousness of ingredients involved.

Anna - Mutton, spuds, carrots & beans. Then Yorkshire puddings stuffed with bananas, with a cinnamon and toffee cream. I must admit that both of Anna's courses looked delicious. They got the thumbs up from Gregg but Torode said the pudding was 'unrefined' and too sweet.

Mark - Wild mushroom and truffle soup, with giant croutons. The giant croutons seemed to be ridiculous loaf-sized lumps of fried bread that didn't fit in the little soup bowls. For mains he did salmon on a bed of spuds with a load of lonely asparagus spears stuck on the side of the plate. The asparagus didn't go down well, out of place and had 'too much iron' according to Torode. The Torode/anemia rumours untrue, then. Gregg thought the soup insipid.

Rachel - Poached lamb & boulangere(?) spuds, then a macadamia and chocolate cake with a raspberry couli (ie sauce) squirted all over the plate like something from Hammer Horror. It all went down a treat, apart from the raspberry mess which the judges found 'overpowering.'

And thus to the rousing strains of 'Tonight, Tonight' by Smashing Pumpkins Rachel was declared the victor. For her, 'the dream continues.' For the vanquished 'the dream is over.'

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Snow on 8/2/09 which disappeared all too quickly.