Friday, 31 August 2007

The leader of the free world

I came across this comic strip today and find it very worrying. I find it worrying because Americans actually do regard their president as the leader of the free world, what is even more worrying is the idiot who is currently regarded as leader of the free world. But then again I suppose they are right - the rest of the world can only do what America regards as democratic.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Tarascon sur Ariège - Friday 17th & Saturday 18th August 2007.

Just down the road from Foix is the little mountain village of Tarascon which is a good base for exploring the nearby attractions and they also have a very entertaining festival of world music and dance.

One of the very public toilets in Tarascon.

Some of the participants in the Festival Danses et Musiques du Monde at Tarascon.

The mouth of the cave at Niaux.

Dolmen near Sem, known as the Palet de Samson, which was created by glacial action.

Visiting the cave at Niaux is a truly amazing experience, you have to walk to the paintings (no boats or trains in this cave) and you also have to take a torch (provided by the tour guide) to light your way. Not for the faint hearted - but once you arrive at the black chamber and see these amazing prehistoric depictions of bison, horses and mountain goats you know it was all worth the effort. These are fairly simple paintings (just outlines really of the beasts) but they convey the strength and vitality of these long dead animals. I, for one, could only wonder and stand in awe of the talent of these supposedly primitive artists.

St Lizier - Thursday 16th August 2007.

Two strange creatures to be found in Saint-Lizier, an ancient roman town, situated at the foot of the Pyrenees in the department of Ariège. The second is either a door knocker or a door latch - I did not investigate to find out which. I may have been taking my life in my hands if I had gotten too close to that fearsome beast (c: and the first doesn't look too friendly either.

You drive into, what you think is, a small town in the middle of nowhere and lo and behold the world and his granny has got there before you. Parking space? - you'll be extremely lucky - and for once we are, we find a space close to the town centre thanks mainly to somebody deciding it's time to visit the next small town. No thanks to the cow who got in her car and just sat there even though it was obvious we were trying to get parked. I hope the door knocker got her.

Toulouse - Wednesday 15th August 2007.

15th August is, as everybody knows, a jour de fête - which means that everywhere is closed (except cafes and restaurants, thankfully) and car hire offices will not open a minute before 3 o'clock. This means spending some time in the blazing heat, stopping every so often for cold drinks (boissons frais) pressions are out, because we have to drive. Past Place Wilson is Place du Capitole with an arcade of shops and cafes, the ceiling of which is decorated with scenes from Toulouse's history.

The arcade with its painted ceiling.
One of the ceiling panels.

Basilique Saint-Sernin and Notre Dame du Taur from Place du Capitole

We have lunch at FNAC's cafe les Americains before collecting the hire car. Note the young man enjoying the pleasure of cold water on naked flesh from the industrial sized fan which seem to be part and parcel of most cafe fittings now.

After collecting our car we set off to Foix which is one of the tiniest departmental capitals in France. Tucked between the Arget and Ariège rivers means that it is slightly cooler and more pleasant than the furnace-like Toulouse.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

F is for Friends

I saw these two gentlemen recently in Mirepoix, a small town situated halfway between Carcassonne and Foix, and couldn't help thinking of the Simon and Garfunkle song 'Old Friends'

Old friends, Sat on their park bench like bookends

Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Toulouse - Tuesday 14th August 2007.

I have just returned from my fortnight's sojourn in France and here is the first of many photos to tempt and titillate you. Our first stop was Toulouse (mainly because the air fare was cheapest) and anybody who has visited Toulouse must surely have walked through Place Wilson
La place du président Wilson se situe à l'entrée est du centre ville de Toulouse est un petit jardin rond, et autour duquel rayonnent plusieurs rues - en son centre, une sculpture et une fontaine honorent le poète Goudouli depuis 1898.

The smiling poet is seated beside his naked langourous relaxing muse; la Garonne.

Toulouse was exceedingly hot and you can only envy the naked langourous muse but at least it was pleasant to relax within the vicinity of the cool water. And the pleasure, the sheer joy of a cold shower on naked flesh (upon one's return to one's hotel room) cannot be extolled enough.



We took a walk down to Place de la Daurade and Pont Neuf, Toulouse's oldest bridge, which has seven unequal arches and curious holes. My theory is that in time of flood these holes would allow the flood water to pass through without smashing the bridge.



From Pont Neuf it is only a short walk past the magnificent fountain representing the two rivers, Tarn and Garonne,

to Jardin Royal and the statue commemorating Antoine de Saint Exupèry and The little Prince.

... I think this little house is for the ducks. What a fantastic setting.


Monday, 13 August 2007

Closed for the holidays

Sad to say I am departing on holiday early tomorrow morning - so there will be no posts until the end of the month. How will you ever get by without me? I hope to have lots of photos to post on my return, so that gives you something to look forward to (c:

Writer's Square, Belfast

This open space facing the Cathedral is a centre for the arts and a venue for street performers and arts festival events. Round the square you can find quotations about Belfast by famous writers such as this by Michael McLaverty:

On his way back to the college he wandered about the city learning the names of
the streets: Oxford Street, Victoria Street, Cromac Street, Durham Street,
Townshend Street, Carlisle Circus and he thought of the island names -
Lagavristeevore, Killaney, Crocnacreeva, Carnasheeran, Crecaharna - words full
of music, and he said them out aloud to himself as he went along.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

9 Chickweed Lane


I took a trip over to Little Rock where Annie has some great photos and spotted that she has a photo theme - ABC Wednesday - and couldn't resist composing this photo A Couple of Building Blocks. These are the old fashioned type of building blocks that you don't see around too much now but when I spotted them I just had to buy them for my grandson. We have a more modern version which are felt and magnetic for sticking to fridges but I still prefer these.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Talking 'bout a revolution

Urban art on the wall of the John Hewitt pub in Donegall Street, Belfast. The rings are for securing your bicycle while you partake of the black stuff.

Missing Kids

Somebody left me a message about a non profit way to help find missing children - I must admit my first reaction was of doubt but I quickly realised that this was a CNN News report so must be genuine. They say 'The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has launched a 21st century take on milk carton advertising: a downloadable computer screensaver that flips through photographs of missing kids'. For more information read the FAQ.

I have had a look and think this is a great idea - sadly it only applies to the USA but perhaps in time it will be extended world-wide. Anybody who wants a copy of the screensaver click here:
My thanks to the person who brought this to my attention - I hope anybody who reads this will also spread the news to their friends, family and colleagues. PLEASE DO.
I am also relieved to find the message thing actually does work.
Update on my message board: I have it on good authority that this screen saver will be available world-wide. So, as soon as it is, I hope everybody will download it and set it as their default.

Friday, 10 August 2007

McCracken's Bar

... then back to Belfast and down Joys Entry to McCracken's Bar.

Mary Ann McCracken was born in 1770, one of six children from a very remarkable family. The McCrackens were one of a handful of very influential Presbyterian families who were keenly interested in promoting social reform and the cultural revival of Ireland's ancient poetry, music and language.

Mary Ann is probably better known to many as the devoted sister of Henry Joy McCracken who, in 1791, helped establish the Society of United Irishmen.

The entry, which runs between High Street and Anne Street is named after Henry Joy himself and is said to mark the route of his final journey from the Old Belfast Jailhouse to his execution at the Market House in nearby Cornmarket.

Mary Ann was a remarkable woman in her own right and far ahead of her time. She campaigned for the rights and welfare of women and children and believed that destitute children should be educated. She fought for the abolition of slavery and the improvement in conditions for factory workers. She was also a business woman and along with her sister Margaret ran a Muslin shop in Belfast. After Henry Joy's death and with characteristic spirit she overcame strong family opposition and brought up his illegitimate daughter in the family home in Rosemary Street. She later lived at 62 Donegall Pass where an Ulster Historical Circle Plaque marks the house.

Mary Ann achieved great longevity and died at the ripe old age of 96. Her interest in social reform remained almost until her death in 1866. She is buried in Clifton Street graveyard.
McCracken's Cafe Bar is dedicated to the memory of Mary Ann, one of Belfast's finest daughters.

In Belfast town, they built a tree
And the Redcoats mustered there
I saw him come to the beat of a drum
Down to the barrack's square
He kissed his sister, went aloft
He bade his last goodbye
And as he died, I turned and cried
They have murdered Henry Joy!

Saltwater Brig

... continuing my pub crawl and we move further out of Belfast and down the Ards Peninsula, between Kircubbin and Portaferry, to the Saltwater Brig and it is a lovely pub for a Guinness.

I know, I posted this before but I removed it and now I am re-instating it. OK?

Bad Grammar

I am not stopping nothing for no neighbours.

..... not even triple negatives !!!

Garden turned into road during holiday

A Polish woman came back from holiday to find the local council had built a traffic island and a new road in her back garden but when Alicja Ziemowit, 48, complained she was told a change in the law meant local council officials could use private land for road building without consent and without paying compensation.

A spokesman for the local council in Lodz said: "I don't know why she is complaining, it is not a busy road, and she can still get to the back of her garden quite easily." He said the road was expanded to improve access to a new computer factory and that the law change in December meant that they did not need permission. He added: "She still owns the land, it just has a road on it now."

I don't know why she's complaining either - since she still owns the land she can erect toll-gates and charge motorists for driving across her land. Simple, problem solved, she's now a rich woman.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Madeleine McCann Belgian sighting update.

Fred Attewill and agencies Wednesday August 8, 2007 Guardian Unlimited

DNA tests on a drink bottle taken from a Belgian café where police are investigating a sighting of Madeleine McCann have failed to produce a match with the missing four-year-old.

However, local reports said Belgian detectives had not ruled out the possibility that Madeleine was seen at the café, because the DNA matched that of a man.

There is an interesting report in The First Post that says

Police have known "for a month" that Madeleine had died in the apartment,
it is widely reported. The tabloid newspaper 24 Horas says that the police are
looking for Madeleine's body in the sea, helped by English sniffer dogs.

According to another paper, Jornal de Noticias, police want to examine inconsistencies in the statements of Kate and Gerry McCann, who were interviewed separately late into the night early on in the investigation. In particular, they want to focus on a three-hour period in which only the McCanns saw Madeleine.

The Guardian says:

Local officers have refused to confirm or deny the speculation
which on Tuesday forced the McCanns to give a television interview insisting
that they retained confidence in the inquiry. But if the couple managed then to
contain their exasperation, one of their friends has not. Rachael Oldfield, who
was among the party having dinner with the couple when Madeleine vanished,
yesterday described the speculation as "very hurtful and all rather ludicrous".

"I think there are some leaks coming from the police but a lot of what I
have read recently has been completely untrue," she told the London Evening
Standard. "It is difficult to defend ourselves because the investigation and
everything in it is confidential." Of the reported scrutiny of emails she said:
"It's just made up."

The Belfast Telegraph actually has quite a balanced report on the story.

Northern Ireland's Top 10 Restaurants

Northern Ireland's Top 10 Restaurants according to viewers of Frank Mitchell's 'Ultimate Ulster' are:

1. Ramore Wine Bar,Portrush
2. Old Inn,Crawfordsburn
3. The Stables,Groomsport
4. Bushmills Inn,Bushmills
5. Cayenne,Belfast
6. Deane’s Restaurant,Belfast
7. Belfast Castle,Belfast
8. Nick’s Warehouse,Belfast
9. Halfway House,Banbridge

Surprisingly, places you would expect to be there (such as Ginger) are not - I think this says more about the UTV viewers than it does about the quality of the aforementioned restaurants.
What makes it more surprising is that in another poll being run by UTV (Local Hero 2007) Ginger is currently at the top of the list. (Well it was the last time I was able to find the top 10 list - says a lot for the UTV Food web site).

Just thought (for fun) I would list my top 10 :

1. Metro Brasserie, Belfast
1. Ginger, Belfast
3. McHugh's, Belfast
4. StoneBridge, Richill
5. Cutters Wharf, Belfast
6. Grace Neill's, Donaghadee
7. Balloo House, Killinchy
8. Old Moat Inn, Dundonald
9. Villa Italia, Belfast
10. Giraffe, Belfast

My wife would never have forgiven me if I hadn't listed Ginger at the top - so had to make it joint first. Some of these establishments may have come further up the list a few months ago and the whole sequence could change next week. Chefs come and go and quality of meals can vary, though some are consistently good. I do miss Frogities though, formerly of Bradbury Place, it was the best French restaurant in Belfast. If you Google you'll find that some web sites refer to Chez Delbart (that now occupies Frogities old premises) as Frogities - this is not Frogities and is not even on a par with Frogities. I visited Chez Delbart once in the belief that they were Belfast's new French restaurant - I have not been back.

Feel free to disagree with my selection.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Snake wine

So who's afraid of a wee rattlesnake - when you have tasted snake wine all else pales in comparison.

For our 30th wedding anniversary we went on a tour of China and on a trip up the Li River this gentleman appeared on the boat selling snake wine. Only a few of us were brave enough (or foolish enough) to sample it but I must say it tasted all right - a bit like a smoother version of poitin if I remember rightly. It's also supposed to be an aphrodisiac oc:

Emily Carr

I mentioned a book recently by Susan Vreeland called 'The Forest Lover' about a Canadian artist named Emily Carr - these are two of her paintings and you can see more here:

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

East Belfast Murals

I took this video from the bus so please excuse the poor quality due to the bus acceleration. Just thought you might like to see a few more murals from East Belfast of slightly better artistic quality than the one here: Some of the murals are being replaced by something less politically or religiously sensitive but frankly I cannot see these murals ever being painted over.

This from The Guardian: "Paramilitary murals will be replaced under a government-funded scheme to redecorate Northern Ireland's gable ends and public spaces with more welcoming images."

Monday, 6 August 2007

Belfast Water Commissioner's Office

Across from the City hall is the building that now houses Marks and Spencer's department store.

To my knowledge this had always been the Belfast Water Commissioner's Office but closer inspection revealed a series of letters set into the wall. At first I thought the letters were I.N.R.S. & O. and tried in vain to match sensible words to the initials but the best I could come up with was Irish National Rivers Something or Other but a bit more research produced the fact that originally this was Richardson Sons & Owden's Linen Warehouse and further research reveals the letters are, in fact, J.N.R.S. & O.

So, with M&S now ensconced in the building, it has almost reverted to its original purpose.

The M&S building can be seen in the background of this pic and if you look closely you will just see the above letter to the right of the two young lovers.

Belfast Law Courts

At the bottom of Chichester Street you will find Laganside Courts Complex, previously known as Belfast Law Courts or just simply The Law Courts.

Chichester Street once ran from the City Hall to Oxford Street but at the height of the bombing campaign, as a security precaution, it was decided to block off both ends of the lower part of Chichester Street where the Law Courts are housed. This complex came to resemble Fort Apache with its high fence and gates.

For some time now work has been going on to remove the gates and security fencing and as you can see a picturesque public garden is beginning to take shape.

Laganside Courts Complex with the Waterfront Hall and Belfast Hilton in the background.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Crown and Shamrock

... and to continue my pub crawl - here is probably the best pub in the world. No TV, no juke-box, no games machines, nothing that makes any sort of loud noise. Just a quiet place to enjoy a good pint of the black stuff. Expect to wait at least five minutes for it to be pulled and let me tell you that it is well worth the wait. You will not find a better pint anywhere else, so smooth and creamy, MMMM!

I just couldn't resist posting this again:

Van Gogh walked into the bar and Gauguin said: "Vincent! Want a beer?"
And Van Gogh said: "No thanks. I've got one 'ere."

Friday, 3 August 2007

Bloggers aren't the only photographers

On my way home tonight I spotted this tableau in front of the City Hall and of course just had to take the opportunity to photograph a professional model. I don't know what they may be advertising - there could be a clue on the model's dress - but whatever it is the campaign just might be successful if the model showed a bit more excitement about the product. I realise she is bare shouldered but (surprisingly) it was a pleasantly warm summer evening so don't ask me why she is huddled over as if frozen stiff. Perhaps there are too many ice cubes in her cocktail (c: Anyhow, does she make you want to rush out and buy whatever? Talk about scary.

My wife thinks this may be a bloke in drag - what do you think ?

Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast

Queen's Film Theatre is one of only two independent cinemas in Belfast (the other being the Strand on Holywood Road [no it's not spelt Hollywood] which I featured a while ago.) QFT, also described as an art cinema, is the largest cultural cinema in Ireland - probably the only cultural cinema in Ireland, well certainly in Northern Ireland - and is the only cinema to regularly screen foreign language films (see recent film reviews). While it may not be as grand as the one at les Halles in Paris featured on Johnnysarc it is certainly far superior to the other local cinemas. Like its les Halles counterpart it has a bar and an area to relax in (before or after taking in a film). It is housed in a terrace of Georgian houses (as can be seen from this photo below) which has recently undergone some renovations to restore it to its former glory. Thank heavens for small cinemas where we can choose from something other than the latest blockbuster. It's hard to believe that it has been in operation now for 40 years and started out in 2 lecture rooms along with classroom style seating far removed from the current luxury French seating.

Madeleine 'sighting' investigated

Police in Belgium say they are taking seriously a possible sighting of a girl fitting the description of missing Madeleine McCann.

Detectives have issued a sketch of a Dutch man and an English woman seen with the girl in a restaurant in Tongeren on the Dutch border.

The news comes exactly three months since the four-year-old was abducted from a holiday complex in the Algarve.

A Belgian police spokeswoman said the witness was "trusted" and "100% sure" the girl she saw was Madeleine.

"She works with children and noticed something unusual, that is why we are taking it seriously," the spokeswoman added.

"She said the woman spoke English and the man was Dutch. She said they were acting strangely, but I don't know why."

Checks were also being carried out on the number plate from the couple's car, a Volvo station wagon, the spokeswoman said.

The news follows a number of other reported sightings across Europe of a child resembling Madeleine since she disappeared in May.

Student Jolien Houbrech, 21, who works as waitress at the east Belgian town's De Pauze restaurant said she had served the couple and the girl on Saturday.

Police had removed the girl's drink and taken it away for forensic tests, she said.

She described the child as aged five or six with long blonde hair.

Miss Houbrech said she did not have suspicions about the couple until another customer had alerted her to the girl's resemblance to Madeleine.

"She said that because of her work as a child therapist she had noticed that the people's behaviour was not that of normal parents," Miss Houbrech said.

"After she said that, I said maybe she should call it in to the police."

The couple left before the customer raised her concerns, Miss Houbrech added.

Police said results from DNA tests on the drinks bottle removed from the restaurant were expected next week.

World-wide flooding

To hear the British media you would think that the flooding is happening only in Britain. In fact it appears to be occurring world-wide (so perhaps this is the time to build your ark) as these photos show:

August 2, Beijing, China: Policemen link arms to search in floodwaters.
Heavy rain hit Beijing causing traffic jams and flooding on the main roads.
Photograph: China Photos/Getty Images

August 3, Mumbai, India: People wade along a flooded road Photograph: EPA

Flooding from the Missouri River

Thursday, 2 August 2007

2nd August 1969 - ah yes, I remember it well.

Thirty-eight years ago, two very young, very naïve, very beautiful people passed through this doorway. Inside, in the company of family and friends, they promised to 'love, honour and cherish' and half an hour later left on an adventure that was to last a life-time. The way was not always smooth or untroubled - but then nobody promised them it would be easy. Many doors later the adventure continues, though they are not so young and certainly not naïve.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007