Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ireland

24
Aug
09

Open day at the Ulster Aviation Society

We were invited at the weekend to attend the Open Day for the Ulster Aviation Society which was held, rather bizarrely, at what used to be the Maze Prison but which is now a demolition/regeneration site. I’ve (thankfully) never had cause to visit the prison before, which closed some time ago. The closest I ever got before was driving past it, ominous on the horizon, on the Motorway! It kind of epitomises the “Troubles” here- I actually hope they make some kind of museum there because it’s a part of our heritage and history that should be preserved, sinister and unpleasant though it is.

ANYHOW- it was a bright sunny day, and only the watch towers and some high walls seem to remain!

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Our day was centred around a cleared area and some aircraft hangars outside the old prison walls. I have to say, it was a very surreal atmosphere in which to have a fun family afternoon!

Ian used to be in the Royal Air Force, and can fly a small aircraft. He’s flown in helicopters before, so the afternoon was probably particularly of interest to him. However there was much for all the family to enjoy!

Around sixteen helicopters flew in from all over the Province, of varying sizes and styles (can you tell I know absolutely piss all about helicopters!!!!!)

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It was actually very exciting watching them come in to land- hearing them first, having the kids guess where they would appear (they were coming from all directions!) and then watching them come in to land.

OK, OK, so my only proper landing shot picture, I royally ballsed up. I hit the off button on my camera instead of the take picture button, and it was pretty much too late by the time it was back on, but whatever. You’re all used to my substandard photography by now, ha ha!

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We all had great fun inspecting the various helicopters. I have to say- can you SAY “rich man’s toys” in a lot of incidences, but it’s nice to see how the other half live from time to time! Some of them were the height of luxury- as big as a limo and with soft looking leather upholstery and loads of legroom. Some looked more like your average family saloon- empty crisp packets, half drunk bottles of water and crumpled looking maps- and one, I kid you not, looked barely flight worthy, I was nearly scared to exhale near it in case it fell apart (though I am sure it is someone’s labour of love and is of extremely sturdy construction!!!!)

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Highlight of most people’s afternoon was the helicopter of the PSNI- it drew the biggest crowds of all and the policemen who fly it were inundated with questions about what they did and how all the vast array of gadgets worked!

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The nearby hangars housed a fantastic display of WW2 memorabilia and aircraft, and was, for me, the highlight.

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I haven’t taken pictures of some of the displays because they related to many of the fallen soldiers who had lived locally- their relatives were there to look at the displays and it was very humbling to witness their pain even after all these years. I didn’t feel it would be respectful to take photos.

It really brings it home that WW2 was NOT that long ago- and that really we have forgotten the horrors that those soldiers went through to ensure all of our futures. I learned a lot from the displays, and was grateful for it.

The kids loved looking at the various aircraft on display and it was a fantastic day out. Thanks to Ian’s boss, Garry, for inviting us!

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01
Jun
09

Race for Life 2009

Well, it’s done, and we had a great time!

Leigh and I completed the Race for Life at Stormont Estate yesterday. It was a very warm day without a cloud in the sky, which was great in one sense but I think we could actually have done with a bit of drizzle by the end! Next year we should bring water pistols!! 😀

When I got to the site and realised the sheer scale of the event, it was a bit of a surprise. I knew it would be well attended but there was just a sea of pink everywhere you looked. You have to pin a sign on your back saying who you are running for. I have to say, this aspect of it was very moving- the people standing next to me as I waited to meet up with Leigh were running for a little girl with leukemia, and nearly everyone’s shirts mentioned someone close to them. The scale of the effect cancer has on society is really impressed on you and it would be a stony heart indeed not to be moved by seeing those shirts.

Leigh and I met up about an hour before kickoff. An Australian lady was giving a bit of an irksome pep talk over the loudspeaker. I kind of wished they’d gone for someone Northern Irish, she seemed rather out of place, but she seemed to be enjoying herself!!

Next, a Scottish lady who was one of the main organisers came on to the stage and she really was inspirational. She reminded us all of why we were there, but in a fun way.

Just before we set off, we had a warm up in the shape of an aerobics instructor who reinforced my belief that I can never take part in an aerobics class due to my slow wittedness and inability to follow basic instructions. My lack of coordination will probably appear sometime soon on YouTube, courtesy of another participant! 😛

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The route itself went all round the Stormont Estate. Regular readers will know that Leigh and I have struggled a bit with the dreaded Stormont hill- which is bloody steep! You find yourself fixated on the sight of the Carson Statue at the top, because he’s right at the top of the hill! 😀

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I have to say, I think we kicked that hill’s ass yesterday. We veritably strode up it and I was only a little bit puce in the face by the top. In the past we’ve both practically needed a lie down when we got to Lord Carson!

My Dad and regular commenter Bernadette had walked up the hill to try and see us on our way past, but somehow in the crowd we didn’t spot each other, which was a shame. Next year we should plan things better!

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I think everyone felt a real sense of achievement at the end. This is such a good cause- to date I have raised almost £800 for Cancer Research UK and hope to get close to £1000 by the time I am finished. You can still sponsor me online if you have a few pennies to spare.

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I feel very privileged to have taken part. I am also very lucky to have been well enough. The past year has been rough, but I am still here, fighting fit and taking no prisoners! Next month marks the anniversary of my diagnosis, and it seems amazing that it’s been so long.

And Leigh, we WILL run it next year!!!! 😀

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27
Apr
09

Dinner & Danny Schmidt at Crusoe’s, Castlerock

I’ve just had a lovely weekend staying with my Aunt in Coleraine. I mean, it may be some time before my pickled liver recovers, but it was most definitely worth it!

I had been invited to go with my Aunt to Crusoe’s Cafe in Castlerock for dinner, with the added bonus of music in the form of Danny Schmidt.

Crusoe’s is a new place to me- but came very highly recommended. They are mainly a daytime destination, and I understand that they make the best cappucino in the world! 😀 They run special evening events from time to time, and this was one of those. They provide a gorgeous meal, wine and music. I gather that these evenings are heavily subscribed and eagerly awaited by the population of the North West!

My first impressions of Crusoe’s were of the warmth of the staff. You almost feel like you’ve arrived at a friend’s house for dinner, they are so welcoming. We were seated at a very pleasant table in the corner and brought some wine.

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The room itself has a strong nautical theme, lots of great big windows and a very high beamed ceiling. The room is, however, dominated by the kitchen, which takes up a corner of the room and looks very homely. I really like the notion of being able to watch my food being prepared, and it says a lot about the team that work there that everything seems so calm, efficient and amazingly quiet in there!

Our starter was lovely- fresh, warm bread rolls served with little pots of seafood cocktail, foie gras and a gorgeous tapenade which had both black and green olives in it, as well as sun dried tomatoes. All of this was outstanding, especially the tapenade (which, by the way is something I’m quite fussy about, as it consists of all my favourite ingredients!), and I was excited to see what would come next!

I wasn’t disappointed. We were served with the most delectable venison pie, slowly braised with, I believe, chocolate and chilli in the sauce. I’d never have put chocolate in something like that, but am absolutely intrigued now because the sauce was absolutely out of this world. This was accompanied by perfectly cooked root vegetables and some tasty cauliflower cheese. It was seriously one of the nicest main courses I have had for a while, and I am, as you all know, not all that easy to please! 😀

Pudding (though I was already struggling!!) was a cup of coffee flavoured caramel topped with chocolate sauce, not overpoweringly sweet, which was a good thing, and really delicious. It was served with homemade shortbread which I was devastated not to have enough room for! I should have asked for a doggie bag!

Just when we thought we’d burst, they then brought out a cheese board! They source their cheeses from the Fivemiletown Creamery and they were perfect, but I couldn’t possibly have finished! The cheese was served with delicious home made pickle.

I have to say it was one of the most yummy and satisfying meals I have had in a long time, plus mind blowingly good value for money. If you picked this place up and set it down in Belfast, the queues would be out the door and down the street. If you’re in the region, it’s most definitely worth a visit!

One of the things, however, that really made the evening, was the quality of the live acts who played. Both of them were quite a lot in evidence before they played and seemed like very cool and relaxed guys, so I was able to check if they minded me taking pictures of them for my blog. Kindly, they both agreed! I’m a terrible photographer as regular readers know, so I hope they won’t get too pissed off if they ever happen upon these! I was using Ricky’s camera and couldn’t work out the settings, so poor Al unfortunately got hit with the flash once before I managed to change the settings. Ironically, that was the only photo which really came out… 🙂

First up was Al Brition, who hails from Coventry in England. He had such a sweet, melodious voice that the whole audience was captivated by the end of the first few bars. Simple, soulful music that was perfect with the relaxed atmosphere. I very much enjoyed the subtlety of his guitar playing too. Really beautiful. Inexplicably, I can find no reference to him online at all, and I wonder if I have got the spelling of his name right. If anyone out there can correct me, please do so! 🙂 He is definitely someone to watch!

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Danny Schmidt, hailing from Austin, Texas, was the main act, and he took everyone’s breath away. It’s not just his gorgeous voice and guitar playing, but the lyrics of the songs too. I was particularly moved by his song “This too shall pass”, which he told us was about a time a few years ago when he’d been unwell, and a friend had made him a ring with those words enscribed. From listening to the lyrics of the song, I hope I’m not inferring incorrectly that he must have been suffering from a cancer of some kind back then. Obviously, having been going through my own battle recently, this really touched me and the words will resonate with me for a while to come. Haunting. Other songs had an irreverence which I think unfortunately may have been a little over the heads of some of those present, but I really enjoyed all of it. I will definitely be going to see him again next time he’s in Northern Ireland.

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All of this added up to being a really special night out. The evening was £35 per head including wine- stupendously good value. Thanks so much to my aunt for inviting me, and to both Crusoe’s and the musicians for making it a truly memorable night.

26
Apr
09

From the journey home…

I had a gorgeous weekend with my Aunt, and have a post ready to go for tomorrow about our evening out, which was fantastic! I just need to finalise a permission or two and it will be good to go! 🙂

I got a mixture of bus and train home today. I sat at the top of the double decker bus, and the view was wonderful though the day was cloudy. We were diverted up this little back road, though, and to say it was bumpy was the understatement of the year! That road was not designed to take a bus!!

The mountain you can see in the distance is Slemish, where St Patrick allegedly tended sheep in his formative years-

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On the train, coming into Belfast- the Cave Hill is in the background (can you guess why it has it’s name? Someone must have spent YEARS naming that place. So original. 😛 )

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Belfast is really a city on the up- as you can see from all the construction that’s taking place. The city is almost unrecognisable from fifteen or twenty years ago, when pretty much none of the buildings you can see here existed. Lagan Weir is in the foreground.

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More building work! You can see the Albert Clock on the right hand side, which dominated the area when I was a child, and was a local hang out for hookers… 😀 It now looks so tiny, but it’s about the only non modern construction you can see, as it dates back to Victorian times and is named for Queen Victoria’s husband.

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Could this post BE any more random?!

Better things to come during the week, I promise! 🙂

26
Mar
09

From a recent seaside trip

Sorry for the influx of photos- I haven’t posted any for a while and thought it would be a nice change from me whining about my health! 😀

We recently went to Ian’s Mum for lunch. She lives in a small seaside town called Donaghadee, which has wonderful views across to Scotland, and a pretty harbour. Her house is right on the sea front, with incredible views. I’d never get anything done if I lived there. I’d probably fade away sitting in a chair looking out at the sea and watching it change constantly.

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We always like to take a walk out to the lighthouse on the harbour after lunch- it’s not a long walk for the kids, but it’s very pleasant.

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The weather was kind of stormy that day- very sharp showers and windy- we just got back to Phyllis’ house before it started chucking it down so we were very lucky! She lives in one of the houses you can see in the background- this was taken at the end of the harbour looking back.

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A few shameless pics of my handsome boys-

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Ricky and Phyllis-

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Life is good!

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24
Mar
09

The Giant’s Ring, Belfast

On Sunday I took the kids for a walk to the Giant’s Ring, near Belfast. It’s a megalithic monument, a peaceful and wonderful place. If it was in England, it would be mobbed by tourists, but as you can see, it’s more or less deserted, which is exactly how I like it! 😉

It’s a bit hard to take a picture of the place- but basically it’s like a huge circular enclosure with banks around the edges and a dolmen (the stones) near the middle (the dolmen is actually off centre). Noone is really sure what it was for- there’s not much evidence that anyone ever lived there, so it’s thought that it was for ceremonial purposes.

They used to hold horse races inside the ring, but although it’s big, the riders must have got a bit dizzy!

Ricky was very disappointed not to see any giants. I told him it was a bit like looking for the Gruffalo when we were in the woods- just because we’ve never seen one yet, doesn’t mean we won’t see one… 😛

Belfast is in between the mountains and the trees you can see in the background. It always amazes me that the city is so close and you’d never know it was there!

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Ricky decided the dolmen was his new house, but quickly complained that his new house had no central heating!

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Heading for a walk at the other side of the Ring- Mummy not going fast enough…

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Ricky’s standard photo pose at the moment…sigh…

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Robbie just before he pitched a massive “I want to go the other way” fit… 😀

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Oh, to be a child again. Places like that have so much wonder! 🙂

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06
Jan
09

Dundrum Castle, Co. Down

OK, so the light was seriously fading and Ricky seems to have lost the ability to pose for a photo without making a silly face dry.gif but here are some pics from our trip to Dundrum Castle on Sunday afternoon. It’s a few miles from where we live, and dates back to around 1210- what an amazingly old place! It’s in the most stunning location, set up on a rocky outcrop looking over the sea and the Mourne Mountains, which are the largest mountains in Northern Ireland.

It was freezing here, the kids were a bit cold but we still had a fantastic time. Ricky and Robbie have recently discovered the inherent childhood joy of running down steep hills whilst yelling “ahahaahaaaaaaaaaa…”  so with it being such a steep site, they really enjoyed doing that a LOT…

I am such a poor photographer.

I love the shadow of the trees on the keep in this one-

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Absolutely my favourite kind of tree, ha ha! I love those kind of gnarly ones! biggrin.gif

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Sunset over the Mournes- Slieve Donard is NI’s biggest mountain and is on the left, Slieve Commedagh is on the right.

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Thanks for looking! smile.gif




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