Ravings From The Bog


Made In Belfast Titanic Tour

We took advantage this week of a free tour around the “Titanic Quarter”, which is the brand name, so to speak, of that area of Belfast which is home to the derelict shipyards, the Odyssey Arena and a number of industrial complexes directly across the Lagan from the Belfast Harbour Commissioner and the Customs House.

As part of the current Made In Belfast Festival, the guided bus tour is a great starting point for the novice historian. The experienced guide, Stephen Cameron, has researched his subject in great detail for many years and is affable and knowledgeable company for the two hours of the tour. I have actually met Stephen before, in a previous life, and it was a pleasure to see him again after a gap of ten or so years.

On what was a rather changeable day, we set off from Belfast’s City Hall having seen both the Titanic Memorial statue and the statue of Sir Edward Harland within it’s grounds. First stop was at the original offices of Harland & Wolff. Access was gained and we started off in the drawing offices where many years before, the original plans for the Titanic and her sister ships, Olympic and Brittanic were made. This remarkable building was specially designed to allow as much natural light as possible to reach the draughtsmen, and later the ladies, who made copies of the thousands of individual plans for the teams of workmen who built the ships.

Harland & Wolff Drawing OfficeThe next attraction was a viewing of the boardroom, sadly without any original furniture. The building has suffered over the years since it was last used as an office but has now been listed and is in the initial stage of refurbishment. In it’s derelict state it has been of value to the film industry lately, featuring in films such as Closing the Ring, City of Embers and Breakfast on Pluto.

Next stop was a short distance away by coach as it had started to rain. We drove about 100m to two large ramped areas close to the bank. The guide showed us the same ramps in a large black and white picture taken in 1911. These were the very ramps on which Titanic and Olympic were built.

Titanic RampFrom there we made our way to the Thompson Dry Dock, built to allow completion of the three sister ships’ fit-out. A very impressive structure which looks to be twice the length of the Clarendon Dry Docks, the pump equipment was designed to be capable of pumping out all of the water in the dock inside 100 minutes.

The picture below gives an idea of the size of the structure with HMS Caroline in a nearby dock for scale. In the pictures we were shown of Titanic in the dock being fitted with her engines and propellers, the stern of the ship stuck out over the gate at the back of the dry dock – an immense ship that would have stretched from the front door of Belfast City Hall right down Donegall Place, past M&S, past McDonalds, the Tesco Metro and as far as the H&M shop.

Thompson Dry Dock

At this point, the tour ended. Very satisfied with our new-found knowledge, we climbed back aboard the coach and headed back to the City Hall.

A very enjoyable morning. I have been inspired by this tour to look for more opportunities to learn more about local history and perhaps consider doing a similar job on retirement, to that of our eminent guide.



Even Wind Turbines Get A Day Off!

Wind Turbine Green EnergyI didn’t realise I could get this close to the local wind turbine (North Down Borough Council’s lip service to the Green agenda). I really expected it to be protected from potential “terrorist/freedom fighter” action.

I really love the shape of the cowling of the propeller. It has a taste of nostalgia to me as it reminds me of many of the engine cowlings on Airfix aircraft models I assembled over the years. Cracking day today too!

My Flikr Photostream (for more pictures)



Twitter – It’s A Way Of Life
February 21, 2009, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Blogging, Society, Technology, Thoughts, UK | Tags: , , , ,

picture-2I’ve been using Twitter since August last year. I cannot remember why I signed up to use it and I’ve only a vague recollection of it’s existence before then. Since then, the phenomenon has grown greatly, particularly through some celebrity endorsement from Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) and Jonathan Ross (@wossy) here in the UK. The premise if simple. Upload a message of up to 140 characters, which can be all text or can include a link to a picture on Twitpic or another service, or a link to a web page. I can vouch for it’s addictiveness – I would rarely take a bathroom break now at work without checking in on my iPhone! 

Twitter’s uses are as varied as the messages and content that Tweeters put on it. It can sustain a direct conversation between two Tweeters who follow each other. It can be a marketing tool. It can be just a way to vent on some subject that is vexing you at the time. It can be a means to share good or bad news instantaneously – reference the aircraft crash-landing into the Hudson River recently. It was news across the world via Twitter long before the news services got to the story. And many, many other uses, such as organising people quickly and easily for political or charity-based events. A recent world-wide Twestival was held to raise money for the charity:water organisation – over $500,000 was raised in one night across 175 cities.

For me, however, it provides a sense of community, some great links to information I wouldn’t normally get and humour. That human relationships can develop on nothing more than 140 characters at a time, is the best testament for Twitter.   

The montage above shows my “followers” a few days ago. It gives a flavour of the diversity of the users of this tool. Try it, you’ll love it!



Hidden Belfast: Central Arcade Ross’s Court

The Old Central Arcade BuildingThis old building, which was originally a factory, holds a particular fascination for me as it was the site of the first Crazy Prices store I had full responsibility for as store manager. That was back in 1986. The weekly turnover was £35K. It was a dingy store which never made a penny of net profit in the ten years it was open but came pretty close to do doing so towards the end. 

Anyhow, the building originally housed Ross’s Lemonade factory and had at least four floors. When I worked there, the top two floors were derelict with broken windows and dead pigeons and no doubt, a few other pests. The “shopping centre” known as Central Arcade was the 70s/80s equivalent  of the Hi-Shops in High St, in other words, it was a really awful collection of grotty businesses anchored by a grotty supermarket and a very busy Stewarts Winebarrel.

In later years, the building changed hands and was developed into Ross’s Court, a rather upmarket and ultimately doomed centre due to the unfortunate fact that it was just too far from Royal Avenue to attract the business it needed. Timing is everything and if the centre had been able to hold out, the recent introduction of the Victoria Square complex would have supported and sustained the centre.

Today, the most upmarket and best-looked-after Argos I have ever seen occupies the Victoria Square end of the building. The original stonework still shows the name of the original owners, W.A Ross & Sons – a nice touch!



Time Travel Bangor Through Postcards
February 18, 2009, 3:39 pm
Filed under: History, Memories, Nostalgia, Thoughts, UK | Tags: , , , , ,

Ballyholme Bay 1912Ballyholme Bay 2009I collect postcards of Ballyholme Bay which is about half a mile from my home. My collection sits at 51 and includes pictures taken from either ends of the bay, the yacht club, some of the Esplanade and one of the Ballyholme Windmill (pre-1911 when it still had it’s sails). This is one of the older postcards and I particularly like it because the chap in the straw boater and the lady in the background give a sense of the time through their clothing. The contemplative pose of straw-boater man is also indicative of a less frenzied and more sedate period – something I feel nostalgic for!

I took the opportunity this morning to photograph the scene and compare the two. In 1912, when the postcard was postmarked, Ballyholme was a separate entity to Bangor, a point indicated by the old Bangor town limit represented by the rusting and decayed marker just fifty yards from where straw-boater man sits. (Picture below)

Many of the buildings visible in the postcard are still there today although the blueish-roofed building on the far side of the bay, formerly The Ballyholme Hotel, and then the Ballyholme Residential Home (my wife worked there at one point), was demolished some years ago and rebuilt into apartments in a similar design. The wrought-iron and wood benches are also still available although moved to a safer distance from the incline in this health and safety conscious age.

I intend to do more of these photo-comparisons. They remind me of a practice common in an interesting magazine called After The Battle which compares photographs taken in battle during WWII with the same scenes taken today. It will be the closest I get to time-travel in my lifetime.

Bangor Town Marker



PSNI in Ballyholme Parking Scandal
February 17, 2009, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Fun, Life, Society, Thoughts, UK | Tags: , , , ,

Stop Me And Buy OneNo not really! I noticed that our local plods are making an effort (in darkest Ballyholme anyway) to become neighbourhood police. They have a sign, similar to that which sits outside shops advertising ice cream etc) that sits outside their paddy wagon asking for people to come and talk to them. I took them up on their kind offer asking if thought it might be more neighbourly if they didn’t take up two parking spaces rather than one. In reply to the charge, one officer shrugged and said “I don’t know…”

Some way to go yet then! 🙂



Hidden Belfast: The National Bank High St Belfast
February 15, 2009, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Belfast, Culture, Hidden Belfast, History, Nostalgia, Thoughts, UK | Tags: , , , , ,

National Bank Hight StThis beautiful building can be easily missed while hurrying up or down High St. It is opposite the “monsterous carbuncle” that is the Hi-Park parking and shopping centre. Built in 1890, this listed building is one of only a few to escape demolition during the Belfast Blitz in 1941. Apparently this was due to the fact that it’s front wall, floors, chimneys and roof were constructed using concrete.

The building is currently being renovated and is undergoing conversion to a hotel and tea rooms.