Is it July Already?

I have just returned from a very pleasant holiday in Virginia and The Carolinas. Despite the usual struggle to overcome jet-lag and the profound displeasure of returning to work, it is nice to see the weather in better shape than we left it. The prospect of a Twelfth under sunny skies would be a nice one indeed.

The above footage is from Colonial Williamsburg and I must apologise for the shaky iPhone camera-work. Interesting to see the fascination of the crowd when just one band goes past. What would they make of the parades here?

Socially Speaking

I'm hoping to do a bit of Live Blogging from band contests during the year again and particularly from the World Championships in August.

I know that a lot of people are obsessive about checking Facebook and it seems to me that it may be easier to keep you up to date on who played what and who had a bad stop or early E by connecting up Aiblins using a Facebook Page - the content from here will autopost and sync there directly, so you won't miss a moment. If you want to Like the page, head here.

The Facebook posts should also link through via autoposting to the link sharing Twitter Account I have here.

Panoramic Portrush

I have waxed lyrical on recent occasions about the merits of Photosynth - and in particular the App for the iPhone which Microsoft makes available for free. I have a couple of posts linking to Photosynths of Donaghadee and from Scrabo, and the obsession has not yet come to an end.

In our recent sojourn in Portrush, I could again be seen, spinning like a top, around the beaches and hills, manfully composing Panoramic photos using the phone. Although all the Photosynth versions are uploaded to my site, I also collected the "flat" panoramas on the PC and have set them out below for your consideration. Of course, even the "burling round" ones are not true Synths as they lack depth.

You can see quite clearly in a number of the photos that the process is far from perfect - there are anomalies created by the confusion when the software sees a very similar background or foreground item - it can lead to duplication of pieces of the scenery - but the overall effect remains pleasing.

The image above doesn't truly fit in with the set - as it is of the wee park at the side of the Bann in Coleraine, but it was all done the same weekend, so I'm posting it anyway.

If you are not a native of these parts and are struggling to recognise the locations, you'll find the links to the various Bing Maps on the Photosynth site.

As all these images are presented (on the Posterous iteration of Aiblins) as thumbnails, you may care to hover your mouse over them, expand them to full size and then play the Slideshow for the full effect.

The Season Begins

Notwithstanding the recent re-emergence of my BPPV, we loaded up and headed off to Dungannon on Saturday to catch the first contest of the local pipe band season in Dungannon. The County Tyrone Championships could scarcely be described as the most glamorous of the local fixtures, but a decent entry was attracted, including three bands in Grade One.

We made it to Dungannon Park for most of Grade Two and then the big bands. The day was very considerably dampened by the driving rain which swept across the area several times. Ravara had just started to play in some of the worst of it - it's a wonder they didn't drown.

Standards of playing were perhaps a little variable - partly due to the weather and partly ring-rustiness, I suspect. Despite that, the big names in Grade One were clearly out to set the tone (no pun intended) for the rest of the season. Unusually, Field Marshal Montgomery started the season with the underdog tag. The reigning world champions, St Laurence O'Toole had made the journey North and obviously wanted to kick off by taking the biggest of local scalps.

However, the Ulstermen (if we can really call them that, bearing in mind the number of overseas players in their ranks) won out and took the fancy of both piping judges and the ensemble man. The drumming went to SLOT and Cullybackey produced a nice performance but couldn't break into the top two on any sheet.

Hopefully the rest of the season will be characterised by better weather but in the meantime, enjoy the winning performance from FM above. The rest of the Grade One outfits can be seen on the YouTube channel, here. The results sheets are here.

Carried Away with Yourself

At a time like this I'm not sure that I could really use the phrase at the top of this post and not think of David McClarty.

His conduct over this past week or so should appear in Wikipedia under "what happens when people start to believe their own publicity". McClarty has for many years been a second (or possibly third) division politician in Northern Ireland. Many years I remember attending a conference which addressed just outside Coleraine. He was the local warm-up act for the more substantial speakers who would follow and he performed adequately. Indeed, warm-up act is just the phrase. There was little of important in his remarks to an overtly political crowd. His address consisted mostly of jokes about the variable fortunes of Coleraine Football Club. As recall, we were told that they were going "all seater", through the purchase of a three piece suite. We laughed. We chuckled. We applauded warmly and noted that he could place words in roughly the right order whilst being aimiable. These are traits frequently lacking in the Ulster politician.

When he left, we forgot about him.

At the time of writing, McClarty's Assembly biography page records him as an Ulster Unionist member and his own vanity site at www.davidmcclarty.co.uk still bears the "Ulster Unionists" branding which seems to have been abandoned by the party shortly after he appears to have abandoned the site in around 2006. Notwithstanding his now oft-stated fondness for Twitter, his web-updating-skills clearly left him some time ago and we are told that:

he is one of two Ulster Unionist members of the Northern Ireland Assembly representing East Londonderry. He also sits on Coleraine Borough Council

His biography reads as a tale of mid table mediocrity. He neither disgraces nor distinguishes himself. It is highlighted that he was, at one time, the Ulster Unionist Party's Chief Whip in the Assembly. This was a Party Man. Capital P.

So, what went wrong? He lost a selection meeting. He wasn't the first to do that. He won't be the last. The reasons for de-selection can be varied. I neither know nor care what they were in this case. It can be personality clash. It can be petty jealousy. It just doesn't matter. I doubt there will ever be a truly definitive account of the reason for his failure to make the ticket, but fail he did.

What we have then, is a situation where a politician of a fair vintage, placed his name in the hat for selection. He wanted to run for his Party. The Party he had served for many years. The Party which had used his services to whip other members into line. He was content with their manifesto and direction. So content that he felt he wanted to associate himself with it publicly and seek election on that ticket.

But his colleagues didn't feel the same.

They wanted someone else, so they selected someone else.

Of course, this little drama was played out in the public arena. Local media, starved of much intrigue in the election campaign, were only too happy to run with the account of an MLA getting dumped by his local Association. And thus the standard "period of reflection" began. After the reflection, McClarty took the (admittedly brave) step to go to the electorate alone.

So, what manifesto did he run on? What did people expect to get if they voted McClarty 1?

Well, logic dictates that they expected to get an Ulster unionist - but not an Ulster Unionist. After all, a few weeks before he had felt sufficiently ad idem with the UUP that he had been willing to sign up to their policies. Unless his enforced-conversion to independence also divested himself of his principles, one could presume that he remain a Party man at heart, local difficulties excepted. I have little doubt that many of his former supporters loyally followed him, thinking themselves no less unionist for doing so. Who could blame them? They knew that this was just a situation where a fundamentally decent man seemed to have been "done over" by his former mates, didn't they?

And so it unfolded. The Ulster Unionist Party had a pretty poor showing across the country. McClarty clearly retained a lot of his local support and was duly returned, doubtless to the chagrin of the local UUP members who had wanted to see the back of him. As the results trickled in, commentators eyes started to turn towards the Coleraine area when it became apparent that the d'Hondt formula was likely to relegate the UUP to the lowly position of one ministerial seat.

Sickeningly, the Alliance party, with half the electoral support of the UUP started to bleat that if the UUP could entice McClarty back into the fold, then democracy would be subverted and the will of the people thwarted. Alliance would be "deprived" of its second seat in the Executive. For those not following the plot, I should pause to reinforce the fact that Alliance believes that they ought to have twice the Executive representation of the UUP which has twice the support. Yes, I can spot the subversion of democracy too - but it happened when Policing and Justice was handed out, not at this election.

I digress.

Eyes were on McClarty. Would he or wouldn't he?

I have to admit that I called it wrong. I heard his remarks about Tom Elliott and that acceptance speech. I heard him talk of the calls, texts and Tweets he was receiving (which seemed clearly to be coming from Alliance supporters, anxious to queer the pitch). Despite that, I thought that he would look at the mathematics of the Executive and realise that his movement back to the UUP (and the policies he had wanted to stand on) would seal an additional unionist (small "u") seat in government. I thought he would realise that his electors were unionist and that this was what they would want. I was utterly wrong. And so is he.

By running as an independent, he didn't suddenly become a member of the Alliance Party and the only consequence of his decision has been to bolster that supercilious and unpleasant little group. He secured for them an unrepresentative second seat at the Stormont Top Table. When a McClarty voter expressed his or her preference on the ballot paper, did they think that was what they would get? Vote McClarty, Get Ford (or maybe Farry)? Surely not.

Shame on him.

The press (and a good proportion of unionist politicians) seem to recognise that there is a feeling in the unionist electorate that they would prefer to see greater unity on this side of the house. Yet here we have one man, and one ego, who simply cannot put aside his own personal squabbles for the benefit of the cause. The petty nonsense of his position seems all the more ridiculous when I can't shake the feeling that McClarty will await the seemingly inevitable fall of the House of Elliott and then slink back into the Party under new management. And they will have no option but to take him back.

Love or loathe Jim Allister, I suspect that McClarty has done more damage to unionism in the last few days than Jim will manage to do to the DUP in a whole term.


Portrush Tourist Board

I was up in the Port over the end of the Bank Holiday enhanced weekend and, as tends to be the way when I am up there, ended up taking endless shots with the iPhone camera. The limitations of the camera mean that these are not exactly the finest examples of the photographic art that you will ever see, but the fine weather and the beautiful scenery meant that even a ham-fisted buffoon such as myself couldn't get it completely wrong.

Dandering round the town (to the extent that Mrs Ulsterscot believes is suggestive of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and seeing all the lobster-red Ulstermen exposing their portions reminded me of many happy holidays when we used to decant as a family to Mrs Palmer's Mount Royal for our fortnight's holiday. Although the financial situation is making a lot more people consider the option of a "stay-cation" - awful word - I suspect that the days of the imperious Landlady/Hotelier are gone and that the influx in trade that towns such as Portrush and Newcastle can expect to see is much more of a "caravan crowd". Whether that sort of trade will do the town much good remains to be seen. Staying in a caravan may mean meals being cooked on site and trade for chippies and "offies" rather than the guest houses and restaurants. The character of the town has changed a lot since the days of my early family holidays - and probably not for the better - but no matter how down-market some of the shops may have become, you simply can't beat the scenery.

In fairness, lest I be accused of being "down" on Portrush, there have been some notable improvements about the place. 55 North is a massive improvement on the tatty old Health Centre that used to block the view of the Ladies' Bathing place and the Arcadia regeneration has been broadly successful, although a suitable use for the building itself seems to elude us at this point. The influx of coffee shops provide a more cosmopolitan feel to the main street - but they sit amongst the tatty pound shops which do the place no favours.

The jewel in the shopping crown remains The White House - the "big shop in Portrush", to quote Crawford Howard. It now stands as the only proper shop in the town and at the weekend the crowds were still in evidence - although perhaps browsing more than buying. It would be a disaster for Portrush if the regular rumours of the shop closing were ever to come to pass.

So, drink in the pictures and realise that Northern Ireland isn't such a bad place after all. Load your screaming weans into the car and take the drive to the coast. Take them to Barry's and feed the Candy Floss until it emerges from their noses. You'll not regret it.

On Voting

Posts with titles like this have several different ways to go.

Firstly, I could hector and badger people with talk of the generations who made great sacrifice to allow us the privilege of exercising our vote.

Secondly, I could launch a blistering attack on those with whom I do not identify politically and urge you all to vote for my preferred candidates.

Thirdly, I could trot out a lot of nonsense already posted across the web by various members of the intelligentsia, misleading the general public about the value of Alternative Voting (there appears to be little in truth) and, utterly seduced by Eddie Izzard (who seems to have come down with a nasty case of the "Bono"s) explain to you why we ought to be happy at the prospect of endless coalitions.

I'm not going to do any of that. (Except I maybe have already offended against that in making the third point above).

In common with a lot of people in Northern Ireland, I'll be going to the polls today with a slightly heavy heart. It is hard to recognise this place nowadays. We seem to have become resigned to the notion of terrorists in Government and we are lumbered with a system of government that is far from any form of democracy I can recognise. The well-worn phrase "no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in" was never more apposite than in Ulster.

Throughout what has passed for a campaign, the interviewers have been able to ask each of the main four parties which posts they have their eye on, once they are back in government. What a bizarre state of affairs. No question of whether you might get back in. Just a query as to what Ministry you might fancy.

On the outside of the tent (for the time being), Jim Allister has been greeting about the lack of opposition at Stormont. A greet which I have considerable sympathy with. However, his (likely solo) election won't fix that. Indeed, if his party snaffles a few votes from the DUP here and there, all that will do is make the spectre of Marty being First Minister all the more likely. The reality is that the system at Stormont does not allow for opposition in any meaningful sense, unless the Parties choose to absent themselves from the d'Hondt process of job-picking - and that seems unlikely. Reform of the system is certainly something that should happen, but Jim and his collection of acolytes cannot achieve that.

Speaking of things that cannot be achieved, I am drawn to the Ulster Unionist Party. What a mess. Tom Elliott just seems out of his depth. In that respect, he makes a perfect team with Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP. The point which the DUP has made (slightly apologetically for fear of seeming arrogant, I think) is that the UUP is simply not running enough candidates to take the First Minister's job.

Pause for a minute and consider that.

They aren't actually running to be First Minister.

If they were successful in every seat they are standing in AND the DUP vote collapsed, Sinn Fein would get the top job.

Is that really what their supporters want? I doubt that. I'm pretty confident that it isn't what their members want. Indeed, I suspect that most of their candidates don't want it either.

The size of the UUP roster of candidates means that they are in fact saying to the electorate that if they want a unionist First Minister then they must vote for the DUP. The logic of that is almost to say "vote DUP, but see us right with other preferences". Just crazy. Surely they should be at least putting up the pretence of offering a genuine choice for the First Minister's job?

It will surprise no reader of this blog to know that I am a unionist and always have been. I am a member of no political party and am perfectly prepared to dish out opprobrium all round me. I have been critical of all hues of unionism at various stages in the past and have supported different parties and individual candidates. What makes me sad this time is that I feel there is simply no genuine choice.

I have been unhappy at various aspects of DUP policy (although more content with them than the UUP for many years now). I remain sceptical in the extreme about the "workability" of the regime at Stormont. But there is no choice. The UUP doesn't want the job and the DUP does. That's where it starts and ends.

Here's to the Baron of Carrick

So, have we all started to recover from the "big do"?

My own experience of the wedding was slightly tainted by self-induced exhaustion. The misreading of a recipe led to the commencement of bread-making last night at about 10pm. Once proving, kneading, proving again and cooking had all been accomplished, it was close to 2.30am and the early morning coverage kick-off looked worryingly close.

The bread seems to have been a success. Thanks for asking.

In any event, we staggered, bleary-eyed out of bed this morning at some unGodly hour to watch the BBC wall-to-wall account of the wedding of the year. I understand that ITV may also have been fronting some sort of Who Wants to be a Celebrity X Factor Got Talent Royal Wedding thing but decided to give it a wide berth. Frankly, whether at times of crisis or circumstance, I just don't trust ITV/UTV for the news. Judging by my Twitter perusing, nor does anyone else.

The whole thing seemed quite splendid. The frocks were broadly acceptable. The Bride looked well and didn't fall over, or get her vows wrong. All parts of the Kingdom were apparently nodded at through inclusion of shamrocks, thistles, daffodils and roses on both frock and cake. Princesses Anne and Beatrice/Eugenie (no one can say for sure which child of Andrew's is which) decided to abandon the fashion stakes and instead play the dressing up game for laughs. The ceremony concluded just before William lost the last of his hair and the final three or four strands are now being mounted and will be displayed in the Royal Mews later in the year.

Lest the tone of the above gives any impression to the contrary, I should say that I genuinely enjoyed the whole thing and wish them all the very best (I'm sure they'll read this....)

What I was slightly surprised at was the manner of the BBC coverage. As I have said, I always feel bound to turn to the Beeb when looking for the big stories. I have heard others say that they would sometimes watch the ITV news and then check the BBC "to see if it is true". A sentiment I share.

In times gone by, the nation would turn to a gravel-voiced dimbleby (I deliberately do not capitalise the word, as I refer to the generic type and not the specific family) to inject a further hint of gravitas to an event of import. This time, the chosen front man was Huw Edwards who seemed to variously flirt with and talk over a stream of fairly mundane guests and D List celebrities. The whole thing had an element of Children in Need about it. You know what I mean. Presenters that have been told that their job is to engender enthusiasm and who then act as if they are back in secondary school on a "No Uniform" Day at the end of Charity Week.

Journalism seems to slightly go out the window and instead we are treated to outside broadcasts from every hole in the hedge with even the faintest whiff of a royal connection. This time, pubs were on the agenda - particularly as they were able to locate a couple styled "The Duke of Cambridge". Initially this seemed a reasonable enough idea. At 11am, the patrons were able to give a decent account of themselves. By about 7pm, it seemed that they may be slightly over-emotional.

Meanwhile, other outposts round the country were also being beamed into our homes, increasingly showing scenes of alcohol induced camera-leering and tuneless National-Anthem-singing. Not desperately edifying, truth be told.

When we weren't being "treated" to street parties, we were being provided with endless interviews with semi-coherent, half-asleep crowd members. Adding insult to injury, some of these exhausted revellers had to suffer the indignity of being interviewed by Fearne Cotton. No-one should have to put up with that. Those people had been there for hours. They had suffered enough.

I suppose the malaise that concerns me is the "dumbing down" of the coverage. The presenters no longer present. Instead, they offer their own opinions, about which I care not one jot. When they aren't doing that, they are elicitng similarly worthless opinions from random passers-by. A favourite this time was to ask primary school aged children whether they had enjoyed it. I do not need to know whether they enjoyed it. I suspect that even their own parents probably don't care whether they did.

I am greatly looking forward to the Jubilee celebrations next year and will again be avidly glued to the TV - and more than likely the BBC - if I can't be there in person. Since the Queen seems to be studiously avoiding my repeated Facebook requests for friendship, it seems that I am unlikely to become Baron Newtownards any time soon, so viewing from a distance is likely the only option. I only hope that the Beeb can up their game just a wee bit by then

Fun with Photosynth - Part 2

The above is another attempt at Photosynth which you may recall has already fascinated me a little. This time the unassuming and utterly blameless victim of my attention is Donaghadee Harbour. Having frittered away a good part of the Easter break, trying to tidy the house a little and recharging the depleted batteries which still seem to be slightly faulty following last year's not entirely forgotten brush with BPPV, we decided to take a quick scoot to Donaghadee in the faltering light of yesterday evening.

Mrs Ulsterscot had packed the car with all manner of cold weather gear, being unconvinced that the anaemic Northern Ireland sun would provide sufficient warming power to negate the need for a duffel coat in the early evening. Her concerns proved well founded as we shivered our way along the front and towards the lighthouse. There, she uncovered the nefarious nature of my plan, as I clambered inexpertly up the side of the Harbour wall and proceed to spin round like a top, mobile phone held aloft after the fashion of some bizarre natve ceremony (involving a mobile phone?)

The purpose of the burling became clear when I showed my suffering spouse the quite delightful Photosynth app on the iPhone. To produce results which should be better than those above, all you need to do is download the free App, forsake your dignity, embrace the inevitable dizziness, and there you go... The App makes it really easy to create your panorama by automatically taking pictures as you spin round and prompting you to realign yourself if it all goes a bit squiffy.

It's fair to say that the quality of the images produced can be a little variable - and you will see a few blemishes in the Synth above, but it is still a really nice was to create a memory of a location which goes a little further than the traditional snapshot.

So enamoured was I of the first attempt that I left Mrs Ulsterscot quivering in the car, bemoaning unspeakably cold ears and took to the Harbour steps for this second effort.

The one downside to the full Photosynthy experience is that it requires a person to install Silverlight which has all the hallmarks of a technology doomed to eventual redundancy. Meh.

For those who use older Macs and those who simply refuse to install anything Microsofty on their machines, the "flat" panoramas are reproduced below. It is possible to see more clearly the rifts in the space time continuum in these pictures - of course it is entirely possible that these anomalies are where my rotating and snapping let me down but I prefer the rift thing.

In a vain effort to make this post seem a little more worthwhile, I seem to recall a rather splendid plan for the carving of the names of Scottish settlers into the walls of the harbour at Donaghadee which was sadly thwarted by the listed status of the Harbour. My best efforts to resurrect the scheme with a marker pen under the cover of darkness have been positively forbidden by Mrs Ulsterscot.

Pretending to be Posh

A client was nice enough to give me a voucher for the Merchant Hotel a few months ago. Rather than just going for a slap up feed, we decided to spend a couple of nights in the Hotel (we had to add to the voucher) and live in the lap of luxury for a day or two.

I have been messing about with Instagram on the iPhone and took a few pictures as we went along - reflecting a couple of lazy days, rather than being a faithful documenting of the time we spent there. The filters and effects you can generate using the iPhone app are pretty pleasing and make me look like much more of an artist that I can truly profess to be. I hope you enjoy.