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?

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.

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.

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.

Leaden Skies

I was once again plagued by incredibly bad cell reception yesterday and a further foray into Live Blogging from a contest was thus thwarted. Consequently, the post from yesterday morning has only appeared today - once we had returned home!

For anyone interested, FMMPB took the honours in Grade One, pursued by Ballycoan and Cullybackey, in that order. The rest of the Grades threw up few surprises, although it was interesting to see Seven Towers performing strongly in Grade Two - one to watch in that Grade next year, with Ravara safely out of the way in the Premier Division.

The town was packed to the gills and by noon today, we could still count some 35 or so Camper vans in the Lansdowne Crescent carpark. Proof that at least some of them were bandsmen came in the form of a football shirted youngster diligently practising with his Mace Pole - clearly keen to ensure that he doesn't become ring-rusty over the off-season!

The only contest of note which remains is the Cowal Games in Dunoon - beloved by many bandsmen - by me - not so much. It has always struck me as an excuse to go on the tear for a full weekend when most of the important competition business is out of the way. Alcohol fueled tomfoolery results. Not my kind of thing.

In any event, I took a dander round Portrush with my father this morning and took a few shots of the town and the coast - although the skies were less kind than yesterday, some of the shots still pleased me, so I have uploaded the gallery. Sobering to note that my favourite shot of the weekend was probably the lead picture from the post yesterday - which was again taken on the iPhone! Today's efforts are with the trusty SLR - and I don't see the equal of the phone picture!

There Can be Few More Beautiful Places...

The pipe bands round off the local season with the North West Championships in Portrush today.

I came up here last night and have staked my claim in the completely packed car park good and early. It's as well I did, as the camper van brigade has almost totally commandeered the town! If you are thinking of heading this way, you would need to get a move on!

The weather is beautiful at the moment and the scenery sings out its beauty from even the most casually taken snapshots. What are you waiting for? Come on up!


You would be forgiven for wondering why our suitcases are sitting at our side in the Glasgow Airport Starbucks when they should, by rights, being vandalised and violated by baggage handlers. That's easyjet for you.

When we left Belfast on Friday night we had stopped at the sales desk to enquire about the return flights. Our curiosity had been piqued by the fact that the online checkin was describing those flights as "disrupted" but was assuring us that, should the flight be cancelled, we would be sent a separate email. In between hair twirling and pouting, the staff reassured us that it was probably just a mistake and that the flight was still on their system with all the same particulars.

The journey to the airport had already been fraught. The first of the Glasgow Flyer buses we saw sailed past us, without slowing down, while we were about twenty yards from the stop. The next again didn't slow. Mrs Ulsterscot waggled her arms frantically and considered exposing a little of a well-turned ankle - but all for naught. The driver kept his foot to the floor and as he belted past us, took both hands from the wheel and waved them above his head. Rather than being an act of bravado or triumphalism, scanning the bus revealed that this was the International Bus Drivers' Guild signal for "sorry, this bus is full". Mrs Ulsterscot adjusted her garments and we settled to wait at the stop. All the time, we were conscious of the ticking of the clock. Less than an hour now until checkin would be closed. The comedians at the bus company next decided to send past another liveried Glasgow Flyer - but one emblazoned with "Largs" as its destination. The driver glanced at us disdainfully as he handbraked and donutted down the street. It was hard to know whether we had missed that bus, or whether we had simply (and quite properly) failed to get on a bus going to Largs.

Salvation! A correctly badged Flyer! And one that stopped as well!

Twenty minutes and we were at the Airport. We bustled through the door, knocking pensioners and children to the floor. Glancing at the screens, we stopped dead. This gave the pensioners time to struggle to their feet, so we had to look smart. Where was our flight? The words of the hairdressers in Belfast echoed in our ears. "Probably a mistake". No matter, time was wasting. We galloped to the checkin and presented our passports and printouts. "Two for Belfast, my good man", I thundered. "Oh. Belfast. What time's that? Oh, that flight's been cancelled", came the less than satisfactory response.


A trip to the sales counter and we were shunted on to what will doubtless be a flight crowded to Indian train proportions. "I'd definitely get in touch with them, honey", the girl behind the counter opined. Seemingly, there had only been four people booked on the flight and it had been cancelled "for ages". Cleverly, the customer service woman was doing her best to distance herself from having any relationship with easyjet itself. Her parting shot was to repeat - "Get in touch with them..."

So, I have now drunk so much tea that my bladder is likely to explode. We'll be home about four hours later than planned and I'm tapping away furiously on an iPhone in a bid to prevent myself from tapping away furiously on the skull of an easyjet employee. Mrs Ulsterscot is on her fifteenth Valium tablet, washed down with Buckfast, which she swears is the local tipple of choice.

City Breaks. Can't beat them.

There Can be Few Greater Delicacies...

It is a long established tradition that our Worlds trip includes a visit to Edinburgh for the Tattoo. The photos which bear testimony to that fact are in the Gallery post below. A central part of that trip is a dander down the Royal Mile to Bene's chippy for a haggis supper and a smoked sausage supper. Neither of these gourmet treats seem to feature in the repertoire of our domestic emporia and I can't think of a single reason why. Chip Shop Owning Men of Ulster! Get the Haggis in!

The suppers were purchased with pleasure and devoured with gusto. Both the native haggis and the smoked sausage may be acquired tastes, but they are well worth acquiring. Who would have thought it. Aiblins is on the verge of developing a restaurant review section.