Wednesday, 28 February 2007

My parents

My parents pictured on the road somewhere in Ulster.

Sunday, 25 February 2007


Hope you find these comparisons interesting!

Thursday, 22 February 2007

More photos from the book launch

More photos taken at the Belfast launch of 'Himself alone', a biography of David Trimble, by Dean Godson.
1. Malachi O'Doherty
2. Prof Paul Bew and Ian Paisley Jnr.
3. Peace train man

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Book launch

Photos taken in June 2004 at the Belfast launch of Dean Godson's biography of David Trimble entitled, 'Himself Alone'.

Photos from the top -
1. Daphne Trimble
2. Lord Deedes
3. Melanie Phillips
4. With David Trimble
5. Dean Godson signs my copy
6. Colin Armstrong
7. Lynn .... and Jimmy Driscoll
8. Graham Gudgin
I've mentioned Dean Godson on the Impala blog -
and the book launch -
here and here

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Toni Schumacher

Toni Schumacher is a legendary German goalkeeper - legendary at least in his native Cologne. I met Toni at the Czech Republic-Ghana match in the World Cup in Germany, June 2006. He signed my entrance ticket, for which all reasonable offers are now welcomed!
Toni was born in 1964 as Harald Anton Schumacher. He was a member of the World-Cup-winning German side in 1980 and was then voted the world's best goalkeeper. Schumacher won 76 international caps for Germany and played 422 times for FC Köln between 1972 and 1987.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Yewei's wedding

My friend, Ye Wei, has sent me these beautiful photographs of his wedding on February 6.

With Walter Hooper

This photo of Walter Hooper and myself was taken in September 1998 at Belfast International airport (in front of their bar!). I had just given Hooper a lift to the airport from addressing the ASPECTS literary festival in Bangor as part of a special event to celebrate the centenary of the birth of C.S. Lewis.

Sor a discussion see the Impala blog -,-by-James-OFee.html .

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Paul Bew raised to the Lords

Photo shows-

Paul Bew (left), Ruth Dudley Edwards (Irish author and commentator), and Kenneth Irvine, taken at the ASPECTS literary festival in Bangor, September, 2004.

See my discussion on the Impala blog -


1) Ye Wei in Vienna airport, 2004
2) Ye wei on a bridge
3) White buildings
4) On Yellow Mountain
For an explanation of how I met my Chinese friend, Yewei or Ye Wei, see the Impala Publications blog,-by-James-OFee.html.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Stamps for Sir Patrick!

I I took all the photos during my visit to Sir Patrick in Selsey in 1997. The photos show -
1) Sir Patrick in his office in Selsey in 1997;
2) Sor Patrick with his first telescope;
3) Sir Patrick with the lady Mayor of Chichester and me, before his lecure in Chichester; and
4) In Sir Patrick's garden at Selsey, during filming for the 40th anniversary edition of 'The Sky at Night'.
For the discussion, see today's Impala blog -

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Melina Mercouri and the Elgin Marbles

Here is a Greek postage stamp (1995) featuring Melina Mercouri in front of the Parthenon in Athens, from which Lord Elgin removed his marbles in the nineteenth century.
Melina was an actress, who became a politicician, the Greek Minister of Culture and a campaigner for the reurn of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

For a discussion see the Impala Publications blog here -

Souvenirs of Hungary

Here are some photographic souvenirs of my visit to Hungary in the Spring of 2004.

1) with Dr. Jozsef Freier in the centre of Gyor. Two days to go to EU entry!

2) with Anne Wilson, Mayor of North Down, and the gifts I brought back from Gyor.

3) with the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tom Ekin, and a framed copy of my meeting with Anne Wilson.

For a full account of my trip and the story behing these photos, see -

Monday, 5 February 2007

Caroline Spelman Visit

For details of Caroline Spelman's visit see -

The Impala blog is back!

The Impala Publications is back once again. From now on my main blogging efforts will be directed there, although I plan to continue posting here from time to time as well.

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Our church has a new member of staff. His name is Sandi and Sandi comes from South Africa. He will be working with us for 8 months.

A little time ago the ruling Kirk Session (of Elders) decided that it wanted to employ a 'gap year' student. It advertised locally, and then in England with no result. Finally Sandi's application came in from South Africa!

Sandi became a Christian at the age of 20. He is now in his late 20s and has spent three years serving on the Doulos, the ship owned by Operation Mobilisation.

Sandi is from Cape Province, and Cape Town in particular. His native language is Xhosa. Xhosa is a click language and the 'Xh' of Xhosa is itself a click. I hope Sandi has taught me how to master it. It seems to be produced by a rapid opening of the glottis.

Since his arrival, Sandi has charmed all. His spoken English is good. We shall have to see what God has planned for his future.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Psalm 40

Psalm 40 (New International Version)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. [a]
5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced [b] , [c] ; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. [d]
8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.
11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased, O LORD, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.
14 May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, "Aha! Aha!" be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The LORD be exalted!"
17 Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.

[a] Psalm 40:4 Or to falsehood
[b] Psalm 40:6 Hebrew; Septuagint but a body you have prepared for me (see also Symmachus and Theodotion)
[c] Psalm 40:6 Or opened
[d] Psalm 40:7 Or come / with the scroll written for me

What is British? Part 2

Continued from Part 1 –,-by-James-OFee.html

We left the British Isles in Part 1 with Pretanic P-Celts the dominant population group in the British Isles. Indeed, the Greeks had taken their name for the islands after these people. These Celts are also called ‘Brythonic’ or ‘British’ Celts.

In the centuries following there were naturally many changes. Firstly, Q-Celtic – also called Goidelic, later Gaelic – became the chief language of Ireland. The traditional view, based on the legends of the Gaels themselves, is that this was due to a Goidelic invasion somewhere between the First and Fourth Centuries BC. Recently, however, this view has been disputed by such as Simon James who believes that the Celtic languages ‘diffused’ to the British Isles peacefully. Futhermore genetic research undertaken by Bryan Sykes of Oxford University have led Sykes to the conclusion that the major racial stock of the entire British Isles is pre-Celtic.

Let us leave those controversies to the side. In the First Century AD, the Romans invaded ‘Albion’, the largest island in the archapelago, (which today we call Great Britain) and established a Roman colony in the southern and more fertile half which they named ‘Britannia’. Invading the northern half, the Romans suffered defeat at Mons Graupius, which led them to retreat to the line of Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans may have considered an invasion of ‘Ierne’, the island whose Greek name they corrupted to ‘Hibernia’ (which has nothing to do with winters!), but we do not believe that the Romans ever made a foray into the western island. Quite recently, however, a probable Roman trading outpost has been discovered on Ireland’s east coast.

Under the Romans, the native Britons, as they were called, became Romanised. Many of them became Christians. But in 410 the city of Rome fell to barbarian invaders, and the Emperor wrote a letter to the British to tell them that they must look to their own defence

Britannia was threatened by barbarian seaborne attacks on all sides. From the west and north came Gaelic-speaking raiders called ‘Scots’; from the north came attacks from the people that the Romans called ‘Picts’ (but whom the Goidels called ‘Cruithne’='Briton’); and from the east there were raids from Germanic peoples including Frisians and Saxons. Although the Pictish language remains unknown, it is generally believed today that they spoke a form of P-Celtic.

In this parlous situation, the unlucky British King Vortigern (c.425-459) fatefully sought aid from bands of Germans whom he invited to Britain as mercenaries. Morris believes their role was to guard against the threat from the Picts and so Vortigern settled the Germans along the east coast. The tradition is that the bands included Angles, Saxons and Jutes, a mixture who were later collectively to be called the ‘English’. Hengest and Horsa were the leaders of the first group and they settled on the Isle of Sheppey about 428.

Irish Kings and High Kings, Francis J. Byrne, Dublin, 3rd revised edition, 2001
The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention?, Simon James, British Museum Press, 1999
The Blood of the Isles, Bryan Sykes, Bantam, 2006
The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650, John Morris, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1983, reprinted 1989.

To be continued

'The Lords of Avaris'- a progress report

I'm now part-way through David Rohl's latest book, 'The Lords of Avaris: Uncovering the Legendary Origins of Western Civilisation', just published. See -

The books has 19 chapters and 524 pages. I have just started Chapter 8 whose opening paragraph reads -

'By now you will no doubt have the impression that a good deal of travelling has been necessary in order to piece together all the evidence for this story of the origins of Western Civilisation - and we are hardly a third of the way through our adventure. so far we have sailed up and down the Nile, scrambled across the fields of the Egyptian delta, esplored the ruins of Phoenician Byblos, and tramped the sculpture galleries of museums in London, Cairo and Turin. Later we will be wandering the Minoan palaces of Crete, climbing the cyplopean walls of the Mycenaean strongholds of the Peloponnese, exploring the landscape of the Trojan War, travelling the length and breadth of Anatolia (Turkey) and getting lost amonst the rolling hills of Eturia/Tuscany.'

Magical stuff!

The Williamson Shield

We move from the rarefied atmosphere at the summit in world chess, to the more breathable atmosphere of an important local event.

The Williamson Shield is a magnificent trophy for which chess players in Ulster compete each year. Williamson was a local man who emigrated to South Africa where he made a lot of money. On his return Williamson presented a shield to the Ulster Chess Union for annual competition.

This year the competition took the format of a six-round Swiss tournament played over the weekend of January 20-21. The winner was Steve Scannell (Bangor), with 5.5 out of 6, victorious for the sixth time! Second was Michael Waters with 5.0 out of 6.

Sadly, Tom Clarke, another former winner, was forced to withdraw after the first round through illness.

See the report on the Ulster Chess Union site –

Wijk roundup

The powerful Corus tournament at Wijk aan Zee concluded last Sunday, 28 January.

Three players tied for first place, Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaidzhan) and Levon Aronian (Armenia). Each scored 8.5 out of 13.

After his loss to Kramnik in the match for the World Championship in Elista, Russia, last year, and a setback at the Essent tournament which followed immediately afterwards, Topalov re-established his position as the world’s highest-rated player. Topalov plays risky and exciting attacking chess which gives him many victories. Sometimes, however, he comes a cropper, as in his loss to Svidler at Wijk.

Only 21 years old, Radjabov has become a credible challenger for Kramnik’s world crown; and, after many successes in the last two years with a rapid rise in his rating, Aronian confirmed that this is no flash in the pan. He too stands at the top of the tree in world chess.

With 8.0 out of 13, World Champion Vladimir Kramnik took fourth place. Unbeaten in the tournament, super-solid Kramnik demonstrated that he is an exceedingly difficult player to defeat.

Vishy Anand will be disappointed with fifth place with 7.5 out of 13 and suffering two defeats. Although Anand remains among the top three players in the world, his hopes of becoming World Champion must have dimmed.

There are further details on the tournament, with a crosstable, in the Chessbase report -

Friday, 2 February 2007

Joining the EU: Part 9 The Danube Valley

Continued from Part 8: Budapest,-by-James-OFee.html

The final trip that József had organised was up the Danube valley, up to the famous Danube Bend where the river makes a right-angled turn south. Our driver was Zolt’s father, ‘Jimmy’ once again. The three of us – Jimmy, József and me – drove along the Danube in bright sunshine, passing Swabian villages with distinctive onion-domed churches.

Our first stop was at a large deserted military camp. This had once home to Austro-Hungarian forces but, latterly, to the Russian Red Army. Now it had been abandoned. We marvelled at the size of the place and I climbed on a giant field-piece which had been left behind.

We took our lunch in a restaurant by the side of the flowing Danube. We had Hungarian fish soup and I chose dark Hungarian beer. It was good!

We drove on to one of the day’s highlights, the impressive castle of Visegrád. The name is Slavic meaning ‘upper castle’ or ‘upper town’. In Czech, the word is spelt Vyšehrad, and the crag of Vyšehrad within modern Prague is the city’s mythical birthplace.

The Hungarian Visegrád Castle crowns a towering peak overlooking the most beautiful section of the great Danube Bend.

Fortified in the Middle Ages, it became the chief fortress of Hungary and the King’s residence. Perhaps its most memorable moment came in 1335 when the Hungarian King Charles Robert hosted in the castle a conference of the three great Powers of Central Europe – Hungary, Poland and Bohemia – in order to discuss greater co-operation. The other participants at the summit were John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, Robert, King of Hungary, and Casimir III of Poland.

This historic meeting is the inspiration for the formation of the Visegrád Group or Visegrád Four, a modern alliance between Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

At Visegrád we enjoyed the wonderful views of the Danube, the Valley and the surroundings mountains. We passed through the museum with many interesting historical exhibits, including a diorama of the meeting of the three Kings. I took a photo there of one of the attendants who told us that she was a Swabian.

Then back down the Danube a little way to visit Esztergom, the historic centre of Christianity in Hungary and home to the chief Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hungary.

Naturally we visited the magnificent basilica, with its memorials of, among others, Cardinals Serédy and Mindszenty. Serédy was Archbishop when Patrick Leigh Fermor entered Hungary at Esztergom in 1934 and Leigh Fermor observed the magnificent Easter ceremonial which Serédy conducted. The Communists imprisioned Serédy's successor, Mindszenty and the latter became a beacon of hope for Hungarians suffering the communist yoke.

In 1934 Patrick Leigh Fermor crossed from Parkán in Slovakia to Esztergom in Hungary by walking over the Maria Valeria bridge, under which he observer a flock of storks fly. Built in 1885, the bridge was destroyed by the retreating Nazis in 1945. It was only rebuilt quite recently with the help of EU money.

Nor does the Danube, the border between Slovakia and Hungary here and for many miles downstream, separate the Slavic Slovaks on the north bank from the Magyars on the south. Both sides of the Danube are inhabited by Magyars – Hungarians. When Slovakia was set up after the First World War, it acquired the Danube border – although the region immediately north of the Danube was a Hungarian-majority area. It contained at least 600,000 people who were one with Hungarian culture.

Crossing the bridge into Slovakia we found that the most dramatic view of the Basilica of Esztergom was seen from the Slovakian bank. Passing into the Hungarian town of Parkán we found a statue to Franz Lehár (Lehár Ferenc) from this area who conquered Vienna with his wonderful operettas.

Here too József did some shopping, for prices in Slovakia were about 10 per cent lower than in Hungary.

Relations between Slovakia were for many years very bad, on account of Slovakia’s large Magyar minority. With EU entry, happily relations are now much better -athough the extreme Slovak Nationalists continue to obtain a large slice of the vote.

After strolling through Parkán – where everybody spoke Hungarian – we drove through the flood plain encountering a small train on a narrow gauge railway. We reached Komarom, the largest city of the region, some of whose suburbs lie across the Danube and in Hungary proper. Komarom has recently seen a Hungarian-speaking university established in the city, and we were able to stroll around its precincts. We visited the fine City Hall, near which we found a large statue erected to the memory of Komarom’s most famous literary son, Maurus Jokai (Mór Jókai). Jókai was Hungary’s most famous historical novelists of the nineteenth century, in the tradition of Walter Scott.

We stopped for a drink in a modern development in the city, but for our evening meal, József had us drive into the Slovakian countryside where a surprise awaited. It was a Slovakian ‘Irish Pub’, with genuine ads for Guinness! After a pleasant meal we made our way outside. The Moon looked very peculiar. József had arranged for a lunar eclipse to take place for us that evening.

To be continued

Impala Publications Blog Site Traffic, January 2007

[The Impala Publications blog is here-]

Unique visits - 'hits' in January 2007

Mon 1: 966, 2: 966, 3: 1,051, 4: 997, 5: 1,019, 6: 932 7: 1,141.

Mon 8: 1,101, 9: 1,526, 10: 1,062, 11: 1,036, 12: 1,128, 13: 1,210, 14: 1,388.

Mon 15: 1,197, 16: 1,375, 17: 1,276, 18: 1,090, 20: 932, 21: 931.

Mon 22: 1,113, 23: 1,863, 24: 2,002, 25: 1,708, Fri 26: 2,190 [last date of fresh blog], 27: 2,179, 28: 1,256.

Mon 29: 1,433, 30: 1,305, 31: 1,116.

Total for January 2007: 40,897 Unique Visits or 40.9 thousand.

This respresents a considerable rise on December 2006. There were 32.3 thousand hits in December (itself a record). The 40,9 thousand hits experienced in January represents a rise of 27 per cent! For more details of the last historic analysis published see,-by-James-OFee.html .

During January, hits exceeded 2,000 in a single day on four occasions, on 18th, 24th, 26th and 27th. And then on Friday 27th we hit a problem in the physical capacity of the web space available. This meant that it was not possible to post any more fresh blogs for the remainder of January. This currently remains the position (which is why I am blogging here). And I'm hoping to resolve the problem on Impala soon.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Heavens above - February 2007, by Dr Andrew McCrea

Last month the astronomical world was buzzing with news of a very bright comet – comet McNaught – discovered by Scotsman Robert McNaught on August 7th 2006 observing from Australia. From our latitudes, the comet hung very low above the western horizon during the opening weeks of the year and by all accounts could be seen with the naked eye and it sported a magnificent tail – but it was very difficult to see so low in the bright twilight sky. I searched in vain when the comet was reportedly at its best, but to no avail – cloud lingered in exactly the wrong spot, even when the rest of the sky was completely without obscuration.

The comet has now moved away to the southern sky where it has been staging a truly magnificent show. The tail and tail streamers are so stupendous they are visible even when the comet is well below the horizon – there are even reports of seeing them from Ireland. This comet came very close indeed to the Sun – inside the orbit of Mercury – and it was most probably a ‘first timer’ – that is it had never visited this part of the solar system before, so it was full of volatiles which produced the fantastic tail as the comet neared the Sun (see,-by-James-OFee.html).

Great comets such as this are rare indeed and comparisons have been drawn to the great comet, Ikeya Seki, of 1965. This was another comet which managed to slip past me but I well remember, as I am sure will many readers, comet Hale-Bopp which graced our skies for many weeks in 1997.

Turning to the starry heavens, February is an excellent month for astronomy with the beautiful star fields of Gemini, Taurus and Orion very evident even from the light polluted skies of Bangor. The sky is alive with interesting objects - even the smallest of telescopes will give fine views of the bright planets - Jupiter and Saturn as well as some of the winter showpieces.

The most dramatic of all is of course the 'Great Nebula in Orion'. Numbered as 42 in Messier's catalogue of deep sky objects, this misty patch of nebulosity hangs below Orion's distinctive belt in the region referred to as the sword. Under very dark, moonless skies it can be clearly seen as a misty patch with the unaided eye, rendered more extensive with binoculars. Even small telescopes will reveal the central star group - theta Orionis or the 'Trapezium' which powers the nebula, lighting it up ghostly grey. This cluster of four stars at the heart of the nebula illuminate the surrounding gas in what is one of the closest regions of star birth. The youngest of these Trapezium stars popped into existence just a few million years ago to begin their life as one of the inhabitants of our own star city - the Milky Way.

Evidence for the grip of winter's darkness easing comes with each new evening, as February's days stretch ever longer. Venus continues to startle in the west just before sunset, part of a group of planets huddling in that part of the sky. Mercury is below and to the left of Venus in the early part of the month but you will need a crystal clear, cloud free horizon to spot it. An interesting and rare event happens on the 18th February when the Moon occults the seventh planet Uranus. Uranus is around 6th magnitude which means that you will need binoculars to observe it as it disappears behind the lunar limb at around 17.50UT (5.50pm). It is a good month for occultations because the Moon will again occult the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters) on the 23-24th February. This event is less rare having just taken place at the end of January 2007, but it is fascinating to watch with a pair of 10x50 binoculars, as the Moon ploughs its way through the Seven Sisters open star cluster.

By mid-evening the heralds of spring, Cancer and Leo move into the south-eastern sky. Cancer is fairly indistinct as a group, although in dark skies the little 'Praesepe' star cluster might just be glimpsed as a fuzzy blob. The Praesepe is popularly referred to as 'the Beehive Cluster' and in binoculars it does resemble a swarm of 75 or more faint stars buzzing across an area three times larger than a full Moon. Leo is unmistakable due to the famous 'sickle' arrangement of its principal stars, marking out the lion's fine mane and head and in February it hosts one of the evening skies’ most superb delights – magnificent Saturn. Saturn is currently at its best and is visible all night long shining as a yellowish star just outside the sickle of Leo.

The ancients were well aware that Saturn's brightness varied markedly but they did not know the reason for this. It was not until astronomers, such as Galileo, turned their early telescopes to the heavens that they realised the true reason - the changing aspect of the magnificent ring system. This system is well on view at the moment, at wide open, giving Saturn a full magnitude of brightness over an occasion when the rings are at edge-on as viewed from Earth.

The Irish Astronomical Association (IAA) moves into February with a lecture on the 7th when two of our emerging local stars from the Queen’s University astrophysics department, Heather Thompson and Peter Farrell give separate talks on ‘Stellar Evolution’ and ‘Atomic Databases’ respectively. On the 21st February, the new Dean of the Astronomy and Astrophysics department at QUB, Professor Tom Millar, will give us a talk on his work entitled ‘Molecules in Space’.

Any (and very welcome!!) visitors to these meetings should note that they are held in Stranmillis College where meetings begin at 7.30 sharp in Lecture Room 5 of the main building. The venue has the significant advantage of ample free parking and entrance is through the Stranmillis Road roundabout main gate - I look forward to seeing you there.

Heavens Above is compiled the Green Spectator by Andrew McCrea, immediate past-President of the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA). I would be delighted to answer readers’ questions on matters astronomical, telescopes, binoculars and the IAA either by post to the Spectator office or by telephone on 028 9127 3584 or via email on or through my website