I am still walking on sunshine after spending the weekend in Alicante. I was invited to spend 48 hours in this port city, which is located on Spain’s Costa Blanca, as part of a press trip organised by Aer Lingus. I had not been to Alicante before and so I was super excited to get to explore all that this city has to offer, from sandy beaches to unique culture as well as gourmet food and wine to a remarkable history and stunning architecture. Whilst I am writing a full travel review on my experience for Ulster Tatler, I fell so in love with Alicante, which offers everything you could want from a city break, that I just had to share a little video collage I made of my time there. I hope you enjoy it…
I am a huge fan of Jo Nesbø and so when my BFF Bronagh gave me a copy of The Ice Beneath Her by acclaimed Swedish author Camilla Grebe, I was definitely intrigued.
The tale, set in Stockholm at winter, finds the local police called to investigate a shocking murder: an unidentified woman is found beheaded in a posh suburban house, owned by controversial chain-store CEO Jesper Orre. What makes the case more disturbing is the similarities it bears to an unsolved case from ten years ago. As homicide detectives Peter Lindgren and Manfred Olsson delve into the case and search for motive, they enlist the help of brilliant criminal profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schön. However the police aren’t the only ones on Jesper’s trail. Two months before the murder, Emma Bohman, a young clerk who works for Orre’s company, encountered the charming CEO by chance, and soon romance blossomed. However after Orre abandons her and her life goes from bad to worse, she believes her former lover is to blame for the disintegration of her life and so sets about tracking him down.
The Ice Beneath Her is hailed as a psychological thriller and for me, it did not disappoint. The story is told by three people: Peter Lindgren, Hanne Lagerlind-Schön and Emma Bohman. I found the interweaving of the three strands of the same tale a compelling narrative technique. Whilst there is reason to question the reliability of each narrator, I was fully absorbed in the book to see how the case would be resolved as well as the impact it would have on each of the narrators.
As this multi-layered tale begins to unravel, Camilla Grebe’s perfectly nuanced writing style had me truly hooked. The book is fast but perfectly paced and has twists that take you by surprise. The Nordic setting and weather is also very much a character of this book. Everytime I opened it, I was transported from a rarely sun soaked Belfast to the dark, bone aching cold of Stockholm. As the setting is smothered in blankets of snow, the anxiety level of the book was ratcheted up to a new level.
The Ice Beneath Her is a very visual, bold and exciting novel. The tale it tells is not black and white, instead the truth is often as hidden as Stockholm beneath the snow. Grebe is an exceptional storyteller who knows how to keep her reader on the edge of their seats. With a brutal crime and an intriguing cast of characters scrambling to reach the truth, Grebe has crafted a thriller that is very difficult to put down. Fans of crime fiction, Nordic or otherwise, should definitely check it out.
There seems to be a bit of a tradition in my destination choice when I’ve a day off work. On Bank Holiday Monday I made my way to another haven for animal lovers: Mount Panther Farm Park.
As the sun made an unexpected appearance, myself, along with my sister Gail, bro-in-law Alan and their tiny human, left Belfast, and thousands and marathon runners behind, as we headed for Co Down. (Regular readers will by now realise ‘auntie Kellie’ is a regular gatecrasher on these family adventures, possibly because I have the same amusement level as my two year old niece.)
Mount Panther is situated on the outskirts of Clough. I have passed the grounds many times, taking great joy whenever I glimpsed a herd of deer relaxing on the grounds, and whilst I was aware of the Mount Panther stately home which is the pinnacle of the estate, I had no idea of the family-run farm park which was recently opened on the grounds.
When we arrived we followed the sign posts to the car park before making our way to the reception area. Once we paid our entrance fee, we were told what all experiences were available on the farm, before being given bags of food to feed the larger animals.
Our first step was the petting farm where you could get upclose with a range of animals such as chicks, rabbits and, for the brave, snakes. There was also a majestic eagle and adorable ring tailed lemurs in the enclosures.
From here we went to the next stage of farm which contained a large sandpit with plenty of buckets and spades as well as an indoor track for go karting. However, what was the best thing here, for me, was a beautiful, baby pygmy goat called Bambi. I was lucky enough to be able to hold it and I instantly fell in love; it was the sweetest wee thing and I was all for recreating The Goat Escape but the staff were to wise to my attempts to smuggle Bambi home.
As we made our way to the outdoor enclosures of animals, we got out our bags of food and had a hilarious time feeding the animals, which included pigs, a donkey and pony, amazing llamas, lambs and even more pygmy goats (there was even one with a quiff that would have put Elvis to shame). The highlight of the trip for the tiny human, however, was the large outdoor play area which had everything from slides and a climbing frame to the very cool looking jumping pillow!
After a fun day filled with sunshine and furry friends it was soon time to head back to Belfast. I would recommend a visit to Mount Panther: it’s only about 40 minutes from Belfast, has super friendly staff that are happy to assist if you want to pet a chicken or cuddle a pygmy goat, and has plenty of space so you can easily see all the animals, even if it’s busy!
My family are my favourite people in the world and when we get a chance to all get together for a night out, I am truly at my happiest. So it was happy days indeed on Saturday night when we got together for a night out in Belfast. Our first port of call was dinner, and so with the idea of trying somewhere different we headed to The Crown Bar Dining Rooms. I am a huge fan of the iconic Crown Bar and so I was definitely intrigued to see what the restaurant, which is located upstairs, had to offer. The interior boasts a classic and warm ambience, whilst the staff are professional yet incredibly friendly (from booking the table right through to settling the bill, I could not fault the service we received). The menu had a fabulous mix of dishes, however, I sampled the chicken, chorizo and cider pie which was served with mash, vegetables and gravy. The portion size and presentation was impressive and whilst there was not as much chorizo as I would personally like, it was still a very tasty meal.
The combination of the food, the superb selection of drinks, excellent service, welcoming atmosphere and fantastic location created a brilliant experience and I would definitely visit again.
Next up was a visit to the Grand Opera House, Belfast, where I got to indulge my love for the theatre and for music when we attended the final night of Million Dollar Quartet. I had high hopes for this production and I was not disappointed.
Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of record executive Sam Phillips, who founded the legendary Sun Records, and the night he made rock ‘n’ roll history when he brought Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins together to play for the first and only time on December 4, 1956.
As well as impressively singing and playing their instruments live, each member of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ superbly executed their roles, from Ashley Carruthers, who gave an animated performance which perfectly captured the frenetic energy of Jerry Lee Lewis to Matthew Wycliffe, as Carl Perkins, who exuded the intensity of a musician struggling to recapture the same level of success and fame he once had. Robbie Durham took on the role of Johnny Cash and whilst he bore an uncanny physical resemblance to his namesake, he also gave a wonderful performance that showed a vulnerability to Cash veering from being a musician who wanted to progress his career to being a man who was loyal and reluctant to turn his back on Phillips, who kick-started his career. Ross William Wild was tasked with portraying Elvis Presley and whilst he effortlessly captured his voice, he also added a physicality to his performance which captured Elvis’ larger than life persona.
The biggest name on the cast list however was Jason Donovan whose portrayal of Sam Phillips was the lynch pin to the production. From narrating the story to introducing each song on the impressive set list, Donovan was responsible for taking the audience back in time to this iconic moment in history. With a flawless Southern drawl, an assured and committed stage presence as well as a faultless and passionate performance, Donovan fully engaged the audience (well, apart from one rude heckler who interrupted a key scene, although even this did not put Donovan off his stride). For me Jason Donovan was the perfect person to bring the remarkable character of Sam Phillips to life on stage.
With a raucous set of classic hits, from ‘Walk the Line’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes ‘, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire’, an insanely talented cast and a superbly assembled production, Million Dollar Quartet is a wonderful show that will entertain you, transport you back in time and get you off your seat and on your feet for a dance. If you get a chance to catch this performance, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Today is the one year anniversary of when I started this blog and so it seems very fitting that on this day I attended the #AnswerTheCall with No Alibis event, which was held at the Black Box, Belfast. It is fitting because the #AnswerTheCall series sees Bushmills® Irish Whiskey partnering with creators, thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs and adventurers to celebrate their stories and inspire others to fulfil their true calling.
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to write. As a child I had a notebook bursting with weird and colourful short stories. As I got older, I always wanted a career than incorporated working with words, and so I was over the moon when I got a job at Ulster Taler magazine. Although my daily work involves writing and editing, I found that as I have gotten older, writing in my spare time has seriously dwindled, and so I started the blog a year ago with the aim that it would help me find a discipline to write on a regular basis; a year and 89 posts later, I am very proud to say Little Burch is still growing and that I have stuck to my goal of at least one post a week.
Like my inspiration to start a blog, all ideas, no matter how big or small, need to start somewhere and once upon a time, 400 years ago, the Old Bushmills Distillery™ was also just starting out on its own journey, which was to be one of the first distilleries in the world to make both single malt and blended Irish whiskey. This innovation and fearlessness, which has saw the distillery grow, evolve and stay true to its roots, has inspired the launch of the #AnswerTheCall campaign. Not only does this campaign shine a light on Bushmills’ superior produce, today for example, guests were treated to a delectable serving of BLACK BUSH® and white lemonade as well as a smooth and rich BLACK BUSH® Old Fashioned cocktail, but it also aims to showcase the talents and stories of those who have defied convention to boldly answer their call and create a legacy of their own. True to this mission, today’s event in the #AnswerTheCall series, entitled Whiskey & Words, could not have found a better subject than David Torrans, owner of No Alibis Bookstore.
No Alibis is Northern Ireland’s only specialist crime bookstore as well as one of the country’s few surviving independent bookstores. On a personal level I stumbled across the shop when I studied an American Noir module at Queen’s University Belfast. A number of the titles on the curriculum were available in the shop and I, to this day, remember going in armed with my list of required reading and encountering David for the first time. He offered me tea and Viennese Whirls whilst he took my list off me and gathered up all the reading materials I required. Instantaneously it was obvious that this was a shop unlike any other and David Torrens was a book seller like no other; not only is he passionate and knowledgeable about literature but he has also created a unique and inviting environment in which all literature aficionados are welcome to talk books, to get a recommendation of authors they might like as well as to consume their latest read in a nook away from the hustle and bustle of day to day living. Since my first visit, I have been back to the shop time and again, not only to buy books and soak up the unique atmosphere, but also to attend several of the events David has hosted over the years; from local writers such as Stuart Neville to international bestsellers like Linwood Barclay and literary legends like James Ellroy, No Alibis has attracted some of the most influential names in modern literature.
Whilst the events David hosts offer the perfect chance for readers to find out more about the journey of some of their favourite authors, today’s event, which saw David in conversation with professor, journalist and one of my favourite authors and columnists, Ian Sansom, offered the opportunity for the audience to find out more about David’s journey. From 1990 David was a dedicated bookseller but in 1997 he took the risk to venture out on his own and start his own bookstore. Inspired by the iconic The Mysterious Bookshop and Partners in Crime Mystery Booksellers, to name a few, David knew he wanted to start a bookstore that focused primarily on the crime genre, and so No Alibis was born in 1997. Twenty years later No Alibis is still standing and although the intervening years have featured good times as well as tough times, David has successfully continued to grow and evolve the business whilst blazing his own trail and creating the bookstore he always dreamt of.
The Whiskey and Words instalment of #AnswerTheCall series was a truly inspiring event that highlights that, like Bushmills Irish Whiskey and David Torrans, you should not let people stand in your way when it comes to embarking on your own journey to follow your passions, achieve your dreams and answer your own call.
For more information on the #AnswerTheCall series, which will collaborate with other local talents such as; Whitehead based tattoo artist Willy G, one of Belfast’s best known street artists, Visual Waste, and Kevin Pyke, owner of Derry based Pyke ‘n’ Pomme, an acclaimed street food style eatery, visit: http://answerthecall.co.uk
I love having a niece for many reasons, but today I discovered another one; she’s the perfect excuse to spend a Friday afternoon at Streamvale Farm, in Belfast. I finished work at lunchtime today and headed to meet my sister Gail and the tiny human. After something to eat, we donned our coats and made for the farm.
I have never been to Streamvale Farm before and was looking for any excuse to go; if you think this is just a place for kids, think again. I love animals of all shapes and sizes and so as we made our way around the farm, and got to encounter piglets, peacocks, horses, roosters, cows, goats and donkeys, and got to pet chicks, puppies, and kits (or most commonly known as adorably cute tiny baby rabbits), I was completely in my element. I won’t lie, I think I had even more fun than the tiny human.
In addition to the animals, there are plenty of activities on daily throughout the Farm, from pony rides, barrel rides and tractor rides to watching Chase the resident farm dog complete the agility course in record speed; kids of all ages are sure to find something to keep them entertained.
As well as being a fun filled place for little ones, Streamvale Farm is the perfect place to escape from being an adult for a few hours. With furry animal cuddles aplenty, I am pretty sure I will be able to create another excuse so I can visit again soon.
I always like to try and get out and explore in some shape or form when I have a few days off, and so as it is Easter, it seemed the perfect time to visit one of the most famous buildings in Northern Ireland: Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate.
Although it was a public holiday and the building wasn’t open for tours, my family and I had a lovely walk around Stormont Estate which is much more than just the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly amd Executive. In addition to Parliament Buildings, it is also the location of several stautes, including the Reconciliation sculpture, which depicts a man and woman embracing across barbed wire and a 12ft bronze statue of Sir Edward Carson by L.S. Merrifield, to name a few. Additionally Stormont Estate features a number of walking/ running trails for all fitness levels, so whether you want a gentle walk or an all out park run to burn off those calorific Easter eggs, Stormont Estate, with its lush lawns and colourful bursts of flowers, offers a scenic setting to soak up the sights and sounds of the outdoors.
Although we had to fit our visit in between rain showers, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to ‘The House on the Hill’, and whether you live in Northern Ireland or are simply just visiting, I definitely recommend checking it out; the tranquil sound of birdsong alone is enough to entice me back once the weather improves.