Belfast Telegraph

Lady Dixon's roses rise to the occasion

By Frances Burscough

As I’m in the process of selling my own house and hunting for a new one, I decided not to go away this year for the Twelfth fortnight like I usually do. Instead, I made the most of the sunny days by taking the dogs out and about around Belfast and availing of so many wonderful parks that we have right on our doorstep here.

One of our favourites is Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park and July is without a doubt the best month to see it during the International Rose Week festivities.

As you arrive at the car park, the first thing that hits you is the heady scent of roses that gets sweeter and more intoxicating as you stroll down the immaculately manicured grounds towards the magnificent flower beds.

Roses everywhere as far as the eye can see, a billion blooms of every type imaginable, from pristine white climbers winding around the pergola entrance, leading through to a vivid floribunda of beds, shrubs and bushes of every imaginable colour in an infinite variety of varieties, each more stunning than the last.

Excuse me if I sound like Monty Don on acid, but it really has to be seen to be believed. If you’ve never been, why not? It’s totally free and, thanks to the generosity of the late Lady Dixon, it’s all yours.

Beyond the formal flower beds, the grounds open up into a bee-loud glade dotted with delicate wild flowers and fluttering with butterflies. This is the dogs’ favourite part of the park. They love to bound in and out of it, playing chasies among the tall grass, getting lost from sight until the swaying fronds give away their location.

Next up on our whirlwind tour of the municipalities of Belfast is Ormeau Park, the oldest and most mature of them all.

This is our regular haunt and the dogs love bounding up and down the walkways; or running round and around the bandstand, forming little action-packed packs with that day’s ragtag and bobtailed assortment of passing pooches. I’ll often sit on the benches beneath the weeping willow trees and just leave them to it, just watching and laughing at their sheer unadulterated joie de vivre for being there.

Almost invariably, passers-by will stop to chat — usually comparing notes about their dogs, complimenting and patting mine — and occasionally an impromptu group will form. It’s so true what they say, that owning a dog is a great way of making friends and in Ormeau Park you seem to see the whole world passing by.

One memorable occasion worthy of note happened last month, when a large group of Sudanese families gathered at Ormeau bandstand to share a barbecue in celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr, which marks the end of a month of fasting for Ramadan.

I happened to be passing with the dogs — who were enticed by the smell of roast lamb and started to run amok amongst them. It was fascinating to see them all dressed in their colourful African robes, singing, dancing and celebrating the season.

And, when I greeted them with the traditional Islamic salutation ‘As-Salaam Alaikum’ (peace be with you) and wished them ‘Eid Mubarak’ (Happy Eid) (both of which I’d been taught by a Muslim ex-boyfriend), they were delighted and even invited me to join the party.

Other favourites in our mini-tour of our city’s open spaces include Belmont Park in east Belfast, which is beautiful all year round, but is my first choice in late summer/early autumn, when the thickets and bushes are heaving with blackberries, elderberries and crab apples.

Of course, the dogs love going there, too; not so much for the fruits of the season, but more for the sheer variety of bottoms, tails and snouts that happen by, all begging to be sniffed.

I’ve run out of space before I even got to describing the bounties of Botanic, Belvoir and Ballymenoch.

But I will save them for another time, when they are at their most majestic during the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Daryl's back with a vengeance in Sense8

I was watching a new series on Netflix this week, it’s called Sense8, and one thing that struck me was the timely return of Daryl Hannah. Remember her? It was then that something occurred to me.

Across all the genres, from comedies to thrillers, costume dramas to sci-fi, even chick-flick romances, are now being dominated by women of a certain age.

Over 50. As I’m approaching my mid-fifties, I’m really glad of this development. I’ve kept a list over the last few months of the women who’ve broken through the cinematic glass ceiling and here they are, in order of age (but not “age before beauty”!) 

The Nifty fifties: Halle Berry, Helena Bonham-Carter Robin Wright, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica-Parker, Teri Hatcher, Jodie Foster, Tilda Swinton, Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson  Sharon Stone, Annette Bening, Andie McDowell, Michelle Pfeiffer and Holly Hunter.

The Sensational Sixties: Kim Cattrall, Kim Basinger, Meryl Streep  Pam Grier, Sally Field and Glenn Close 

The Heavenly Seventies: Helen Mirren, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Linda Grey, Diana Rigg, Judy Dench and Sophia Loren — to name but a few!

This week I'll ...

mostly be availing of the assorted delights of the Open House Festival, as my little town of Bangor becomes a cultural capital for a month.

The annual festival runs from August 1-31 and each year it gets bigger, better and more diverse.

The highlights for 2017 include exhibitions, concerts, comedy shows, talks, discussions, poetry and word-of-mouth presentations, theatre productions, dance, films, walks, tours and food and drink demonstrations.

For the full programme and ticket details, go to openhousebangor.com.

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