Archive for November, 2006

Mix tapes

Starts, I suppose with a ‘mix tape’ as they might have called it in the eighties. Or now a days a CD that I burnt. In Hi-Fidelity (sorry if you’re getting fed up with all the Hi-Fidelity references) it’s what you like that matters not what you are like. Movies, books, music – these thing matter.

So I relate to people via music and culture, or rather pop-culture, I don’t really care that much about real culture if I’m honest. I could fill hours with a stranger talking about their top 5s of what they like and don’t like. It’s my only real conversation starter. All this applies to blokes of course cause I get scared talking to girls. I’ll start talking to them about books and movies and stuff and usually they don’t care but occasionally they do and then I get sacred that I might actual be flirting with them and then I run away. Anyhow, that’s off topic kind of.
So there’s a guy in the unit, G, one of the nurses who listens to Bloc Party and plays guitar so I suppose there was an easy link there. So I do what I do for all new acquaintances if I want to acknowledge respect and interest in their views on pop culture – I burn them a CD.

Burning a CD is to quote err… a certain film I occasionally quote… using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel about someone. It’s complex and there are, of course, a lot of rules. So I put in some old favourites and introduce him to the Duke (special) and even throw in the one Joy Division song I have and the Jose Gonzales version of it. To top it off I throw in a couple of songs I recorded myself. Sandwhiched between some Ben Folds and some Wilco. So most of our conversations have resolved round music and pop culture and how neither of us really like The Smiths.

G knows I’m a Christian, I talk about it a lot with pop-culture, it’s kind of what the pop-culture thing is all about really. So today, a lady’s arterial line (a drip placed in the artery in the wrist to measure blood pressure) packs in and I have to change it. Well in actual fact she doesn’t really need one but I need the practice. I briefly debated about the ethics of that but then the whole point of ICU is to have lots of numbers measured that we can’t really do anything about.

And so while I’m screwing up putting in the arterial line he asks me about what church I go to and how I found it and stuff. And an hour later I’m still standing there chatting. On each side of the bed with a crazy patient between us. We’ll debate the role of Christianity in politics while she tries to grab and punch at the hallucinations in front of her eyes. It’s a surreal moment. Well she was either grabbing at the hallucinations or she was trying to shut us up. One of the two.

The occasional nurse wanders into the room and quickly leaves. There is no surer way to kill a conversation in this place than bringing up religion or politics. Nurses, and well most people to be honest, will generally avoid politics and religion. They would much rather talk about gardening or curtains or Brad and Angie or some boring twaddle that I really don’t have any time for. Disagreement and conflict are everyone’s fear. To cause offence seems to be the absolute no no. A tolerant society is hugely intolerant of Christianity, about anything that claims truth. There has got to be a certain irony in the intolerance of a tolerant society and their hugely dogmatic stance against dogmatism.

The big difference is truth. I believe in truth, above all I believe in truth. If it wasn’t true I wouldn’t be in this. And from truth there’s beauty and joy and without them I’d be nowhere. Truth isn’t fashionable, truth doesn’t make you friends, truth doesn’t get you places, I know this. I struggle with this. I want to be liked too much to argue truth as much as I should.

So the conversation ends cause one of the nursed wants to me to prescribe something for someone cause their bowels haven’t opened in three weeks or something. I have no idea why we describe our bowels as opening. It’s not as if they have opening hours or anything. I suppose it’s better than saying your bowels have moved. It’s like ‘what, where did they move to?’

I walk off with a bit of a buzz, not about getting the bowels to move, just about getting to chat about important things, about declaring truth and hope and why it matters so deeply to me and how it makes me tick. So in the end I don’t feel too bad about putting in the arterial line in the crazy lady that didn’t really need it.

Hamilton – Part 2

Hamilton isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. In the lonely planet it’s termed has NZ’s largest inland city at 132000. See the reason that everyone lives at the coast is that it’s pretty there and easy to get to. And it seems to be sunnier there. So all the nice places in NZ are by the sea, except Taupo, which is beside a blooming great lake so it’s pretty much the same.

Hamilton has a river. So at least it’s got a water feature. Though I think lots of silly drunk people die in the river every year. Its main attractons are, to quote the Lonely Planet, ‘Hamitlon Gardens and the conservation zoo’. Now they may avtually sound quite nice, but the Lonely Planet has a tendency to talk places up a bit. It never says bad things about places just things that aren’t overwhelmingly positive. If it’s not described as ‘exhilirating, beautiful, mind-blowing and life-changing’ then it’s a dump. Hamilton falls into the latter category.

Enough, Hamilton bashing, it’s just it’s like the Lurgan of the north island, I wonder if I could market that phrase…

Anyhow, I was in Hamilton, to see a few mates. Sue Cuthbert from good old porteedown and Wayne Robinson, a guy who was on the Senegal team with me this year. Sue’s at bible/missionary school there, just outside Hamilton in a place called Gordonton (a place so miserable and sleepy it doesn’t even make it into the lonely planet.) It’s a WEC run pace and it’s pretty cool. Sue gave me a quick tour and the first 4 people I met were all from different countries. Cool that from thousands of miles away that I have family in CHRIST here. On e of the first girls I met said ‘you’re welcome bro’, and I was really touched that I was part of the family. Though Kiwis (and particularly Maoris) have a habit of calling everyone bro, but I chose to believe the first one!

And most of the guys are pretty cool. These are young folk, some younger than me – I was tempted to call them young kids actually – who are looking at lives in the deepest, darkest places in the world, to the glory of GOD. Guys who have rejected the nice, easy comfortable lives they could have had, to give all that they can for GOD. Pretty humbling. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re all sinful wasters like the rest of us who get on each others nerves from time to time, but grace-filled all the same.

Me, Sue and Wayne went out for tea in Hamilton and took a walk along the river, which to be fair was actually really quite pretty, and had a good ould chat about life. I’ve been away from home for 2 and half months now and have missed the conversations about important, significant stuff. I’ve missed talking about what GOD has been teaching me. I miss the intimacy there is between Christians, that you find nowhere else.

We went to church the next day, and yes of course I ended up playing guitar, as seems to be my role in life. I love it though, cause it gives me a ‘role’ or significance and I’m not left with the scary business of having to talk to people before and after the service. I’m a deeply shallow and neurotic man, I know this.

It was a funny type of a church, it was a farmer sort of a place, in many ways reminding me of lots of churches at home. I looked at the stamp on the piano and it said ‘Weir’s pianos and instruments – Hamilton’. Turns out it’s Deane Weir’s cousin or uncle or something. I’m probably related to some of the folk in the church.

I was kind of sad to leave the place in the end. Despite the rain and all the cows. It was a full of people that I had more in common with than the majority of the folk I’ve met so far. I drove home (in sunshine of course) in the grace and mercy of GOD, with knowledge of another part of my extended family located.

Might write to Lonely Planet and ask them to make a few changes.

Hamilton – Part 1

Like most of NZ, Hamilton is named after somewhere in Scotland. Unlike most of the rest of NZ, Hamilton seems to have weather to match it. It appears to consist of dairy farms and fields and lots of rain. I suppose on a two day trip, that may be being a bit harsh.

I was in Hamilton for the weekend cause that where Sue Cuthbert was/is. And I was on a mission to deliver a pressie.

It’s about a 4 hour drive from Napier to Hamilton and I left about 8am on Saturday. It was cloudy in Napier, as soon as I got over the first mountain range it started to rain. And it just got heavier the closer I got to Hamilton.

The other reason I was going to Hamilton was to see one of the guys from the Senegal team – Wayne or Oz as we called him (he was a Kiwi, so the Oz thing came naturally). Oz had kindly offered me a game of footy with some of the guys he worked with, and I of course obliged. I figured a friendly Saturday afternoon kick about would go down well.

It however turned out to be something else entirely.

I arrived in Hamilton (in the rain) and met up with Suey, got some quick lunch and headed to the city to find Wayne and the footy. As we near the city, sue points out the stadium where we’re playing. I swerve slightly on the road and correct her and say “surely we’re not playing in a stadium�.” Suey doesn’t seem to grasp the significance. She’s a girl, it’s unfair to expect much else.

So we roll up to Waikato Stadium and I’m getting nervous. This is a proper international rugby stadium, the All Blacks frequently play here. It holds 20 000 people. It has marble hallways and the security guard wears a proper suit and has a tie.

How may you ask have I got here?

Oz works for the Waikato District council, doing some engineering type job I don’t really understand. They have a yearly match between the district council and the city council. Because the city council runs the stadium, they get to use it.

Oz’s team got beat 7-1 or something last year, so apparently I was invited in as a ringer (a novel experience for me!) to tilt the balance. Apparently I’ve worked for the district council for years, my accent just hasn’t wore off yet.

So I find myself in a fancy changing room (where the flipping well all-blacks get changed) with a bunch of random Kiwis, ready to run out onto one of the top pitches in NZ. I pinch myself and I don’t wake up. I pinch Wayne and he just looks at me funny.

I’m decidedly nervous. Even worse they want me to play out field. Already I can hear the sniggers of the guys back home as they read this.

Kiwis aren’t really natural footy players. Their short-necks, stocky builds and exceptional ability at rugby means it’s not their game. Some of the guys playing don’t even know he rules. Some of them are girls. There is a five minute team talk, involving a white board and a marker and lots of stick men as the coach tries to explain the off side rule, the 4-4-2 system and the Bosman ruling.

We run out onto the best pitch I have ever played on, to the roar of 7 supporters perched in row z to keep out of the rain. I pinch myself again.

I end up playing 40 minutes at right back and right wing, I have no boots so I slip over a lot in the rain. For a goalie, I do myself proud. My best moment is dragging the ball back, nutsing the best player on the park and then falling flat on my ass. Wayne plays a blinder and gets two goals, deserving at least four.

We draw 4-4 thanks to a last minute pinball equaliser for city and some dubious refereeing. The crowd has swollen to 11 and I get my standing ovation as I get substituted. I think the person standing was going to the loo or something.

I leave before the press conference. Garth Crooks wasn’t even there anyhow�


I have a fear of boredom. Some people are scared of spiders or rats. I once knew a girl who had an irrational fear of bananas, but then she had a lot of issues… come to think of it, I’m not a big fan of rats either, or avocados, but that’s just a taste thing…

But boredom, really scares me. That I mightn’t be occupied with some task, with some activity, with some mental process. I fear the empty space of inactivity. There are lots of reasons for this which I’ll not go into now, cause I started this to talk about something else.

In the same way, I fear silence. I think it’s part of the boredom thing. That if there’s silence then maybe I’m not doing something and then I must be bored. Noise, music, recorded speech – occupies all my waking moments. I love to multi-task (I knew I should have been born a woman – oops, did I just say that… darn backspace key is broke… araghhh…). I cannot just read, or write, or study, I must do all at the same time, preferably with some ryan adams in the background.

Part of this is from society. We have ‘musack’ everywhere. Everything must be accompanied by some form of melody, however terrible it might be. There is an entire industry producing CDs for stores and supermarkets. In NZ they all seem to have to contain at least 2 Crowded House songs (usually ‘don’t dream it’s over’ and ‘fall at your feet’) and a selection of terrible 80s twaddle that I hate but end up singing along to as I wander round Woolworths buying my cheap noodles. Today I was singing bloomin well Eurythmics. My parents told me coming here would all end in tears…

And there’s of course elevator music. Which is kind of good in a way, cause I’ve never been more awkward places than elevators. There’s just you and the random punter, and you’re in the elevator, and it’s got mirrored walls and you don’t know where to look. And it opens at a floor where no one gets on and no one gets off, and there’s just the painful silence, like a scene from ‘the office’, and I feel I have to say something but I just can’t seem to put a rational sentence together. You then realise you have one of those pseudo-sneezes going on, and you do a few rapid inhales like you’re going to sneeze but you don’t – I know you’re all with me here, we’ve all been there. At that moment ‘Weather with you’ (flippin Kiwis and their crowded house everywhere…) comes on in the elevator, and we all breathe a silent sigh of relief and the guy beside you relaxes and feels able to clear his throat in confidence.

So, after that disproportionately long paragraph, then maybe I’m not completely against ‘musack’.

I do wish I could content myself with silence a bit more often. When I go for a cycle, or a walk, I make sure I have music with me. If only for the reason that young men walking by themselves look less pyschopathical (?) than young men walking by themselves with headphones. I’d probably be better with a dog though not sure if the dog would. Funny, that when I’m cycling (with music or a John Piper sermon or two) I’m actually less distracted than usual and can use the cycling to focus on what I’m listening to. If I just listen to something without actually doing something else, then I tend to drift and go ‘oh look a fluffy cloud’ and then I’m gone…

The flat where I’m living, while not especially small, is easily big enough for sound to travel throughout the whole place. And I have the computer wired to some cheap (but flippin lovely) speakers and i always have iTunes on or Radio 4, or as I have most recently found, video clips from Newsline 6.30 from the BBC website (how cool is that!). All I need is Angie…

So wherever I go, and whatever I do in the flat, then I can always multi-task. I find it hard to eat a meal in the flat in silence. I always have the music on, or I’m reading the paper at the same time as eating. When I go to the loo or have a shower then there’s always background noise, there’s always something to occupy my mind. Though you probably didn’t need to know the loo bit. Though while I’m here (wherever that is, there is a strong family –well me and Simon – tradition of prolonged, well occupied toilet breaks. Be it a newspaper a book, or as I used to do, take in a whole box of lego and play pirates with them. Beginnning to wonder if this needs censorship. Or at least editorial review…

The fear of silence is roughly speaking the fear of boredom. The fear of the cold harsh reality of who I am, that there’s all types of appalling stuff still going on in my head and my heart. And the fear that if I stop, then I might need to face up to some of it. That GOD might be speaking to me about some of it.

In the silence right now, all I can hear is the hum of the speakers (I told you they were cheap) and the noise of my fingers on the keyboard. And there’s fifty people living beside and above me and I can’t hear anything from them. And I’m not scared. And I’m not lonely. And I’m not bored.

It takes time, but the ‘tinnitus’ of the ‘musack’ and the ‘80s twaddle’ of my life slowly begins to die down. And I can hear my internal carotid pulsing as it angles past my middle ear. And slowly, following that, there rises the cacophony of my own soul. With the thousand images of who I think I am, and who I want to be, the movie-script ending. And the faces of all the people I love, like headshots in black and white. And all my fantasies and dreams. And all the patients I’ve ever treated and all the people I’ve watched die. And the history of GOD’s word and his people and his overpowering grace to me, a sinner.

And I’m not bored. I’m not scared. I’m alive.

There was a Paul Simon song, I believe there still is a Paul Simon song, if we’re talking tenses. Unlike ‘there was an old woman who lived in a shoe’, I presume she doesn’t live there any more, I presume she got benefits or DLA and moved out.

Anyhow, the song goes:

‘I’m heading for a time of quiet, of peace without illusion
When I can lie down on my blanket
And release my fists at last’

Ice bergs off the south coast…

Occasionally I cycle out north from where I live at the bottom of Napier hill. Along a strand called west shore. I wear my helmet cause apparently it’s the law. And I suppose it’s probably a good idea. Though the one I bought is too small for my noggin (doesn’t that say something!) and when I smile or bite down it shifts up on my head. It gives my head a kind of mushroom appearance.
Off the point already. So I cycle out and I have the lagoon on one side and the pacific ocean on the other. Where the airport is used to be all water (which is not really reassuring). But there was ‘the quake’ in the thirties that leveled the whole place and raised the surrounding flat lands by about a couple of meters making all this new land.

There, cool photos of Napier before the quake when the hill was almost an island and where I am now was a crescent shaped sand bar surrounded by sea. I talk about the earthquake cause that’s what’s made this town famous. For those uninformed folk this town is famous. Apparently. I suppose it’s all relative…

The beach is pebbly and black. I suppose if it had a golden sand beach then Napier would really be the best place in the world and that would just be unfair on the rest of the world. But it’s a nice beach all the same and it’s got neat little world war two bunkers spread along it.

Though I’m not sure why. Even if Japan had achieved pacific dominance in the long term then I doubt they would have invaded. New Zealand is too small to be worth invading and it gives you know strategic position. It’s too darn hilly to try and occupy it. I suppose they could have just occupied the cities and all the kiwis would have lived out in the hills.

Either way the bunkers on west shore weren’t gonna slow up any invasion too much

So I sit on the bunker and stare out into the pacific and think, as I tend to do. And I think that I’m looking the wrong way to see home and I should look the other way. Then I realize that it’s ridiculous to look either way as I actually need to look down to see home

If I swam or canoed straight out from here (this is not something I’m currently planning to do) then the first thing I’d hit would probably be southern Chile. If I go south then I’d probably miss the south island and head straight to Antarctica. It was in the paper that they’ve spotted 4 groups of over a hundred icebergs off the south coast of Invercargill (the most southerly town on the south island). The tallest is apparently almost 200m!

If I swam/paddled north I’d at least hit the East Cape before disappearing towards Polynesia.

If I go back the way I came then I get a nice cup of coffee some furry slippers and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Who’s hungry?


November 2006