Archive for July, 2007

yenruoj eht

This may get a bit disorientating. There will be a lot of interruptions and changes of scenery. Forgive me.


Sitting in Napier airport. Well, more of a nice room with an espresso machine.

(1847 – listening to the TV3 news in the airport)

Last 20 mins chatting to one of the nurses who just arrived in from Auckland. It is a small world, smaller even than home.

I woke up this morning and stared at the cabinet for a while. The daily ritual of waking, confused, mostly disorientated. Asking myself, what time is it, where am I, what country am I in, whose underwear am I wearing. I woke today with the nagging notion that I had something important to do today. I just couldn’t put my narcoleptic finger on it.

There was a slow dawning. I’m going home. Today I’m going home. I grinned ear to ear. Staring at the cabinet in the dark I grinned.

I have spent all day twitchy and nervous and excited. Feeling like I’d had 20 coffees as opposed to 2. I have grown increasingly impatient as my short life as progressed. I think that’s why I like ICU. Lots of drugs that work very quickly and wear off almost as quick. Instant gratification. Now I was wanting to be home before I’d even got on the plane

I filled the day with laundry and cleaning and present shopping. It was a struggle.

At least now I feel I’m getting somewhere. Even if the airport is only 5 mins from the flat.

I’ve said goodbye to my trusty ruck. I’ll not see it till Belfast. Or more likely it’ll not turn up in Belfast at all and will get lost in the wormhole that lies between terminals 1 and 4 inHeathrow airport. And it will be delivered by a taxi the next day when the wormhole spits it out. This has happened to me twice. As long as it turns up at some point I don’t mind.

(1917 – listening to: sky blue sky – Wilco)

I have boarding passes for all my flights. From here to Belfast. 8A will carry my twitchy frame from Hawke’s bay to the big smoke. 68G, no doubt an aisle seat will carry me across the two biggest oceans on earth. Trapped between the chunky snoring American business man and the crying baby next to me. I’ll be peeing in a bottle by the end.

And 9F, oh sweet 9F, you will take me home. Another window seat so I can see Strangford lough, the city hospital, the power station out past Jordanstown I can never remember the name of. And in 9F I’ll feel like crying, as I always do. My eyes will fill, my heart will feel like jumping out my throat. And it’ll be raining. And I’ll know I’m home.

(2115 – Auckland. Gate 2. Listening to: poison oak – Bright Eyes)

A brief and slightly panicked note.

Spent the flight from Napier finishing off some wonderful Roald Dahl short stories about second world war fighter pilots crashing. Not ideal on a bumpy flight beside a panicked lady who had to hold my hand on the flight into Auckland.

The flight landed late and I’d only left an hour to change flights. This left me 40 mins to change terminals, pay the departure tax, get through passport control, and undergo the ritual humiliation of security.

I was trying to make it through this with a kiwi girl who was running about like a mad thing, thinking she was gonna miss the flight. When the locals panic I panic.

(2136 – 68G. Aisle seat. Listening to: Josh Ritter)

Two seats across from me is a stocky young guy in an all blacks top. I’m in my Ireland top. I’m running through a conversation in my head that ends in LA, when I say ‘see you in the quarter finals’.

The flight is under filled, I’m in the very back row with two spare seats beside me. This is gonna be a good flight.

(0307 – 27000 feet, listening to: comfortably numb – the live one with Van Morrisson in it)

Turns out the guy in the all black top is an English kid on a gap year. I think he appreciated the joke. Though perhaps not when I said that the English wouldn’t even make it that far.

We had turbulence for the first 90 mins. The type that keeps the stewards and esses in their seats. The type that makes you think of your own mortality. Makes you think of the flash back scenes in Lost. Makes you think of all those useless facts you learned about how long an unsupported human being would last in the south pacific. Makes you think of how after the first few hundred meters of a fall to water that when you hit you may as well be hitting concrete.

Statistically, as always, this is safer than most of my everyday life. It’ll be a car accident or heart disease that gets me. But maybe it’s just gravity and the altitude that gives you the perspective.

Each bump in the turbulence – at the back of the plane which seems to catch it more. At each bump my heart leaps, my pulse quickens. I am no zen master singing ‘JESUS loves me’ as the flames leap higher. This surprises only my ego.

This is the type of nonsense (maybe) that goes through my head every day. Don’t let it worry you.

(0906 – off the west coast of the US. Listening to: queens of the stone age)

The little LCD display on my wrist says 0906. I believe it. The little LCD read out in my head says the same. It says I haven’t slept in 24 hours. Off the west coast of the US it’s 1506. Not sure I can believe that.

(1611 – ok so I’ve succumbed to US time…)

LAX (the airport) sucks. Well the transit lounge sucks. I can’t say much else for the rest of the airport. You get off the plane to stand in a long queue to pass through immigration. Even though I have no desire to be any form of immigrant in this country. I merely want to waste two hours of my life in this transit lounge.

No sir you’re not listening to me, you do not need to get fingerprints and a photo. I merely want to transit. I do not need to fill in a visa waiver declaration form and tick the boxes saying I am not a terrorist and do not suffer from mental illness. But you, good man, with your bulky frame and eastern European sounding name badge aren’t in a mood to listen. At least I presume you aren’t. None of this passes my lips.

So I stand in the queue and fill in the totally unergonomically designed form. I’m convinced the queue merely goes round the corner and ends up back on the plane again. I say this to the pretty girl beside me. Mostly just to initiate conversation. Cause conversation passes time better than sitting staring at the men in yellow jackets unloading the luggage off the plane.

(1722 – back in 68G. Same plane, different stewards and esses. Same tannoy nonsense. If we depressurize at 30000 ft I’ll be unconscious in 15 seconds, whether or not I get my 2L/min from the mask. Never mind the fact that if we depressurize at 30000 feet we’ll most likely be hitting the ground/water within about 5-10mins. Fire exits in the same place they were before. The illusion of safety…)

Conversation with pretty girls is of course different from conversation to pass the time. It certainly seems that way. Conversations with pretty girls in an airport queue on the far side of the world is again a million miles distant from conversations with pretty girls I know.

So I spend 90 mins in a mingy LAX transit lounge with Jo, a reflexologist from Devon on her way back home from 3 months traveling round NZ. Jo is the type of girl I see from a far at Duke Special gigs, wearing indie type clothes, a hat and a satchel type bag.

We get separated at the end of the queue by the bulky eastern European homeland security operative (sorry if I’m getting all Orwellian). I sit in the corner of the lounge listening to a short story on the iPod about the difference between alone and lonely. I find myself disappointed that we got separated. I find myself thinking this is silly. I find myself starting to write this. I find myself crossing from alone to lonely.

Jo finds me (finds me? Perhaps not finds me, that implies looking…) and offers me a game of hang man to pass the time. I do not often get offers of hangman from pretty, indie, reflexologists on a regular basis.

I lose horribly. We tell our kiwi travel stories. We laugh. She’s just got ‘Dunedin’ in two guesses (before I’d even drawn a gallows) when the gate is called. I knew the gate would be called, I knew it was only 90 mins or so of transit. But is that disappointment I feel when the gate is sounded? I am again surprised.

So now I’m back in 68G beside Tim the English guy in the all blacks top. And Jo is somewhere else on the plane. And I’ll never see her again, and by tomorrow (or maybe next week…) I’ll have forgotten.

The surprising thing is not that this happened. This happens every other day. This means nothing, though perhaps an everyday occurrence should not imply meaninglessness. There’s a reindeer section song that sings ‘I fell in love again today, I think that’s been every day this week, I don’t need to know a thing about them, I don’t need to know their name or hear them speak… I’m still angry that I thought she thought I cared’. I construct fantasy relationships with lots of girls I meet. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that the veggie crisps I got handed when I got on board where actually perfectly edible and indeed surprisingly tasty.

(2358 – south of Greenland. Watching Lord of the Rings – the Two Towers, trying to get the three in a row done…)

10 months in NZ and I’ve yet to meet someone who got to be an orc. I’ve met some guys who did film work and set building for the films. But no orcs. I must move in the wrong social circles.

(1014 now UK time. Exactly 11275 m above Portadown.)

Why the flight path from LA flies directly over Portadown i have no idea. I got out of my seat and looked out both windows. I could see nothing but cloud as far as the eye could see. Good to knowNorn Iron is keeping up the standards.

So now I’ll fly on for another 40 mins and land in Heathrow and spend two hours fighting to get back to where I’ve just flown over. It would be easier, though perhaps with a little bit more risk, if I just flipped the handle round 270 degrees on the door a few feet from my seat. Let the whole place depressurize and get sucked out the door with it. I might even regain consciousness before I hit.

Oh they’ve just put on the seat belt signs for descent. Guess i’ll have to save the jump for next time.

(1139 – bus between terminal 3 and 1.)

Two things I’ve noticed about London. One, it smells of fuel and decaying rubbish. Two, Gwen Steani unfortunately appears to be popular here also.

(1157 – Terminal 1)
Queues, flippin queues. That sweep cruelly back and forth in parallel lines, the same tannoy repeating over and over. Get me out of London… so I can say something nice…

(1307 – gate 2, terminal 1 Heathrow airport.)

I love gate 2. Like a norn irish ex-pats community. Of the 6 or 7 times I’ve flown from there I’ve ended up meeting folk I know about 3 or 4 of them.

Today is no different. I meet Raymie, a guy I grew up with through church and BB. He’s getting married soon. Everything’s changing eh?

I buy a coffee (alas not nearly up to the NZ standard, almost through with complaints honestly…) from the same eastern European women who was working in the same stand when I was here last time (Jun 06). Her English is vastly improved. I even get the correct change.

I rejoice in the accents. All around me people are chatting and talking into phones and to each other with the sweet, sweet sound of home. It turns my head every time. Cause every time I heard it in acafé or in a pub or in town in NZ I’d pounce on them and have a mini NI reunion right there and then. I refrain from doing it in gate 2.

I realize I smell. At this stage I’m allowed to smell I suppose. I have a nasty honey stain down the inside leg of my trousers from my brekkie pancakes on the plane this morning. However, I feel great. A little twitchy and excitable, but I don’t feel like I haven’t slept in 36 hours.

(1608 – tucked up in my bed listening to pedro the lion.)

It’s a small, hard bed. These are foreign things to me.

I’m home. My heart leaped and floated as I got into Belfast, when I hugged my parents. It is grey and it is green. Just as I left it. I can no longer remember NZ. Not in the ‘you were there in another life 48 hours ago’ type of way. I’m home and no longer remember being away. I’m feeling disorientated. I shall sleep on the small hard bed I love so dearly and it’ll all make more sense eventually.


One more drifter in the snow

Almost home. Not quite but almost. Just enough time to fit another wee trip. This time – skiing. To summarize a blog I’ll never write. Skiing is an indulgent middle class past time, that requires so much money, energy and destruction to the environment that it is unlikely ever to be justified on an ecological, social or monetary basis. It is, however, simply wonderful. Very few things I do live up to the above justifications. Deal with it. Or at least struggle. I do.

Nee how

Ruapehu is a large volcano in the middle of the north island. So big in fact that lake Taupo (imagine lough Neagh) is the crater of the same system. Ruapehu is the mountain at the south end of the lake, most recently active about 10 years ago when it blew. Forbes (one my consultants) has an amazing photo about 6km from the crater in a ski hut. The crater lake burst its banks about 6 months ago causing a lahar that closed roads and swept out to sea.

So of course, one of the southern hemisphere’s largest ski resorts is based there.

I left Napier on Friday, drove the good old Napier to Taupo road (which provides the tastiest, and most violent of our trauma in Hawke’s bay) for two hours and walked about Taupo in the rain waiting for the cinema to open.

I watched ‘bridge to Terabithia’ with a bunch of 7 year olds. I expected Narnia. I was disappointed. So disappointed that I didn’t wait the extra half hour and watch transformers instead.

I was staying with Forbes and his wife’s cousin and family. They just hadn’t turned up yet, hence the cinema. They have a bach (a beach house, all kiwis have one. You do know this is the best country in the world don’t you?)

I was greeted with pizza and hospitality that I have been flooded with throughout my time in NZ. Well the hospitality, if not the pizza. I slept on their sofa bed and filled with porridge and fried eggs in the morning.

Taupo is about an hour and a half from the mountain. The far side of the lake. Which makes for a lovely drive from one end to the other, with the gleaming snow fields in view. I’m torn between stopping to take quality photos and getting to the ski field early.

Forbes is the person to go skiing with. He did ski patrol (as the medic) for years, he knows the area inside out. He knows all the huts and a lot of the people. I have a tour guides talk on the origin of the names (from Maori legend) and the geology of the area and which roofs of which huts he’s skied off.

It’s a Saturday, it’s the best day of the early season. It’s packed. Flippin people. Flippin people, flippin snow boarding (I was skiing not boarding today).

It takes us 45 mins to get to the top of the mountain on the lifts. We meet, very randomly, but most fortuitously, JT (another doc from the hospital) on the first lift and he joins us for the day.

The mountain is stunning. Nothing like skiing in Europe with its carefully pisted slopes and well marked runs. This is chaos. Bluffs and cliffs at every turn, rocks sticking up everywhere. It’s fantastic.

I end the day sharing a t-bar with a pretty kiwi girl who has at least spent time in Scandinavia (and got a funny accent out of it) and therefore fulfills my ‘pretty Scandinavian’ rule. We have a good chat but the t-bar runs out too quickly before she gets to find out I’m a doctor (which I can’t tell her, she has to ask, there are lots of rules remember), which, in my scale of talking to young pretty women who once visited Scandinavia, is perhaps my top trumph.

If the former paragraph makes no sense, don’t worry…

To end the day the lot of us (me, Forbes, his wife’s cousin, his wife’s cousin’s wife, his wife’s cousin’s 17 year old, and his wife’s cousins 17 year old’s mate – sorry for the horrible use of apostrophes) go to the local hot springs. They are kind enough to provide me with togs I forgot to bring. These turn out to be speedos so pornographic that I wear my boxers over the top. Good times.

Me, Forbes and Spence (Forbe’s wife’s cousin), talk late into the night, covering religion, ethics and why vinyl still beats digital. I’m treated to Spence’s collection of 45s (not 33s) including early Elvis and some dodgy Elton John. I play finger-picked detuned versions of Iain Archer and Pedro songs in the corner. Spence’s wife eventually tells us to shut up. Good times indeed.

Immigrant song


I remember last night, just after the Elvis, that there was a plan to get up at 6.30 and get to the mountain for when the lifts open (at 8.00). I vaguely remember it at 6.30 when I wake first. I remember it at 7.00 when the first hints of brightness are making their way through the curtains. I remember slightly more clearly at 7.30 when I hear the first chopper of the day taking its load of tourists on a flight over the lake. It hits me at 8.00, when my stomach starts to growl with hunger, that perhaps we missed the boat.

The mountain is crisp and white and blue screened by the sky when we get there at 11.30. It takes a good photo.

As we approach the road up the mountain, a flickering LCD sign tells us ‘Bruce road closed, ski area full’. In 30 years of skiing at Ruapehu, Forbes has never seen this. The car parks at the top end are full. Full, it seems of Philippino and Japanese tourists who have no intention of skiing, just going up and down the lifts and laughing as their kids make snow angels and stick snow down their siblings backs.

We wait 45 mins to get a coach to the field. One is not amused. Just bitter and remorseful, that sleeping bags are far too hard to get out of at 6.30.

We get three hours quality skiing. Well Forbes gets 3 hours quality skiing, I get three hours of uncontrolled, gravity driven descent. Snow is soft enough I discover.

We say our goodbyes at the end of the day. Yes I will see them again in 2 months, which isn’t a long time but still awkward. Forbes departs to buy vegetables (one of the ski villages is, bizarrely the NZ capital of carrot growing. Indeed it has a 20 foot high fibre glass carrot at its entrance. Like the giant trout, or the giant kiwi fruit, or the giant wellie boot, that grace other NZ towns. No accounting for taste) and eave for Ohakune – a village at the south end of the mountain.

Now to explain why I’m in Ohakune instead of Napier. Some of you may find it beneficial to google for a map of NZ to have along the side of the blog.

Let me begin. I have a ‘working holiday’ visa. A visa which I got over the net in 2 days without having to prove I even had a passport. This visa is designed for people to come to NZ to pick fruit and work in cafes and of course not stay in the job for longer than three months at a time. I’ve been in mine about 10 months now. I pay tax. Maybe that’s why they don’t mind. My ‘working (your whole life’s a) holiday’ visa runs out 4 days after I come back to NZ.

I imagine this won’t look good to immigration on the way in. It will look worse for reasons outlined below.

The UK medical work force is upward of 30% (NZ is 41% I read in the paper) foreign trained. In other words we need to look overseas to fill the jobs. These jobs are most often filled by excellent doctors who’ve trained in far flung corners of the planet. The UK in general and the NHS in particular is greatly enriched and indeed indebted to their contribution.

There are however a few, how shall I put it – useless idiots – imported. Just as we seem to train some useless idiots ourselves. When I worked in Craigavon there was briefly a group of 4 (out of several hundred docs) who became know as the horsemen. As in the 4 horseman of the apocalypse. In my absence I’m told the term has evolved into dee-effs. Or dangerous foreigners. This is of course hugely racist and neglects many important issues. It is also really quite humorous.

I told Forbes this. In light of recent critical terror threat levels, and multiple high profile arrests, Forbes has renamed them ee-effs. Or exploding foreigners. This is also hugely racist and discriminatory. But also quite funny.

In the ICU here we have two non-white doctors. One a third generation English guy (indeed more English than most people I’ve met – and I mean that, surprisingly in nothing but a positive way) with Indian ancestors and a Hindu background. The other is an immensely gracious and gently mannered Malaysian, also with Hindu, Indian background. Both will be picked out at the airport as potential threats, just cause they’re not white.

In the same way, my mate, Mohsin, who I used to work with in A&E, will be pulled up and searched at every point. As a leader in both bleary and Lisburn rd mosque, perhaps he is a more suitable candidate to stop and search. Though he’s also gutted and appalled at what is done in the name of Islam (as I am about what is done in the name of Christianity) by a mixture of psychopaths and bitter, angry men. Indeed he is more receptive about religion and the gospel than most ‘Christians’, even if he has that rather annoying trait of saying we’re all on a bus going the same direction (I paraphrase). When a man says I am the way the truth and the life he means it I think.

Goodness. That was a tangent.

I’m in Ohakune. Why am I in Ohakune again? Oh yes, cause it’s nearly half way between Taupo and Palmerston north.

Another tangent. Palmerston north has the unfortunate title of suicide capital of NZ. John Cleese, for whatever reason, latched onto this and launched a diatribe of abuse against the place as the worst place in NZ (which in truth it probably is). He citizens of Palmerston North retaliated and renamed their rubbish dump ‘Mt Cleese’. I love kiwis.


I need to got to Palmerston North cause that’s where, in their wisdom, they’ve put the immigration office. So tomorrow morning I’ll dander into the office and smile politely and graciously and ask them if they’ll grant me a visa to do the job I’ve already been doing for 10 months and a visa to stay legally instead of illegally in their country. This within a week of five doctors being arrested in the gold coast in Australia, prompting a review of all registration and immigration procedures for doctors. And me being from a country, famous perhaps for its long history of violence and terrorism.

Wish me well.

Subterranean homesick alien

Coming home, is just sort of a holiday. A nice, well filled 6 week holiday. And I have to remind myself of this. That it’s just a holiday, and that I’m coming back. I have to think about it that way, cause I’m not quite ready to get used to the idea of leaving this place. Not even the place, more ‘the life’ (whatever that means) that I’ve carved out for myself/had thrust upon me/undeservedly received.

Today was my last day in work before I come home. I knew that I was just saying ‘have a nice winter’ and that I’d see them all again, but I couldn’t avoid the awful feeling that 6 months from now I will be saying good bye. I don’t like good byes. I don’t like the finality, I don’t like the un-kept promises (‘yes I’ll keep in touch’) which I never keep. I don’t like the loss of whatever may have been. I don’t like the thought of regrets about how I should have loved them.

What perhaps annoys me most is the tension you’re left with. I know, that right now, I want to be at home, in the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic place I call home. I know it doesn’t actually exist (the way I think it) but I want it all the more for that. I also know that a year from now I will be at home (no longer now the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic place I created) and wanting to be where I sit at this moment.

I hate that the grass is always greener. That I break the principle of ‘being happy when you’re happy’. I hate that all the people I know and love don’t all live within walking distance of each other, or at least within a nice sunny drive in the country side.

But even if they did all live so close, I’d still spend my time in a room, with a book and a guitar wondering why I never loved them quite the way I thought I did.


July 2007
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