Archive for December, 2007

Come on! Let’s boogey to the elf dance!

Christmas is a weird ould thing. Perhaps deserving of more blogs, if only to rant against it’s multiple annoying features and rejoice at it’s occasional sweet moments. I’ll stick to one for this year.

Our story begins on Christmas eve, if only because I think Christmas should be limited to three days (24 th to 26th) so we can get on with our lives otherwise. Bah humbug.

I made a conscious effort this year to spend as little as possible on pressies for people. Not because I don’t love them dearly, just that Christmas is a huge festival of gluttony, drunkenness, materialism and extravagance and I want little part in it. Bah humbug indeed.

I’m also a bit of a tight fisted bastard too. So the above justification works well either way.

Poor Woodsy got lumbered with a “stringed twanging instrument” that looked quite nice in the Tearcraft catalogue but in actual fact was a piece of wooden trash. A shame, as all the rest of the Tearcraft hall was of the highest quality – mostly annoyingly difficult wooden puzzles to ruin the lives of my friends.

The pressies I received this year were generally of the highest quality. Which left me feeling immediately guilty for all the crap pressies I bought them, social justice be damned… I managed to assuage the guilt by writing nice, encouraging two page Christmas cards and limiting myself to one sarcastic comment in each card. Nice cards. Shit pressies. I still love you all.

So I spent all Christmas Eve playing Santa – without the beard, suit, sleigh, reindeer, or Nintendo Wii. It was more of an excuse to call round mate’s houses and drink a lot of nice coffee.

The evening was a further regression, as around 15 of us former school friends (who I’m honored to still have as real friends) got together to watch the Muppets Christmas Carol and sing along badly with all the songs. Such good times.

Christmas morning is (and ever shall be…)  spent in Knocknamuckley with the family and the kids who get to bring one toy to chruch. And we stay for communion and understand that the COI certainly do at least one thing well.

Lunch is a feast of turkey, ham, spuds and the like, with Mum’s side of the family, and we make the same jokes about who does the washing up, and we all marvel at how much we’ve all grown up. All the family idiosyncrasies that make no sense to anyone else, but in fact make it all so wonderful.

In the end I spent the evening in the girls house on the G-road playing sing star with the local alcos. I have rarely been happier.

Less of the humbug then, one might say.

Rocky Mountain High

Back in the day – insert youthful image of wholesome young Nelly – I used to be a bit of a mountain goat. I would end up spending every other weekend in the Mournes with the BB. Mostly carrying oversized rucksacks full of rocks in the pissing rain. That’s not true.

It was great, you got to run up a mountain, get wet and dirty and smelly along the way and then run back down the mountain. It was an exclusively male pursuit, back in the day when the great questions of meaning and existence were but yet forming, when girls were merely an inferior part of the human race who were crap at football and held no greater attraction. This idyllic period never really happened anywhere but in my head. Nostalgia has a habit of selective editing.

I left my mountain goat days behind me at the age of 19 when I quit BB and got a job at weekends and played too much guitar. My days in the Mournes were confined to the occasional winter excursion up Donard with Da in the snow. Good times.


Since I became the tax-paying, functional member of society I now am, (about 3 and a half years ago) I could count the number of times I’ve been in the Mournes on one hand, even if it had all the fingers cut off first.

I resurrected the mountain goat occasionally in NZ, but it was a lame attempt, and the highest I ever got up a hill was on a ski lift.

img_2235.jpgSo thanks to the kind offer of a mate from church I got the opportunity to scale the peaks of the mighty Donard (at a staggering 849 m – yes, impressive I know…) the Saturday before Christmas.

Raising yourself from a cosy bed at 7am on a Saturday morning is difficult whether or not you’re an unemployed bum like me. Even if you’ve placed the blow heater in a position where you can turn it on by simply stretching an arm out of bed and flicking the switch.

But it’s always worthwhile, dragging your as yet still lifeless carcass out of bed. We got lucky with the weather for the shortest day of the year. I got even luckier with the folk who were there. Ranging from legends in their 70s to young (I’m still young) cubs like myself. Good folk. The best of folk.


Standing on top of Donard for the first time in 5 years was an experience never to be forgotten. I’d been hankering for NZ again, I’d been wondering why I was in this miserable country when the Hawke’s Bay Festival is not long round the corner. But then I got to Donard and realised that this ain’t the worst place in the world on a sunny day.


When I got to the top I had a wee NZ moment. “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation…” with visibility so crisp I could see the Isle of Man and Strangford Lough and the hills of South Armagh. Yes, I was back in H-FZ flying to Wairoa on a sunny afternoon without a care in the world. See what I mean about nostalgia?

Anyhow it was cool. Enjoyed simply for what it was. Something I’m desperate to do more often.

Finished off with walking down the river to the “Bloody Bridge”, (always excting to go to, cause you got top use an otherwise rude word in conversation) hopping from rock to rock, just for the sheer childishness of it all. Good times.

Will you please be there for me

One of the things I’ve got involved with since coming back has been a wee prayer meeting with a few of the lads on a Monday night. It seems to have developed the title of ‘The Likely Lads’ on the summary emails. It may have at one point been called ‘Remaining Men Together’ as an obscure Fight Club reference, but to be honest it was only me pushing that idea.

Prayer remains one of the great mysteries of the faith. I’ve been doing it since I was knee high to a grasshopper. It remains in common usage even amongst non-believers or nominalists. Us evangelicals have by no means full claim on it.

One of my big issues has always been resolving the conflict between ‘faith to move mountains‘ and ‘thy will be done‘. Never being entirely sure how to pray.

One of the great things about prayer is its efficacy. A medic friend told me of medical studies of prayer as complimentary medicine – where one group is randomized to receive conventional treatment and the other to receive treatment plus anonymous prayer. It also seems to work when the prayer is applied in a retrospective way which along with being weird as, is also kind of cool.

Another is how the whole concept works. Of that we’re not told much, and most of it is deduction from what the Bible has to say about it. My favorite Lewis quote on the matter is “prayer doesn’t change GOD, it changes me”.

This is of course hardly the full story (it rarely is) but there is a definite truth in there.

Though it’s a very pragmatic, human view of prayer, one of the cool things that really gets me is that when a group of people sit in a group to pray is that something very rare happens – they all listen to each other without interruption.

On most occasions (depends very much on your tradition), people will pray one at a time, silence filling the rest of the room. There are no interruptions, no points of order, no witty one-liners to cut off the speaker, no Jon Humphrys to catch you out. To again steal from Fight Club, prayer is special because “people really listen to you, instead of waiting for their turn to speak…”

If nothing else then surely prayer will teach us something of what it is to deal with each other with grace and mercy.

Note to Self

Christmas cards are always weird kind of things. There’s always a bit of a frenzy to get them done, and then you know that the only your post man will be delivering apart from christmas cards will be boxes from amazon.

I’ve mostly given up on sending them. Largely from laziness but also cause you inevitably find new ways of offending people by sending one person a card and forgetting somebody else.

I like buying pressies for people. Which are mostly pressies I would like myself. All books I buy people will inevitably be borrowed. I draw the line at wrapping the gifts.

Anyhow did receive this genius christmas card in the post. Which made me wonder whether someone was messing with my head or not.


All the right friends

Your friends exist in various bubbles. Your acquaintance both made and walled off by circumstance. Like little bubble diagrams, or flow charts, with you at the center. We all have friends our other friends don’t have.

Perhaps one of my larger bubbles is that accumulated during my time as a student. Brought together by time, academia, living arrangement, romantic encounters, a certain house in Donegal, and I suppose the fact that we all actually quite like each other.

At a rough count that makes 20 of us. Not bad really. That at the age of 26 I can still count 20 people who would happily share a cup or a pint of the black stuff with me. I consider myself honored to have any left at all, no matter what my friends list on Facebook may tell me.

There are of course other bubbles, some no doubt more important than others, but none of which I would wish to label as such. Admittedly some less visited and far removed.

Back when we were students we came up with an annual Christmas get together (which ran for the grand total of 2 years if memory serves me right – though you probably ran it beyond that and didn’t tell me…).

It was inventively titled Festive, Fun and Frolicks (by whom has been lost to the mysteries of time – at least I don’t know anyhow), and consisted of a dirty great feed followed by a Secret Santa, (to the tune of £5.64 each) all topped off by a kind of cabaret, with acts perfomed by each student household. This has ranged from improptu Karaoke or games to some rather avant-garde looks at the nature of ontology, spirituality and the price of cheese by the Edinburgh St. massive.




Despite the passage of time, and degrees, and jobs and marriages, the student house division still stands, and despite from rather poor offerings and the occasional no-show from some rather unsavory elements (kidding honestly…), FFF passed off to enormous critical acclaim on Friday night.

To say the bar had been raised is a understatement of the greatest magnitude.

Following is some of the media coverage of the event in its unedited form. No animals were harmed in the making of these videos.

The Edinburgh St boys giving it dixie:

And now the piece of resistant bit, the Tates boys show the world what they’re made of:

Rockin the suburbs

Now I don’t want to make my life out to sound more busy than it is. In the words of Goldilocks’s narrator, two and a half days a week is ‘just right‘.

This week has been somewhat of an exception. Such that Friday, 8am on the train out of Portadown is the only time I’ve had all week to put pen to paper. Or perhaps fingers to keyboard…

Part of the busyness was good old fashioned work, part was a joyous reunion with the Belfast Empire at a Josh Ritter gig. The other part was my farewell outing with the legendary stadium rockers Nice Guy Eddie.

It was my 6th wedding of the year. Not bad seeing as I missed the first 6 months of it.

It was a good one. A CE wedding, where there’s nothing but wonderful people I know and love on both sides of the family.

Add to this the fact both the wedding and reception were in Portadown so it avoided the long, dull and awkward, three hours between service and reception. Everyone went back to someone’s house to play cards and lie around comfortable seats and drink their own tea.

One of the joys of being in a wedding band is that people know they can get you to play on the cheap no matter how bad you are. Kidding… honestly.
So as long as you have a steady (though rapidly diminishing) group of friends marrying themselves off then you’re guaranteed steady work.

Maybe it’s a good thing but some people have been to all the same weddings that we play at and surely they’re getting fed up with us. Though maybe not. We have added red ties, waistcoats and many a contemporary pop tune along the way.

By my own (admittedly low) standards it was a good night. Though I still stand with Woodsy that Build me up Buttercup and Dancing Queen are what they’ll be playing in the elevator on your way to hell.
Right we’re at Lisburn, better hurry up.

People dance, even Christians, even sober people dance. I rejoice to see them all with a smile on their face, there’s something about Northern Irish Christians dancing that brings a smile to my face. And I don’t mean a Monty Python sketch type smile. More of a rejoicing over the fact that though we’ve filled ourselves (in fact substitute myself for the ourselves…) with reservations, inhibitions and legalism, that just occasionally we remember how to celebrate and rejoice and bust some moves on the dance floor.

Though it takes a while to get the reserved, inhibited prudes to the floor (we call them adults). Instead we play the first few songs to a packed floor of 4 toddlers, Peter Kay style knee sliding included.

It takes me a while to realise that some of the kids are those of couples whose weddings we first played at some 5 years ago. In fact we’ve played at the weddings of half the couples there (editors note – the last statement is a gross exaggeration under article 4 of the bloggers code pertaining to atistic license. Because 5 didn’t sound near as dramatic).

This does not make me feel old or lonely or scared or angry – which many weddings do make me feel.

As the train rumbles through past Adelaide (‘past old building full of slogans…‘) I see my work here is done. I don’t mean the babies, they had nothing to do with me (your honour…), but I mean it’s a good gig to end on.

It’s like bonehead, the really crap guitarist from Oasis (yes even worse than Noel) being politely asked to pick up his Epiphone casino and royalty cheque on his way out the door. Or maybe it’s more like Robbie leaving Take That.

Though I suspect in reality it’s more of a Pete Best thing. Leaving me old, bitter and peniless as the boys move on to bigger and better things.

It has indeed been a pleasure.

Ahh. Now how did I end up in Bangor…


December 2007