Archive for February, 2008

Some things make your soul feel clean

I have run slightly short of kindly, positive encouraging blogs of late. Some may say there never were any. I think the genre has suffered from a general fear of offense.

In NZ it was easy to blog about stuff cause it was all very distant from the guys reading it, and it was more like reading a proper blog where you’re nicely, comfortably distanced from the context.

But here it’s all a little close to home, often literally. The joy of voyeurism (and I suppose that’s mostly it, though perhaps you could call it curiosity…) in reading blogs of other people’s lives is that you develop images and perceptions of who the writer may actually be. As if the collected online works of an individual would give you a good idea of who the person is. This is true to a very limited extent but it’s also true that often people’s online personas can be wildly different. For example, to view merely my blogs my give the impression of a sensitive, thinking type chap, when in actually fact in real life I’m a bit of a selfish, insensitive git.

Some of you actually know the selfish, insensitive git and perhaps find the two images difficult to reconcile. Hence the unease in blogging about a lot of stuff. Many of you may know the actual situations and people involved and hold, at the very least, different perspectives.

Anyhow I figure I should just get past that and blog away. I lay sole responsibility for that at the feet of my peppermint tea supplying friend who so delightfully entertained me this evening.

On peppermint tea. Although often categorized as a “gay tea” (whatever that may mean, I believe peppermint tea has been largely overlooked in the beverage department. Indeed it has stood me well in previous years when I’ve kicked the coffee habit for lent. Before the days when the cold turkey scared me out of it…tea.jpg

I have a general ban on coffee after 6 pm as I lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, grinding my teeth, and listening to the shipping forecast on Radio 4.

And with tea in hand we had a great wee chat, the conversation of good mates catching up on what’s been happening in our lives since we last met. The kindly, generous, encouraging type of conversation when you’re genuinely glad to see the person. Familiarity breeds contempt. I get fed up with the same people’s company (mostly my own) as much as the next person.

I picture Heaven as somewhat like this, long evenings, rotating back on forth from twilight to darkness in an unending cycle, like the restaurant at the end of the universe. Evenins spent at long lost mates houses catching up on the bad old days and laughing ourselves silly over all the petty little things that we used to get bent out of shape about.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’ll be lots of weekends in Donegal and trips up the hills and Josh Ritter gigs too, but the coffee definitely has a part to play.


But we’re not there yet, we still have to get through all the “piss and *&%$ and lies that kill people” (Magnolia to the rescue…), and “all the lonely people where do they all come from“, all the sorrow and heartbreak that makes up so much of human existence. But we’ll get there, no doubt, with little glimpses of glory along the way.

Come on pilgrim

So… thinking about a wee snack before bed. Wander downstairs to find Ma and Da toasting hunks of bread over an open fire, apparently a regular thing these days. I should leave my room more often, dear knows what those two get up too. Not that I’ll complain, Da has managed to put on a stone in weight, which is pretty damn impressive, considering he hasn’t got a pancreas. In fact he’s only 3kg behind me in weight, next thing we’ll have him on a diet. To think what was happening 6 months ago… Another story entirely…

Anyhoo. To compliment my freshly toasted… toast (I’m hoping for a pig on a spit with an apple in it’s mouth tomorrow night) I pop into the fridge for a bit of cheese, to find we appear to have swapped from good old fashioned Tesco mature cheddar to “Pilgrim’s Choice”.

I picture some guy on the Mayflower unwrapping a vacuum packed bit of “Pilgrim’s Choice” to go with his freshly caught seagull before the scurvy kicks in. I tried but just couldn’t picture Bunyan’s Christian with anything vacuum packed.

Well, seeing as 9 out of 10 pilgrims prefer it I’ll not say no.

National Anthem

180px-eirepas.jpgMy nice shiny new Irish passport arrived in the post today. After several weeks of form filling and taking multiple different passport photos to get one that was deemed acceptable by the “authorities” – the woman in the Post Office in town. It’s shiny and clean and looks like by British one except with a Harp and some funny language written all over it. Plus it’s cheaper than the British one.

Tis one of the joys of living in a country racked by violence and division is the opportunity to have dual nationality, and also some complicated rules that I don’t understand about who can play for which footy team at international level.

Now at present I have no particular need for two passports, having not made it off our fair island for a good 8 months now. But if I ever do it make off here again (sweet NZ is always calling…) then having two passports maybe isn’t a bad idea, if only cause I’m likely to lose one at some point.

Though I have in my head of this sightly James Bond image of being arrested and someone confiscating my passport in some random african nation and me sneaking out of the country under cover of darkness on my second passport. That sounds kind of weird when I write it down.

The other reason I like having an Irish passport is it lets me feel slightly more authentically Irish. In my year away in NZ I always described myself as being “Irish”, not “Northern Irish”. Which I suppose was a bit of a change given my good solid Protestant stock when most of us seemed slightly uncomfortable with our associations with the “Free State” (as my Granny called it. In fact if pushed I even tend to say “from the north of Ireland”.

There is a certain amount of Kudos that goes with being Irish when you’re a traveller, and not just the fiddly-dee leprechaun kind. We have a certain reputation for being fun loving and gregarious and generally a decent bunch. And given that Ireland’s national export for generations has been Irishmen then being Irish allows am immediate connection to the diaspora.

When I think of Ireland I think of home, despite the different currency and the speed limits I see the whole place as where I belong. Poetically and aesthetically I like the idea of this being one place.  I’m not sure this affects me in any political sense. Politics in Northern Ireland being extremely messy and something I try to avoid at all costs. Though with Big Ian and Marty holding hands it’s hard to predict what might happen.

To make the day complete I ended up the Ireland-Scotland game in Croke park partly fulfilling an ambition to get to Croke (my real ambition being an Armagh all-ireland final there). And for the first time realising that the other “national anthem” we have (apart from Ireland’s call) is actually in Irish and the Ulster boys don’t sing it because they’re making a point but because they can’t sing the words.

I guess I have a lot to learn when it comes to this “Irish” thing me thinks.

Proudest Monkey

Night shifts are quite good for snatching a wee moment, a wee moment of clarity when the whole ward’s asleep, when you’re dandering the corridors on your tod (whatever that means) and the whole world may as well be empty. Those moments when you remember something you just said or did, and you realise – “you know what – you can be a real asshole sometimes.”

Yes, this will be one of those rather self-depricating blogs.

My biggest problem with work (and I suppose with life in general) is my pride and my arrogance. A little green monster inside me that has proclaimed the greatest hot-shit medic to grace the corridor of Craigavon (or indeed Hawke’s Bay) hospital. That I can do it all, and that I know it all.

Work brings out many positive and good and healthy things in me. It also gives me almost unlimited license to indulge my own ego. The struggle is to magnify the former and flee from the latter. I’m pretty sure I am actually quite good at my job, just not as good as I think I am. I suspect no one is as good as I think I am.

I Like Birds

[As a brief warning, most of the following is uncannily like a blog I wrote in Dec o7 about being excited to be back in the hills. Except this one isn’t nearly as funny, though it does have the same photos with extra icy bits and a nice bit about birds at the end. My memory appears to be deserting me, not realising I’m writing (and indeed publishing) the same blogs without noticing I’ve perhaps been here before… Ah it’s yourself… Are those my feet…]

I used to spend almost every other weekend up in the mournes. Originally it was just weekends away in the caravan with the family to Castlewellan (where the obsession with ducks began i suppose…). To the wee campsite just down from the lake, with full view of Donard while we ate our fry in the caravan on a Saturday morning while listening to Alistair Cook’s letter from America. Good times.

From there I ended up actually walking in the hills with the BB on various weekends at the BB hut and Duke of Edinburgh award expeditions. This was when i started getting really nerdy about it and buying all the gear and learning all the mountain names and that type of carry on.

And then I hit uni and got a job at weekends and left the BB and ended up spending my time plying guitar in various bands and playing footy and generally lounging around like a waster – why, what did you do at uni?

And so I went a good 5 years without making it to the mournes, except for the very occasional new year’s day foray up Donard with Da in the snow and the ice.

img_2311.jpgBut I’ve finally made it back. Once with a few guys from church in December and again on Saturday. The unseasonably pleasant weather – ie it’s not pissing it down, gave us the chance to get back again.

On a cold foggy Saturday morning getting out of your scratcher is perhaps the last thing you want to do, but somehow when you do it always seems worthwhile in the end.

What really got me out of bed was the promise of a fry in Tesco in Banbridge along the way.That and the promise of the endorphins of course.

The walk up was uneventful, well for me and Jonny it was, for Sparky it was a somewhat different story, which it appears from the John Wayne type gait, that he is still recovering from. He’ll get over it I’m sure.img_2314.jpg

We feasted on hard bread and packet ham on the top, surrounded by ice crystals but with a clear blue sky over us. We had the company of a dog called Jarvis (not sure if it was after Mr Cocker, but I can hope) who was keen to hoover up any crumbs we had left. Made me wish Lily (the brother’s dog) was old enough to drag up the hills. Though I think she may explode with sheer excitement even at the idea.

Instead of following the wall off the hill I figured we might try some fancy navigation and compass bearings carry on. Till the fog cleared and we realised it was easier to just keep walking till we reached the top of the hill and then just walk toward the sea and we’d end up in the forest where we wanted to be.

img_2324.jpgOn the way down the wind eased, the sun shone on our backs and it was, well, undeniably pleasant. So we simply lay down on the heather and dozed watching two footy games going on below us in Donard park. Not that you could make it out much, just a general swarming of players to and from one side of the field to the other, with the occasional flash of white as the ball got kicked up in the air. At least as entertaining as watching a footy match normally. A thoroughly pleasant moment. I’ve been reading more Jack Kerouac as he tells of his rather Zen moments up a mountain, and I suppose I was in the mood for some ‘thoroughly pleasant moments’. Though without the Buddhism and the alcoholism though…

But my moment of the day goes to the drive back, through silent valley and up towards Spelga and down (past the magic road where your car rolls up hill… honestly it’s magic…).


Left of the road towards Hilltown were simply clouds of starlings doing their crazy swarming thing (like the smoke beast thing in LOST) before nesting for the night. I have absolutely no idea why they do this but am infinitely glad that they do. We parked the car at the side of the road and simply watched them for 15 minutes. And thinking what a mess they’d make of the car if they flew overhead and decided to have some target practice.

Check out an example from youtube…

I’ll be your baby tonight

baby.jpgAt 4.45 am on Sunday morning I’m sitting in a back room on the ward, fiddling with songs on Logic Pro, buzzing from too much coffee and waiting for the bleep to go off.

Yet it doesn’t. I kind of like this job. I’ve had two very civilized nights so far. I’m most impressed.

I am now back in the world of full time employment. And while I’m in no way busting a gut, I do at least have to turn up every day as opposed to when I want to like my recent locums.

I am also now a little person doctor (which is different from being a little doctor…). Smaller, sightly less hairy versions of the homo sapiens I’m more accustomed to dealing with.

This has advantages and disadvantages. There is a distinct lack of drunken violence and suicidal ideation. This is what I would normally spend my Saturday nights in work dealing with. I suppose I consider this an advantage.

Of course being smaller, it means the veins are a tad harder to hit. So I have to use the wee tiny needles all the time and try to maintain an even steadier hand than usual – which the coffee earlier on wasn’t helping. I suppose this would be a disadvantage but I kind of like the challenge.

The neonates (ie newborns) are the biggest novelty to me. They are, completely and unsurprisingly – tiny. With tiny hands, and tiny feet and tiny toes and tiny noses. I know this sounds elementary but they are especially cute and I get to play with them as part of my job.

One of my jobs is to do routine ‘baby checks’, screening for heart conditions, hip problems and cataracts mostly. Mainly it’s a simple head to toe and a “your baby’s normal” and onto the next one. The idea of assessing normality needs a completely different mindset from that which I’ve practiced for the last three years – ie that most patients I saw would be at immediate risk of serious illness and possibly death (whether they were or not I was to presume the worst and hope for the best).

The concept of normality and routine health checks are a tad foreign to me. I’ve surprised myself at how much I’ve actually enjoyed it.

Though the wee buggers do try to piss or vomit on you when you’re examining them, especially the boys with their multi-directional apparatus. Surprising the height of the fountain a 36 hour old can generate. I had one this morning who was doing his very best to pee in my eye while I checked the pulses in his legs. It kind of backfired and and he ended up peeing in his own face. Is it wrong to feel smug bout getting one over on someone barely a day old?

When you realize how much can possibly go wrong with the process then the fact that any of us make it (never mind how many of us make it in perfect normality and working order) at all is stunning.

Neonates are a bundle of peeing, pooing crying reflexes that somehow end up with personalities we come to love and hate and people who learn to be happy and sad and bring joy and pain into the world.

The whole concept of human development from embryo to person is simply mind boggling and a beautiful process. Though I admit it tends to take a bit of a downturn once we learn to talk and think and invade Poland the like

Not that I don’t think it’s good we move on from being bundles of pissing, pooing, crying reflexes (with such cute little noses…)  it’s just that it all seems to get a lot more messy, and I’m not talking of poo or pee…

Rush hour soul

I suppose it’s bout time I did a wee blog again for the old CE site. They have been sorely lacking of late. Indeed the sheer volume of requests for new blogs has taken me so long to get through (yes Nic I did get your email, consider it answered…) that I’ve simply not had time.

Anyway where did I last leave you – it appears to have been pre-christmas. Pre-the donegl trip, pre-the sufjan Christmas album, pre-the new mac, pre-the 8 hours a day mixing and recording Ferg’s songs, pre-getting a job, pre-a lot of stuff really. But that’s all by and by I suppose.

What looms large in front of me is a full time job, a proper job with regular hours and rotas and that kind of thing. It’s been a while. I fear it’ll come as a bit of a shock to the system. That mid-week trips to the north coast will be off the menu, along with prayer meetings, and friendships and reading books, and church, and meeting people for coffee, and Kids Club, and being slightly less of a horrible person. I come out in a cold sweat come to think of it.

See the last 6 months of enforced waiting/bumming round have been so good for me in so many ways. It’s nice to realize that there’s a life and a world beyond the doors of the hospital (not that I didn’t believe this before I just never took the time to consider it too much. I realize that there’s all kinds of ways to be of use to the Kingdom that don’t involve medicine. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I somehow hadn’t noticed that before.

I have noticed that there are these simply wonderful people around me called friends and family who have been covering my ass and keeping me right for years and whom I have quietly ignored in the pursuit of my own agenda. I’ve noticed that some of them could do with a bit of a hand and some time now and again. When you take your foot off the pedal for a while you begin to notice the scenery a bit more.

Of all the things I’ve learned (correction, in process of beginning to think about and consider learning…) perhaps it is that above all else lies my relationships with CHRIST. That being and appearing busy doing lots of apparently useful and ‘pious’ things bears no relationship to the state of your heart. When I get busy I retreat into a little shell of my own self-importance. GOD goes out the window (I laugh at the impossibilty but you get what I mean), my family, my friends go out the window.

I can do many things badly or I can do a few things well. Less is more or some equally non-sensical paradox.

Some of you need to start saying no to things, to know that being involved in every extra-curricular activity going isn’t always the best plan, that you’re simply using the activity to patch over the holes in your life. Some of you will need to get your asses off the sofa and stop using activity merely as a means of self-promotion and work out what it means to serve each other. Some will have it like Goldilocks and ‘it was just right’. I know I’m not there yet anyhow.


February 2008