Archive for May, 2008

King of the jailhouse

Reflections on two weeks in the house.

Generally – loving it.

Mostly pretending I’m back in NZ, with the nice wether helping somewhat.

Things I like about living in the house:

– interior design. Let me elaborate. I despise the IKEA nesting instinct, I despise cushions, I despise Laura Ashley (though perhaps not on a personal level). I despise a culture that buys and builds houses with five bedrooms for a couple with no family, and then expects us to furnish each one to a ludicrously expensive standard, with each room most definitely for show with no thought of simple practicalities.

But all the same I’m loving the interior design. The bile green of the living room walls has a certain je ne sais pas (more of a what the ^&%$?) about it, which is beginning to grow on me. To the point where I’m not sure I’d change it given the choice.

It’s furnished with the best that the second or third hand has to offer. The seats arranged in such a manner to be as conducive to conversation as possible (the irony of the man who lives alone having seating arranged for conversation…) The living room seats 13 comfortably. Nice

The office‘s Mum’s painting (a landscape not a portrait…) graces the fireplace and almost matches. The stains seemed to wash off the walls easy enough. The B&Q lamps for a fiver do the trick nicely.

Aesthetics are important in their own way, it’s the materialism and the lack of thought for practicality that turns me off. I can’t imagine the “scruff is the new style” catching on.

– No TV – now the the major draw back will be the lack of social get togethers to watch footy and rugby matches but I think the lack of a TV is worth it. If it’s not there you can’t turn it on and waste whatever precious seconds may have been allocated to your short and often meaningless life. Also works with point 1) in that seats are always arranged to face the TV and never eachother. Really upsets the “room dynamics”.

– tunes, tunes and more tunes. Nuff said

– the legendary stir frys are back. Chop obscure vegetables, chop meat, add olive oil, balsamic, chillis, soy sauce and stir fry to the max. Add honey and cashew nuts just before the end. Winner.

– rather obsessive and disturbing cleanliness

– proximity to town, the park and the tow path by the river.

– being in a group of 30 houses yet I have not met a single Irish person who lives here. Everyone smiles enthusiastically and says lovely things (I presume) in foreign languages. Feels very international and exotic. For Portadown anyhow.

– the two Portugese kids who don’t know any better and wear Rangers tops everyday

– double bed

– people calling round, or being able to call people to come round. Apart from making me feel loved and popular, it leads to all kinds of wonderful graceful conversations and tete a tetes with your feet up and cuppa in hand.

– battering away at the guitar and singing along to a myriad of depressive dirges of my own composition.

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The beauty regime

Now normally there’d be an ocean, and a beach and the water would go down the toilet the other way round. And normally I’d be warmer, and the car would be different. But mostly it’s the same. Feeling wise anyhow.

Beauty is an odd thing, it provokes an emotion or state of mind, not in a pretty girl type beauty way, but simple an open sky and the odd tree and an expanse of water, a good old fashioned awe inspiring vista.

When GOD created the world and saw that it was good then I imagined (in my madness) he felt somewhat like this – though I expect he was staring at something slightly prettier than the point of whitecoat on a summer’s eve (the first two weeks in may are the official northern irish summer in case you haven’t heard, prepare for snow by July…)
Memory gives you powerful associations for beauty and awe and wonder. This is not the estuary in Ahuriri, this is not Hawke’s bay, this is not a beast on the east cape. This is only Portadown on a good day. So why am I getting so excited about it…

Maybe I’m just having a good day, happy to be where GOD wants me, able to lift my eyes a tad to see that GOD is in the business of redeeming creation (a little bit of Tom Wright creeping in there…) and I’m here to be a part of that and even if it’s only one step closer to glory each day then at least the scenery seems to be getting better.

You never wash up after yourself

I suppose I’m having something of a moment. Indulge me. I’ve just discovered Bell X1 and it’s having an effect.

I have spentĀ  a week on my knees. In no particular order, prayer, sticking needles in kiddies (I just can’t do IV lines while standing…), scrubbing skirting boards. It’s been quite a job, removing layers upon layers of grime and smoke grease from what is really quite a nice house underneath all the dirt. I feel like that chap in the white suit in Black Books who comes in to clean the shop. The oven is preparing itself for round 3 of Mr Muscle. I even have the white singlet and marigolds.


I have pretty much everything moved in except the books, just failing on my general rule that you should never own more than you can fit in your car in one go. I suppose I’ve been here for almost a quarter of a century, us westerners will always accumulate a trail of stuff wherever we go.

I have raided friends and family for pots, and pans and plates sofas. Anyone looking rid of their duplicate house wear is in for a treat. I have the most unmtatching house in the country. I love it.

And I know moving 5 mins down the road is hardly a big deal, surely NZ was further, and bigger. But somehow it still seems significant. Parents talk of empty nest syndrome but what do we talk about. Somehow this seems more permanent. Combining a birthday and moving out in the same week makes you act your age somehow. Whether or not you feel it.

I’m yet to meet anyone with English as a first language in my little cul de sac, I’ve had friendly waves fromĀ  a few Portugese guys and a few courteous nods of approval from some slightly inebriated Lithuanians in the corner. Makes the Garvaghy Road seem kind of exotic. My parents don’t even know where East Timor is (and I admit to being a bit dubious myself…), and here I have it on my doorstep. My Portugese is still limited to a fumbled “obregada” that I use with the Portugese mums in work after I’ve done their baby check. It gets a laugh, more from bewilderment that comprehension. Marks for effort…

Tomorrow I wake up in a strange bed, in what seems like a different world. Melodramatic or what…

Today I ran for miles [One step closer to Glory]

Well only 6.1 of them. It seemed long enough at the time. Leg 4 of the Belfast Marathon (only leg 4 mind you). Running down the Shore Rd with the fog over Belfast Lough and then through an industrial estate with odd but enthusiastic DJ’s and bands playing 80s classics to encourage us along the way. It encouraged me to run further away from them anyhow.

The marathon is kind of a social event, several thousand, mostly unfit but enthusiastic white guys, pretending for the one day a year that they’re really fitness fanatics, with no doubt countless thousands raised for charitable causes (both meritorious and dubious). It is almost the only day that NI is guaranteed sunny weather, if only to make it seem like hell for Joe Average.

I enjoyed it, even if it sounds like I didn’t. I enjoyed the BBQ at Jenny and Jose’s afterwards much more, relaxing in the sun eating bacon and steak off the BBQ and reading the paper. It rarely gets better than this. I could be in NZ easy enough. Just about enough to keep me here.

Finish your collapse and stay for breakfast

I suppose it’s been an eventful week, a confusing, often bewildering one. Just when you think you’ve got things sorted…

Da got sick again, collapsing in a shopping centre (and not at the checkout at the size of the bill either as he keeps saying to people) and subsequently had a rigor without obvious source. And so it was back to hospitals and needles and blood tests and scans and antibiotics and all the usual that we’ve come to be so scared of. And so it’s been a rough few days in a way, having to realise that maybe we’ll not “get away with it” the way we thought.

It was odd cause there were all these thoughts of sickness and pain and there he was as fit as he’d been the day before. All our hospital memories were in the Mater when he was proper sick, and struggled to do a lap round the ward. Funny how quickly me and Liz fit back into hospital visiting and little routines. The really odd bit is Dad being in the same hospital as where I work, so I can call in to see him every hour or so, and bring him a coffee and the paper, only heading back when I get paged.

I suppose I’d stopped thinking of the idea of the cancer returning, of all that that might entail. I’d filed that in the compartment at the back of my head of things I can avoid and don’t want to think about it. But this week I had no choice. There’s not the slightest thing we can do to stop it coming back (if it ever does), we are at the mercies of the gods. But when he’s so well, when he’s canoeing, and cutting grass and doing everything he ever used to do then it’s easier to avoid thinking about the possibility.

And then in the midst of this I find a house. I mean I find a house to rent, somewhere to live, the wait being the biggest bug bear in my so called life over the past few months, and of course I find it the very week I could care less for it.

But I have the keys to an end terrace house, that smells of month old cigarettes and has piles of mobile phone bills addressed to various Eastern European names in the hallway. With a slightly disconcerting dent in the bathroom door, looking distinctly like it’s been punched in. Maybe they were just impatient for the toilet in the mornings.

I move in next week all being well, to spend a week scrubbing sinks and vacuuming – if not a neat freak then I could easily be a clean freak. It’s stocked with wonderful charity shop furniture and even a fantastic 80’s TV with one of those crazy convex screens and individual buttons down the right side for each station. I love the place. I am excited.

And just back this evening from my first (well the other one I mostly missed) barbecue of the year at Rab’s, sitting squat on the ground in front of a charcoal fire, making African tea as the daylight disappears, pretending we’re all back in Africa and life is much more straightforward. My hands and clothes stink of smoke, my throat like after a cigar, my eyes tired and sore from the carbon, my heart warmed from the bant and the graceful conversation.


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May 2008
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