Archive for November, 2008

Feet in the sky

img_2660I have come to the conclusion that walking in the hills by yourself is kind of the gold standard walking experience. People are all right but they’re over rated.

Though walking in the hills with the dog is probably a step up again. Unfortunately she was kidnapped and taken to Newry by the in-laws –  though i call them in-laws, they’re not actually my in-laws, more my brother’s in-laws and despite the fact I would have liked a walk in the hills with the dog, the dog itself actually quite enjoys the wee trips to Newry. Though the dog would enjoy anything.

The Mournes are kind of pretty mountains, in a really wild, bleak way. Unfortunately they’re about as boggy as the rest of the country – Ireland is in fact one big giant bog until we put tarmac and concrete over a few bits of it. img_2675

Which means at any time of the year, the ground is inevitably wet underfoot, be it mid-drought or mid summer. There are however exceptions, like right now, when it’s cold enough to stick your tongue to a lamp post. Which means all the wonderful bogginess freezes solid and you can walk where you want without sinking up to your ankles. There is some degree of method to my madness you see.

I’ve become a fan of tunes while I walk, (mixture today of Sigur Ros, Loney Dear and Iain Archer) changing from someone who was a little bit of a purist when it comes to hill walking – that none of the technology of the outside world should be able to intrude. But then I remembered that would mean sacrificing Gore-tex and decent boots and Mars bars and that would never do.

Spelga Dam

I did get accosted by one Berghaus laden chap who said good morning and followed it by a little unsolicited advice that i should maybe lose the headphones. Reflecting since I realise I could have answered in a variety of ways:

1) “depends what you’re listening to…” with an enigmatic smile as if somehow I was listening to GOD himself playing Radiohead covers

2) “at least it means I don’t have to hear what useless bastards like you have to say for yourself” while flipping him the bird.

3) “it’s actually my sat nav…- turn right at the dead sheep…”img_27011

and so on.

Though I didn’t say any of the above, though thinking up rude things i could have said kept me occupied for a good ten minutes.

When I was 15 or 16 and into my real hill-waking phase, I used to think the mournes were huge, somewhere you could walk in and get lost for weeks and end, though having seen a bit of the world I realise that you can see from one end to another on a clear day and walk near all the peaks in a couple of days. For some reason I also kept thinking about skiing on Ruapehu in NZ. Damn it.

img_2698Lunch consisted of a baguette, some sausages and cheese left over from yesterday and the all important flask of coffee and a Mars bar. I had this on top of Slieve Bernagh in a chill wind that occasionally would blow a dense cloud over the summit. At one point I had 8 layers of clothing on, sitting on my bum on a rock reading Slaughter House 5. Kind of hard to beat.

Top moment probably goes to sitting on the cliffs overlooking Ben Crom reservoir, wondering how much free fall I’d get before I hit the water – not in any suicidal kind of way, just wondering.

Came home and proceeded to sit in the bath for a good hour and a bit finishing off the book. I always figure it’s a good day, when you’ve a whole book read in about 12 hours…

Bad ambassador

For those who know the people involved this deserves wider attention. I’m looking forward to the Ambassadors FC Christmas Dinner already.

Based on a true story

I had two, slightly more unusual diagnoses the other night in work. One was luxatio erecta (honestly google it, it’s not even rude…) and bilateral internal carotid artery dissections. Both of which have provided all the needed coffee break conversation with the other docs. Is it miserable and sad that we have nothing more interesting to talk about or reflective that we genuinely find it all rather interesting? Mixture of both I’m sure.

All of this adds to the back catalogue of medical stories we get to tell. Almost invaribly beginning “one time I had this patient with [insert medical condition here] and he was real sick and then i used my magical healing hands and fixed him and he went on to write Crime and Punishment…” Or something like that anyhow.

Every story I tell has an element of “whoa look at me, I’m cool, I’m the boy” in it. The skill and the difficulty is to tell the story without the endless exagguration and self-promotion. I’m working on it.

Glamorous indie rock and roll

I’m not a big fan of computer games, if only cause i occasionally as a kid descended into bouts of obsessive game playing, not emerging from my room for weeks at a time playing such classics as Civilisation, Sim City 2000 and Dune 2. I am somewhat of an obsessive at the best of times. My house mate has something of a football manager addiction or perhaps that’s just art imitating life…

So I’ve figured it’s just best if i stay away from them altogether. Simon, however has kept up with the games industry, owning an Xbox 360  and working as a professional nerd. The big thing with the “kids” at the minute seems to be Guitar Hero – which seems like the ultimate in home karaoke and allows groups of grown adults to make tits of themselves in their own homes.

For Simon’s birthday at the weekend he got the full Guitar Hero package with drum kit and all. This provided great entertainment post-Sunday lunch with wee Liz on drums, me on guitar, Morsies on bass and Simon on lead vocals singing “the joker“. After a slow start, Liz pulled off a near perfect run. I can see this as the Christmas day entertainment already. What frustrated me (as a half-way decent guitarist) was how difficult playing the guitar was – was i expecting too much from a plastic guitar with 5 buttons?

I confess I’ve been a lot more of the real thing recently and have plunged myself into another bout of recording, putting down one miserable indie song after another on Logic Pro. Keeps me out of trouble I suppose. I’ll get round to posting them on a myspace at some point when i’m happy with them – probably never. Oh and there’s more Turf Brothers to come too you’ll be glad to hear…

Your vandal

Some wee ^%&$£@£ let the tyres down on my bike yesterday during work. Came out of the hospital at 10pm to find both tyres completely flat. I initially wondered what type of person would do that sort of thing and then realised that half the guys I work with may have done it just for a laugh, and to be honest it would have really been quite funny.

So much for saving the planet. Back to the volvo beast today.

More excitingly – the new Iain Archer album is out and kicks ass.

Together we’re heavy

I live in a house with two guys. One of whom who works for these guys, and one of whom who works for these guys – though he’s somewhat more gainfully employed with these guys. (I think hyperlinks are the new parentheses…)

This is all kind of new for me, having lived with my parents or on my own for the past 5 or 6 years. Indeed it was the heady days of the early noughties when I first shared a house in Belfast as a student with these guys.

Living with other people is good for me. I think. I enjoy my own company far too much and spend enough time as it is with my head up own arse never mind living on my own. I had a great time living in my flat in NZ, though I’m not sure it did me much good.

People are hard work. Me and Simy are agreed on that. The Church is hard work, for the same reason. Though just cause it’s all hard work doesn’t make it a bad idea. People have opinions and personalities and ideas and sleeping patterns and food preferences and levels of personal hygiene that are simply odd. And when you live with them you somehow have to factor that into your own life.

Which I suppose is the challenge, and yes, begrudgingly I’ll admit it, it’s actually quite enjoyable. This ‘accommodating’ of other people into your own everyday life is kind of cool. This, in a very small and simplistic way, is how you love people.

27 years to get that one… put me down as a slow learner.

My descent into madness

The quest continues to canoe every bit of the river Bann we possibly can. Simon has great plans to carry his canoe up the Mournes from Hilltown and somehow paddle it down the rocky stream that is the source of the Bann. Pending that we did the stretch from Banbridge to Portadown.

In a Ronnie-esque fit of preparation I spent Tuesday morning before walk driving all the country lanes and roads that run alongside the river from here to Banbridge – an experience in itself. Every time I found an access point I got out (in the snow I might add…) and walked down to the river or bridge and took a short video on my camera of whatever weirs or rapids I could see.

The upper Bann is (barely I suppose) famous for the linen industry and the proliferation of mills and accordingly weirs to drive the water through the mills. These form an old (though from the river’s point of view pretty damn young) barrier to the natural flow and a bit of fun for the canoeists (and perhaps the fish…).

By the end of Wednesday morning I’d counted about 4 weirs I could find, all of which (to the novices like ourselves) looked pretty intimidating. Though we’d not done ourselves any favours by watching mentalist kayakers on YouTube doing crazy things.

Armed with such invaluable reconnaissance we set off on Saturday afternoon for Banbridge with the two long touring canoes and the open Canadian that Wylie “borrowed” (I’m not sure he knew it would be scraped over weirs when he lent it…) off his mate in his church.

Now to be fair, Wylie and Legs are even less experiences canoeists than me and Simon are (which is saying something) so their will and enthusiasm to brave the weirs in an open canoe were remarkable enough. Though they did plan well enough ahead to wear full wetsuits.

The first weir was somewhat of an anticlimax with me offering to go first and more grinding down the concrete than being buffeted about by the rapids. The level of the river was a little low despite being Irish.

In the end we must have gone over about 12 or 13 weirs, some more dramatic than others My favourite of which was this one on the left where I stopped to get out and have a look and gave the ill-advised advice to “have a go” whereupon me and Simy went over the edge and prompted grounded our kayaks on a 30 degree weir and had to climb out and carry the canoes over. A tad embarrassing.

Though somewhat better than Legs and Wylie did on a relatively benign rapid where they overturned

The scenery was simply stunning. And though we had a major road rarely more than 20 or 30m away we could have been in deepest, darkest Ireland for all we knew. I always used to think that to do stuff like this you had to go away to (relatively) exotic places on adventure weekends but now i realise that we have all this in our back yard. The colours of the autumnal trees, the kingfishers, the risk of Weil’s disease, the old ivy coloured mills and gatehouses. Different world entirely from the one that lay so close at hand.

I know this is kind of tempting fate and in many ways i hate to say it but i wish it would rain for a week and then the river would be much more fun. This must be some sort of kayaker’s prayer…

By 5pm it was dark and we were just passing Leggy’s house in Gilford (lucky sod has a house that backs onto the river) and so him and Davy abandoned us for the warmth of a hot bath (separately i’m sure) and me and Simy paddled on in the rapidly advancing blackness. I phoned wee Liz from the canoe to let her know we were past all the weirs and her main concern was how we would find our way home in the dark. Which is somewhat like the question asked of Gilly’s friend who canoed round Ireland – when asked about how he would find his way he replied that when he left Portstewart he would just turn left and keep turning left.

Our main concern was paddling into Portadown under the bridge and having Buckfast (often referred to as Lurgan Champagne) bottles chucked at us (if not fireworks directed at us) by the local under-age drinkers. Thankfully we arrived with hulls intact.

My immediate thought is to put this down as “best day’s canoeing ever”, but I can’t. Cause Da wasn’t there. And now everything’s different. In many way’s everything’s “broken”, but maybe that’s too much. “Different” is more accurate. It doesn’t make sense. Not that I really expect it to.

Anyhow, below are some of the vids I took along the way.


November 2008