Archive for February, 2009

A caution to the birds

On misdirected german bombings in 1941

“230 high explosive bombs were dropped in open country. The total casualties were two chickens”

The grand alliance
Volume 3 second world war
Winston Churchill

You were still here

Right, time for more sad bastard music.

This is a very early demo – recorded using only the built in mic on the MacBook –  still amazes me how good a job it does.

img_0027img_0028My extensive studio consists of what’s pictured. My favorite bit being the deformed, battered, 20 year old SM 58 that I found in my Dad’s office that he’d obtained from closing down some illegal radio station in the late 90s.

Much as such old battered items appeal to me I think I’m ready to just go and buy a decent recording microphone. I’m just worried that perhaps that’ll mean I’ll be expected to record stuff that actually sounds good…

Give Up

Lent is upon us. And despite missing the preceding pancake carry on I’m all up for the rest of it. I’ve always been a big fan of lent. I’ve always been a big fan of the cycles and rhythm in the faith and all the ceremony that surrounds it.

I’ve previously gone off coffee and got the associated headaches. This year i’m off the wobbly water, which I imagine will have some degree of social problems – they don’t really serve coffees in my local pub, it’s not that kind of place. But i’ll cope I’m sure.

Good news is it turns out that you get Sundays off (sundays always being a day of celebration) and if you’re RC you end on Maundy Thursday instead of easter morning. I’m also reliably assured you get St. Paddy’s day off just for being Irish, and if you get a birthday then you get it off too. Though perhaps I’m trivialising it now.

The housemates suggested I went off reading which I thought seemed a tad extreme.


For those who’ve been paying attention the old bike is back on the road and managed to get me both to and from work today. Amazing i know.

The cost

Blogging while sleep deprived and a bit pissed off makes for good reading I expect but perhaps you say more than you meant to. I imagine this is the type of thing I’ll re tell on a comfy leather couch in about 20 years (or months depending on how it goes…)

The problem with medicine (says he, with finger pointed and all eyes watching the figure with the air of authority as he gets ready to put the world to rights…) is not neccessairily the medico-legal responsibilty.

Say that I cock up and kill someone, or miss something big or whatever – then there is a certain medico-legal responsibility that I have been negligent or incompetent and should (though not always and occasionally too often) face some kind of disciplinary action.

I figure I get paid for that kind of responsibility. That seems to be the way things work in the world, the more responsibility and education and learning you have the more you get paid. Like a top class economy crippling banker – you bring the world as we know it to an end and you still get your golden handshake…

[Although that is probably a tad unfair on the old bankers – no doubt they were unscrupulous and greedy but they were merely in the position to be so. Yes they’re bastards but I’m pretty sure we all are. Anyhow the dodgy millions they made are what paid the taxes that fund the whole NHS and now that their incomes (and tax revenues) are falling then the NHS will suffer. Anyhow it’s all a tad more complicated than a quick “bastards are bankers” “bankers are bastards” joke allows…]

Legal responsibility is one thing. Moral responsibility is a whole other kettle of fish.

You see that’s were the problem lies. I don’t give too much of a stuff about whether I’m legally responsible for a patient – fine sue me, see if i care. What I do care about is my moral responsibilty to the patient in front of me. Yes I am that self-righteously pious. It has taken years of practice believe me…

They turn up with their woes and sicknesses and it is to me they come. And me with my mythical diagnostic and healing powers, foisted upon me by a legacy of TV shows, movies and dishonest doctors, is the one that that has to give them some kind of answer and dare i say it – final solution to the whole mess. (No nazi killing reference intended…)

Do not get me wrong. I am not grumpy and moaning. I am not saying “why can’t you blood sucking parasites leave me alone and sort your own lives out and crawl into a corner and die as you best see fit”.

I enjoy the job. I enjoy that position. It is one of the highest honour and priviledges to face and speak to these people who are part scared, part hopeful, part accepting of what may lie before them.

It is the moral responsibility that I carry around with me. The simple notion that these people need sorted and that in essence is my job.

It is also what keeps me up till 3am worrying about all these little broken, sickly creatures wandering around out there in the community. It is what makes me come home and be grumpy with my house mates and my family. When you see me staring into space and grumpy and  uncommunicative I’ll either be thinking about Da or about all the patients I carry around with me in my head.

Without a doubt this is part of what makes me (i think) good at my job. It is also a large part of what makes me walk across the car park each day swearing inwardly at myself, the patients and the way we serve them.

While trying not to be too melodramatic – oh why the hell not… –  they come to me like ghosts, or apparitions, their faces, their names, their x-rays their CT scans, their veins and arteries and wounds all their weeping, worried relatives.

I have this uncanny knack of remembering every patient I’ve ever seen. Well not everyone but a scarily high proportion. I go in the cubicle and ask have i met them before then i’ll remember – you were in cubicle 4 two and a half years ago and you’d hurt your wrist and there was no fracture on the x-ray. Which is all very impressive till the patient says “oh yes but i came back a week later and the consultant said it was broken…” Which always takes me down a peg or two but I could do with that.

But i remember them all, the things we got right, the things we got wrong. Each one tells me a story.

I’m not entirely sure if all this psychotic craziness is since Da died or not. Certainly watching one of your own go through it makes you painfully aware of how important all this is. But I think I was like this to start with. Only now more so.

I sometimes I think I have a shelf-life, a period of time that I can pull this off for before it all comes crashing down around me and I end up pulling an into the wild and doing private practice as a dermatologist (awww that’s unfair on dermatologists, sorry…). I hope not.

“a man who has no memory has nothing left to hide… nothing and i like it…”

The rising

I have been getting better at this bread baking carry on. Having realised all my yeast was out of date and therefore not rising.

I left the loaf rising sitting on top of the radiator and went out for lunch and came back to find it crawling over the edges of the baking tin and ready to climb onto the sofa and put its feet up.


My secret is my silence

On “JESUS wept”

“To sentamentalise something is to savoyr rather than to suffer the sadness of it, is to sigh over the prettiness of it rather than to tremble at the beauty of it, which may make fearsome demands of us or pose fearsome threats.

Not just as preachers but as Christians in general we are particularly given to sentamentalising our faith as much of Christian art and Christian preachingbear witness – the sermon as a tearjerker, the gospel an urn of long stemmed roses and baby’s breath to brighten up theftont of the church, JESUS as gregory peck.”

Frederick Beuchner
Telling the truth
The gospel as tragedy, comedy and fairy tale.

Fix you

I hate my 4 to midnight shifts. Well not hate, but I’m certainly not a fan.

I get up and eat bacon and clean the house and by 11.30 I’m ready to sit in front of the fire and read and listen to music till it all gets dark and I fall asleep.

But I can’t do this because I know that as soon as I get comfy and settled and onto the fourth cup of coffee it’ll be time to go to work and deal with all the sickly, grumpy, moaning, demanding people in work, never mind all the patients.


So I set aside little projects, little things to do. Like trying to finally fix my bike since the bastard let the tyres down outside work one day about 3 months ago.

Admittedly it is an old bike, possibly even older than me. I ask if it remembers the Falklands and the Iranian embassy siege or even when I was born but it just sits there and stares at me from under the blue tarpaulin.

You see it was never really my bike, it was always dads. This is why I like it. I like old broken things.

But just like most of the possessions and personality traits i have, i merely found it brought into my ownership by repeated “borrowings”.

I ask it if it remembers Dad, and where they used to go on it. And whether or not it was bought merely during the brief “keep fit” phase of his life when he bought that odd chest expander gym tool that neither me nor Simy could ever make any movement on.

I ask if it remembers the roads and hedges round Drumnacanvy, or the time I used to try it before my legs were long enough to touch the ground and i got scared.

Still it stares from under the tarp, its tyres bursting quicker than I can buy new ones from Halfords.

3 months since it has been in decent working order. All through winter, under the blue tarp, worrying bout where someone in the 21st century would get a 630-32 tyre to fit it.

In the end I didn’t. I got it a nice shiny continental brand 622-32 which despite messy hands and 2 hours effort I realised would not actually fit.

I was convinced it sniggered at me. Laughing at my greasy, swearing self.

I resorted to the old tyre but with a new inner. Only to find I couldn’t quite remember how to put the whole thing back together again.

I didn’t remember the gear mechanism being quite that complicated.

The bike stopped sniggering. I think it began to smell the fear. That maybe I couldn’t get it back together again. And I knew it was on the tip of its tongue, but too scared to ask. I could almost hear it whisper – why don’t you ask Dad?

… [and] this is [not] a song…

OK so I’ve been locked in the house recording sad bastard music again. For those interested can be found here.

This is a song

When I write songs, I really want to write songs like these. Almost in danger of toppling Astral Weeks off the top of the top 5. Maybe Bruce just wants to be an Irishman at heart.

Sunlight hits the snow

I like a nice play in the snow. I’d texted 25 or so to see who wanted to go. I got 4 in the end. Useless bunch of lay abouts the lot of you…



Sparky apparently looks like the phone jacker with that hat. Which is still in my car dude


Maysie looks like he was born in the hills


Rachel was the only one not squinting with the sensible and cool looking sunnies


That’s an unfortunate picture of Coils i know. Apologies. I made it very small if that helps…


I always look this good.





The hills on the other hand have rarely looked better.


And I’ve no idea how that car managed to get there.

Happiness only real shared

Is there anyone who’s seen into the wild who knows where he’s coming from – though more the freedom in in wilderness and travelling than the hating the parents and starving to death thing..

If everyone I loved died or vanished and I was left as a stranger in the word then I’d be gone. It is only the people that keep me here.

I dream of Kerouac it seems.

Itchy feet…

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Let’s begin with this. Just to set the context. I like Simy’s comment best…

I was looking forward to this all week. Actually wanting it to rain heavier just so the river would be higher. This is somewhat perverse (and unnecessary in norn iron…) i know.

And come Saturday the river was indeed high. Even the man from the council was down at Shillingtons putting his little red and white warning tape in front of the jetty so that no one might walk on it. Which would have been impressive in itself seeing as the jetty was a few feet under water.

Not that that would stop naive amateurs such as ourselves.

We started as all athletes do with eggs and bacon at Liz’s – with her usual admonition that we would wear life jackets – which seemed a little unnecessary as we’ve now taken to wearing helmets.

We did stop to briefly consider was this a good idea as evidenced by the video above. But perhaps we didn’t quite consider enough.

Within seconds of starting we realised that this was going to be a more interesting paddle than usual. Speed if nothing else was a bit of a factor. The first weir we hit was gone. The water level was so high that the 4 foot weir that was little more than a bump in the river.

Then we hit a few rapids. This will sound odd to people who’ve seen the Bann at Banbridge with not too much water in it. It’s more of a stream. We got water over our heads in the first rapids. Not quite what we were expecting anyhow. Still it was fun all the same.

The real problem came at the next weir which was substantial enough to form a stopper. I’d seen these in videos but never actually been in one. This wasn’t a good one to try your first on.

I went over the weir and promptly stopped dead. Neither forward nor backward. Gravity pulling me into the stopper, the water pushing me back up the weir. This is not the most tenuous position to find yourself in. I remember it was awful noisy.

Simy came over the weir right behind me and went straight over and bucked out of the canoe. I followed shortly after. Now Simy has been in the water before but this was my first occasion. My first thought was “I’m glad we wore the wetsuits…” I also found I’d managed to retain both my paddle and my canoe in my hands.

I remember shouting repeatedly at Simy to keep his feet up (people die when their ankle catches in tree and the force of the water pulls them under), that and thinking that we were moving along awful fast.

We floated past someone’s house with a woman sitting on her patio. She helpfully asked me was i OK, to which I murmured an “err… yeah”. Simy tells me she said to him that she was going to get something to help but didn’t have time. Ah the general public, man’s last great hope…

At this point we’d been in the water for a few minutes and had finally made it out of Banbridge proper. I scrambled my way to the bank (which was now the middle of a field) and pulled the canoe ashore as simy and his canoe drifted past at a rate of knots, unfortunately on the wrong side of the river and unable to make his way across the canoe.

So i ran along a couple of fields beside him, dressed in full wetsuit, life jacket, helmet and spray deck, jumping fences and shouting at him. It must have been quite a sight.

Our options at this point were

1) abandon canoe and simy climbs out of the river

2) I get back in the water and we both swim down after it.

being separated was not really a conceivable option. Either practically or emotionally. I would have cried there and then if I’d stood and watched his helmeted hairy head disappear off over the next weir… He owed me a fiver…

So I decided on option 1 and swore at Simy till he let the canoe go and climbed out. He shouted something about “only set of car keys” and climbed out vowing never to canoe again.

So there we were in a field, dressed like a pair of twats with only one canoe and no car keys, mobile phone or straps to tie the only canoe back on top of the car we couldn’t get back into. Said items were in said canoe, rapidly moving towards Lough Neagh with the components of south Down’s rainfall in the past 2 days.

In the absence of a father to ring (and don’t think I don’t think that any time anything difficult happens…) we walked up the road and asked the first guy we met could we borrow his mobile phone. Kindness of strangers and all that…

We phoned Morsies (Simy’s Wife, name changed to protect identity…)  and sheepishly asked for a lift.

Losing the canoe was unfortunate. Losing Simon’s only set of car keys to a second hand car which he had no documentation on was more of an issue. That and his second mobile phone in 6 months (the last being dampened in the last ditching).

So back to Portadown, pick up the volvo (my keys were usefully in my pocket, what a novel idea…), pick up the remaining canoe and begin the long task of driving and walking along every accessible bit of the river looking for an upturned canoe.

This proved to be immense fun, walking round people’s gardens and jumping over old walls and discovering random horses who live by the river bank in Lawerencetown.

Alas no canoe. Not that you would in any way expect to find it.

After two hours or so of this we ended up in Tullylish on the bridge staring at the river (where the first video was taken) when a guy in battered estate pulls alongside. He was obviously a canoeist – beard, fleece, battered estate car, roof bars…

He asks were we thinking of going in. I tell him we went in with two canoes and came out with one. He is wonderfully sympathetic and out of the blue suggests a spot up the road where sometimes stuff gets stuck in the river. He then proceeded to lead us literally up the garden path while engaged in immensely pleasant canoe conversation (who’d have thought, Craigavon had its own kayak club…) through someone’s back yard, past a beautiful old mill and through a field and there it was pinned against a tree in the middle of the river.

It appears the angel Gabriel is bearded, from Greyabbey, likes canoeing and walks amongst us.

A few phone calls to some useful people later and we’re ready to get the canoe. Well, to be fair the useful people were mostly otherwise engaged so we got Skeeno and Jonny and the bird instead. In Skeeno’s own words –  of the field: “there’s an awful lot of mud…” and when it came to brute force: “i’m a lover, not a fighter”. He did provide an excellent role as resident humorist and artistic director of the whole proceedings.

Provided with ropes, helmet, back in the wetsuit, we attempted to fetch the canoe. This was, to be perfectly honest, an awful lot of fun, though on occasion when entire trees floated by it did feel a bit silly.

So after twenty minutes of fulcrums and levers and ropes the combined  three and a bit university degrees realised that tying a couple of ropes on the front and pulling really hard worked quite well.

Inside the rather mangled canoe were a lot of sticks, some briars, a lot of mud and the unsecured dry bag with keys and phone (and my sausage sandwiches) inside, dry as a Free Presbyterian wedding.

Driving the Gilford road to Portadown for the eighth time that day we both thought that it was an awful lot of work for 10 minutes canoeing.


February 2009