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The Beastie Boys

The idea of having a “stag do” was just an excuse. I’ve wanted to get a bunch of folk on coney island for an overnighter for a while. This just seemed like a good opportunity.

Regular readers will realise that I have a little bit of a thing about Coney Island and it seems to be my ambition to get everyone I know out there at some point.

I managed to beg/borrow/steal a total of 7 canoes for the trip. Which is not bad going for an extensive budget of nothing. Canoe people (people who canoe…) seem to be fairly generous folk. I made lots of phone calls looking for canoes and trailers and folk bent over backwards to try and track stuff down for me.

Occasionally that involved me moving the canoes in a less than ideal manner.But with Zoomtard‘s help and a little bit of refinement we managed to get 5 canoes on one car.

So 14 of us made it for the evening and only 4 of them were yellow bellied, scaredy cats, reluctant to paddle and went over in the motor boat with the warden of the island.

The rest of us with our fairly widely ranging levels of experience made it under our own power. Even if some of our senses of direction weren’t quite so wonderful.

There had been a recent hatch of flies from the lough which provided a rather dramatic cloud of “smoke” over the island. They’re the type of flies that can’t bite you, but they’re still blood annoying when they fl;y up your nose. The good thing is that come evening they go up high into the trees and instead make an almighty buzzing noise while you chat.

One tented village later (I assumed dictatorial role and shouted at everybody like a school teacher) we were ready for the BBQ and the banter.

We were joined at a bout 10pm by a group of 50 or so drunken young farmers from Portglenone who had come down on a “booze cruise” on the Maid of Antrim for a trip. They were charmingly pissed and entertaining apart from the one idiot who thought it would be funny to break one of our tents and throw a few sleeping bags in the hedge. Shame we didn’t find that out till after they’d left otherwise we could have thrown him in the lough.

One bottle of Woodford Reserve later it was 4am and starting to rain and time for bed. Good times.

Sleep was more of a formality than an enjoyable experience. So it goes.

Next day was damp and getting damper but we got our tour round the island from Peter and all home safely.

Much appreciated to everyone involved, especially to those who helped with the shifting of the canoes.

Leaving is an exit

Last night hailed the end of an era. The end of 2 years living with these likely lads in the Little Portugal/Lithuania area of the most republican part of Portadown.

It has been an awful lot of fun.

I moved here in the midst of my Dad’s last illness and the lads followed shortly after.

The original plan was to be there for a bit longer but then Transfarmer came along and plans change. Funny how that happens.

In many ways I think I would have far preferred living on my own. I am a touch of an introvert and am a big fan of my own company (poor taste I know) but I’ve also got just enough self-awareness to realise that living on my own would be a really bad idea.

People are good for you. When you’re confronted with other people’s lives and habits intruding and pouring into yours you have to learn to re-shape your life to fit them in. The minutiae of kitchen etiquette exposes your own petty little obsessions and highlights how ridiculous they are.

It comes as a shock each and every time that I do not have all the answers to life, that these other people I come into contact with on a daily basis have experiences, wants, dreams and wisdom far beyond my own.

Only when something is considered “past” and no longer “present” can I get nostalgic about it. I like our green walls. I always did, but only now am I nostalgic about them. Somewhere over the past few days the memories of the times in the house have moved from being memories to good memories in the fond and warm sense. Somehow it seems to take the fond and warm sense to appreciate the lessons learned and the time passed.

Back to Saturday night.

We had a BBQ/party

It was an awful lot of fun. Sitting in the pokey back yard smoking your eyes red from the BBQ smoke and eating undercooked pork ribs.

Incidentally the Office spent a good 30 minutes with the white board on the fridge trying to explain to Transfarmer his solution to plug the Deepwater horizon oil leak. Apparently they’re adopting it now. So he tells me…

And so now we have one week left. Then the big move out happens. Lots of boxes and hoovering and driving the Volvo round packed to the roof with stuff and junk. I couldn’t be happier. And then a week after that I get to do the same thing in reverse and move it all in here. (well not actually St. Pats, as nice at that would be, but in the near by area.)

It’s got to be better than sleeping on the floor in the Transfarmer’s living room…


Downhill from here

I have a bunch of mates who are currently 5 months into cycling the length of Africa. From Tangiers to Cape Town.

Let that sink in.

They’re clearly mental.

Anyhow they have a great website and blog that you should follow and you should donate some cash to support their sponsorship

A punch up at a wedding

5/01/09 1815 – somewhere over Canada. I think.

It has been a while since I was locked in a little steel tube flying over an ocean.

I got back from NZ about 2 and a half years ago. I have made a couple of trips to England and Scotland but haven’t been any further.

I put a moratorium on travelling for a while. Part by choice part by circumstance.

It is truly a bizarre experience. To be able to cross thousands of miles at 30000 feet and arrive safely and on time on virtually every occasion.

It is just such a fundamentally bad idea – flying. This is not something hairy monkeys should be able to do with such frequency, precision and safety.

The view from up here continues to blow me away. I never get tired of staring at distant cloud formations. At the sun setting over the horizon.

Yet I get to do this. Me and this exceptionally wealthy and privileged portion of the human race. It is truly odd.

I’m flying to the states for a friends wedding. I’ve never been to America. For someone who’s been pretty much everywhere else I find it odd that I haven’t been there.

I suspect it will be just like home with better weather, more fried chicken and an underdeveloped sense of irony.

I am disappointed by the selection of movies, the frozen vegetables and the fact they charge you 4 quid for a beer.

I like the chance to sit in one place for 8 hours and read books and listen to tunes and watch movies. I would prefer a comfier seat and some salt and vinegar crisps but I will take what I’m given.

1850 somewhere between Philadelphia and Dallas.

America has not been welcoming so far. We waited two hours to get through immigration. Not the most pleasant of experiences. If you’re a terrorist intent on violence it must take even longer. Maybe it’s the long queues that put them off.

We arrived in Philly to find that our bags didn’t follow us and are presumably somewhere over the mid- Atlantic right now. Better over than under I say.

We then had a further last minute dash to the gate to get to the next flight on time. That’s been a theme today.

I’d love something to eat that doesn’t come in a pre wrapped plastic packet. I’d love a glass of water. Though perhaps I’d be better communicating that to the crew than writing it here…

Chrissy – we must love you to come all this way to come to your country that doesn’t seem to want us here

6/01/10 1840 Dallas, TX


Apparently Paul Simon has a house near here. I thought I caught a glimpse of an old bald man mowing next door’s lawn but I wasn’t sure.

We have the great pleasure of staying in someone’s house here. All 12 of us or whatever. This is clearly an act of great trust and mercy.

We arrived (with no bags, a lot of stress and no sleep) to a warm house and bed with a well stocked fridge. We have been very well looked after.

Driving on the wrong/right side of the road freaks me out a bit. Even the “compact” saloon we bought is huge. It’s wider than the Volvo.

There were a few near misses and one episode of going down a 3 lane highway the wrong way. But just the once and it was easily corrected.

America is worth it if only for the pancakes and bacon and maple syrup. Immense. I found a burger called “the coronary”.


With no luggage as yet arrived, people are progressing into their second day of underwear and borrowing toothbrushes. So we headed to one of America’s great defining institutions – a supersupermarket called Target.

This place was colossal. It did everything. I think it had more staff than customers.

I bought socks and pants and more razors than I needed – if only cause it was cheaper for 10 than 2. This is presumably why our planet is falling to pieces.

I am so tired I am losing fine motor skills – struggling to get the coffee machine into working order. I’ve skipped the stag do (or bachelor’s party as they call it here) to get my head peace and a decent night’s sleep.

The challenge is to stay awake till 9 or so and then sleep proper till morning.

Incidentally the hen do is still here in the house eating chilli and drinking margaritas before they head out. I have barricaded myself in the room as a means of staying alive.

9/01/10 Dallas, TX

What happens in Dallas stays in Dallas. So the standard rule goes. So the antics of the stag and hen dos are consigned to the records of the local police departments. Or something like that. Having chickened out with a lame ass fun-killing early night I have no right to comment.

Dallas seems like one big suburb so far. Everywhere we drive seems miles of similar, wide open freeways bordered on either sides by chain stores and restaurants each surrounded by vast tracts of parking.

Parking is never an issue there is just always so much space.

Driving is more of an issue. Sat Nav has it’s uses but sometimes tells you the turning just as you pass it. Would be quite literally lost without it otherwise though.

The wedding itself is tonight.

I look forward to hitting the road proper and get out of the city and see why GOD is more interested in this country more than any others… I expect great things.

9-01-10 Dallas TX

Tried to go to a Dallas mavericks basketball game the day after the wedding.

Had a bit of a mare trying to get tickets online and ended up just driving down to the arena to try and get some at the door.

Unforunately only the 70 buck tickets left and while I was keen on experiencing some truly American culture I wasn’t so keen on paying 70 bucks to watch a sport I had no real interest in. What sort of country would make me pay so much to come and insult one of their national sports while lambasting their excesses…

However it turns out that Dallas does have some kind of a city centre and is not just large stretches of suburb connected by vast motorways.

Ended up in a smoky bar watching the Dallas cowboys game with a bunch of baseball cap wearing baseball fans who thought we were just great.

I’m not entirely sure why but listening to odd accents mispronounce commonly known words such as Armagh and Smithwicks is still funny.

In fact this may be one of the things that stopped various groups of human beings wiping each other out at their first meetings – everyone laughing at how the Persians mispronounced toga.

Maybe not.

10/01/10 Clear creek cove, Burnet, TX

Cleared out of the salubrious Mansion we’d been squatting in this morning leaving a trail of dirty sheets and a nicely wrapped bottle of Irish whiskey and Irish tack in our wake.

Rarely have I felt myself more welcomed and looked after than in that house. While Dallas may not be the most inspiring city in the country (or even the state) then at least the hospitality put a positive spin on it.

So with an hour or so getting lost round Dallas-Fort-Worth airport (it has two toll motorways dedicated purely to the airport, it is a colossal and scary place…) and having dropped off one of our party and picked up a new one we were on the road south.

Via a Waffle House of course. We hadn’t had our daily ration of eggs, bacon and saturated fats yet. We sat at the bar of a diner. Nice.

Driving is fun. Directions not so much. GPS gives you more confidence than you should have. You presume it’s bringing you the right direction and you assume you’re on the interstate even when you’re on a two lane highway with traffic lights and junctions every few hundred yards. I was sure I saw tumbleweed at one point.

Problem was the car on front had the GPS and the car behind knew we were going the wrong way. Cue comedic light-flashing-horn-hitting-overtaking-gesture-making-manoeuvres-that-are-misinterpreted-as-some-kind-of-joke…

We worked it out in the end. Good old fashioned maps are sometimes more useful.

Finally we found ourselves beyond the endless suburbs and chain restaurants, finally able to see the glorious rolling Texas landscape… Well sort of.

There doesn’t seem to be that much of a glorious rolling landscape. There’s just parched grass and endless fields, occasionally interspersed with grey scraggy trees and bush – these reminding you that this was more like it always looked.

And so we arrived at our quaint little lake house just after dark to find the heat already on and the world’s comfiest sofas. We have landed.

So this is frolicks 2009

Christmas is upon us. Like a runaway hippo in a downtown metropolis.

Which means I have lots of christmas dinners and nights out to prepare/look forward to.

Topping the list is Festive Fun and Frolicks. The now famous institution of bringing people together to eat and be silly while I publish all to the world.

This thing only works if you have an act. If it’s just the Tates boys and Edinburgh St fighting it out for the top spot it won’t work. I’m throwing down the gauntlet to see if anyone will be able to match the Garvaghy massive in our prolific talent and boyish good looks.

So given a few hours on a wednesday morning with this:

I present FFF 09…

Hold tight London

So I went to London.

To see friends of Transfarmers. American people. But nice Americans

I’ve had to come to terms with my latent racism against Americans and the English, and I suppose even with those lovely people I’m trying my best to distance myself – the white anglo-saxon Protestants.

It turns out – yes I know you’ll be shocked – that there are lots of nice and wonderful Americans and English out there. Perhaps my scathing dislike and crass sarcasm if unfairly directed in their direction.

That’s what happens when you make sweeping generalisations. Life is going to become bloody difficult if I’m going to have to stop making sweeping generalisations about people. I’ll have to actually be gracious and kind and get to know them.

Anyhow.

These were nice Americans. They all seem to have lived in Ireland till the country in its wisdom decided to kick them all out. So now they all live in London. Which is at least accessible on a short flight.

The main issue was not the short flight but the incredibly long journey from the car park to the airport. I’d have been better leaving the car at home and walking. So it goes.

I still love airports – the over priced, below average coffee, the mediocre book shops (i only bought two…), the uncomfortable seats. But they still appeal.

On the way through security my bag got x-rayed and then emptied looking for stupid things people put in their hand luggage like bombs and knives. The lady opened the bad and pulled out a nice shiny pen knife.

I told her I lost it about 6 months ago and hadn’t been able to find it – which was true. I bet everyone says that though. I didn’t feel bad about her confiscating it, as far as I was concerned I lost it 6 months ago.

And when I say we went to London, i really meant we went to Ealing. Which is about as far from central London as the car park was from the airport.

So there was no sight seeing, no shopping, no “minding of the gap”.

Instead there was food and drink and good chat and a comfy bed and a good kip. Quite the rock and roll lifestyle I know.

My only suggestion to the Americans is – screw London, come and live in Ulster, the last, best bastion of British imperialism in Eire. That way you could just sneak over the border and no one would ever know.

Though I suppose you thought of that already. I’ll lend you a passport if you want.

August and everything after

So as summer comes to an end with a cold, damp, miserable thump (what a surprise) it’s time to review some of what i’ve been up to over august.

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I was at a wedding in a castle in Edinburgh (though not edinburgh castle) where they had the most wonderful humanist wedding ceremony. (I think we need more humanist wedding ceremonies, but that’s another blog.)

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There was great food, good wine and even some dancing – of which i did not partake i must confess. Even the Bon Jovi.

I picked up the guitar and grew some balls and played my songs in a wee cafe in Portadown. And after the first 4 songs i even started enjoying it.

And in a fit of musical enthusiasm I picked up the old electric again and played with the old band in church. Lamenting my dying guitar amp and how rusty I’ve got at playing the electric guitar.

I await my new valves in earnest in the hope i can resurrect the Hot Rod deluxe to do another 10 years of loyal service.

On a more positive not the new Pod X3 rocks. While a little on the complicated side to set up and run it does sound pretty sweet. These are the days i wish i hadn’t sold my strat to Woodsy.

In between I have actually enjoyed my work. Which is kind of new for me. I have found myself too often pisssed off and frustrated in work so it’s nice to have a wee bit more enthusiasm and positivity about the whole thing. being there less helps. Which i know sounds weird – “I love my job as long as I’m not there…” – but when I do less hours I sleep better and am more sane than usual. This has got to be a good thing.

I look forward to dropping a day a week in the middle of september and going back to cutting up dead bodies with the students.

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And then most recently was Jonny and Lynne’s wedding. Dear Jonny, whom I’ve known since I was 6 when he arrived in P2 and stole my lego. Not that I’m bitter. Dear Jonny, who I shard houses with and tears and joy with and made 9 platiunum selling albums with in the Turf Brothers. Good times.

Great wedding, though running around doing musical stuff all day. Including the first ever live turf brother’s performance.

And it was mighty craic playing in Nice Guy Eddie again (my old wedding band) and even nicer to move from dance floor to band and back to dance floor again getting to play just the songs that i remembered.

There was dancing. There was me dancing. There was me enjoying dancing.  But i blame Transfarmer for that. I blame her for everything really.

But above all else what made the wedding was the fact that we didn’t have to drive the 1 1/2 hours back from the Killyhevlin at midnight. Instead we sat about the hotel till 0130 and then dandered back to our little chalets at the riverside for a cup of tea and a nice kip.

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And so began our little two day holiday in damp fermanagh. Like the donegal trip simply transplanted to a pre-fab chalet on the bank of the river.

I took the good ship pudge out on my own for the first time but was slightly annoyed that the brisk wind meant that i couldn’t get the thing turned and embarassingly had to reverse the canoe to shore just to turn it.

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Everyone else seemed to enjoy their trip too. No one got wet anyhow.

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We visited an ice-cream shop, just for the adventure of getting lost in the Fermanagh countryside. Sat-Nav is great and all that but only if you tell it to go to the right place.

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Extended weekends rock. And it’s still only sunday morning.

Sounds of summer

Some of you come here for bitchy posts about medicine and the NHS. To be perfectly honest we’ve had a pretty decent summer. Everyone buggers off to Spain and the Balaerics for two weeks and get sick in other countries or fall over and break their arm in Portstewart and end up in other hospitals apart from mine.

People don’t come to this part of the world for their hols. They used to come in huge numbers for a bit of a riot around Drumcree but we seem to have moved on some what.

Swine flu has had a bit of an impact. We have lost our paediatric area to become a swine flu isolation area where we have to wander around dressed up like someone from the moon landings just to take a history from a very well looking patient.

Despite huge amounts of coverage telling people NOT to turn up at A&E or their GP but to ring first, people still keep turning up. We shout at them mainly when they do. Tis the caring profession.

Despite seeing a good 10-15 patients with flu and my own family getting it I’m still going strong. Be it chance or the rigorous immune system that goes with working in A&E I’m still fighting fit. I’m all for getting it to be honest. The idea of a week or two of enforced isolation with nothing but some paracetamol, some DVDs and shelf of books fills me with great enthusiasm. In my fantasy I’ve blanked out all the flu-symptoms that come with having flu. I’ll keep the fingers crossed for some fevers and arthralgias.

There have been times in the past few weeks where there haven’t been any patients in the department waiting to be seen. People have been seen promptly and thoroughly, often getting the time, dignity and grace that they deserve. Without the doubt the whole place and system runs so much more smoothly and better at times like these.

So how do you measure quality of care? How do you measure it genuinely and honestly? And do we really want to pay for it?

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But it’s hardly all work. I was at U2 being blown away by the sheer scale and audacity of the thing. Feeling slightly bad that I’d prefer to be leaning on the railings at the sound desk in somewhere like Vicar St or the Empire.

I have seen U2 in Croke. That was box ticked. If I see Bruce then I’m not sure what else there is to live for so I’ll put that off for a while.

I saw Potter at a 1030am matinee. I liked it. Though it’s been about 3 or 4 years since i last read the book so I’d forgotten half of it. Despite running to three hours it felt very, very rushed. Too many disparate parts that seemed to have no discernible link.

I had a ride on the train from Sligo to Dublin and found some theses throughout the train:

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I’m not sure Translink are quite with the program yet.

I’ve been working my way through Subverting Global Myths, with my black biro underlining virtually everything and scribbling little comments of approval in the margins. There’s sections with titles like “rediscovering Christian integrity” that get me all excited. There will be more quotes no doubt. If the gospel is not socially, politically and relationally radical then I want none of it.

I had some time on call in work and learned that when trying to put an IV in a child that’s fitting then it’s generally best to use the half of the child that’s not fitting.

I made a kick ass roast dinner for a stack of people and we ascended to new levels of interpersonal communication by requesting songs off spotify by texting knoker sitting by the computer in the corner.

I became intimately acquainted with the inside of a 2002 VW polo and realised that if the car stereo isn’t working then it’s cheaper to but a 15 pence fuse that a 70 quid new stereo. Every day’s a school day I suppose.

Coney Island

Last of my wee fun trips for my week off. I must say i think i’ve done well.

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Have been going on about Coney Island to Gilly that he’s finally agreed to come for a trip. Him and wee Phil.

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And such a cracker day we got.

Along with all the wonderful foodie goodies for a cracking BBQ. All except the charcoal of course. Not exactly covering myself in glory there. Some kind folks who were leaving as we arrived let us use the remains of their portable BBQ and in the end we were just fine.

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Long evening spent chatting over the rather deafening roar of the most recent hatch of lough neagh flies making sweet love overhead. Has to be heard to be believed i suppose.

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Spent a largely sleepless night listening to the herons. Who are in fact a well known nesting bird on the island and not an uber cool indie band as you might suspect.

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Good times.

An Ocean and a Rock – Part 3

Woke very hot and sweaty in the tent. The sun had been shining strongly since 5am and last night’s bacon had left me with a dreadful thirst.

Otherwise a wonderful night’s sleep.

But farewell to rosse’s point and it’s overly expensive (but very pretty) campsite where the showers were one euro extra.

I had to be in greystones for 6pm, some 180 miles away. But I had time. Time I though to lie by a lough on the Shannon water way and doze off in the sun reading the Irish times.

Hunger got the better of me and I ended up eating fish and chips in a retail park car park in Carrick on Shannon wishing I had a canoe with me.

(Me and wee phil have great plans to canoe from Fermanagh to Limerick in September. We originally planned a week but some basic initial research makes me think two might be more appropriate. Or that a motor cruiser might be even more appropriate)

The difference between the roads in NZ and Ireland is the views. In NZ you were bowled over by spectacular scenery at every corner and there were endless view points to pull in and take photos.

It’s just that in Ireland they built all the decent roads through the flat boring bits of the country and you’re continually given glimpses of stunning vistas just round the corner or over the hedge. But they’re always just out of reach and require actual effort to see.

None of that was convenient for today’s trip. So I drove cross country listening to whatever was loud and raucous and losing my voice in the high notes getting my right arm burned as it sat out the window – the hazards of driving south west in the afternoon in the northern hemisphere.

I did make an ill advised detour round the Wicklow hills, geting horribly and wonderfully lost up shady country lanes filled with nothing but flashy looking SUVs.

I stopped briefly at the sally gap to admire the quite spectacular view and the weather. On a sunny day I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere nicer than Ireland.

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And so I pulled into Greystones about 5 pm and promptly paid 50 cent for the priviledge of almost getting locked in the public toilet at the beach. I have still no idea why the exit button was at ground level. Answers on a postcard please.

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Sat in the shade trying to avoid more uv on the already crispy right forearm and waited for transfarmer to come pick me up.

After a night of volleyball, singing, pub and cigars with lots of lovely people such as soapbox and smallcorner (and lots of other people who are just as lovely but don’t have blogs), I’ve managed to score a free room with ensuite. As fun as sleeping on the beach is I’ll not complain.

I don’t want to spoil the party

Despite having a Paul that looked more like a mixture of the office and David Brent, the Beatles tribute act we went to see last night were pretty sweet.

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Note the, middle aged, overweight, grade IV mallampati giving it dixie up front.

I could watch live music till the cows come home, covers or not.

Not so fussed on watching your mates mince it up to I Will Survive afterwards though. Bless ’em.

Nice places to bring the dog if it could ride a bicycle

We started about 2 years ago with occasional trips to scarva along the newry canal, quick stop in the pub  and back again trying not to cycle into the canal on the way back.

It has been about 10 month since the last one.

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So today we were back on – quick cycle to the chippy and dine on the steps of the boat club and then cycle to scarva, avoiding the dog poo and inhaling half your body weight in fies.

The photos below illustrate the danger of trying to take photos while cycling while trying to keep flies out of your eyes.

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The pub is one of those pubs where people go to watch Coronation Street. They also did a wonderful offer of buying six pints get one free. Note the “Drink Sensibly” logo in the bottom corner.

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Half way back wee Philly’s (Philly-O-Fish/Lord Phildemort/Milhaus) chain broke, Not just came off, just broke. Despite some valiant, greasy fingered attempts to fix it we had to abandon the idea.

We did manage to construct a towing device out of two bicycle chains and managed to tow him the rest of the way.

Good times.

Walk without direction

Normally this would fit into “nice places to walk the dog” series. But the dog is in heat, and is banned from public appearances without some kind of chastity pants on. In the hose she wears a pair of kiddies pants with a hole cut in the tail.

Would make for a great photo, except it’s not really my dog so should avoid taking the piss out of the poor thing too much. So instead i went walking with actual, flesh and blood human beings.

This is a lot more tiresome from a conversation point of view – the dog is a very good listener, and only interrupts to stick her tongue in your ear.

We (perhaps I….) managed to make an extremely simple walk through the boundaries of tollymore very difficult by taking the wrong track twice and then forgetting the keys for the car that we’d left at the end of the walk.

Fun all the same, if only for the tight rope walking on the trees through the blue bells and the view over the sea.

PS Wee philly as a gun in my back, hence my bizzare facial expression.

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The old friends

I’ve got away pretty easily this year with weddings. A couple of years ago I had 6 in 6 weeks. Lots and lots of debenhams vouchers.

The list of friends to be wed is slowly decreasing – the next thing will be the babies.

Some of the best weddings have been with the Junio Ho’s (junior house officers) – the 7 guys i did my first year as a doctor with. All of us slightly scared and confused as to what we were meant to do each day – all a bit scared we might cock sometihng up and kill somone. Good times.

We still all meet up about every 3 months or so, just to catch up on how we’re all getting on. We all go to each others weddings and the guys blew me away when they all came to Dad’s funeral. Better friends than even i thought.

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Yesterday we were all together again for a wedding. A good big Catholic wedding in South Armagh that left us ignorant prods feeling all awkward and not knowing when to stand up and sit down and all that.

It was even sunny enough to sit outside and admire the view. An odd but always pleasant experience in Ireland.

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The reception was just over the border and it always gives you that moment when you go the bar to order two drinks and you give the bar man ten euro and you wait for your change and then you realise that no, there is no change and in fact you still owe him a couple more euro. Financial crisis and all that.

Managed to successfully avoid dancing all evening. Fine acheivement i must say.

Postcards from far away part 3

Sitting in a hotel on the isle of Skye with a working wi-fi connection. Catching up on the whole blogging thing.

Lots of driving today. From Perth to Inverness in one run through some of the most pleasant and unpleasant weather I’ve ever seen in one day. Good scenery. Good tunes. Good times.

In Inverness we were in t-shirts in the sun. 20 mins up the road alongside Loch Ness we were fully wrapped up. The joys of Scottish weather.

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The Loch Ness monster is an odd kind of myth. Though it seems to make a lot of money from the looks of things.

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One of the great joys of road trip is the actual driving. I have always loved driving for the sake of driving. Not the speed or anything just the bant and the tunes and the scenery.

The standard iPod rules are as follows. Everyone gets to choose 3 songs at a time. No same day repeats.

Humerous place names of note
– Wick
– and a B&B ran by a guy called William Dick. Just imagine the nicknames.

Ended up on Skye. Which was the whole point of the trip in the first place. Skye is just as fantastic as I thought it would be. This is somewhere I have always wanted to come.

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The weather on the way in was a bit dubious and scared us out of camping so we ended up in a lovely wee b&b overlooking the Scottish coastline. It’s kind of like Donegal on a good day.

Good feed. Good ale. A cornetto sitting on the pier watching the sun set. This is about as good as it gets. Apart from the cold. Having driven 500 slightly zig zagged miles across Scotland I think we’ll probably find ourselves ensconsed here for the rest of the trip. Bring it on.

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Postcards from far away part 2

Last post was on the ferry right?

Lost of driving to Edinburgh. Lots of sleeping done by the boys in between choosing songs.

We have a fairly standard system in place. Everyone chooses 3 songs in the ‘on the go’ play list on the iPod. 3 songs. No more no less.

Generally no repeats in the same day allowed. Spuddy always tries to get as much as possible by choosing obscure U2, 10 minute b-sides.

Passes the time at least and keeps the bitching to a minimum.

Edinburgh is a simply lovely city. On only my second time there I love the place. Good buildings. Good parks. It has a bug hill in the middle and a castle with a few of the sea. What more could one ask for.

Cities like Edinburgh make me want to live in a city.

Good restaurants with pretty waitresses and nice parks and a functioning (though debatable) public transport system.

We went to the royal college of surgeons museum to look at brutal dental instruments and stare at obscure bits of pathology before penicillin and CT scanners and the germ theory. Fascinating stuff. Highly recommended.

Met up with young Miss Quinn who kindly fed us and provided us with profiteroles and a walk along the beach.

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Stayed the night with the Orrs in their wonderful almost Dickensian house with the great old grandfather clock and the mice (who failed to make an appearance).

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The hospitality was of course exquisite. I am always amazed by the way people will go out of their way to provide for us bums in the midst of busyness and jobs and all that. Rest assured it was much assured.

Bed was taken to with great gusto.

Today was originally intended to be a day in the hills helping Dave bag another Munro. Unfortunately the Scottish weather had other ideas and made us give up at Crianlarich and sit in the restaurant trying to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was drive back down the road to Perth to go to the cinema and watch gran turino. There were limited options.

Going to matinees always makes the day feel much later than it really is.

Found ourselves a B&B and a decent Italian restaurant to fill the bellies. Poor sparky had been struggling all day with a good old man-flu but managed to have a good go at a steak and crawl off to bed.

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Dave made his way back to Edinburgh and me and spud headed out to see what Perth had to offer.

Turned out that was a pub ran by a guy from Newry. All very pleasant really

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So far road trip has been most productive and positively social having managed to catch up and put the world to rights with two very good friends who I don’t see nearly enough of.

However there has been a distinct lack of reading with the feet up and a very definite lack of sunshine. The former at least is soon to be corrected.

Middle class heroes

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Getting a bunch of mid-twenties professionals together in the same place at the same time for 3 days in a row is impressive enough. Getting near 30 of us together for a weekend to Scotland is even more so.

Originally planned as a stag do, it became more of an anti-stag-do for reasons I’ll not go into but it did provide us all with a fixed date and tickets for a major international sporting event. We booked all this in August. Perhaps that’s the only way to get us all together by planning six months in advance.

The only other real time we get together seems to be either weddings, when we’re all dressed quite nicely and behave rather dignified and polite and also when we stay in wee Phil’s house in Donegal and we live on our jammies and insult each other at close quarters. You need the variety really.

img_0092Due to quite remarkable forethought and planning (praise and glory to dear Jose, G and the conspicuously absent Office) 24 of us ended up on the same flight and picked up at the airport by the mighty Raymond (there was of course a Sparky inspired version of Raymondo sung to the tune of Abba’s Fernando…) in his fun bus. Staying in what i can only consider a rather posh hotel in the very centre of Glasgow overlooking George Square. It must be posh, Fred Elliot from Corrie was staying there.

I don’t mean to be harsh on Glasgow as a city, only being there a very brief period of time but to be honest George Square seemed to be the most pretty bit of it. But i stand to be corrected.

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The focal point of the weekend was a decidedly poor Ireland beating Scotland at Murrayfield. Despite the cold and long beer queues it was a quality day out. My ticket was in a different stand from the others but fortuitously put me beside a good mate, a kid who work shadowed in A&E a few weeks ago, a girl from the year below me in medical school and a guy i used to climb hills with. All independent of each other but all within 2 rows.

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Beyond the day-trip to the rugby we weren’t particularly adventurous, staying in the hotel all evening and having a lovely meal and some lovely whisky, and some even more lovely conversation. Cause we don’t all get together that often we are undestandably insular when we are together.

My lasting memory will be a conversation about the evolved role and position of the human reproductive system. Bert’s justification for the grouping of the waste disposal system with the reproductive system (which has always seemed a tad odd to me) was that it was good to keep all the “occasional activities” in the one place. No Victorian prudery here eh?

In the morning spent so long sitting in the one seat reading the Sunday Times that I briefly developed a pressure sore.

I got through 200 pages of Churchill (quote of the day, on declaration of war on Japan – “some people did not like the ceremonial style, but after all when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite…”) It was certainly a laid back day.

Home with vague plans for next year (having had a group trip two st. paddys’ weekends in a row it is now a firmly established tradition to be maintained in perpetuity) involving cruisers on lough erne or an isolated cottage in the highlands. An established tradition would be most welcome.

We all grow older, and change in lots of ways. We are no longer banter hungry students (though we all remain banter hungry and some even remain students). We are the white collars of society – these people do all kinds of cool things that make me proud even to be in there presence.

There is a (much welcomed says I) increase in couples in the group and a wonderful comfort (at least I think so) in the relationships amongst that horrible created divide between couples and singles.

We are a lot more forgiving and gracious than perhaps we used to be. The usual bit of getting older and realising how important we all are to each other, with the accompanying fear of how easily we could all lose each other.

I think back on what has passed in the interim year for me and it does not generally make for a pleasant read – everything has changed. I am certainly not who I used to be, in most ways not in a good way, but perhaps I am not the one to judge that.

Being surrounded by so many who I know and  love and who know and love me throws your personality and change into sharp relief. It is smothering. In the nicest, most important kind of way. I find the group/social situation difficult and painful in so many ways, though at the same time I would not miss it for the world.

I regret to say that I am better company in the written word than in person.

His band and the street choir

Seeing as everyone had an Ulster Hall story I figure I have mine too.

Listening to Bloc Party with Simy open with “So here we are”, one of their “quiet ones’ yet still probably the loudest gig I’ve ever been to.

So anyhow it’s reopened, the Northern Irish music scene wanted to celebrate the fact. Though to call it the Northern Irish music scene is a tad exclusive as it’s nearly all young, skinny guys with guitars and messy hair. Perhaps hardly representative of the music made in this place.

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The idea was to get 14 Northern Irish bands and let them play 2 songs each. One of their own and one cover of a band that they’d seen in the Ulster Hall previously.

Pretty impressive to get 14 bands and near 4 hours of music for a fiver.

The Knights pulled the luck of the draw and ended up first on, some time, it seems, before the sound engineer turned his ears and brain on so the sound was terrible, though the guys completely nailed DC‘s “Something for the Weekend”.

Being first on is never easy, the venue’s only half full, no one is drunk, no is warmed up.

There was Kowalski and Cashier No 9, both of whom passed me by as dare I say it decidedly average. Though at least the sound guy had it sorted by then. Decent version of “this modern love” – mainly notable for the drummer nailing the drum roll near the end.

I love the Panama Kings. Though it’s still killing me that I’m singing their cover in my head but I can’t name the flippin band (Skeeno arrived home and told me it was Ash – most dissapointed in myself)

Foy Vance caused a wee bit of a moment. After opening with “afternoons and coffee spoons” (anyone remember the Crash Test Dummies) in a new hat he played a new one that got so quiet and moving that you could have heard a pin drop in the place. Pretty stunning stuff. By far biggest cheer of the night.

I’ve never heard of Lafaro before now. I’ll never buy any of their music, but live those guys kick ass. I could listen to loud rock and watch drummers all day as long as its live, I just wouldn’t listen to it in the house. They swaggered with more stage presence than anyone had pulled off so far. They looked like a proper rock band.

Iain Archer had the unfortunate task of following the loudest act of the night with one of the quietest. Him and the pilots playing “songbird” while again the sound guy falls asleep and forgets to turn up the drums. I despair sometimes. The new Iain Archer album is the best thing since sliced bread so I think this didn’t do him justice.

He then had the unfortunate task of introducing Barry Gary Lightbody as one of the special guests of the night. Being actually kind of famous this overshadowed the rest of what Iain Archer did. They played a hugely dodgy version of The Frames “lay me down” which no one on stage seemed to know how to play apart from Phil Wilkinson drumming. Not particularly impressive I must say.

Recovered slightly with a decent version of “chocolate” which is a pretty damn strong song no matter what you do with it. Unfortunately followed by that horrible “chasing cars” song which was always on repeat on the radio in the ICU in NZ so I have horrible associations with it. Plus as a song its a bit shit which doesn’t help.

Somewhere around here I get a bit lost in the order but Neil Hannon turned up with an old battered piano and made my day by not only playing the best Divine Comedy song ever (and that’s saying something) “tonight we fly” but also playing a Pixies song. Both purely on the piano and both purely wonderful. And he got away with a nice Pop Idol joke while he was at it.

Fighting with wire and jet plane landing are both bands I’ve only heard of. There’s certain degree of Belfast-centrism going on in the music scene, so perhaps Derry bands get overlooked a bit.

They did manage to be fairly impressive. Good cover of “you really got me”, and a really good cover of Rage’s “know your enemy” though the slightly chubby, dull looking guy doing the rap was all a bit odd. Never mind the two chaps on stage wearing masks.

Duke Special had a lovely sound though he did manage some ill advised crowd surfing at the end. What was most disappointing was the fact that a fully packed Ulster Hall could keep neither Duke Special nor Foy Vance in the air for longer than 5 seconds. I think crowds are out of practice when it comes to their role in crowd surfing.

Ash were a bizzare almost country trio for the night, with the drummer acting as second guitarist.

I remember Therapy as a band that was sort of famous in Northern Irish circles back when I was first getting interested in music at all. They weren’t my cup of tea then and they certainly aren’t now. Though they certainly have a bit of life about them that’s for sure. And a fruity choice of expletives. I’m sure the BBC will thank them for that.

Simy apparently works with (or did work with I’m not sure) the bassist from Therapy. Apparently he works with computers. How rock and roll. Fame loses all its shine when you’ve been to school with them, or you live with them or they work in Tescos.

There was a huge finale were they got everyone on stage and they all sang “Teenage Kicks” (which had to be sung at some point) and there were even fireworks at the end. It was like a Bon Jovi concert in that respect.

At least they didn’t sing some awful charity song and put their arms round each other and sway.

Whole night was great. Perched on the rails at the sound desk at the back where you’ll always find me. Makes me glad to live in this place.

Came home and heard that a policeman was shot and killed near the hospital. Completely threw me. One episode is something, you have two and you’ll soon have a series of murders. Bastards. And the whole effing show kicks off again. We can’t go back down that road. We simply can’t.

GOD have mercy on us all.

Makes me want to pack up and leave this place.

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…

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

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Maysie looks like he was born in the hills

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

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

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I always look this good.

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The hills on the other hand have rarely looked better.

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

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.


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July 2020
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