Archive for the 'joy' Category

The Best of 2010

Seems somewhat appropriate given the time of year. At least the time of year that I first started thinking about this, not the the time when I actually wrote the blog.

I started 2010 as I had a few of the past few new years – in work. Hanging out with the slightly inebriated revelers of South Tyrone and Armagh and re-attaching their lips and eyebrows to their faces. Mainly in the appropriate position.

I then ended up in Texas of all places. The wedding we went for was kind of cool. Texas itself was kind of weird and perhaps not a place I find myself rushing back to. You’ll have to do better than that America!

I spent a lot of time maintaing the long-distance international relationship with my good lady friend. This involved a lot of time driving and listening to 6 years of back recordings of Emergency Medical Abstracts and learning more about emergency medicine, primary care and research methodology than I would care to imagine.

I spent some a lot of time on the train too. I tended to spend this time hunched over the laptop and this lovely program making little red notes and highlighting PDF files.

I discovered Lifehacker. Which is a little bit like discovering crack cocaine. Anything that can pump your RSS reader that much in a day can’t be good for you. I kept finding annoyingly useful things like bulldog clips, downgrading an iPhone back to the stone age of 2007 and oodles of free software.

I discovered torrents too.

Angry Birds became a dark and sinister addiction in many of my friends lives.

Our hospital went to a digital radiology system and the switch over went surprisingly smoothly and the whole thing has made getting and looking at x-rays a whole lot easier. We’ll not have anywhere to put you once we know you need to come into hospital but hey…

I got a new job teaching anatomy. Well kind of teaching. My kind of teaching at least. This made me feel slightly less guilty about quitting my “real” job in may and not doing any other work till september.

We stayed a weekend here and it was immense.

I had to say goodbye to living with these guys

I finally played a gig with a band and me singing my songs and it was thoroughly terrifying and enjoyable at the same time.

I had a stag do and so to avoid being tied naked to a lampost and degradetated we went to a small island in the middle of the largest lake in the british isles. I also proved that I have the best friends ever who would follow me on such a trip.

I spent considerable time and effort planning and getting through and enjoying our spectacular spectacular wedding affair.

Our wedding rocked like a hyperactive puppy on steroids strung out on meow-meow who’s been fed too much sugar. You should have been there.

To wind down we went to a series of tiny Scottish islands which combined unemployment, beauty, and ancient history into one.

I read a lot of books. I suppose the highlights inculde:

– East of Eden

– The Hauerwas stuff, which has hopefully ruined my career in medicine as I knew it and left me more deeply in love with the church

– The Mission of God

– Yet more Kurt Vonnegut

Of movies I’d give it to

– Of God’s and men

– The station agent

– Inception

Maybe (as i’ve been writing this for 45 mins now) I should call this the best of the first half of 2010.

Since getting married I seem to have a million more stories to tell, as if the second half the year was so much more filled with activity. Perhaps it is the simple proximity that helps me recall it but i suspect it is the lack of a full time job which gives me the time to do all the stuff.

This is kind of cool and much appreciated and not to be sniffed at. Part-time is the new full-time. Or something like that…

I haven’t talked about any of the shitty bits…

I have managed to attain a detailed knowledge of the course of the hypoglossal nerve and have discovered enough exciting books and ideas to keep me going for ages yet.

I now live in the same town as many of the “blog friends” (slightly above facebook friends on the friendship hierarchy) and have managed to fool most of them into becoming real friends.

I continue to lament the loss (or more accurately the absence) from my life of my previous co-conspirators in the North of this fair land. I continue to struggle with the simple limits of how many relationships one can keep spinning well.

The older I get and the more people I meet, the more frustrated I get at how poorly I manage to love them.

I am surrounded by grace, mercy and love. That is something special.

Now that I’m getting all weepy I suppose I may as well admit that getting married kind of made 2010 for me. Marriage is terrifying. It is impossible to get away from the fact (that John Cusack put so well in High Fidelity) that “I am a fucking asshole”. It is a miracle to be loved in return.

Of angels and angles

We have established that from every angle JESUS Christ is the key to the secret of creation

Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics
[As quoted in Christ plays in ten thousand places]

This is why i do what i do – why i live how i do. Why i live life how I do.

The fullness of life – the sheer vibrant colour of it all is often overwhelming. The spectrum from sadness to joy is intense. The experiences from despair to exultation are often overwhelming.

But this is the life we are given. Its very nature and presence is quite simply staggering. Its greatest enemy is apathy.

But yet here in Christ we find all things brought together. Our acts of love towards each other, our acts of creation in the world, our choices, our thoughts, our emotions, our reasoning. All our (in)glorious humanity the outworking of this and a movement towards it.

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.


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.)


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.


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.




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.


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


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.


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

Nice places to bring the dog if she didn’t keep trying to climb out of the canoe

The last time we went canoeing it didn’t turn out well. Simy’s canoe is still lying slightly crooked and bent in his garage, along with out self-confidence and desire to canoe over weirs.

But on what appeared to be the nicest day of the year so far we couldn’t really resist.


The lime green wonder fibreglass wonderboat, that goes by the name of of pudge was back on the high seas. Or at least the river Blackwater.

Young Sparky, we put in the fancy plastic canoe, given his distaste for squatting in the open canoe. Some people it seems were not provided with knees suitable for water sports.


Simy on the other hand appears to be the next step in evolutionary process towards man kind becoming one with the canoe. He is an anterior talo-fibular ligament injury waiting to happen. Don’t try this at home.


On arrival at the Lough we were greeted by a vicious north easterly wind that would have been great for windsurfing but kind of made it impossible to get out to Coney island no matter what we tried.

We abandoned the idea for lying on the pier at Maghery and wondering at how somewhere so nice could be made such a horrible place by so few hoods.


Graffiti of the day was simply the word “tits”painted on a boarded up toilet block. There wasn’t even an accompanying badly drawn pair of boobies.The whole place is like one big walking, talking under aged drinking ASBO.

We once phoned the council about camping at the camp-site at Maghery and were advised against it by the very people who run the camp-site. Apparently there had been a few “incidents” with the locals, and no one had used it since.

Despite all this it has a lot of potential for water sports and the great outdoors, all it needs is a forest park, some nice walks by the Lough shore and it could  be one of the nicest places to go in the country.


Last two pictures illustrates the dangers available to an Irishman on a sunny day.



Pictures of you part 4

It’s 2am.

I am now realising why my room was so cheap. overlooking the late club with the pumping beats. Sleep will not come easy.

To close the course we had a game of emergency medicine jeopardy. Being Americans this kind of made sense. Except to us, who were mainly foreign national doctors who had no idea of the rules. There was free candy – and proper candy like Hershey bars. Can’t say i’m a fan.

Good course all the same.

Armed with such knowledge I’m ready to go back and diagnose the life out of my patients. At least i would do if we had a machine. Anyone want to lend us 30 grand or so?

Managed to meet up with the office who was down on some clandestine interview or something. Enjoyed a pint and some food while it pissed down outside.

I know this sounds kinds of dubious but I spent this evening meeting up with someone i met over the internet.

See i told you that would sound dodgy.

I know Zoomtard vaguely through the blog and always fancied meeting up for a pint. Seeing as i was in Dublin…

[Brief interlude – drunken irishmen appear to be spilling each others blood outside the room]

(… and Maynooth is in Dublin in my geography) then we should meet up. After a series of emails I ended up in a room in Maynooth with a NASA astrophysicist and some post grad students talking about the meaning of life.

It was immensely enjoyable as you can imagine. Random is always enjoyable.

This was followed by a party where i managed to meet people i vaguely knew from back home.

I even talked to people i’d never met and may even have talked to girls at one point. If i wasn’t careful there may even have been dancing.

This is quite frankly exceptional in my book, having spent the past number of months either miserable, working or hiding and avoiding having to meet life head on.

I may even have had fun – otherwise known as enjoying myself. It has been a while.

Anonymous fun is always so much more fun – i don’t know these people, they don’t know me – why does that make it so much easier? I dunno.

Nice bunch of people i must say. If i say that the hospitality was good then that probably means i’ve been hospitalised which is not quite what i wanted to say.

Postcards from far way part 6

We pitched the tent for maximum view though it is unfortunately a tad exposed to the wind.

At 2am the wind was blowing a gale and the slightly loose bit of the tent was flapping almost loudly enough to completely drown out sparky’s snoring. Though only almost, he still broke through on occasion.

This would never have happened if simy was here – he knows how to put a tent up proper. it’s all rectilinear and even tension on the guy ropes.

I got a crap night’s sleep. That about covers it.


Woke to a blustery cold morning but still barely a cloud in sight. After a leisurely cuppa and an improvised brekkie we headed for the hills up the highest peak in the Cuillins on the advice of the bloke in the shop who said it “wasn’t too bad”.


I figured that directions up a mountain aren’t quite the same as those you need to find the nearest filling station and so I bought a map just to be sure. I’m always more comfortable when I have a map.


We rocketed through the first 500m to the loch at the base of the ridge and enjoyed a lovely lunch of churizo and stale bread.


The next bit is known as the great chute which is basically an exceptionally slow river of shale that the mountain slowly ejects from the split rock through the repeated process of freezing and melting.

Climbing up this is 2 forward and 1 back which is all a bit discouraging and a little bit disconcerting when it’s at a 45 degree angle.


The view was worth it. The view is always worth it. The ridge itself was simply petrifying. It has been literally years since I’ve done any ridge walking and I’d forgotten the dizzying sense of scale it gives you.

Sgurr alisdair (could be a sigur ros song) stands at 993m and looks across to the appropriately named inaccessible pinnacle which we could see nutters with ropes attempting to scale.


It was now that we realized that getting up is less than half the battle getting down is where the tricky bit really comes.


Ridges start as shale slopes that become increasingly steep as you ascend. To become near vertical just at the ridge itself. It makes them relatively straightforward to traverse but a real nightmare to get off.


We (wisely) laid up and descended down the way we came. Which turned out to be a lot more fun than we thought cause when you’re descending it doesn’t really matter if the ground you’re standing on gives way. In fact that’s just what you want. It ends up as a (less than) controlled slide down the mountain. Lots of fun.


By the time we reached sea level again the legs were like jelly. Bring on the endorphins.

There is still something wonderful about a good shower when you haven’t had one for a few days. When your face and hands are a bit burnt from the exposure and all your muscles ache.

Tucked up in the tent full of BBQ and chocolate, listening to sparky chortle intermittently to Puckoon. I’m ready for a night of blissful unconsciousness listening to the new Anathallo.

Here’s hoping.

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.


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…



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…

Going nuclear

“the church’s mission began as the radioactive fallout from an explosion of joy…”

Leslie newbigin
The gospel in a pluralist society

Don’t steal our sun

Ireland kicks ass. On a sunny day that is.


You only live once

[Inspired by a lovely little article here]

Something me and CW and Skeeno were chatting about over dinner a few weeks ago. What defines health? What is the state of health that we are aiming to acheive? Is there such a thing as ideal health?

Me and CW are fairly passionate about what we do, more so as time goes on it seems. Medics don’t often talk about this in work situations – at least that seems to be what I find. Most seem pretty focused either on the shift at hand or more depressingly their careers. It is not that often I chat to a doc about the fundamental aspects of what we do everyday. I do this more everyday. Maybe this just reflects how much I’m frustrated with my job. Who knows.

Anyhow. Back to definitions of health. This will naturally have cross over with a slightly larger question – what’s the definition and point of life itself? What are we aiming towards and why do we do any of it? This is a huge topic and I suppose I’d prefer to avoid the wider picture and focus on the health aspect.

Back in medical school we had all these nonsense lectures that I never went to that were titled “the man in society” (how did they git away with “man in society” in the early noughties, surely it shoul have been “the person in society” given how PC they were) which were largely about the sociology behind medicine. Despite either hating or missing or dismissing all those lectures as touchy feely nonsense I have to confess that in retrospect they were all true.

The concept of health is undeniably holistic. Which is of course a fashionable word. I tend to describe such concepts as making the remarkably obvious exceptionally complicated.

People are not so easily defined as pathologies. Doctors study and treat pathologies and occasionally we make some impact on those pathologies – though I would stress how occasional that is.

Patients have lives and relationships and desires and hopes and ambitions and fears despite their ejection fraction of 15% or their incipient renal failure.

I spent a good 5 minutes the other day encouraging an 80 year old to keep smoking. What’s it going to do? Kill him?

If you’re 80 and mobile and continent and conscious you’re doing pretty well. You’ll be dead within 10 years. Why stop what you do everyday and enjoy.

Any healthcare decision or intervention is a balance of pros and cons. Of you’re thirty with two young kids and a bad family history of heart attacks then I’d happily spend as much time as needed persuading you to stop smoking – presuming of course that you think seeing your kids grow up and develop as something that is vital to you. As a paternalistic and well educated medical professional I have decided that what you’ll miss and find hard about not smoking is nothing compared to the joy of bouncing your first grandchild on your knee.

Trust me I’m a doctor.

Health is more complicated than cholesterol levels and life expectancy. Our patients need and want us to advocate for their health. Maybe we should ask them what that means occasionally.

All my… friends I… return to wish you a happy Christmas

I bragged – somewhat precipitously – in work the other day that despite the  huge surge of coughing, sneezing, vomiting, exploding, virulent and infectious patients we’ve had of late that I hadn’t a day off sick in 9 years. So today I broke that duck.

But my friends would have none of it. Just as one is looking forward to an evening feeling sorry for myself and indulging the twin pleasures of beer and theology – they tend to come in and spoil it all with gifts and grace and love beyond words.

They managed to give only books (such wisdom…)  and only one book twice – all very impressive. Both to the ones with the tenacity to show their faces and the ones with the sense and mercy not to bother – I thank you all. You all do what you do in my life exceptionally well and to each I am eternally grateful and will continue to show my love for you by locking myself in the house and ignoring all your acts of gracious kindness toward me. Forgive me.

I am better at preaching the gospel of love and community and fellowship than living it. But at least you give me some examples to learn from.

None of it changes that Dad is not here. Not that any of you expected it. I just don’t tend to do fun anymore. Joy maybe but not fun. Though I’d be willing to give it a go sometime.

Can’t help who you love

One of the big things (amongst many) i missed while living in NZ was decent live music, in fact any live music. My only experiences of live music in NZ were the Datsun’s being very loud in a pub across the marina and making it into the Hawke’s Bay Herald for being too loud. That and a BYOB night at the church i was a part of where even i played and sang so that shows how desperate they must have been.

Not that NZ hasn’t produced a few musical geniuses – namely flight of the conchords – one of whom used to be in the hugely wonderful Black Seeds…

[yes of course there was crowded house and kiri te kanawa but let’s try and forget…]


As far as Norn Iron goes, we rock. We have a pretty decent bunch of musos putting out some pretty fine stuff. I could (almost) happily wean my music collection down to contain mostly Irish folk. We seem to pretty good at this. More good reasons to be Irish.

I have numerous tenuous links to vaious people involved in music in NI – I always joke to Skeeno that I live with someone who knows someone who is almost famous – and I feel cool because of that…


As a result i feel some odd kind of community with the music that we put out in this place. Not that I add that much i just turn up and cheer at the gigs.

Tonight was The mighty Lowly Knights in McHugh’s (holding claim to the title of oldest pub in Belfast) shoved in the basement out of the way in one of the cosiest gigs I’ve been in in a long time.

Gigs in Belfast are always cool, cause there’s nearly always the same people at all the gigs, and so it’s a good way to catch up with people who you don’t see so much of any more. Though with advancing age I realise that there are now more and more students I don’t know and fewer and fewer people with jobs and lives and babies who I do know. Yet I still can’t grow a beard. So it goes.

The Knights have an exceptional quirkiness which I suppose is part of their charm. not many bands have a choir, wear braces and print song sheets for the crowd. Most impressive.

Gigs always make me want to write songs and be in a band and grow my hair. I try to narrow the distance between the life I live and the life I think I live, though I’m not sure it always works that neatly…

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…

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.

Grace under pressure

Eventually you have to get back in the boat and get on with life. Maybe that’s what happen when you grieve, you spend more and more time simply doing the business of life and then hopefully, after a while it doesn’t hurt so much. Not particularly profound but it seems to fit for now.

So I’ve moved back to my own house and spent a manic weak painting and cleaning and sorting. If in doubt clean. It’s what we do it seems.

My room is no longer this horrible shade of orange – the previous tenants having daubed the walls like a painting indian elephant. It is now tastefully (and boringly) white. This is oddly satisfying.

But then we thought we should literally get back in the boat and so we did. Now most of you think that the Blackwater is just a dingy little bit of water (stained black from the cow poo…) separating Tyrone from Armagh and stopping them from beating us in football. This may be true, (even the bit about cow poo) but it’s also quite pretty none the less.

Canoeing is almost the perfect Northern Irish sport, requiring large amounts of rainfall and a sport where you’re gonna end up wet anyhow so it may as well be raining. Though I describe it as a sport, it’s certainly not how we approach it. More of a way to get one from one place to the other with nice scenery that takes much more time and effort than simply driving would do.

It has reasonable support in NI with a number of new steps and trails being opened. The one on the Blackwater describes it as being accessible canoeists of all levels.

And while it started well despite the rain, we were soon avoiding discarded fishing tackle and spinners strung over the first bridge – i’m still not sure if they were lost or intentional in their placement.

There was a fair degree of flow on the river, with what could only be described as minor rapids to anyone with any degree of experience. To us this was grade 5 death rapids. Or so it seemed.

Our major mistake was the wrong turn. Some would have thought that making a wrong turn on a river is particularly difficulty if not nigh on impossible, but they would be wrong. Probably most easily seen on this map is the little island created by the diverging paths of the river. All of this came as a bit of a shock and so we did what any sensible person would do and chose to follow the narrow, overgrown river that left at an acute angle as opposed to following that wide, open stretch that lay straight ahead. Err… yes.

I suppose we got a little carried away, used to speeds of up to 2mph on the Bann we were a little dizzy with the adrenaline of 10mph, thinking we were back in the flumes in Portadown pool or something.

Till Simon hit the tree anyhow.

The nose of the canoe wedged under a submerged trunk and the full flow of the river behind meant it wasn’t long till the boat was flipped and wedged under the trunk – with Simon still inside. I’d love to say i paddled swiftly to the rescue but was busy trying to limbo under my own tree somewhat further up the river.

Now when you’re in a canoe, the most important thing is the paddle. With no paddle you’re just an idiot in a skirt in a plastic bathtub with no control.

So of course Simon, now underwater, tries his best to hold true to this idea, despite the lack of oxygen and the entrapment. Thankfully he lets go of canoe, paddle and finally tree and floats down the river. I, at this point a little late to rescue the brother make a sterling job of saving the paddle as Simon drags the canoe to field at the side.

This is all a little dramatic for a wet Tuesday afternoon two weeks after your Dad’s died. We both imagined what would have happened if Simon had actually met an ignominious end under a tree – we could picture Da saying “what the *&^% are you doing here?…”

In the end it was all a little less dramatic than it seemed at the time. We ended up carrying both canoes through a field of cows (sometimes I wonder what the cows make of it all…) to the junction of the river, had a nice cup of coffee from the thermos and paddled onward without further problem.

We haven’t quite got round to telling Liz yet, though she’ll find out eventually no doubt. She worries. Understandably it seems. The next purchase is helmets. Which says more about how much we enjoyed the drama and not so much about regard for safety…

Island in the sun

I have a friend. Well more of an acquaintance. Let’s just say i met him in the pub. He currently has a rather odd job dealing drugs in a remote and unpronounceable area of western Donegal. (I’m an ignorant prod, everywhere west of Letterkenny is unpronounceable). There’s an island with a King and a labrador that swims with dolphins. Welcome to Ted land.

But he gets the odd day off. And i get lots of days off. So off I went, volvo in hand to see the wilds and hills and beaches of mexico. And it was kind of special. Given the summer we’ve had, any day where it is dry more than it’s wet is its own special miracle.

Almost makes Ireland worth living in. Now if we could just get the damn weather sorted…

[And they’re his photos too, copyright and all that…]

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.

Afraid I’ll forget you, afraid I might try to

I used to write all my blogs sitting on my own in pubs in cafes. Mostly cause I didn’t know anyone for 15 000 miles and so I had the wonderful anonymity to be the weird guy in the corner of the pub on his own drinking his beer and typing way into his funny phone thing and silently sizing everyone up from a distance. Now being at home I’m rarely in a coffee shop or pub on my own (because I’m mr popular of course) and as a result I don’t get the writing done as it pops in my head. I have to save up the phrases as they form to write down when I get home. But of course I get home tired and sleepy and fall into bed with great plans to write the next day. And the day brings its own troubles and of course the moment is past and the phrases lost never to be recalled.

But tonight I’ll maybe make a special effort.

Had a lovely wee half day from work having worked all weekend. Though I say work it was actually a bit of a quiet one which mostly involved playing with the babies and rediscovering my technique for echocardiography. Except in babies they’re easier to get good images and they tend to have more holes in their hearts.

I spent the afternoon in preparation for the (the lovely) Gemma Hayes gig (more of which later) and listened to both her albums twice to get the melodies embedded in my head for the day.

Had the joy of getting the train down to Belfast (taking joy in such banal activities requires a certain knack), listening to (the lovely) Gemma in the headphone and reading Dickens and watching Armagh merge in to Down and finally to Antrim.

Found myself the sweetest cafe I have yet found in Norn Iron (we’re not exactly renowned for them…) in the Holylands and immersed myself in a Latte and the Irish News and a collection of simply wonderful tunes over the speakers (what cafe would play Arcade Fire, Clap your hands say Yeah, BRMC and Ryan Adams). After an hour or so they’d only played two songs I didn’t have on my computer. It was full of fresh faced students, whiling away the afternoon and a selection of bearded, wonderful indie boys who’ve never quite got over uni ending. I am home.

Skeeno joins me and I extend to him the sweaty hand of friendship (the downside of the Irish summer is that it is now warm enough for my palms to sweat – I fear the moisture is the first and most memorable point of contact with all whom I meet…) and we run through a brief catch up and wax lyrical on the benefits of having poetry in the pissers. The church rarely does what the world does as well as the world does but there are exceptions.

Sustenance in a Mexican in Botanic, and while not exquisite enough to make me cry was at least spicy enough to make my nose run. Me, Skeeno, Woodsy and two wonderful indie girls Skeeno knows from the Lowly Knights crowd. I find new people difficult, even more so cool people, or rather people I perceive as cooler than me  (which is most people). I worry I have neither the hair, the clothes or the opinions. Only rarely to get my head out of my own ass to be a human being.

My first gig in the Spring and Airbrake (any thoughts on the name) and golly gosh it was a good one. (the Lovely) Gemma Hayes has been pretty highly ranked for a while. As some kind of Irish angel of a troubador (I am perhaps carried away earlier). The duly required heckler (though in a nice way) shouted out Marry Me at the end of the first song, echoing possibly every man’s thoughts in the audience. (the lovely) Gemma gave a wry, slightly shy, almost embarrassed smile (I imagine that’s the only kind she does…) and continued to do what she did best – make me want to marry a girl with an Irish accent playing sad songs on an acoustic guitar. I made the mistake (though surely not) of standing in the middle 4 rows (not that it was a big enough gig to have rows) back, right where (the lovely) Gemma would stare as she sang, making me think she was staring at me, making me think that if I sang along with all the songs that maybe she’d marry me instead of the heckler in the front row

If the fajitas were not quiet exquisite then the band certainly were. I hold a deeply sexist view towards female guitarists which was left in tatters. There is something about professional musicians that make me want to give up the day job and wear skinny trousers and jackets over plain T-shirts. There is something in the drum fills, something in the reverb on the back pick up of the guitar, the gyrating guitarist with the resemblance to Michael Stipe, the slightly odd looking bassist who looks a like a roadie called in for the evening, the sheer tone of that voice…

But even with the encore, it’s got to end some time and the lights go on and the stage is empty and despite the set list in my hand, I’m in a rapidly emptying hall with my ears ringing and the M1 is calling me home.


August 2022