Archive for the 'New Zealand' Category

Weapon of choice

Things to make me miss NZ


Crazy drunk Kiwis

The beauty regime

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

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

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

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

Trying to throw your arms around the world

I had a night last week, when I lay awake in bed for a few hours, the good old fashioned insomnia – head buzzing , in no way ready for some good REM sleep. Usually it’s A&E shifts that leave me like this, running every patient through in my head.

But tonight there was no A&E, New Zealand. My newest and most recent means of escape, my newest and most preferred means of redemption.

It is true that NI is cold and wet and dark for staggering amounts of the year. I had somehow forgotten this, the Norn Irish winter was reminding me of this, much to my disgust. As far as I remembered, in NZ it didn’t rain once in my year there, in fact everyone smiled and skipped and sang songs, and never said or did anything nasty, and I never once felt alone or scared or bored or sore. My memory is of course a bit patchy.

img_0553.jpgIt is true that I loved my time in NZ, that I would have loved to finish my time there, that I lament the dear wonderful people who I knew there that I am so terrible at keeping in touch with. It is true that I may even make it back there some day, as long as the oil doesn’t run out first(JT I miss you so…), or I get married or some equally disastrous situation (joking honestly…).

But I know it’ll be a while. And I know it’s not up to me.

It is true that I have a lot of work to do here, I know I need to be here, in my calm, sane, clear thinking moments (there was one in the late nineties, I remember it well…) I know this. Just not at 2am with Hawke’s Bay and surfing and trips to Wairoa and running round the estuary listening to Pedro the Lion floating through my head.

I am easily distracted.

Rocky Mountain High

Back in the day – insert youthful image of wholesome young Nelly – I used to be a bit of a mountain goat. I would end up spending every other weekend in the Mournes with the BB. Mostly carrying oversized rucksacks full of rocks in the pissing rain. That’s not true.

It was great, you got to run up a mountain, get wet and dirty and smelly along the way and then run back down the mountain. It was an exclusively male pursuit, back in the day when the great questions of meaning and existence were but yet forming, when girls were merely an inferior part of the human race who were crap at football and held no greater attraction. This idyllic period never really happened anywhere but in my head. Nostalgia has a habit of selective editing.

I left my mountain goat days behind me at the age of 19 when I quit BB and got a job at weekends and played too much guitar. My days in the Mournes were confined to the occasional winter excursion up Donard with Da in the snow. Good times.


Since I became the tax-paying, functional member of society I now am, (about 3 and a half years ago) I could count the number of times I’ve been in the Mournes on one hand, even if it had all the fingers cut off first.

I resurrected the mountain goat occasionally in NZ, but it was a lame attempt, and the highest I ever got up a hill was on a ski lift.

img_2235.jpgSo thanks to the kind offer of a mate from church I got the opportunity to scale the peaks of the mighty Donard (at a staggering 849 m – yes, impressive I know…) the Saturday before Christmas.

Raising yourself from a cosy bed at 7am on a Saturday morning is difficult whether or not you’re an unemployed bum like me. Even if you’ve placed the blow heater in a position where you can turn it on by simply stretching an arm out of bed and flicking the switch.

But it’s always worthwhile, dragging your as yet still lifeless carcass out of bed. We got lucky with the weather for the shortest day of the year. I got even luckier with the folk who were there. Ranging from legends in their 70s to young (I’m still young) cubs like myself. Good folk. The best of folk.


Standing on top of Donard for the first time in 5 years was an experience never to be forgotten. I’d been hankering for NZ again, I’d been wondering why I was in this miserable country when the Hawke’s Bay Festival is not long round the corner. But then I got to Donard and realised that this ain’t the worst place in the world on a sunny day.


When I got to the top I had a wee NZ moment. “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation…” with visibility so crisp I could see the Isle of Man and Strangford Lough and the hills of South Armagh. Yes, I was back in H-FZ flying to Wairoa on a sunny afternoon without a care in the world. See what I mean about nostalgia?

Anyhow it was cool. Enjoyed simply for what it was. Something I’m desperate to do more often.

Finished off with walking down the river to the “Bloody Bridge”, (always excting to go to, cause you got top use an otherwise rude word in conversation) hopping from rock to rock, just for the sheer childishness of it all. Good times.

Don’t change your plans for me

I haven’t gone away you know. I mean I haven’t gone back to NZ. Or maybe you’ve not noticed. Or maybe you already know.

At lunch time on Sunday past, a tannoy voice in Belfast city airport called ‘passenger Neill’ to proceed to the gate. And someone boarding the air New Zealand flight to Auckland that evening would be pleased to find the seat beside them empty. At Napier airport there would be no bleary eyed member of the walking dead greeting the ‘sky blue sky’ of Hawke’s bay and rejoicing in his first decent cup of the black stuff in 6 weeks.

And there would have been none of the desperate regret and tearing, the bitter separation of leaving where I am now (and all that that means) behind.

To be brief – and I intend to be lengthy at some point, if I ever find words (or indeed the guts) to describe the past month – my Dad got sick.

And I would be nowhere else but here at this time. Walking away (when I saw the heat around the corner..) from NZ was as easy as two, admittedly rather emotional phone calls to my boss and my best mate out there.

In the midst of two weeks of hospital visits, on the other side of the fence, I’m lying in the greenhouse, tacked onto to the toilet of our house (it is more elegant than it sounds) listening to Pedro the Lion and reading CS Lewis essays (proof that indeed this literary/cultural nonsense I indulge in is actually solid ground beneath my feet and not mere entertainment to make the slow road to the promised land pass a bit more tolerable, which is why I mean it when I say I’ve come to like only the music that makes me feel like crying) – and somewhere between keep swinging and start with me I’m back in Napier. Running (indeed a distant memory, perhaps even fantasy) round the estuary in the twilight, dreaming of home and the dear souls who dwell there, and in the near dark catching my breath. Passing the fish and chip shop, looking forward to a shower and the endorphins.

NZ was something that happened a million years ago, somewhere else, to someone who looked a bit like me and just perhaps may have been somewhat like me, but it did not happen to me. At least that’s how it feels.

I’d already decided not to stay. The plan was always to have been back in NI by Christmas. But I had goodbyes planned. Or at least planned that I’d plan my goodbyes. There’d be a farewell meals with lots of different people, there’d be more helicopter rides and resus calls, and central lines, and speaking to relatives (for good or ill), and cups of coffee with the staff.

I wanted to leave NZ. Though this was not how I pictured saying goodbye to the place.

One more drifter in the snow

Almost home. Not quite but almost. Just enough time to fit another wee trip. This time – skiing. To summarize a blog I’ll never write. Skiing is an indulgent middle class past time, that requires so much money, energy and destruction to the environment that it is unlikely ever to be justified on an ecological, social or monetary basis. It is, however, simply wonderful. Very few things I do live up to the above justifications. Deal with it. Or at least struggle. I do.

Nee how

Ruapehu is a large volcano in the middle of the north island. So big in fact that lake Taupo (imagine lough Neagh) is the crater of the same system. Ruapehu is the mountain at the south end of the lake, most recently active about 10 years ago when it blew. Forbes (one my consultants) has an amazing photo about 6km from the crater in a ski hut. The crater lake burst its banks about 6 months ago causing a lahar that closed roads and swept out to sea.

So of course, one of the southern hemisphere’s largest ski resorts is based there.

I left Napier on Friday, drove the good old Napier to Taupo road (which provides the tastiest, and most violent of our trauma in Hawke’s bay) for two hours and walked about Taupo in the rain waiting for the cinema to open.

I watched ‘bridge to Terabithia’ with a bunch of 7 year olds. I expected Narnia. I was disappointed. So disappointed that I didn’t wait the extra half hour and watch transformers instead.

I was staying with Forbes and his wife’s cousin and family. They just hadn’t turned up yet, hence the cinema. They have a bach (a beach house, all kiwis have one. You do know this is the best country in the world don’t you?)

I was greeted with pizza and hospitality that I have been flooded with throughout my time in NZ. Well the hospitality, if not the pizza. I slept on their sofa bed and filled with porridge and fried eggs in the morning.

Taupo is about an hour and a half from the mountain. The far side of the lake. Which makes for a lovely drive from one end to the other, with the gleaming snow fields in view. I’m torn between stopping to take quality photos and getting to the ski field early.

Forbes is the person to go skiing with. He did ski patrol (as the medic) for years, he knows the area inside out. He knows all the huts and a lot of the people. I have a tour guides talk on the origin of the names (from Maori legend) and the geology of the area and which roofs of which huts he’s skied off.

It’s a Saturday, it’s the best day of the early season. It’s packed. Flippin people. Flippin people, flippin snow boarding (I was skiing not boarding today).

It takes us 45 mins to get to the top of the mountain on the lifts. We meet, very randomly, but most fortuitously, JT (another doc from the hospital) on the first lift and he joins us for the day.

The mountain is stunning. Nothing like skiing in Europe with its carefully pisted slopes and well marked runs. This is chaos. Bluffs and cliffs at every turn, rocks sticking up everywhere. It’s fantastic.

I end the day sharing a t-bar with a pretty kiwi girl who has at least spent time in Scandinavia (and got a funny accent out of it) and therefore fulfills my ‘pretty Scandinavian’ rule. We have a good chat but the t-bar runs out too quickly before she gets to find out I’m a doctor (which I can’t tell her, she has to ask, there are lots of rules remember), which, in my scale of talking to young pretty women who once visited Scandinavia, is perhaps my top trumph.

If the former paragraph makes no sense, don’t worry…

To end the day the lot of us (me, Forbes, his wife’s cousin, his wife’s cousin’s wife, his wife’s cousin’s 17 year old, and his wife’s cousins 17 year old’s mate – sorry for the horrible use of apostrophes) go to the local hot springs. They are kind enough to provide me with togs I forgot to bring. These turn out to be speedos so pornographic that I wear my boxers over the top. Good times.

Me, Forbes and Spence (Forbe’s wife’s cousin), talk late into the night, covering religion, ethics and why vinyl still beats digital. I’m treated to Spence’s collection of 45s (not 33s) including early Elvis and some dodgy Elton John. I play finger-picked detuned versions of Iain Archer and Pedro songs in the corner. Spence’s wife eventually tells us to shut up. Good times indeed.

Immigrant song


I remember last night, just after the Elvis, that there was a plan to get up at 6.30 and get to the mountain for when the lifts open (at 8.00). I vaguely remember it at 6.30 when I wake first. I remember it at 7.00 when the first hints of brightness are making their way through the curtains. I remember slightly more clearly at 7.30 when I hear the first chopper of the day taking its load of tourists on a flight over the lake. It hits me at 8.00, when my stomach starts to growl with hunger, that perhaps we missed the boat.

The mountain is crisp and white and blue screened by the sky when we get there at 11.30. It takes a good photo.

As we approach the road up the mountain, a flickering LCD sign tells us ‘Bruce road closed, ski area full’. In 30 years of skiing at Ruapehu, Forbes has never seen this. The car parks at the top end are full. Full, it seems of Philippino and Japanese tourists who have no intention of skiing, just going up and down the lifts and laughing as their kids make snow angels and stick snow down their siblings backs.

We wait 45 mins to get a coach to the field. One is not amused. Just bitter and remorseful, that sleeping bags are far too hard to get out of at 6.30.

We get three hours quality skiing. Well Forbes gets 3 hours quality skiing, I get three hours of uncontrolled, gravity driven descent. Snow is soft enough I discover.

We say our goodbyes at the end of the day. Yes I will see them again in 2 months, which isn’t a long time but still awkward. Forbes departs to buy vegetables (one of the ski villages is, bizarrely the NZ capital of carrot growing. Indeed it has a 20 foot high fibre glass carrot at its entrance. Like the giant trout, or the giant kiwi fruit, or the giant wellie boot, that grace other NZ towns. No accounting for taste) and eave for Ohakune – a village at the south end of the mountain.

Now to explain why I’m in Ohakune instead of Napier. Some of you may find it beneficial to google for a map of NZ to have along the side of the blog.

Let me begin. I have a ‘working holiday’ visa. A visa which I got over the net in 2 days without having to prove I even had a passport. This visa is designed for people to come to NZ to pick fruit and work in cafes and of course not stay in the job for longer than three months at a time. I’ve been in mine about 10 months now. I pay tax. Maybe that’s why they don’t mind. My ‘working (your whole life’s a) holiday’ visa runs out 4 days after I come back to NZ.

I imagine this won’t look good to immigration on the way in. It will look worse for reasons outlined below.

The UK medical work force is upward of 30% (NZ is 41% I read in the paper) foreign trained. In other words we need to look overseas to fill the jobs. These jobs are most often filled by excellent doctors who’ve trained in far flung corners of the planet. The UK in general and the NHS in particular is greatly enriched and indeed indebted to their contribution.

There are however a few, how shall I put it – useless idiots – imported. Just as we seem to train some useless idiots ourselves. When I worked in Craigavon there was briefly a group of 4 (out of several hundred docs) who became know as the horsemen. As in the 4 horseman of the apocalypse. In my absence I’m told the term has evolved into dee-effs. Or dangerous foreigners. This is of course hugely racist and neglects many important issues. It is also really quite humorous.

I told Forbes this. In light of recent critical terror threat levels, and multiple high profile arrests, Forbes has renamed them ee-effs. Or exploding foreigners. This is also hugely racist and discriminatory. But also quite funny.

In the ICU here we have two non-white doctors. One a third generation English guy (indeed more English than most people I’ve met – and I mean that, surprisingly in nothing but a positive way) with Indian ancestors and a Hindu background. The other is an immensely gracious and gently mannered Malaysian, also with Hindu, Indian background. Both will be picked out at the airport as potential threats, just cause they’re not white.

In the same way, my mate, Mohsin, who I used to work with in A&E, will be pulled up and searched at every point. As a leader in both bleary and Lisburn rd mosque, perhaps he is a more suitable candidate to stop and search. Though he’s also gutted and appalled at what is done in the name of Islam (as I am about what is done in the name of Christianity) by a mixture of psychopaths and bitter, angry men. Indeed he is more receptive about religion and the gospel than most ‘Christians’, even if he has that rather annoying trait of saying we’re all on a bus going the same direction (I paraphrase). When a man says I am the way the truth and the life he means it I think.

Goodness. That was a tangent.

I’m in Ohakune. Why am I in Ohakune again? Oh yes, cause it’s nearly half way between Taupo and Palmerston north.

Another tangent. Palmerston north has the unfortunate title of suicide capital of NZ. John Cleese, for whatever reason, latched onto this and launched a diatribe of abuse against the place as the worst place in NZ (which in truth it probably is). He citizens of Palmerston North retaliated and renamed their rubbish dump ‘Mt Cleese’. I love kiwis.


I need to got to Palmerston North cause that’s where, in their wisdom, they’ve put the immigration office. So tomorrow morning I’ll dander into the office and smile politely and graciously and ask them if they’ll grant me a visa to do the job I’ve already been doing for 10 months and a visa to stay legally instead of illegally in their country. This within a week of five doctors being arrested in the gold coast in Australia, prompting a review of all registration and immigration procedures for doctors. And me being from a country, famous perhaps for its long history of violence and terrorism.

Wish me well.


January 2020
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