Archive for the 'Northern Ireland' Category

Nice places to walk the dog if I’d remember to bring her

I have been meaning to climb Cave Hill for years. I even planned to once before the weather changed plans.

So me and the office and another killer in training took the challenge. My housemate described as a mini-Table mountain. Kind of like its retard long lost cousin they want nothing to do with.

Still at least it’s in Belfast and easy to get to.

The view is pretty sweet. Even if the office is non-plussed

Monkey gone to heaven

I love this place

Man bailed as lemurs seized

Nice places to walk the dog – No. 10

Seeing as Simy has abandoned the puppy for the weekend (she was crying little puppy tears, all dishevelled in a pile of her own excrement when i rescued her, the RSPCA have been informed) – i figured i’d give her a taste of the good life and bring her to a bog for a day.

I also managed to find her a new friend in the form of a rather mental, and unsurprisingly much more intelligent springer spaniel called Annie.


I remember being in Peatlands Park once as a kid, on some school trip or something. I remember it had a train.


I had forgotten how wonderful a place it was.

Apparently it “was specifically established to promote and facilitate peatland awareness and issues”. I was unaware that I needed to be made aware of the issue. Or indeed that peatland had any issues to start with.


This year they’re holding the 5th annual bog snorkling champonships there. Nuff said

The dogs had their own version today. Just without the snorkels. Never have i seen the dog more muddy. She loved every minute of it. Though I’m not sure she’s quite self-aware enough to love – she did seem to be mighty content all the same.


Nice places to walk the dog – No. 4

Tollymore is one of the childhood haunts. Second only to Castlewellan in the idyllic caravan filled weekends of my youth.


More than ever Me and Simy would go back to being in our single figures and riding bikes and feeding ducks.


After a feed of chicken and roast spuds we hit the road on the nicest day of the year. No doubt you were engaged in some sun-drenched activity yourself. When the sun shines in Northern Ireland I don’t want to be anywhere else. All the thoughts of emigrating slowly slip away. It happens about twice a year as you’ll see


Everyone else in Northern Ireland appeared to be here too, mainly in the car parks with their portable BBQs and small children and canines. There were rows of people carriers with their boots open and 5 Live blazing the football while the grannies in the cars next them frowned severely.


The dog noticed none of this. The dog notices nothing when the tennis ball is in view. It is hypnotic in effect Other dogs turn up and sniff her bits and she’s not the slightest bit distraced. It makes her appear well trained and disciplined.



War on war

I just got invited to join a Facebook group of “people against terrorism in Northern Ireland”. Though I suspect amongst the population on Facebook, being against terrorism is like being against starvation or pain or splinters under fingernails. I’m pretty sure we’re already signed up to that one.

The best way is to imagine if there’s a Facebook group that calls itself “those in Northern Ireland who support terrorism”. Although maybe I should be careful. The internet is an odd place.

Terrorists don’t define themselves as terrorists. They’re freedom fighters or something similar. It’s not like they spend their childhoods thinking they can’t wait to grow up and play with guns and shoot people from a distance and run away or strap bombs to themselves and take out bus loads of civilians with the blast. Whatever brings them to that point (and no doubt it’s complicated and messy) it is surely not hopeful ambition.

Though I somehow doubt Facebook will redeem us from the mess we’re in, perhaps the lack of public and political enthusiasm for the actions of the past few days will let it all fizzle out in peace.

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.

What happens when the heart just stops


So it goes.

I sit in the by window of the bedroom, listening to him breathe. Noisy, rattly breaths. He wakes only occasionally now. To pee. To take a few sips. He knows us. He knows what’s happening. He even makes the odd sarcastic one-worder (not having the energy for a full one liner).

But his voice is slurred and weak and he hasn’t even the energy to get the blankets off him on his own. This is what the sickness does to you. Leaves people the shell of what they used to be. I’ve seen it happen before. Just not to him.

So it goes.

Not like we didn’t know it was coming. Either from 4 months ago or even last year. We’ve thought about this. We’ve talked about this. We’ve planned for this. I don’t mean it makes it easier. I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure I have to.

Slowly (insidious as medics would say) he’s gone down hill. As the cancer grows and robs more of his energy and leaves him with more and more nausea and kinks and twists in his gut. As tiny blood clots lodge in the blood vessels in his lungs. As his poor starved liver stops making protein and all the fluid collects wherever gravity will draw it to. Week by week he could do a bit less.

There was of course the odd notable exception. Like the day they went to Newcastle and he ate a steak sandwich. Or the day the palliative care consultant came to see him and he was outside cleaning the drains. As mum said to the consultant: “this is gonna look bad…” I told dad they’d take his Graseby off him.

We’re grateful for what we had. He was glad to be here and we were glad to have him. I think that’s changed now.

I am remarkably calm. Though that’s not the right word. I’m not freaking out for some reason – I know I have done previously. The whole thing is a decidedly odd (and equisitely painful) experience.


And now he’s gone.

In the same way I’ve watched them all go before. We looked after him at home. We did everything. No nurse cared more than we did (and the nurses were great), rarely have I been so proud of my family, doing what they’ve had no training or experience to do before. I do this for a living in many ways, it is completely foreign to them.

I could watch all the signs that go with the event of dying. All the medicalised aspects of it. Knowing that there wasn’t enough blood and oxygen to his brain to deliver any kind of conscious awareness of what was going on. He was already gone. I knew this, but still… it’s my Da. He looked like all the other poor dying souls I’ve watched, but still… this was my Da.

Watching someone die is a strange and profound enough experience to start with, never mind watching it happen to someone you love dearly. I think this is part of why it has such a profound experience on people, and perhaps why it didn’t have such a big effect on me. His act of dying (the three or so hours form when he wouldn’t wake up until he was gone) wasn’t anything special. It was, as we’ve described it to people: “peaceful”. The bit that gets you is the sheer finality of it all. That the eyes won’t open again. That there’ll not be the sarcastic comments and the steely determination.

Amazing how quick something can go from being someone you have an intimate relationship to an odd looking body that bears little resemblance to the man you once knew.

I don’t understand emotion – I’m a man, none of us do apparently… But I mean on a physiological basis – the constriction at the back of your throat, such that you can’t even swallow, the pain, the sheer physical pain in your chest, the headaches, the inability to complete sentences, the way your face curls up like (to quote dear Ronnie…) “a bulldog chewing a wasp”. Why does loss affect us poor creatures so?

I wouldn’t want to have kept him here. At least not the last week or two, they’ve not been pretty. In some ways there’s this selfish desire just to keep them here, even if it’s only for a smile and a word. But you think about it and then you realise you wouldn’t want to keep them, not like this anyhow.

And then we were sitting there. With all that was left of Da. And what do you do. Where do you start? Simon phoned the doctor and all the important people, I sorted out Dad and all the medical stuff. Mum baked a pie. What else would you do? I was hungry. I don’t know why, but I was hungry. It was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

The undertaker asked us would the house be “open” or “private” – Though according to Ruth ,when it says “private” in the paper it actually means anyone can come to the house, but if it says “strictly private” then it’s private. That seems perverse. But it is Norn Iron I suppose.

People started to turn up at the house. And then more people, and more people. And here’s the difficult bit…

I am glad that so many people turned up to wish us well and grieve and tell stories. I am truly grateful for the hundreds of cups of tea and buns and sandwhiches. But there were frequent points when I was very close to standing up in the middle of the room swearing loudly “would you *&^%$£$% all go home and just leave us in peace…”

I didn’t.

Instead I went out to the garage to stroke the dog. The dog is therapeutic. Safer and cheaper than drugs and booze. The dog helps us cope. The dog has been walked and stroked within an inch of its life in the past few weeks. The dog is the single most happy and contented thing/creature I have ever met. Like colin the robot in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy after Ford has rewired its pleasure circuits (for those who’ve read Hitchhiker’s then you’re with me, if not please read it…) Dog’s are good listeners. We could learn a thing or two…

I am sorry for thinking about such thoughts about such dear people who would come only to “pay respects” and encourage. In one of those odd ways I am both glad that you were there while at the same time I wished you weren’t. I think i’m allowed such confusion.

We bury them quick in Ireland. Two days later. I like to think it’s on the third day and all that… I don’t know why we bury them two days later. Makes the whole thing a bit more intense, but I think it’s a good idea none the less. Though how should I know, it’s not like I do this a lot…

We had a short service in the house before the trip to the church. 25 of us – pretty much the whole family, well those of us old enough to know what was going on – packed into the living room. An unbreakable and terrible tension in the room. Me and Simon waited outside for the minister to come. Both of us in our suits, white shirts and ties, greeting mourners as they arrived. I remember thinking we looked like bouncers. Like a skinny, more weedy version of Max and Paddy.

And then we followed the hearse.

To the church, along the road that Dad walked every sunday afternoon when he was a kid, turning just before we passed the house he grew up in, up roads where he walked every sunday morning with the aging BB old boys.

To the church he’d gone to since he was a baby, that both his and mum’s parents had gone to for all the generations we can trace. [And all of a sudden I realise why roots are so important. Da always said, as if stuck on repeat, “who you are, where you are from, to whom you belong…”]

Carried under the flags of the BB he’d been a founding member of, where he’d served for 40 years. Carried down the same aisle that he’d watched mum walk down on their wedding day so many years before. [Funny how funerals are so like, and unlike, weddings…]

To lie in his coffin at the front of the church filled with the 500 or so people who came to say that they knew and loved him.

To listen to the hymns that neither, me, Simy or Liz could even begin to sing without choking up on tears. We just stood as if the sheer volume and meaning from the crowd behind us could hold us up. [“From life’s first cry to final breath..” is always a killer – i have watched lots of “life’s first cry” waiting to resuscitate babies as they come out. I have watched my own Fathers “final breath” – this is a lyric with depth and meaning…]

To listen and watch as Dad’s best friend gave a eulogy where we all got reminded who he was – someone who loved well and was first class when it came to taking the piss out of people. People got insulted – Da would’ve been happy, he wouldn’t have had it any other way…

And then carried. By those who knew and loved him best, by those who were his family, as we walked behind, careful to look only at the coffin and not side to side, knowing that if we made eye contact we’d come to pieces. Odd that – on the one day designed for mourning, you spend the whole day trying to keep it together for the sake of those around you.

Then taken. Out into the pissing rain (good day for a funeral…) And me and Simy take the coffin, down the path to where we’ve buried the rest of his family. And I just repeat over and over in my head “thank you for the life you gave me, thank you for the happiness, thank you for the discipline, thank you for what you made me, thank you for everything… I’m gonna miss you.”

This and the horrible practicality that if I have to walk much further on a slippy path in these shoes then I’m gonna drop the coffin.

I remember my Granda’s funeral, the same grave, 15 years before. When, as they lowered the coffin they struggled to fit the coffin into the hole and I remember it being remarked that it was just “Billy (Da’s Dad) – stubborn to the last…”

Dust to dust, just like every funeral.

[Liz is for being cremated- she says she’s scared of enclosed spaces and scared of being buried alive. I’m being cremated to save space. Or possibly cut up into tiny pieces by inept medical students with my stolen fingers being used in tasteless pranks… I fugure if GOD raises the dead, then the spread of my individual molecules, atoms, protons, electrons and Higgs Bosons throughout the diaspora shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge…]

As we walk away, the BB old boys gather round the grave to do what they always do, to do what I’ve done before, and “bury their own”.

In the hall, there is tea. Cups of tea like you’ve never seen before. Trolleys of buns and huge vats of tea, all arranged and moving with military precision. There is nothing quite like dear church folk doing catering at a funeral.

We took up a position in the corner and waited for the onslaught. Two hours of handshakes, embraces and tears we were still there as the queue slowly diminshed. Most of it was a bit of a blur. People I had never met, hugged me, good country men shook my hand till the bones cracked. Almost everyone called me Simon. I developed a layer of foundation on my shoulder from all the embraces. It was, in the strangest way, enjoyable. Listening to people tell me stories about Da, from long before I was born.

You see, this is what I didn’t get. I considere myself an authority on my own Da. I had reason to think so. But I forgot that Dad had this whole other life before I turned up. He had 20 years before he even met Liz. This life where he met and loved people and did all kinds of stuff that I knew nothing about. People knew Da in all kinds of ways that I didn’t even think were possible. I am humbled.

For most of the time I was OK. I smiled and laughed and joked and practised our “funeral soundbytes” – it is impossible to say something original every time someone asks you a question about it so you come up with a few choice truths which somehow lose their depth of meaning with repitition.

But every now and again someone would appear in the queue who I hadn’t quite expected or someone who didn’t even know Da and had come solely for my benefit – and then I’d begin to wobble a bit. It goes down as one of the strangest experiences yet.

Your wedding day is cool cause you know and love everyone there, your funeral is the same, except you don’t get to be there. Da would’ve enjoyed it. Just shame he wasn’t there.

We only seem to get this many together if someone gets born, married or dies. Odd that. Odd, the traditions we have.

That night we all got letters from him. We knew we were getting letters. And that wasn’t the easiest. To read his handwriting, with all the nice things and him taking the piss (“Andrew, you knew you were always meant to be a girl…” Cheers Da) and at the end he’s signed it and I can’t go downstairs and say thanks. That’s the tricky bit…

Cheers Da.

Ronnie Neill

Born 29-3-48

Died 2-10-08

Reports from the brown river

Summer has been, as mentioned earlier, officially declared. I’m down to one t-shirt and a fleece as opposed to the extra “thermals” I’ve been wearing for what seems like the last 6 gibillion years or so. I’ve taken to walking round the house with no socks, cycling to work is now up to more than half of the days I go to work. Blue skies have appeared over Portadown. The Rapture may be imminent.

And so finally we’ve dusted off old Pudge and made a trip down the Bann. The last time we did this was three weeks before Da turned yellow and everything changed. To have him in the back of the canoe steering as badly as ever is kind of a big deal. To be honest we thought it may well have been proper summer (the one week of dry weather we’ll get between June and August) before getting him back in the canoe but GOD is good.

So instead of the usual Saturday morning lie in while listening to Fi Glover on Saturday Live on Radio 4, Dad was in like a kid on Christmas day, kicking me out of bed to look at the blue sky and the snow on the tops of the mournes out the window.

One poached egg and a few slices of bacon and a cup of coffee later we were down at Simon’s house trying to contain Lily’s excitement that we were going on a trip. Not that Lily was gong on the trip, she jut gets excited about everything “wow, look at you, you’ve got a stick, wow, what a totally amazingly awesome stick, I’m so excited, wow, I’ve just wet myself…” Ah it’s a dog’s life eh…

So with the usual stares from “the old and the bored” and the fishermen in camo gear (one day I’ll ask “you know what’s the deal with the camo gear? who exactly are you disguising yourself for? the fish?”), we paddled through town beaming from ear to ear on the best day of the year so far.

We canoed as far as we could upstream (about 3 miles) where the river hits a shallow area of “rapids” where the only way on up is to get out and walk and tow the canoe behind us. Maybe some day, not today. Me and Simon have great plans for a wee descent from Katesbridge to Portadown though we’ll have to get over a few weirs, which I’m sure is fine really… We’ll wear helmets Mum honestly…

So instead we abandoned the Bann and headed up the horses leap, which apparently is an old diversion of the river Bann built by the army back in the first half of the last century. I have no idea why they were diverting the Bann, probably something to fill the time between world wars. My (now dead) Grandad talked about how they camped down where Tescos is now. Different age, different world.

Here we stopped and sat on the bank and watched the herons and the microlites overhead (kernan aviation were having a busy morning), Dad popping pills and crisps to keep the blood sugars up till we got back. I get all cynical about the limitations of medicine and how little we can do yet here stands my Dad, doing what he was doing 9 months ago yet if he stopped his medication he’d be dead in a week or so. Gratitude springs eternal.

Incidentally the girl on the right is just Simon with long hair. The girl on the left is Lily.

It’s hard to find a friend

I realize now that the blogs I wrote in NZ in pubs and cafes were really just ways to pass the time and look less lonely when there’s no one else there. Not that I mind being on my own, more that I mind people thinking ‘look at the sad old bugger on his own in the corner’.

I have a mate living in england who occasionally frequents Thom Yorke’s pub and on a random Thursday evening you might find I’m in there ensconced in a corner with a pint and an old paperback. Maybe he doesn’t suffer the same neuroses I do.

So I write this in a snug in a pub in town waiting for two mates to turn up. I have this terrible habit of actually being on time for things, which means i always seem to end up sitting about by myself waiting for other people writing blogs to pass the time.

When I arrive it’s kind of  a slow night, there’s just a few hardened drinkers arranged by the bar who give me a slightly cursory glance and return to Crystal Palace versus Leicester on the telly.

I retire to a snug and begin to fend off my boredom by looking up obscure medical conditions on the program on my phone – this has been a lifesaver to stave off boredom in various isolated situations.

I get bored with Waldenstrom’s macrglobulinaemia (which the first prime minister of Algeria died of incidentally… Don’t ask…) and start to write the blog. Leicester score. A woman walks briefly through and leaves even more quickly. It’s that type of pub. At one point  a non white person arrives and chats comfortably with a few of the locals. I pinch myself to check I’m still in Portadown. Maybe I paint this place worse than it is.

15 minutes later Des sits down beside me having been sitting in the snug beside me for the past 10 minutes but completely oblivious to my presence. He only found me when the bar man suggested that ‘was he meeting anyone’ and that he was probably in the snug beside him.

Shane arrives another 15 minutes later with some lame excuse about baby sitting his 6 year old nephew, or getting beat up by his 6 year old nephew. I’m not sure which.

We all worked (though I use that term in the loosest possible sense) in the hospital as cleaners when we were students. Spending our weekends cleaning toilets and handing out breakfasts to the patients (often in that order).

I loved it, but then I get excited about nearly everything so maybe I’m not the one to ask.

We managed about 4 years in total. It was better than real work – which by my definition involves some kind of manual labour, probably outdoors on rainy days only. So by that definition I’ve never had a real job. And also that the only people doing real work are the roads service – which is clearly nonsense. Though I suppose it does count with Shane who was briefly (though to be fair bout 4 years…) an archaeologist before taking up a job renting property (or selling guns or something…) in Bosnia. Some people eh?

Des makes TV programmes. Which is well cool. Though I’ve never actually seen any of them. Funny where we all end up.

pub-man.jpgThe bant was good, I didn’t even see who won the match. Shane goes back to Bosnia soon so we say our goodbyes till July when Shane gets back and we do this again. Except next time I’ll just remember to bring a paper instead of blogging to fill the time.

Anybody wanna take me home?

One of the things I planned on doing when I got back from NZ (besides world domination…) was to move into a house in town with a mate. No intention of buying a house – preferring instead that I should hold on to both my kidneys instead of selling one to pay the mortgage.

I enjoyed my year in NZ living by myself in my own space. And I figure, well I’m in Portadown for the forseeable future so why not find somewhere here to live.

Not that I don’t enjoy living with my parents (the rent’s obviously good…), I get on with them very well, I’ve never felt smothered, or impeded or in any way deficient by living with them – though I’m aware that living with your parents at the age of 26 is deemed a cultural faux-pas in some circles.

For some years now I’ve had a certain desire, or perhaps I should say conviction to be living on the Garavghy Rd. Just because there were no other Christians living there, and seeing as I seem in no danger of “going out into all the nations” anytime soon, then maybe down the road a bit might do.

Going to NZ was a lot of things, part of it was running away from that.

I have been a quiet suburban middle-class Prod all my life. The idea of living in any form of urban (not that Portadown ever gets that urban) working class community has some sort of romantic allure – think Pulp’s Common People without the “sleeping with common people like you” bit.

There is a longer explanation but that’s pretentious enough for now.

And so for the past 3 months I’ve read the classified section of the local quality publication – The Portadown Times (the same paper that brought us such page 2 stories as “Missing swan found”) – looking for houses to rent. Largely without success.

Until last week when two turned up at once.

woodsy.jpgMe and Woodster (seen here during his brief spell with the Met) – the only one I could talk into sharing a house with me – spent our evening viewing the two houses.

The first was a newly renovated terrace which fell down on being pricey, having dodgy windows and a peculiar bathroom beside the kitchen thing. Nice but not good enough we thought.

The second was a wee bit more hopeful. An end terrace in a courtyard of relatively recent built houses. Recently occupied by smoking Portugese Moy Park workers (judging by the unopened mail and the smell). Certainly a decent enough wee house Just the landlord who was a bit stand offish. Asking questions like how long we’d known each other and who the girl (a friend who’d tagged along for curisoity’s sake) was, and what we did for a living. He quite clearly didn’t believe I was a doctor, and I hardly blame him, most people don’t. I either look, too young, or too scruffy, or too incompetent, or frequently all three.

As we walked away from the house it dawned on us that his stand-offishness and quite frankly nosy questions were simply explained by the fact he thought we were gay. Northern Ireland is of course a country full of deep seated prejudice and bigotry (myself included) and so a little homophobia is par for the course (again, to my shame – myself included). Of course he would presume two young professionals moving into a house together were gay. I mean Woodsy was even wearing a scarf. What else could we expect, this is Portadown after all.

Young single males are often seen as an odd sort, we’re either of questionable sexual orientation, involved in some form of nefarious criminal activity or drunken violence. Lock up your daughters so to speak. Sigh.

In the end we turned the house down (for various reasons), probably a good thing. It’ll save him the hassle of telling us he’s not a fan of our sort, and me the hassle of explaining.

My body is a cage

Songs for train journeys on sunny mornings:

Eels – numbered days

Gemma Hayes – stop chasing everything

Duke special – Brixton leaves me alone.

Postal Service – Clark Gable.

And so passed my most recent acquaintance with public transport in Norn Iron. The last time was 15 months ago on a trip to dublin for a course. In fact in my whole time in nz I managed not to even come close to public transport.

Anyhow, today I’m on the 0750 (yes there’s a 0750 these days, who’d have thought it!) to City Hospital for my second job. Funny how when you say it like that it makes it sound like I’m overworked. Ha.


I managed to get a part time job as an anatomy demonstrator at Queens. This involves taking a group of medical students through a guided dissection of an elderly, rather saggy looking corpse. And not nude modelling for groups of students to draw charcoal etchings of me sitting on a stool looking pensive, as my brother thought.

I’m both scared and quite sure that they’re gonna know all the anatomy  better than I do. Though we are starting with the pancreas, gallbladder and spleen – all the organs my Dad no longer has, which is convenient (though not for Dad). I suppose it’ll give me an anecdote or two.

Anyhow getting to see Norn Iron in all it’s crispy clear beauty is just the best. To not have to worry about pressing the acclerator or not driving into the car in front is just wonderful. We’ve driven quarter of the way to NZ (about 4500 miles) just in visitng dad in the past 7 weeks.

And so I find myself back in the dissecting room. I love the smell of fomaldehyde in the morning.

The first group of the day are already huddled round their corpse, the plastic sheet still covering it. On a friday morning many a tall tale is told over (my dead body?) the plastic sheets about how drunk so and so was the night before.

They all look so young. Almost a definiton of getting older, that all the new doctors look incredibly young. I doubt most of the other demonstrators believe I’m actually a doctor, looking no older than the students, even with my 3 day old facial fluff. Coupled with the fact that I’m the only one not wearing ‘proper clothes’ ie shirt and tie. I mean who are they dressing proper for – the cadavers?

I start off with little simple questions about our poor recently departed stiff. For example, ‘my Dad no longer has this organ (Nelly points out recently departed’s pancreas) what does that mean for him?’

I’m surprised that what we’re teaching is so… Well… Basic I suppose. I forget easily that I knew none of this at their stage, and indeed only learnt a lot of it in the past few years. At least my fears of students pointing to obscure organs and blood vessels and asking complicated questions were unfounded.

I must admit it became something like anatomy according to my da. It makes for an excellent clinical scenario to give the students. Even other demonstartors used dad as an example. I’m not sure he’d like the (in) fame.

The second group reminds of that time I tried to get blood out of a stone, and even more of what it’s like to lead groups of young Christians to think about anything.

I run out of Dad related anecdotes with them and settle on getting them to learn the ‘hip bones connected to the … Other bone’ rhyme and send them on their way to make the lame see and the blind walk.

Our future is safe in their hands. As long as they can remember which bone the hand bone is connected to…

Common People

So I was having this discussion (in a taxi headed downtown…) in a coffee shop with a friend, Mostly about Christianity. All the things that piss us off about ourselves and the church and the world we live in. We end up talking about the gap there appears to be between the type of Christianity we see in our church – Bible centred, mostly cerebral, a lot of consideration and understanding, by a mostly highly educated group of people. Contrasted with the normal everyday society of a working class housing estate – educated as little as possible, where books, never mind the Bible have any role, where reaction is more important than consideration, who dance and drink and screw, casue there’s nothing else to do.

This begs two questions.

1) is the Christianity I describe what should be called ‘compulsory’? Is a love of study and theology and a grasp of the finer aspects of the five points of Calvinism what we need to be looking for in a believer?

2) if not, what type of church do we end up with and how should we do it? Together or separate? And how does this affect how we reach all the people in the working class housing estates.

Now there is enough in the two paragraphs (in which I have made huge generalisations and ignored many important points) preceding to spark all types of debate and controversy. That even may be the point. But I will try to explain a few things.

I grew up in a pleasant, safe (though not leafy) housing estate on the outskirts of town. Born to two first generation professionals, one of whom even had some form of degree, well a teaching certificate at least, and Da had 3 O-levels and some gnarly side burns so all’s fair there….

I was loved and nurtured and educated, both at home and in school. I was amply provided for and raised in a stable, loving and caring environment. Churched from a young age and taught the value of hard work, honesty, integrity and what would have been called moral values. Though perhaps I was just indoctrinated by a bunch of fundamentalists and projected some horrible Oedipus complex. I’m not sure. You choose.

I have been educated to a tertiary level and am a qualified professional in a very well paid and respected job with career possibilities coming out of every orifice. I am, by any stretch of the imagination, a golden child, one of the luckiest people on the planet.

There are now over 6 billion people on this planet. Most of whom without a toilet or running water, many of whom who die before the age of 5 from (what would be in our society) entirely preventable diseases. Many go hungry. Many can’t read. Few drive a car. Few have electricity to their home. Even fewer have used the internet or listened to a CD or read a book. Even fewer have been on an airplane to another country.

In terms of standards (education, finance, health, opportunities, safety) I’m somewhere in the top oh… 0.001% of the population of this planet. The white, middle class, Protestant male is the top of the food chain. Mostly by clambering on top of everyone else to get there, but I have no time for history.

If you are reading this then you are a) probably lost, b) full of perseverance to make it this far down and c) probably in the top few percentage points along with me.

On the other hand if I was born in a sink estate in Belfast, or in any city of any industrialised nation, I could well be an unwanted child of a teenage parent, with no father present. With an unstable family upbringing, few opportunities, an early entrance to anti-social and criminal behaviour, becoming heavily involved in alcohol and recreational drug abuse as a way to escape the awful pain of being alive and falling just short of the higher percentage points of human existence.

I draw generalisations to make a point. We are exceptional. Not in the BUPA advert type of a way, but that life is, in general, for the majority of the population on this planet and in this country, in this town, a conveyor belt of fear, pain, misery and death. I got lucky, though I in no way I believe I ended up with who I am by luck but you know what I mean.

I am a thinking Christian. I read books, I have vague notions of artistic appreciation and creativity. I need to understand my faith. To understand something of what expiation, imputation and sanctification mean. I need to question what my faith means, not even always finding satisfactory answers. I need to understand why I am what I am, why I do what I do.

Does this make me a better a follower of JESUS CHRIST?

The question I think should be this: does this make me a better follower of JESUS CHRIST?

It is subjective. Surely it must be. It would be anathema that GOD would create a faith accessible only to the top 0.001% of the population. Aren’t we to become like children in our faith? Heaven will be largely full of people who never learnt to read (assuming this whole shambles of a universe is called to a close sooner rather than later).

The gospel message is simple enough for a child to grasp and believe. Yet complex and deep and meaty enough to dedicate many of the finest minds of humanity into dedicating their lives into its understanding and unpacking.

So it seems clear that I’m not right about everything. A shock to us all I know…

I mean that how I relate to GOD will be different from how you will relate to GOD. That somehow GOD is glorified even in the variety of our personalities and our intellects. That the faith of a peasant believer in India (note how he is not simply a believer but a ‘peasant believer’, because I believe a delusion that my circumstances are normal, and his are in someway exceptional and deserve the preceding adjective) brings equal, if not greater glory to GOD. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

So perhaps that’s question 1) dealt with, in the smallest and most superficial form of course.

As for what our churches should look like then I have only begun to scratch the surface in my own mind. For now I’m more concerned with how that affects our evangelism.

Most of us are strategic about our evangelism. Trying to get the best understanding of the culture to which we are preaching the gospel. As a simple example, when I was in Malawi a few years back, we had to do some ‘preaching’ in church on a Sunday morning. Often it consisted of little thoughts from the psalms. In a burst of enthusiasm I got our translator to translate my psalm to English from his Chichewa (the language not the Wookie from Star Wars) Bible. I soon realised that there are no deer in Malawi and therefore my psalm had been modified to ‘As the giraffe pants for the water’. There are cultural barriers to be crossed. Most much more complex than this.

This town is divided by all kinds of barriers. Most obviously by that which cost the lives of 3000 people in the past 30 years. I rarely call myself a Protestant (though I indeed sign up to the doctrinal statements) but a Christian. But I can’t ignore the fact that I am a Protestant and the person I am speaking to is a Catholic. I cannot close my eyes and pretend the issue is not there. It is. I need to busy myself with dealing with it.

I have a secure and well-paid job. You are on income support, with no qualification and indeed no motivation to work. The simple and inevitable conclusion is that if you sign up to what I preach then you will become like me. Though the even scarier conclusion is that you need to be like me to sign up to what I preach. I cannot ignore this.

It is vital that we understand the significance of the barriers (and sometimes opportunities) that stand between human cultures. CHRIST was undeniably Jewish and preached to an almost exclusively Jewish audience. Paul spent his time with gentiles on his journeys, indeed in Athens he grasped and understood the culture of debate and pantheism that surrounded him. The consequences of the tower of Babel did much more than simply separate us in terms of language.

A ‘one size fits all’ Christianity does not work. The world is not full of Christians like us. I in no way want to come across as a lefty universalist, let’s just all hold hands and praise the Lord – that type of thing. It matters who you think the Lord is. It matters how you get to know him. It matters how you relate to him. Doctrine matters. Do not doubt me on that.

But what we are so often trying to do is make more people like us (by which I mean more people who are like us, not simply make people think we’re fun to be around). One of my biggest fears about church is that we are simply dividing along the secondary issues. That all we will be left with are groups of people united not by their love for JESUS CHRIST, but their taste in music, their age, their personality or the style of the sermon. But don’t get me started.

GOD wants disciples, wants people who love and treasure him for who and what he is. He does not want us to be making Presbyterians (though this may end up being the case) out of people. He does not want us to make Protestants (most Protestants know nothing about the reformation or have read any of Luther or what he fought against, most Protestants in this country are Protestants because it simply means they are not Catholics) out of people. He does not want us to make white, middle-class males, lovers of CS Lewis and a good self-deprecating lyric. He does not want me to make people just like me. He wants to make people, to remake people, to make them what they were meant to be. He is into making them like himself.


August 2022