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.

IMG_0353

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

IMG_0363

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.

IMG_0358

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.

IMG_0368

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.

img_0258

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

img_0238

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

img_0243

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.

img_0239

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.

img_0245

img_0247

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.

ulster-hall-1

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

30-09-08

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.

4-10-08

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


About

July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31