Archive for the 'travel' Category

Tales from the trains #3

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

And that was that.

We came we theologised, we left.

We had a poetry night, which is more awesome than it sounds.

I think I get poetry now. This is always been a personal bug-bear of mine; that I never really got it; that I never really got the significance of it as something more than mere transfer of information.

The key it seems is hearing it spoken. Perhaps in 10 different accents with some Ardbeg on the go.

I remembered some Seamus Heaney. Somewhere back in my memory it was there, unused and untouched but there all the same.

But the week ends as quickly as it begun

I’m at the beginning of my epic return, troy is conquered, I have a dangerous and mystical journey to get back… I’m sure I’ve heard that before…

I’m hoping southbound will be a bit smoother than northbound was: so far so good. I’m on the 1657 from haymarket to Birmingham. I have a whole table to myself. I have a flask full of coffee and a power suppply. Too bad the graphics card finally and conclusively died yesterday. Virgin trains give you free wi-fi? That’ll do nicely. Shame i’m confined to iPhone.

3 hrs of this. I’m a little buzzing with excitement at the prospect. God I love trains…

I have 3 hrs to hang around in Holyhead waiting for a ferry. You can imagine how much fun that will be.

Tales from the trains #2

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

So yeah, I know this wasn’t the most efficient way to get to St Andrews, but it is a kind of transport, travelling adventure.

I spent an hour and half in holyhead train station this morning. What have you ever done?

I was shouted at by a toddler, I was cold and they sneakily stuck us on a train replacement service instead of a train. There were almost fisticuffs for the seats.

It was never made entirely clear that there was actually more than 1 bus coming for the 100 or so passengers. Hence the anxious panic.

Bus is no way to travel. At least for me. I get nauseous when I try to read so i’m limited to headphones and podcasts.

The woman in front of me has a mid-sized dog on her lap. i wonder where the term came from – mid-sized, it makes it sound like a VW Golf, it’s kind of mid-size. It’s a very nice dog, lies there quietly and I don’t notice it piss on the seat once.

After 90 mins on the bus we’re in Ryll. I remember being here on a BB camp a long, long time ago. I may have been 14. Imagine that, i was 14 once.

With an hour to kill I spend my time in a chip shop eating lovely fish, horrible chips and surpisingly appetising mushy peas.

There is a scrum back at the train station as the angry mob (my fellow passengers) attempt to storm the turnstiles, just as the passengers are leaving the train we need to get onto. Hilarity ensues. By which I mean gruimpiness, swearing and angry looks.

The attendants were blissfully unaware of the situatin letting the two masses collide into each other in some amateur hour version of CERN.

We all get a seat somehow, on a 2 carriage train smaller than any even Northern Ireland railways seems to have to offer.

This train goes for 20 mins. We get off (scrum style)

We get on another train heading fro London, and there are no seats and a repeating announcements that those of us with rail sail tickets wil be castrated and fed on our own genitalia if we fail to leave the train at Crew.

So I’m in crewe. Huddled over a pint beside a power socket, recharging, figuratively and literally, for the final assault.

Tales from the trains #1

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

8am Dublin-Holyhead

I envy the people who can sleep. Sleep anywhere I mean.

A half-empty ferry on a wet Sunday morning, and people are sprawled out all around me sleepng like babies. Their cheeks elevated on rolled up sweaters to keep their skin off the faux-leather cushions.

The MV Ulysses. Joyce would be chuffes I’m sure.

I forget how much I enjoy travelling. Or perhaps this is just commuting. I’m not sure what the difference is. Maybe the weather.

It’s all about getting a seat, and the train connections. And waiting rooms where I can ge a power point for the lap top. Such an amount of work and entertainment I have to occupy me. If I can just keep the battery charged.

Commuter love – #8

It’s taken me a while together comfortable with sitting on the floor of the train when there’s no seats. Sometimes, if it’s really busy then you can’t sit even if you wanted to. There’s just no room.

But sometimes, you’re the only one on the carriage with eveyone else smuggly seated, deeply engrossed in the new Dan Brown.

The floor was clean(ish) and it hadn’t rained so peoples shoes weren’t sloshing water all over the place. So I did it. Just plonked myself down leaning against the wall.

The next girl to join the carriage saw the taboo had been broken and popped herself down opposite me. She was wearing a skirt though and seemed to be struggling to maintain her dignity a little more than me. I suppose, like most people, she had a little bit more dignity to maintain.

Old old fashioned

Some of the more wonderful people in my life bought us a wee holiday to celebrate our marriage.

This was all planned some time back before the wedding and I knew we were going somewhere but knew none of the details.

We had a little brown envelope with spending money, directions and a USB drive with details and a 2 and a half hour podcast from the gents themselves to keep us entertained on the drive. This was above and beyond the call of duty.

It was so good in fact that I didn’t want to pick up a gun and murder someone when Lady in Red came on.

Our destination was here.

The wonderful Hay-on-Wye.

Despite the misleading advertising above, the town is quite simliar to other towns and has houses made of bricks and mortar as opposed to books. You can tell I was disappointed.

And despite the sign saying welcome to Wales, this is one of the most English-feeling towns I have ever been in. It even had a Conservative Club with a portrait of Winston hanging in the hallway.

The pub we had dinner in had a portrait of someone who just may have been Maggie Thatcher but seen in a good light through beer goggles.

Maybe it’s a fair statement that all the best bits of England are in Wales.

They must get a bit pissed off being lumped in with the English all the time. Every time there’s a national report on the state of whatever it’s always for England and Wales combined and Scotland gets its own report and our esteemed leaders in the North haven’t agreed on anything long enough to even do the report.

Seems a bit of a shame for a country passionately pursuing a Welsh culture and language to be amalgamated at almost every level.

We stayed here which was absolutely bloody lovely and comes highly recommended. Incidentally its Sandy Toksvig’s favourite B&B so we’re in good company.

It’s so authentic as an 18th century house that the floors and the ceilings aren’t entirely level. There’s even a tiny door in the wall that opens into the greenhouse for ventilation which has a little figurine inside it.

The bedroom felt a little like the inn in The fellowship of the ring when the Nazgul come in and stab the pillows in the beds.

Hay-on-Wye is famous for its book festival. So famous in fact that i had no idea till someone told me.

There are 30 second-hand bookshops in a fairly tiny space.

There were even “honesty” book shops which were just shelves under tarpaulins where you could just leave 50p and walk off with such a high quality book such as:

But when you’ve got one you may as well get the sequel:

Second-hand bookshops are wonderful places but you have to realise the sheer staggering amount of trash and nonsense you have to browse through to find a gem like the obsucre Vonnegut you were looking (Goddamnit you gotta be kind…) or the third copy of Gilead that you really need (it was only £1.50…).

The shops themselves are fairly intriguing with lots of old broken down sofas, often with a cat asleep on them.

There were of course other attractions like this:

and this:

But I was mainly excited about getting a go on this:

Which I duly did:

All in all a cracking wee holiday. Cheers muchly lads.

The city, the airport

13-1-10 Omni south park hotel. Austin TX

The drive from the lake house to Austin was fairly uneventful. Most things about scenery in Texas seem to be uneventful. Everything seems to be either dead or dying or covered in tarmac.

Perhaps we only saw the worst bits. I saw no oil wells at all. I though that’s what this place was all about.

Quick note to all that when booking your Omni hotel in Austin check it’s the one in the city and not 5 miles out. 5 miles out is just lovely for business travellers but not so good for us tourists looking forward to walking everywhere.

On a plus point the room had it’s own coffee maker. Better than a kettle and some Nescafe.

Spent the evening floating in and out of bars on 6th street trying to see which ones would let us in as one member or our party (to remain unnamed) forgot their ID for the night…

Austin is cool. Or maybe it’s not cool but just cool in comparison to the cultural wasteland that is most of Texas that I’ve seen so far.

14-1-10 Austin TX

Little City is a pretty funky cafe right beside the Capitol building in the centre of Austin and does exceptionally cheap coffee and food for brekkie. And free Internet which is always a bonus.

That wasted a few hours in the morning till we conducted our own tour of the Capitol building and historic sites of Austin. They were nice. If not very historic. Europeans win hands down against Americans for history. If they hadn’t wiped out all those native Americans then they might have a better history…

We ended up in the Texas history museum all prepared for learning. Instead we found they had an IMAX cinema in the museum that was showing Avatar in 3D. Education be damned I want exploding aliens.

Avatar has a predictable plot and some truly awful dialogue but it is very, very pretty to watch. Even more so in 3D.

So after our extensive Austin cultural experience we retired to another funky coffee house for more of the Grapes of Wrath.

Our last night in Austin was spent watching blues bands and the bizzare texan concept of dueling piano bars.

16-1-10 Connolly railway station 1740

Central station waiting for a train… That kind of vibe.

We left Austin in the rain. As the sky brightened and the interstate packed.

I dreamt of Dad. That we got some kind of slightly dim, confused version of him as a replacement but then he was sick too and we had to work out what to do.

I dreamt of cerebellar tumours and dysdiadochokinesia and kind smiling faces and me bearing my suffering well with smiles and witticisms.

We drove. Aquaplaning the deluge, more nervous, more alert. Conversations held without eye contact, eyes not wanting to leave the road.

It was dry in Dallas. The arched concrete and web of junctions and turnpikes sent us the wrong way, we tried again.

We turned our trusty steeds over to the rental guy in the airport. Hundreds of miles covered effectively without incident. And then We put one of the cars into the front of the car in front actually in the rental car park. Actually as the rental guy looks things over. Actually.

No damage. They make bumpers of this plastic these days – so that it crunches in and crunches out again.

Something like that anyhow.

Our party splits. Some to keep driving, some to fly one place, some to fly another. Goodbyes are weird. I think most are irrelevant. For the folk I know I’ll see in 2 weeks then I don’t see the point. For others who know when you’ll see them again? There’s no plans (we love our plans even if we know they’ll never work out), there’s no fixed date. There’s ones and zeroes thrown across little glass fibres under the ocean but that’s hardly the same.

So we say goodbye. And some feel sad but, we go through our rituals. Mainly I feel awkward. That seems to be my default emotion for a lot of situations.

Maybe that’s what men are better at doing. Substituting a certain unease for lack of genuine engagement.

America seems much happier to be letting us leave than welcoming us into the country. No 2 hour queues. No questions, no invasive DNA tests, no polygraph, no full body cavity searches.

Just when I thought that America and I were entering a new phase in our relationship she goes and ends it like this. The silent treatment. Not even a stamp in the passport.

We flew from London on the way out. We had one of those 3-4-3 formation planes with little TVs in the back of the seat in front. You felt you were going somewhere classy.

Now we’re flying home to Dublin and we’ve got a bod standard Boeing in a 3-3 formation and air con so loud you’d think someone had left one of the windows down.

It’s full of parents and their young kids. And they are excepionally well behaved. Hats off to them.

The sky brightens out the window. As we head full tilt at 450 miles an hour into the approaching sunrise.

Ireland is still white where she makes the effort to throw up a hill or two. The Wicklow hills watch our descent as we turn to land from the ocean. The plane bumps down. Every time we don’t die it amazes me.

Kind housemates picked us up and brought us to maynooth. And made us tea and toast and let me sleep in their bed till I could at least form a cohesive sentence.

I missd my train home. I thught they still let guys run along side trains as they left and climb on the back of them. Instead they quote something about health and safety.

So I sit in Connolly waiting for a train. Watching the corner of Amiens St. and Talbot St. with the spire in O’Connell St in the distance. The endless buses veering as they make the corner.

I shelter behind my guiness. Headphones in. Watching the endless movement of our glorious humanity. All the fears hopes and joys. With my head full of the grapes of wrath and steinbeck’s implicit humanity and dignit of the people he writes about. With all that and all this I still hide behind my guiness and my head phones and my phone.

Still. I’m back at least.

In a big country

11-1-10 Clear Creek Cove, Burnet, TX

Texas is not used to temperatures below freezing. Ireland is used to them but just completely useless at dealing with them as has become apparent.

So Texan houses are made from wood frames and with central heating systems that are more designed for the air conditioning aspect than they are for the heating part.

They work. They do heat the place to a degree but they’re all vents and fans and make an unholy racket while you’re trying to sleep. It’s like a million hair dryers pointing out of the wall.

Being the middle of winter there is no one here, the surrounding houses are quiet and dark’ the speedboats under their awnings and the boat houses empty.

The squirrels and the ducks don’t seem to mind.

We made a brief journey out in the car to see the Buchanan dam (this whole lake and state park is the result of damming the Colorado river to provide electricity – in 1937) and see that while the dam was pretty damn impressive the lake behind it was more like Spelga on bad day.

We went and saw Longhorn cavern. Which from what I gathered from the museum was a big hole in the ground that the army, fresh back from WWII with no one to invade till Korea, decided to make a whole lot bigger.

As holes go it was kind of nice. And I suppose it’s got to be better than WWII. Amongst the many photos I found one on some of the training they received. For what the mind can only boggle…

Back in the house for want of food I devoured a Kurt Vonnegut book of essays and stories on war and found these couple of lines

there can be no doubt that the allows fought on the side of right and the Japanese on the side of wrong. World war II was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous.
That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of bring an irrational war for wars sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy learned to kick a man below the bel and make the bastard scream.


if jesus were alive today we would kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have killed him for the same reason he was killed the first time. His ideas are just too liberal.

This followed by pizza, beer, lighting of the fire and a quick cigar on the veranda. And who would have thought that there was such a thing as good American whiskey. The world does not begin and end with scotch it seems.

12-1-10 Clear creek cove

Is there anything better for breakfast than cold pizza from the night before. If there is I haven’t found it yet. And even if there is I’m not sure I want any.

Incidentally this is perhaps the longest I have gone without Internet since I got the iPhone. Two whole days. I don’t even notice. Only because I’m right where I want to be. If I was back in my normal context then I’d be getting all twitchy and shaky from the withdrawal.

It got sunny today. Sunny enough to lie on the jetty in a t-shirt.

I found a canoe at the side of the house but it was chained up and even then I couldn’t find any paddles. Would have been nice though.

BBQ for dinner in a Texan style BBQ – seems to be a metal trash can with the coals so far from the grill that it takes an age to cool anything. But it gives everything a great flavour and at least there’s not the “burnt on the outside, bleeding on the inside” you get in Irish BBQs.

A punch up at a wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1850 somewhere between Philadelphia and Dallas.

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

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

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

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

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

6/01/10 1840 Dallas, TX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/01/10 Dallas, TX

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

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

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

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

The wedding itself is tonight.

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

9-01-10 Dallas TX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local boy in the photograph

Most people wouldn’t go to Waterford for a night. We’re not most people.

But it was very nice all the same.

Cheap hotel, good food and a pub that was more like someone’s front room than anything else.

Watched Hunger on the laptop in the hotel room. Stunningly shot. The single shot scene lasting almost 15 minutes is sheer class. Not exactly a laugh a minute but worth watching.

Let the morning pass from breakfast to lunch to the afternoon in the same wee coffee shop taking silly photos of the missus.

Drove to Kilkenny and took more cool photos and sat in a fancy hotel drinking coffee and sneakily using their wi-fi. Found this ad for wedding planning.

It kind of implies that someone has stolen my dreams and is now selling them back to me. No fair.

Hold tight London

So I went to London.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crosstown Traffic

Coming back from Maynooth yesterday took a good 2 and 3 quarter hours instead of the usual hour and 3 quarters. Largely due to the huge number of Irish travelling north to take advantage of the public holiday in the south and the favourable euro to pound rate.

Coming into newry was backlogged a good few miles with people queued patiently in both lanes. Till some chancers who obviously felt their need to have fire works and wide screen TVs bought by lunch time led them to drive down the hard shoulder and try and squeeze in further up the queue.  These weren’t men driving their wives to hospital in early labour. They were almost without exception two parent families with 2.4 kids in the back and their SUVs or people carriers.

You could sense the rage rising in the morally self-righteous waiting patiently in the queue.

Until that is, a couple of articulated lorries decided to block the hard shoulder by driving the mysterious middle lane with their trailers half in the hard shoulder.

Justice was done. You could see drivers giving the lorries a satisfied look of approval at their policing of the situation.

Postcards from far away part 7

Right. Last one you’ll be glad to hear.

Woke in Glenbrittle for the last glorious time and tried to pack up the tent in the howling gale. It didn’t go well. Will have to re-pack the whole thing when I get home.

You can get off (or indeed on) Skye via the bridge or the ferry. Coming from the north of Scotland we’d come across on the bridge. For the sake of completion we figures the ferry off would be good.

At 30 mins it’s hardly an odyssey but worth it for the photos I think. I think if it wasn’t for the tourists it would be hard to see it as viable.


We bypassed Mallaig for the scenic route to Fort William. Which was all camp-sites and little beaches.

The weather held off long enough for a decent view of Nevis as we drove in to fort William. Just enough time for us to decided that “yes of course… just not enough time left to climb it old chap, otherwise we’d be up it like a rat up a spout old boy. Yes spiffing, pass the brandy…”

Physical activity avoided we dandered round fort William and found that they’ve finally closed down the really dodgy cinema that we used to go to. To be honest that was all we were in Fort William for.

Farther down the road we stopped at the Bridge of Orchy for the night. Despite the rather odd name it’s set in spectacular countryside and on the path of the west highland way – the track that runs through the highlands and seems popular with the ageing slightly overweight walker. Which is rich coming from the young skinny kid who drove there and didn’t even walk…


Two nights of “sleeping” in the tent had caught up with me and I was asleep shortly after Chelsea finally put Liverpool to rest for the evening.

Despite having effectively all day to get from the bridge of orchy we still got into Stranraer just 30 mins before the boat sailed.

I’m almost looking forward to going to work tomorrow. And it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to say that. Maybe I needed the distance, the time away from the place, the sunshine and the altitude and the craic. Maybe I just needed the holiday.

Not that I’m quite that naive. Me feeling generally miserable about life is not so easily blamed on work (as much as I would like to), nor even on dad dying (which was most inconsiderate of him).

There are no sound byte answers. There is no “know it all”, slightly self righteous and arrogant so and so (like me for instance) just round the corner who will say “you know what your problem is…”

The only single common denominator that I can find in it all is me. What a surprise that all this narcissistic naval gazing would come up with such an answer.

Back to the real world I think.

Postcards from far away part 4

Most of what you do on an island like this is largely weather dependant.


And the weather has not exactly been great. The west of Scotland is famous for rain and it is not prone to disappoint.

We woke to a wet, rainy day. With a bit of cold thrown in for good measure.

I left Spuddy down to the port to catch a ferry over to Mallaig. In order to reach home he has a 13 hour journey ahead. First I leave him to the ferry for a 25 min journey to the mainland. From here he gets a 5 hour train that runs from Mallaig to Glasgow. He texted and told us it was like Northern Ireland railway back in the bad old days.

At present he should be in Glasgow waiting for a bus to the airport for a flight to Belfast. He has a full iPod and a laptop and a few books. He’ll be fine I’m sure.

You could get to Capetown in less time but to get the the short distance between west Scotland and Ireland takes 13 hours.


Anyhow. That leaves be and sparky up to our own devices with a Volvo and a full tank.

We drove north east through countryside that was virtually identical to Donegal with weather to match. Some quality driving. And to be fair to Skye it finally stopped raining long enough for us to get out of the car an explore a bit.


The wind did it’s best to deter us but we weren’t to be tired. I figure if Mcdowell got blown over the cliff then I could just live off the insurance money.

We even climbed a mountain. 500 meters of mud and heather and wind. Great bant. Good photos.


Skye continues to amaze me. If I was a Celt in the 5th century I’d move back to the Mediterranean and open a casino in a principality, not move to Skye.

But it seems that they did. And they built houses and castles and farmed and subsisted and survived.

Like most things before the 18th century I’m not really sure it happened. Stranger things happen though eh?

History aside it’s a pretty place when covered in microfleece and gortex.


Now I’m in portree in a pub with no reception for the phone and every word of the Saturday Guardian. It’s the type of pub where the hairy wanderer in the corner can bring his dog too.


All good.


Postcards from far away part 2

Last post was on the ferry right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Bed was taken to with great gusto.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


For those who’ve been paying attention the old bike is back on the road and managed to get me both to and from work today. Amazing i know.

London Calling [Part 6]

The course’s highlights today: Liver disease and intensive care stuff, from someone who really lived their liver patients – kind of inspiring but also slightly worrying – that maybe you should get out more. That and a great story about a guy successfully resuscitated after 4 and a half hours CPR and an initial temperature of 9 degrees centigrade. You’re not dead till you’re warm and dead. And then you’re dead and you get cold again… And it seems we under does all our status epilepticus patients – which is why they won’t stop fitting it seems.

I leave, inspired to do a better job than I do – inspired to study more and do better –  and audit anything that’s not tied down to see if we can do it better. Though I know when I go through the doors tomorrow it’ll be back to the conveyor belt of demands and waiting times and decisions and annoyed, angry, frightened patients.

Audit is something I hated for years – something I felt compelled to do my bosses who said that you’ll never get anywhere with your CV till you’ve got a few audits on board. This was perhaps the wrong way to explain it to me. I always say I am the least career minded person I know – if it’s not good old fashioned looking after people then I’m not interested. which is all very noble and all that but mostly bollocks. If I’m honest I’m sure I’m in it for the glory as much as the next person. And so if someone said audit was good for CVs and careers then I wanted no part of it.

Then I read some journals and in particular Atul Gawande, who in his simply articulate manner persuaded me that you cant get any better at what it is that you do unless you count the numbers I now love numbers. This was somewhat of a road to damascus experience for me.

What frustrates me in the current job is simply how bloody difficult it is to count the numbers and what an awkward specialty emergency medicine is for counting the numbers.

For example if you do bypass surgery for people with heart disease you almost invariably treat patients who have the same cause (burgers and ciggies and being from Norn Iron) for their disease and the patients themselves are a fairly homogenous group. You will have a fairly predictable number of these to do each year. The technique for doing them is largely standardized from operative technique to anesthesia to post-operative care to expected complications. Therefore it is relatively easy to measure your outcomes (who died, who lived, who had complications) and see how you’re doing.

In emergency medicine, anything (in terms of pathology) can walk through the door and frequently you have the wrong diagnosis when the patient is either admitted or discharged. The population you deal with is from as young as 2 days (the youngest one who i was involved with who i’d done the baby check on before they’d went home and came back dead within 36 hours – how good did i feel…) to 101 (who was fine and went straight home again). And even if you do know what’s wrong with them, you don’t tend to be involved in their ongoing care and therefore have no idea how they do in the longer run –  that’s a number for someone else to measure.

So you end up trying to find the stuff that is peculiar to us, stuff that belongs to emergency medicine as such. And the list is fairly small though significant. There are certain standards of care that are expected of someone with a certain diagnosis, for example early antibiotics in severe sepsis, nimodipine in sub-arachnoids, time to reperfusion in heart attacks(though that’s more down to the cardiologists these days…).

The problem is simply getting the data. In the twenty-first century we are still using DOS based systems for blood results, patient tracking and printing X-rays on film. We record all our notes on paper. Do you remember paper? And writing things with a pen and all that…? Welcome to early 70s… It seems the health service has the monopoly on dot-matrix printers – pleas just stop making them and we’ll be forced to change…

Without a decent digital record the whole thing is a complete nightmare to measure. How do you archive and database all this paper. How do you retrieve all the data. Well by simple hard work and lifting through reams of paper which is what people did in the old days but it galls me to even think about it.

It is important to note that computer systems and electronic care records and digital radiology are unlikely to save lives but they will keep your doctor sane and I figure that’s always a good thing.


I skipped the last lecture, having to sneak out to get the train to Stansted, which seems to take so long that you might be better flying from Bristol instead.

I always used to say that I quite liked London to visit but I could never live there. And I suppose after a few days dandering around and being a bit older and a bit uglier i think i could probably live in London. I used to think it was only famous people and druggies and politicians who lived in London (often combining the two or even all three…) – in fact the only famous person i saw walking around was the chap Lizo who does the entertainment stuff for BBC news. And i suppose that doesn’t really count does it.

It turns out that London is in fact full of normal people, going about normal everyday lives. Just with worse commutes into work and better suits.

I’m not saying I want to live here, just that I’m no longer scared and intimidated by the place. Which has got to be some kind of step forward.

Incidentally – almost finished David Copperfield which I started back before Da died. It’s like all of the old proper books i read, initally a bit bewildering and dull, and nothing seems to happen, then a few folk die, people get older and the book ends. Though by the end you’ve been reading the book so long that you’ve grown rather attached to everyone in it.

London Calling [Part 4]

Went and saw the mouse trap last night. It’s been running in London continually for something like 56 years or something silly. there’s a counter at te entrance saying this is now the 24000 performance or something. I can imagine the poor actors pleading “please kill me” during the performances.

Gilly was convinced that he’d seen it once before during his time in London, and was fairly sure that the butler did it. Which seemed understandable till we realised there wasn’t actually a butler in the cast at all. Anyhow good show. In a vertigo inducing theatre.

Breakfast in my hotel has so far been uneventful. Turn up in the dining room, sit down, man brings me eggs and bacon. Until today. The dining room is exceptionally small, not exactly big enough to hold all the guest at the same time, not even big enough to hold more than 8 of the guests at the same time. Which led to some entertainment. “would i wait outside?”, would I wait inside?”, “would I mind sharing a table with this lady?”, “would I mind sharing a sausage with this man?”, “would i mind waiting outside again?”

There were smashed plates, no glasses, an overflowing coffee machine, shouts from the kitchen, a foreign chap with no english waiter kept getting everything wrong and a rather frantic Englishwoman who followed him around apologising for all the mistakes. It appears that Fawlty Towers is alive and well. I loved it.

Met Gilly at All Souls, where inevitably he knew the first person at the door. All souls holds a bit of a special place, with all the previous visits with CE, and all the people who seem connected with the place. And they do a good job. Be it from music, to communion, to welcoming. Put a bit of hope in my soul which has been conspicuously absent over recent months.


Spent the afternoon in the British Museum – which remains wonderfully free of charge – looking at mummies, and rocks and books. Fantastic stuff. I could get lost (physically and metaphorically) in there for weeks.


Incidentally, the British Museum has the longest queue for coffee I’ve ever seen. I tell a lie, the longest queue i’ve ever stood in – normally i just see it and don’t bother.

By that stage it was time for the afternoon nap. Not that we sleep, we just go back to the Royal Society and i lie about on the sofa writing blogs and fiddling more with the drum samplers while Gilly either lies down or reads theology. All very pleasant.

This evening we met up with a couple of CE graduates, who’ve ended up working in London for the mean time. So good to see people you know in a totally different context. We went to All-Souls again to hear Rico Tice and have a pizza after. All very lovely indeed.

Tomorrow I suppose we’re back to work, looking at things as widely varying as status epilepticus to dermatological emergencies – normally that last one’s an oxymoron, but there are a few skin 999’s.

Maybe I should add this. I’ve found myself enjoying things. Enjoying this trip, enjoying musicals, and other people’s company and all that. I haven’t done much of that recently. There’s this odd guilt that by enjoying things you’re somehow being disloyal to the memory. That you’re somehow being disloyal to the grief process. I dunno. Maybe it’s just good days, bad days. The whole thing’s a bit mad really. I don’t pretend to be doing it particularly well. You just get though it somehow. You just keep going.

London Calling [Part 2]

right then.

Lots of stuff on electrophysiology and cardiac mapping and re-entry circuits and the amusing story of the guy in the early 2oth century who was researching how to initiate cardiac conduction and VF in jellyfish and was found dead one day after trying out the electrodes on himself and successfully inducing VF and killed himself instantly. Funny in retrospect maybe.

Seeing as we’re in London it would seem rude not to meet up with a few of the folk we know. Though when you say you’re in London, it’s somewhat similar to saying you’re in Northern Ireland, it may still take as along as Antrim to Portadown to see them

I tend to let Gilly choose the restraunts and so on. He’s a bit of a London addict, and knows his way round pretty well. He took the three of us to china town to a restaurant that when he was in it last time he saw a mouse run out of the kitchen. I’m not sure how that was meant to endear it to us…

img_2723I first saw Les MIserables about 5 or 6 years ago, the last time I had a proper trip to London. And I was a bit blown away by it. The moment when the bishop hands him the rest of the silver – priceless. I forget very quickly how a live orchestra and a bunch of men in tights can move you so powerfully.

We’d got tickets for 25 quid – a bargain basement price – so much so that I figured we might actually be in the basement out of the place. So front row was a little bit of a surprise. Though it was so front row that we occasionally got spat upon by the singers when they were in full flow. They were so close Gilly felt obliged to offer them some Maltesers.

From there out into the centre of London on a friday night, with all the beutiful people in the world, out to live their lives and leave their mark.  We sat in Starbucks and watched a young girl collapse from drinking too much (no doubt it’ll be “doctor my drink was spiked”, by the time she reaches A&E) – note we didn’t help we just sat drinking coffee, i figure we’re off-duty. That and waking down by the river watching the ignorant hoodied teenagers drinking “coke” out of bottles and smoking their dope on a bench in the rain. Can’t help thinking that some day they’ll wake up and think “so this is life then…” Your heart breaks for all the kids who think they have it all sorted. The adults too sometimes.

Day 2 – Go West

Sharing a bed with a grown man is a strange experience. Especially when you’re a repressed homophobe (though I try not to be…) at heart. You always find yourself rolling over at the edge of the bed, to the point of possibly falling out of bed. All to avoid the an involuntary leg touch during the night… Sorry. Enough of that.

last-roll-177.jpgSpent the morning in Mullaghmore, feasting on fried sausages and eggs looking out at a grim and dark looking Atlantic ocean.

There was a brief break in the cloud over the beach giving us a chance to brave the wind and get a trot along the beach. The endless ocean is a leveler. Love it.


On our way south to Sligo we stopped at Glencar lough, keen to see last-roll-027.jpgeither a Nessy or a Timotei ad moment under the waterfall. Disappointed on both fronts, best we got was Jonny in a shower cap. And despite a quick game of ‘if we give you a tenner would you…’ we couldn’t convince him to debag and wear a shower cap under the waterfall. In 20 years time in therapy I’ll be glad he didn’t do it.

We stopped briefly down the coast to look at the waves coming in off the Atlantic. A huge swell with a lovely left to right break looked perfect for a wee surf. Though the closer i got the more it became clear I’d just get dumped upon by a swell like that.

Every other car we passed had a board or two on the roof. Made me extremely nostalgic and jealous for the old drive out to Ocean Beach at 7am with some of the murses. Made me wish I’d brought the board back with me. Maybe some day… Anyhow focus. You’re in Ireland now, remember.

last-roll-038.jpgWe were heading for Achill island. Which is almost (but not quite) a fake island, there being only a 10m gap or so separating it from the mainland. We’d read in the (never again to be trusted) Lonely Planet that there was a quality hostel with great food, a nice pub and a warm fire on the island. Our plan was an afternoon in front of the fire with a book and the papers and possibly an endless game of higher-lower with the pack of cards.

This was quickly scuppered on our arrival to Achill sound (if you have an image of Milford sound in your head then forget it) where we found the hostel had been converted to a nursing home.

We followed this with a 2 hour drive round the island looking for accommodation.

We found ourselves turned away from at least 5 places, but only when they found out who we were.last-roll-044.jpg As soon as they realized it was a group of blokes from the north then they weren’t interested and made up clear and blatant fibs that they were either fully booked (when they weren’t) or had a booking already (when they didn’t). Usually I’m not one to see the worst in people in things like this but by the fifth time it was getting ridiculous.

We divided possible reasons into the following:

1) a group of blokes traveling and wanting a room together must be poofters out to pollute the minds of their youngsters and sodomize the local livestock (don’t start me on that one please…)

2) a group of blokes traveling together will no doubt drink the place dry and throw the television out of the first floor window before spray painting the words ‘bazza wuz ere’ on all the local livestock.

3) a group of blokes from the north are here to take part in a paramilitary training exercise in a Connemara bog before using incendiary devices to blow up the local livestock.

Please don’t be three. I know we have a bit of work to do on dispelling number one but please tell me we’ve got past number three.

In the end we got a couple of rooms above a pub in Newport (where?…) where I presume they thought we’d be far enough away from the local livestock to cause no harm.

We took a (very) brief walk around the village taking in all the main sights, the bridge, the pub (voted best pub in Connemara 2006), the other pubs and even the newsagent. I love this country.

Meeting us in the Newport hotel (fighting off vicious local competition for the title) was the office, who’d pulled his usual trick of driving staggeringly long distances (4 and a half hours on his own from Portadown) to get to a place just for one night and then repeat the journey in reverse the next day. And there wasn’t even a bird involved. He amazes me. With his brilliance or stupidity I’m never entirely sure.

When he arrived we got down to some grub and a quick game of naming all the fifty states in America (damn you Vermont…) and listening to some genuine Irish fiddly-dee music in the pub.

We all went to bed, sensibly putting our clocks back an hour to prepare for the end of British summertime (though i think Connemara declared the end of British summertime shortly after the 1916 easter rising and the declaration of independence…). We all woke in the morning to find that the wonders of technology in out phones had taken time into their own hands and sliced another hour from the clock on top of what we’d already taken.

Technology is smart but also kind of dumb eh?

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…


August 2022