Posts Tagged 'Norn Iron'

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Part 4

Day 4


Fried food is not the ideal sporting and fitness nutrition. It is tasty though. We began the day with a ‘full ulster’ (which bears no resemblance to a full monty), and left our cosy lodge behind in glorious sunshine.

This part of the upper bann begins to get a little more populated. The odd farmhouse appears on the hill sweeping down to the river. Cows stare balnkly at us. That’s all cows do it seems. It’s no wonder they’re so far down the food chain.

We see an otter. First of all we see a stick, then the stick moves and turns out to be an otter doing the backstroke. The otter makes our day. It dives under the water and reappears right beside us before scarpering away.

Near ski supreme (the outdoor pursuits centre) we meet banana boats and water skiers, throwing up a big wake all round them. We wave nervously and try not to tip the boat

Our last obstacles are the floodgates at the cutts, just outside Coleraine. From a mile away we can see the red flashing lights indicating the gates are open and the flow is too dangerous to get through. By this stage we’re past the last jetty and have to do a (only very slightly) panicked turn and paddle upstream to the car park we just passed.

Dad runs down to the lock and chats to the lock keeper about the feasibility or running it. He told us lots of horror stories about people being sucked in and drowning and how they never found the bodies. Well no, I made that up. But he put us off. For the record we think we could have ran it.

So we had to ‘portage’ the gear round the weir. This involved getting wee Liz (the original pudge) to drive up. We put the canoe on the roof and drove the mile past it and put the canoes back in the water.

To finish the trip we put all three of us in the Canadian, with minimal gear and paddled through Coleraine. We had a good reception. Well there were no youths throwing bucky bottles at us, so I consider that a good reception.

We stop at Coleraine Marina, having managed 70 miles of paddling in 4 days. My girly, hospital hands are blistered and sun burnt. Simon’s even girlier programmer hands are blistered despite his 3 quid gloves. The gloves have a hole on the back of the wrist, leaving him with a 3cm diameter burnt patch on the back of his white hands. This looks like ‘the all seeing eye’ and I imagine will be hard to explain when he goes back to work.

When I was in NZ I always told people that NI had very little going for it on objective terms. It was wet, we all hate each other, you can’t get a decent cup of coffee. But that I loved it simply cause it was home. But now I stand corrected. In 4 days I’ve seen NI from a point of view I’d never seen it from before, that it can be more beautiful than I had perhaps expected.

I imagine, like most things, that it was always this way, I just never bothered to notice. So I’ll take my “my country is better than your country” attitude and place it in the ever increasing box of unpleasant character traits that I’m slowly beginning to fill.


yenruoj eht

This may get a bit disorientating. There will be a lot of interruptions and changes of scenery. Forgive me.


Sitting in Napier airport. Well, more of a nice room with an espresso machine.

(1847 – listening to the TV3 news in the airport)

Last 20 mins chatting to one of the nurses who just arrived in from Auckland. It is a small world, smaller even than home.

I woke up this morning and stared at the cabinet for a while. The daily ritual of waking, confused, mostly disorientated. Asking myself, what time is it, where am I, what country am I in, whose underwear am I wearing. I woke today with the nagging notion that I had something important to do today. I just couldn’t put my narcoleptic finger on it.

There was a slow dawning. I’m going home. Today I’m going home. I grinned ear to ear. Staring at the cabinet in the dark I grinned.

I have spent all day twitchy and nervous and excited. Feeling like I’d had 20 coffees as opposed to 2. I have grown increasingly impatient as my short life as progressed. I think that’s why I like ICU. Lots of drugs that work very quickly and wear off almost as quick. Instant gratification. Now I was wanting to be home before I’d even got on the plane

I filled the day with laundry and cleaning and present shopping. It was a struggle.

At least now I feel I’m getting somewhere. Even if the airport is only 5 mins from the flat.

I’ve said goodbye to my trusty ruck. I’ll not see it till Belfast. Or more likely it’ll not turn up in Belfast at all and will get lost in the wormhole that lies between terminals 1 and 4 inHeathrow airport. And it will be delivered by a taxi the next day when the wormhole spits it out. This has happened to me twice. As long as it turns up at some point I don’t mind.

(1917 – listening to: sky blue sky – Wilco)

I have boarding passes for all my flights. From here to Belfast. 8A will carry my twitchy frame from Hawke’s bay to the big smoke. 68G, no doubt an aisle seat will carry me across the two biggest oceans on earth. Trapped between the chunky snoring American business man and the crying baby next to me. I’ll be peeing in a bottle by the end.

And 9F, oh sweet 9F, you will take me home. Another window seat so I can see Strangford lough, the city hospital, the power station out past Jordanstown I can never remember the name of. And in 9F I’ll feel like crying, as I always do. My eyes will fill, my heart will feel like jumping out my throat. And it’ll be raining. And I’ll know I’m home.

(2115 – Auckland. Gate 2. Listening to: poison oak – Bright Eyes)

A brief and slightly panicked note.

Spent the flight from Napier finishing off some wonderful Roald Dahl short stories about second world war fighter pilots crashing. Not ideal on a bumpy flight beside a panicked lady who had to hold my hand on the flight into Auckland.

The flight landed late and I’d only left an hour to change flights. This left me 40 mins to change terminals, pay the departure tax, get through passport control, and undergo the ritual humiliation of security.

I was trying to make it through this with a kiwi girl who was running about like a mad thing, thinking she was gonna miss the flight. When the locals panic I panic.

(2136 – 68G. Aisle seat. Listening to: Josh Ritter)

Two seats across from me is a stocky young guy in an all blacks top. I’m in my Ireland top. I’m running through a conversation in my head that ends in LA, when I say ‘see you in the quarter finals’.

The flight is under filled, I’m in the very back row with two spare seats beside me. This is gonna be a good flight.

(0307 – 27000 feet, listening to: comfortably numb – the live one with Van Morrisson in it)

Turns out the guy in the all black top is an English kid on a gap year. I think he appreciated the joke. Though perhaps not when I said that the English wouldn’t even make it that far.

We had turbulence for the first 90 mins. The type that keeps the stewards and esses in their seats. The type that makes you think of your own mortality. Makes you think of the flash back scenes in Lost. Makes you think of all those useless facts you learned about how long an unsupported human being would last in the south pacific. Makes you think of how after the first few hundred meters of a fall to water that when you hit you may as well be hitting concrete.

Statistically, as always, this is safer than most of my everyday life. It’ll be a car accident or heart disease that gets me. But maybe it’s just gravity and the altitude that gives you the perspective.

Each bump in the turbulence – at the back of the plane which seems to catch it more. At each bump my heart leaps, my pulse quickens. I am no zen master singing ‘JESUS loves me’ as the flames leap higher. This surprises only my ego.

This is the type of nonsense (maybe) that goes through my head every day. Don’t let it worry you.

(0906 – off the west coast of the US. Listening to: queens of the stone age)

The little LCD display on my wrist says 0906. I believe it. The little LCD read out in my head says the same. It says I haven’t slept in 24 hours. Off the west coast of the US it’s 1506. Not sure I can believe that.

(1611 – ok so I’ve succumbed to US time…)

LAX (the airport) sucks. Well the transit lounge sucks. I can’t say much else for the rest of the airport. You get off the plane to stand in a long queue to pass through immigration. Even though I have no desire to be any form of immigrant in this country. I merely want to waste two hours of my life in this transit lounge.

No sir you’re not listening to me, you do not need to get fingerprints and a photo. I merely want to transit. I do not need to fill in a visa waiver declaration form and tick the boxes saying I am not a terrorist and do not suffer from mental illness. But you, good man, with your bulky frame and eastern European sounding name badge aren’t in a mood to listen. At least I presume you aren’t. None of this passes my lips.

So I stand in the queue and fill in the totally unergonomically designed form. I’m convinced the queue merely goes round the corner and ends up back on the plane again. I say this to the pretty girl beside me. Mostly just to initiate conversation. Cause conversation passes time better than sitting staring at the men in yellow jackets unloading the luggage off the plane.

(1722 – back in 68G. Same plane, different stewards and esses. Same tannoy nonsense. If we depressurize at 30000 ft I’ll be unconscious in 15 seconds, whether or not I get my 2L/min from the mask. Never mind the fact that if we depressurize at 30000 feet we’ll most likely be hitting the ground/water within about 5-10mins. Fire exits in the same place they were before. The illusion of safety…)

Conversation with pretty girls is of course different from conversation to pass the time. It certainly seems that way. Conversations with pretty girls in an airport queue on the far side of the world is again a million miles distant from conversations with pretty girls I know.

So I spend 90 mins in a mingy LAX transit lounge with Jo, a reflexologist from Devon on her way back home from 3 months traveling round NZ. Jo is the type of girl I see from a far at Duke Special gigs, wearing indie type clothes, a hat and a satchel type bag.

We get separated at the end of the queue by the bulky eastern European homeland security operative (sorry if I’m getting all Orwellian). I sit in the corner of the lounge listening to a short story on the iPod about the difference between alone and lonely. I find myself disappointed that we got separated. I find myself thinking this is silly. I find myself starting to write this. I find myself crossing from alone to lonely.

Jo finds me (finds me? Perhaps not finds me, that implies looking…) and offers me a game of hang man to pass the time. I do not often get offers of hangman from pretty, indie, reflexologists on a regular basis.

I lose horribly. We tell our kiwi travel stories. We laugh. She’s just got ‘Dunedin’ in two guesses (before I’d even drawn a gallows) when the gate is called. I knew the gate would be called, I knew it was only 90 mins or so of transit. But is that disappointment I feel when the gate is sounded? I am again surprised.

So now I’m back in 68G beside Tim the English guy in the all blacks top. And Jo is somewhere else on the plane. And I’ll never see her again, and by tomorrow (or maybe next week…) I’ll have forgotten.

The surprising thing is not that this happened. This happens every other day. This means nothing, though perhaps an everyday occurrence should not imply meaninglessness. There’s a reindeer section song that sings ‘I fell in love again today, I think that’s been every day this week, I don’t need to know a thing about them, I don’t need to know their name or hear them speak… I’m still angry that I thought she thought I cared’. I construct fantasy relationships with lots of girls I meet. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that the veggie crisps I got handed when I got on board where actually perfectly edible and indeed surprisingly tasty.

(2358 – south of Greenland. Watching Lord of the Rings – the Two Towers, trying to get the three in a row done…)

10 months in NZ and I’ve yet to meet someone who got to be an orc. I’ve met some guys who did film work and set building for the films. But no orcs. I must move in the wrong social circles.

(1014 now UK time. Exactly 11275 m above Portadown.)

Why the flight path from LA flies directly over Portadown i have no idea. I got out of my seat and looked out both windows. I could see nothing but cloud as far as the eye could see. Good to knowNorn Iron is keeping up the standards.

So now I’ll fly on for another 40 mins and land in Heathrow and spend two hours fighting to get back to where I’ve just flown over. It would be easier, though perhaps with a little bit more risk, if I just flipped the handle round 270 degrees on the door a few feet from my seat. Let the whole place depressurize and get sucked out the door with it. I might even regain consciousness before I hit.

Oh they’ve just put on the seat belt signs for descent. Guess i’ll have to save the jump for next time.

(1139 – bus between terminal 3 and 1.)

Two things I’ve noticed about London. One, it smells of fuel and decaying rubbish. Two, Gwen Steani unfortunately appears to be popular here also.

(1157 – Terminal 1)
Queues, flippin queues. That sweep cruelly back and forth in parallel lines, the same tannoy repeating over and over. Get me out of London… so I can say something nice…

(1307 – gate 2, terminal 1 Heathrow airport.)

I love gate 2. Like a norn irish ex-pats community. Of the 6 or 7 times I’ve flown from there I’ve ended up meeting folk I know about 3 or 4 of them.

Today is no different. I meet Raymie, a guy I grew up with through church and BB. He’s getting married soon. Everything’s changing eh?

I buy a coffee (alas not nearly up to the NZ standard, almost through with complaints honestly…) from the same eastern European women who was working in the same stand when I was here last time (Jun 06). Her English is vastly improved. I even get the correct change.

I rejoice in the accents. All around me people are chatting and talking into phones and to each other with the sweet, sweet sound of home. It turns my head every time. Cause every time I heard it in acafé or in a pub or in town in NZ I’d pounce on them and have a mini NI reunion right there and then. I refrain from doing it in gate 2.

I realize I smell. At this stage I’m allowed to smell I suppose. I have a nasty honey stain down the inside leg of my trousers from my brekkie pancakes on the plane this morning. However, I feel great. A little twitchy and excitable, but I don’t feel like I haven’t slept in 36 hours.

(1608 – tucked up in my bed listening to pedro the lion.)

It’s a small, hard bed. These are foreign things to me.

I’m home. My heart leaped and floated as I got into Belfast, when I hugged my parents. It is grey and it is green. Just as I left it. I can no longer remember NZ. Not in the ‘you were there in another life 48 hours ago’ type of way. I’m home and no longer remember being away. I’m feeling disorientated. I shall sleep on the small hard bed I love so dearly and it’ll all make more sense eventually.


August 2019
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