Monthly Archives: December 2015

Vertical or Horizontal?

Yip.  New Year’s Eve approaches and there might be quite a few hoping that they stay upright.

However, as you have probably guessed, this is not what interests me.

The consociational model that created the structures that eventually built the current political framework in Northern Ireland was basically a top down or vertical model.  Put basically; we have reached a stalemate; let’s knock some heads together and arrive at a different destination by encouraging those within the stalemate to secretly, by proxy and, eventually, publicly discuss a suggested framework that may move things on, based on three separate strands; within Northern Ireland, within Ireland and across all of these islands.  Thus, the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement was born and after many twists and turns from St. Andrews to Stormont House, a residual understanding that we have progressed incredibly from where we began, has underpinned a joint inter-community understanding that this must succeed, despite the politics of this and that, that coloured the welfare debate.  It has been an incredible success and we, as a society, should celebrate this more.

Nevertheless, I am interested in the ‘horizontal’ relationships.  When do we move, as a society, to a point where we remove the physical barriers of division, such as the the peace walls, and then begin to work together to eliminate the community notions that fear reintegration into a different society?  When do we deal with the legacy of the conflict?  When do we move to a Government that isn’t orchestrated and held together by the dictates of the initial peace, towards an inter-community negotiated Government versus a cross-community voluntary Opposition model?

I know that there have been important discussions on all of the above.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I think that it is absolutely essential that we move from the vertical to the horizontal.

That is what I hope for in 2016!

Let us celebrate how far we have came on New Year’s Eve and contemplate how far we could go.  Let us be both vertical and horizontal in our horizons and imagine that this is possible.

Happy New Year!

In one sleepy corner of this extraordinary life.

In one sleepy corner of this extraordinary life, two people chop wood and jest across the divide.

I went to the graveyard, the other day, to leave my mother’s wreath on Gareth’s grave.  I hate graveyards.  I am using the word ‘hate’ about graveyards.  Never will I go.  Never will I volunteer. Never.

Nevertheless, I went up and parked the car beside the church and encountered Brian McFarland with his elderly relative and I got to saying, ‘I have to leave this up here for my mother.’  There was a distant conversation in my ears about how Gareth’s wreath looks lovely, as I rushed to get the job done.  The wind was really blowing.  I placed the wreath and the wind decided to attack my mother’s carefully constructed Christmas memorial.  In fairness, the wind is always ridiculous at Kildress, so I didn’t mistake it for a poltergeist or a ghost of Christmas past.  I lifted the wee stones up and created a protective barrier to shield our memorial from the wind.  I really felt Gareth’s heart.

What did I feel?  The ghost of Christmas past.  Blue pillowcases, mandarin oranges and Grifter bikes.  That eejit climbing up the tower at Drum to whistle through his hands in a Western fashion; that is, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Christmas used to mean watching endless Westerns, again and again and again.  I LOVE Westerns.  Just saying that in passing.

I felt what it feels to hold onto someone who is gone.  I scratched the surface to say hello to my brother again. I really want to hold your hand, give you all my love and let you know that remembering who we loved at Christmas and throughout the year is really important.  Our wee community is here for you.

Life will always continue.  My dad came back from hospital and respite.  We were so happy to have him as the key part of our Christmas celebration.  I think that he liked the Turkey that I prepared.  Myself and my brother cooked up a storm.  Zero, Finn, and all the Parrots came to visit.  My sister and brother argued about who is the maddest.  I didn’t get involved.  I think my brother is the eccentric.  My sister is the mad one.  And me?  I guess that I judge that question from one hurdle to the next.  Keelin said that I am the sensible one.  Just saying.

When it is all boiled down to one simple fact.  I have been blessed to live on this road, Corkhill.  All of my relatives on my mother’s side have always lived here.  My best friends have always lived on this road; Ernie and May, Trevor and my greatest friend of all, ETSB.

Endless sessions of Cricket with Trevor and his sons.  Endless football matches.  Pool tournaments and golf.  The evolution of bicycles and my brother falling off.  Hurdling into the snow drifts, athletics and everlasting memories.  I wouldn’t move an inch.

In one sleepy corner of this extraordinary life, two people chop wood and jest across the divide.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!




The dance of life.

When life throws the letters ‘MS’ into the equation, certainty disappears.

I really want to tell you the truth about my father and mother.

As life in Northern Ireland spiralled into a chasm of terror and uncertainty, an inexplicable diagnosis of what might be ailing my father resulted in silence.  MS.  My father didn’t accept it.  We never talked about it as a possibility.  When my dad used to work two jobs to keep his family.  He was our hero.  I used to travel, with my dad, to VG Stores in Cooktown, every Saturday, to collect the groceries that needed delivered.  We used to deliver, all over the town.  Magical moments.  That exact same smell, as we ducked through into the stores, would greet me when I worked at Netta’s Drumshambo.  My dad would let me carry this and that box to the locals who were waiting on their delivery.  He was the original Tesco man!  He had a curious walk, as he delivered to all and sundry, with his classic touch of charm.  I didn’t understand his walk.  He was our hero.  It just never mattered.  He was amazingly charming.  I guess that is how he met my mother.  My dad took years to accept the diagnosis that was following him, inexorably and indefatigably.  As a child, I took it really hard when people made fun of his walk.  Sadly, it did happen.  They were different times.

There were a few hospitalisations in my youth, but we never discussed the letters that chased us.  Life would continue.  We would wave at the Maze Prison, as we journeyed to see my Grandmother in East Belfast.  My dad would bowl at me to make me a better batsman.  Unfortunately, he failed.  We would enjoy the best holidays ever in Portstewart, even despite losing all of our board games on the road.  ‘Do you see the sea?’  The age-old, who spotted the sea first game.  ‘I see the sea and the sea sees me!’  I am not entirely sure that I ever won that game?  There were a lot of cheats in my family.

My brother died and my father failed.  My dad always loved, cared and felt every disturbance in the family chain.  He couldn’t walk anymore when he lost his son.  Amazingly, he got up and conquered again.  Life continued for a while, but every part of his family who he has lost since, has visibly diminished his spirit.  He misses them all.  I can see the sadness in his eyes.  He still wants to talk to them.  He talks about them all the time.

MS has continued to catch up on us all.  My mother has had to deal with the impossible.  The initial diagnosis.  The denials.  The hospitalisations.  Family life and the bouts of deterioration. Hospital trips, care packages and the never-ending uncertainty of an undying love that is complicated by not knowing what tomorrow will bring.  Caring for someone, 24 hours a day, resigned to the fact that you can’t change today or tomorrow, no matter how hard you try.  It is really hard for her.

What has really worried me recently is my incapacity to remember things beyond today?  As I have watched the progressive deterioration of my father in recent years, inevitably, I have lapsed into denial.  As the deterioration has gathered pace recently, I suddenly felt that I had lost my true memory of my dad.  Mercifully, I haven’t.

When the world was lost to me, my dad gave me the keys to a car and told me to succeed.  He told me to keep going.  When he lost his legs, we built a new house.  Every Tuesday was curry day, despite the fact that he has always been slightly indifferent to the spices involved.  Curries  make him sneeze uncontrollably.  As MS has caught up with him, he has demonstrated the dignity, control and drive that he has always had.  He has continued to amaze us.

I really want to empathise with all of you who are going through similar circumstances.  I fully understand the uncertainties that the dance of life may bring.  My father and mother have showed me how we can all support each other and depend on our lasting memories to sustain us.

My father and mother will always be my heroes.



The floury potato.

A bit of local dialect required.

So, I took a wee spin into the town today, just to see what was going on.  I stopped at the potato van, just to enquire if he had any wood to quench the thirst of my burner.  He was nowhere to be seen.  A local lass pulled up in her Mercedes.  She asked, ‘What is the best floury potato?’  I thought she was saying that the weather was a bit floury today.  I replied, ‘I have never heard the weather described as floury before.  I guess it is.’  Turns out that she was looking for the perfect potato to go with two poached eggs.  Fair play.  As she noted, ‘it is just nice to have something simple, every now and again.’

Another thought.  Northern Ireland is the home of the wind and rain.  New Zealand is our twin country.  As my dad always said, ‘Keep the window open on New Year’s Eve and let the New Year in.’  Let Christmas be the time where family can join together.  Let the New Year breathe wind into new possibilities.  Open every window.

And keep searching for the flouriest potato.