Tuesday, 24 January 2012

If you were here beside me...

I can't explain what Snow Patrol's music does to me. Gary Lightbody is the best lyricist of the decade, hands down! There is just no arguing with me on this point!
To write a blog about how much I love Snow Patrol would never do my feelings justice, so I won't try. I'll just say that last night was a special experience, and as long as Gary is up there, it always will be!

"I miss it all from the Lough to the Lagan
and the lack of it splits me in two"
-New York

I just love the way he writes. His music is laced with Northern Irish idioms, you're listening to an amazing song and them BOOM, there's references to 'The Lagan', 'Ireland in the World Cup' and setting 'Fire to the third bar' The way he describes emotions is so beautiful it sometimes takes my breath away. Seeing Snow Patrol is always a profoundly spiritual experience for me, the lyrics are so special. It's like he sees into my soul and sings at exactly the frequency that makes it hum.

That is all I have to say.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Silent Conversation

"Words may be less important than I'd previously imagined."

Over the past few months it has become very clear to me that I love conversation. I long for words.Words feed my soul, they make me feel relevant, they make me feel human, they make me feel wonderfully infinite and completely inconsequential all at the same time! I cannot feel fully alive in a world without discourse.
Chat, dialogue, Pow-wow, debate; call it what you will, I will talk to you about anything! Made in Chelsea, Shakespeare, Celebrity Big Brother, Particle Physics advances in CERN; I'm not fussy, but please don't say nothing!

In pre-Islamic Arab society a person commanded respect based on their command over words. For them words literally were power. The Qur'an talks a lot about the power of words and the eternal consequences of them, so does the Bible. And I guess that I really do believe that words are power. As the most beloved headmaster of Hogwarts once said;
Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.

I have just been to see the silent movie 'The Artist' in the QFT. I'm not very good at writing reviews of things, but I really loved this film. It was a beautifully told story with an exceptional score and I enjoyed it more than I expected to!
I didn't miss the dialogue and the story was perfectly relevant and moving and enjoyable without it. Humans really are the most wonderful creatures- although this film also has an exceptional dog! If you get a chance I would really encourage you to go and see The Artist.  If you heard 'silent movie' and were put off I encourage you to think again.

Tonight was good.

And while I crave and long for conversation; I am willing to admit that there is, perhaps, more value in silence than I previously gave it credit for.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

From the Lough

The flat light swallows the line between sea and sky
and the hazy grey horizon holds it's secrets.

Dreaming of times long passed
The cranes lie sleeping

Silent steel and rope and rivets
inhabit their memories

Giants that built Giants,
White Star Liners and men

Thousands upon thousands of men
streaming through the gates as the siren summons

Silent now, a shadow of what was before.
2012 will resurrect her memory

But memory will not bring life
Not like before

In the flat grey light
The Giants keep their watch
and the Lough keeps her secrets.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

My Everest

Along with my early mornings and book reading; another thing I have taken up this year is running. I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, i’m thinking this year might be my year. If you know me you will know how much of a ridiculous challenge this is going to be!

My fascination with marathons began when I read Paula Radcliffe’s autobiography, she quickly became my favourite British athlete and that book started my love affair with autobiographies.

So this morning at 9am (an hour I rarely see on Saturdays) I got up, forced my sleepy little toes into my trainers and set off for my first run on the roads in Belfast. Marathon runners are, in my opinion, alongside rowers and gymnasts; the hardest working and most awe inspiring atheletes of them all.

I am not a marathon runner

But I have a problem. I want to do everything! If I had a hundred lifetimes on this earth it still would not be enough to do all the things I want to do and accomplish all the things I want to accomplish.
Marathon runners are driven, highly motivated, unbelievably disciplined... these are not really characteristics that spring to mind about me and my life! In fact i’ve started a lot of things with the best intentions only to leave them by the wayside in a few weeks

List of things I have started in my life but never finished;
-NaNoWriMo; Writing a novel in a month (twice)
-Learning Latin
-Started learning the piano/ tin whistle/ Bodhran
-Various cross stitch boxes
-Paint by numbers
-Reading The Bible in a year
-War and Peace (I just couldn’t do it)

2012 is my year! I can feel it. It’s an Olympic year, the culmination of years of training by Olympic hopefuls, the pinnacle of their careers. If someone can train for a decade for a chance at a medal, I can get off my ass for 5 months and train to run for 5 or 6 hours.... Oh dear goodness who am i kidding? This is going to be tough, but i’m determined to do this.

I’ll be raising money for SANDS and Life after Loss, two charities that help families in Northern Ireland cope with the tragedies of stillborn or neo-natal deaths.


Today when I was running (a measly 2.4 miles) and my body was telling me I needed to stop, I was thinking about Bear Grylls, who’s book about climbing Everest brings my total this year to #3.
My Father was the Base Camp Manager on the First Irish Everest Expedition in 1993 and I have heard countless Everest stories from him and his friend Dawson Stelfox (who successfully summited on 27th May 1993, becoming the first Irish man to climb the mountain) but until I read this book I really had no idea how hard it was to climb Everest! Possibly quite naïve of me, but I really never really considered just how hard it was to reach the top of the world. No amount of cash or medical advances can get you up there. You cannot be dropped off by helicopter because the air is too thin for the blades to catch, you cannot parachute from a plane, it is too high, and for every 6 people that summit 1 dies trying! The only way you can get to the top of the world is by sheer will/man power and a slice of luck.

Whenever I got to the part in Facing Up when Bear reached the top I burst into tears. I don’t cry a lot and I hadn’t even been feeling emotional throughout the book but I had been up that mountain with him, I had felt his pain and frustration, shared in the worry of his family and spurred him on when the going was hard. Whenever he reached the top I was there with him and I don’t know why, but it moved me. I asked my dad what Dawson said when he reached the summit and he told me these exact words which can be found in the book Everest Calling (an account of the 1993 Irish expedition)

... Dermot, the altimeter is reading 8848m and I'm sitting on the summit of the world.
... Dawson listen to me - you're the tallest man in the world ... and you've just made the first Irish ascent of Mount Everest and the first British ascent o f the North Ridge - absolutely magnificent achievement Dawson - we're surrounded here by people - Irish, Nepalese and Tibetan, everyone offering congratulations.

I am not insane enough to desire to scale the heights of the Himalyas, but if Bear Grylls can climb Everest after breaking his back just a few years earlier I would like to try to run 26 miles! Running a Marathon is my Everest and I can’t think of anything that could motivate me more than being able to raise money for these two charities.

Whenever I feel like I can’t go any further I think of Paula Radcliffe and her commitment, Bear Grylls and his determination and my baby cousin Max who I never got to meet.

I have a feeling that 2012 is my year.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

I am a self proclaimed night owl. Mornings? Not my thing. Anyone who has ever lived with me or seen me in the morning can testify to this. On weekdays I usually roll myself out of bed at the latest possible moment, running out the door with both shoes just about matching, no time for breakfast. Stopping at the traffic lights involves frantically rubbing the foundation streaks off the side of my face because I threw it on in a half asleep daze. The 25 minute journey to school is just about enough time to allow me to feel semi-ready to face the day!

I can imagine the shock and surprise on my mothers face if she had been in my house this morning. My alarm went off at 6.50 and I pulled back the covers, exposing my toasty limbs to the freezing blast of air outside the duvet; a full 40 minutes before it was totally necessary. I showered and went downstairs where the timer on my coffee maker had prepared me some warm, delicious roast Columbian. I had a bowl of cereal and for 20 glorious minutes sat with my back to the radiator, Bear Grylls in hand, sipping coffee and reading. I left the house at 8.00 after properly applying my face for the day and arrived in school early enough to get a parking space (very rare for me) and mark some work before my form class came through the door.


I loved it, I still hate mornings, but this morning as I drove up the motorway I felt ready for a day, instead of my usual general annoyance that it’s still dark and darkness is for sleeping!

I guess you can call this a new years resolution, and it’s going to be very beneficial if I plan on actually taking a decent stab at this 100 books in a year thing. And on that note i'm off to the gym, let's hope this shiny new enthusiam lasts...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Flitting Things

I have a pretty addictive personality. It’s just a part of who I am, I don’t really know why I get addicted to the things i’m addicted to, but as long as it’s not crack cocaine or something I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to live with it!

When I was 16 I wouldn’t leave the house on a Saturday night unless I had set the tape recorder (yes, good old VHS) for Casualty and knew my best friend was also recording it, you know just incase mine didn’t work or I missed a few minutes off the start or the end! This was back before the days of the miracle invention that is iPlayer! But I literally would not leave the house unless I knew there were two machines taping it!
I even wanted to become a paramedic for a while until I realised I didn’t really like gore and I’m not that great in medical emergency situations, I tend to flap about a lot! But where is this going you ask me?
well... my latest obsession, though I’m going to use the word fascination here, is with the Amish! I’ve been watching the Channel 4 series ‘Living with the Amish’ and I’m hooked! The way other people live their lives has always intrigued me, be it in a religious order, in cultural antithesis to me or just in a different geographical location. I’ve said it once and i’ll say it a million times people fascinate me!

The Amish live their lives so close to the rest of the world yet they are so separated from it. They wear simple clothes, work really hard, have simple pleasures and for the most part they seem really happy. They genuinely like what they do and how they live their lives. I think sometimes I envy that simple life that they have, no credit card bills to pay, no Facebook to waste their lives on, the knowledge that there’s a huge extended network out there of people who are willing to give you a hand with things, just because it’s the right thing to do.
But then communities like this make me angry because they are depriving their children of a chance to see how wonderful the world really is. Yes there is joy and beauty in the stillness of the woods and creeks in Pensylvania and Ohio but there is also joy in the bustling city and the roaring ocean. There are other cultures, other sights, sounds and tastes.
“Taste and see that the Lord is Good” Psalm 34:8

I want to taste and see everything wonderful that God has created on this earth. I want to go to the desert in Africa and look up on a cloudless night to see the heavens teaming with uncountable, unreachable stars that seem so close you could touch them. I want to stand at the top of the Empire State building and look out over the most famous concrete jungle in the world, and see the city dwellers carry on below. I want to climb to the top of Macu Piccu and hear the Peruvian jungle hum with life, just like it did when the Inca’s lived there. I want to see the architecture in St.Petersburg and in The Vatican marvel at the roof of the Sistine Chapel. There is too much good on this earth to spend a lifetime in one small corner of it.

The book I finished reading today (#2) was the autobiography of Elissa Wall, a girl who escaped the strict regime of the Fundamentalist Later Day Saints (FLDS) a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church who practice Polygamy. She was married at 14, abused by her husband, manipulated by the ‘church’, suffered multiple miscarriages and escaped the FLDS community at age 18.

Stolen Innocence tells the story of her childhood, the beliefs of the FLDS movement and her life after escape. The book was disturbing to me in many ways. It does not surprise me that people can be as brainwashed as she was before she realised she needed to leave, and neither does it surprise me that their Leader Warren Jeffs (who is currently in prison) could be so cold, manipulative and repulsive. What did surprise me however was seeing that even when she knew something was terribly wrong, as did many others around her, she still didn’t think she could leave. The hold the FLDS had and still has to this day on their community is frightening. When I read about religious cults like this it helps me think about my own beliefs.
Jesus being born of a virgin, walking on water and rising from the dead are all pretty bizarre things. But then i look at Christianity and I see the freedom that can be found in Christ, the grace, the humility, the total transformation that being a follower of Jesus can cause. There was no freedom in Elissa’s early life, and even though she has escaped the FLDS and started a family of her own, she still grieves for the people she loves who are still inside the closely guarded community, who are still under the control of manipulative men and young girls who will go through the same ordeal that she suffered.

I don’t have all the answers and I certainly don’t claim to know all there is to know about what others believe and what they don’t. But I like what Emily Dickinson once said;
“Opinion is a flitting thing, but truth outlasts the sun”

Monday, 2 January 2012

Will Grayson Will Grayson

Book #1 Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
I love good young adult (YA) fiction and this book is one such example. Co-authored by two of YA's finest authors it is a triumph of wit, grit and substance. The story is about two boys, from different areas, who both happen to be in the same place for long enough to meet. They are both called Will Grayson. One Will Grayson is authored by John Green (Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska) and the other by David Levithan (Nick and Norah's infinite playlist) and the narrative is told chapter about. The novel explores being gay, being in love, getting through high school and the difficulties associated with the aforementioned things. It's pretty hilarious and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.

Will Grayson (whose name is always capitalised) is trying to live his life without being noticed, which is hard when your best friend is a 6ft 6" American Football player called Tiny, who is also the gayest boy in school and writing a musical about his life!
will grayson, who is never capitalised (in fact there is no capitalisation in his chapters) is on medication for depression and the only person he has found who understands him is a boy he's friends with online named issac.

I flew through this one, the narrative was witty, the characters completely three dimensional and there were some cracker quotes. My favourite character was a smart indie girl called Jane who makes every scene she is in utterly brilliant. Will Grayson says of her;

"Sometimes I think, like, God, she's superhot and smart and kind of pretentious but the pretentiousness just makes me kind of want her, and then other times I think it's an amazingly bad idea, that dating you would be like a series of unnecessary root canals interspersed with occasional makeout sessions."

and she says of herself;
"'There are probably some girls who don't want guys to show up at their house randomly on a Tuesday night with questions about Edward Schrödinger. I am sure such girls exist. But they don't live at my house.'"

She almost made the book for me! But my favourite quote came near the end;

"This is why we call people exes, i guess -- because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end. it's too easy to see an X as a cross-out. it's not, because there's no way to cross out something like that. the X is a diagram of two paths."

I really loved that, because I've always hated the term ex to describe someone who's been a part of your life. Just because they aren't in your life in the role they once were doesn't mean they aren't important in the story of the person you have become. It's a very sad two letters, like you've lost a part of yourself when the relationship ends. But actually I don't think that's true. I love the image of a relationship being a diagram of two paths, which meet in the middle for a while and then journey on. I found it pretty beautiful if i'm honest. It's not a cross out, it's not a mistake or a failure, it's just a reference point on the path of your life, a map that shows who you've become and how you got to that place.
That's nice.

N.B. I always love reading the acknowledgements page at the end of a book, and hidden in here was one that said; 'we acknowledge that being the person God made you cannot separate you from God's love'
There was no mention of anything like this in the novel itself and I really liked it hidden in here amongst all the others (which are pretty funny).

Of shorelines, ambles and good friends

I had a wonderful New Years Day.
Sundays are always 'friend' day, I usually end up spending around 8 hours with friends on a Sunday and it always sets me up nicely for the week. I can go into Monday knowing that whatever happens that week I have amazing people around who will be there for me! Today began with an amble around Helens Bay and lunch in the Crawfordsburn Inn, which is beautiful. Then a trip to see the 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' which didn't disappoint, followed by a delicious dinner of lamb with dauphenois (sp?) potatoes and red cabbage cooked by the glorious hand of our friend Matt.

I was never a really big one for resolutions, but i've been looking forward to 2012 for a long time... from the 6th July 2005 to be exact. I was 16, doing a summer mission, sitting in a church hall, eating lunch on the Cregagh Road (little knowing i'd be living there in 5 years) when I heard the news that London had won the 2012 Olympic bid. To say I was excited was an understatement. Some people like trains, some people like birds or chess or pressing flowers... I like the Olympics! I think I ran around the room a few times and jumped up and down, I was planning my summer 2012 way back in 2005.
I can't quite believe the year is here, back when I was 16 being 23 seemed ancient, and here I am, still feeling some days that I am still 16! So what do I hope for 2012, the year I've been waiting for?

There's so much I can't really even begin to blog it! Maybe i'll make a list, because that’s what you do at the end of years, and then you make a list for what’s going to happen in the next one. I like lists. I find myself making them quite often. Top 5 films, books, songs, foods... I could make a list of lists I like to make! Because I don't really like resolutions here's a reflection list

what i’ve learnt about myself in 2011

1. People actually like me and I shouldn't be afraid to be myself.
2. I can play the violin, badly
3. It's true when they say Latin is very hard to learn!
4. I don't really like Barrys in Portrush (I went for the first time)
5. I found a group of people in church who really 'get me'
6. I am getting better at writing- I had a piece of my work published
7. Joining a gym isn't hard, going as often as you should is!
8. Nothing can ever prepare you for the death of a child, and there is nothing that can be said to make anything better.
9. God is eternally faithful and even though I don’t always understand, or even know exactly what I believe, he is a good God.
10. Radio 4 kicks ass!
11. That end of term feeling is even better as a teacher than a pupil
12. Life isn’t always simple, but it’s much too short to live in bitterness or regret.
13. Love is complicated
14. I really like chilli cheese fries from Bens Chilli Bowl on U Street in Washington DC
15. Nothing makes a school more than a friendly staffroom!
16. Say no sometimes- otherwise you will be standing by the side of a swimming pool in Ballymena on a Saturday morning with a stop watch at a gala!
17. A whole bottle of wine will give you a headache the next morning!

The thing with lists is ending them, this one could go on for a while. So I will finish on 17.

My hope for 2012 is that I would be happy, that I would be employed and the one challenge I am setting myself (it's a tall one) is to read 100 books this year. Hopefully this will give me some blogging ammunition