There's a reason I'm not a poet

Happy New Year folks! And next weekend, gōngxǐfācái!

Since coming back home I’ve been trying to earn some money to pay off the lovely debts that China has left me with, and so I’ve been doing a bunch of locum shifts in a few different locations. Around Christmas, I was back in haematology (where I was about a year ago), and I’m doing a few shifts in my FY1 hospital as well as a semi-regular job in one of the hospices. I’ve been describing a “locum doctor” as the medical equivalent of a substitute teacher, only thankfully without the abuse that a bunch of them seem to get from their students. ..For the most part.

I’ve actually enjoyed being back in some of my old wards, and I’ve been touched that people recognise me and are happy to see me. I’ve also been touched by one nurse in particular who felt that a hug wasn’t a good enough hello and decided that stroking my face repeatedly was more appropriate.

But it has been nice. Moving around a lot in your jobs can make you seem like you’re just another number, but it’s a good feeling when people not only remember your face but your name, and are pleased to see you. And it’s rewarding to know that my efforts going into being “a good team member” didn’t all go to waste.

I’m currently applying for more long term posts though. The ultimate goal is to become a consultant (ideally in some form of oncology) but the next step on that path is to get out of locum work and back onto a training programme, new posts for which are filled every August. So next Wednesday I’ve got an interview for Core Medical Training, where I’ll be asked by a couple of consultants what exactly I was doing in China and how ingesting a large number of carbs makes me a better doctor. Still working on my answer to that one.

Until then I’m looking for a more regular locum job so that I don’t have to worry about where I’m working next month, and so I can plan things slash work through my millions of lists of gigs and photography classes and NI Science Festival events that I want to sign up for. So we’ll see what turns up.

A slightly more bloody fricking exciting and awesome development in my life is the expectant arrival of a new niece and/or nephew! My sister tells me it’s not twins if Friends has taught me anything it’s that you never know. I’m really looking forward to greeting the new arrival, and my sister will be the first in this generation to have a child, so we’re probably all going to descend on little Norbert/Brenda/Quentin/Alexis with our various sailor suits, sheep skulls, sk8rboi shoes and other things we thought were good ideas when we were kids.

God help them.

M

The weary traveller

And now, back to our regular programming.

Yup, my four months of farting around China and Japan are over, and it’s back to porridge for me (time to find out what a year “out of training” means). I had a ridiculously great time exploring the cities, villages and mountains, and my stomach was well-and-truly stretched. Given how much fun I had, I was a bit unsure about how I’d feel about coming back. Thankfully, I was pretty excited about it! Four months is a fair amount of time,  so coming home was pretty welcome, and also it’s nearly Christmas! so there’s a great buzz everywhere.

I managed to get to my godson’s nativity play (which was brilliant fun) and see a bunch of home people before heading to Lahndahn to catch up with some uni ones. With Regent Street and the like covered in giant canopies of Christmas lights and angels, the place was looking great. It’s a bit crazy how much people are growing up though- the number of my friends who now have a mortgage is terrifying. Thankfully to help wash down the fear, London also comes with a massive collection of brunch joints and cake shops, and I went to an all-you-can-eat Japanese breakfast buffet to help me cope with the Asian withdrawal symptoms. Drool.

Belfast has its fair share of things to do too. As well as seeing Lisa Hannigan for like the eighth time, I finally got round to going to an event that’s been going on in Belfast for a couple of years: tenx9. 9 people get up and tell stories lasting up to ten minutes around a monthly theme. The stories can be warm, funny, or heartbreaking- but they all have to be true. I went to one focused around “family”, and unsurprisingly warm, funny, and heartbreaking were all well-represented. I was impressed with the bravery of some people, to be able to stand up and talk about things so personal to a room full of strangers. But it’s a great atmosphere in the place, so I imagine even if you got up and your story was shite everyone would give you a lovely round of applause.

One of the downsides of coming home though is that I went through nine time zones in the air. I don’t know if I ever really had jet-lag before but I can tell you man did I have it this time. I didn’t even really notice that’s what it was, but at one point I nearly fell asleep face-first into a pile of Lego, and there’s a Christmas tree in my parent’s house that I’ve definitely walked past about seven times and that I definitely have no recollection of actually seeing. I’m starting work again tomorrow (some one-off locum shifts) and it’s a good thing I didn’t start sooner as I feel like I’ve only recently entered the land of the living.

Other projects going on at the minute includes sorting through the 1,701 photographs of China and Japan that I took, and trying to whittle them down into something that can (at a stretch) be described as “bite-size”. I’ve spent about three full days on it, and I’m only on about week five. What with Christmas and its food/drink/TV binges coming up, expect to see the facebook album sometime in autumn 2018.

M

My Queen

My first two years of work are now finished- I’ve completed foundation training! I managed to get past my general incompetence, various hoop-jumping assessments and dramatic shit-storms in the middle of the night. I feel like I’ve progressed a fair amount as a doctor in this time, as is to be expected. I’ve tried to focus on my learning and tried to keep good principles in the back of my mind as I practise, and obviously I’m still an inexperienced junior doctor making mistakes but I’m happy with where I am clinically at this point in my career.

Thinking about the future, I’m leaning much more towards oncology as a future speciality. I’d thought about it during medical school although only had a fortnight of experience in the field. So,  I chose my foundation year rotation with the A&E/Oncology combo that I got during F2. And it proved to be something I really enjoyed, and something I seemed to be reasonably good at. The four months have given me good opportunities to not only increase my clinical experience in the area, but also to get a few whistles and/or bells to add to my CV. Nothing overly fantastic, but something to promote myself with in an interview.

As for the more immediate future, I’ve decided to take a move that doesn’t advance my career objectives: I’ve now joined the glorious ranks of the unemployed! The plan to go to China has been something running through my head for a couple of years now, and never quite come to fruition. So last Autumn when the decision of whether or not to apply for a job never year arrived, I decided to not even look at the Core Medicine application system. That way I wouldn’t panic-apply and end up not doing what I’ve been wanting to do. So until I head off in nine days time I’m enjoying being a lazy gobshite and doing sweet eff all!

Holidays don’t come easily in medicine, and with my last job (due to severe staff shortages) any time off came with a nagging feeling of guilt over leaving the rest of my colleagues to deal with the added stress that one-less-person-in-work resulted in. So now I’m taking this opportunity to relax, be happy, and enjoy the fact that for this brief period of my life I have much fewer things to worry about.

Instead, my focus is on What Happened To Barb and where in Belfast are the best locations to catch Pokémon. Jeremy Kyle and Jeremy Hunt can both kiss my ass- this is great.

M

Let them drink cake

Monday was the season finale of Game of Thrones. True to form, there were shocks and deaths a-plenty, and as we’ve done with previous Big Deal episodes we stockpiled a bunch of food beforehand to eat during the showing. In the books, George R. R. Martin showcases his tubby diabetic nature and writes paragraphs upon paragraphs about the exquisite food that his characters munch through. One often-mentioned delicacy is Sansa’s fondness for lemon cakes, so often our feast involves several lemon themed noms.

So when thinking of what to make for the finale, I started with a lemon drizzle cake and thought about how I could make it more interesting. I decided to add walnuts, and then decided that the icing would be made better by the addition of vodka.

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Aw yis.

I ended up not really doing the vodka icing as well as I’d hoped, but the rest of cake turned out pretty tasty, so here’s my recipe.

For the cake:

  • 225g butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 275g SR flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 100g chopped walnuts

For the drizzle:

  • 175g granulated sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • (Additional bit of vodka if you like)

For the icing:

  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 250g cream cheese
  • Splash vodka (better quality stuff messes things up less)
  • ½ tsp vanilla

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Start by shaving your lemons down to their birthday suits and mix the dry ingredients (apart from the walnuts) together before adding in the eggs and milk. Mix until smooth and then add in the walnuts at the end.

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If you’re making a tiered cake, grease two parchment papers and line your cake tins, and put them in the oven at gas mark 4/180. Bake for about 40 minutes or until done.

While you’re waiting, juice your two lemons. To make the drizzle, mix in your granulated sugar, stirring constantly until you get a runny consistency.
When your cake is finished, take it out of the oven and give it time to cool. Spoon the drizzle over the cake evenly while it’s still just warm. As I was doing a tiered version rather than a loaf, this is me putting the drizzle on upside down so it soaks into the cake more and changes the flavour a bit.

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Mix your icing ingredients together, being mindful of the volume of vodka used and the desired consistency of your icing. Once the cake is cooled, ice your cake however you want it and try your hardest to find a use for the leftover vodka.

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And we’re out of here

So last week I woke up to be nicely horrified at the result of our EU referendum. I guess I had kind of been hoping that the media had been over-hyping the chances of Leave, like with previous general elections. But no. And it’s left everything in a mess

I had a few specific concerns about the exit from the EU. For one, I’m worried about what will happen between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I find it really difficult to imagine there being a border again; I was in Dublin the day of the referendum vote and it was the simplest thing just to drive down, but I can’t picture how life will work on this island if a bigger divide between the two places is erected. Would there be a border poll? Which way would I vote?
I was also thinking about the logistics of things such as passports and immigration in airports, the European Working Time Directive, the effect that a loss of EU funding is going to have on heavily-reliant areas such as rural Wales, the loss of the single market, and the real worry that Scotland is going to leave the UK.

With a bit of thought, I’ve thankfully gotten past some of these worries. It’s in no one’s interests for there to be any real tenable border between the north and south. The UK is RoI’s biggest trading partner, and people aren’t going to realistically negotiate any deals that leave more of a barrier between the two places. I’ll be applying for an Irish passport to help with those airport queues, but I suppose it’s unlikely that there will be a hugely significant change in the relationship between the two countries.
And apparently the conditions of the European Working Time Directive have now been indoctrinated into British law (I think), so I suppose that’s reassuring. Especially given the current government’s attitudes towards junior doctors.
At the minute it also seems like remaining in the single market is the foremost issue of importance on the agenda of Parliament in the future’s negotiations. Whether or not that’ll turn out to be true when it comes to the new prime minister negotiating these remains to be seen of course.

So I guess I’m making a degree of peace with some of the issues that will be disturbed. And to be honest while I’m scared about the economic situation, I don’t know enough to say for definite how much or how little hope there is.
However, there’s one theme of this whole thing that I’m really not able to get past. Since the result was announced, I haven’t been able to shake the thought that on this day, racism won.
I understand that there are plenty of other reasons behind wanting to vote Leave. Particularly if you’re in a northern mining town and feel disconnected from today’s politicians down in the London-centric South of England. Or perhaps you’re more in-tuned to economics than I am (not difficult) and can see this as a reasonable risk to take, that we can reach a higher peak on a fitness landscape if we just change x, y and z, and weather the storm of economic downturn until we get there.
But despite that, you have to be aware that there was a lot of scaremongering going on in the Leave campaign, with at times subtle (and other times blatant) xenophobic attitudes pervading their arguments. That immigration is bad because these “dirty foreigners” are coming in here, and a line needs to be drawn to stop this from happening. That Britain needs to be Great again, and the way to do that is to make sure that it only contains British people.

Racism happens every day, everywhere. And it could be a biased view from the media/the internet, but there are people arguing that there’s been a surge in racist attacks or events across the country since last Friday. I believe this is because a xenophobic campaign has won, making it seem an acceptable viewpoint to have that foreigners should leave our country. Racist people’s attitudes are legitimised, because now “the majority of the British public” agree with what they voted for. In turn, “the majority of the British public” can be seen to agree with the opinions that drove them to vote that way.

Far Right parties in the rest of Europe are looking on with glee. Le Front National are calling for a “Frexit” referendum, and there are similar Dutch and Italian voices. That’s what we need, isn’t it? More far right nationalism. I wonder which future dictator this current situation is providing the context to the rise of.

I just feel like humanity is really not worth a thing right now. Are we really so backwards and idiotic to not see people of colour as human beings with just as much right to be here as we do? My godson rightly said today about people in other countries that “we’re all a family, with God as our father”. While I mightn’t put the same religious slant on it, that sense of unity and knowledge that deep down we’re all the same is so important. So when I see these racist attacks or xenophobic slurs being thought of as valid opinions, it just sickens me.

I’m just really ashamed at us right now. 4 bloody percent.

M

I’m a bit shattered this evening: had a few late nights recently, and long days in work. Sunday’s night was a good excuse though: went to see Lisa Hannigan! I’m a big fan of this woman, and remember how supremely excited I was when her debut album Sea Sew came out in 2008. She’s due to release her third album soon- I think the drop date is August 19th (unfortunately just after I go to China so I’ll likely miss out on it!) and this tour was to get back in the swing of things and get the album publicised.

My friends and I went for dinner beforehand (Coppi, was dee-lish) and had the best of intentions of being there early to get a front-row table. Unfortunately we ended up being late, because of ticket failure (by which I mean brain failure: I’m a dope and forgot to bring my bloody ticket). So we were standing, but we were right behind all the tables and it was a small venue so we had a good view.

She came on and opened with Lille, with just her on stage in comparison to the glockenspiel entourage I’ve seen her perform this song with before. Everyone was captivated and silent, and she carried on her control of the audience. Her cutesy shoulder dancing during Ocean & A Rock had us all grinning, and I have to say seeing the new engagement ring on her finger was a bit of a blow. All hope is lost.

She involved the support act Ye Vagabonds quite a lot, and had them playing key roles in multiple songs (at one point one of them looked like he was going to choke on his fiddle out of fear) and at the end the three of them did a stellar performance of Passenger. Her setlist was quite interesting: there was a large proportion of new songs and her choice of known songs was a bit different too. She didn’t play one of her big ones I Don’t Know, for example, and included a few others that it was great to hear. She’s crafted some lovely tunes for the upcoming LP so I’m really looking forward to hearing it. Good oul’ nautical folk, it’ll do a good job of reminding me of home while I’m off climbing in mountains and drowning in cramped Beijing buses.

M