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Ailsa Craig: The Birth of a Song



I was walking one evening along the North Down coast

And as I walked I was thinking

Of the one I loved the most.

As the sun set on Bangor, far across the waves,

Dark against the horizon

I glimpsed Ailsa Craig.


On the night of my returning

To the land where I was born

The gulls cried till morning

Trying to chase me from the shore.

I had no thought of leaving till the end of my days

Then across the horizon

I saw Ailsa Craig.


Where is my love tonight,

Where has he gone?

He moved beyond my sight

To the sacred stone.


What once was a refuge is now deserted rock.

It stands as a milestone

Between the Irish and the Scots.

And if for a moment I felt at home to stay

I knew no home and no horizon

When I saw Ailsa Craig.



A friend asked me last night how I write a song… do I write the music or the words first? I don’t think I write the same way twice in a row anymore, but I’d like to share how two of my songs came about. Last year on my Master of Music course we looked at our influences and assessed where our writing came from but this isn’t meant to be an academic essay on composition or to say anything generic about songwriting itself, it’s just about the place I found myself in when I wrote Ailsa Craig.

The Journey of Making 'Twenty Miles from Home'



The Journey of Making ‘Twenty Miles from Home’


The Title


The title Twenty Miles from Home is intended to conjure a journey. The perception of the listener directs its meaning; you have been on a long journey and are in the final stretch on your way home (my perception), or you are far from home, or you have nearly made it but not quite. ‘Home’ is a very emotive word and concept.



The Road Goes Ever On and On


The Road Goes Ever On and On


The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.


J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter I


As 2013 begins I am quite awed and bewildered by the way in which I seem to have found myself on a road which has no junctions, and simply have to follow it. I suppose that began last year when I decided to be treated for rheumatoid arthritis at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (which changed my life) and to study for a Master of Music in Songwriting at Bath Spa University (which changed my life).



Vampire Bites and Autumn Leaves


Painting by Joanne Robinson.

We are passing from autumn into winter. Today in the Queen’s University of Belfast the autumn leaves hid the double yellow lines all around Carmel Street. It’s 13 years since I graduated from my Master of Arts degree and I was there to meet my former tutor and former classmate, both long time friends. The place has changed a lot… the old stacks has been replaced with an even bigger library, ten times the size of the library in the Newton Park campus of Bath Spa University where I have just finished a second Master’s. It’s a long time since I studied research methods: I have no idea how to find my dissertation in the QUB library. But that is old learning; I have discovered so much since those days.


What Support Means to Me...


What ‘Support’ Means to Me…


The lovely Keelie Fiorino is writing a piece about support networks for people with chronic diseases or for those caring for people with chronic diseases. She asked for contributions. This is mine.


A Chord of Three Strands


If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! ... Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:10-11


The ancient Celts took this teaching from the Bible and ran with it. They decorated important sites with knot work… interwoven strands representing nature, the spirit and various people. The idea is that our lives are like a tapestry and we are all woven together. Modern psychology agrees: dependence is the state of the child, independence the state of the adolescent and interdependence the state of the adult. Maturity comes in depending on others and being depended upon yourself.




Ave Verum Corpus


Ave Verum Corpus


How old was I when we first met? You know, I can’t even remember now. To me there was always something timeless about you:  when I remember you now you are always ageless, just as you have passed from the confines of aging.


I was young, anyway. I was young and in need of help. 

The Rhododendron


                                                The Rhododendron                          


  In the days before I wandered the world I lived in a place where there were gardens by the sea. In my garden there were sweet peas and hydrangeas and gladioli, and above all else there was a particularly beautiful rhododendron that bloomed every spring. For the rest of the year it overshadowed the flowerbed, a shelter for flora and fauna. Then one day there was a fire in the garden. It swallowed the cheery little gladioli and it reduced the sheltering shrubs to ash. That was when I left the garden behind and decided to wander the world.


A Cotswolds Odyssey


Today my houseguest and friend, Dom, and I went to the village of Castle Combe. It was like going back in time 400 years. The sun was setting over the river, the English cream tea was perfect then when we get home Dom told me about how in the pub next door a woman confided to him that she is hiring a hit man to take out her former fiancé. Seriously. Welcome to the Cotswolds and welcome to Eve’s life 2011/2012 – a time and a place where anything could happen.



Ungelic Is Us.... learn a little bit of Old English here!


Ungelic Is Us



Leodum is minum swylce him mon lac gife;

willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð.

Ungelic is us.

Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre.



This is the first stanza of Wulf and Eadwacer. It is found in the 10th century Exeter book and is one of the oldest surviving poems in English, and perhaps my favourite. It tells the story of two lovers separated by tribal differences, warfare and hatred. If you say ‘ungelic is us’ (oonyehleek is ooss) it sounds like ‘unlike is us’ in modern English. ‘We are unlike’ is not at all the same as ‘we are different’.


I discovered this tale of sex, treachery and tragedy in a very unlikely place. 

Too Much Carrot and Not Enough Potato


Too Much Carrot and Not Enough Potato

An Experience of Auto Immune Diseases in Youth

 I lifted the lid on the hospital dinner. The smell was nauseating and yet familiar. It was the same smell as I smelled nearly 31 years ago at the age of four when I came out of a diabetic coma. Today I am in the same hospital but my IV is not filled with insulin. It has a drug called RoActemra in it (tocilizumab is the generic name, but too hard to pronounce when you’re asked what medication you’re taking). This drug is for rheumatoid arthritis, if that’s what I have. They don’t really know. All I know is at the age of about 15 I started falling asleep in class. Some of my teachers did amusing impressions, but my grades were good so they assumed I was just working too hard, or that it had something to do with my diabetes. Then one morning I woke up with an agonising pain in my neck. I had to lift my head with my hands in order to get out of bed. I had just got a new bed, which was blamed. But the pain never went away. Sometimes I used to faint because of the severity of it. My GP said I was too young to have a rheumatological condition. The physiotherapist said ‘it’s bad posture has done this’. Bad posture doesn’t cause vertebrae in your neck to fuse together. Bad posture doesn’t cause the cartilage in your knee to wear away so that bone sits on bone. Bad posture doesn’t cause anaemia or high platelet counts. Bad posture just means, ‘You brought this on yourself. Why should we help you?’.


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