Marie Stopes Clinic opens in Belfast – my view

In last night’s US Vice-Presidential debate Joe Biden said this:

“My religion defines who I am. I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has informed my social doctrine, which is about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves. With regard to abortion, I accept my churches position on abortion. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.”

I cannot put it better myself. It incidentally shows the lack of moral leadership from the local Northern Irish politicians on this issue.


Postcode Care, part 2

So we kept our heads low. When finally the RJMH seemed determined to send us up the Newtownards Road to the Ulster, we rang ahead to find out about their Special Care Baby Unit.

The Ulster Hospital nurse laughed at us. They were full to capacity. Had been for weeks, would continue to be for the next few weeks. We weren’t going anywhere.

We did go somewhere: we went home.

We always understood that the aftercare would be with the Ulster, so RJMH sent them a letter to inform them we were out. In due course we would get an appointment with the baby clinic at the Ulster.

Three weeks later we still receive our aftercare from RJMH.

It is not as if the Belfast Trust is out of pocket for our daughter’s care. All costs are borne by the South Eastern Trust. Regardless of whether that care was at the Ulster, the Royal or in, say, Amsterdam.

It all adds to the initial feeling that moving a patient because of their postcode is a bit of a nonsense.

The Hunt for Ancient Trees

First published in 2009:

You’d think because trees don’t move, finding truly ancient trees should not be that difficult. It is trickier than you think. You need to go prepared.

Bring a stick of chalk;
Bring a tape measure;
Bring a pen and paper;
A mobile phone or digital camera is good for recording the find;
Wellies or good shoes is great, but not necessary;
Keep your eyes peeled!

On Saturday morning, thus equipped, Madeleine and I set off on the path behind the village towards a most impressive looking oak. From a distance it looks great, but up close you realise the giant has been vandalised. Some miscreant has lit a fire in its hollow interior, there is also some broken glass, where persons unknown have drunk their bottles of booze.

Madeleine explored the tree, and was mightily impressed by the cave. She dubbed it “Winnie-the-Pooh’s cave”, where the bats live. Bats may well be resident in this tree. There are some interesting looking crevices further up.

I got my chalk and measuring tape out. I measured 1.50m from the ground and made little mark. From the mark I started measuring around the oak’s mighty trunk. I returned to the mark after 5.30m. This oak is veteran, but around 70cm short of being considered ancient. Nonetheless, I jotted all the details down, took a splendid photograph and returned to our house by way of the playground.

As a quick rule of thumb every 100cm equates to 100 years. Now an oak will live for many more centuries than a beech, say, or an apple. An oak can reach 700, 800 years, perhaps even more; the apple around 300; beech die after a relatively young 200. Around our village there are a number of fallen beech trees, which would have been planted in the early 1800s when the textile mill was constructed. Our rule of thumb makes our oak somewhere between 500 and 600 years old, so it is middle-aged.

Interestingly, Edenderry means ridge of the oak trees. Is this one of the last remaining oaks which gave the village its name?

Once we got home I hopped on the Internet and went to Ancient Tree Hunt, where I added the oak to the Register. Someone from the Woodland Trust will pop down and verify the find.

I know about this tree, because I live in the village and I have walked up and down the country lanes and footpaths. We can see the crown from our bedroom. But even somewhere unfamiliar you can soon pick up the tell-tale signs of an old tree: it’s a bit fatter than the others, it has bits missing, a hollow trunk perhaps, or its crown is a bit threadbare.

A while back I was waiting for my return flight from Birmingham to Belfast. As I sat in the departure lounge at T2 in Birmingham I spotted a lop-sided, fat tree in the car park behind the sound barrier. Not being able to walk to it, I sent off an e-mail to the Woodland Trust and someone added it to the Register. In August I hope to have a little walk around and add a few more details and a photograph. From a distance it looks like an oak, but I’ll need to get up close to make sure.

The best way to find ancient trees, is to get out of the car, and make your way on foot, or on bicycle. That way you’ll have the time to take in your surroundings.

Standing beneath (or in) an ancient tree is an awe-inspiring experience. Here’s a living organism that has seen centuries come and go. The oak at the edge of village was already big and imposing when the Scottish and English arrived during the Plantation in the early 1600s. The oak will, barring lightning strike and hurricane-force wind, outlive me and a couple of generations of my descendants. When you stand in the shadow of an ancient tree, you are suddenly aware how short your time on earth is, and really that it is important to do one’s best with what little time we have.


The end of civilisation

Here’s why I support the Coalition for Equal Marriage.

The media and opponents of Equal Marriage legislation often use the phrase “Gay Marriage”. This is not correct. Equal Marriage affects more than just the gay community. Even used as a pars pro toto it is a bit lazy.

Imagine a couple, happily married, children, cat and dog. One day one of the married partners, a transsexual, begins the long painful process of reconciling their body with their inner self.

After years of Real Life Experience, hormones and surgery the day comes to fix the birth certificate. You’ve come all this way together, in sickness and in health. But you can’t stay married. In order to obtain the correct certificates, your marriage has to be dissolved. It’s the law.

And a civil partnership simply is not the same.

On 5 February 2013 the House of Commons voted and backed the Equal Marriage Bill by 400 to 175, a margin of 225.

Below is the predictable response from Jeffrey Donaldson MP, DUP Lagan Valley, when I put it to him Equal Marriage is an equality issue:

Dear Borghert

Thank you for your recent correspondence by email regarding your support for the legislation that has been introduced by the Government to create a legal basis for “same-sex marriage” in the United Kingdom.Whilst I fully appreciate the position that you have adopted personally on this legislation, I am unable to support the Bill as I believe that it is wrong to equate “same-sex marriage” with traditional marriage.

You have made the argument that this is matter of equality but there are other relationships that are not recognised in law through marriage such as Muslims who believe that a man should have the right to marry more than one wife. As you will be aware, bigamy is outlawed in the UK and the argument has not been accepted for equality there.

Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a Government does not breach the human rights of gay people by failing to introduce legislation for “same-sex marriage”.

Consequently, I do not accept the argument that this is a matter of equality. 

As a Christian, I believe that marriage is for a man and woman only and as gay people already have civil partnerships, I do not believe there is a sound argument for the introduction of this legislation. 

I know that you will disagree with the stance that I am taking on this issue but just as I respect your opinion, I hope that you will be able to respect the views that I have expressed. 

Thank you for taking the time to be in touch with me about this particular issue. It is very much appreciated.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely

Postcode Care


Here’s a map. It shows most of Belfast. “A” is the Royal. It is where our little baby is. “B” is the Ulster Hospital, where some faceless bureaucrat wants our little baby to go. They want her to move there  because we live in the South Eastern Trust area.

Our home is on the bottom edge of the map, a plumbline south of “A”, 4.5 miles from door to door.

For all our medical needs we look to the Royal and City. My finger got fixed up at the Royal’s A and E. My wife’s antenatal care was at the Royal. The GP sent our eldest to the City for an X-ray.

You’d think that the Royal is our local hospital. You’d be wrong. It is the Ulster, 9 miles away.

Perhaps the local Health Authorities should reconsider the catchment areas for hospitals? Perhaps they should allow patients choose where they want to be treated?