protests and riots and flegs, oh my!

'Belfast City Hall at night' photo (c) 2007, Shaun Dunphy - license:

NOTE: This post is written for those who have no clue as to what is going on here. I have nothing to offer to native Northern Irish persons who have dealt with all this malarky for years and do not pretend to. My hope is that this post can serve as a window into a complicated situation and lead to higher empathy and understanding. 

On Monday evening, the 3rd of December, Belfast City Council voted to not fly the Union Jack flag every day. One of the Nationalist/Republican* political parties, Sinn Fein, had been pushing to have it never flown at all. The Unionist/Loyalist** parties, Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party (DUP and UUP), found that abhorrent. A moderate party pulling from both factions, Alliance, proposed a policy which was already in place in hundreds of city councils around Great Britain – to only fly it on designated days. The democratic process prevailed and the motion was passed.

That’s essentially when all hell broke loose.

Immediately following the vote, Loyalist protesters who had gathered out the back of City Hall began to riot. We watched in abject horror at the pictures filling our screens – police persons and reporters injured, property damaged. It all felt a little too familiar. But as I went to bed that night, the commentators were saying it was one night and that would be that.

How wrong they were. 

We woke up the next morning to reports that an Alliance Party MP, Naomi Long, had received death threats overnight and her home was damaged. Thankfully she was not hurt as the family was not at home, but that was to begin a pattern which continues.

Most nights, they gather in “peaceful protests” – a group of people standing in a major intersection holding Union Jacks and signs which usually read things about not surrendering. They gather for an hour or so right at rush hour and do nothing overtly violent except cause traffic havoc and prevent people from getting places. I’ll be honest, using the term “Operation Standstill” and tweeting things about “bringing the province to its knees” has not endeared their cause to the greater Northern Irish population.

However, every once and a while, they become overtly violent. These violent clashes – so far – have been in areas which traditionally have a high paramilitary presence. They have mostly been Loyalists versus police, with a few brief exceptions in East Belfast where it has been between Loyalists and Republicans.

By now you must be asking so many questions: we are too. Just because we’re a bit used to this malarky doesn’t mean we understand it. I can logically follow their arguments; I simply cannot understand why it matters this much.

It matters this much because – in the words of one organizer – “it’s not just the flag. They want to take everything British away.So while all of this is about a flag, it’s not. It’s about a deep frustration that has been brewing in this community for decades. The Good Friday Agreement which officially ended the armed conflict in 1998 is perceived as being unbalanced. The narrative in this community is that it only benefited the “other side” and that they have been left out in the cold. They feel abandoned by their government and their Queen and their political parties.

That last part is – in my opinion – the most important element. There is a perception amongst the Loyalist community – at least the ones who talk to the news and to colleagues of mine – that Unionist politicians no longer speak “for the people” and “the people” no longer have a voice. They feel forced, therefore, out onto the streets to make their point. For some of these people blocking traffic with their banners, this is the culmination of feeling crapped on by the whole country for almost 15 years and they just can’t take it any more. However, I do believe a MAJORITY of the people who feel this way are not comfortable with the overt violence either. The (mostly) young men who are setting buses and cars on fire and launching petrol bombs at police officers are a minority.

But where does that leave the rest of us? Frustrated. Scared. Annoyed. Pick a word: we probably feel it every day. I feel horrible for the families of police officers who are subject to injury because they are doing their job (over 100 officers have been hurt so far by having things like bricks thrown at their heads). I am frustrated for the politicians who have had bullets mailed to them in the post and have been forced to evacuate their houses (about 15 at my last count). I am tired of having to plot my route anywhere based on planned and unplanned protests. I am sick to death of this being the lead story on the news (we hear it’s even being reported in Cameroon and Russia). From my conversations with friends and family here, I am not alone in those emotions.

This has cost the city approximately 25 million pounds so far in both outright policing costs and lost revenue to businesses. And it’s only been six weeks. 

The question I have asked and heard asked and been asked is “how does this stop?” and “how long will it take to get back to what it was?” There is a deep, deep fear in the voices of almost everyone I know that N. Ireland is sliding backwards into old patterns which they had deeply hoped were broken. It appears they are not. 

So what can you do? If you are a praying person, pray for peace and calm and understanding and empathy and wisdom. If you are not, please lean into the trust I have that the Northern Irish people are not thugs who all behave like this. Please believe me that the silent majority are scared and need your support. What does your support look like? Plan trips here and remind anyone going to Ireland that “Ireland” does not just mean Dublin. Share positive Northern Irish stories with your friends and family. Like that Game of Thrones is largely filmed here, that one of our golf courses was just voted “Best Outside USA”, that C.S. Lewis imagined Narnia as looking like County Down, that Snow Patrol started here and Van Morrison is Belfast born and bred.

But the best thing to do? Practice grace with others around you and remember that your story is not the only one. May we all remember that the lands we inhabit carry many lives and many stories. May we remember that what we will protest loudest is the thing that someone else holds the most dear and that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re not human. May we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly as we navigate each other and learn that patience is a greater virtue than many of us realize.

If you have any further questions, I’m happy to field them. That will probably look like directing you to other sources, but hopefully I can be a gateway into the alphabet soup that is Northern Irish writing.


* Nationalists & Republicans want a United Ireland and reject British rule for Northern Ireland. The split between the two words usually comes with how they want that accomplished: traditionally, persons who identify as Nationalists lean towards the political process and Republicans are comfortable with violent acts. This is not ironclad, but general.
** Unionists & Loyalists are loyal to the Crown and the British government. They reject any association with Ireland and find themselves most comfortably as part of the British Empire. The split is the same as above with the same caveat. There is also a deep socioeconomic component. Unionists tend to be middle to upper class and those calling themselves Loyalist tend to be more working-class.

dear church (can we please have different conversations?)

this is my contribution to my brilliant friend Allison’s syncro-blog “Dear Church”. If you also have some things to get off your chest, find out here how to and join the conversation. 

Dearest Church :

A couple of years ago, I was quite prepared to never be part of you ever again. One of your branches decided I was disposable and cast me out without so much as a second thought. My willingness to walk away was a mixture of “well if you don’t me, I don’t want you” and an unbelievable pain at being called horrible names by my church. After several months of crying and reflection and pro/con lists, I decided to stay with you.

I re-make that decision regularly.

Now, do not get me wrong, there are times I find you simply delightful and you are “home” to me in a way that few other things are. As someone who lives outside my home culture and has spent most of my adult life doing so, little makes me feel more at home than singing hymns with a simple piano and a group of family I’ve never met before.

But – like any relationship – choice is a big part of our relationship. Every time someone stands up in your name and makes a comment which makes my blood boil? I choose to stay. Every time I have to defend your true intentions to my friends who have been hurt by false ones? I have to choose to stay. And I know I’m not alone in this.

As someone who is a professional academic studying you and your use of language, can I make some simple suggestions to maybe change how regularly I (and many others) have to make that choice? I had a beloved professor in seminary who used to tell me I was free to abandon a congregational church but that I should never, ever abandon the Bride. I carry that thought in my heart as I write this. I firmly believe that if we could use different language and have different conversations, we could embrace our identity as the Bride more firmly.

Instead of “my pastor speaks for God” can we say “my pastor does his/her best to use the education they’ve acquired and the insights they have to show me new things about Scripture/God/Church that I never would have thought of on my own”?

Instead of “if the Bible says it, I believe it” can we say “I find my truth in the words of Scripture but I acknowledge that I am also influenced by 2,000 years of tradition and history and we may not fully understand everything”?

Instead of “hate the sin and love the sinner” can we say “I don’t need to agree with every choice someone makes to love them”?

Instead of “you are going to hell” can we say … well, anything else? It really is time to stop invoking that threat.

Instead of standing on street corners preaching to anyone passing by, can we commit to loving people for the long term with no agenda? Instead of focusing our budget on the activities of a Sunday morning, can we hire social workers to help craft our interaction with our local and global neighborhoods? Instead of paying for buildings can we talk about meeting in houses or public spaces? Instead of involving ourselves in the reproductive and sexual choices of people we do not know, can we involve ourselves in the rhythms of our communities?

Can we start talking about promoting farming and local food in America? Can we talk about how Jesus wasn’t an American and God is an ahistorical and apolitical deity? Can we promote artistic expression and the laughter of children in countries we’ll never visit? Can we fight for clean water and proper dental care?

Can we be known by what we are for rather than what we are against? Please?


may I introduce logic to emotions?

This is my contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ MutualityWeek2012. To see the other incredibly wise people who have written about this, see here.


“But you can’t do that.”

I turned and stared at the boy who had uttered those words. I was seventeen and working at a Christian summer camp in Southern New Jersey. That fall, I was headed to university to learn how to love students better and was telling my fellow co-workers that I wanted to preach in the all-camp final service.

With sunblock dripping in my eyes and confusion clouding my soul, I replied “why?”

“Because you’re a girl. Girls teaching men is a sin. Everyone knows that.”

And with those simple words I would never forget, boundaries were placed upon my previous understanding of a boundless God.


“What do you mean they walked out?!” I shrieked.

I was twenty-one and in the college cafeteria after one of our mandatory chapel services. A brilliant woman had come that morning to teach us about loving orphans and vulnerable children in Vietnam and I had enjoyed every moment of her talk. My male lunch companion had just informed me that several of his male friends – upon seeing it was a woman at the pulpit – had walked out.

“Yeah,” he shrugged non-commitally. “It’s not a big deal, Kristen.”

“It’s NOT A BIG DEAL?!” I felt my temperature and temper rising. “But they walked out just because it was a woman!”

“Well, they’re just following what the Bible tells them to do.”


“The one we all read, Kristen. You can’t change what the words say. Stop being such a Yankee about it.” Yankee, you see, was many people’s shorthand at that university – located in the American South – for me when I was being opinoniated, or fiesty, or strong willed. If they weren’t such “good Christians”, I’m sure they would have just called me what they were thinking – a bitch.

“Like I said,” he looked me dead in the eyes, “it is not a big deal.”

And with those words I realized I had larger dragons to slay than I had ever thought possible. 


In the past ten years, had I a dollar for every time someone told me that my gender limited me instead of empowered me within the context of the institutional church, I promise you I would not ever take out another student loan. Myself, my friends, my colleagues, my sisters: we have all been told we are “less than” for whatever reason. The comments were made by seminary classmates and college professors, by pastors in our churches and by authors we’ll never meet. Each hurt, though. I won’t deny that.

This conversation is incredibly emotional for anyone involved. We, as humans, put deeper value in religious language than any other. Thus, whenever God’s ideas about humanity are introduced into a conversation the conversation automatically becomes more intense. By the way, that is the foundation of most sociological studies of religion and language. But that’s why I like to pause for a moment and attempt to remove the emotion. As a sociologist, I am deeply interested in how religion shapes society and society shapes religion. Both of those things have logical trajectories.

I believe it is only logical to end gender discrimination within the Church. Which, by the way, is what is currently practiced in millions of congregations around the world. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being factual. Whether you feel it is backed up by Scripture or not is irrelevant. It simply is. The question – therefore – becomes whether or not you feel God is in the business of gender discrimination.

I don’t believe there is any evidence that God is. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, YHWH is constantly shown as a deity of order and stability. In vast contrast to the origin stories of Babylon and Messopotamia, YHWH was never subject to fickle whims and YHWH’s actions were always bent towards the good of humanity. The ancient Hebrew people believed deeply that God was a god of order. So why are we so hesitant to embrace that now?

Of course, as with every other issue in Christendom, this one comes back to your interpretation of Scripture. Many other wise writers this week have tackled exegesis and I do not need to go into that here. But if you are someone who believes women must be subordinate to men within the Body of Christ, may I ask for your logic behind that?

Why would we allow participation based on reproductive organs and not skill sets? Why do we think God small enough to be limited by only creating women to bear children or clean houses? Why – and again, I ask for a clearly logical answer – am I – a woman with a first-class seminary education and a gift for public speaking – less qualified to preach than the gentleman sitting beside me with no formal training and a job as an accountant?

My hope for the Church as we move forward is that we begin to have adult conversations about this. This week is a great start and I hope it fuels more weeks like it. However, I also hope every congregation can discuss this. I hope young girls are taught to be strong women of valor first and foremost and to find themselves in Christ – whatever that ends up meaning to them – rather than finding themselves in their potential future husbands. I hope we can value other sacramental relationships other than marriage and other professions than motherhood.

May we find the deepest and widest definition of the Kingdom – one which represents the boundless and complete love of the God we claim to serve. May we allow people to be safe within our midst; their gifts encouraged and strengthened and not shunned. May we – as the Universal Body – be a place known for “yes” instead of “no”, hope instead of condemnation. May we celebrate the fullness of each gender, each human, each living beings as miniature expressions of the fullness of God and embrace each other as family.

anniversaries of trauma: or, in which i talk about my dark day

In the beginning seasons of Gilmore Girls, Luke disappears for one day every year. Lorelai cannot figure out why and Babette informs her it’s his ‘dark day’. On the anniversary of his father’s death every year, Luke removes himself from society. He shuts down his diner, goes fishing and remembers.

Yesterday was my dark day.

Four years ago, in the name of loving me, the church I belonged to and was volunteering for declared me to be a “damaging and harmful” individual in the lives of teenagers and both implied and outright said I had engaged in inappropriate behaviour. They complied a list of evidence, which I was not permitted to see, and gave me no chance to respond. They ordered me to cease working and interacting with all young people immediately. While they communicated they hoped I would stay within the congregation I am not entirely sure how they expected me to. It took me three and a half years to consider joining another institutional congregation. There are so many nuances of that day and that event and that reality. Know I take responsibility for any of my actions which appeared on that list, but I will never agree with how I was treated or spoken about.

A significant piece of me died that day. I lost a family, an identity and a place. I felt moorless and afraid to go out into public in that town in case I ran into someone. I was asked to never speak to any of the young people ever again even in public and I tried to take that request – which was a little insane – seriously. If I saw them in Target, I walked out. If I saw a parent at Chilli’s, I left. I essentially turned into a hermit in my house. I lost friends and there are people I thought would be family for me forever who have rarely spoken to me since.

You can imagine that whenever people talk about ‘church discipline’ I get a little antsy.

For anyone reading this who has not been a member of a congregation, this may seem a little insane. It was just a horrible set of things said to me – why the mourning? I completely understand your confusion. Let me say these people had verbally pledged to me to be ‘family’ and to love me and guide me through seminary. Instead, they shunned me. I now also get a little antsy when institutions use family language.

So every year on that day, I take a dark day. I remember and cry and mourn the moments which shifted the direction of my life. I may also say nasty things about the man who compiled that list. I pause to remember the girl who trusted the church to be a good place who would love her and believe in her and champion her and how I’m not actually sure I miss her. But then I remember the past four years. The years of healing and hope, the years of people who rallied around me and assured me I was not a bad youth worker and did, in fact, have a place in the Global Church. The ways in which my definition of church has changed and how I like it better. I’m proud of how I have risen from that day and who I am now.

However, the 25th of April will always be marked with deep breaths, quiet reflection and gratefulness for hope and resurrection.

conversations I am simply tired of having

I, as a woman, am tired.

I’m tired of being told I’m second rate in a thousand subtle ways, I’m tired of being told that fighting for equal pay makes me militant or ungrateful, I’m tired of living under double standards and I’m tired of my worth to many being judged by my reproductive choices.

I, as a Christian, am tired.

I’m tired of the myth of homogeneity, I’m tired of having to defend my faith with a tone of shame in my voice as I sip beer or watch Sex and the City and I’m tired of having to figure out how evangelical any friend is before I can be vulnerable about things.

Today I am especially tired that we – as a religious system – keep seem to fighting the wrong fights.

The most recent installment of “Things Which Make Kristen’s Blood Boil” is the bru-ha-ha over the use of the word “vagina” in a new book by Rachel Held Evans. She explains the whole thing on her excellent blog and it is worth a read. But for those who want the Reader’s Digest version, here it is. In a book about womanhood and its relationship to Christianity, Rachel’s publishers are telling her to eliminate the word “vagina” because Christian bookstores (Family and Lifeway in particular I assume) will not carry it if its in there.

<Insert my best Amy Poehler impression>


Really, Christian booksellers? Really? These are the lines you’re choosing to draw? And even if Rachel’s editors are being overly cautious and booksellers still would sell the book… REALLY? Because the thing is I have yet to speak to anyone familiar with this world who isn’t surprised.

I don’t want this to turn into a vitriolic rant against the Christian publishing industry; what I really want to question is this: It is the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve and we’re still uncomfortable with using words speaking about female anatomy? So much so that we would possibly deny an important voice to be distributed? We have no problem with selling all manner of violations of the separation between church and state or works which perpertuate the health & wealth gospel which seems to be so very popular in my beloved country at this point. The problem we have is with the word “vagina.”

I think we’re having the wrong conversations. 

I think we should be wrestling with an appropriate response to capitalism, human rights violations, and the state of the American education system. We should be working the best we can at every moment to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love the Lord our God with all our being. We should be trying to be gracious and kind, loving and hospitable. We should be figuring out how to deal with theological and orthopraxic realities regarding homosexuality. We should be fixing the foster care system.

Because here is the deal, love crumpets. If you believe God created the whole world, then He created vaginas. And I’m fairly sure He’s comfortable with the word.



pro-life, pro-birth, pro-choice: thoughts on the conversation

Want to make a difference? Be pro-LIFE, not just anti-abortion.
-Adopt a kid. Adopt two kids. Encourage your friends to adopt, your churches. Adopt so many kids (and not just cute babies) that white people in grocery lines judge YOU. The Church was doing this in the Roman Empire long before they were even a legal religion, and when they finally accepted at legal they had a stone manger out front for people to leave orphans.
-Adopt a single mother. Stop having a guest bedroom and have a guest.
-Support food banks, or better,
-Imagine alternatives to violence.
-Impact poverty. Somehow. Get creative… or just pick something in place and run with it. My money says less than 75% of the people reading this are doing anything right now, but I bet they bought a kitchen aide mixer, a TV, or a cell phone in the last year.

The above series of points come from my friend Dustin – they comprised his Facebook status about a week ago. Since then, the abortion bru-ha-ha on Facebook has given way to the debate regarding birth control and the panel convened yesterday before Congress.

Can I be perfectly honest for a minute? And this isn’t out of snarkiness, this is out of honest confusion: why are some people obsessed with how women treat their fertility? Being in community with someone and walking through a difficult time with them is one thing – standing outside clinics or on street corners and informing strangers of their opinion is another. I am – once again, this is honest confusion – not sure what the end goal is in accosting people.

I’m sure I could dig up all sorts of history and statistics regarding when people began to understand pro-life as only having to do with a pre-birth human. There are lots of historical records and sociological accounts as to how society has treated fertility or lack there of and those are fascinating but perhaps for another time. What I want to throw out to the universe is the question I haven’t been able to stop chewing on since I read Dustin’s status:

How can people reclaim the phrase ‘pro-life’ as being more than simply ‘pro-birth’?

I am – for the record – personally pro-life and politically pro-choice. I hope I never have to make the gut wrenching decision that hundreds of millions of women have had to throughout the ages. I am also thankful I am a citizen of a country where I am allowed to consider options, although I don’t live in one now. (Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland – women have to fly to England for the surgery if they so choose.)

What would it look like to be holistically pro-life? How would people treat the death penalty or gun control laws? How would they view genetically modified food and the growing international obesity problem? How would they speak of human trafficking, genocide, war and other human inventions which claim lives? Would people talk about global warming differently?

As a confident but at times publicly reluctant member of the Kingdom of God, this is the conversation I think we need to be having. Dearest fellow members – can we stop talking about life as only existing in someone’s womb and instead embrace the mess that it actual is? Can we love people through that decision instead of trying to make it for them? Can we put our money where our mouth is and find families and homes for the millions of abandoned children throughout the world? Can we fight to fix the foster care system?

I understand for some Christians, loving people means hoping they share in a specific vision of morality. While I do not agree with that – either as a human, woman, social worker or theologian – I can respect those people are trying to love as best they can. What I’d like to invite anyone with that mental bent to think about is what does loving someone really mean?

I think loving someone means being patient with them. It means being kind and hopeful and not imposing my will upon their lives. It means being vulnerable and honest, caring and gracious. It means not keeping score of their wrongs against me. It means speaking truth within the context of relationship and making sacrifices for their well-being. It means knowing when to apologize and when to demand apology. It means laughter and joy, respect and communication.

I am not good at any of those things most days. My resolution for 2012 was to be better and I fear I have failed more often than not. I can make excuses – there’s been a lot of change in my life, PhD work is hard, being an ex-pat is stressful, communal living is difficult – but it comes down to me not making the choice to love as often as I should. So my reaction to my own question is that – to love better the people immediately in front of me at any given moment.

(I will also send letters to my Congress people telling them exactly what I think of some of these issues. I will support organizations and beloved friends who are on the front lines of this situation and I will find out what I can do here in South Belfast to make life better for others.)

may today be a day where I choose life and love so that others may choose it as well. may we understand complexity and embrace confusion and walk in light of love and grace remembering at all times that statistics have faces and stories just like ours.


january: summary

1. Lazy New Year’s Day. Went to go see ‘We Bought a Zoo’ with Sister, Mom and Ndeko, but spent most of the rest of the day in pajamas.

2. Shopping with Mom and Ndeko. Delightful.

3. Reading in front of the fireplace was most of my day, except when I had to hug my precious Ndeko “see you later”.

4. Read and wrote and snuggled with Puppy.

5. Watched some ridiculous movies and ate far too much food. Good day.

6. Big day in our wee family. Sister became a legally permanent part of us and we spent the day celebrating that reality.

7. Sister, Brother-in-Law and I had the house to ourselves. So we ordered far too much take-away food and watched ridiculous television. As we do.

8. Emailed in an essay and spent the rest of the day watching football with the family.

9. Some quick bits of nothing and visiting loved ones.

10. Last full day home for a while – so where else would I go but Long Beach Island? Had a simply delightful lunch with grandma and Mom and breathed deep the ocean air. Spent the evening snuggling with Brother and Sister.

11. Spent the last few hours in the States running errands with Mom before climbing in the car for the drive to Newark. See you in July, America. Stay Classy.

12. Landed in Belfast with no drama only to come back to MC and find that QUB had turned my electricity off. Delightful. Thankfully, Tacoma was awesome as always and let me crash in her room to steal plugs.

13. Spent the day writing a particularly hated and pointless essay, so made sure the evening was delightful. Take-away, couch, cheesy action movies, cute Boy. Done, done, done.

14. Tacoma and I found a new reality show trainwreck to get into – thank you ITV – while we enjoyed having a couch and a kitchen for the night. Thanks to Mama Cheesehead for giving us keys to her place while she’s away.

15. Headed out to Movilla to photograph a pretty cool event and spend some time with a favorite.

16. Did some work and then Tacoma and I played games, watched movies and laughed. Typical.

17. Penny returned to Belfast! So Tacoma and I played the “help Penny beat jet lag” game which always includes trips to City Center and brunch at The Other Place. I also met the Boy for a movie which turned into drinks until the wee hours. He’s inching ever closer to deserving a blog nick-name. We’ll see.

18. Penny and marathoned Sherlock and screamed at our TV several times. Flip, I cannot believe we have to wait until 2013 for new episodes of this wonder

19. Spent the day hunkered in Penny’s room waiting for Air Lingus to deliver her wayward luggage. We played Trivial Pursuit, analyzed some of the crazy in my brain and laughed.

20. Met the Boy for dinner at his place and then watched Top Gear: India and began to squeak with joy when they hit Jaipur. Gosh, I miss India.

21. I met the Boy at 12:30 and left him at 1:30 the next morning. Happy. Our day included viewings of the Underworld trilogy, which gave my Sister unspeakable joy.

22. Penny and I spent the day at Mama Cheesehead’s, making stew drinking, drinking B&Bs and enjoying championship football. I feel unbelievably bad for the Raven’s kicker.

23. A typical day in Belfast – reading, tea, dandering – ended in spending the whole night playing board games with Tacoma and Penny. Perfection.

24. Finished our marathon board game playing and the out with the Boy that evening. He certainly is becoming a re-occurring theme.

25. In what is a great example of my ridiculous life, Penny and I flew to London for a few days. After settling into our hostel, we found a pub and then dandered around Westminster to see it’s glory at night.

26. Bus tour, 221b Baker Street, a long journey to Tipperary, original Twining shop, organic gin, an adopted stout and dinner at one of Kenneth Braunaugh’s favorite places… yeah. Excellent day doesn’t even cover it.

27. After a WHIRLWIND run through the National Gallery, Penny headed back to Belfast and I boarded a bus to Oxford to see Coxswain for her birthday! We dandered and gossip and then I got to meet her people and was thrilled.

28. Coxswain and I decided that in order to properly celebrate her birthday we had to find ourselves in another country. So we headed to Wales. The evening got a little pear shaped, but we still had a class time.

29. Toured Cardiff, said ‘hi’ to The Doctor, ate lunch at a restaurant with too many “w”s and then spent the evening eating and drinking our way through Oxford. Winning.

30. Flight back to Belfast and then our first Pub Quiz of 2012. Things feel right again in Belfast.

31. Gormflaith returned! So we celebrated with lots of tea, leisurely lunch and then time introducing new friends at the Hewitt. Great way to wrap up January.