SWB muses on cats

It’s four am and I’m awake, wide awake because my nose has a tickle and I sneeze once, then twice, loud trumpeting sneezes which cause my small daughter beside me to start in her sleep. The husband has wisely retreated to the spare bed. But it’s not the intrusion of a small child that has woken me. Rather I must admit that it’s the cat fur on my duvet which has irritated my nasal passages, since our cat found a warm patch earlier as the sun sliced through the blinds. As I blow my nose I recall that I let her out around midnight and she refused to answer my calls and come in again. So I brave the cold tiles of the kitchen and make pushawhoosh noises at the back door. She answers with a pathetic mew and streaks past, her fur wet against my bare legs. I dish out some food to appease her before returning upstairs. At six o’clock I finally go back to sleep.

 

I can be a crotchety sort of a buddy. Had it been a human who had disturbed my slumber then a frosty stare may have met them in the morning. But I’ve been known to heat milk in the microwave for a cat, just to take the chill off it in winter. The cats in question lapped it up, without so much as a mew in my direction by way of thanks. Why am I such a sucker for the feline form?

 

Cats were a permanent feature in my husband’s house as he grew up. There was feisty Henry, a ginger tom who had to be treated with extreme caution, so ready with his claws was he, to maul a small child’s outstretched hand. He had a childlike attachment to his blanket though, and every evening would haul it up the stairs between his teeth and settle at the top of the stairs, perfectly placed to send family members flying down face-first if they weren’t on their guard.

 

In contrast to this truculent creature was Meli, a slight tortoiseshell who positioned herself at the window at four o’clock everyday day to watch for him, tripping up the path in his St Mary’s uniform. Aside from Oasis, the soundtrack to all his GCSE and A level revision was that of a cat purring, her whiskers tickling his ear while she wrapped herself round his shoulders like a scarf.

 

Cats change the dynamic in a house. When my grandmother died after a long illness we walked around like sonambulants, grief and relief mixing uneasily in our guts. Then Snowball, our cherished feline would weave around our legs like a caress, his soft purrs lightening the strange, charged atmosphere.

 

It wasn’t too long into our courtship when Himself remarked: “Your house feels a bit empty. A wee cat padding about would make it a bit more homely.” I needed no encouragement. We flicked open the laptop and beheld the number of cats in Belfast looking for their forever home. As luck would have it there was a lady in the Four Winds area who took the overflow from the Cats’ Protection. Off we zoomed. I was halfway down her drive when I realised that Himself was still in the car; in my haste I’d locked him in before leaping out. Not wise, me.

 

“I think I’ve just the cat for you,” said Irene, directing us to a cage from which she lifted a small black kitten-cat. She handed her to Himself where the cat purred serenely. “Take me with you” we could hear her croon. “I am the very cat for you.” We were smitten. “I think I’ll call her Marshmallow,” I simpered.

 

As if to spite me, the cat soon put paid to that notion. Although she craved company she wanted it solely on her own terms. She became Cleo, for like the Egyptian queen she’s best treated with respect, veneration even. Attempts to lift or stroke her were more often than not, met with outright hostility. On my thirtieth birthday, champagne had relaxed my inhibitions and in a fit of misguided affection I scooped her up for a cuddle. She lashed out in a rage, scoring my neck with her claws. “She could have had your eye out!” roared my mother.

 

I was teaching at the time and the kids delighted in listening to tales of her misconduct. They loved any diversion from learning their avoir and être verbs. Their favourite tale was the one in which I turfed her off my freshly laundered duvet and she crept back in and urinated extensively on it. “You’re not the boss of me,” said that gesture.

 

Despite this though, we were all besotted with her. It was my mother in particular who waged a sustained campaign to claim ownership. “What sort of a life is that for a cat?” she would sniff. “Stuck up there on the Cregagh Road. She’s already been knocked down once. Next time it’ll be the end of her, I’m telling you.” Always full of optimism, my mother.

 

Coming home for Christmas one year I was meant to be bringing the cat, so she too could enjoy the sea-air of Ballyholme. But being no dozer, she sensed a change in the force when we produced a box. She took the stairs three at a time before springing on top of the wardrobe. From this vantage point she hissed and spat, taking well-aimed swipes with her paws, claws out for maximum impact. Defeated, we left her to it and arrived, cat-less in Bangor. “Where’s Cleo?” asked my dad, who was looking forward to some feline company over the festivities. “She said she wasn’t coming,” I replied, sucking the bleeding scratch on my wrist. “Oh dear,’ he said all crestfallen. “Well maybe next time.”

 

Be careful what you wish for Ron, because Cleo is now a permanent resident on the Esplanade, casting her imperious eye over Belfast Lough. “Mine, all mine” one can almost hear her croon, little Bond villain that she is.

 

With much aggravation and thick gloves we had manhandled her into a box before heading to Kenya on safari. After hiding behind the microwave for three days she made herself quite at home. In fact on our return she took one glance at out tanned faces and leapt straight back behind her preferred hiding spot. We were drinking tea on a sofa watching an episode of Frasier when she emerged, deliberately picking her way over my husband then me to curl up on my dad’s lap. There she narrowed her eyes and turned her back on us, every so often glancing round with palpable disdain. Dad looked a trifle smug.

 

Mum buys her a tub of cream every week and varies her food between choice cuts of Sheba. Only the best for Cleo. She is the Naomi Campbell of cats and my mother takes tremendous pride in the glossy sheen of her coat.

 

And now, ever the gluttons for punishment, we’ve a new addition. It involved another trek to a cat lady, this time in Killyleagh. She let us to a shed, where two black and white cats competed for our attention. But Himself was drawn to another small tortoiseshell, a ragged bag of bones, bald behind the ears and her side shaved where she had recently been spayed. “She’s just come in,” said Alison. “She won’t even let me stroke her.” We looked on in amazement as she sniffed my husband’s hand and rubbed against him. “Engine’s on” he reported, as her purrs started up.

 

And so to our children’s delight, we brought her home. Six months on, and our cat is resplendent. Half-hearted efforts to keep her off the beds have been shelved and I make ineffectual gestures with a sticky roller should guests be coming. She chooses a different bed each day on which to stretch and sleep, luxuriating in the quiet time while the girls are at school. Her tummy almost touches the floor because Himself is a soft-touch and the slightest miaow, plaintive or otherwise, ensures she gets her Sheba fix.

 

The night we got her my mum rang. “I want you to raise a toast to Auntie Isabel. She would have been one hundred and six today.” “Izzy it is then,” said Himself and we clinked our glasses. “I’m sure Aunt Isabel would be made up with that,” said Mum wryly. My aunt had a big heart. She’d have been delighted.

 

 

 

 

SWB and Fake News

Here’s an elf, skiving off work to read the paper on the toilet

This year, I’m not buying any wrapping paper. At all. Not a jot. If I’m really stretched I might pilfer some from my mum who will have a stash (much of which will be recycled so I won’t feel bad). But gift wrap is an environmental disaster of which I want no part. But what about the presents Santa leaves? How do I get round that? Turns out easy enough. I was doing the reading with the girls and the pile of yet-to-read-Guardians caught my eye.

“Here, I came across something about Santa Claus earlier.” I say. Their wee ears prick up. “Turns out that he’s going to do a bit of recycling  and be environmentally friendly this year.”

“Ohh?” They say. (Poor wee buddies don’t have much notion but on I go.)

“Yes, sometimes he uses a boost of diesel to power the sleigh but this year he’s just feeding the reindeer up with lots of pasta for energy and vegetables.”

“Like carrots,” adds the small child, who is still tickled pink with her letter from a certain Mr Claus last week, who alluded to the eye-sight enhancing properties of our household’s favourite root vegetable.

“Indeed,” I say. “They can’t be clattering into skyscrapers and steeples in the dark.”

“Skyscrapers?” interjects the older one, “Like in Majorca, where Dad used to live?”

“No, that’s New York.” I say. “Dad lived in New York. Majorca is sunny with beaches and you don’t get shouted at if you board the subway going the wrong way.” I still recall the ticket seller almost making me cry at Bowling Green.

“Ahh yes.” She nods, probably none the wiser.

Back to the point. “So, he won’t be wrapping up the presents in fancy paper for your stockings.”

“Ohh? What sort of paper then?” they ask.

I glance at the floor. “Newspapers, or magazines.”

“Like the Guardian?” says the older child.

“Quite,” I say. I can’t imagine Santa being a Daily Mail reader. I’m rather  impressed we’ve managed to indoctrinate the children already with left wing papers of choice.

“But there’s a problem,” I tell them. They look decidedly rattled. It’s not hard to discombobulate a four and a six year old when it comes to casting doubt over presents. “He’s raging actually, because they’re way behind schedule in the North Pole.” Their eyes widen. “That’s what it said in the paper anyway, I go on. The flipping elves are sitting round, reading the paper and eating mince pies and drinking mugs of hot chocolate. They aren’t making gifts or wrapping a thing! Santa’s getting a bit fed up.” (None of this was inspired by ‘What the Reindeer Saw’ the other night at all. Oh no, never any plagiarism on this blog.)

I pretend to scan the page. “No, it’s ok. He’s back on track. The elves get stars on their charts if they stop getting distracted and there will be a special treat after Christmas if all their work is done. They are busy little bees again. Phew.”

Big exhalations all round.

“But they probably won’t have time to use sello-tape; they’ll just sort of roll up the presents and shove them in the stockings. Do you reckon that’s alright?”

The girls nod. “It’s what’s inside that counts.” I smile. My job here is done people.

 

 

SWB feels lost at 10×9

Where else would you go on a Wednesday evening to unburden your soul? Tell a story at 10×9, go on, I dare you. It’s a free event, so will save you a fortune in therapist’s bills. Here’s the tale I told last night: have a look if you want to read about SWB’s evangelical phase.

(Many thanks to the lovely Caroline Orr for her generous introduction and photo credit to Pádraig and Paul).

 

Story on the theme of Lost

My story isn’t about losing my wallet, or my engagement ring, or my car in Forestside’s underground car park. It isn’t about getting lost in Hanoi searching for our backpacker’s hostel, charmingly named the Ming Dung, where we learnt to our cost that misdirecting disorientated tourists is  a Vietnamese national hobby. Or even about my friend and I getting so spectacularly lost in the Mournes that when we heard a helicopter above we assumed it had come for us. (It hadn’t, and after seven hours wandering we found Hare’s Gap and grateful and exhausted, we trudged home.) No. This story is about me thinking that I had lost my eternal soul and would forever be pitched into the darkness, or fiery pits. Let’s face it, both sound equally fucking dire.

 

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” I thought as a student of English Literature, you would know that.” Those were the less than sympathetic words of my dad’s friend Trevor, as I sat, rocking back in forth at his kitchen table, convinced that the end of the world was nigh. I was drenched with sweat and waiting for the booming voice from the heavens to blast forth, and tell me I was doomed for failing to live a sufficiently Godly life. Earlier that evening we had sat round that same table, drinking red wine while our conversation veered and looped around subjects as diverse as political activism, vegetarianism and the time Trevor’s partner Lou joined a cult and got married in a pagan ceremony, in a darkened tenth floor apartment with hay strewn about the floor and on the window sills. It was worldly and bohemian and refreshing for a student who usually sat watching repeats of Friends and music videos on VH1 in between lectures at Queen’s.

 

It was July, 1999. I had made the somewhat misguided decision, that as a twenty year old student, it would be a good idea to go on holiday, with my parents, to stay with an old family friend, a professor in the university of Concordia in Montreal. One could say that I was already a bit lost in somehow thinking that this was a good idea. The generational gap suggested that we may have different expectations of a trip, and with the benefit of hindsight I probably ought to have left them to it. But, I was heading on my year abroad to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion the following September, so I thought maybe some ‘quality’ time could be good.

 

In truth, I was a deeply anxious, some might say demented young woman. As a fourteen year old, I had been duly confirmed in our Church of Ireland, and thought I had a comprehensive enough understanding of God and what it meant to be a Christian. But then a friend took me up to the Elim Pentecostal where I was duly brainwashed. It was at once terrifying and exhilarating. While our Anglian rector urged quiet contemplation and pared his message down to ten minute sermons, evensong at the Elim went on for two hours. People arrived early to get good seats. The music, the hand-waving, the speaking in tongues and the crying, (dear God, people were always crying,) was powerfully emotive. And I was converted, saved, and with all the enthusiasm and passion of a teenage fundamentalist, I was keen to share the good news. People hated to see me coming. I remember calling ‘Jesus loves you!’ up at the bedroom window of an atheist friend, because if you weren’t into all these public displays of religiosity you couldn’t really be a Christian. Could you?

 

And then, after a period of eighteen months, something happened. I suddenly felt, quite acutely, that this wasn’t for me. This devotion demanded body and soul and they wanted us there, ALL THE TIME: fellowship on Friday, Youth Club on Saturday and Church on Sunday: preferably twice. Other Elimites began to doubt my commitment when I started to falter. And then, my friend asked if after my GCSE mock exams if I would like to go out to a disco. It was upstairs. In a pub. And less by hook and slightly more by crook I got there, and realised that the same transcendental joy I felt clapping until my hands were red raw in the Elim; could almost, almost, be found on the dance floor, cavorting about to James, and Cotton-eyed Joe and singing along to Dizzy by Vic Reeves.

 

I went back to the Elim once more after my foray into the world of the damned. It was the youth fellowship and some of the teens had got wind of my transgression. They turned nasty. “Is there no where else you can go?” they asked, “than to a pub? With alcohol?” They shook their heads and muttered ‘backslider’. An older girl stood up to speak and said, with some conviction, that if we weren’t doing right by God that he would just get rid of us. She clicked her fingers. “Just like that.” Several people glanced over at me.

 

I left. I made occasional trips back to St Columbanus in Bangor but not many. And when I moved to Belfast I made no effort to join up anywhere. As an Arts student one has a lot of unregulated time at their disposal. I had always been studious but I found it hard to focus and manage my time. I felt lost. But, there were parties and part-time jobs and boyfriends and my time abroad to which I looked forward immensely. But there was a constant, gut wrenching dread that in the long run, nothing really mattered. Ultimately, I was going to hell.

 

And then, just before the end of second year, before we left to go on holiday, Channel Four showed clips of a documentary based on Nostradamus’ predictions that the world was going to end, on July 4th 1999 to be precise. It showed footage of trees being bent backwards and ferocious waves and lightning. My friends laughed because I had to leave the room when it came on. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” they said. “Catch yourself on.” But one girl did admit that the Book of Revelation terrified her too. Oh shit, I thought. It’s not just me.

 

So back to Montreal and the evening of July the fourth. To my relief the world hadn’t ended and I had fallen into a slightly tipsy slumber. It was a warm evening. Montreal is almost suffocatingly hot in July and the heat still rose steamily from the pavements, even at midnight. I drifted off to sleep with the window open and the gentle cacophony of city life, laughter and car horns and jazz in the distance. I woke to a massive bang. A gust of wind ripped through the room, opening and slamming the door shut again. The white curtain billowed and when I shot out of bed and looked out the sash window I gasped. The scene below was just as the trailer for the show had depicted. Plastic chairs from cafes danced down the street. The trees were bent at a forty-five degree angle from the ground. The sky was streaked with yellow and pink. I lost bladder control.

 

Pulling on pyjamas I blundered into the living room, where my parents’ friends were sleeping on a pull out bed. “Put your pants on dear, “ Lou told Trevor, who thankfully acquiesced. “Lucky you didn’t come in a few minutes ago,” he said. As if I wasn’t in enough turmoil, I now had to erase that image of my dad’s fifty-six year old friend from my mind. Lou tried to put the light on but the power was off. I mumbled something incoherent about Armageddon and she quickly realised my distress. “It’s just a storm,” she said rubbing my back. I hadn’t heard any voices from above, or seen the four horsemen, but I wasn’t convinced. “It’s a warning, it must be,” I said. “Breath” said Lou. Trevor quoted the line from T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, just to show how clever he was, but it really wasn’t that helpful. By now my parents were up and I began to feel embarrassed. Outside the wind died down and sirens shrieked in the distance.

 

On turning on the news in the morning we learnt it was a mini tornado. While storms weren’t unusual in summer, the force of this was without precedent. Three people had died, including a child when a tree had crashed down on to his tent in the garden.

 

My mum and dad were quite worried about my reaction. “Well you’re one to be going out to a tropical island to live on your own,” sniffed my Mum. Not only was Reunion subject to frequent cyclones but it also had an active volcano, so it was just ideal for a person with bad nerves. But I went anyway, and was frequently apoplectic with fear there too.

 

I have since made some degree of peace with myself. I sometimes go to church, and actually find the Catholic services most comforting. I would be lying if I said I still didn’t feel a flicker of terror from time to time. But I recall something a great aunt of mine said. She had lived through the Blitz and the Troubles. She also owned the Donaghadee post office and had to get up at dawn on freezing winter mornings. One day over their coffee break, she and her colleagues were ruminating over heaven and hell, as people in Northern Ireland are wont to do. “I don’t think there’s a hell at all,” said one of the girls. “Of course there is,” my aunt retorted, “we’re in it!” I think of my Aunt Emma often, and I think she had a point.

 

SWB gets fanciful and festive

This morning my kids found a brown envelope by the fireplace. “It has our names on it!” they shrieked.  And so there was, plus a little stamp with a funny little creature, bedecked in red and green. Within they found a letter. It read:

Hello girls,

Here is an early Christmas present, from me, Santa. I hear you have been very good. Well done! Keep helping your mum and dad and tidying up. Remember to eat your vegetables, especially carrots. You will need good eyesight to see my sleigh going past on Christmas Eve.

Tally ho,

Santa Claus

 

Well, they were thrilled and gleeful, especially when they shook the envelope and out fell tickets to the pantomime at the Lyric. I picked them up last week when I went to see ‘What the Reindeer Saw’ (which I do recommend if you need a giggle.) The cashier smiled when she heard my idea and gave me fliers so the girls could imagine what was in store for them.

I thought further on the notion of giving experiences rather than gifts when I trotted into my hairdresser’s earlier. “You should do vouchers,” I told Nuala, donning my marketing head. (In fairness, Riah is almost always packed, so they probably don’t need me sticking my nose in). On I went anyway: “Buy a blow-dry for your buddy.”  Who wouldn’t like that; a blow dry when it’s murky and grey and you feel like a sack of shit in January? I’d love it, especially if the friend minded your kids while they were at it: the gift of gorgeousness and time.

I hadn’t intended getting my hair done at all but then I caught a glimpse of  my barnet in a shop window and saw it was in need of some TLC.

“Squeeze me in,” I pleaded. “I’m doing a story tonight at 10 by 9, and you know I can’t do my own hair.”

“You can do your own hair,” replied Emma, who’s a straight talking gal. You just don’t.”

“All the better for you” I replied, and got nicely settled with my Red magazine and a latte. And oh, the joy the occasion brought me. There was an article by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan of A Visit from the Goon Squad fame, and another from my heroine Brené Brown. What sense they spoke, and what unassuming ladies they seemed to be, considering the success of the pair of them. And had I not stepped in off the Ormeau Road for a spot of impromptu indulgence I wouldn’t have seen the magazine and been thus edified.

 

Emma massaged my savaged scalp (some people bite their nails, I tend to scratch holes in my head for purposes of recreation) and we had a chat. “I’ve been shopping in the charity shops, for Christmas presents,” I offered by way of explanation for what I’d been up to, prior to wandering in to the salon.  (I’d also met LSB for yoga in Hill Street and had brunch in Le Petit Ormeau, so as mornings go, it had been quite marvellous.)

Emma made noncommittal noises as she combed my hair.

“Yes,” said I. “Stocking fillers for the children. They will notice neither packaging nor price tags, so it is senseless to buy useless tat, made in China and shipped over at great cost to the environment. Let us instead buy them pre-loved toys while they are too small to notice the difference.” Emma nodded politely.

 

And here is my other idea, and one that I think you good people will appreciate. It involves a get-together AND recycling, two of my absolute favourite things. Yesterday I went to my friend’s house for breakfast and lined up in her hall were bags destined for Oxfam. “Give me a look through those,” I said, digging out a little red sparkly bag and a wooden toy. This prompted a thought. How about a pre-Christmas bash (and I would suggest late November to get ahead of the game) where guests bring an assortment of items that they want rid of and thus ‘donate’ as potential presents for other children. The host or hostess provides drinks and festive tit-bits on which to nibble while this glorious merry-go-round of gifts takes place. Rejected items can make their way to the school fair or St Vincent de Paul collections.

 

And here comes the best bit! You know by now that I have a great hatred of excessive packaging. So, people could come armed with leftover decorations, (perhaps some newspaper and yarn and bits of greenery) and some creative and environmentally friendly wrapping could take place. Doesn’t that sound like a convivial idea?

 

I must be honest and add that we will be purchasing some shop bought gifts for our kids. I’m not advocating that they get nothing first-hand. But I bought an assortment of toys this morning in the Hospice Shop for under a tenner. On Monday, both the Frank Mitchell phone-in and You and Yours on Radio 4 were about spending less this Christmas. I appreciate that I sound a bit whimsical and mad but any action that stops the bins overflowing with wrapping and plastic on Boxing Day can only be a good thing, right?

SWB gets distracted

The cat and I are having words. I have work to do. I’m trying to analyse a tricky poem and I want to look again at a short story I started last week, which has come undone towards the end. It’s about an auld doll who goes for a massage and finds herself strangely stirred. She gets to  wondering if Sapphic tendencies have laid dormant for years within her repressed frame, but really what is she supposed to do when she’s married and sixty and living in Limerick? This requires concentration. But the cat has other ideas. She has already wheedled another portion of Sheba out of me as she said it was time for her elevenses. A cat can be hungry after a sojourn outside of a frosty morning. I hear the tinkle of her bell and look up to see her sniffing the hob with interest, her little paws atop the work-bench, which in a fit of uncharacteristic vigour I have just cleaned. (See? I’m supposed to be writing. So what do I do? I scrub the kitchen. And now I have to fecking clean it again.) “Get down,” I say sharply. “Cats don’t belong on work tops and tables.” She eyes me defiantly, only jumping down when I leave the laptop and come over. She gives me a disgusted mew. I mew back. Turning she  leads me to her now empty bowl, her tail up in hopeful fashion. Time for seconds she says. Little chancer.

A plump robin swoops in and perches at the window, the shock of red at its throat catches the light. It looks a bit dishevelled and its blast beruffled plume* makes me smile. I eye the cat. She would make short work of it. “You’re going nowhere for a while, lady,” I tell her.

*Thanks Hardy

SWB on Black Friday

I flipping hate Black Friday. I hate the crowds, I hate the frenzy and I hate the way people are goaded, yes goaded, into buying shit they don’t need and can ill afford. Did anyone hear a snippet from yesterday’s budget? The economy’s a shambles. Families may have less to live on next year because of draconian cuts and this messy Brexit divorce.

 

I’m not stupid, or oblivious to the fact that retailers need to make a living too, but I find it hard to repress my despair when people start lamping each other in Curry’s over cut price TVs or being crushed in a stampede to snap up a pair of Nike Air trainers. And I don’t buy into this notion as mooted by one of the guests earlier on Talkback, that that’s just how society is now, so we have to accept it. But is it? Is it really? My Facebook feed this week would suggest the contrary. Friends have posted less about binge-shopping for Christmas and more about charitable initiatives, such as this one from Barnardos to gather used and new toys for children at Christmas, and another from Concern to donate to the Rohingya crisis, (worth doing now because until December 17th the government will match every pound which doubles the value of each contribution).

 

I suppose now I’m going to sound sanctimonious, but there needs to be some sort of antidote to the relentless beat of the corporate drum. So much of the shopping is the adrenaline thrill of ‘bagging a bargain’ and calculating your savings, with a smug little pat-on-the-back and an ‘Aren’t I clever?’ look towards your friend who’s the mug who’ll have to pay full-price next week. Alternatively, you could use your imagination and leave the graspers and grabbers to it and think of different ways to spend your money, (if you’re lucky enough to have any.)

 

Tonight I’m going to the Lyric and while I’m there I am going to collect tickets I bought for the kids and me to see the pantomime in December. In the spirit of festive fun I’m going to put the tickets in an envelope, write their names in fancy writing, (as though an elf with a talent for calligraphy has been at it,) and leave it on the hearth. It’s going to be an early Christmas gift from Santa, and hopefully they’ll be as excited about having an enjoyable experience as they would be about a tangible gift. I’ve been spending the last year trying to declutter, so I don’t want to spend the next six months tripping over mounds of shite in the form of more plastic toys.

 

I’m not a miserly old git. There will be stockings and there will be presents on Christmas morning. I was as excited as the kids last year when bleary eyed we opened their gifts. But there wasn’t masses of stuff and the clearest memory I have of Christmas Day was the Wallace Park Run with our friends, and the kids playing on the swings later and LSB whizzing along on the zip wire. (I have to confess to getting torn into the bubbly at my in-laws and falling asleep in the car to Bangor to see my folks, hence the rest of the day lost a bit of clarity.)

 

So here’s my wish-list: A ten class pass for Flow Studios, so I can start my year all blissfully stretched and soothed; a copy of Female Lines, since it’s a beautiful book and one I’ll want to keep for posterity and it may even inspire me to try a bit more creative writing of my own; and keeping to that theme, LSB has promised to buy me a subscription to Judy Blume’s on-line writing class. With all these diversions, the house is never going to be cleaned again. But then again, if I get a handle on the clutter and don’t have to keep shunting piles from one end of the house to the other, that job might become more manageable too.

SWB ruminates on life and writing

Ironing tea towels, that’s where I’m at. I’m even contemplating addressing the blocked plughole in the shower. It is most unlike me. What ails you, SWB? I hear you ask. Well I shall explain. I have an assignment to complete for the novel writing course I started in September with the School of Open Learning at Queen’s. I am thus doing just about anything to avoid getting down to it.

I am wracked with self-doubt and crippling insecurity. Who am I to think that I could even come up with the idea for a novel, never mind start to write one? (I should add that the tutor requires 2500 words of said novel, not the first ten chapters).

I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird on audiobook,  and she’s full of good-humoured advice on helping me shout down all those mean voices in my head who whisper “you’re shite, who do you think would want to read your drivel anyway?” Sometimes I attach a face to one of these voices and to them I say SC-REW YOU , like that cake-chomper played by Matt Lucas in Little Britain. In real life I’d scuttle on past, head down, so it’s all quite liberating really.  “Just keep writing,” urges Lamott, “and churn out that shitty first draft.”

Colm McCann has some sage advice too, but my favourite is quite succinct: Put. Arse. On. Seat. It’s not easy, I can tell you. Even trying to get this post out has been a challenge. So far I’ve done a few squats, been to the loo and had sharp words with the small child who’s not in the form for sleep.

And then there’s the mindfulness approach, where you just sit for an hour and attempt to keep your mind on track, and concentrate ONLY on the task at hand. This means reining in the red setter that runs amok in your head pulling  your attention in every direction, other than your writing. (I use the red setter analogy because I’ve met a few in my time and none of them have been near wise.)

But the biggest obstacle is just myself. I’m not great at saying “Give it a go! It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit pish. Lives won’t be lost if your character’s under-developed or your dialogue could be sharper.”

You will see in the photos I’ve included a bunch of flowers from Memento on the Ormeau and a pink, leather bound notebook, adorned with the bird the moment, the flamingo. My  friends brought these the other night when they came for dinner. I swear to goodness, they could have eaten in James Street South by the time they came armed with wine and gifts. (Still, I’m not complaining since I’ve met enough stingy folk to last me a life time.)

I’ve used these gifts as an analogy to highlight my fear of failure. You will notice how the flowers are still arranged in their gift-wrap, and if I were to open the book you would find its creamy pages unmarked. I fear, of course, that if I took the flowers out I would never get them to look as perfect as before, and I don’t want to demean such a lovely book with my inane ramblings. I’d rather leave it blank than see it thus debased.

But I won’t. I’m going to stop being a wimp and set to it. A while ago I watched Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability in which she advocates that we start opening ourselves up to risk and possibility. In not doing so, she suggests that we will never live the lives we really want. And if you think all this stuff is total bullshit then you REALLY need to watch this Ted Talk since that’s exactly what Brown thought herself before devoting years of study to it.

So I may produce some God-awful drivel for my course assignment, or it may be just about alright, for a first attempt at writing fiction. But I’ll still feel better than if I spend the next week just folding those frigging tea towels.

 

 

 

SWB gets a rude awakening

IMG_1716

I have woken up in a bed-ful of bunnies. Not real bunnies, though  in fairness LSB was in ‘Pets at Home’ yesterday and sent me a photo of a particularly fine specimen, so could happen yet. But no, at 6.45 both children pile in. “We’re making a rabbit hammock! Put your knees up!” Bun upon bun is arranged in a line. “Chug a chug a rock star, whoooo” sings the older one on repeat. “Oh fuck me.” I whimper, feeling tangible relief that I have not the merest hint of a hangover.

Bunnies tumble as I ignore their protests and crawl in beside LSB in the single bed in the spare room. The small child flicks on the landing light and nearly blinds us. “This is like Guantanamo Bay,” I sigh. She breaks into a rousing chorus of ‘Jingle Bells.’ No, says LSB. “It’s much, much worse.”

“The library book!” I shout. It’s Monday so it’s the small child’s library day. Every week we forget one or both children’s library book. I’m not even working; how can I be so rubbish at this? We started searching last night but to no end. Their room is strangely devoid of books. “Have you taken them all downstairs?” I implore. Both shrug enigmatically. They are now sitting in a large toy box, the toys upended on the floor. “It’s a car,” they explain. “VROOM VROOM”. Good God. I hunt through the bookcase. I hunt through toy boxes. Despondently I retreat upstairs. “You’ve got this,” I tell myself. “You can, and will find this frigging book with the hedgehog on the front.” Suddenly it dawns on me. I open their Ikea kitchen and find it amid a pile of hardbacks.

I hold it aloft as I enter the kitchen. LSB wordlessly pours me a cup of coffee. His stubble makes him look lupine in the half-light. “Morning my love,” I say, giving him a kiss.

SWB mulls over the mundane

IMG_1715

I am in the grips of PMT. I hope to God that’s what it is anyway otherwise I’d be thinking early onset dementia or maybe Parkinson’s. I’ve just dropped a tin of homemade banana bread on the floor and cracked my head off the microwave door. Good rule to remember- always close your microwave door, no one needs being near scalped of a Sunday evening. My friend last night told me her pal always knows when her period is due because she completely loses the ability to park. Parking has never been my speciality so yes, I can identify with that. If you see a demented looking woman on the Ormeau in a silver Qashqai stand well back.

 

The nesting urge has also begun. I was out a lot this week (quick aside, Noble in Holywood is a gorgeous spot, staff are warm and funny and the soft jazzy music was the perfect soundtrack to the meal. However my cod main was a bit bland and the dessert was miniscule. And for £6.50, come on folks, it wouldn’t kill you to put another dollop of ice cream on the side of the chocolate delice.)

 

On Friday night then I set upon an ecstasy of laundry. Whites, colours, school uniforms, even a sporty wash since himself has been back to running with renewed vigour, even limping for the last ten miles of the Dublin marathon with the cramps from hell can’t hold him back. (But what is he running away from, the psychoanalysts may ask?) No prizes there: a premenstrual wife, a grumpy cat and two children who refuse even with the dangled carrot of a toy from Smiths to stop wrecking the joint.

IMG_1714

face of thon, (and in my bloody bed too)

Then I stumbled upon the notion of separating all the washed and dried clothes into different baskets, his, mine, girls and a separate one for uniforms. To paraphrase Parklife from Blur, this gave me a tremendous sense of well-being, but then I heard Johnny Cash ringing in my ears, that line from Hurt, ‘what have I become?’ (I’ve never heard the Nine Inch Nails version). But in my defence, to make the task more enjoyable I had been listening to Mogwai’s new album and as I sorted and folded it had become quietly meditative and soothing. It can be hard for me to organise my cluttered head so to establish a sense of order over such a humdrum thing as laundry was quite satisfying. I nearly took pictures and then I thought CATCH YOURSELF ON WOMAN. NO ONE IS THAT SAD THAT THEY NEED TO SEE YOUR PANTS, FOLDED OR OTHERWISE. So you are spared that treat.

 

But to go all philosophical on you (and I promise I’ll make this short) sometimes it’s the small things. The children, aside from trashing the place, were in glorious form this evening. We had a wee jig along to Shiny Happy People on 6 Music and listened to a funny dinosaur story on C-Beebies. Kids just like you being there, that’s what they’ll remember. If I were back at work I’d be in the throes of Sunday night blues right now, instead of typing this, sipping a small glass of wine and exhaling. I used to teach Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and this was its premise, to savour the moment. The kids would have been like “Ye whaa?” And in fairness, one could think, choir practice and milk-floats in the diner, is there no end to the banality? But in the end, these were the things the characters treasured. When I’m knee deep in domestic drudgery I remember his words and his play and I think I’m pretty damn lucky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWB needs an argument settled

IMG_1671Just throwing this out there, Trump may be in South East Asia trying to appease relations so World War Three doesn’t erupt, but here on the Ormeau there are different negotiations afoot.

The question here is, is this outfit an affront to the eyes? I’m just after saying to LSB “What do you think of this ensemble” and he said “You look great! It’s mental like, but looking good!”  (I think he’s just relieved that I’ve started wearing make-up again because I was poorly there for a week or two and was running round like a right troglodyte.)

SWB- Elaborate please. How’s it mental?

LSB- Well, you have green trousers and red shoes.

SWB- Pink and red shoes. And there is pink in the trousers

LSB- I think it’s just the green trousers. They are very green.

SWB- Are you saying I look like a leprechaun?

LSB- A bit, but a cute leprechaun, one I’d take for a drink if she was single.

He’s a charmer alright, that LSB one.

But this interchange raises an important issue. There are not enough coloured trousers in Norn Iron. Now imagine you were on the continent: there you would have to don your shades, so bedazzled would you be with the salmon pink and violet and turquoise hues, and that’s only the men.

Back to Belfast and I’m sitting here in Kaffe-O surveying the clientele. Waiting on his takeaway flat white is a fellow so bewhiskered that a peregrine falcon could be hiding in his beard and he wouldn’t notice. Digging into boiled eggs at the bar is a chap with scarlet socks and a floral short but it’s hidden under a sludgy green jumper.  There’s not a pair of bright slacks in sight, apart from mine obviously.

But oh, stop the press: a chap has just emerged from a booth wearing a fabulous orange duffle coat. It is flamboyance made manifest and  screams “Bring on Bonfire night for I am full of autumnal cheer!!” But still, it’s a coat, not trousers and that is the theme for today. From my observations, people are happy to take risks with facial hair and outer wear, but alas with not denims.

However, on Saturday night we threw a dinner party for friends, one of whom arrived sporting the most wonderful mustard cords. What joy they brought to the occasion.

SWB readers, should be start a trend and inject some colour and luminosity into our wardrobes as the evenings darken and with that, almost by default our moods?

And to return to my original question, what’s the verdict on my outfit?