SWB on visiting cats and chaos

Are you ready everyone for this morning’s tirade? Because, this week, (although we’re only mid way through) I am at the end, the very end, of my tether. I am demented, driven daft and distracted (all at the one time) by the state of my f**king house. Even worse- a lot of it is my own fault. I wanted a dog. And, it turns out, there’s rather a lot of work involved. Animals it seems, attract other animals. Would you believe it another cat has rocked up at our back door, ambling in out of the brambles out of the back. The children thought that Bramble would be a suitable name for him, but given his rotundity have christened him ‘Fat Bramble’. With his vocal range and girth he’s like the feline equivalent of Pavarotti. He is a beautiful tabby and white puss with a temperament to match, unlike our dour and truculent Izzy, who’s only pleasant when you’re dishing out her Sheba. Problem is he has wreaked havoc since he arrived. The aforesaid Izzy took immediate umbrage, blamed the dog for this outrageous intrusion and decided to go for the poor greyhound. The dog ran off in terror and took a massive dump in the living room. All this before 8am. It wasn’t the best start to the day. My house is in a big enough state of chassis without these shenanigans.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a little video about my endeavors to recycle because I was going at it great guns. I had a system and it appeared to be working because I had actually just managed to off-load a lot of stuff for TerraCycle. But people, it seems that I am being thwarted at every turn. The dog.The f**king dog. She’s a sight houndand can sniff out anything food related in a matter of seconds. However she likes to wait until we on the counter. That was gone. As we had run out of green compost bags I had scraped some peelings and leftovers into a foil container. It was on the floor, licked clean. Then the blighter headed into the front bedroom where I am storing all my recycling. She found the bag of cat pouches which I had painstakingly washed and ripped a load of them to shreds- the floor was dotted with fragments of foil, catching the light. And no matter how fastidious one tries to be while cleaning, there was a distinct aroma of Sheba ‘Prime Cuts’ and ‘Fine Flakes in Jelly’ lingering in the air. That’s the last time I’ll be doing that.

The truth is, I could actually spend my entire life cleaning the house and sorting the recycling and it still wouldn’t be done. On Monday night we went down the Ormeau to Shed (Eat Out to Help Out oh yes, please I am in) and you’d be entitled to think ‘check her out, having her dinner in a restaurant of a Monday evening’ but the truth is, I instigated the meal by saying to LSB: ‘If I have to look at the f**king state of this shit show a second longer lives are going to be lost.’ ‘Let’s book a table,’ he replied. Few things cheer me more than a glass of Shed’s cracker of a Prosecco. 

Other people get a skip. They get a skip, and they f**k everything into it and take back control of their lives. I can’t do this. No, instead I go around to their skip and start hauling out stuff that they’ve chucked into it. I can’t help myself. I can’t bear the thought of adding more to land fill, so round I go, lifting out plastic sea-shell shaped sandpits and elderly storage units and chipped plant pots. ‘I will put this on Freecycle,’ I say, giving myself a self-righteous pat on the back. Indeed I intend to, but it doesn’t happen.

So yesterday I took action. ‘Feck this feeling miserable business,’ I thought. We had a new chest of drawers and a Billy Bookcase arriving from Action Cancer on the Ormeau so this spurred me into action. I popped some clothes belonging to LSB on a Facebook Zero Waste site and they are being collected tomorrow. I popped an ad on Gum Tree for a dog bed I thought we might use but never did. I sorted out some of my recycling, asking my children to help.

I felt a bit better.

To sum up, if you want an easy life, don’t get pets, unless you really like the smell of Dettol. Have no principles at all. F**k everything straight in the bin and to hell with the oceans.

I considered this, briefly, Then I thought, wouldn’t it be awful? I wouldn’t be here now, tapping away on my laptop in bed with a greyhound lying alongside, keeping my right leg warm. Life wouldn’t have the same richness if I could make the coffee in the morning without my cat shouting at me. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without a sense of revulsion if I wasn’t obsessed with recycling. I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t policing what everyone was putting in their bins.  It would be a half-ass life really, and who wants that? And if anyone wants to claim Fat Bramble that would be great. (Or if not, offer a cantankerous tortoiseshell a home so peace could resume here. I think that would be a fair exchange. )

(This is Tilly, hugging her trauma blanket after Izzy went for her). 

SWB on why period shame has to stop. Period.

Saturday Shout Out for ‘Shared Threads’

This week I’m on about periods. What’s that you say? Periods, really? Again? Well hell yes, because for once I’m not just whinging on about my own (and the flipping big massive nuisance that they are) but I’m chatting about my epic friend Kirsty King who founded the charity Shared Threads’. Wait til I tell you: Kirsty is a SUPERSTAR. Initial impressions would lead you to believe that Kirsty is mild and unassuming. But not a bit of it- this woman has a core of steel and grit like you could never imagine.  When she learnt that millions of girls worldwide miss weeks of school every year because when they have periods, Kirsty decided that she couldn’t sit on her hands and do nothing. And so began ‘Shared Threads’- a collective of women AND MEN who make recyclable sanitary cloths and send them to India. This initiative is not just about giving girls their own bag of period  pads- it’s so much more than that. It’s telling them that they are valued; that they deserve respect and that there is no shame attached to their bodies, not during their periods or at any other time.

Here in Northern Ireland we don’t much like talking about periods. I know this because I talk about mine all the time. I find it’s quite a useful way of shutting down a conversation if it gets a bit tedious. People, especially men, move along swiftly when you mention PMT or a crampy tummy. The Mothership gets very irritated when I write about mine on the blog. I can almost guarantee that she will lift the phone sharpish to tell me that no one wants to hear about my menstrual cycle, or my mood swings. ‘Too much information!’ she will say.

So imagine growing up in a country where there is a huge stigma attached to the female body and its cycles. I don’t think I’d cope very well. In certain parts of India, periods remain a taboo subject and because many young girls have no access to pads they then miss out on going to school. This is why Kirsty joined forces with an NGO who distribute pads and provide information in areas where this is likely to occur, thus alleviating the confusion and anxiety felt by these girls.

On International Women’s Day I joined Kirsty at her workshop in Portview Trade Centre to see every stage of the making process and see how I could get involved. I have a great aversion to sewing machines as I am risk adverse and they require far too much concentration. Happily, for the likes of me there are other ways I could contribute and I was given the infinitely easier job of cutting up towels which form the absorbent part of the pad. I took a bag of towels home with me that day and cut them up over the course of a few evenings.

During Lockdown, work didn’t stop for Kirsty, as her team of volunteers continued to snip, stitch and sign hand-written notes, staying in contact and dropping off their handiwork at each other’s doorsteps. I asked her for a few more bags of towels and she gathered up some for me. Since then some of my friends have taken a few towels each and snipped away. It occurred to me then that we could to get together of an evening when it was safe to do so, and a jolly soirée was had. We called it a ‘Cutting Party’, which sounds like some sort of tribal ritual but just meant that a small group of us  sipped while we snipped at my table in the garden. I do love an activity- I think conversation flows (pardon the pun) better when your hands are busy.

 

Everything about Shared Threads excites me. I love how, with the exception of the PUL (a waterproof fabric that is used in the pads), everything is made from second-hand material. I love how by repurposing household items we are reducing waste, and by switching to cloth pads there is ultimately less plastic in the ocean. Over the last year I’ve been using a mixture of cloth pads and period pants and it makes me feel better that I’m contributing less to plastic pollution- especially in the throes of this pandemic when the PPE is flooding all our landfill sites, and ‘reusable’ doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore. (I’m not saying it isn’t necessary, just that it’s happening right now and if we could off-set it in any way then that would be good).

So I’d like to direct you over to Kirsty’s fabulous blog where you can learn all about her endeavours, see how you can help and perhaps even consider becoming a patron so she can keep doing this for as long as women need it. We need to put an end to period poverty, and this is one glorious way to go about it.

(I think what really makes these pictures is my banjaxed shed as a backdrop.)

SWB on The John Hewitt Festival

This year The John Hewitt Summer School had to be shifted on-line as Covid continues to wreak havoc. I thought I’d take the opportunity to post up a blog I wrote about my experience two years ago when I was lucky enough to receive a bursary and head down for a week WITHOUT THE CHILDREN. (You know I love them dearly but flip me it was great to get away for a bit).

August 2018

If I had to use one word to describe The John Hewitt Summer School, it would be this, possibility. ‘Why don’t you apply for a bursary?’ suggested my friend, but I didn’t think that I would be eligible. I write a blog, and tell a few stories, I didn’t think of myself as a ‘writer’. But it turned out that that was enough, and I was thrilled when I received confirmation from the Community Relations Council to say that I had been awarded a place. On the table was the chance to attend a full week of events and a 3 day workshop of my choice. As a busy mother I don’t get the opportunity to indulge my creative and literary side in this way: to say I was excited was an understatement.

Upon arrival at the Market Place, I met a few people who read my blog, and had heard me tell my stories at the Tenx9 events in Belfast. ‘It’s you!’ they said, ‘It’s Sour Wee Bastard!’ I have found my people, I thought.

I had been thinking about writing a memoir, and have been for some time. The Mothership was less keen. ‘Write what you like dear,’ she said, ‘But just wait til we’re all dead before you consider publishing it.’ I think when it comes to memoir writing many share the same anxiety. The material is so raw, and there is always the chance someone will be offended, possibly someone to whom you are close. ‘Write your story,’ said Ferdia Mac Anna. ‘It is yours to tell.  Do what you like with it afterwards, but write it, for you at least.’

I felt so fortunate to have managed to get a place in Ferdia’s memoir workshop. In the group, we took turns to share, and Ferdia gave each one of us the full weight of his attention and experience. He honed in exactly to what was relevant; what sentence to keep, what to omit; what said too much, and what didn’t quite say enough. Under his gentle but incisive direction, I felt myself grow as a writer. It felt part tutorial, part therapy session. People opened up and shared. There was a palpable sense of connection in the room, and when Ferdia said ‘You all have stories worth writing, and I would want to read all of them,’ we believed him.

I was daunted by the possibility if reading at the Creative Showcase on the final Friday of the week. In the run-up to the Hewitt I thought I probably wouldn’t do it; especially because it was memoir, especially because I knew the story I wanted to share. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But when Ferdia asked for readers I was one of the first to volunteer; such was the confidence that he, and the rest of the group, had given me.

When I read my piece, after paring it down to its essentials, the words chimed so it sounded more poetry than poetry. I’m no poet, but reading my story I felt I could be. As a writer I have always put restrictions on myself and what I’ve learnt over the past year is to at least give myself permission to try, and my time at the Hewitt encouraged this further.

When thinking about the week, I keep coming back to the word ‘connection’ too. At the opening lecture I spied Richard O’Leary, another regular at the story telling event, Tenx9. He was also staying at the Armagh Royal School, and had a similar sense of direction to myself. Together we wandered round, deep in chat, only to realize we’d no clue where we were. ‘I can just imagine having to ring your husband’ he tells me. ‘She was last seen looking disorientated on Scotch Street.’

When Michael Longley and Imtiaz Dharker  read on the first evening, I sat, rapt by their performances. After I bought their books and waited to have them signed. ‘The last time I saw you read I was incubating a child within,’ I tell Michael Longley. ‘It was 2013 In the Ulster Museum.’ He smiles and I take my copy and make to leave. ‘What did you have?’ he asks. ‘Tell me their names.’ He tells me how lucky I am to have two little girls, and says my hands must be full. I am amazed and touched, that this Titan of verse genuinely wants to know about my children.

I tell Imtiaz Dharker that I found her poetry about her late husband profoundly moving. She smiles and thanks me. ‘I’ve lost someone too,’ I say. ‘I want to start writing about it now.’ ‘Do it,’ she says, emphatically.

What I feel at the Summer School is a sense of validation of myself as a writer. I mingle, chatting to novelists and poets without a sense of inhabiting a different world. The generosity and the willingness to of the other writers to share theoir knowledge and experience is is immense. Angeline King advises me how to use my time more effectively, and along with Byddi Lee warmly welcomes me into the Women’s Aloud group.

I tell Maria McManus how inspiring and pertinent I find her poetry, in which she shares my concern for the environment. She lives near me in Belfast. ‘Let’s meet up,’ I say. ‘I’d like that,’ she smiles. I chat with Michael Hughes and tell him how I re-read The Iliad last year and how excited I am to read Country. I devour his novel in great greedy gulps and in a blog post later that week I imitate his style to show the Fury that is bath night in a home with two small children.

One of the sessions that resonated with me most was Malachi O’Doherty in conversation with David Park. Together, they encapsulated the importance of art in helping one transcend the everyday and tap into something more profound. Exposure to art, in whatever medium, affords us a glimpse into something luminous, and it is this which made me so very grateful to spend this week away in Armagh.

It is too easy as a mother to lose oneself in daily tasks, and to stop tending to oneself. This is why writing has been such a solace to me and has helped me redefine a sense of ‘me’. At the John Hewitt, I was utterly myself, for a solid week. I write and that feels enough.

 

 

 

 

SWB gets soaked on Staycation

I have a few bad habits (numerous some may say) but at the top of the list is my inability to read the small print. Failure to do this has left me stranded at an airport the size of a Texaco garage in Zanzibar; cost me £3000 for 6 week’s accommodation in a tiny shared flat in Madrid, and in the most recent case, having to schlep up a muddy lane at 4.55 of a morning because the Small Child needed the loo. (In the rain, obviously, because it was Donegal). Now listen, I’m no princess (though LSB may disagree) but over Lockdown I was watching ‘Sex and the City’ and I scoffed when Carrie went on a trip with Aidan and was traumatised on account of seeing a squirrel. How I chortled when Miranda and Steve went on their honeymoon and she bitched non-stop because couldn’t get on the Wi-fi. What she was whinging on about I don’t know: she had a bath, FFS, and a mighty fine one too, with rose petals and ambiance.

I, on the other hand, arrived at the cabin I’d booked for Wednesday evening, busting for a pee, only to be told that the toilet was back up at ‘Base Camp’, a 300 metre walk up a potholed lane. WTF? I almost said, as it was chilly and we were only out of the sea at Rossnowlough. I was clad  in my blue and pink hooded towel over a damp swimsuit, and looked like a giant bedraggled flump. The directions on LSB’s phone had seen us drive through Ballyshannon several times. If you’ve ever been to there you will know that as town centres go it’s a bit tight in places and a tricky one to navigate. By the fourth time we drove up the incline of the main street my nerves were shredded. Leaving the town and driving out by the lake we ended up inadvertently CROSSING the border again, at which point I demanded that we pull in look at the directions properly. I attempted to find them on my phone while he nipped into a petrol station toilet to relieve himself. Out he came sharpish as a rather large woman hadn’t locked the door properly and in he’d barged on top of her, prone upon the throne. He was a whiter shade than I’d ever seen him and was all for making a speedy exit but I was shouting ‘DON’T GO ANYWHERE TIL WE HAVE THE RIGHT GRID REFERENCES!’ The Sat-Nav kept trying to direct us into the middle of Lough Erne so we finally did the sensible thing and rang up, a cheery voice answered and directed us to the location, a mere 4 minutes away.

My mood was bleak, on arriving, to find that there was no mains connection to the cabin so after a mercifully hot shower, (also up at ‘Base Camp’) I had no way of drying my hair and no drier either (‘Sure I wouldn’t be having one of them things!’ said Kiwi, the co-proprietor, in an accent that was pure Donegal via Deutchland, from whence she originally came.) I had planned on making myself look nice for the evening, applying my new Tropic bronzing serum and shaving my legs. None of the above happened, and nor, I suppose did it need to, given that I was donning jeans and my grey woolly jumper from Marks and Sparks.

Anyway, it was all grand. We taxied out to Smuggler’s Creek Inn where we met our friends and partook of gigantic bowls of mussels and scampi. There we made light of the lack of lighting and our total inability to work the wood burner, through the haze of several glasses of their splendid House Red, and the sheer joy of being out together, in an actual restaurant.

However, when nature called at 5am for the Small Child, it was all less amusing. Down she came from her little ladder hopping from foot to foot, which I clambered about hunting for shoes and a coat. In the meagre light of the solar lamp I could only find my 90 pence flip flops from Dunnes. These were no match for the puddles on the lane, and in my vest top I was quickly drenched. My mood, people, was bleak. The sheep had baa-ed all night and the rain against the windows was apocalyptic.

But, (and here is the funny part) in the morning, opening our little wooden door and wakening to verdant green of the hills ahead, I was quite uplifted. All thoughts (or almost all thoughts) diminished as a pale sun tentatively emerged. Donning sensible attire we headed to ‘Base Camp’ or the communal kitchen, where a basket containing fresh eggs, homemade bread and sausages and bacon awaited us. On went the kettle and good humour returned.

The owner Paul came in to bid us a good morning and we could have been there yet chatting to him, so fond is he of a good yarn. ‘What you be doing coming to Donegal  without your wellies,’ he laughed, shaking his head at the stupidity of townspeople as I bemoaned my lack of foresight in bringing a pair with me.

So actually, I would recommend it. It was homely (I suppose without the home comforts of mains electricity) and the girls were so happy: pooling about stroking the velvet noses of the horses and giggling as the wee collie tried to herd them up along with the ducks.

It was all rather lovely and reminded me of being little, trotting about my Uncle’s farm when the rain didn’t bother me in the slightest. And then, on coming home and going into the Airbnb app, I found it all. All the directions and all the ‘small print’ (including advice on footwear).

It was great. We’re thinking of going back as I’m a wee bit taken with Donegal now.

 

 

Saturday Shout Out for Recyclers

Last week I made a little video about recycling. I hate videos. I seize up inside my voice sounds strangulated and nasal. I watched LSB attempting to edit this one and he kept pressing the pause button and I looked as though I was having a stroke.

However, I thought about writing it all down instead and that was for too much work so I’m firing it up anyway. I will then will get back to my Saturday evening of lying on my sofa with the greyhound in front of the fire, (EVEN THOUGH IT IS AUGUST). FFS.

So here’s 7 minutes of your Saturday that you’ll never get back, but you may learn a wee bit about washing out crisp packets and cat food sachets.

If you are interested in recycling such items then here’s a few contacts for you. These are the guys in East Belfast;

This is the FB page for Kicks Count;

And finally this is The Painting Mum who is an all-round brilliant reuse and recycler of just about everything.

*LSB is the husband (Long Suffering Bastard) for the uninitiated.

SWB gives Stand up Paddle Boarding a Whirl

F**k me everyone, I don’t know about you but you, but I am totally feeling the mental load this week. In some ways Lockdown was easier, wasn’t it? Now of course I’m thrilled to be reunited with friends and the massage I got on Thursday was long overdue. But I was living there for a while with nowhere to be at a specific time and I quite liked that. Now the kids are pestering me constantly to have their friends around and the door is going steady and it all feels a bit ‘full on’ after 3 months of near hibernation.

I also had a couple of deadlines and god-awful forms to complete which turned my brain to a bowl of savoury mince and when I got those finished I looked around the house and clutched my heart. The Mothership called up on Thursday and ventured inside for a few minutes as she’s still ‘wary about enclosed spaces.’ Well, she was certainly wary of mine and retreated to the patio area sharpish.

‘I’ve never seen the like,’ said she, as she tried not to trip over the greyhound while walking backwards. ‘It looks like that time your brother thought we’d been burgled’. She was referring to the summer of 1999 when I moved back to the family home in Bangor and the next day headed off to Montreal with my parents for a holiday. My brother came home from an evening out and seeing my bedroom door ajar and the chaos within, he got straight on the blower to Canada to check that it was in that state of chassis BEFORE I left and that some intruder hadn’t ransacked the place while he was at the pub.

The problem is that I haven’t been able to chuck out all the kids’ home-schooling stuff because I harbour notions of still doing a wee bit occasionally. (Twice. I’ve managed this TWICE in July because they make their opprobrium known in such a high pitch that my inner drums tingle and my temples throb.) Kids are melters, aren’t they?

They prefer to spend their days creating dens for themselves and the dog, so blankets and cushions get trailed outside and back in again covered with little bits of detritus from the garden: twigs, leaves and once a large slug which had attached itself to the underside of a plastic chair. I was near sick. The slugs up this way wouldn’t look out of space on Ridley Scott’s Alien: they would turn you.

But happily, I had respite planned…. The other day I met my friend Martina (of Harper’s Yard fame) and she mentioned that she had a paddling boarding trip to Limavady on Sunday. So I just invited myself along. In times gone by, I would have been self-conscious about doing the like (both inviting myself and heaving my less than svelte form into a wetsuit) but this new me doesn’t have the same scruples.

I tried stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) in Spain once but only managed to stand up twice on the chippy choppy waves. I had all the poise and balance of a blancmange. So what I recommend is to start on the river. The water on the Roes is brown and coppery in hue, the iridescent blue of the Costa Brava it is not. But man, it was GLORIOUS. With the verdant reeds on either side and the cliff face of Binevenagh Mountain as a backdrop, it reminded me of kayaking in New Zealand’s South Island. And our instructor was SO utterly in love with the area. This is where he grew up and this was the river he learnt to swim in with a proper old-school rope swing with a tyre. He was so keen to show off his homeland to us, this little corner steeped in history. I want to go back and stay in a pod, pop the kids in kayaks and pootle about in the water like Mole and Ratty from ‘The Wind in the Willows’.

So, if like me, your pickled brain is crying out for some tranquillity, perhaps you need to hit the reset button and hop onto a paddle board. It doesn’t have the same adrenaline rush of surfing, but I’ve enough tumult in my life at present, and can live without being swooshed up the face with a wave and swallowing mouthfuls of salt water. Some days you need the meditative calm that paddle boarding brings, and if you’re new to it, then this is the perfect place to start.

 

 

 

 

SWB has a wee rant to herself

First world problem alert, but do you want to know what is really pissing me off? Now it shouldn’t be a biggie, when you think of the atrocities worldwide and the ever-present threat of the virus  (no matter what that f**king clampet Boris says, back to normal by Christmas MY ARSE), but what is annoying me is this week is WHAT TO WEAR. Let me elaborate.

If you go on holiday to Spain you pack a few dresses, your swimsuit and your trainers if you fancy a run. (Yes, I used to do that until lockdown snuffed out all desire to exercise). So here I am, in Northern Ireland where earlier, as I sipped a coffee on the Ormeau Road in the sun I was sweltered, but within 20 mins I was home and the breeze had the goose bumps on my bingo wings standing to attention.

All this outdoor living, it’s a whole new fecking pain in the hole, isn’t it? Normally, when entertaining, we sit inside because we’re Irish and that’s what we do. And it was fecking great because you only had the interior of your home to clean and your garden could be a right shithole because no one saw it. But now you have to tidy your kitchen, your bathroom AND the patio area, which for me is no easy feat when everybody and the hound are home and trashing the joint constantly. It is not, and never has been, my natural inclination to get a yard brush and sweep up nature’s debris before guests arrive but now it has to be a regular occurrence. Pebbles, leaves, dust, and a tiny dead shrew deposited by the cat, that’s the shit I had to deal with last night prior to friends arriving.

To return to my original point: there are many added complications when it comes to dressing for the season here. When entertaining al fresco, my attire of choice is an empire line maxi dress which conceals my portly tum, the evidence of my current penchant for cake. My choice of footwear would be my trusty Camper sandals which LSB bought me three years ago and are still in decent enough nick. But I can’t wear these can I, because I’d be f**king freezing. I don’t even think that Rhianna can get away with the socks and sandals look and I think we can all agree that she’s ‘some wagon,’ as the Derry wans would say. So last night, I had to don jeans, warm socks, my Converse, a top and then a light jumper on top of that. And as the night wore on, I needed to wrap a pashmina round my shoulders.

And this is AFTER I took a trip to Hillmount yesterday where I splurged. I bought, (and fecking near emptied my account in the process), a GAS HEATER FOR THE GARDEN. I have to tell you folks, I don’t spend that amount on things under normal circumstances. The usual way of things is buying from Action Cancer on the Ormeau Road and heaving stuff out of skips. (The children are beyond scundered with my current obsession with skip diving). But considering the money I’m saving by not going to Spain I concluded that by sinking the money into a heater I could instead enjoy a semblance of summer living here. I decided on a gas heater since I knew that I just couldn’t relax and have any craic at all if I also had to keep a fire pit going. I know they’re atmospheric and I’ll miss out on the crackle and the burning embers but I had to kill the poet within and go for practicality. Let’s be honest, nice as they are, fire pits are a flipping nuisance and you have to be watching them steady, and be flinging on logs all evening. There’s also the potential hazard of sparks flying out and singing the shins off your guests, or an annoying child clattering into it and burning their bottom. No, none of the above thank you; I’ve enough to be doing.

Back to last night and all my layers. The heater did throw out some warmth , but we have to face it, we are living in northerly climes here and gas heater or not, you have to cosy up with coats if you don’t want a foundering.

So tell me before I go, how are you all coping with this new outdoor life malarkey? Do you layer up with leggings under your long skirts, have you swapped your sandals for shoes and your frocks for fleeces? And sorry, but BORING BASTARD ALERT here, any hints you have for keeping the place tidy without losing your absolute mind then send them my way. I got a few good suggestions from a reader recently and I’m slowly managing to sort my shit out, the key word being SLOWLY.

 

 

 

Shout Out Saturday for ‘The Painting Mum’

I’m doing something new today and giving a shout out to people I’ve come across  who are doing something brave, or fabulous, or different.  It’s all too easy to get chained to the same, (that’s a great phrase coined by the Mothership) get melted by the mundane and put off reaching your potential.

So first up, I’m introducing ‘the Painting Mum’, aka Lucinda Scott, who thought to herself, back in June, ‘I’m actually very good at painting. I’ve no bother sourcing the materials. I’m keen on reusing things. Sounds like a business to me.’ So she set one up. Just like that. And it has done so well ALREADY that she’s thinking of packing in her job in the public sector and making this her full-time profession.

I came across Lucinda on a Facebook site which is all about minimising waste, where members post ads if they are looking to either get rid of stuff or find an item for free. So far, I’ve given away a small bike, some children’s toys and a ton of cardboard packaging which went to Lucinda so she can pack up her lovely things and post them safely.

She paints bottles, jars, coat hangers, flower pots with bespoke patterns so you can add some cheer to your homes during these depressing times. It’s the personalised aspect which makes them perfect for a unique and thoughtful gift.

But the bit that gives me ALL THE FEELS, (apart from the artistic talent of which I’m damn envious) is that the items in her collection  are all objects that people may just be chucking out. Her objective is to take something that could have ended up in landfill, and then she sprinkles on her fairy dust and makes it beautiful and enduring. If she does need to purchase supplies for her art she sources it from local suppliers. Since she’s a serial ‘collector of things’ she has become the ‘go to’ lady if you need something, as she picks up bargains, is a self-confessed hoarder and has transformed her garage into a storage unit, so when neighbours need boxes for moving house then they look no further than Lucinda to sort them out.

Another thing I admire is how she has created her entire office space out of repurposed items or furniture sourced from pals or bought second-hand. I love a good skip-diving session myself so this makes me very happy (and validates my own eccentricities). My absolute favourite is this shelf unit made from her daughter’s old cot. At the top right of the picture you may spot a chalk board she has fashioned out of a cardboard box. What wizardry is this? I feel like I have neither imagination or talent after seeing this. My child’s cot is lying in pieces under the eaves and is probably beyond assembling into anything recognisable now. (Hmmm…. suddenly I’m thinking of a job for LSB later.)

Here’s a link to her page so if you like what you’ve read here then look her up and share if it floats your boat. I’m pretty sure that you’ll be seeing her stuff everywhere when all the shops open again.

And, if you’re in the Belfast area and you have any ramekins, or quirky bottles or jars that she could put to good use send me a message and I can collect for her. The house is already a tip so to create a holding area won’t make it look much different really. Maybe I’ll get LSB to re-assemble that cot later and create me a nice wee shelving unit. ‘STE-vey……..’

 

SWB on Staycation

I think my husband may never request a long weekend off work again. The man’s demented. Every five minutes there’s either a person or a pet annoying him. The poor fella just wants a sit down and I’m all ‘STE-vey’ (he hates it when I place the emphasis on the first syllable as he knows I want something).

These things  can be as diverse as driving us all to Templepatrick to pick up a greyhound, or schlepping off to Killyleagh for a kitten. Often they’re as banal as asking him to fix my Mac when the fan is making a noise similar to an Airbus 777 during take-off.

He’s started to pre-empt me. ‘Does this involve a trip to a garden centre’ (occasionally) ‘Does the dog need walked?’ (sometimes) Do I need to nip to the Vineyard?’ (definitely).

Today I was on about home décor, both inside and out. ‘We need a chiminea,’ I say, ‘that’s a must this summer.’ Last night a friend hosted a soirée and it was a glorious affair altogether. She has transformed her garden into a cosy utopia for sipping wine of an evening, toes toasty under a woollen blanket with the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Homemade samosas and tandoori chicken- I’m telling you- she sets the bar high, this one. It could shame a person. Another friend has done the same: Lockdown has unleashed her inner Monty Don and she plies you with fruit punch before sending you home with chard and lettuce as part of your five-a-day. Her fire pit is a delight. Our garden has no such merits. ‘Come here and pray the sun comes out or you’ll be ball-froze,’ we might as well say.

Thus, I was on about outdoor furniture, buying a new selection of bedding plants, painting the fence and the aforementioned provider of warmth. It doesn’t matter how fragrant your French Marigolds are if your guests are foundered. ‘Hillmount’s open until five,’ said he. ‘But you’re on your own.’ At this point he’d already driven to Murlough and back, via Castlewellan and understandably wanted a rest to himself. It’s no joke chasing a greyhound the length of the beach when she’s spotted a cocker spaniel with whom to frolic.

So I sat down with a cup of tea and the Guardian Weekend Magazine, and weren’t they doing a wee feature on creatives during Lockdown. So that was depressing. Seriously, if you ever want to feel inept, open the bloody Guardian. You have the ‘Experience’, where someone has wrestled themselves out of the jaws of a crocodile and now works with amputees in Rwanda. You have Tim Dowling who can make a three mile bus trip wearing his fave mask sound entertaining, and THEN you have this crowd, within whom the confines of Lockdown has fired the flames of their artistic talents. One woman has been painting the beams of her 16thcentury cottage with her homemade cardboard stencil. This is but a trifling endeavour for her, given her usual endeavours, but only because she’s had her 9 week old baby attached to her person with a sling throughout. I mean COME ON. When my first born was 9 weeks I considered it an achievement if I showered before midday. Some days I celebrated the event with a M&S caramel square and a cup of tea, before attempting to have a nap before she woke up again.

With this fresh in my  mind I wandered into the front room which is a sadly neglected area. When we moved into this house we loved our living room. Our kitchen was tiny, so we ate our meals in front of the TV and I stared out the window at all the neighbours when I was heavy with child and unable to move.

Then we built the extension and it has become the ‘turfing area’ where toys and a defunct table football languishes. The huge dog crate adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. The sun has faded the sofa and chairs and piles of games and papers gather in every corners. (What IS IT with me and cluttered corners?) It has become a source of embarrassment because it has tremendous potential.

Hence there I am, googling feature walls and pestering Himself about whether he could paint the boring Ikea book shelves in hues of glorious pink to add a bit of oomph, or if I should contact a painter.

‘STE-vey…’ I begin, but he’s disappeared. I find him upstairs asleep, with the dog at his feet, the two making happy snorting sounds as they exhale. ‘Ah feck it,’ I think, and lie down beside him. The children are playing with their Lego. Quietly. You have to seize these moments. Sure no one really comes into the front room anyway, so where’s the rush?

Myerscough’s new bookshelves. Photograph: Courtesy Morag Myerscough

Listen in to SWB on her favourite books

I’m doing it slightly differently this week and instead of writing a review of some of my favourite books, I’m going to direct you over to some musings that I recorded for Radio Ulster, (click here to listen) based on books which made a big impact on me.

You will notice that all three have a strong female protagonist- characters who are eccentric and not instantly likeable, but therein lies my fascination.

I’ll just focus on Elizabeth Strout in this post simply because I saw her read from her latest book ‘Olive Again’ in Dublin in November and gosh, but I was taken with her. Calm, measured and wry- I could definitely see a wee bit of Olive in her, although she’s slight and blonde. (Olive is large in both stature and personality).  Strout said that she was sitting one afternoon, minding her own business, when she thought : ‘Oh here we go,’ as with a clatter, Olive barged back into her sub-consciousness. Sometimes, when my children are annoying me, I’ll do an impression of Olive, with a  flick of my hand above my head. ‘STOP DOING OLIVE,’ they say.

Strout’s novels are more a series of vignettes interconnected by appearances by the main character. Strout says she does this because a whole novel of Olive would be ‘a bit much’ and I get her point. (Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible follow a similar pattern, both of which, incidentally, are marvellous)

She’s never afraid to expose the absurdities of the human condition, but does so with sensitivity and compassion. In short, I wish Strout could just live here, in Belfast instead of the USA and be my friend. I’d ring her every time I felt like a sack of shit and she’d see me right.

Incidentally, last September I did two glorious workshops at the Aspects Festival in Bangor with Patsy Horton (of Blackstaff Press). We looked closely at Lucy Barton by Strout and Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park. If such an event were ever to happen again I’d be there in a jiffy. The aim of the sessions was to see the techniques writers use to draw in the reader. In a way it was demystifying the writing process, but also showed to illuminate that the process only works when they sprinkle in a bit of their magic.

The Mothership always said that instead of teaching I should be a newsreader. Listen in and see if she was on the money. (I’d much rather chat about books than read the news. I’d be unable to suppress my apocalyptical levels of angst if that was my job. No impartiality there.)