SWB wonders if Mercury’s in retrograde

It’s been a funny week. We’ve bounced our sickness back and forth, feeling awful one moment and not quite so shit the next. There have been events throughout which I haven’t wanted to miss, but everything I’ve been to or seen has been shot through with a weird vein of imperfection. Perhaps, as my yoga teacher says, ‘Mercury’s in retrograde’ which seems to interfere with everything, particularly technical stuff, but there’s been an edginess to the week, as though at any moment things could disintegrate into madness.

 

On Wednesday I went to the Limelight to see the band Superorganism. I took a friend because poor LSB was out of sorts. I felt sprightly enough to go, but I have to admit, after hearing a few tunes by the support band, I wilted.  I’d been looking forward to the gig but my enthusiasm started to wane. Then on came Superorganism, with a stage backlit by wild, psychedelic flowers and I perked up. I was jigging away merrily when suddenly the sound died and their visuals disappeared. It’s an 8 piece band, but it was their lead singer, a teensy weensy Japanese girl, who took control. But one cartwheel across the stage wasn’t going to cut it. I was tired, and I wanted to go home. My friend works in Newry and I thought she’d prefer to head too, but ‘Cool your jets,’ she said, ‘It’s only been a few minutes.’ Then a chap up at the front volunteered his services as a human beat box, and the lead singer rapped along. They were fabulous, and when the sound returned and they did the rest of their set to rapturous applause. My friend met some former students who greeted her with huge hugs and I met the lovely Emer Maguire, (who I’m sure now thinks I’m stalking her.) It was all most convivial and I left with a sense of gratitude that the audience had been so big-hearted and generous.

 

Things went a bit pear-shaped again on Friday night, when the performance poet Tony Walsh did a show over at the Strand Cinema in Belmont. It was a BYO event, and I imagined small groups of us gathered around tables with flickering candles, as though we were in Montmartre awaiting Aristide Bruant. But instead we filed into the aisles in screen 4, and up Tony bounded onto the stage like a golden retriever on speed. His quick-fire delivery can leave you trying to keep up, especially if you’ve a cold and your head feels like it’s full of mushy mashed potato, but despite my lurgy I loved it. Words flew like sparks. His poem ‘Coming Home,’ gave me such goose bumps that I felt the stubble on my legs pierce through my tights. He read about broken relationships, about death, about those left adrift and uncared for by cruel government cuts. They resonated with us. Well, most of us. There were a few in the audience who seemed unaware of the etiquette at a poetry event. They chatted, loudly; they sloshed wine into cups and through their noisiness they disrupted the energy and the flow of the recital.

 

But Tony read on. Beautifully. In his poetry there is pluck and fearlessness and defiance. He peppers his poems with profanities; he doesn’t shy away from life’s ugliness and absurdities. On that stage he personified all the vulnerability and pain of the human condition.

 

Had he wanted, he could have shot down the raucous listeners with a few sharp lines of invective. He didn’t, and in many ways their presence made the experience more powerful. Life isn’t perfect. It is pretty shite at times and we just blatter on, finding what jewels we can within the mire and holding on damn tight to them.

 

Maybe these guys just didn’t now the craic. But they were still there, at a poetry recital and perhaps the rhythm and the wonder and the rhyme will stay with them, and I hope it does. For me, it was irksome, and I wish he could have read in peace. I felt uncomfortable. But in the highly charged atmosphere it made the need for poetry more pronounced. I expected the crowd to leave in the interval, but they come back. Clearly they needed poetry too.

SWB tries to find peace within

So, we’ve been playing a fun game since the start of September: it’s called ‘Pass-the-Pestilence’, and it goes like this. Someone, usually a child, brings an evil bug into the house, and it infects the rest of us, so we all take it in turns to feel like a bag of shite. At this present moment, we’re a cough and a splutter away from painting a red cross on the door. ‘My throat’s a bit scratchy,’ I say, and LSB retorts ‘Scratchy? You’re lucky, I feel like I’m swallowing shards of glass.’ Then he heads out to run 18 miles in the rain.

 

To add to our grievances, at the weekend the Small Child  developed the chicken pox. It began as a snottery cold which floored her on Saturday, but come Sunday she seemed in much better form, and the phrase ‘caged lion’ could have been coined for her.  To neutralise some of the energy within, I suggested a stroll up Cregagh Glen and all seemed well, as she took off up the hill in valiant strides. However, upon our return, bath time revealed  tell-tale spots. ‘Bugger,’ we said. ‘It’s the pox.’ The poor child had some huge nasty looking blisters up by the next morning, and over the course of the week, we’ve all been feeling poorly, in a variety of ways. I suppose you can’t escape it; every time we go down to the school there’s at least two children with what looks like toxic waste coming from there nose. (No judgement by the way, ours are the same). Thank God they haven’t introduced water charges here, because my hands are raw from washing them after cleaning noses, including my own.

 

As an aside, have any of you, my esteemed readers, ventured up the Cregagh Glen? It is EXQUISITE, a sanctuary of beauty and calm, like a tropical oasis just off the carriageway. It amazes me every time. There’s even an ‘old-school’ rope swing, with a pair of elderly tights attaching the stick to the rope, which is a highlight for the kids, with it’s devil-me-care attitude to Health and Safety Regulations. Here is my child mid-flight:

 

LSB manged to stave off any symptoms until yesterday, when he looked peaky, and this morning he announced, ‘This cold is a real dick,’ as he sneezed into his granola. He has now upgraded it to a ‘viral infection’, and a sort of sickness ‘one-up-man-ship’ has emerged in the house. I felt better and was out and about, while he worked from the sofa. He even seemed slightly resentful of my good humour, since he himself felt so rancid. ‘What do you mean you feel better now and I still feel rotten? What lack-lustre strain did you get?’

 

Needless to say, the mood has at times been subdued. It’s hard looking after children when you feel like there’s a platoon of tiny mice with pickaxes trying to hack their way out of your skull. I couldn’t even get the folks up to help since Dad fell victim to shingles a few years back and we didn’t want to risk reigniting them. Bastard of a thing, shingles. Such was his dose that I ended up ringing a woman in Fermanagh who had a ‘charm’ for them, which she kindly posted to us. I can’t remember what form it took exactly, and nor can he, given his state of delirium, but it involved applying some unguent while reciting Biblical verses. Happily, it appeared to despatch the shingles sharpish, which may seem far-fetched, but we were quite convinced it worked.

 

My Dad is a great believer in divine intervention. As a student at Queen’s, the doctor told him he’d never play rugby again, which caused him terrible distress. But, resourceful young man that he was, he took himself to a faith healer who prayed over his ankle and Hallelujah, it worked, and back to the pitch he went. That was until some big fella tackled him, smashing his ribs to bits and putting him in the Royal. Mum said ‘No more rugby for you’ after that, because every time he inhaled he turned a lurid shade of green, and she couldn’t be doing with it.

 

I’m half way through Anne Lamott’s wonderful memoir ‘Travelling Mercies’, which renders me much more likely to believe in miracles. I see many similarities between Anne and myself, although even at my worst I didn’t binge drink beer that tasted of goat urine for an evening’s entertainment; give me a Hendricks and Fever Tree tonic anytime over that nonsense. Like me, she is also a poor patient, and tells a great story about having a raging head-ache, and asking her neighbour to drop her son off to school. That would have been fine, except the neighbour had stage four brain cancer. She justifies it by saying he was feeling chipper that day, so it wasn’t too great an imposition. I could just see me doing that to a kind-hearted friend. ‘Here, you, I know you’re mid-chemo, but would you mind leaving my pair down to their Spanish class? I’ve a fecker of a period this month.’

 

That’s a long-winded way of explaining why the blog has been quiet the past few days. It’s hard to concentrate when not only are you feeling poorly but a child is watching ‘The Little Princess’ loudly, for the umpteenth time. Of all the children’s programmes, I like ‘The Little Princess’ more than most, as Julian Clary does the voice of the narrator, which quite tickles me. However, after continual bombardment, I have taken to speaking in a Yorkshire accent, which even I find grates upon the nerves. But I must say, despite their respective ailments, the wee ones have been little troopers and I’m very proud of them. (Flip me, but Anne Lamott must be doing me some good.)

SWB fesses up

Can I let you in to a bit of a secret? I really like my children. They are funny and sweet and usually kind, and especially since they’re back in a routine, I’m quite taken with them. When I get them in from school we park ourselves on the sofa in front of ‘Ben and Holly,’ and I just sit and sort of ‘nuzzle’ them, smelling their hair and marvelling at the curve of their cheeks. Every night, even on the days when they’ve been at their most mischievous, I go in and gaze at their faces in repose. They’ve pushed their beds together and sometimes sleep with an arm slung over the other. It’s unbearably cute.

I often call LSB over, so he doesn’t miss out on the joy. ‘Would you look at them,’ I say. ‘Aren’t they just lovely? I mean, have you ever seen such gorgeous children?’ He just nods and smiles, knowing I won’t be quite so enchanted in the morning when they’ve refused three different types of cereal.

So why then, do I only write about the bad stuff, when they’ve pissed me off good and proper?

Back in August I was out for dinner with a few girls and we were sharing horror stories about the holidays. ‘Thank f**k it’s almost September,’ we sighed, ordering another bottle of red. I had written a post about mine being particularly irksome, which one pal had found very funny. ‘I hope people realise that I’m quite fond of them, even when they are being melters.’ I joked. ‘Hmmm,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if it’s always that clear.’

I nearly spat out my Malbec. ‘Shit!’ I thought. I know I complain, loudly and often, but surely it’s obvious that I love the bones of them? Didn’t I take the career break so I could spend time at home and be a better mum? I asked another pal for her take on it. ‘You might need to be more explicit,’ said she. ‘Sometimes I detect a sense of ambivalence.’

Perturbed, I started to harass LSB. ‘You’re the best advert for contraception I’ve ever seen,’ he said, ‘keep writing the blog and there won’t be any more issues about primary school places.’

Feck away off, I told him.

The thing about children, is the paradox of it. One moment I could almost EAT mine, looking on in wonder at them, and the next, I’m  yelling: ‘I AM LEAVING THE BUILDING,’ as I scarper to out the front door. The practice of parenting is just relentless, or as Anne Lamott puts it: ‘Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janice Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you.’ Thanks Anne, I can always rely on you for a good quote.

But if there’s one thing worse than being a whiney mum, it’s being a soppy mum. We all know a few. ‘Dear God,’ we say, ‘not another picture of that child on Facebook,’ #myheart, #myworld, #thatface and obviously, #blessed. PASS THE BOKE BUCKET. I was in Forestside last Saturday, hunting for fresh thyme for a compote (yes, I was reading Anna Jones in The Guardian again) when I met another Mum from school. We’d both delivered our kids to the same party so had a two hour reprieve. ‘Isn’t it brilliant,’ we gushed. ‘YEOOOOO !!!’ (sometimes the West Belfast husband rubs off on me.) It’s not that shopping with your offspring is hell, it’s just hard to plan your weekly dinners when one wants you to buy them a Twirl and the other is crying because you won’t buy her another shite costume for Halloween. ‘Let’s make one,’ you say. ‘You always say that but you never do,’ she cries, as you lambast yourself internally as that is indeed the case. Shopping with a side of pure guilt and misery mixed in.

Anyway, said mum and I got chatting and she said that like me, she thinks her kids are brilliant but she has a pal who posts about three horrifically saccharine photos a week and it makes her feel a wee bit nauseous. ‘I mean,’ she explained, ‘mine say funny things too, but I’m not going to bore the bastard off you about it.’

I appreciate though that I’m very lucky, because I have the grandparents I can talk to ad infinitum about my kids, and it never bores the pants of them. My mum has actually told me to WRITE DOWN all the funny things mine say incase she misses anything. Sometimes I ring and mid-sentence she cuts me off. ‘Hang on, I’m away to get a pen.’ she says. ‘I want to get this just right.’

She has a way of making me feel really good about it too. ‘They’re just so clever and well-spoken. Wherever can they have heard these things?’ ‘Well obviously not their mother with the English degree who is sometimes on the radio,’ I retort.

I know I’m fortunate. I have everything I’ve ever wanted, which I guess makes me feel like a selfish, ungrateful fecker when I feel cross.  But irked I am, when I find half a cheese toasty shoved down the side of the sofa, or have a massive row on my hands because they can’t wear their trainers as they’re wet. ‘Of course they’re frigging wet. I didn’t ask you to run into the tide wearing them did I? And then to bury them in the sand!’ FFS. (That was yesterday after a trip to Bangor. It’s still fresh in my mind.)

In short guys, my kids are great. LSB is a dote. But sometimes you just need to clear the f**k out for a bit, and it’s all the nicer when you return.

 

 

SWB is busy doing nothing

Is anyone else wondering ‘Where the f**k did September go?’ Yesterday, I saw an competition on Facebook and all entries had to be in by the 30th September. I thought to myself, I better get a wriggle on then! On I went about my business until I realised: it was the fourth of October. Now I wasn’t totally unaware of this: I had written cheques, deposited children to clubs and to classes so I wasn’t completely oblivious to the passing of time. But on some emotional level, I hadn’t caught up.

 

Life just gallops ahead, and perhaps it feels more of a shock because I had said to myself, that once the girls started school again, I would ‘get organised’. Four mornings out of five I fully intended to sit at my desk and write, on whatever project I had going. Some days I’d then trot to the gym, do some errands and then pick up the kids, when the little blighters would then dictate the rest of the day.

 

Here’s how it’s working out. I’ll use this morning as an example of how my ‘writing’ goes. I open the lap-top to get started, see an e-mail, and after replying, notice a play on at the Lyric. I book said play, after texting a friend to invite her to join me.

 

I chortle along as the poet Murray Lachlan Young reads a poem about bongo drums on BBC 6 music and then look him up to see what else he writes. He is truly very funny, a master of rhythmical comic verse. ‘WRITE’ I tell myself, but my phone is going berserk from the PTA Whatsapp group, so I make a call relating to lights for the Halloween Disco. (‘But how many DAYS til the Halloween Disco,’ asked my kids this morning, all fizzing and popping with excitement, like little walking-talking tubes of sherbet.)

It’s a good day, so on goes a wash, in the hope I can hang it outside. The microwave really is overdue a scrub, and look! I’ve a couple of elderly lemons, so I squeeze them into a bowl for a good, eco-friendly cleanse. I wash up a few plates and cups, then butter a slab of banana bread for myself. I have not written anything. It is now 10.40 and I remember I have a prescription to get and wonder if I should grab a coffee in Forestside. We’re also out of fruit. I hate being out of fruit. We REALLY need fruit. The light spills into the kitchen and the sky is blue. It’s the perfect morning for a stroll, en route to get fruit.

 

Colum McCann has great advice on writing, which I’ve shared before. I remember, because The Mothership rang and said ‘Please refrain from using words like ‘arse’. MOST uncouth.’ Well sorry. but here it is again. ‘Arse on Seat.’ Three simple words to make you get on with the job. I advocate turning off all social media alerts on your laptop and putting your phone far, far away. A nicer option would be a three day jaunt to the beautiful River Mill retreat near Downpatrick, where Paul Maddern cooks all your meals  and you don’t have to contemplate the state of your microwave. However, you might have to be a ‘real’ writer to go, not just a blogger who blogs about not writing. ‘Sorry, you’re not eligible,’ Paul might have to say, which would be wild hard for him as he’s a nice, polite sort.

 

So I’ve achieved exactly NONE of my set objectives, yet still feel I’ve been very busy. The thought of a coffee in my keep cup at General Merchants sounds very appealing- they also give you reduction when you bring your own drinking vessel. Sometimes I sit and give people the evil eye, as they use their disposable cups without a care. Maybe I better get down there and start saving the oceans, one dirty look at a time.  And I digress again. If you’ve any helpful hints, please get in touch. Or get in touch anyway, because as you can see, I do love a diversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s why SWB keeps banging on about the plastic.

This is less of a Monday moan, more of a Tuesday Trauma. Anyone watch ‘Drowning in Plastic’ last night? Full disclosure: I was tucked under a blanket with a bad cold, and I lacked the necessary fortitude. But I got the gist, and I didn’t want images of chicks with bellies full of plastic filling my dreams. I watched a bit this morning instead, and it wasn’t edifying viewing. Terrifying really- because it feels too late. I’ve come over all ‘End of Days’. If  we’ve already destroyed the oceans to such an extent, then what can we do? Well, I’m not going to get all defeatist. That’s why those mad evangelists refuse to acknowledge climate change and keep doing what they want, because they think the the Rapture’s almost upon us so the preservation of the earth is a waste of time.

Perhaps this is the boot up the backside we need to start prioritising the  environment. We have to stop feeling like a dick by taking our tupperware to the supermarket and asking them to pop in our cheese or sliced ham. We need to fire our Keep-cups into our handbags and store Bags for Life in our car boots. Halloween is looming, as is Christmas- prime time for buying shite we don’t need, wrapped up in excessive packaging. Just stop. Tweet Tesco and Sainsbury’s and tell them why you’re not buying particular products. Once their marketing directors register a spike in complaints raising the same objections, they’ll be forced to reconsider their practices.

There has to be a better way. There was, in the past, and we managed just fine until suddenly the use of plastics insidiously wove its way into the consumer chain, and now we can’t complete a weekly shop without it, in a myriad of forms.

We can’t keep preaching to kids in schools about these issues, then hand them Fruit Shoots and Selection Boxes at the Halloween Disco and Christmas Sale. Or bring them to see Mum and Dad running a 10k race or marathon and see the streets strewn with bottles. It confuses them. Hell, it confuses me.

But we can make it the new norm, to say no. You don’t get anywhere in this life without being just a wee bit annoying. If we want change, we need to pester our councils, our schools and our supermarkets. Will you join me in being a total pain in the arse until we see results? Go on, you will, you will, you will, you will….

If you need any more convincing, here’s the link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bmbn47/drowning-in-plastic

SWB gets irate over plastics (again)

Folks, it’s Recycling Week in the UK., and here’s a fun fact for you: Belfast actually STARTED this initiative in 2003 and then it went nationwide. How amazing, and a big shout out for our city being ahead of the curve. But, last week at Belfast half-marathon, we weren’t exactly covering ourselves in glory when it came to saving the earth. It was a fecking travesty. There were bottles EVERYWHERE: many of which were almost full. There were overflowing bins with all manner of garbage, so I doubt whether every last bottle made its way to a recycling centre. I grabbed a few and took them home and the wee ones and I watered the plants with them. I did the same after the marathon last year. Many of the bottles I rescued were the new mini versions supplied by River Rock especially for the occasion. They had been handed out at 5km intervals along the way so every thirsty runner could have a drink. The fact that so many of these contained all but a few sips suggested that the runners had plenty more than they needed.

 

I wrote this article last April and sent it off to several local papers. It remained unprinted, and I didn’t receive as much as an acknowledgement from any of them. Many years ago I suffered a horrific accident. These same publications were on the phone, often several times a day, harassing the life out of me and my family. Clearly, where personal trauma is the issue, they’re all over it, but what about planet trauma? All that save the earth shit? They don’t appear to give a hoot.

 

Here’s the article I wrote and filed away. Should you like to read and share it, I would be most grateful. If you are part of a running club yourself, perhaps you could advocate the use of paper cups and cones throughout the race. And frankly, I’m so pissed off about the bottle situation, deliberately perpetuated by River Rock and therefore by the Coca Cola company, that I’d be tempted to boycott the event altogether until they review their practices.

Article:

I love running, and I love the environment. Unfortunately the two don’t often go hand in hand. My husband and I regularly compete in ten km races around Northern Ireland. This means that we come home with double the bling, the tee-shirts and the goody bags. I’m trying (and failing) to adopt a more minimal approach to life, and as these spoils of races accumulate it not only adds to the clutter in my home, but in my mind as well.

Marathons make me a bit twitchy these days. On our screens we see marine life poisoned by plastics: turtles who have ingested bags and choked and fish with microfibers clogging their intestines. It makes distressing viewing. But when we, the runners, reach the finish-line, we find ourselves in a different type of sea, our feet awash in a tide of plastic bottles. The focus at these runs is often a quick event shut down, so we can’t be sure whether the rubbish is sorted. Often it isn’t, and this needs to be addressed.

So what positive changes can we make? At Berlin marathon, the streets are lined with volunteers, serving water (and oddly, tea) out of paper cups and cones. I suggest we have more water stops with non-plastic receptacles as one solution. In any one city there are numerous running clubs, who could come together to support competitors and organise the provision of water and the clean up afterwards. Often at the marathon the role of volunteers is vague, but a systematic approach with an emphasis on the care of both runners and the environment would make for a better marathon experience all round.

What about the parched runners at the end? Could sponsors use their imaginations and come up with a specific reusable vessel which runners could them keep them as a momento of their day? And again, there is a huge role for volunteers here, collecting litter and separating out what is compostable and recyclable from what isn’t.

Organisers of all running events should also consider the environmental cost of bulk buying tee-shirts. Just because these can be picked up cheaply does not mean that they should be an automatic inclusion of every race pack. Worrying research has come to light recently about the accumulation of plastic in river sediment. A study of over 40 rivers beds in Northern England showed that every river-bed which was tested contained deposits of plastics. Many of these microfibers come from clothes, which are released into the water systems after multiple washings. This is another incentive to discourage the mass production of clothes containing polyester and to return to more sustainable materials.

Recycling plastics is not a feasible solution anymore. We need to look at alternatives, since the broken down micro-plastics are finding their way into waterways and thus our bodies, the long-term effects of which could be dangerous.

Running shouldn’t cost the earth. But the high I get from running with my friends and the camaraderie at races is being steadily eroded by the over-flowing bins and short-sightedness of event organisers. At our local parkrun in Ormeau Park, Belfast, we have introduced reusable cups for tea and coffee afterwards. This has resulted in saving at least 400 polystyrene cups from land-fill in the month since it has been introduced. Small changes make a huge difference, so as runners, let’s ask ourselves what we can all do to make Irish running events more sustainable.

 

 

SWB hangs on in there

I’ve done it again. Some people pile on the pounds at Christmas, gobbling up mince pies and greasy canopés. Not me. I prefer to work on my spare tyre over the summer months, just in time to don a bikini and inflict myself on the good people of Spain. Beer and crisps. Sauvignon Blanc and an olive or six. You show me a BBQ and I’ll show you how many hotdogs I can chow down in the one sitting. My father-in-law looked on with something resembling awe in Malaga, at my ability to demolish a plate of tapas like a bear on steroids. Munch munch I went, and chorizo, fried feta with honey drizzle and my absolute favourite, ‘polpo’ (or octopus) disappeared in minutes.

 

Back home I’m no better, especially since Al brought his bloody gelato to the Ormeau Road. He’s a lot to answer for, yon fella. Some mums sit, sipping on their americano while their kids scoop away at their wee tubs of Kinder Bueno or mint choc chip. Again, not me. ‘Would that be a new flavour there Al? Give us a nice waffle cone of peanut butter sharpish there. It’s been a long morning.’ Gelato is just the thing on a sunny afternoon. Or a rainy one, I’m not fussy.

 

So, tired of pouring myself into my jeans like cement, I decided to take action, and my friend Ioana has introduced me to the class ‘FunXtion’ at the PEC. Now the name, is, frankly, a bit of a misnomer. It should be called, ‘Pack up your dignity in an old kit bag, and leave it at the door.’

 

The instructor, Paul, has you doing all sorts. I can imagine him, dreaming up these activities in the pub with a pint, chortling away to himself. ‘Wait til you see those eejits on Tuesday, how I’ll snigger,’ he must say. He makes us crawl. He watches as we push big boxes with weights on top. ‘’Refine your position!’ he gulders. ‘Ten seconds left! MAKE. THEM. COUNT.’

 

He gives a run through of all the exercises at the start and then you trot round with a partner, interchanging after a minute of torture. I spend most of my time looking bemused and saying ‘You have to do WHAT? Is a sit-up not bad enough without adding a dumbbell?’ If rubber was your thing it would make your day because there’s a fair bit of hanging off bars and straining against resistance bands. I hope there’s no secret fetishists getting a cheap thrill.

 

I do like the class though, because it promotes a certain sense of camaraderie, if only because everyone looks like a right pillock. There’s one fellow, and I’m tired looking at him as he’s at every bloody class I go to. Circuits: he’s there. FunXtion, he’s STILL there. He even came to yoga a couple of weeks ago and I was like, ‘Do you seriously have nothing else to do with yourself mate? And he’s one of THOSE friggers, who goes and SWAPS his kettle bells for even heavier ones when it’s his turn and says ‘WOWAH,’ every time he flings it in the air. I’m always looking on thinking ‘If you let go of that bastard thing I will sue the f**king life clean out of you,’ (that is, if I’m not dead, which is the more likely option, should it clunk me on the head.) But there’s a few other regulars who obviously think he’s a bit of a dick as well so some discreet eye-rolling goes on. It makes me feel better.

 

Then there was an auld fella this lunchtime, and bless him, but his shorts were VERY flimsy and he really ought to have put a wee pair of leggings on. He was no Burt Reynolds and I was thinking ‘I hope to God that junk stays in the trunk because I’ve suffered enough this class without those visuals.’

 

You will see a photo of me, clinging, limpet like onto the same punch bag that minutes early I’d been pounding the life out of, practising my left hook. That was one of the exercises: just ‘hang on to it,’ which for a whole minute is harder than it seems. My thigh muscles aren’t nearly as robust as I’d hoped. But if ever I’m caught in a tropical storm I feel more confident that I won’t be swept out to sea, and can attach myself to a tree, should the need arise.

 

But you laugh. You sweat. And later, when you’re sitting on the sofa with a bar of Green and Blacks and a glass of Malbec left over from the weekend, you feel a bit better about yourself. Maybe I’ll see you there next Tuesday and we can lock eyes and look on with disdain at the show-off together.

SWB isn’t talking politics, is she?

I don’t tend to talk politics and I’m fairly sure my readers already know that I’m a Guardian reading, Green/Alliance party voter. Is there any point getting involved, I think, when round and round we go in ever more depressing circles. It would be rather embarrassing, until we look across the water at the circus masquerading as a government there, and think, well, at least it’s not just us who are being run by a bunch of muppets.

Another reason to stay clear of politics are the nasty surprises which lurk beneath the surface. We’ve all been there, chattering away with people whom we assumed shared similar views to ourselves, when they reveal that they support some bastard party  you wish were every bit as extinct as the dinosaurs they don’t believe in. It takes time to reconcile that they’re still the same people you liked before.

I was the subject of such confusion myself once, when teaching in a Catholic Grammar school. They were a GCSE English class and I was taking them through the poetry anthology and trying to bring some awful poems to life. I always pictured the person behind the dreadful collection as being a flinty old crone who spent her Saturday evenings chaining up swings in playgrounds. Anyway, while trying to explain ‘I remember I remember’ by Christina Rossetti (she was another barrel of laughs) I let slip that I had attended a Church of Ireland growing up. One wee girl almost toppled off her stool. ‘Yes, I’m a Protestant,’ I clarified for the rest of them, most of whom were AGOG. I think they had quite liked me and felt aggrieved or betrayed or probably both, when they discovered I was one of ‘them’uns.’ They seemed quite put out by it.

Last week I was listening to the Nolan show on Tuesday morning when Vinny, (Nolan must have been on his hols) was talking about the cuts to education. I knew already, but hearing the first-hand experiences were horrifying. The funding has all but dried up, and of course the ones suffering are any children who require extra help with their reading and writing. There simply isn’t the money to pay for support staff, and teachers are already battling to get through the curriculum with 30+ pupils in a class. It’s a horrible feeling, to know in your bones, that you can’t give each child the time and attention they need. Teacher friends of mine work for HOURS, every single night. They often stay in school until 5 or 6, before going home to start into the marking and/or planning for the next day. Perhaps they’ve stayed after school to take games or drama or debating, and on Sunday morning they might pop down to Junior parkrun to encourage their pupils, or stand freezing the bollocks off themselves while their team plays rugby or Gaelic of a Saturday.

To think that at every single meeting, these teachers, who have already had their pay or pensions frozen (I can’t keep up but it’s all a shite state of affairs) have to sit and listen to an extremely glum prognosis about the school budget. ‘Don’t be even thinking about ordering books or other essential equipment!’ God Forbid the Executive invests in something important like education. As long as the sheds and out houses in Fermanagh are nice and toasty who gives a shit about the kids, eh?

And yet. Every year, because of the deeply entrenched divisions between the orange and the green, Northern Irish voters still elect the very parties who refuse to go into government and do the jobs they are supposed to do. It’s our teachers who suffer, and the parents pulling their hair out at home because their children aren’t getting the care they deserve and need.

The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what scandals our politicians embroil themselves in, or what hatred they stir up when they purposely make decisions that they know will antagonise the other side. They can do whatever they want, knowing fine rightly, that when they rap on doors needing votes, all they have to say is: ‘Who do you want as First Minister? Arlene or Michelle?’ and they will get the vote, because people stick to their tribes, regardless of how abhorrent the actions of the parties are, and how little they actually care about the vulnerable in society.

So no, I don’t normally talk politics, but I’m frustrated that for over eighteen months we’ve had no government, and being a true cynic, I bet there’s all sorts of nefarious wheeler/dealing going on, but why should it be our children, our elderly and the sick in our society who have to pay the price?

We need to wake up.  Write to your MLA’s and MPs and quote what the principal of your child’s primary school said about their flat-lining  budgets and what that means for your kids. And say there’s no way you’re giving them your vote next time if they don’t sort their shit out.

 

SWB is all chipper. She blames Nick Mulvey

Now, I said on Monday I was going to try and be uplifting in my next post and I’ll give it a go, even if my cold has returned and I still have a lingering hangover from a gig on Wednesday night. If only the wine at the Empire Music Hall matched the quality of their performers, then I wouldn’t have felt so ill after three mini-bottles of mass-produced pish. But no one asked me to drink three, I just got carried away and high on life because any gig by Nick Mulvey is just so mesmerizingly good.

 

I’ve been following Nick’s career since I saw him twelve years ago in the upstairs of a pub in Clapton, and was enchanted. Back then he was, and still is, to be honest, a slight sort of a fellow but then he lets this deep resonant hum out of him,  and there’s something primal in it, a sound that has been around from the start of time, and you think, this is bringing solace to my soul. If you were listening at home you could think to yourself, that’s some big burly fellow from the Congo singing there, but no, it’s a young bearded gent from Cambridge who has just honed the hell out of his craft. You can read a bit more about him here.

 

In an age of X -factor shite, there’s something truly marvellous about a young chap, who, when his gran gives him money for a new guitar, flies off to Cuba to learn from the masters. He studied ethnomusicology and spent time in Africa, before coming back to live in North London, where he trekked across the city to perfect his strumming with a Congolese guitarist.

 

I love these stories, about people realising they have a gift and believing in themselves, refusing to be satisfied until they’ve done their best. There’s something very special about Nick’s gigs because the audience just ‘gets’ him. Goosebumps, I had. He actually had us singing along from his first song, inviting us to join in. I thought, ‘Now come on Nick, it’s a bit early on in the show for that carry on, you’ve just hopped up on stage.’ (Me, ever the cynical auld bastard). But hum along we did, and continued to for many of the tunes, until we were harmonising along as his back vocalists. It was just himself on stage, with three guitars no less, and it felt surprisingly intimate as he told us of his influences, and where’s he goes to write his songs and what inspires him. I desperately wanted a pint with him after wards to ask him more.

 

So good people: away out and buy the albums ‘First Mind’ and ‘Wake Up Now’. The added bonus is that they have a soothing effect on children, indeed wee G (the older child) has often said, ‘Put Nick Mulvey on please,’ when we’re in the car. It’s also music I can actually write to, which is rare for me. So this morning, if you’re feeling chilly and need a wee pick me up, fire on ‘Fever to the Form’ or ‘In your Hands’; hell,  any of them really. So, so beautiful. You can thank me later.

SWB starts the week with a grumble

My children seem to have reached a difficult age. Everything, unless it involves eating sweets or an excursion to a park or friend’s house, is a ‘no’.

ME: I’m just signing you up for gymnastics after school.

THEM: No. Don’t like it. It’s horrible.

ME: (weary) Music then.

THEM: No. WE. DON’T. LIKE. MUSIC.

ME: (melted) Well you’re flipping going to Irish Dancing then and that’s the end of it.

The shouting and the wailing and the foot-stamping that goes on, because God forbid you’d like them to do a wee jig. It’s not as if their Irish Dancing teacher is unpleasant either, unlike my experiences. I remember as a small child being trailed to dancing and the woman was a notorious old bint who shouted and guerned at us non-stop. ‘Hop two three, hop two three: No your OTHER foot. I said your OTHER FOOT are you stupid?’

‘No, I’m four years old and I’m pure terrified,’ (you auld bastard).  Mum tried to bribe us with a trip to a café, but this was the eighties so that was obviously a massive disappointment too. The coke was warm and the coffee was cold ( I can still recall my mum’s face) and the buns weren’t even home-baked, just a few Mr Kipling’s French Fancies which must have been lying out as they were dry as a f**king stick. It was gloomy and depressing and mournful music played in the background.

I was also sent to the GB (Girls’ Brigade for the benefit of my Catholic readers) which I absolutely loathed. Three whole years I had to stick that malarkey, and even the Mothershsip who forced me to go, said: ‘Would you mind if I gave the display a miss this time, because it was VERY long last year. I had my coat on ready to go when the leader said she was looking forward to the second half.’

We used to be sent, my wee friend and I, on a Friday night. Since we were both shit at the P.E. we did extra scripture or crafts as a delightful alternative.  We made baskets out of margarine tubs and such likes, while listening to the definition of what made a ‘proper’ Christian. (‘Jesus in your hearts, have you asked him in yet? Now put the pen lids back on tightly please.’) After wards, by way of compensation, our mums would take us to Papa Capaldis on Queen’s Parade for ice cream. One night I was SO, so looking forward to my two scoops of honeycomb with fudge sauce and a wafer, but my friend’s mum arrived to pick us up looking very harried. ‘Quick,’ she said, ‘the minister’s called and I have to go back and make him a cup of tea.’ My disappointment was acute, but that was nothing compared to my friend who had wanted to watch TV but instead had been forced to join in family prayers, holding hands round the pool table in their games room. I still can’t decide whether she made that up or not, but she said he stayed for ages and the laugh was, none of the family ever crossed the door of the church. Maybe that was why he lingered.

Readers, I tell you, isn’t it a wonder I’m as sane as I am? And don’t my two wee blighters have it lucky, with their Kaffe O and their Al Gelato and Parkrun and no GB? There’s the Monday moan over for the week. My next post will be up-lifting, I promise.