SWB gets guidance from The Mothership

I can tell you what you don’t need, two hours before you’re playing ‘hostess’ at a soirée for the p2 mums, and that’s The Mothership on the telephone.

I’m hosting a night for my friend who sells Tropic products. I’m totally smitten by Tropic with all its green credentials and the fact that it makes me look visibly more youthful, which is no easy feat, I can tell you.

I’m stuck in a traffic jam at the Rosetta roundabout, having collected two fatigued children from dancing. Ive stopped off with the crew at Harper’s Yard to pick up grown-up cupcakes and rocky road bars, when the phone goes. I answer in a weary tone, which is instantly detected.

MOTHERSHIP: I’m just ringing to see how preparations are going for your ‘do’. I’m assuming, from your tone, not well.

SWB (irked) :  I’m fine. Just nipping home to clear up a bit (in other words, gather armfuls of shite and hide behind the sofa or in a laundry bin or shove into one of the many ‘drawers of doom’.

MOTHERSHIP: Well, what I was really ringing for….

(Ah fuck, here we go, I think)

…is to check that you’ve cleaned the downstairs toilet. I would heave in a good capful of bleach: LEAVE for half an hour, NO LESS, then give a good scrub round with a brush. Don’t forget to  flush.

SWB (through gritted teeth): RIGHT.

MOTHERSHIP: You can tell a lot about a person from the state of their toilet. And I’m sorry to say, yours is often in a terrible state. I’d be ashamed, actually, if anyone were to come in, and see it. With regards to the sink, I saw on Monday that it was grimy around the plughole. I advise taking an old tooth brush and a spray of Dettol to that.

SWB: Is that it?

MOTHERSHIP, (AKA MRS HINCH): No, it is NOT all. What I want to know is this: what do you intending feeding these people?

SWB (sighing): Gin and tonic cupcakes, rocky roads, homemade guacamole, an assortment of crisps and a ‘mayonnaisey’ dip from Alison.

(I am very pleased, proud even, with the range of refreshments I have gathered. There are four bottles of Proscecco chilling in the fridge, plus an assortment of red and white wines and 2 non-alcoholic alternatives. I have even scrounged some wire off a child in school and intend to craft little ‘glass charms’ to fix to glasses so people don’t mix up their beverages.)

MOTHERSHIP: Excuse me? Crisps and a dip?

SWB: Two dips. And buns.

MOTHERSHIP (aghast): I’ve never heard the like. I thought a fork supper would be more in keeping. Some of these mummies might not have had time for their tea! They could end up on their ear, with all that drink.

SWB: It’s not until 8 pm, they’ll have had their dinner.

MOTHERSHIP: Would you not put the oven on for a few cocktail sausages? Hard to beat a sausage, I think. Denny are probably your best bet.

SWB: I’ve made a lot of dip.

MOTHERSHIP: Come to think on it, I have some vol-au-vents in the freezer. I could take a run up and they’d almost be defrosted.

SWB (in a state of mild panic, envisioning the Mothership arriving and causing all manner of chaos in the kitchen): NO. Absolutely no need.

MOTHERSHIP (ignoring me  and sounding increasingly animated at the prospect at the prospect of a jaunt): I have a lot of mushrooms I could make into a sauce with a tin of Campbell’s Chicken Soup, and you could have mushroom patties. Do you like my mushroom patties? They go down a treat up at the church.

SWB: I think we’ve enough, honestly. Now I’m nearly home here…

MOTHERSHIP: You sound very crabbed. I’m only trying to prevent another incident like last Easter.

(Oh God. So last Easter, I over-exerted myself. I had all the family for Easter Sunday, then a party on the Monday, with about 12 people and consumed a significant amount of Rioja, and then, on the Tuesday, I had my aunt and her daughter and HER daughter. I was ill-prepared and hungover, if I’m being truthful. Normally, my children don’t eat much, but on that occasion, they ate all round them. There was very little food to go around in the end, and the disappointment was evident).

MOTHERSHIP: ONE pizza. ONE pizza, between how many of you? And then there was supposed to be a soup, which never actually materialised. And left over cheesecake. One slice. When I THINK about it, I’m embarrassed all over again.

SWB: I digest this with a stony, mortified silence. Tragically, she has more or less summed up the situation accurately, except there were a few crisps and some sandwiches; chicken, if I remember correctly.

MOTHERSHIP:Well, before you go, take a duster to those window sills. And put out napkins. I hate it when I go out, and there’s not a napkin; it shows a distinct lack of foresight.

SWB (frostily): Will do.


Despite my mother’s reservations, doubts, even, the night is a success. One by one, mums arrive, bearing bags of wine, crisps and chocolate for children. The Older Child is very taken with the Tropic party, and writes little notes beside products. : ‘Go on, buy me!’ ‘Take me home, I smell fruity!’

The Small Child is ‘serving’ which means I hover around her with a look of desperation to make sure nothing’s smashed. She’s actually very careful. I, on the other hand, have been clumsy of late (I think the period is due) and with that in mind, have borrowed several large plastic glasses. They are much easier to wash and dry, as I can be heavy handed and many’s a wine glass has met its end because of my vigorous washing up style.

People in Belfast, I find, are a most magnanimous bunch. Even friends who can’t make the soirée, lend chairs and plate stands and send up foodstuffs. With at least 6 unopened bottles of wine, I try to press them upon my visitors as they leave. They look almost offended at the prospect. I enjoy a mini-facial from Pauline, our delightful Tropic rep, and as I sit, glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, savouring the hints of vanilla and lime from the cleanser, I think, really, there are worth ways to spend an evening all right. At 12-30 though, my stomach starts to grumble. ‘Feck, I think, ‘a wee mushroom pattie would have gone down quite nicely after all.’

(Rocky Road with dark chocolate, almonds, cranberries and pistachio. Below, gin and tonic cupcakes. Harper’s Yard on top of their game, as always)






SWB takes on the dinosaurs

Is anyone else’s head f**king turned? I mean, where the BLEEP are the holidays? Why is Easter so FECKING late and why does no one just reschedule the holidays and let us all have a break because I’m not coping; the kids aren’t coping, and poor auld LSB’s just had the head chewed off him for looking at his phone when I was trying to talk to him.

I’m fed up people; WELL fed up. I feel like I live under a tyranny of relentless washing, ironing, cooking, and the bane of my F**KING life; getting children and all their paraphen-f**king-alia ready for school.

‘Where are my shoes?,’ (always the shoes.)

‘Why have I no clean vests?’

‘Because all your bastard bears are wearing them, THAT’S WHY.’

‘My show and tell is tomorrow!’ Of course it is. I’ve had the sheet for weeks but only now, at 5-45 the night before have I found it within myself to address the issue. 6- 30 and a yawning child is trying to pen: ‘I’m a Diplocous, my long tail keeps me stable!’ It still looks shite. The printer has spat out a stegosaurus with half a head. We set the bar too high with the previous Show and Tell and have thus created an unrealistic standard to try and maintain. I put the child and her annoying sister to bed at half seven.

‘It will wait til the morning,’ I tell them through gritted teeth. I’m lying of course- it will never wait til the morning. A sodden LSB arrives in from training, drenched and pitiful. Happily, he stopped at The Vineyard. Just as well. I open a Malbec and he starts googling dinosaurs.

‘What would the Small Child be if she were a dinosaur,’ he opines.

‘Which one was the biggest melter?’ I retort, savouring the first mouthful.

‘Here’s one looks like Jacob Rees Mogg,’ he says, and he’s right; it’s wearing a Top Hat and glasses, like some sort of anti-EU arch villain from the Cretaceous Period. If only an asteroid with drone like precision could take him and all those other twats at the ERG out and we’d all, (well all 56% of us who voted remain in NI) be happy.

Anyway. We do some snipping and attaching pictures of dinosaurs to a pin board.

‘I’m a Tyranosaurus Rex! My closest relation on Earth today is a chicken!’

‘Hello! I’m a stegosaurus! My brain’s the size of a walnut, but even I voted to remain!’

I slug more wine. There is still a meal to cook and lunchboxes to wash. I fecking hate lunches. The Older Child will, at least take a cheese sandwich, but ONLY on white bread, preferably from M&S. ‘I NEVER want to eat Kingsmill 50/50 again,’ she declared on Wednesday. The Small Child eats ‘butteries.’ These are two circles of bread, perfectly formed as I take a cookie cutter to a slice of pan loaf and make nice shapes so she doesn’t succumb to starvation. She won’t countenance any class of a filling, so butter it is.

‘You know how we have a donkey cutter?’ she asked on Monday. (We do, I bought it at the Donkey Sanctuary.)

‘Can you make my butteries in a Tyranosaurus Rex shape today?’

‘No I flipping can’t,’ I snarled.

This week, for their ‘healthy snack’ they had ‘vine fruits, two ways,’ otherwise known as a tub of grapes and a smaller one of raisins.

I can’t make the lunches the night before because even though the containers claim to be 100% BPA-free I don’t trust that they are, and so leave this task of slicing and buttering and cutting grapes in half lest a child choke until the morning. See? I can be quite a diligent mummy.

It’s just hard, keeping on top of it all. The air has been a striking, vibrant shade of blue. At pick-up a while ago a mum remarked that her daughter had been told off for swearing. ‘She certainly didn’t hear it at home,’ said the perplexed Mum.

‘Mine TOTALLY hear it at home,’ I said, not to make her feel better, just because it’s the truth. They hear it all, my children, and I hope to God they have the wit just to accept it when I tell them that mummy is just stressed to f**k and they’re not to go repeating it.

If the Mothership reads this I’m so dead. I give it an hour, and the phone will ring, and they’ll be an aggrieved pensioner on the phone.

I’m off- there’s a few facts about a Triceratops I still have to look up.

SWB chats about her innards

It’s been a while, but last night I made it back to a Tenx9 in the Black Box. We heard tales of poltergeists, dour Scots, Irishmen genuflecting to the Queen Mother and Indian cremations. It’s like the theatre of the absurd, and wonderful in every way. Here’s my story, should you like to read it, about my bowel issues, (a theme which my regular readers will be well used.)

Tenx9, Theme- Welcome

‘Please God, let them have at least two toilets,’ was the prayer I fervently said, over and over, as I took the bus with classmates, on my first ever visit to the Free State. My school, Glenlola Collegiate in Bangor, had long been running exchanges with Loreto College in Dublin. During the spring term we would welcome visiting girls to our school, their long maroon skirts reaching their ankles. They made our royal blue jumpers and navy skirts look stylish, rakish even, and for that we were grateful. ‘Awk, would you not come?’ asked one of my pals, when initially I said no.

As a teen, I was most self-conscious. Prone to spots, I feared anyone seeing me before I’d applied my tinted moisturiser. I was also inclined towards constipation, and as a result, very attached to my own toilet. One of the few perks of living in our large but ramshackle house, was that the toilet was at the end of a long corridor. One could disappear for quite some time, without being hurried about their business.

But then Mrs White, our history teacher, asked to see me. Quite sniffy she was too. ‘I don’t understand why a keen young historian like yourself wouldn’twant to visit Dublin,’ she said. I couldn’t very well explain my badly behaved bowels to her, so reluctantly I agreed.

Being an Ulster Protestant, most of my holidays had been spent on a farm where my aunts and uncles lived, near Garvagh. Hence, when the bus trundled into Dublin, the green post boxes struck me as quite different altogether. At Loreto Convent, you couldn’t look right or left without encountering a crucifix or a statue of the Virgin Mary. There were even a few nuns gliding around in their robes. We stood, huddled in our crowd, like cobalt coloured cattle, to be paired off with the Dublin girls. My partner, when I met her, seemed a nice, if  reserved sort. I was however, more worried about her bathroom situation, than her character.

I hadn’t had a relaxed bowel movement in years. In hindsight, I didn’t do much to help myself. In those days, you didn’t run round clutching of bottle of Evian, (other water providers are, of course available) lest you dehydrate in minutes.  I sated my thirst on a slurp of tea at breakfast, a carton of Um Bongo at lunch, and little else. I was uptight and prone to angst. At school, I fretted continually over exams, and in my spare time, by way of recreation, I hung out at the Pentecostal Church. This was another source of anxiety as I was brainwashed into believing that anyone, who wasn’t a happy-clappy born again, or who didn’t namedrop God or Jesus into every conversation, needed saving, and I had to do my bit.

At the time of my Loreto trip, the Elimists were having a mission, called JIM, or Jesus in Me. They had a bus, which didn’t go anywhere, but parked up on Main Street Bangor, and enthusiastic teens harangued passers-by to climb aboard, drink Mellow Birdsfrom polystyrene cups and embrace the Word of God. The testimonies of some visiting speakers featured in a magazine, which one Saturday morning, a few of us were conscripted into delivering. A former Mafia hit man, who’d turned to God, was expected to bring in a big crowd.  How he’d managed to avoid being gunned down, given the Mafia law of ‘blood in, blood out,’ was a miracle in itself. We were also welcoming a German popstar, who since seeing the light, had been cured of his gayness, got married and sired a child.

So off I went to Dublin with my ‘Jesus in Me’ badge firmly pinned to my blazer. Jesus was DEFINITELY listening to my prayers because when my new friend and I hopped on the Dart for Howth, she told me I was to have HER bedroom, all to myself, complete with an en suite. We’d had a busy day; and by the time we reached her house, I thought, just maybe, I could squeeze out a movement. However, my host mother intercepted me and insisted I drink some tea.  Then she asked about my badge. I spoke, for quite some time, about Jesus and our mission and His speedy response to prayer. I’m sure I saw a flicker of relief in her eyes as she showed me to my bedroom.  ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph,’ she said, (at which my eyes nearly fell out of my head: they really DID need me in Dublin,) ‘I forgot to say: they’re STILL fixing the FECKING water pipes on the street. ‘No showers in the morning! A quick wash will have to do you!’ ‘Don’t worry,’ I assured her, I’m very eco-conscious,’ ‘and whatever you do,’ she went on, ‘DON’T FLUSH THE TOILET.’

I literally felt the motion that had been brewing, shoot back up inside my large intestine. What? Not only defecate in someone else’s house but LEAVE it there? It was all I could do to manage a modest pee. The mere thought of it clogged me up even further.

You would have thought, that a year later, when I decided to do French for A level, that I’d have bypassed a trip. But no. I was a slow learner. Off I went, this time to Rennes, a trip that took two flights, the latter of which was so tiny it was like ‘Fisher Price My First Plane’. Miraculously, I quelled the urge to convert anyone on board  as we shuddered and juddered our way to France. My bowels remained steadfast throughout. It turns out, GCSE French teaches you eff all, other than how to say your name and what your parents did for a living. It was EXTREMELY stressful staying with a family with virtually no English. They were, however, exceptionally kind, and keen on sharing their love of La Cuisine Française. I hoovered up the baguettes and pasta and cheese with tremendous gusto. With my mouth thus engaged, I didn’t have to mumble incomprehensible French, just nod ‘mmmm, ‘c’est très bon’, like the village simpleton. It was a win-win situation. Except, of course, for the inevitable. I got very blocked up. Before this impasse, I had been smiley, if perhaps, a tad gormless, but a change in my demeanour occurred, as my stomach became bloated and my smile forced.

‘Mais qu’est elle a?’ my French Maman asked her daughter, in whom I’d managed to confide. Upon learning the nature of my ailment, Maman saw this as the greatest challenge to the French since The Occupation. Off to the supermarché she went,  and came home laden with prunes. ‘Il faut les manger!’ she said, pressing them into my hands. Every time I ventured near the bathroom she would look up, expectantly, only to retreat, deflated, when I shook my head.

When family friends came to visit, Maman introduced me thus: ‘Voici Helen; elle est très, très constipée’. They discussed my condition at length, in grave, sombre tones. I rang my mum. ‘A coffee and a cigarette used to do the trick for your Aunt Nelly,’ she advised. As usual, The Mothership had a point. After 5 long days, I forced out a poo. I had worried that at that stage, I might actually block the toilet, but what I produced was rather feeble. Still, Maman’s reaction made up for it, and I suspect the arrival of a first grandchild would have been greeted with similar enthusiasm.

Happily, my issues were sorted for good after a good bout of dysentery in Madagascar 4 years later.  On the odd occasion, I’ve been known to LONG for a dose of constipation. Now, it’s my turn to be a host mummy, and a steady stream of students and au pairs have passed through our doors. I offer them plenty of water and give them exclusive access to the downstairs bathroom. I still think back with fondness to my host families, who welcomed this highly strung teenager, whose head was as knotty and strangulated as her innards, and offered her kindness, or as in the case of my French Maman, an espresso and a Marlboro Light.






Steady on there, SWB

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone. Today we nipped down to the Northern Lights on the Ormeau for a bit of lunch. There, I met a friend who’s just had a baby girl. ‘Hold her a sec while I sort this bottle,’ said she, handing me the 8 week old bundle, at which my uterus did not so much twinge, as somersault.

BOING BOING BOING,  it went. “Are you sure you haven’t shut up shop? Still time you know, not 40 til June!”

Have a word with yourself, SWB, I told myself sternly. ‘Steady on there,’ said Himself, a look of abject terror in his eyes.

There are SO many reasons not to venture on that path anew. For starters, I feel ancient. I like my sleep A LOT, and am especially fond of a nap. Two, babies are a wild lot of bother aren’t they? All that trying to feed them and burp them and worrying something will befall them as they sleep so just staring, wild eyed and crazed at their dozing forms. And three, they get bigger, and you THEN you have to entertain them.

My pair love a good gallivant round the countryside. ‘I do like a hotel,’ the Older One told me earnestly the other day. Given her lineage, there’s no surprise there. I’m quite partial to the crisp clean sheets and breakfast buffet myself. They are also keen on having a busy schedule (provided of course, that it’s something they like to do). Their favourite time for amusement is straight after school. How they HATE to be told that they’re coming home; END OF, for a bit of homework, TV and a snack. It doesn’t go down well, that sort of talk.

‘Did you have a good day?’ I asked them last week as we trudged up the hill; me, Sherpa-like under the weight of their accoutrements. ‘It was good until we saw you,’ said my first born. Little sh*t. Now, had I told her she was heading to her friend Sophie or Sam’s house, for an afternoon of cookies, merriment and outdoor play, it would have been all hugs and kisses. Sadly for her, (and me,) this wasn’t on the cards.

And the manipulation of them too. ‘Well, if we’re not going out, can we not have ‘so and so’ round?’ ‘No, you bloody can’t!’ I seethe.

You need your wits about you, being a stay-at-home mum. I would advise  ALWAYS to arrange playdates with the greatest of care. I speak from experience, after getting into all sorts of fixes. Here are two situations you must AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Situation One. Be wary of people using you as a handy childcare solution. You need to get wise to those bastards. Listen to my tale of woe.

As a student, I had a classmate who used to stalk me; she was never off the doorstep which I found most irksome. Anyway, I felt a bit bad and though I was trying to distance myself, (before she included herself in every fecking soirée going) I felt I should include her in our weekly pub quiz outing to The Egg. ‘NO,’ said my housemate, emphatically. ‘Do NOT invite her along.  I’m telling you, if you do this once, she will NEVER make a plan for a Tuesday night again.’

Did I heed the advice? No. Did we have a fifth member to our abysmal team for the next 5 months?  Yes. And no, we still won nothing.

Back to my point. A while ago, I was civil, in a neighbourly sort of a way, to a local chap who minded his grandchildren. Fecking exhausted he looked too. ‘Ah,’ he said one day as he saw me hoicking my little ones out of the motor. ‘I know a wee pair who’d love a get together with them.’

So eejit that I was, I said ‘Yes! Of course!’ I made fruit kebabs and sliced up banana bread, slathered in butter. The grandad stayed for a cup of tea, and I ignored my mound of ironing and washing & all the usual household shite which accumulates when you look way for 3 minutes. It was pleasant enough, until as he left, a good hour and half later he said: ‘Same time next week then?’ I gulped. At exactly half two the next week they returned, and the week after that. When I tried to weasel out of it I’d get a text. ‘What’s the story next Thursday then? Are we back on?’

Suddenly I started organising every appointment necessary for a Thursday, so I had a valid excuse and didn’t have to tell fibs. They were lovely children, but the offer was never reciprocated, and I resented the imposition. I ended up racing into the house like a Ninja every time I saw them coming. Solution? Yes, be friendly, but boundaries are ok too.

Situation 2: The guest who comes, with children, and doesn’t f**k off, despite your loudly saying you have work to do/ are going out/ have a life and don’t want to be talking about making pesto and freezing it in handy portions. I have fallen into this trap time and time again, EVEN IF I’VE SAID IT FROM THE OUTSET. ‘Yes, surely, bring wee Hermione round. I’m going out though at 6, so I’ll have to get ready.’ I guarantee, that frigging Hermione is STILL upstairs, decked out in a Cinderella dress and my lipstick at 6-15 while Mum witters on about custard. Homework remains undone, as are dishes, loads of laundry, and inevitably my nerves.

You know those sanctimonious wall hangings you see at garden centres where they’re always playing gospel music?  I suggest they make a sign which reads thus:

Be an ideal guest.

Never stay more than an hour.

If your child starts being a shite, by guerning, eating all round it, or smashing stuff, then take your leave.

Remove your child before your host starts to look mutinous.

Help, or at least offer. Lift a few toys off the floor.

Bring wine, and offer no objection if your host gets stuck into it at 4-30. Who cares if it’s 4.30.


And if you struggle to navigate the quagmire, then go back to work. Yes, I’m actually serious. I have discovered that now that I work a few hours, I simply can’t countenance organising  playdates or freezing my arse off at the park. As I mentioned earlier, my children are not best pleased with the change of circumstances.  However, I have a stash of sweets and access to Netflix. Turns out, if you let them knock themselves out on ‘Boss Baby’ or ‘Spirit’ for a while, then send them into the garden for a quick play, then there’s no harm done.

Damn it. Even after all that my womb’s still having a wee cry to itself. Mother Nature has a lot to answer for.

SWB on dining out with children

(The restaurant story, as promised. This was Thursday night in the Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dalkey.)

Having been unexpectedly relieved of parenting duties for a full twenty minutes in the pool, I’m in fine fettle, and looking forward to a second glass of wine. Back in the room, LSB has donned a nice shirt, and is helpfulness personified, drying the girls’ hair and finding missing shoes. Perhaps I should encourage him to drink two pints at tea-time every night: bath time would definitely be a more relaxed affair.

Given that it’s now 7-15, we decide to dine in the hotel, to ward off any chance of ‘hangryness’ in the children. We learnt the hard way on holiday, that it was ill-advised to go traipsing the streets in search of dinner with starved youngsters.

So down the stairs we trot to ‘The Dungeon Bar and Grill’, which is as cavernous as it sounds with flickering candles and a black concrete floor. Feeling all romantic and remembering  our honeymoon, I squeeze LSB’s hand. ‘It feels like we’re back in Eastern Europe,’ I tell him. He smiles.

‘I’m tired,’ whinges a child. His smile fades.  The restaurant is busy, but the manager ushers us to a cosy table for four, looking out onto a lawn, softy illuminated with Narnia-esque lamp posts.

I sink into a velvety chair, with the sounds of exhalation common in people over thirty-five. A waiter is straight over and we order quickly. ‘I’ll be right back with that wine’ he lies. He returns with water, and nothing else, for a long, long time. It is almost half  8 and the children stare at their tablets with glazed expressions. There is still no wine.

Beside us, a couple have a fraught discussion over burgers. ‘I ordered the blue cheese and bacon,’ says the fellow plaintively.

‘I didn’t want bacon, I ordered  salad with no gherkins,’ says his date.

‘Feck, it’s like When Harry met Sally, but without the charm,’ I remark, (though quietly, as I don’t want a fork in the eye.) The muscle in the man’s cheek is flickering like it’s about to go into spasm. ‘Just leave it,’ he tells the frazzled waitress, and his date opens up her bap and starts flinging off bits of gherkin on to a side plate. I love gherkins and am tempted to request a slice as an amuse-bouche, but I sense such requests would be met wit ill-humour.

Our food is still notably absent and no one comes near us lest they catch the eye of the furious pair beside us. Finally, it arrives. The girls are now beyond hunger. They keep knocking over the condiments and glasses which they are using to prop up their tablets. Their headphone leads are trailing through their chips. There are globs of red sauce on the lovely linen tablecloth. I take a massive gulp of wine as the older child drops a nugget and starts pawing under the table for it. As I open my mouth to remonstrate with her I choke, spraying LSB’s steak with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The couple beside us look on with agonised expressions.

LSB dries his steak with a napkin and munches the last few bites. ‘At least I’d eaten my chips,’ he says. ‘Nothing worse than a soggy chip.’  Now that he’s drained his glass of wine, his mood is ebullient, despite the fiasco of dinner . ‘Please take those children away and let me finish this in peace,’ I plead.

Off they go and I try to relax. The narky couple leave, taking their guerny faces with them. In the absence of other reading material I take out my phone and check Twitter. I rarely Tweet anything of substance, since I seem to attract argumentative sorts. Instead, I Tweet things like, ‘Had a scone today in Kaffe-O,’ which though dull as f**k, at least supports a local business. A waitress tentatively approaches and I tell her that everything was lovely, aside from the wait.

‘I’ve just the place for you, to have a quiet moment,’ she says.

‘I’m fine, here,’ I protest.

Not to be dissuaded, she lifts my wine. ‘Come, follow me.’

It is indeed a delightfully candlelit nook, cosy and secluded. However, there is a small child already ensconced, with a colouring book and pencils. His parents insist they will oust him but he looks so contented that I am loathe to disturb him. A quiet child in a restaurant is a rare thing, especially of an evening.

I find another table and start reading an article on ‘Should You Embrace the Joy of No’ on the Guardian website when I hear an argument at the table opposite. This time another disgruntled pair are having it out with the bar manager who is wearily telling them: ‘I’m trying to be reasonable, I assure you, your meal is on the house.’

The woman actually has her head in her hands.

‘F*@K me,’ I think. ‘Your steak was tough, you aren’t in the Calais jungle.’ I don’t think that the Brexit negotiations could be any more tense.

The gentleman wants to ‘take things further’ and the manager is telling him ‘that’s his prerogative.’  They bat the word prerogative back and forth a while, and I concede that any chance of a carefree night of frivolity has long since past and take my leave.

I hear the children before I even open the door. In a moment of exuberance, the Older Child has attempted a cartwheel and caught the Small Child on the nose with her heel. There is no blood, but a good deal of squawking, and tears, from both the victim and the afflicter. ‘Bad things happen to me on holidays,’ sobs the Small Child. ‘You and me both,’ I sigh.

‘I’m not repeating the specials again until everyone puts down their phones.’

SWB takes a half-term break with the family

It’s half-term and we’ve decided to book three nights in a hotel, instead of the usual two, so we can ‘properly relax’, (LSB’s words). There is a flaw in the plan though, as after booking the accommodation, we discover that they don’t have a kid’s club. Suddenly the relaxing bit seems ambitious. The bar better serve VERY good wine, I tell LSB, who looks slightly crestfallen when he sees the depth of my despondency.  ‘Just have very, very low expectations,’ says my friend when I complain to her later. ‘That’s how I approach holidays.’

When we arrive at the Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dalkey, however, I’m rather taken with it. There’s a sort of dilapidated chic about the whole affair. ‘New elevator coming soon!’ reads the sign, as we take the stairs.  The carpet is threadbare, and we have a veritable hike to our room, along three long corridors. This ALWAYS happens to us, like the way the departure lounge for Belfast flights used to be at the furthest outpost of the airport, in case the IRA blew it up. LSB calls it a ‘Bring a packed lunch’ trek. ‘How was your room?’ I’d ask after each business trip. ‘BPL’ he’d always say. This hotel has a faded grandeur about it, and it’s full  of grannies having afternoon tea, buttering scones and talking in hushed tones. There’s a whole table of pensioners playing poker and a bespectacled looking girl knitting a jumper. I think we’ll fit in here ok.

The kids swim time doesn’t start for another 30 mins so we sojourn to the Library Bar for what a ‘pre-swim fortification beverage’.

‘Just giving you a heads up,’ says the barman, as he pours a Guinness for LSB and a Chilean red for me, ‘there’s a strictly no children policy in here from 6.’

‘Very wise,’ I tell him. And don’t fret, we’re very quick drinkers; parenthood does that to you.’

‘I hear you,’ he says, mournfully.

The swim though, is more bearable than anticipated, because in the bar, I spy another couple, knocking back beers, while their children play on their devices. I sense kindred spirits. (Initially, I was agin the concept of tablets, naively thinking that kids glued to their screens, and not participating in conversation was a dreadful thing.  I’m 100% over that now, if it means an end to the relentless pestering that happens in the absence of screen entertainment.)

LSB says that the drive has tired him out and orders another Guinness, and I introduce myself to the family and we head to the pool together.  It’s all very jolly, as their daughters are in their teens, and are very tolerant of my pair, making sure they don’t drown while I chat to their mum, Louise. It’s a skill of mine, farming out my kids. I make vague apologetic noises about inflicting ourselves upon them. ‘No bother at all,’ says Louise, who turns out to be all the craic. ‘Sure I’ll keep an eye here and you head to the hot tub,’ says her husband. I’ve already warmed to this crowd a great deal.  Like me, Louise gave up work for a while, and while I fanny about still ‘discovering what I want to do’, she’s a full-time carer for a paraplegic. ‘I could have been a paraplegic,’ I tell her, ‘But luckily I broke my C7. Another centimetre up and that would have been me, needing my catheter changed.’

‘That would have been shite alright,’ she says, ‘but it’s surprising how much you can do with a broken back.’ Barry’s always asking me to fetch him things and I’m like, ‘Enough of your ordering me around, do it yourself!’

I look bewildered. ‘Seriously? Disabled from the shoulders down? What do you want him to be doing?’

‘There’s apps for everything these days,’ she explains. ‘He drives his own car and gets around rightly. You should have seen the clip of him though when I first took over.  Used to be sitting there, in these crappy auld tracksuit bottoms. I said to him, “I know you’re in a wheelchair and all, but are you trying to look disabled?”‘

‘How did that go down?’ I inquire.

‘Ach he has a sense of humour. Some days, anyway. We went to Next and got him jeans, and a proper haircut at the Turkish Barbers. Know what he’s up to now? Sending me links to clothes he thinks I should wearing! Told me the other day, that I looked ‘frumpish.’ ‘Frumpish?’ I said to him. ‘Least I knew better that to dive into the shallow end.’ They nearly threw us out of the café we were laughing that much.’

She’s taking him abseiling next month. I don’t doubt it. He’ll be parachuting next.

Unfortunately, the Small Child decided she’d had enough of the swimming and was shivering like a  drenched whippet at the side of the pool. Reluctantly I clambered out of the hot tub. ‘I could chat to you all evening,’ I told her, ‘You’re a hoot.’ ‘No bother,’  she smiles. I wish we could be friends.

(Tune in tomorrow or the next day, when I’ll have found the strength to write about our dining experiences down in Dalkey.)

SWB ruminates on St. Valentine’s Day

The Small Child is raging. The features on her five year old face are scrunched into a frown, her forehead all furrowed and her eyes threatening tears. Very upset indeed she is. And the reason? Big sister came home with a tiny teddy bear, boasting hearts on the upsides of his paws. There’s a boy in her class, (we’ll refer to him as Bert, to preserve his anonymity.)  Cracker wee chap he is too- full of exuberance and fun. He’s had his eye on herself from P1, and what with her being a sensible sort of a child, and him being inclined towards causing mischief, I think she’s often paired up with him to keep his behaviour in check.


I’m surmising, because I found myself in a similar position in P2. There was a boy in my class, (we’ll call him Neville: though in fact his parents were Plymouth Brethren, so he could well have been called Neville.) He was was gorgeous, all shiny blond hair and sparkly eyes, but a bit of a ruffian, and  loved a good rake about. Once an educational psychologist came in to observe his antics. ‘That little girl Helen is very good with him,’ she opined. Neville annoyed me once, and I remember the eagle-eyed teacher, calling my name sharply as she saw my thumb and fore-finger poised to give him a good nip. He escaped, that time.


I digress. ‘I’m sorry you didn’t get a bear,’ I tell the Small Child. ‘But really, you’re very little for all this business. Much better to think of Valentine’s as a day to have fun with your family, and give us lots of hugs.’ ‘I just want a bear,’ she sniffed.


I tell her that sometimes she will have a boyfriend and her sister won’t; and vice versa.  That sometimes she will feel jealous and sad, because life can be unfair. I tell her that before I met her daddy I had some boyfriends who never got me a card or a present, or treated me very nicely at all. I tell her I didn’t keep them around for long. We eat some Marks and Spencer chocolate hearts and read ‘The Children of Cherrytree Farm.’ I register the paucity of adjectives in Enid Blyton’s prose, but rather enjoy reading about red squirrels and moles. The older child cuddles in; the teddy bear who caused all the strife abandoned on the sofa while we three huddle under the duvet on the big bed.


Later, I jog down to the town centre, where I’m learning to ‘work the desk’  at Belfast 89 : it’s harder than you think, this radio lark, especially for one with an aversion a technology.  I don’t know how many times I left the mic on, so all manner of shit could have been bandied about over the airwaves, with me blithely unaware. Anyway, as I run, I pass several chaps carrying bunches of flowers. A few have been over generous with the aftershave and it lingers in my nostrils for several yards after I pass them. It makes me smile. It reminds me of last year when we took a trip to Malahide. Sitting on the Luas was a girl with a teddy bear the size of a chimpanzee. ‘Jaysus,’ sighed an elderly woman, who was actually wearing a headscarf. ‘He’d have been better off giving you the money.’ Given the expression on the girl’s face, I think she agreed.


The thought of jogging home again makes my heart feel sore, so LSB leaps in the motor and comes to get me.  Later he nips down to get petrol and I take out the bins. I lament that the children’s dinner is in the green compost caddy and that LSB has fed them a bagel instead. He cooks two steaks and we open a bottle of Beaujolais and I understand for the first time why the French tend to export most of their yield because it tastes like Shloer. I light a candle.


With f@*k all on the TV,  we watch the episode of Friends where Ross sleeps with the Xerox girl because they’re ON A BREAK. The cat purrs beside us. It’s been a strange old Valentine’s Day.  ‘I’m glad I have you,’ I tell him as we clink glasses. ‘Aye, you’re all right too,’ he replies, giving me a kiss.

*Welcome to all my new readers! Thanks for finding the blog and I hope you enjoy my musings. LSB, by the way, is the acronym for my husband, and stands for Long Suffering Bastard.

SWB gets herself a Personal Trainer

Recently LSB has started attending a gym near his work. He’s found himself a PT called Tom, and he’s all delighted with him: it’s all ‘Tom says’ and ‘Tom this’ and ‘Tom that.’ I’ve had to take his shirts to Oxfam and buy him more, as buttons have started pinging off all over the joint since his shoulders have filled out. He’ll deny this, but I’ve caught him having a sneaky look at his new pecs in the mirror. Thrilled with his new physique, he is. I had a session myself with a PT a while ago now, at the Ramada. A sanctimonious twerp he was too: I couldn’t be having him. He lacked all humour and made disparaging comments about yoga. ‘I’ll not be working out with you again you, you prick,’ I thought.


However, of late I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve no waist to speak of, my arms are droopy and I lack upper body strength. I’ve joined the PEC but hardly ever go because I lack the confidence to use the free weights room and I rarely make it to classes. ‘You need a PT,’ says himself, ‘just to get you started.’ I’ve tried going to the gym with him (I mean what’s the use of being shacked up to a running coach if they can’t at least train their wives,) but he has me doing all manner of daft exercises. I end up giving him savage looks which are not conducive to marital harmony. Luckily, my pal Marie-Louise comes to the rescue. ‘Mary-Jo lives up the road from you,’ she says. ‘She’s my mate and she’s brilliant. Off you go.’


Turns out, Marie-Louise is right. I don’t just want to go BACK to Mary-Jo, I want to adopt her. Everyone needs this pint-sized dynamo in their lives: the National Health should make  her available on prescription. When I arrived on Wednesday, a frazzled mess, she had a cup of camomile tea waiting for me and took time to chat before heading out to her studio. She took my blood-pressure first, to check I wasn’t suffering from hyper tension and didn’t have a stroke mid-session. ‘Not great for business that,’ she said. ‘Indeed,’ I agreed.


Her studio is compact and bijou: all white with pops of bright colour provided by her equipment. I can see that attention to detail is everything with Mary-Jo. There is a tall bottle of chilled water for my refreshment, and even my glass is beautiful, with a dragonfly imprint. In between exercises I keep shrieking ‘I love that tune!’ and she admits to using Spotify to tailor song choices to her clients’ age. There’s a good vibe in the studio- already I know I want to come back.

She designs a circuit of exercises which work on my legs, arms and core. The benefits of having her beside me as I work through them are manifold. She gently reminds me to engage my core, regulate my breathing and ensure my stance is correct. Having been involved in an accident in my twenties, I am always paranoid about lifting weights, lest I aggravate old injuries.  Mary-Jo is sympathetic to my neuroses, (which are many) and knowing that she is looking on, to see I’m not doing any damage to myself, reassures me. I know that weight training improves speed and builds strength for running, but I lack the motivation to it. Having her there to keep count of reps and encourage me keeps me going.


I can imagine though, that after a few sessions, I would quickly gain confidence. Mary-Jo may be sweet faced and softly spoken, but if your aim is to lose weight and change your shape, she’ll channel her inner terrier to get you there. I do the circuit once, and since I’d run 10k earlier, I decline the next two rounds. Her sessions usually involve three circuits with the smallest of breaks inbetween. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. ‘Course you are; you’re strong!’ says Mary-Jo. For one so mild, she doesn’t even look shocked by the stream of invective I release during a particularly brutal core exercise.


It is also, despite the work out, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. She tells me that some of her clients are so chatty she sets a timer as a means of discipline or they wouldn’t manage to complete their workout. ‘People pay me to get results,’ she says, ‘so they have to get value for money.’ By going to Mary-Jo you get more than value- you get a bit of TLC too. In the warmer weather she will even take her clients outside and serves up tea and dark chocolate as a post work-out treat. I mean, who DOES that?


There are no miracle shortcuts though, and the exercise only works in tandem with a good diet, and exercising portion control. ‘Wine’s a killer,’ she tells me. ‘Don’t drink all your calories.’ ‘Bugger,’ I reply.


In truth, don’t walk, RUN up to her studio for a new step in your exercise journey. The day after my session I meet my friend Martina for a HIT (High Intensity Training) class at Queen’s. I notice that I breathe differently throughout and am more aware of my posture. I see that if I commit to a few more one to ones with Mary-Jo I’ll have the encouragement I need to see results and start using the weights at the gym myself, without feeling foolish and intimidated by the others around me.


A session with a good PT is an investment in your fitness, your confidence and self-esteem. Mary-Jo went to one herself 3 years ago; found a new way to train and was so inspired that she left her job in banking to become one herself. I’m very glad she did.

Here she is in action.

If you  need some inspiration for check out Mary-Jo Tunney on Facebook.



SWB on the Transfer Test

On Saturday night, LSB and myself took a trot down the Ormeau. There was a buzz and a busyness in the air. The restaurants were heaving. In The Northern Lights we met a friend out with her family. They were celebrating their child’s transfer test results and the relief on their faces was palpable. The process was over: they could exhale. Excitedly, they popped their coats on to go for pizza. I love meeting these guys- and I know whatever the results had been, they would have out anyway.


‘I want that to be us,’ I said, after we passed on our congratulations. ‘Whatever happens in that bloody exam, we are booking a table the week before. We will tell the girls that we are proud of them, and that we are sorry that they have to do this bloody, farcical test at eleven years of age.’


You may have noticed that I stay away from some of the controversial issues. I don’t write at length about Brexit, about the right to choose, about the chasm in our government. I ruminate instead about the everyday irritations I face, and I find this most cathartic.  There are better, more informed and let’s face it, professional journos out there, who are paid to analyse and reflect upon the big stuff. Feedback from the people I meet and who like the SWB blog, tell me they enjoy the irreverent tone and the lighter things I touch upon. Unfortunately, as soon as one does start writing about tougher subjects, along come the trolls and up starts the abuse. I’ve enough to deal with in life without that aggravation.


You may, discerning readers as you are, have picked up on the fact that I’m a worry wart. I can put a day in rightly, agonising over Brexit, potential nuclear annihilation and getting cancer from the micro-plastics in my tap water. I have now started to stress in earnest about my children, and the transfer procedure. They are children who (usually) want to please. They try hard, and sometimes produce pieces of writing and pictures which make me stop and think ‘Wow. What an intuitive little buddy you are.’ However, does this exam really test what matters? And if they don’t get their desired result, how will it affect the rest of their school lives?


A former colleague of mine confessed that she had a headache, a sharp tense pain over her right eye, for four months. She was haggard by the end of the transfer process. Her daughter is bright and zingy and happily sailed off to her school of choice. But I thought about the impact the whole wretched debacle had on the whole family. A friend who had twin girls said he wouldn’t even let them sit the test. No way he said, what if one got it and the other didn’t? The ramifications seem endless.


When I did the 11+ as it was called, it was 1989. I sat in my usual p7 classroom, with my friends, and a kindly looking man in his seventies was the invigilator. He looked like my grandad. Classmates had brought in little ‘good luck charms’ and I set out a dog I’d made from FIMO and a teeny picture of Kylie and Jason dressed in their wedding gear as Scott and Charlene from Neighbours. There was a second exam a couple of weeks later and I don’t remember being overly stressed. Yes, we had done many practice papers in class, but it must, despite being a highly academic primary school, have been well managed by the staff. On the morning of the exam my mum worried I’d be up to ‘high-doh’, but apparently she found me reading away at Judy Blume novel in the back of the car.


Now, as any shell-shocked parents know, children have potentially four tests to do, trailing from school to school and sitting in unfamiliar classrooms. I’ve personally been an invigilator at the grammar school where I used to teach. All of us were under strict instructions to be as welcoming and reassuring as we could. Still, it’s not enough is it? Our efforts to be pleasant do not compensate for the bureaucratic nightmare that it is. I think the system is wrong- separating kids from their friends and encouraging competitiveness and snobbishness (and that’s only the parents.)


As parents, I think all LSB and myself can do, is instill the best sense of self in our girls as we can. We will encourage them to work hard and offer our help and support. We will share our own stories from school, about times when we struggled and felt sad and lost, or moments when we found real pleasure in learning. I just hope it’s enough.