SWB on Altruism

So, it’s January, as you may have noticed. I’m frozen, tired and not even feeling smug and virtuous because I’ve neither given up  wine nor embraced a meat-free lifestyle. Last night a friend put a picture of her steak dinner in a local bistro up on Instagram, which prompted me to think: ‘Take that down before you’re lynched!’ I am just properly NOT in the form for any class of self-denial. I am working full-time. I have two small, demanding children. I am trying not to think about the pending apocalypse. Boris Johnson is still PM. Trump is still President. How are earth are people managing NOT to drink? If you’re doing Dry January and still managing to stay remotely positive then I applaud you.

Equally, I extend my admiration for my friends, who in growing numbers have embraced ‘Veganuary.‘ Sometimes, (and I know this makes me a bad person) but I wish my friends could be a bit more rubbish, just to make me a bit better about myself, and my limitations. Maybe I could live without drink, or TRY to be a vegan, but definitely not as a double whammy. And not in January. I can’t even manage to SAY ‘Veganuary’ without it sounding like some sort of invasive gynae procedure. I think the NHS may have missed a trick in not coming up with ‘Vaginuary’, to encourage more women to get their cervical smear test over early the year and look forward to brighter things ahead. While on the topic of lady bits, check out the new candle range from Gwyneth. Dear God. Whatever next?

However, as a nod to a healthier attitude towards my innards and climate change, I have been experimenting in the kitchen with hearty soups and dhals. My red lentil dhal, in particular, was a thing of great beauty. But having given it a great deal of thought, the idea of never eating a soft boiled egg or a bagel slathered in cream cheese would make me very sad indeed.

But instead of feeling shite about what I’ve NOT managed to do, I’ve been thinking back to something I did last year which brought me much happiness.  At the risk of being perceived as a sanctimonious do-gooder and all round pain-in-the-hole, I shall elaborate. Lately I’ve been noticing features on Radio 4 and shared articles on social media on the benefits of doing good and I’m thinking, feck, these guys might just be ON TO SOMETHING.

At the school where I’m currently teaching we got word of a BBC initiative  to encourage children and the elderly to read poetry and then bring them together. It was thus named, imaginatively, ‘Poetry Together’. ‘How fabulous,’ I thought to myself.  As a preliminary exercise I went along to a local residential home with my  offspring and read some poems: Pam Ayres, Wordsworth, Marriott Edgar, (quite the eclectic mix.)  Initially my children looked a bit sullen but I made them go round with a bowl each of Murray Mints and Butter Balls, which perked them up a bit. The next week the Small Child even managed a tiny smile and by the time our third visit rolled around they were actually saying ‘Is it time to go yet?’ The residents were brilliant, some of them sparky and acerbic, which I enjoyed very much. I was giving off about how dreadful my children were one evening when one grey haired lady chirped up: ‘What did you bother having them for if they’re so awful?’

I thought this was marvellous. ‘Sometimes they’re alright,’ I conceded. ‘I did take you for ice-cream after school, didn’t I?’ I said, nudging the Older One.

‘She did actually’, she confirmed.

Nice to know they have my back.

So when it came to taking the pupils from school down for the ‘official reading’ it was all a lot easier. It helped that I was familiar with the place, because when organising any trips these days it can be a stressful affair, with about a million risk assessment forms and God knows what else to consider. Given my past experiences, that’s probably just as well.

But, to my utmost delight, it all went swimmingly, better even than expected. (That’s the joy of being a pessimist, any positive outcome is always a tremendous boon).

I had prepped the kids with some questions to ask, and one wee fellow went straight up to a lady and said ‘Hello! What pets did you have when you were young?’ She was all pleased, and told him about her lurcher, who according to her father, was even better than the border collie for rounding sheep. All the kids circulated, chatted away unselfconsciously without any awkwardness, before performing their poem. A few even volunteered to read out their own limericks. I was almost in tears with the loveliness of it all.

I’ve decided to continue to call in when I can. One afternoon we borrowed Fred, our friend’s springer spaniel and he went down an absolute storm. He’s nine now and a sedate sort of a fellow, thus a perfect fit for a care home. We did, however make the mistake of going at lunch time and he would have had an elderly gent’s beef and cabbage swiped off his plate had I had not a mighty grip of his lead.

That same day we got chatting to a lady who had been an evacuee during the war and had been sent to live on a farm in Tyrone. She said she missed it dreadfully when she got back to Belfast and had loved animals ever since.  I’m thinking of getting on the line to Streamvale Open Farm and seeing if I could get the lend of a few chicks, or maybe a rabbit. That would make for a fun visit.

In contrast to all these good vibes, a couple of times over the holidays I found myself in the city centre. It was a frightful experience altogether: most people had the faces gurned off them, and I overheard a few irate gentlemen opine that ‘it was all fucking shite, so it was.’ I agreed with them entirely.  All the horrible mindless consumerism doesn’t appear to be making us any happier. Maybe volunteering would be a better way to spend an afternoon, (or part thereof.)

It’s true, as Phoebe from Friends once said, that there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed. Anytime I take a trip to the home I leave feeling a bit more contented with my lot.

So you heard it here first: altruism is the new drug of the twenty-twenties. In the midst of all this horror-show it’s lovely, actually, to take some time with a few nonagenarians and take a few deep breaths. It’s soothing for a troubled soul, and makes me feel less bad about the glass of Primotivo of an evening. I guess if we do what we can, in whatever way works best for us, we can ignite a few sparks as we wait for the spring to arrive.






SWB on Armageddon (again)

Peter Broelman / Australia

It’s almost a week since the decorations came down: does anyone else agree that it has felt more like a year? Or an ultra-marathon? Or just a week long sojourn in Dante’s seventh circle of hell?

I definitely overdid the frivolity at Christmas because I had the utmost difficulty squeezing into my work outfits. No matter, said I, sure I’ll go for a few runs. Well. Those plans came to naught, such was my fatigue coupled with the fear of being tossed in the air by a tempest. Up here on the hill the gales have been frightful, and I can’t help but feel that they mirror the worldwide turbulence, so no rest for my tormented soul there.

You know already that I am inclined towards hyperbole, but I kid you not when I say that upon hearing of Trump’s antics last Friday my innards turned to ice. I made the mistake of sitting down to the news with a bowl of steaming noodles which were abandoned as my stomach lurched. So gripped with a powerful fear was I, that I did the only sensible thing a 40 year old can do in those circumstances, and rang my mum.  While the Mothership can work herself up into quite a frenzy about the price of Nambarrie tea bags, or a misshapen Hovis Loaf, she’s actually quite reassuring when it comes to the possibility of world annihilation.

She’s also quite tech savvy, so while she’d only heard the headlines she got herself on the net and quickly caught up, tutting under her breath. ‘Hmmph, you’d think he had better things to do, with him on his holidays in Florida. Yon fella shouldn’t be let out.’

‘I feel sick,’ I told her. ‘He’s done it this time. There’s no way back from this. We’re all doomed.’

I’d worked myself up into a powerful state of agitation.

The Mothership was quite abrupt in her response. ‘We’ll have none of that nonsense,’ said she. ‘What use would you be to man or beast if you went down that road?’

I agreed that quite, to adopt an attitude of fatalism wasn’t going to help anyone.

But she was warming to her theme.

‘Listen now,’ she said. ‘I’ve lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, not to mention all the recent strife. You can’t let yourself go under because of what MIGHT happen.’

‘There was your Nanna hiding under a table during the Blitz. Ans she lived until she was 88! You wouldn’t have caught her carrying on like this!’

She was quite animated by now, and ended the call by suggesting that I go and tidy the living room, because the last time she was up it was ‘nothing short of appalling’ and really, people might talk. Yes, I said. People are absolutely going to talk about the state of chassis that is my house, what with the possibility of a nuclear fallout.

But she did well. I managed to eat some of my lunch, though being rice noodles they had become somewhat congealed. Once I composed myself I took the kids to visit my friend and she fed them sausages and chips and we drank tea and ate Kitkats in the warm glow of her twinkly Christmas lights. I told her that I was very worried indeed, quite shaken, truth be told.

She shrugged. ‘It’s just the new normal isn’t it?’ she said, as she poured me more tea.

She’s so right too. The world is terrifying and run, seemingly by mad men. It makes one feel impotent and lost. So we could all down tools and await the apocalypse or just motor on, doing things that bring us joy and savouring each moment as we go. In the meantime, let’s sign some petitions, join some protests and in whatever tiny way we can, show that we’ll not be dragged headlong into a shit-show because of some narcissistic prick on either side the pond.

Though given my tendency towards self-absorption, calling people narcissists is probably quite rich. Such were my lamentations during the week that it prompted LSB to say: ‘If the world does end, it won’t just happen to you, you know!’

He made a valid point. Please God let things take a brighter turn, and should they not, chin up everyone.






SWB on New Year Resolutions

I’ve been feeling like a great and terrible disappointment to myself over the holidays. I had, you see, hoped that I might set time aside to write a bit more. This has, inevitably, not occurred. But upon reflection, this was a  ridiculous notion from the get-go. For a start, the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘break’ don’t belong in the same sentence together. Even if you don’t go berserk at Christmas, which we don’t, it’s still a busy, frenetic sort of a time. And the children. God, the children. In the absence of any sort of camp, they’ve been at home, with us, all day. Unless a friend or neighbour (of which, thank fuck, I have many) has carted them off somewhere, it’s up to us to amuse them, and this is a taxing sort of a task.

I feel as though I have simply swapped teaching for the less lucrative job of being my children’s PA.

The problem is, of course, that they have become institutionalised. In the primary school classroom every slot is accounted for, all nicely displaced on the wall so they know exactly what they are doing and when.

I think I need to do a little holiday timetable of my own and display it prominently. It won’t be as rigid as school, nor as polite. It may, for example read:

7am- 8am: Don’t even think about it.

8am-9am: Television Time, AKA leave Mum and Dad the fuck alone.

9am- 10am- House based activity AKA we are NOT trailing you around the countryside.

As I putting them to bed the other night the Older Child had a face on her like a well-scalped arse. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked.

‘We only did three things today,’ she replied. ‘And one of those was going to Forestside.’

Imagine! Third rate parenting indeed.

For the last 3 weeks (because it began even before the holidays) the children have been desperately hard to please. They ricochet between abject misery and elation, depending on where I’m sending them or who’s coming to play.

It’s exhausting, nerve-wrecking, and encourages great dependence on Sauvignon Blanc. Take yesterday, as an example. (Also, remember that it was New Year’s Day and after a party my head and innards were feeling as tender as the finest Japanese Kobe steak.)

‘So if we’re going out on Friday afternoon,’ ruminates the Older Child, ‘what are we doing on Friday morning?’

‘Well let me just get to it,’ I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly be sitting at home, without a plan.’

She either didn’t get the sarcasm or chose to ignore it, handing me my mobile. ‘Just put a message on WhatsApp and see who’s free please,’ she said, firmly. At least she asked this time. She swiped my phone once to text my friend Brenda and enquired if her son could come and play. Very convincing she was too, as the little chap arrived shortly afterwards, much to my surprise. (Fortunately, we are very fond of him.)

They are strong-willed, opinionated children that I have raised. Yes, their wills of steel may prove useful should they ever come up against the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, but I have spent the last while feeling as though I live under a tyranny.

Even if they could just tidy the house before inviting people in: that would appease me slightly. I have seen children’s mouths DROP open upon seeing the state of the living room floor. ‘My mum would KILL ME if I did this,’ said a wee girl the other day, looking stunned at the piles of shite everywhere.

And God FORBID you ask them to rectify the chaos they created in the house.

‘Are you going to do what I’ve asked or just keep sitting there?’ I seethed earlier to the Small Child, who was watching ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, cross-legged upon the sofa. ‘Hmmm,’ she replied, ‘I prefer Option 2.’

Little f**ker.

I remember reading ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ in which the author advocated that ‘frustration is a life skill,’ and therefore it was quite ok for children to be bored sometimes. I thought this was marvellous. I was bored quite a lot as a child, and it does build up a certain self-reliance. Philip Larkin, one of my most favourite poets, (miserable auld bastard that was), claimed that his childhood in Coventry was very dull indeed. A great poet it made of him too.

My children don’t do bored and I feel I may be doing them a disservice by arranging playdates and organising bracing walks for their edification. Maybe they will never reach their true potential because they haven’t experienced to the true humdrum nature of life.

I’ve been in such a state of agitation that even three yoga classes over the holidays haven’t helped. I keep uttering, ‘I’m not going to drink,’ before necking a glass of Prosecco at six o’clock. (Except Christmas day of course: I started at 11 then, for the day that was in it.)

I keep saying I’ll have a night off,  before sending LSB to the fridge to pour me something nice. I like how he swirls the ice around the glass to make it extra special, until I remind myself that these shenanigans may bring on renal failure.

So, I’ve decided, (and hear me out on this because it might sound all a bit wanky and New Age,) but I’m going to adopt Anne Lamott’s theory on self-improvement as my New Year resolution. Over January I’m going to make lovely soothing soups; chuck out  the clutter that’s making me unhappy and try to be a bit less frantic and a bit more sane.  It annoys me when I don’t practice my yoga or set an hour aside to write. I get narky at the kids when I don’t manage my time better and need to learn that it’s not unreasonable  to tell them to piss off and leave me in peace. I’m going to go to bed earlier and bank some sleep in these long nights. I don’t want to spend this year coming up with ways to escape from my life; I would like to attempt living in the present. (I warned you that this could be wanky).

The nice thing about this is that it’s not a hard and fast resolution, it’s a way of thinking how I can live a better life and keep this more at the front of my mind. On Christmas night I went to bed at half 8 and read a book my friend Grace gave me and listened to 6 Music. It was blissful. More of that sort of thing this month, I hope.







SWB goes loco for llamas this Christmas.

Festive greetings Sour Wee Readers. I could have written a lovely post about the congenial nature of a family Christmas, but that’s not really what you expect so I’ll stay true to form and share this rant instead. I wrote it on the 23rd, in the midst of a shopping frenzy. I’m still recovering, if I’m speaking frankly.

In the interests of public safety, do not, for fuck’s sake, venture anywhere near Forestside on the run up to Christmas. Same goes for the retail park opposite, or actually anywhere this side of town because proper, full on madness is afoot. I trotted down on Monday, clutching my ‘bags for life’ at 8-15. Now, in fairness, I survived Sainsbury’s without incident: people still afforded me the common courtesy of not ramming trolleys into the back of my heels, which I always find a bonus.

M&S, on the other hand, was more chaotic than my large intestine after a feed of sprouts. It was even worse than last year, when it was totally nuts too, but I went down at 10am so I suppose was asking for it. (‘Will we just go home Mummy?’ the Older Child asked, as she sensed my rage escalating).

At 8-25, I was at least two hours too late. The store was almost at a standstill, since the executive decision had been taken to park those big feck-off green carts full of carrots and potatoes in the middle of the aisles. About a million people were trying to squeeze past, peering over the teetering truckloads of turkey and biscuits and booze. The ones who most pissed me off though, were the dithering eejits ON THEIR PHONES. Really, would this be the time of day to enquire whether your son’s new vegan girlfriend prefers oat to soya milk for breakfast? Yes, we get it, you’re awfully middle class, now move your cashmere clad ass along.

However, I’m not really one to be calling anyone else middle class, since I was on the hunt for lychees for Christmas breakfast. I have a fondness for lychees, because when I lived on Reunion Island, 20 years ago, now December was ‘lychee season.’ It was considered rude to show up to anyone’s door without a plastic bag full of them, and many people had lychees trees in their gardens. (We didn’t, but we still the happy recipients of many a bag). Here you can buy a small punnet with no more than 7 in it for £2-50, but I buy them anyway to remind me of when I was young and carefree.  I’ve been feeding them to the girls ever since they were old enough to chew, and they are their absolute favourite fruit. They’ve requested extra lychees this year ‘From Santa.’ Anyway, I couldn’t get near the fucking lychees, because M&S employee of the year Valerie was pushing a cart full of festive fruits which blocked access to mangoes, pineapples and papayas, (anyone else think papayas have the taste and texture of soggy cotton wool soaked in piss?) and she met her old friend Tricia, who said she had forgotten Valerie still worked in M&S. But she did!! Fancy that!

Valerie had been up from 2am, to be in work for 4. ‘You must be very tired,’ said Tricia, who with such powers of deduction should clearly be working for MI5.

‘Is there any fucking chance?’ I thought to myself, while these banalities were exchanged. I met a few people I knew myself, but there was no lingering for us, just the briefest of salutations in a ‘may the force be with you’ sort of way. I came over all a-quiver and had to leave and have a restorative coffee in General Merchants. I would have just gone home, except I was on a mission to buy a replacement llama from Dunnes, which had still to open. I’ll explain.  LSB had purchased the children ‘heat up cuddly llamas’ on Saturday, because he likes to buy them things, to curry favour. It doesn’t make them any more biddable, I can tell you that. He’s a lot to learn, my husband. They have, as I may have mentioned, a multitude of cuddly toys, and have no need of a llama, heat up or otherwise.

Anyway, on Saturday evening we were cordially invited for dinner at our neighbours’ house. It had been a fraught sort of a day and so glad was I to see my friends that I took to the drink with gusto. I disgraced myself really, not a bit of need for it, at 40 years of age.

The Small Child had her llama clutched under her wee arm and wanted it heated up, to show it off in all it toasty glory. My poor friend, who was simultaneously refilling wine glasses and slicing up Christmas cake, popped it in the microwave.  I think she hit minutes rather than seconds because the next thing we knew an acrid stench emanated from the kitchen.

‘Oh shite,’ she yelped, ‘I’ve cooked the llama!’  racing in to rescue it. A terrible sight awaited us.

The glue was all melted and the microwavable bag had exploded. The beans had stuck to the glue which created the unfortunate effect of a llama with a bowel disfunction, with little grey beans stuck to its undercarriage, like a bad dose of the runs.

My friend felt very bad. She felt it was all her fault, but I said really it was the child’s fault for omitting to remove the heatable innards. ‘Melted llama anyone?’ said my friend’s husband, who’s a witty sort of a chap.

We set the llama outside on the window sill, so we weren’t overcome with fumes while we sipped our coffee and ate chocolate.  It looked in at us with a baleful expression. It was amazing, opined my pal Brenda, just how bad a polyester cuddly toy could make one feel.

Hence there I was, on the morning of the 23rd, on the hunt for a llama that my child most definitely didn’t need but felt strongly that she deserved. The queues in Dunnes were long and I didn’t feel like asking the stony faced assistants for help. Home I came, llama-less.

Still, despite this episode we’ve had a rather lovely Christmas. LSB forked out for a Nintendo Switch, an idea to which I was was thoroughly opposed, and I’m thrilled to say that the present the kids have so far enjoyed the most is a ‘colouring-in fairy house’ which has kept them busy all yesterday evening and they’re still at it now. Happy Saint Stephen’s day, everyone, and FFS don’t be running down to the Next Sale. We’ll have none of that nonsense please.








A C-Change for SWB

My Tourette’s is back with a vengeance. The Older Child heard me effing and blinding away in the kitchen the other day, when I  burnt the arse out of a saucepan, cremating my chickpea curry.

In she trotted, forefinger aloft. ‘MUMMY,’ she said, ‘there is NO NEED for that sort of language.’

Luckily she wasn’t in my sub-consciousness last night, when in a dream I told a man we know that he was not just a misogynist, but also a narcissistic c**t. In the dream a friend was remonstrating with me, saying that I had really ‘let myself down’ and needed to ‘have a word with myself’. I woke up most perplexed, although IRL, the man in question is both of the above and would have deserved the lambasting entirely.

‘I must moderate my language,’ I sighed to LSB as we headed to Harper’s Yard this morning. ‘It will be my New Year’s Resolution. In fact I’ll use up all my c**ts by Christmas.’

‘You do listen to the news don’t you?’ he said. ‘Good luck with that.’

It would be easy, wouldn’t it, to slide into a funk after those election results. But sometimes, one has to look around, and when I do that, I see I’m surrounded by the good people of South Belfast, for which I’m most grateful.

Take yesterday morning, when I nipped down to Ormeau parkrun. Sometimes, especially when it’s 4 degrees and you’ve brewed a pot of Fair Trade Rwandan coffee it can be hard to prise yourself out of your pyjamas.  But since I had arranged to meet my friend Grace, off I hopped, leaving a hungover LSB with the children, who were watching ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’. I think I got the better deal.

Arriving late, I found Grace deep in conversation with a couple of park run tourists, one of whom hailed from New Zealand. ‘That volcano,’ I heard Grace tell him, ‘had been rumbling away for ages. They shouldn’t have let anyone near it.’

He nodded, and on they talked about seismic activity. It confused me, so I turned to his friend.

‘Are you from New Zealand too?’ I asked him.

‘No, I’m Dutch,’ he replied.

‘Oh, Grace speaks Dutch, I said.

‘Hallo, hoe gaat het,’ he said to Grace.

‘Het gaat goed met mij dankjewel,’ she replied.

I don’t think either of them expected this chat as they shivered at the start line, but then they haven’t met Grace. Grace is 91 and has done over 50 parkruns. Her running career began at 89, after open-heart surgery put paid to her mountain hiking days. I want to be like Grace when I’m a nonagenarian, though given our current world leaders, the chances of the planet surviving the next 50 years, never mind me, is looking increasingly unlikely.

Speaking of leaders, who should we meet next but Claire Hanna. Any other woman, given the week that’s been in it, would have stayed at home, jammy clad and cosy, but not Claire. There were hugs a plenty for her, and rightly so.

Had it not been for news of her success on Friday, I could have sunk into a deep despondency.  Why I’m even remotely shocked at politics anymore, I don’t know, but how that cabinet remains in office, with the collective moral integrity of the African dung beetle, baffles me. It’s hard not to feel that something very wrong is afoot.

But one must have hope.

‘It’s desperate, isn’t it?’ I said to Grace, as we ran round, her like a sleek ninja in her black hoodie and leggings. I was supposed to be offering her encouragement as we ran into the icy wind, but on I moaned. ‘I find,’ said Grace, as her glasses steamed up with her exhalations, ‘that you must have hope, and count your blessings. That’s what I try to do.’

Life has tried to quash Grace, but she’s not having any of it. This week she told me that she didn’t have time to go out walking in Belvoir Forest, as she had too many ‘old people’ (her words) to visit in care homes around Belfast. She baked a Christmas Cake, and taught English at the weekly classes for refugees at her church. In the New Year she’s going out to the Bahamas to help residents displaced by Hurricane Dorian.

So, if you’re feeling a bit wobbly after that election, my advice, for what it’s worth, is to be a bit more Grace. It’s hard to feel low when you’re looking to the future with hope, grit, and determination.

Then this morning at Ormeau Bowling Green, I drank coffee and ate cake at Harper’s Yard, the community café run by my friends Martina, Claire and Brian. Lots of my friends were there, and some had brought their dogs. I find petting animals soothes me when I’m fraught, so I was in luck.

At each Harper’s Yard event they support a local charity, and this time they were raising money for the NI Hospice. Taxes really, should be keeping the Hospice afloat, but since the Tories don’t give a f**k about the NHS anymore, or people, whether they’re dying or not, I guess it’s up to volunteers to bring in the funds.

So in the New Year, I’m going to try and replace the ubiquitous ‘c’ word with another one: ‘community’. I think we could be in a right auld mess under Boris’s direction, so sticking together may be more essential than ever.

Keep going, I reckon, and if you have to turn the air a bit blue while you’re at it, then so be it. There’s worse things after all: just look at the PM.






SWB welcomes the ‘Elf on the Shelf’

Folks, I caved, I gave in, I acquiesced to my children’s demands: on Monday, the ‘elf on the shelf’ arrived. I had been vehemently opposed to this notion. The girls already had experience of elves at school, where teachers with imagination in abundance, created a fun festive atmosphere with elves up to mischief galore. This was sufficient enough tomfoolery, I felt, and hoped that I, could therefore remain exempt, left in peace to pursue my own Advent activities. I had high hopes of running 5km every day until the 25th, or maybe even ON Christmas Day itself when we have a tradition of doing Wallace parkrun. Last year a friend brought a bottle of prosecco and chocolates. Oh, what comfort and joy.

My aim, this Advent, was to reap the rewards of headspace, shed some pounds and remove myself bodily from the temptation of eating crackers and cheese at 6pm while preparing the evening meal.

Eight days in, I have managed two runs, one of which involved jogging to a local watering-hole; drinking a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (albeit a small one) then jogging home again. I mean, does that even count as a run? I do hope so: much of it was uphill and thus decidedly unpleasant.

It’s now the 8thDecember and my stomach remains portly and my nerves remain fraught.

Well of course they are. Who has time to go jogging when they have a house to decorate, nativities to attend, an actual JOB, and now this bastard elf as an extra obligation? Who needs to pay to go to a pantomime, I ask you? Our lives are pantomime enough.

I tried to dissuade my children from having an elf by describing the evil antics some of them got up to. I heard of one, I told them darkly, who peed into a basin, then left it in the laundry room, where he proceeded to unclip all the socks and pants off the whirl-i-gig drier so they all plopped down into the piddle. ‘Imagine, your lovely socks covered in elf WEE,’ I said.

‘Our socks aren’t lovely,’ said the Small Child. ‘They are all odd and some have holes in.’

‘That must have been a Black Elf’ said the Older one gravely. ‘I’ve heard they’re really bad. Green ones are nice. Red too.’

‘Hmmm…’ I said.

LSB beckoned me over. ‘See that parcel that arrived yesterday?’ he whispered. ‘I ordered them an elf!’ He looked ever so pleased with himself, ebullient, even, full of Christmas cheer.

‘For f**k’s sake,’ I said. Although it was he who instigated the elf’s arrival, it was I who removed it from the twenty tons of packaging (thank you Amazon) and arranged it so it was ensconced in the sweetie tin with a Freddo tucked snugly under each arm to greet the children on Monday morning. Jeepers, the excitement when they blundered,  bleary-eyed into us, to announce its arrival. ‘I thought it was a dream!’ said the Small Child, her face aglow. ‘But it’s here! And its HOLDING FREDDOS!!!!’

Turns out there are some benefits to being a curmudgeonly sort of mother. If you actually do something agreeable, your children can hardly believe it.  Every morning, they have been dancing down the stairs and going ‘on the hunt.’ They were thrilled to find it tangled in some wool suspended from lights in the kitchen, its hat caught in the yarn. I didn’t even have to do that; gravity took care of it. The elf has been having a grand old time to itself: sitting atop our Christmas llama decoration; stealing their dad’s beer from the fridge, and their favourite so far- climbing inside a toy ‘tree puppet’ and writing ‘HO HO HO’ with Lego and hair bobbles. (I was quite proud of that one, I must admit.)

And here I must share a startling revelation. I have LOVED this. Life, as I’m sure you can appreciate can be so very serious and GLUM. Oh, the all-pervading glumness of it at times. I mean, who in the name of God would ever of thought Princess Anne could bring a moment of levity to world politics? We must be in a very dark place indeed. And BoJo and Corbyn- send in the clowns indeed. So introducing this gentle silliness, this whimsy, is most welcome. Last spring I went to see the Australian cartoonist Leunig chatting with Pádraig O’Tuoma in The Black Box, and he was very keen on embracing the whimsical aspect of life. Being curious, being open, daring to wonder when everything seems to have gone to shit. Sometimes life needs brightened by the lightest of touches, and a sense of magic and nonsense. Very soon my little pair will be too old to give a flying f**k what an elf is up to, so for the moment, it’s here and giving us a bit of its craic. I’m beginning to suspect it may even be more for me than them.




SWB feels less than festive

In our house, everything is a catastrophe, and I mean everything. Case in point, those bastard PTA Christmas Cards. Do all schools do this these days? For the uninitiated, the children illustrate a blank piece of card which you then send off with a cheque and a lot of aggravation to receive 6 copies back  to show friends how talented your off-spring are.

Last year, I organised this whole fucking charade on behalf of the PTA and the whole experience put years on me- motoring back and forth to Holywood and counting cash that was actually labelled ‘dinner money’ or opening envelopes which allegedly contained £18 but were, in fact empty.

On Tuesday, the children arrive home in a state of excitement, bordering on agitation. ‘We have to do our Christmas cards! By tonight! Can I do a dog wearing a hat?’ I pass the felt tips and tell them the dog can be doing whatever he wants, as long as I don’t have to draw him. Off course, I end up drawing numerous dogs on a practice sheet, ‘just for ideas’ before the Small Child finally decides that her first attempt was her finest. I check my 900 What’s App messages and see that they have actually have until Friday, which gives them ample opportunity to decide they hate their designs and contemplate other notions.

The Older Child has been practising her reindeer drawing skills when she suddenly becomes distraught because she has LOST HER CARD. ‘It’s ok, don’t panic!’ I say, as I am trying to fry chicken thighs and onion, as I run between the laundry room unloading the tumble drier while I ask the Small Child her spelling. ‘But remember Georgina,’ the Small Child says gravely, her forefinger in the air: the teachers said ‘NO REPLACEMENTS’. Sobbing begins anew. I look longingly at the wine bottle I have opened to add to the Spanish Chicken. ‘There isn’t a bat in hell’s chance of only flinging this wine into the dinner this evening,’ I think to myself as I pour a glass. It is only 6.25 and I had hoped to hold off until 9pm, when I have an episode of ‘Big Little Lies’ to look forward to.

‘And Mummy,’ the Older One cries, I still have to make the robot!’

‘What robot?’ I growl.  She came home on Monday wittering about this and I assumed naively that this was a product of her lively imagination, since there was no mention of it in her homework diary, and I continued to lie on the sofa like a collapsed lung.

She hands me a small crumpled note which I read, my heart growing wearier with every word. ‘This week, instead of numeracy homework, children are to make a 3D robot (not life size!) You can get plenty of ideas for these on Pinterest!’

I fucking HATE Pinterest. Nothing on Pinterest ever turns out to be ‘simple’: even navigating the site isn’t simple.  Making a robot CERTAINLY isn’t simple: you end up needing a soldering gun and access to the technology department in local school.

Now you would think, what with me being a keen recycler and re-user of stuff, that this sort of project would have me skipping about with excitement, but you would be wrong. I am too busy to be painting yogurt pots and sticking them to shoe boxes with double sided tape. I am cooking meals from scratch and chopping up fresh pineapple and oranges to boost our immune systems so we don’t fall prey to the pestilences stalking the country.

I know that I’m missing the point, that of course it is my 8 year old, not me, who should be cutting and sticking and creating. Sadly though, it never quite works out this way does it? And you don’t want to be the parent who sends the child in with a pile of shite while everyone else’s junk model looks like something you might pay £40 for in St George’s Market.

The other day my godchild and her little sister came to visit and expressed a desire to watch ‘Peppa Pig’. ‘Alright,’ I said, because shoving small children in front of a television is a very easy way of looking after them. I recommend it highly. I thought that I must have endured every episode of ‘Peppa Pig’ ever made, but apparently not, as there was a new one. In this one, Madame Gazelle asks the children to make a castle out of junk, and Peppa and Suzy Sheep and Pedro Pony all clap and ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. Their parents, however, exhibit less enthusiasm, and when they arrive with the finished articles their faces convey great exasperation. I saw a lot of myself in the grim expression of Mummy Pig.

It is now Sunday and the robot-making is still in the early stages. For four days the robot has consisted of the recently emptied shoebox, a pair of shit binoculars that my dad got for free on a cruise and part of a CD holder. It would not win any prizes for ingenuity. ‘I think it would look better painted,’ I say, ‘except obviously we’re not going to do that.’

The Older Child then, and I was rather impressed with this, suggested tinfoil, which obviates the need for any pesky painting and glue, and we might make some toilet roll arms. That’s as good as it’s going to get, I’m afraid. Tragically, all these creative ideas seem to have lit something within them, and late this afternoon they used my good scissors to cut up cardboard from which they plan to make festive elves to stick to the windows. These can jostle for room alongside the black cat stickers which are still up from Halloween festivities. I’m contemplating just buying Elf Hat stickers and adding those on. I may then pop hearts round them for Valentine’s so they can be ‘Love Cats’ and perhaps get them bonnets for Easter. I’m actually starting to embrace all this myself. How very odd.








SWB is Supersonic

Months ago, LSB booked tickets for Liam Gallagher. ‘Liam? Really?’ I said. I’m not very keen on Liam, because I think he is a gobshite. Noel, I can tolerate, not least because I love his latest album, particularly, ‘Holy Mountain’, with yon French woman using the scissors as percussion. Listening to an entire solo Liam album would put years on me, and LSB has been instructed to remove any such items from the CD system in the car, lest I stumble across it and drive into a wall to put an end to the agony.

This has been the most busy, frenetic of weeks. We came to Dublin last Friday too so I could hear Elizabeth Strout’s talk on her latest novel, ‘Olive Again.’ I had aspirations of writing about this, and I still haven’t managed to do so. I am however, half way through the novel and left many things neglected in order to do so. It is a marvel.

‘But FECK,’ I said. ‘Away again, so soon? And to be doing so just to see Liam Gallagher? Me nerves!’ I got myself into a right state of agitation.

‘I see your Tourrette’s is back,’ sighed LSB.

I had various reservations. Liam can attract a loutish crowd, and at 40 years of years my face is already past its prime, and a headbutt in the eye isn’t going to improve it any. And as I said, I don’t much like his solo stuff, and that I know I can eff and blind like the best of them but he makes me look like Mary Whitehouse.

I express these concerns with LSB and he is remarkable sanguine- he knows I have been STRESSED TO F**K this week, because I have repeatedly informed him of the fact.

‘It’s ok if you want to leave it,’ he says, even though by now it is Saturday morning and we would have been stung for the accommodation. ‘But we will get a good dinner and I think you’ll like the hotel. It might also be nice to get away from the children,’ he adds, hopefully.

‘Ok,’ I say, sighing deeply, like the miserable old bastard I have become.

But when I hop in the car and for the second time in as many weeks zoom over the Hillhall Road, I feel a peace descend as we put distance between ourselves and the chaos of life. We listen to Giles Peterson on 6 Music and the smokiness of the jazz and the whoosh of the wipers works some kind of hypnotic magic; (on me, not LSB, who thankfully focuses on the road ahead).

By the time Himself deposits me at The Spencer Hotel and goes to find parking I feel almost mellow. After a cocktail called ‘No Name’ I feel mellower still. A man comes up to bar and orders a Porn Star Martini, a Guinness and two Club Oranges. ‘Take that to your mum, he says to his small boy, ‘AND BE CAREFUL WIT IT!’ The child carries the Martini over to his Mum with great reverence, as though it is The Holy Stone of Clonrichert. A grand job he makes of it too.

‘I need to train mine,’ I think to myself. The Older Child, in her constant state of excitement, would have had it fucked over the floor or some innocent bystander in 3 seconds flat.

I’m in fine fettle by the time I’ve eaten a dish of Cambodian ‘ Cha Traop Dot’ in the East Restaurant and sampled their house Pinot Grigio, which came highly recommended and is a change from the Sauvignon Blanc I usually glug.

I think,’ I say,’ leaning over to LSB with a conspiratorial air, ‘that I may actually be looking forward to this gig now.’

‘Yes!’ he says beaming, almost punching the air because I’ve been so glum of late. ‘Let’s go then!!’

We trot off to the 3 Arena and join the queue for the seated area, where everyone looks our age or older. It appears hooligan free, which is a relief. Behind us a woman is discussing her dilemma about what to buy her third God-daughter for her First Communion. ‘It was easier for the first two, but these are different times,’ she says perplexed.  I catch her eye and smile. More rock’n roll is her next conversational gambit: ‘I was FUCKED after those mushrooms we did the other week. How were you after them?’ she asks her mate, a lady of a similar vintage. ‘Not good. Not good at all,’ she replies, shaking her head. Confusing times indeed, I think.

You have to just accept some things when you go to see Liam Gallagher. No matter where you sit, some frigger is going to chuck a pint over you. I mean, obviously, why pay €6 for a pint if you’re not just going to heave it into the crowd?

And it’s not just the flying pints of Heineken you have to worry about. Flares, apparently,  are now a thing. Huge, f**k off flares. I’m telling you, if they’d had these fellas on the Titanic, The Carpathia would have been over in a jiffy and lowered the rate of casualties  drastically.

Some clampet sets off a red one which he then proceeds to drop. From our vantage point above the standing area it looks like the mouth of Hades has appeared and is having a good yawn. Still, nobody seems too rattled, aside from me, obviously.

‘Burnt alive!’ I say to LSB. ‘We’ll be burnt alive, at a Liam Gallagher gig! What a way to go!’

Liam is on to it. He’s none too pleased after a fan in Sheffield last week had her clothes set on fire. ‘I don’t want to be busting your bollocks, he tells the crowd, ‘ but you need to calm the f**k down with them things.’

Who would have imagined that they’d ever have to listen Liam Gallagher doing public health announcements?

On goes the gig. I am up out of my seat and dancing  along to Wonderwall and Roll with It. Singing along too I am, arms aloft. Very taken I have become with the whole affair. I am almost in tears to Champagne Supernova and by the time he comes on for the bonus encore of Cigarettes and Alcohol I’m like that mad auld doll in Father Ted (only without the casual racism).

‘He’s good value, that Liam Gallagher,’ I tell LSB as we stroll back to the hotel, hand in hand along Mayor Street. The crowd were pleasant too. A large chap from Tallaght engages me in a full on chat about recyclable toilet paper. We compared notes.  I swear to God, you couldn’t make it up.

I come down to breakfast the next morning and I’m humming ‘and maybe, you’re gonna be the one who saves me.’ I am still grinning. Do you know, honey,’ I say to himself. ‘I’m really developing a love for the south.’

‘That’s good dear,’ he says. ‘Now you just have to convince all the other Prods up North.

SWB V ‘Hump Day’

We have reached ‘peak middle-age.’ This evening, LSB disappears next door to retrieve a parcel. He returns looking all merry and pleased with himself.

‘What’s that you have?’ I enquire. I am helping a child to write an imaginative paragraph with predominant ‘ee’ sounds, while trying to remove a stubborn stain from a shirt collar. I’m in poor humour.

‘You’ll probably think it’s a bit sad really,’ he says, BEAMING as he snips through the sello- tape with a pair of nail scissors, but it’s a SMART thermostat, so we can control our heating!’

‘Gosh,’ I say, my tone flat.

‘We can even ask Alexa to turn it on and off for us!’

‘Hmmm.’ I still struggle to exhibit enthusiasm.

‘Ultimately it will reduce our gas bills!’ he adds. I haven’t seen him so excited in quite some time.

‘Are there not just basic timers to do that?’ I ask, which is a cheek really, because I have never, despite having reached the age of 40, successfully used a central heating timer.

He bats away this notion, and continues to futter about with his new appliance.

I retreat downstairs with a pile of marking.

Later, as further evidence of the rubbish week I’ve been having, the cat emerges from outside and chooses my exact spot on the sofa to ensconce herself and start licking her bottom. Should anyone ever tell you that cats are clean animals, refute it. I have pictures to prove it. I had been about to park myself, with my filet of microwaved salmon, rice and broccoli florets, beside my Frida Kahlo cushion.

‘Scarper,’ I tell her, and she hops off before sitting down and narrowing her eyes, with her most disgruntled expression.

As if our evening can’t be any less satisfactory, it deteriorates further.

LSB and I have reached a drought with our viewing. We’re up to date on Spiral, have finished Mind Hunter and last week we saw the last episode of Unbelievable, which was, tragically, only a ‘limited series’. I am feeling the loss of this programme acutely. I would like Toni Colette to please come to Belfast and be my friend; and I loved the brooding intensity and complicated relationship with the Almighty conveyed by Merritt Wever. In a different life, I think, I too could have been a Detective.

I sit down hoping that Himself has been ‘on to this’ and discovered a new series with which I shall fall instantly in love and can thus, for at least an hour a night, ignore all other obligations. But he hasn’t, and his negligence irks me. We have jobs in our house: mine revolve around laundry and food, while he takes charge of anything techy (see above) and ensuring bills are paid so they don’t cut off the electricity while I’m engrossed in my shows. He is also in charge of finding programmes and lining them up for my viewing pleasure. It depresses me how traditional we are but if he washes anything it either come out blue or doll-sized, and I would rather not subsist on ready-meals from Sainsburys. (How I wish I were exaggerating for effect here).

‘Should we,’ I say, (because I can’t be arsed swiping about with Netflix), watch something on terrestrial television?’

LSB feels my forehead. ‘You must be feeling bad,’ he says.

‘Just get on with it,’ I say, as I do when he’s feeling amorous.

As he flicks through the channels I spy Paul O’Grady’s ‘For the Love of Dogs’. My spirits lift.

I know, don’t judge me. I felt a rush of nostalgia, because in those carefree, halcyon days pre-children, we used to hike in the Mournes of a Sunday, and on the drive home listen to Paul O’Grady on Radio 2. Week after week he read out missives from listeners in need of consolation, after Dickie the Dachshund or Cedric the Schnauzer had passed away. Sometimes,  I‘d shed a tear.

‘What a find!’ I thought to myself. Paul was looking ever so smart in a woolen coat, and first to feature on the show was Ruby, a 9 month old stray terrier, and mother to three pups. Despite being a mere adolescent herself she was coping admirably. How we oohed and ahh-ed. But then it took a sudden downward turn. The Battersea dog wardens arrived with Penny, a lurcher cross who had been dumped in a skip, with the sort of virulent skin complaint one might expect, had a skip been your domicile for the last month. It wasn’t palatable viewing, and there were several, what I felt to be unnecessary close-ups.

‘Just watch what you like,’ I said, in a weary tone.

Well, I could almost feel the glee radiating off Himself. ‘Really?’ he says: ‘Can I watch the Star Wars thing?’

I think it was the lowest part of my day: enduring the spectacle of grown men in ridiculous helmets capering about in the snow. There was an aardvark playing a recorder and communicating in chirrupy noises. For a Disney production I thought the special effects were shoddy: there was a robot that was motoring around that was basically a bin on wheels.

‘What even the f*ck is a ‘Mandalorian’? I ask.

He looks aghast at my ignorance. ‘Legendary warriors fighting against the Jedi! They can kill with their bare hands and were trained by Boba Fett.’

I look blanker than I did about the new heating timer.

‘See him?’ He says, pointing to a tall fellow wearing full body armour and a visor. That’s Javier Pēna (Pedro Pascal) from Narcos.

‘I can’t be!’ I gasp. ‘What a step down!’

‘Step up you mean,’ he replies, shaking his head. ‘This is a spin-off from Star Wars; he’ll be minted!’

He’s found his happy place: like Fiona Paisley in the Maldives, only we’re not lying on sunbeds feasting on mango and lycees with a waiter on standby offering  rum cocktails.

The only plus side of having a Wednesday this shite is that the rest of the week can only improve. Keep everything crossed folks- I’m relying on the good vibes to see me through.


SWB has Pumpkin Fatigue

‘I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PUMPKIN,’ I said last year, with feeling. Last November I had set myself a challenge to do one positive a thing every day. It damn near killed me. I attempted to take the ‘zero waste’ approach to Halloween. I failed miserably in most respects but I did end up carving a lot of pumpkin. People started bringing me their Jack-o’-lanterns  that otherwise would have gone to waste: all that pumpkiny goodness languishing in landfill. I couldn’t bear it, so I set to, peeling and chopping and popping them into boxes. I ended up posting pictures of them on FB to see if anyone fancied pre-prepared veg for soups and curries.

‘Please, let there be an end to the pumpkin,’ sighed LSB. This was ironic as it was he who bought the bastard thing in the first place with the intention of creating a festive decoration.  He then proceeded to leave it there, staring at me until November 1st when he conceded ‘there wasn’t really much point anymore.’ I never would have started any pumpkin related nonsense had he not started the shenanigans.

And then, THIS year, what does he trail home from Sainsbury’s but the biggest f*ck-off sized pumpkin that one could ever imagine. He arrived with it on the 26th October, at half past five, precisely half an hour before twenty guests were due to arrive for the Older Child’s 8th birthday. This, I’m sure you will agree, is not the best time to start carving a mammoth squash, when there is beer that needs chilling and floors that needs sweeping and wives that need a fortnight in St Lucia* booked before they explode with rage and the sheer exhaustion of existence.

On the 27th October the children asked could they carve it, but we were too busy clearing the post-party debris to contemplate such a chore. On the 28th they enquired again. On the 29th we were heading to the Roe Valley for two nights and attention was diverted as we tried to catch the cat to cart her off to her ‘pet retreat’ in the Castlereagh Hills. She seemed to sense her impending departure because upon awaking she did a large shit in our shower; a most unpleasant surprise, and frankly not very ‘birthdayish’, as the Small Child opined. Of course she then legged it, refusing to return. Her reservation thus had to be cancelled and favours called in from LSB’s Dad to come and feed her, with dire warnings to check the shower on each visit.

‘NO, THE PUMPKIN IS NOT BLOODY COMING,’ neighbours heard me shout, as I dragged my bags to the car. The Older Child by now seemed to think of the pumpkin as a family member, or perhaps a pet, rather like Father Jack and his brick but with more nutritional value. We nearly had an episode, which I now call ‘Mother Close to Tears Prior to Departure’ which happens on most trips and has LSB saying, ‘we’ll get you a gin at the airport,’ or in this case, ‘Here, just drink that can of Sauvignon Blanc in the car. I’ll drive carefully.’

I thought I’d left all pumpkin related woes behind, until I heard a ping:

‘I’m going to have to make a soup when we get home,’ I muttered miserably to LSB.

‘I’m removing that app from your phone.’ he said, having looked over my shoulder. I had signed up to Olio recently in a bid to minimise waste. They send me all sorts of interesting snippets and this one stated that the number of pumpkins chucked away uneaten in October would be enough to give every person in the UK a bowl of soup.

We came home and the pumpkin seemed to be staring at me, daring me to not to do something with it. I googled ‘how to cut up pumpkin’ on Youtube and watched an  Ozzie fellow set to with a carving knife, but even with his deliberate air of insouciance it still looked hard work. I had wanted an easier way. There is no easier way, with pumpkins, I have found. It’s a huge effort, and one could suffer injury if not extremely careful. But I persevered. I chopped red onion, garlic and red pepper, plus the persimmon fruit which we had bought earlier that day in the veg shop on the Ormeau. ‘Can we try that?’ asked the Older Child.

‘Why not?’ I said; I’m nice like that. Disappointing it was: rather bland and most unworthy of the 69p it cost. So I fecked it in the saucepan along with the rest of the veg, which I fried gently in coconut oil. I roasted the rest of the pumpkin, generously seasoned with salt and pepper and rapeseed oil. Our kitchen took on the heady scent of autumn, and for a while I was cheered, and a tad smug, if I’m honest.

Then I tried to blend it, forgetting that the last time I used the blender I had a disaster. Said disaster reoccurred, and the mixture leaked out, all over the worktop, all over the floor and tragically over my new M&S slippers.

‘FUCK ME,’ I seethed.

I managed to salvage some, and eventually blend it. If there is any good to be derived from this sorry tale, is that when LSB came in from work and I presented him with a bowlful, he claimed that it was a marvellous and exactly what he needed on a Monday, when he felt all cold and feeble. Still, if he dares bring another into the house next year he may well end up in the Royal with pumpkin issues unrelated to carving, but simply a blow from one aimed at his head.