SWB Scrapes the Barrel

Right, so today I’m talking cleaning. Yes, cleaning and tidying and all that household nonsense. I realise that this may be risky, and you would be quite entitled to think, ‘what depths of banality will that woman not plumb?

But it feels like every time I chat to friends, we take a collective sigh when we think of the state of chaos into which our homes have descended. Over Lockdown I have looked around and often felt an acute sense of nausea. Granted, some of this has been my own fault. It was me, for example, who wanted a dog, despite knowing full well that it would lead to a messier home and less time to clean it because of pet related duties. I brought that on myself. I didn’t, however, bring about the triple whammy of home-schooling, my own work situation, and keeping a family clean, (ish) nourished (somewhat) and entertained (occasionally).

Some people are just naturally quite tidy. Neither my husband or myself fall into that category, and it would seem that our progeny follow suit, except they’re ten times worse, the little s**ts.

I’ve decided to accept that there’s more chance of Bernie Ecclestone making it to his child’s graduation ceremony than there is of me getting (and keeping) my whole house to an acceptable level: so instead I will just focus on a couple of areas. I need a some places where I can retreat without taking something akin to a panic attack.

Last year I visited a friend of mine and was upset to see that her living space was pristine and devoid of accumulated shite in all the corners. (VERY bad Feng Shui, apparently, cluttering your corners).  She has two teenage boys, works full-time and owns a dog. I was affronted. I wondered briefly if we could still be friends.

‘How the f**k do you manage this?’ I asked.

‘The rest of the house is a bombshell,’ she said. ‘Don’t even think about going up the stairs.’

‘Phew,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s the girl I know and love.’

If you’re short on time and jangly of nerves, my sagacious friend suggests, that you keep one area tidy, and make it the place where you spend most of your time. Like myself, my pal has a kitchen/dinner/den set-up, and all of it was lovely. My expectations aren’t that high. I can’t manage to keep my dining table clear, and a week after school has ended, it still groans under the weight of books, colouring paraphernalia and God knows what else. But I’m getting increasingly ratty with the children if they leave their truck around the living area, especially in the evening when I’m counting down the seconds until it’s unwind-on-the-sofa-time. Marie Kondo wouldn’t be standing for any of their nonsense.

Then there’s the island, where crockery jostles with bills and newspapers and wineglasses that don’t fit in the dishwasher. It is where hope comes to die. But we have decided to adopt a ‘clear island’ policy, and are trying to keep it clear. That way, if at least two surfaces are free of crap my nerves feel less ragged. So if the island is swept clean and the coffee table is home to nothing but a scented candle, I can just divert my eyes from the catastrophe that is the rest.

My policy in the front room is just to keep the door closed. I can’t bear it right now and I’m not venturing in for another week to start cleaning. The same goes for the downstairs bedroom. They are too awful to contemplate as the girls have annexed them as play areas and they are littered with their detritus: Lego, lots and lots of Lego.

Now I can’t possibly sign off without mentioning toilets. As you know, the Mothership is keen on inspecting the level of cleanliness of my toilets and then passing comment before donning gloves and reaching for the Domestos. I’ve never had much success with keeping the sheen of the bowl up to her lofty standards.

‘It’s coming that time,’ I said to LSB earlier. ‘Restrictions are lifting and she’ll be back in and may have a stroke when she sees sees the limescale situation upstairs. I don’t want that on my conscience.’

Now as I’ve mentioned in that past, Himself is a great fella for leaving the housework to me, but didn’t he get out his phone and start googling ‘Top Tips for Toilet Cleaning’. The next thing he was heading up the stairs armed with baking soda, vinegar and a scourer. I came back from a walk in Ormeau Park and the glean off the loo nearly blinded me.  I think he felt that he had to atone for swilling pints most of the weekend, and so this cleaning spree was his penance. Either way, I’m not complaining: two clear surfaces and a sparkling toilet and it’s only Monday evening. And the pubs and eateries are open again. Hurrah.









SWB on Marian Keyes

I’ve a cracker book to recommend this week- when you’ve been so driven to distraction by your children that your brain feels like the sponge cake batter you’ve been whisking up, there’s no one quite like Marian Keyes to lift you out of your funk. In May a friend left Grown Ups on my door step, and thankfully she legged it before I could break all social distancing laws and envelop her in a warm embrace. It’s been hard, this Lockdown, if you’re a habitual hugger.

I set to it that same evening, and over the following days, my house reached new levels of squalor as I took myself off into the garden to get reading it. There are a few recurrent themes in Keyes’s oeuvre, namely addiction, fidelity issues and family sagas. And yet, I never tire of her writing because she creates such vital characters. I get so invested in what happens to them, that I don’t care much whether she has touched on a topic before.

Grown Ups focuses on a big family drama about three brothers and their families, so there is a multitude of interlinked characters and it’s a joy to read while she untangles all their stories. She’s most adept, is Marian, at creating tension, and the best bits by far were when all the family got together at a posh ‘do’ or a holiday.

Perhaps you’ve been away on a weekend to a hotel, and you’ve seen those families, you know, those shiny sort of people, all perfectly coiffed and delighted with themselves. They always materialise when you’re feeling rotten, shoe-horned into an ill-fitting dress while your ungrateful progeny refuse to eat anything but chips and your husband’s already chugged down three pints to cope and it’s not even 7pm. Those are the times I look at other families and think ‘Would you look at those bastards. Haven’t they got it sorted?’ This is when Marian is your woman, because she knows, better than most, that they aren’t all sorted at all. Not one little bit. The poor sod who’s picking up the tab is necking gin so they can cope when they get the bill, which, on a trip to a posh hotel in Ireland will be the equivalent of the GDP of Gabon. Someone else will be longing to garotte their sister-in-law with her Hermes scarf and the nephew will be checking his watch to see how soon he can escape this forced felicity.

There’s a wonderful chapter where one of the brother’s attempts a to organise a murder mystery weekend for his wife Jesse, but makes the mistake of booking it out in the sticks in Antrim instead of a famous hotel in Perthshire. Having read about their Easter trip to a plush Estate in County Kerry, and the luxury to which his Jesse is accustomed, you can only chortle with mirth at this shambles that is ‘Gulban Manor.’

But being Marian Keyes, she touches on the deeper stuff too: the refugee crisis, on period poverty, and the reality of trying to find a decent home in Dublin if you’re neither loaded nor a property developer. And she reveals some sad but essential truths too, that some relationships just can’t be repaired, no matter what you do , and the lesson is learning how to accept that.

It’s not all froth and romance, but it’s effortless holiday reading which makes it perfect for this summer. When we haven’t a f**king clue what’s coming next, it’s great we have Marian Keyes to rely on.





LSB goes on-line shopping

Overnight it seems, we have hit peak middle-age. LSB in particular. He is currently sanding down the edges of a piece of wood affixed with coat hooks which I fished out of a skip last week. Yesterday he was toiling in the garden, hammering planks salvaged from said skip into a raised bed for future lettuce harvests. Then this morning he was all excitable as he read me Thomasina Mier’s recipe for fish tacos, growing especially animated over the pineapple salsa. You wouldn’t need to be contemplating weight loss when LSB takes to the cooking. It’s all Thai curries with full fat coconut milk and Vietnamese pork belly with molasses, which, in case it isn’t calorific enough, gets fried up again in the wok. It’s basically just a big dish of cholesterol. And there’s me having just ordered three summer dresses online because I’ve slim chance in of squeezing my pudgy form into anything else.

Speaking of Miss Piggy, you want to see some of the ensembles Himself ordered me for my birthday. ‘What in the name of God is that?’ I said, as the (thankfully last) outfit arrived. I’m partial to some comfy lounge wear me, for the aforementioned reasons of increased expansion. Sadly though, our definitions of lounge-wear bear few similarities. He produced a dusky pink pair of velour high waisted bottoms with elasticated ankles from the bag as l looked on in dismay. This was the part I could actually wear while clinging to a modicum of dignity. The top, when I dared to look, had a slashed sort of neckline, which I suppose, on a waif like creature would slide seductively off the shoulder while she reclined on the sofa flicking through ‘Vogue.’ Carrie Bradshaw, for example. She could carry off this look with aplomb, and possibly even pair it with some statement earrings and a pair of Manolo Blahniks as she headed out for brunch with bottomless mimosas.  And I still haven’t even got to the worst part. The essence of lounge wear, I believe is comfort, which for me, implies coverage. The top, was not only tight-fitting, but cropped. Oh my giddy aunt. Imagine the awfulness, sitting there with your cup of tea and Fox’s Chocolatey Rounds and looking down to see that one of your spare tyres had escaped, spilling over the dusky pink waistband of the jogging bottoms, are whatever the fuck they are.

I fought my way into them, but didn’t dare sit down. LSB looked on, and for once didn’t suggest that I keep them. (Usually he can’t be arsed with the hassle of returns so says everything’s ‘lovely.’)

‘They are perhaps a bit ridiculous,’ he admitted, and I agreed heartily, hoping that the brief look of me in them hadn’t extinguished any flame of desire which still exists after these months of lockdown.

The other items which were dispatched back to the warehouse this week were a pair of leather look white knee high boots. Readers, I have just turned 41. Eating and drinking establishments are not yet open to the public, and when they are, I’m hoping to enter one, and not be turned away because I look like an aging Russian prostitute. I say Russian because years ago I was invited to a tremendously fun Hen Party, the theme of which was ‘Miss World.’ I picked ‘Miss Russia’ out of the hat and someone happened to have a ‘Tatiana the Soviet Spy’ outfit which  was comprised of a very short white dress, white stockings, and of course, the boots. LSB has fond memories of the look and he’s been on about the footwear ever since. Then, for his sins, I was watching the episode of ‘Sex and the City’ where Charlotte takes Elizabeth Taylor to a dog show and she happened to be wearing white boots and he claimed that this was what reignited his interest. The fact that the dog goes into heat and proceeded to have her period OVER the boots didn’t appear to have dampened his ardour, and that self same night, away he went and ordered them.

Men, they’re a funny lot, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, it’s Father’s Day and I bought him two sensible eco-friendly t-shirts and the children drew him cards featuring all the neighbourhood dogs.  He’s away down the Ravenhill Road to ‘Screwfix’ now, buying me a special part to secure my new water butt to the guttering. It’s not exactly ‘If Carlsberg did special occasions?’ is it? Still, only a couple of weeks and we can hop-foot it down to the Ormeau Road again for an al-fresco beverage and a moment of levity. Can’t come soon enough….



SWB reviews a Damn Fine Book

Way back at the start of Lockdown a couple of friends asked if I could do book reviews. So, I’m getting to it, finally now, just as restrictions are being lifted. But hey, isn’t it almost summer and yes, we’re less likely to be on a beach on the Costa del Sunshine, but there will hopefully be time to read a book or two anyway, even we are freezing our backsides off in an Air B&B in the back end of Mayo for want of nowhere else being open. (And yes, I am aware that it’s been roasting, but perpetual pessimist that I am, I’ll be amazed if it lasts all summer.)

My first recommendation is The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman, which I took with me on my girlie weekend to Barcelona. Much as I love my friends, I was so captivated by the story that I carted my sun-lounger to a shady corner of the roof terrace so I could lose myself in the narrative. I didn’t budge for two hours, not even for a glass of cava, so I’m telling you, this is some read. And when I finished it I wanted more- so much so that the next day I started it again from the beginning. I’ve never done that before.

And, I kid you not, I chose it based on its cover. Standing there I was, in ‘Books Paper Scissors’ and I said, ‘What’s that you have there now Paul?’ because it looked so fun and whimsical with its bold red jacket with a yellow canary perched upon a shelf. It all got a bit meta- me in an independent bookstore looking at a book about a small bookstore. However, the obvious difference is that in this story the proprietor is a Hungarian Jewish émigré who has survived Auschwitz and come to live in the backwater of Hometown in Australia. Here she meets Tom, a divorcee sheep farmer, and the two form an unlikely couple.

Tom is a pragmatist, and like the rest of the straight-talking townspeople, he finds Hannah’s bohemian eccentricities mystifying, but it is this clash of culture, often expressed through snippets of dialogue which make the story so engaging.

Hillman is the master of ‘show don’t tell’. A powerful example of this is when he describes how Hannah and the clutch of survivors of the ‘slave army’, carefully ration any food they manage to find as they journey through a freezing Poland: ‘A bag of ten hard sweets was divided up, two minutes per sweet by strict count in the mouth of each woman.’

In another vignette Hannah offers to help Tom dig a channel for the flood water to drain away after a Biblical downpour. He is amazed at her ability to dig, her steady handling of the sodden earth belying her slight stature. He wonders if this was something she learnt in Auschwitz, but hardly dares ask.

The novel skips seamlessly between past and present, as Hillman uses flashbacks to tell Hannah’s story set against her current life in Hometown with Tom. This is no ordinary love story- it is a testimony to the human psyche’s ability to not only endure, but to flourish. Although a short novel, Hillman manages to create a vivid depiction of small-town Australia and post-war life in Budapest with a startling clarity. And Tom. Dear God. Everyone needs a Tom in their life. As the novel unfolds, Hillman builds upon his character with tiny details, so that by the end of it, you mourn that he doesn’t belong in your close circle. The world needs more Toms, and more books like this one.

I read it a third time, over Lockdown. Something about the language soothes and settles me.  We could probably all be doing with a bit of that right now.



SWB sows some seeds

I think I’m now firmly ticking all the Lockdown stereotypes off the list. My burgeoning waistline is testimony to the banana bread and cream sponges I’ve been baking. (Top tip: adding two tablespoons of peanut butter to your banana bread mix makes it deliciously unctuous). I’m watching You Tube videos on how to successfully transplant my tomato plants without killing them and I’m googling what depth of container is best for sowing courguettes. LSB ordered a BBQ on-line before remembering how all our past barbeques have ended up encrusted with moulded fat and been chucked in the bin. So our new lime ‘Smokey Joe’ from Hillmount is now sitting forlornly in the shed while we grill the sausages as usual. I’ve been fruitlessly scouring the net for a trampoline and discovering that earliest possible delivery is mid-September. I’m never normally ‘on trend’, but I’m slamming it at the moment.

One quick glimpse at my Instagram feed tells me that everyone is stressed to f**k, so I’m bang on trend on that front too. I’m swearing like a navvy, as evidenced on Thursday when I took the dog on her first outings since the accident and she slipped her collar and made to go careening down the street. The worst word, (you know, THAT one,) slipped from my lips as I took off after her. I didn’t want her bursting her stitches and undoing all the good the week’s rest had achieved. The children looked on bemused but thankfully wide-eyed in their innocence.

Later I apologised to them. They have, in fairness, been fairly dire this week, so tempers have been frayed and I have been very ‘shouty’. ‘I’ve been a terrible mummy,’ I said dolefully, as I put then to bed. ‘No, you haven’t,’ said the Small Child, putting her little head on my shoulder. ‘But you ARE a terrible teacher. TERRIBLE.’

The endless questions. MUM!! Can I have a drink? (You know where the fecking tap is!) MUM!! Where are my shoes? (‘They’re your flipping shoes how should I know?’). MUM!! Is my hoodie dry?’ This, from a child, who is standing IN FRONT of the hoodie where it is hanging, damp to the touch, in the laundry room. They have developed selective deafness so they remain impervious to demands to empty the dishwasher, but should they hear the slightest whisper about a socially distanced meet-up they are up off their seats and executing a victory dance.

My brain feels like scrambled egg. Lockdown is like death by a thousand micro-obligations, each task do-able in itself but the accumulation threatens to overwhelm. There have been rows over school-work, rows over eating vegetables, rows over the fecking FECKING Nintendo and the piles of abandoned clothes, not limited only to the house now, but which are also strewn around the garden. I keep reaching for the wine then feeling like an alcoholic and replacing it in the fridge until what feels like an acceptable hour.

Achievements are small but significant. Today I was interrupted and taken upstairs to be shown the cat sitting under the ironing board and the dog lying on a blanket across from her about a metre away. Not a single hiss has been emitted so this détente is worthy of celebration indeed.

So it brings me no end of comfort that other people claim that they too, are going slowly but definitely madder by the moment. I’ve had to completely stop listening to the news because I haven’t been able to control my Tourette’s every time Boris or Trump gets a mention, which is, let’s face it, at every single bulletin.

I’ve been feeling miserable, then feeling bad for feeling miserable, because one, I don’t have coronavirus (as far as I know) and two, if I happen to hand over a fraudulent tenner in the shop, I’m unlikely to end up dead in police custody. What really, does a middle-class white person have to complain about, living here in leafy suburbia? I suppose that’s the first step: understanding that you’ll never understand, and trying then to do something, anything, that will make a difference, no matter how tiny.

With two inquisitive minds in the house, there are questions coming at me that I have no idea how to answer. Please, I think, just go back to asking me what’s for lunch. ‘Was George Floyd a bad man?’ ‘Why did the police do that then?’ At what stage do you start talking to children about these things? So there have been many challenging conversations. We’ve watched the protests on TV but I’ve said we won’t be attending any because of the virus. So we are reading and donating and I’m signing petitions on line. As I said, I’m on trend.

But meanwhile, I’m baking buns and sowing seeds. This, I believe it where it all starts. Children need to learn by osmosis and be shown how to self-soothe, and when they see me out, pottering with my bags of compost, they see me happy and no longer rattled. It usually isn’t long before they abandon their screens and pop out to join me. Voltaire’s Candide, my most favourite of all literary characters, knew what he was on about when he said we should tend our gardens. It won’t heal us, or our fractured society, but it’s as good a place as any to start.



Dog Day Disasters

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t get a dog. So if you are thinking of acquiescing to the demands of your off-spring (or trying to convince your husband to bow to yours) you may wish to read the following first, just to help you arrive at an informed decision.

I have spent a great deal of time during this Lockdown period, convinced that my family are trying to gas light me. Perhaps you have felt the same. Here’s how it goes:

ME: Where’s my phone?

OFF-SPRING (in unison, playing on their f**king Nintendo): Don’t know. (And don’t fecking care either).

Two hours later the phone is located on their bedroom floor where one child films another leaping from bed to bed while giving a running commentary in a fake and grating American accent.

Now the dog has started conspiring against me too. Single slippers are deposited on the lawn, as are table tennis bats. When I’m weeding and set down my trowel for five seconds she make off with that too, and my gardening gloves don’t fare any better. I constantly lose things anyway so I don’t need children and animals adding to my messy, muddled mind.

I’m not sure whether our dog thinks she is a person or whether she regards the rest of us as her pack of dogs. Either way, she likes to be very involved in every activity, and whines pitifully if the children have the audacity to go into the garden without her. LSB went for a snooze the other day and woke up with her asleep beside him, head on the pillow. He jumped, I laughed, she snored. It’s like having a shadow following us about and God help her when normality returns, because she won’t want to be left.

The cat is still non-plussed at her arrival, especially because Tilly devours all her food which is costing us a fortune in fecking Gourmet Purina pouches. At least they have settled down around each other now- the first few weeks it was like living in an episode of ‘The Wire.’

I am acquainted with a local poet, whose Twitter bio reads: ‘Servant to a menagerie of creatures.’ Join the club, I thought at five this morning, as I wandered around the garden trying to convince the dog to pee. This is not the norm, I might add, but unfortunately when your greyhound manages to impale herself on some unknown sharp object while on her morning walk to the meadow, this is the outcome.

Some lengthy surgery ensued, and her thigh needed to be all stitched together; no easy feat when you consider the breed’s skin, which is taut and thin. The poor vet didn’t have much to work with. Quite a mischief she did to herself, and we now have to monitor her day and night lest she escapes from her collar of shame and rips out her stitches. She has been put on strict bed rest, which, for a youthful energetic creature like herself, isn’t so much a challenge as an impossibility. Moreso for us, trying to police her. You’d have better luck trying to get Dominic Cummings to STAY AT HOME. Incidentally, when she refused to pee outside this morning I put Saturday’s Guardian on the floor to see if she would urinate on that, but she said no, she’d have another go outside before she’d relieve herself on your man’s face. Finally, when I took off her collar she deigned to go. There’s forty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

She has only managed to defecate once in the last forty-eight hours, due to the combined effects of trauma, a general anaesthetic and a reduced appetite. The Small Child though, still managed to find the solitary shit, and not only stand in it, but proceed to slide down the slide with most of the canine faeces on her trainer, (which were, of course, white) thus necessitating the cleaning of both slide and shoe.

I have thus spent the last two days in a state of high agitation. We are, naturally, besotted with her, and she has rallied so well. The Mothership was dead against me getting a dog, (past experiences have been disastrous) until she met Tilly, and now asks me to send her a photo every day. The reason she was so agin getting her was that it’s just so flipping awful when something happens to them. Plus I’m forever ringing her to whinge about my over-burdened life and there is no doubt that having a dog at least doubles the housework. Even a shorthaired dog like herself moults something shocking.

But getting the dog, (at a lesser extent our tetchy and taciturn cat), has helped bring  us together and give us a common focus during this time of weirdness and social distancing. It helps dispel the angst and gloom, and when I’m not treating them with flea powder and carting them off to the vet, it’s been a welcome reprieve.

SWB gets into Leather

It has just dawned on me why hippies go around smiling beatifically and it’s got nothing  to do with the free love, psychedelic drugs or dropping out of the rat race. I think it’s all down to their casual disregard for structured clothing and tight waistbands: that’s why they look like they don’t give a f**k. How I hate an underwired bra and skinny jeans, that leave your tummy with cruel button indentations and deep channels running down your poor squeezed thighs.

I haven’t put on a pair of tights since Lockdown began and this has made all the other hardships much easier to bear. I think my favourite part of summer holidays is not packing tights: chucking on a diaphanous dress and heading to the pool with all notions of my M&S black opaques forgotten. And do your tights ever go on in a twist, as you fight your way into them in the half-light of an icy winter morning? God, how I hate that. Hell for me, would be going round for all eternity wearing twisted hosiery, with only instant coffee to drink and listening to Baby Shark on a loop. I’d be well miserable, (but that, I suppose, would be the point.)

So, in an effort to see me in something other than leggings and pyjama bottoms, didn’t Himself go online and order me a selection of garments. Now there was me trying to be green and ecologically aware, and well-pleased with myself I was, that I hadn’t bought anything new in months, (not even an ethically sourced cotton t-shirt.) He’d been reading the Guardian Weekend and there was Jess Cartner-Morley parading about in a pair of high-waisted leather look trousers. Naturally enough, what with her being a fine looking girl who can, unlike me, tolerate wearing heels, (I HATE HEELS, fecking torture for feet) she carried them off with aplomb. I’m not sure they sat so well on my five feet nothing and increasingly pot-bellied frame. I’m keeping them though, because when we emerge from this, I will need something to heave myself into.

But he hadn’t stopped there. Oh no. There were three other leather look articles for me to peruse, including one pair of orangey-brown trousers that looked like the sort of protective clothing one would don if they were checking the accumulation of micro-plastics in their local sewerage treatment plant. Two skirts too, which were, I feel an optimistic purchase on his part, that I’ll tart myself up since it’s the weekend and inject a bit of glamour into proceedings while he makes me a French Martini. ‘Look at their nice soft waistbands,’ he said, looking hopeful. Perhaps I should apply some fake tan and we could do an online poll to help me decide whether to keep them or not.

I wore my black trousers to Sainsbury’s on Thursday evening and met a friend. Instead of doing the decent thing and inquiring about her family’s health, my opening conversational gambit was, ‘Do you like my new trousers, or do I look like Patsy in Ab Fab?’  ‘Very fetching,’ she replied and kind soul that she is, didn’t make any reference to mutton or lamb. She was wearing a face-mask though which probably helped when arranging her features into an expression of positivity. I think she could see the demented look I had about me and had no wish to crush my wilting spirit.

There we are then- I’ve covered fashion, hippies and notions about the afterlife. Happy Friday everyone- now away out there and nail down all your new patio furniture and trampolines before this gale blows them clean into Belfast Lough.





SWB feels a bit wobbly

As I write this my husband is out in the laundry room, apologising to the cat. ‘I’m sorry about this Izzy,’ he begins, ‘but the shop had none of your usual fare, so you’ll have to make do.’ I can only imagine the cat’s face when faced with a bowl of dry Purina pellets instead of her Gourmet sachets. She’s been in terribly poor humour since the arrival of the greyhound, and takes herself in to LSB’s study to shout at him, or lands on his head at about 4am and stats kneading his hair. She knows not to bother with me, as I can withstand the yamming of a cat better than he. She has good reason for finding fault with the dog, because Tilly keeps finishing off all dinners so when she goes back for her second helping she is confronted with the licked clean surface of an empty bowl. It’s enough to give a cat a complex.

It’s been a strange auld weekend. It should have been Georgina’s First Communion on Saturday, which is the most Catholic thing you’ll ever hear a Protestant from North Down say. I’ve been round the houses at bit with religion, but since I’m Church of Ireland, Catholicism isn’t too much of a leap.  I quite like going to Mass actually. I like the quiet and the introspection and the fact that no one bothers me for an hour. I find myself drifting into a kind of meditative trance, and almost always come out feeling the better for having gone. Nobody ever goes in for any of that mad carry-on: waving their hands in the air and clapping like a seal on ketamine, which is a relief after I flirted with the Pentecostals as a teen (after which I  think I may still be suffering from PTSD). I didn’t realise how much I’d missed having it in my life until I listened to the wee message the Parish Priest sent out for the kids, and when he said the Blessing  I burst into tears. I’d been going every week you see, and it’s been nine weeks now and it was just so comforting to hear. So there you are, that was surprising.

Less surprising was that Herself went and got her dress and was halfway into it until LSB shouted ‘PUT IT AWAY’ because sure she would have had it clarried in muck in five seconds flat. The next thing she has it laid out on the floor which hadn’t been mopped in at least 3 weeks as she tried to manoeuvre it back into its protective bag. And there was me, just trying to drink my coffee in peace. There’s a lesson there. Just don’t think, that you will ever, during this lockdown, get to enjoy a hot beverage. You’ll be lucky if you get it down you before it’s cold, never mind being able to appreciate the rich notes of caramel and hazelnut in your Single Origin Columbian Roast. ‘PICK IT UP OFF THE EFFING FLOOR,’ I shrieked, which was rich for a woman who thirty seconds previous had been wiping away tears after listening to a priest on You Tube.

Another thing that made me sad was that Harper’s Yard was cancelled. For the uninitiated, Harper’s Yard is the brainchild of some friends of mine and their fabulous neighbour Brian Harper. It’s a simple enough premise- neighbours meet to eat cake, drink coffee and chat, and make a donation to a local charity. But here’s the thing- anything that looks so simple is never simple. HOURS of icing and baking and organising go into it.  This was going to be a special Twilight Session with wine and music and fairy lights. The beneficiary this time was Cruse Bereavement Services, which LSB and I have both availed of over the last five years. In fact, were it not for the counsellor I saw, who told me that I ought to write, I maybe wouldn’t have started the blog at all, which as I’ve said, has been a form of therapy in itself. Of course they put up lots of lovely messages about how we’ll do it all again when it’s safe to do so, and that had me snivelling all over again. So there you are: totes emosh. (Did I really just say that? This Lockdown must really be getting to me.)

SWB enjoys some lockdown luxury

No flipping way, I thought initially, if I’m ordering in, I want it to arrive hot and ready to eat. I don’t want to have to light my oven and read instructions and potentially wreck the expensive dinner before it’s even hit my plate. No, I thought: until it is deemed safe enough to venture out again, I will stay put, and enjoy a meal without the risk of butchering it.

For me, eating out is about the escapism. It is leaving behind the carnage of my house and obviating the need to clear the table of accumulated ephemera. It is the wine list and the joy of choosing a wine to suit each course, if one is making a night of it. It is sitting in the window of General Merchants and Shed and seeing friends walk by who may even pop in and say hello, or the munching of chicken wings on a cheeky mid-week outing to the Northern Lights.

It is not a van drawing up outside your house and handing you two brown paper bags at three in the afternoon. Except, last Friday it was, because this is lockdown and needs must and the thought of eating my own fecking food for another consecutive night had me sourer than a Free Presbyterian stumbling in on an episode of Normal People, and on a Sunday too.

Someone on social media drew my attention to Taste & Tour and happy days, they were delivering, and wasn’t it Indian themed, and I am partial to an Indian. But I am also (and here’s a surprise,) a very FUSSY connoisseur of Indian cuisine because when I lived on Reunion Island we had Indian landlords, who would occasionally drop us in fresh samosas and the odd goat curry. I have since found it hard to countenance the dishes to which one is often subjected here, with all the gloopy sauce and mounds of green pepper. Why do takeaways INSIST on shovelling green pepper into everything? Nigella Lawson says they are an abomination and I’m inclined to agree. Bitter and tasteless but much cheaper than their red counterparts, hence their popularity, I suppose.

Feck me but don’t I digress?

Back to Taste & Tour: flipping gorgeous it was. My fears were unfounded: there’s actually fuck all to do. It arrives, like any normal takeaway, but requires heating. So on went the oven and in went the starter and main. LSB did this, while I ran up the stairs and fired on nice top and skirt and some lipstick. ‘Aww would you look at you!’ said he when I reappeared, delighted to see me out of my rotten old active wear.

Up at the breakfast bar I perched and he opened the pouch of East India Gimlet and shook it over ice. Yes, these guys provide a cocktail in a pouch. To be fair, when I saw the menu I was like, chickpea starter, hmm, lamb biriyani ok so, but then my eyes lit upon the word COCKTAIL and I was all, Feck! Yes! Get it ordered! It was aromatic and zesty and given my swift descent into gentle inebriation, fairly lethal too. Down the hatch it went, sharpish.

‘Ding’ went the timer and the first course was ready. I’ll be honest. A few potatoes and some chickpeas done with tomato and spices. I was not initially enamoured. But, when decanted upon the plate with the yogurt dip, mint & coriander chutney and pomegranate seeds, it was sensational. And this is when it suddenly became a restaurant sort of experience because I became all poncy going ‘Do you SEE how the freshness mint brings out of the spiciness of the chilli? And the yogurt and the chickpeas? Have you EVER encountered such a perfect pulse?

‘I could eat ten of those’ declared Himself as he put down his fork. ‘Me too,’ I said, and then we discussed how, if we had meals like this more often we could go vegetarian. But DING went the timer again and out wafted the smell of slow cooked lamb which put paid to that notion for now. We heated the dahl in a pot for five minutes and the main was ready go.

Another revelation: never before have I heard my husband comment positively about a lentil. ‘My God,’ he said, with feeling. ‘I wouldn’t even KNOW that was a lentil.’ He’s been a long time agin lentils, has Himself, after a bad experience with a Dansak we once shared in the Bengal Brasserie, the consequences of which I shan’t labour here. This dahl, on the other hand, was rich and indulgent. And the lamb. I am still thinking about the lamb. Delicately spiced, velvety and succulent, it was a dream, and even more so when topped with raita and red onion.

I like cooking, but I’m too busy to be flavouring a raita with cumin and coriander, or footering about making a tamarind chutney. I’m not about to start cooking a dahl for five hours, or making a curry with a base of 25 ingredients. Nor am I a precision cook who ensures that that’s an interesting mix of tastes and textures on the plate. In short, I’m a mum who’s wearing about 4 different hats at the moment. So to have this beauty dropped on my doorstep was a Friday Delight indeed. We were too full to have dessert so waited until  on Saturday before sampling the chocolate brownies from Little Pink Kitchen. I never would have thought of adding cardamom to a brownie but it certainly lent it a Bombay twist, and along with a scoop of Al Gelato (which we’d ordered separately,) it was an unctuous, stunning combination.

All in all, it came to over fifty quid, at £23 a head plus extra because Himself had ordered 6 bottles of beer. This meant we had free delivery and for restaurant quality food I think it was worth it. Given the money we have saved by not going out and how we have all but eliminated food waste- I think this is an indulgence well worth forking out for.

(Taste & Tour are no longer offering this particular Friday night service, but keep an eye on their website for other exciting developments.) Meanwhile, keep supporting restaurant when you can, so they are still up and running when we are.

SWB is still ranting away over here

Readers, I tried. I really tried. I was going to be all shiny and positive this week because lovely neighbours have deposited books and buns and plants on my doorstep (sadly no dog’s pyjamas have arrived as yet) and I was trying to channel all my feel-good vibes and be thankful and full of gratitude. But after half an hour of home-schooling yesterday, this noble pursuit was dropped quicker than Prof Neil Ferguson’s trousers, so hey ho, you’re stuck with another rant. Bear with me.

Life under lockdown can be summarised as a series of interruptions, can’t it? Everything takes about three times as long, with treble the amount of aggravation. About a month ago, when I was still trying to be healthy and doing  ‘Yoga with Adrienne’, up popped one of the Master Class adverts featuring Joyce Carol Oates, who offered this nugget of wisdom: ‘You cannot write if you are constantly interrupted.’ Really Joyce? Fecking really? Is that true? Because I’ve become the next f**king Anne Tyler since my kids have been at home 24/7 and my husband’s backside is cemented to his swizzle chair at the computer upstairs.

I never get two minutes peace. The second I think I’m making some headway with a task, in wanders a child needing a drink or a snack or their ball retrieved from the top of the shed.

Of course, the real battle is with myself, trying not to look at the WhatApp on my phone which is going a dinger, and thinking that really the loo could do with a good scrub while I’m supposed to be writing or marking or helping a child do Tally Charts. ‘I HATE TALLY CHARTS,’ wailed the wee one on Wednesday. ‘You hate everything, unless it involves taking out paints and giving me work,’ I snapped, ‘so you may just get on with your sums.’

I really am not my best self at the moment.

Even my Mac conspires against me, as I can almost see my battery plummet by the second, while the poor fan chunters away like mad, seeing as it’s being used as the portal for my work, the home-schooling system and the eleventy billion other things I look up on a day to day basis. A quick look at my browser history shows that yesterday I googled ‘How to Draw a Baby Seal’ on You Tube, ‘How to Start Your own Wormery’ and in the middle of this I decided to order some dessert from Al Gelato (I told you I was easily distracted).  All this I did while waiting for the child to come back downstairs where she’d gone to get a red felt tip and got distracted.

(In fairness, the seal we drew together as the day’s ‘fun creative activity’ wasn’t half bad.)

I am, of course, not the only poor devil losing this battle while they try to work. A teacher colleague of mine was busy last week contending with spreadsheets and data while her sons pestered her with questions as diverse as ‘Does this picture look more like pâte or ham to you?’ for his French homework, and another wanted her to simplify quadratic equations with him.

I think my temper has been so frayed because I feel so guilty all the time; I can never concentrate at the task at hand because I feel I should be crossing something else off my ‘to do list.’ And meanwhile, the dishes! How they mount! And of course, we went and got the dog who likes to be made a fuss of so I can’t walk past her without giving her a hug, so she’s another great interruption, but a lovely one, it must be said.

But if you’re in the same boat as me here’s a tip; (and I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, what? A tip from you, you crazed mad woman?) but on Tuesday I took my friend Gayle’s advice and I set an alarm and forced myself to get up at 6-45. I shook off the sleep and opened the laptop and did three finicky wee jobs that I couldn’t get near the day before. Boom, boom, boom, I had them all done in no time with no one asking any questions except for LSB who did enquire as to the state of my health, so uncharacteristic was this behaviour. I’ve never been a morning person but I can see now how people get up at 5-30am run round looking all smug and pleased with themselves. It’s a joy, really, to start the day with a win rather than a sense of dread, if like me, you usually feel defeated by 9-15.

Anyway, it’s Friday evening now and I took the day off home-schooling and my work and we walked the dog together and ordered in a feast from ‘Taste and Tour’ and I’m feeling very much better. I’m telling you, it’s cheaper than therapy, this writing lark. Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

(Only got to posting this on Saturday, due to constant interruptions).