SWB needs a Getaway

It was wonderful to return to the Black Box last night and meet up with the Tenx9 crew and some new friends. I’ve recently joined Women Aloud and they are a great bunch, welcoming and very, very funny. One of the wonderful things about Tenx9 stories, is that they’ve allowed me to revisit episodes in my life which were shite at the time but looking back, actually quite humorous. Cases in point are: my school formal; my wedding day; the time I decided to foster a dog and had a nervous breakdown, and then, there was this holiday to Portugal. Sometimes the fact that LSB and I are still going strong just amazes me.

Here’s the story, and the theme was ‘Getaways’

‘This looks nice, doesn’t it?’ I said, showing my boyfriend an article in The Guardian Travel supplement. It described a delightful and unexpected find in the Portuguese countryside, and the photo showed a rustic house, bathed in the early evening sun. It had a natural ‘eco-pool’ and meals were served in a shady courtyard and you could stroll in a cork forest by day before relaxing on the terrace of the spacious rooms. There would be no children, (as a teacher this was very important to me) and no hordes of gay Adonises to make my partner feel shite.

I’ll explain. The year before I’d been in Madrid all summer and suggested that my boyfriend meet me for a beach holiday up in Barcelona. We’d come to Sitges, a resort where all the gays in Europe chose to congregate. My boyfriend was so white he was almost blue. He had been working on Wall Street, during the financial crash of 2008, so long days were followed by even longer nights drinking in a pub called The Killarney Rose. ‘Here comes the salad dodger!’ the waiter used to say when he came in of an evening and ordered his burger, stipulating: ‘Meat in a bap, nothing else.’

He was therefore self-conscious on the beach, surrounded by bronzed, svelte men with six packs and very small Speedos. I, on the other hand, coped quite well.

We therefore had to compromise.  I needed sunshine, a warm pool and access to pina coladas. But he didn’t know what to do on a beach holiday. His only concession to the 40º temperatures In Spain was to pack three short sleeved shirts. He arrived in jeans, and trainers, with socks on. He didn’t bring sunglasses, because he didn’t own any. He seemed content, to fry the corneas off himself. He had neither shorts nor flipflops. Sun-cream baffled him. He did take off his shoes, but forgot to apply sunscreen to his feet, and the one bit of exposed skin turned beetroot that evening. It was sore when his trainer rubbed against it, he conceded later. I didn’t offer much sympathy.

So we agreed on sunshine, but no beach part. We booked two nights in Lisbon first, to temper our retreat with some bustling city life. It sounded like a perfect, well planned getaway. Then we got there. As we stepped off the bus in the main square, we were accosteded by two men ‘Coke? Grass? Acid?’ they said. ‘Very good price!’ Looking back, our first mistake was not to take ALL the drugs. They would have made our first night infinitely more bearable. A crotchety receptionist directed us to our room, in the deepest entrails of a shabby hotel. The lift was broken and we huffed and puffed, bumping our case up the stairs. I still think about the bed, which took up almost the whole room. If there was a Tenx9 for beds, this bed could tell several tales. The springs threatened to break free and lacerate us as we slept. We rammed our case underneath, firstly, as there was nowhere else to put it, and secondly, to lend the mattress extra support.

‘You needn’t be thinking they’ll be any…’ I started to say, but Himself interrupted, ‘In that?’ he said. ‘I wasn’t going to suggest it. I don’t have a death wish.’ The bathroom was built into the sloping roof, like a cupboard with a toilet. Even at five feet one, I had to duck my head to get in. I turned on the fan and as it wheezed into motion a cloud of dead mosquitoes fell onto the bed. ‘FUCK ME!’ I shouted. I thought we said that was off the menu,’ said my boyfriend. This is not even funny, I fumed.

‘No,’ said the receptionist when I went to complain. ‘There are no other rooms.’ Even a meal of steak and fine red wine couldn’t dispel our gloom that night.

In the morning, such was my sourness, that they gave us a new room with a balcony that smelt of lemon scented verbena. But despite sauntering the cobbled streets, and hopping on and off the tram to stop for tapas, I was still in puerile form. Beside our hotel was a bridal shop displaying garish dresses of a lurid yellow hue, like something you would cough up after a chest infection. ‘I could see you in that one,’ said Himself, winking. I think I told him to piss off.

The next day we boarded a train for Evora, from where we would reach our eco resort. The lady at the bus station looked bemused when we explained where we wished to go.

‘Where?’ she said. ‘There are no buses there. You’ll have to take a taxi.’

So we stayed the night in Evora which was beautiful and atmospheric, but I managed to ruin the moment by trying the local delicacy, which was a bowlful of snails, swimming in a sickly garlic broth.

‘Should we just stay here?’ asked Himself. ‘I like this town.’ He liked how they served beer in tankards at the Bowie themed bar we found. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I WANT TO GO TO MY RETREAT!’ The next day a kamikaze taxi driver sped us through a desolate landscape with acres of barren scrubby fields. ‘You’re going here?’ he said. Even in broken English, his tone still conveyed incredulity.  When we rocked up in a cloud of dust, the staff looked at us in surprise. They didn’t expect two young people. They looked embarrassed on our behalf that we’d gone. There was an honesty bar, boasting one type of shit local beer and thankfully, gin. We couldn’t get lunch, because the staff were hosting a conference for very earnest looking Portuguese people. ‘Never mind,’ I said, ‘let’s go to the pool.’ The eco-friendly credentials meant that they eschewed adding chlorine, and instead let the ‘natural pond life feed and cleanse the water’.  At worst, it looked like a sewer, and at best, an overgrown duck pond. I entered its brown murky depths and felt the reeds tug at my ankles.

My disappointment was acute. ‘Shall we have a walk in the forest?’ suggested my boyfriend, with a note of desperation creeping in. Off we trudged. The scorched earth was red and dusty. Cork trees are not famed for leafy foliage. It mirrored my mood which was now apocalyptic. Then we got lost. We hadn’t brought pebbles like Hansel and Gretel and even my boyfriend’s usually good sense of direction failed him. ‘Is that a fence?’ I said. It was. A barbed wire fence, to be precise, but we’d been in this bastard forest for two hours and I’d had enough. I was astride the fence, when I heard barking and two angry mongrels bounded towards us, snarling. I jumped back into the forest smartish and didn’t notice the gash on my hand until later.

Dinner that night was a subdued affair. In the absence of a menu they plonked down two bowls of tomato soup with fried eggs floating on top. There is nothing that my boyfriend despised more than eggs, but he valiantly slurped up some of the soup around it and ate the bread. He was still trying to rescue the moment.

‘The courtyard’s nice, isn’t it?’ he said. I conceded that it was, indeed, romantic.

‘It would be nice to get married,’ he went on. ‘Not here, obviously, but somewhere like this, only you know, better.’

‘Hmmph,’ I said. He looked sadly down at his soup.

We returned to Lisbon two days early where it was hot and busy and I was still pissed off. Then the day after we came home our cat ran out in the road and had to have her tail amputated. ‘This summer’s been a blast,’ I lamented. However, we were still talking and even managing to have the odd laugh. At the end of August we went to look at a house that was for sale near where we lived. Then we went to St George’s Market for a sausage sandwich. ‘Here,’ I said. ‘Do you reckon if we’re looking at buying a house we might get married one day?

‘Yea totally,’ said Stevey.

‘Should we look at a few rings then?’ I said. (I wasn’t planning this by the way. I was wearing my running shorts and trainers.)

‘Sure,’ he said.

We trotted into a jewellers 15 minutes later I came out with a very shiny diamond ring. It went really well with my shorts.

‘Fancy Portugal for the honeymoon?’ he joked.

‘Why not,’ I said. As long as it’s with you.




SWB is hopping mad

I liked a post on Facebook which said ‘Kids don’t need more plastic toys, they need new experiences.’ How true, I thought and gave it the big thumbs up. I may even have shared it. ‘My children have plenty of new experiences,’ I even have thought to myself. ‘Here they are in Mallorca, in a nice (if extremely rustic resort where a lot of things are broken but still) but there are pools and there is sunshine and there are little horses to stroke.’

But you’ve guessed it. My kids, despite all my attempts at indoctrination, still wanted more plastic shite, but they know better than to ask me to buy it for them. Here’s a tale from the holiday to illustrate my point.

Two weeks ago, I took the bus into the city from our resort to lose myself in the cobbled streets by the cathedral and sit in a cafe and read my book in peace. As I attempted to calm my VERY sun-kissed cheeks with my new Tropic mineral foundation, I issued LSB with instructions.

‘Reapply sun-cream after the pool. Make sure they drink loads, even if it has to be Coke. Don’t buy them anymore Haribo. Keep an eye on them at the deep end.’

‘Not my first rodeo,’ says LSB tightly, narrowing his eyes.

‘AND DO NOT buy them those bastard rabbits.’ I add as I leave. There is a shop at the resort which sells necessary items like sun cream and armbands and wine, and then shite such as battery powered rabbits (not THAT kind, you dirt birds) but badly made toys on leads which small children can trail about after them. They make a horrible droning sound, so of course my children are transfixed. At €12 each, I imagine they cost the equivalent in cents to make in a factory in Guangdong Province in China.

I spend a hot afternoon in Palma and am unimpressed because the shops either cater for teeny bops in chain stores or for the rich set, who can afford to shell out £400 for a top in posh designer stores. I spy a dress which I fancy because it’s white and airy and in an effort to ‘pack light’ I’ve nothing clean left. Despite being in the sale it is €85. I read that Mallorca is more expensive than mainland Spain because everything is imported, and I confirm that disappointingly, this is true. The shopkeeper is a picture of bronzed elegance. The look she gives me suggests that I am not the clientele she wants in her shop. I give her a sour look as I leave.

My phone beeps as I receive a text from LSB which alludes to his great misery: ‘Pls go to a pharmacy and get me plasters. My poor feet. They bleed.’ Prior to our trip he had dug up an overgrown shrub in the garden, but some ants took a fancy to his ankle and left a trail of bites along his foot. These were irritated by his choice of footwear on holiday, when his socks stuck to them in the heat. He’s not a fan of the flip-flop, my husband. So the whole afternoon, in Palma, I buy nothing other than Elastoplast and a mango ice cream.

A small over-heated child screams for a solid hour on the bus back and I return to our room hot and sour and frazzled. I hear the a dull electronic noise before I even reach the terrace. The children’s mouths are a deep shade of electric blue, so there’s no hiding the fact they have eaten bubblegum lollies. ‘Look at our bunnies!’ says the Small Child. Georgina’s is called Lola, and what’s mine called again? ‘Lily,’ her sister reminds her.

They have flung all my things out of the dressing table and used the drawers  to create ‘hutches’, complete with water bottles and sweets for food and beds made from socks.

The bunnies accompany us for dinner, on their leads. Children beam and parents smile wryly at us, obviously thinking ‘You’re a pair of mugs, giving in to them.’

The next day Bunny Lily comes a cropper when she gets dropped or trampled on and a leg snaps off- a piece of plastic adrift in its cheap polyester casing. ‘That looks like I nasty break,’ says LSB, but the Small Child is devastated, and even a game of ‘Let’s take bunny to the vet’ does little to appease her. ‘I suppose that’s what happens when you buy cheap tat,’ I mutter darkly to him. ‘I got an hour to read my book in peace while they played with them and you went off on your own,’ he says. ‘Don’t knock it.’

The Mothership has been appointed ‘chief fixer of toys’ and the children have devised a plan whereby she must cut open the material, superglue the  leg back on and then sew it up again. I’m sure she can’t wait until we’re home.



SWB on Holiday Meltdowns

Just warning you- there’s going to be swearing and plenty of it. At breakfast LSB said to me:

‘What about a feature called ‘Melter of the Month’ for your blog, you know, as content?’ He’s been full of ideas this trip, about my blog. He’s thinking of a ‘Sour Wee Book’ full of nuggets of wisdom from me and The Mothership.

‘Wisdom? Me?’ I said.

‘Well, you know, nonsense that you pass off as wisdom,’ he replied.

Cheeky f**ker.’ (Incidentally, I didn’t know that ‘CF’ was a thing on ‘Mumsnet’, but then I never really read ‘Mumsnet’ so I hadn’t even a clue what ‘AIBU’ meant until recently. I live in a sort of SWB bubble, which is perhaps why I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 4 years and it hasn’t gone very far. Just as well, I suppose: I’ve enough anxiety issues without adding fame to the list: I mightn’t be able to cope.)

I digress. ‘Melter of the Month?’ I said, ‘What about “Melter of the Morning”’? Sitting opposite us at the table was the Small Child, with an expression that would have withered your wisteria in 3 seconds flat. ‘What’s the matter now?’ I said in despair, dipping my homemade chocolate cookie into my cappucino.

‘I don’t like the FOOD,’ she replied.

Let me tell you about the food. There were eggs, fried to perfection; creamy yogurt with an infinite number (ok, five) things to sprinkle in it, and luscious slices of watermelon, cantaloupe and blood orange. Piled on trays were croissants and muffins and cake and breads of every kind including one which was soft and pie shaped and dusted with icing sugar. It made my heart do a little flip and everything in the world seem alright. I tried cajoling: ‘Up you come with me and let’s see what we can find! Oooh, let’s put some Nutella on that mini croissant!’

Do you know what the wee s**t finally said she wanted? ‘If only there were crisps, then I could make a crisp sandwich,’ she said. I kid you f**king not. It was 9am.  Her daddy actually smirked a little bit, because he was the f**ker who introduced her to a crisp sandwich, as though it were a good thing, and something which they ‘bonded over.’ I mean, there was a veritable smorgasbord of delights but she declared that the mini doughnut she deigned to sample got ‘sour towards the end’ and the cookies were ‘not to her taste’. I must confess that I taught her that phrase as I objected strongly to foodstuffs (particularly items which I had lovingly prepared) being declared ‘revolting’.

Her sister, on the other hand (and God how I loved her at the moment) was hoovering up banana chips and slathering her muffin in strawberry jam and humming happily to herself.

Later, we went to the pool. There was some playing and pretending to be mermaids (a game where I have to be Queen mermaid and they swim about  saying: ‘I’m Eve and my tail is purple with white bits and I’ll collect you prawns for lunch) and this contented them for approximately eight minutes and until they got bored and wanted to go ‘back to the room.’

‘No,’ I said, with feeling. LSB had the shits which he claimed was down to the teeny tiny bit of mayonnaise which was on his pork gyoza in a sushi bar last night, but I would suggest the ever present glasses of chilled beer in his hand since we arrived on the island 7 days ago would more likely be the culprit. Anyway, he was away for paracetamol, and I was landed with the two feckers who, every time I found something interesting to read on Twitter, would insist on annoying me.

They don’t like to take on fluids my children, unless it’s Coke or Sprite and I worry for their teeth since mine are like chalk and tend to disintegrate and therefore my dentist and I have such a close relationship that every time I sit on the chair I just say, ‘What’s wrong now’ and he tells me and I say ‘FUCK’ and he just nods, sadly, and tells me to book in for fillings ASAP. So I bought them a lolly each as it was already 28º and I feared dehydration would do little to improve their moods. Sitting down with a sigh I reflected: ‘FIVE MINUTES. PLEASE GOD FIVE MINUTES OF PEACE’. The Older One then opened her Super Twister and there was f**k all super about it, as it had melted into an odd and sticky mess where stick and lolly were indistinguishable.

Fortunately, LSB chose this moment to return from the pharmacy and I declared that HE could sort the BLASTED LOLLY OUT and that I was parking myself ‘far, far away’ from all family members. It was 11.35. How dreadful to be so fed up at 11.35, especially when the day had started so well with the Small Child acquiescing to put on a wee dress and white sandals and looked altogether edible, which was ironic as she deemed nothing from the extensive breakfast buffet was remotely edible at all.

It is now 12-55 and they have all retreated to the room where the children have resumed their game of ‘toys on a mission!’ which involves attaching their soft toys to flipflops and trainers with a playing card as a ‘map’ to fly about. Clearly, there is no need at all, to book for a hotel with sea views in Palma when you could stay in Belfast, manhandling a seal called Oscar and a badger called Trevor into a shoe (from henceforth known as ‘mobiles’) and flinging them about. Barney the Bear came a cropper apparently, and was ‘on oxygen’ back at the hospital (aka the dressing table) with half of a plastic ball they got from a machine over his face to help bring him round.

‘I’ve booked a massage,’ I tell LSB,’They’re all yours.’

‘I though as much,’ he replied, with a heavy sigh.

SWB hears from The Mothership

The Mothership is only off the phone. She was in a quare mood, I can tell you. ‘I’m raging,’ was her opening gambit, after a cursory enquiry as to my state of health; (I have had a sinus infection, which has been shite.)

She’s often raging, is my mother. Sometimes it’s about the Tory government, although she doesn’t have any confidence at all in Labour, especially with Corbyn at the helm, but then again, who could blame her. She is in a perpetual state of rage about FGM, and is often exhorting me to sign petitions and donate money as she is incredulous and AGHAST (‘Helen, I AM AGHAST’ that this is still going on ‘EVEN IN THE UK!!! IS NO ONE LOOKING OUT FOR THESE WEE ONES,’ she will say). Today though, The Mothership is raging about toasters.

THE MOTHERSHIP: I was just down the street this afternoon,

ME: Mmmmmmm (trying to sound interested)

THE MOTHERSHIP: and I was in ‘The Ultimate Factory Shop’ and they had a very nice toaster, which took four slices.

ME: (TO MYSELF) Kill me now, (ALOUD): Oh right?

THE MOTHERSHIP: and I very nearly had it in my basket, and then, I said to your dad, ‘Ronnie, can you read that writing, beside the dial?’ and he said, ‘Just about’ and I said, ‘Well you’re lucky, because I can see nothing!’

Do you know what the idiot manufacturers had done? They had put red writing, on a dark blue background, rendering it UNREADABLE, and I like to be able to see the gauge, to see how I like my toast done.

ME: So did you not buy the toaster?

THE MOTHERSHIP: I did not, because those ones don’t deserve custom,  coming up with such a bad design. And do you know who else should be put out of business, except I hope they’re not, because they makes the nicest toast, are the crowd who make Hovis 50/50. Whomever they have loading those loaves into the crates, needs stringing up, because they are increasingly misshapen and I don’t want my bread all bashed about before I even have it home. And Heaven forbid, if you need to make a loaf of sandwiches!

(The Mothership appears to be on some sort of funeral committee at the church and is always making sandwiches and the occasional traybake if her oven is performing. It regularly isn’t, which is another long and dreadful saga.)

THE MOTHERSHIP: It is simply impossible, these days, to get a nice triangular sandwich out of a loaf. Your Nanna always liked a triangular sandwich, but hardly anyone goes in for them now; well now we know why, it’s impossible.

ME: (and I have no idea why I said this, I must be demented) Is anything else annoying you?

THE MOTHERSHIP: (Doesn’t miss a beat) Good Housekeeping. Now that is a magazine for ‘Older Readers’ and they are forever putting yellow font on a white background, so you can’t read it. Not that I like Good Housekeeping, but I keep getting landed with it. I might get on to them later, and tell them to sort that out. You have to know your readers, and cater for them.

(Hilariously, a rather strait-laced aunt once bought my mum a subscription to Good Housekeeping and in the very first publication she received, there was a whole article on vibrators, in a sort of Which? style, giving them various ratings out of ten.)

ME: I’m going on out now….

THE MOTHERSHIP: Before you go, and you did ask, but Marks and Spencer and the tops they design for older women. They have these FITTED sleeves, RUBBISH they are, which make the tops of one’s arms look MOST unbecoming. I’ve seen so many blouses and I’ve thought ‘That’s the VERY thing, and then I’ve said to myself, ‘They’ve gone and done it again with those STUPID SLEEVES.’ Men. Men design these tops, and they know nothing about women’s arms.

I hate to blaspheme but Dear Jesus.   


So good people, I have a favour to ask. Should any amongst you, who read the SWB pages, have any sway at all with the designers of the aforementioned products, do get in touch and voice the concerns of my mother. I remember reading Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and his mother was forever writing off to people, (I recall the makers of Nestle’s Carnation Milk was one), and she was always getting free samples. Perhaps I shall encourage that, and I may get a free magazine, or even a toaster.

And should any of you have a grievance, do share, and we can all be sour together.


SWB seeks gardening advice

(Here is the Hosta when freshly planted)

Let me just quash a familiar cliché- snails are not slow. Nor slugs. They are not only speedy, but tenacious, and sneaky. I shall tell you why I am convinced of this, and why I am busting this particular myth. In June I bought myself a beautiful Hosta plant from a lady called Elizabeth who had a plant stall at Harper’s Yard. It was lush and green of leaf and brought life and vivacity to a barren part of my hedge where the previous plant had failed to flourish. ‘Watch the slugs now,’ warned Elizabeth, as slugs, apparently, love nothing more than having a munch of a Hosta. I nodded, trying to look knowledgeable about how to do this. I know slug pellets are bad, because birds can eat them and die. We already have a cat to murder birds, so I didn’t want to reduce the life expectancy of resident sparrows any more in my locality. I read that slugs and snails don’t like egg shells, so while in Kaffe-O I asked for any discarded shells, to which the barista kindly obliged and gave me a little bag. I scattered these about with wild abandon. Visiting friends began to wonder if I was trying to deter my husband, since his dislike of eggs borders on a phobia. ‘No, he’s alright, he can stay,’ I said. ‘As long as he doesn’t harm my Hosta.’

My Hosta has now been decimated by pests. Once so fulsome and robust, it now lacks all structural integrity. I fear for its continuation. I have thus declared war on all slugs and snails and have embarked on an all out offensive, patrolling my garden and its borders with a fervour that would make Trump envious.

On Sunday it bucketed down, which  brought the snail community out in force. I set about grabbing them with gusto and throwing them into the road. Looking closely at my Hosta, I spied not one but two massive snails feasting upon its inner stalks. ‘Well YOU pair can to get to fuck,’ I shrieked, sending them hurtling into oblivion. A neighbour, who was out tending to his van (he LOVES his van, if I paid my husband a modicum of the attention that he gives his van, he’d be a much happier man), thought I was waving at him. He waved back. I tried to gesture that I wasn’t waving, I was murdering snails, but since it was wet I just went inside, crunching over a few shells as I went.

I must have forcibly evicted 20 snails from my front garden. ‘Job well done,’ I congratulated myself. I’m obviously not only a novice gardener but a naïve one too, because when I went to get the cat in before bed, I was tripping over the bastards at the front door. They’ve  a kamikaze sort of a notion, the snails up this direction; almost queuing up for extermination. It was like Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, except at least these fuckers can’t fly. Flying snails- that would be the end of me. Out I went, bringing down the house prices in my dressing gown and gardening gloves, as I lobbed them into the road.

‘What are up to?’ asked LSB, in a low, worried sort of a voice.

‘Protecting my Hosta!’ I growled. ‘SOMEBODY HAS TO!’ (Plants are not a priority of my husband’s.)

‘At least it’s dark,’ he sighed, retreating. Meanwhile, the cat had come in the back door, and was enjoying her supper. Our cat is ruined. We bring her in at night because if we don’t, we fear she’ll be sitting forlornly outside, wanting in. We don’t have a cat flap. A cat flap would make our lives infinitely easier.

I’ve since discovered that when snails mate, they BOTH get pregnant, which explains why there’s about a gazillion of them on my lawn. Please, should any of you have environmentally friendly ideas for pest control, do get in touch.  This Hosta’s on its last legs, as sadly, are my nerves.

Here is the Hosta in its current state. (Warning, some gardeners may find this image distressing).



SWB finds consolation in cats

Boris. Fecking Boris as PM. No wonder I’ve felt a bit unhinged this week. I remember being outraged and bewildered at the Brexit vote; then shocked at Trump. Now, with yer man in, I’m not remotely surprised but certainly saddened and perplexed.  I’ve been doing a lot of moaning to LSB and his helpful response, as I descended deep into existential angst was this: ‘Not to worry, we’ll all be dust soon enough.’

‘How in the name of God is that meant to be uplifting?’ I said in disbelief.

‘Well, can you control it?’ he said. (He’s back reading ‘The Stoics’. I hate it when he reads ‘The Stoics’).

‘No, I can’t, but I’m worried that the ones who CAN are just accelerating our demise,’ I retorted.

‘I suppose you have a point,’ he conceded.

I do think we’re in trouble now, with this crackpot elected as grand overlord. It’s dispiriting in the extreme and since I have a tendency to get depressed I’m going to tell you a story about a cat instead.

A few weeks ago, a black cat turned up on our street and made herself known to all the neighbours. My children were thrilled, as she was the sort of cat who would mew loudly and say hello, then purr and roll about inviting them to tickle her tummy. She was quite a hit, this cat. I called her ‘The Roly-Poly Puss’.  The Older Child called her ‘Midnight’, and started inviting her in to eat our cat’s food. Since our cat often turns her nose up at her dinners, (especially the duck and tuna flavours) I was delighted to see it being eaten up by at least one grateful feline.

In the way that cats do, she ingratiated herself to other families too, and discovered the perfect shady spots in their gardens to rest herself. The neighbours across the road called her ‘Rocky’, and started feeding her cooked ham and chicken from a small bowl that their daughter had bought her. Three doors down, the family began stocking up on Whiskas and a modest selection of toys. They called her ‘Ollie’. Maybe it was the unusually good weather, or maybe it was the arrival of the cat, but we all spent quite a bit of time chatting in the street, deliberating as to what to do about her. We ruminated as to whether she was male or female. ‘He’s obviously male,’ said my husband. ‘Look at the size of him.’  Given that his deceased mother’s (and therefore now his father’s) cat is the size and shape of a corgi, I couldn’t see his logic on this one. A neighbour shook her head. ‘No, I’m going to say she’s a girl; she’s very fine about the face.’ We tried to look at the cat’s bottom to ascertain the sex, but we didn’t reach any conclusions.

We went off to a wedding and a neighbour insisted that she would come in and feed our cat while we were away. ‘I can go in and play with her if you like, in case she’s lonely,’ said the little girl across the road.

The visiting cat would pop up intermittently. My neighbour came out looking despondent the other morning. I had lent her our cat box to take the cat to the vet to see whether she was microchipped.

‘I’ve been so busy,’ she said, ‘that I never got her to the vet, then she disappeared. I haven’t seen her for 3 days.’

‘Is that not her there?’ I said, as the cat appeared that very moment from under said neighbour’s car.

‘Ah yes, that’s her alright,’ she said in surprise.

Since the arrival of this cat, my kids have been invited over to throw water balloons with the child across the road. I now know the names of the new family three doors down, (who actually aren’t that new as they moved in a year ago) and there has been chat about a BBQ. I hope to God they host it, as BBQs are NOT our forte. Then this morning I rang LSB from Armagh where I’ve come down to go to a few readings at the Hewitt.

‘I’ve news!’ he said excitedly. ‘It’s about the cat!’ The neighbours had finally carted her off to the vet and the mystery was speedily solved. Since she was micro-chipped they were able to contact her owner and find out that she’s a girl cat, and goes by the name of ‘Coco’. She’s quite the adventurer and on her last excursion she turned up in Hollywood, which is quite some distance from where she lives. She’s under lock and key now, but annoyingly I don’t know where because of bloody GDPR. I would have quite liked to visit her, perhaps with a few sachets of the food that our cat rejects from the multi-pack.

He goes on to tell me that two sets of neighbours have decided that they miss having the cat around so acutely that they’re thinking of heading to Cats’ Protection at the weekend to acquire one of their own.

‘How are the girls?’ I asked LSB. I feared they may have taken the news badly, since she appeared to be infinitely more craic than our own cat, who  can be, if I’m honest, a bit on the dull side.

‘They wanted to contact the owner and see if we could swap cats,’ he replied.

My children are nothing if not opportunists.

Given that I’m home now and my cat has already scratched me on the hand, I admit that they have a point.

Still, I’m just delighted that one small visiting cat brought about such a  feeling of warmth on the street. It warmed me, even more than the soaring temperatures which are only making me feel more apocalyptic about life.




SWB goes out for sushi

This time last week I was sat outside in a sea-food restaurant in Mullaghmore*. It was 25° and felt like Magaluf, with about the same number of crimson faced Irish people. Today, I have taken to my bed, having been beset by a severe head-cold, while rain thunders against the window. The sky is a sodden grey and is almost as heavy and oppressive as my mood. Very doleful am I, and I’m feeling very cross at myself for daring to think last week that it might have been ‘too hot.’ I decide to compound my misery by thinking back to my holidays when it wasn’t pissing out of the heavens and I was indulging all my seafood cravings in Galway.


‘Oh wow, they’re so cute! I can’t believe your kids eat sushi!’

We are sitting in Tomo Dachi, an airy sushi restaurant we’ve found on the corner of Shop Street in Galway. The kids are wielding their chopsticks like pros, since a dinky Japanese waitress wearing a skater skirt and red DMs has brought them each a pair with a rubber panda at the top, making them easier for little hands to manage.

Looking on in awe is a six foot blond girl, from Holland. ‘Our nieces would NEVER eat that, would they?’ she asks her husband and he shakes his head. He is from Kerry. His nieces eat sausages and chips and oddly, he adds, beetroot.

Our pair are oblivious to the stir they are causing, hoovering up salmon nigiri and cucumber maki, and the Older One is even having a go at my pork gyoza. I reluctantly hand over a piece of California roll with mango, asparagus and avocado. They are so busy eating they can barely speak. When they aren’t speaking, they’re not complaining, which is bliss. There has been a lot of complaining so far today, from the inevitable ‘Are we there yet?’ (No, we’re still on the M1) to ‘I’m too hot!’ (It’s called summer) ‘Do we HAVE to walk?’(It’s round the FRIGGING CORNER!)  and ‘She called me POO FACE!’ (Ah fuck it, I have nothing left to give).

It is very hard, when you’ve driven all the way from Belfast to Galway and stopped off in the world’s worst town (yes Mullingar, that title belongs to you, and digging up the centre didn’t help), NOT to tell your children to shut the eff up, but nice middle class parents don’t do that apparently. There has been much gritting of teeth and fantasising about chilled bottles of sauvignon blanc, rendering this moment in the restaurant when a stunner from Holland tells you your kids are brilliant, a pleasing one indeed.

Yes, my children do eat sushi. It’s expensive, and they are fans of quite a lot of expensive things, (like their mother, sighs LSB ruefully). But you have heard me lament many times about the nightmare that is feeding them. I keep them alive on pizza and chicken nuggets and chips and bowl upon bowl of pasta with ketchup. It is a source of great shame to me, that hey are such dreadful eaters. The bribing and the shouting and the pleading that has to go on, just to get them to eat a vegetable. I’ve been known to down a gin and tonic faster than Shane Magowan just to get through the ordeal that is dinner.

But tonight they are gastronomic trailblazers, from the North, with their cosmopolitan   habits. Will I disabuse the Dutch girl of the notion that my kids are marvellous? I decide not. ‘They’re just great,’ I say, and she gives them a Milky Bar Wafer from her handbag.

LSB is three pints down and offering our new friends slices of Beef Teriaki off his plate. ‘Never mind her: the blond beside you will eat the beef Teriaki!’ I hiss under my breath, since the kids have demolished half of my daily special. ‘Just trying to be friendly,’ he says. He’s a laugh, my LSB.

The staff come along and take a picture of the kids with a polaroid which they put on the wall, and give them each a lolly. ‘They are soooo cute,’ they gush, to which they smile beatifically and say ‘thank you’ without being prompted.

I come to the conclusion that my children can really be quite agreeable, provided that they’re getting exactly what they want, when they want it. Bit like myself, when I think about it.

*The restaurant is called Eithne’s Place and it has rave reviews on Trip Advisor. However, who in the name of all that is good can afford to pay 60€ for a lobster? Thankfully there were other options available for those of us who aren’t minted, and they catered well for the children.  They also served gorgeous wine by the glass which was just as well as the service was appalling and we aged about three years waiting for our order, while  wilting in the heat like a plate of boiled spinach. I said to girl, ‘I expect this is the busiest day you’ve had all year,’ to which she replied, ‘No, it’s always like this in the summer.’ It perhaps wouldn’t be an outrageous suggestion to hire some extra staff, I thought to myself, but resisted saying to her. She had enough to do, without listening to an irate SWB.


Pier Pressure In Salthill

My husband has a t-shirt. It is a Galway Bay Brewery t-shirt with a picture of the diving board on the front. He’s always talking about Galway, is my husband. He spent a year on placement there in 2003 and the bits he can remember, he enjoyed very much.

We are down in Galway to celebrate our friend Brenda’s 40thbirthday. On the agenda is pizza and wine and merriment aplenty. But first, we rendez-vous beside the diving boards, for the tantalising cocktail that is salt water plus adrenalin. Brenda’s family have set up camp. Picnics were not a thing in my family, and if they were it was a drab affair: wilted sandwiches and a Penguin and carton of warm Um-Bongo. Not with this crew though: if  picnics were cars, then this picnic would be the Audi TT.

There is hot tea in flasks and overflowing cool bags with strawberries and cream (or yogurt should one prefer) and Shloer and chocolates and every type of bar a child could wish for. There are exciting cones full of sweets for each child too- my pair are wide-eyed with glee. You’d think they’d never seen a sweet. ‘Can we really have this?’ the Older One says. I say yes, obviously. This is a celebration! But before any fizz is popped we go for a dip. Our friend Stephen has already sailed off the boards and is encouraging us to do the same. Stevey braves the water for a swim before heading up. He starts engaging folk in chat, as he is wont to do. ‘Don’t you be procrastinating now!’ I say.

I stride up too, but then I hear my mum’s voice in my head. ‘You could give yourself a heart attack, jumping into cold water.’ I don’t want a heart attack. My 40 year old heart may not, I fear, take the strain of leaping off into the chilly depths, so I descend and wade in first to acclimatise.  It is 20 degrees, therefore it’s not as though I have to break the ice before I get in, though being Ireland, it’s still a bit nippy.

I swear a bit, then swear some more. I find it helps. A flame haired woman in her fifties is treading water and smiling broadly. ‘It’s grand once you’re in,’ she says. I tell her I’m worried about my heart stopping.

‘Lookit,’ she says, ‘they’ve done studies, and I don’t think you have a heart attack, because of the cold.’

‘I don’t want to be the first,’ I say.

I look up at the boards and see LSB still standing on the edge, chatting. I swim a bit more and when I look back up he’s still there. A queue has formed and kids are taking running leaps off the top board instead. Brenda is taking a video. I think Brenda’s right arm may be starting to hurt. I go up to do some cajoling.

‘Come on!’ I say. ‘You’ve done it before!’

‘I’m going,’ he says, but his body says no, he isn’t. His toes curl round the edge of the board, even though his body is launched forward, like Eddie the Eagle Edwards.

‘Ach, come on,’ says a young fellow. I’ll count you down…’

‘Do I launch out so I’ll miss the rocks? says Stevey.

‘There are no rocks,’ says the young lad, ‘three, two, one…..’ At this Stevey lifts his feet and is momentarily airborne. Our friends cheer.  Then he pulls himself back in. He is shaking his head. ‘My legs are jelly; I don’t know what’s wrong.’

‘Do you want this wetsuit I ask? Wetsuits afford both insulation, and protection.’

‘No,’ he says. ‘Right I’m going, I’m going….’ He launches forward, and his arms go back and ‘THIS MUST BE IT’ we think. We all hold our breath; then he pulls himself back in. We all sigh, sadly. I’m getting very cold.

Our children arrive.

‘Come on Daddy!’.

‘I’ll give you a push,’ I suggest helpfully.

‘DON’T PUSH MY DADDY!’ shouts the Small Child. Another little girl is offering advice.

‘Just look at the Big Wheel and jump,’ she says.

‘Go on ahead,’ says LSB. Off she sails.  A group of teenage boys have now landed up. The pressure is immense. 20 minutes now, we have been there.

All of Brenda’s family are watching and waiting. Another 10 minutes pass. I  fear we are going to have an emotional episode.  Everyone else jumps off to give him some space, and then after 5 minutes they come back again. They are all, every last kid, kind and supportive.

‘GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!’ shouts Brenda’s family. And then we all stop. It’s not going to happen. Even the young fellas are looking upset on his behalf.

I think dark thoughts to myself. ‘Tonight’s going to be some craic,’ I ruminate. ‘With himself staring morosely into a pint, and it Brenda’s birthday too.’

He leans out again, and says ‘Right! This is it!’…. and he says put.

‘It’s not easy, now, I’m telling you,’ says a man, while a young boy takes a running jump off the top board, hollering in glee as he plunges into the water.

We start to chat among ourselves and then, he bends his knees for the umpteenth time, looks ahead, and leaps off. The relief is palpable.

There are ‘whoops and whoohoos!’ and applause from the boards, from the pier, from those in the water. Brenda’s father Jimmy surprises us all by being an enthusiastic ‘Yee-o-er’. Stevey, being from the West, loves a good ‘Yee-ooo!’

Later, everyone has a story about watching Stevey on the pier. He was up there for 35 minutes, so they had plenty of time to take in the atmosphere. As Brenda’s family cheered him on, an elderly couple reprimanded them. ‘Jaysus, would you leave the fella alone,’ said the gentleman, who was trying to drink his tea in peace. ‘That is our friend!’ said Brenda. ‘We’re supporting him!’

Everyone, it turns out, is supporting him. As he emerges from the water, shaking his head like a wet Schnauzer,  he is welcomed back like a war hero.  A queue has formed to shake his hand. The woman I met earlier in the water wants a photo with him for her blog. Strangers clap him on the back.

‘That was some entertainment, Stevey, if you don’t mind me saying,’ says Jimmy.

‘Will I do it again?’ he says to me. ‘Like fuck you will,’ I reply. ‘I want to get out this evening.’

Later, on our way back from Super Macs we meet all the teenage boys from the boards. ‘It’s your man!’ they say, and stop to high five him. Stevey punches the air and shouts ‘Yeooo!’

‘I can just see the headlines in the “The Galway Advertiser”‘ I mutter. ‘Belfast hero shocks locals by jumping off  Salthill diving board.’

That evening, as he walks into the The Crust Bucket where we are having pizza, he gets a standing ovation. ‘It’s Michael Phelps himself!’ says Brenda’s brother.

Despite having run several marathons and winning various awards for sporting related endeavours, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so delighted.








SWB seeks inspiration

(I wrote this last week when I was in Belfast and feeling miserable. I’m now in Galway and having a rather lovely time. I find I write better when I’m pissed off though- it’s harder to write when you’re in buoyant humour.)

My head is sore. It is thudding and I feel stressed, and when I am stressed I have a tendency to choke.  I have choked on water, which I was only drinking to alleviate my tension headache and render me more energetic and sprightly. My throat is now scratchy and I have caused some consternation in the coffee shop where I sit at the bar by the window, in a skirt which is perhaps a trifle too short for such perching. Wouldn’t it be great to be 25 again and perch wherever you wished with youthful insouciance?

I digress. I am thankful that no one else is at the bar and has not therefore been sprayed with lukewarm latte. The reason I’m in the coffee shop is that when Marian Keyes came to Belfast (as part of the brilliant CQAF) she made the mistake of asking if anyone had any questions. Up shot my hand, of course, and I asked if she had any hints for being disciplined and keeping at the writing. I asked because when I’m at home all day the lonesomeness makes me go a bit peculiar: I end up putting on load after load of laundry and starting, but not finishing, household tasks. I end up writing very little but accomplishing fuck all else. The whole experience is deeply unproductive, and unsatisfying.

‘Go to a coffee shop,’ advised Marian. I know that Jan Carson writes in coffee shops. Jan Carson writes in airports. I think that with the amount Jan Carson writes she must also write in the bath, on the toilet and perhaps even while she sleeps.

‘I can’t go to a coffee shop’ I tell Marian. ‘I know too many people. I chat.’

‘Could you perhaps go to a coffee shop that is further away?’ suggests Marian, in a kindly tone, but one that hints that I may be a bit cerebrally challenged.

‘I know a lot of people,’ I reply. It’s true. I could go to Coalisland and I’d know someone. And Newcastle. I have yet to walk down Newcastle High Street and not meet anyone. Or Donegal. Any part thereof. When on holiday I like to go ‘relaxed and make-up free’; a look which could frighten small children, and indeed sometimes does. This is not a look that works in Donegal, when every corner you turn, whether  in Rathmullan or Rossnowlagh, you meet someone you know, and inevitably you look like a bag of shite and you have a face on you like a well slapped arse because it’s raining and your children are there, annoying you.

So today I’m in a different coffee shop and I’ve now sliced my finger opening up a packet of paracetamol. I now have a headache,  sore throat and sliced finger. There are drops of blood on my new, rose gold laptop. I am in ‘District’ on Stranmillis and they have already offended my sensibilities by handing me a iced latte in a plastic cup. That’s what happens when you nip for a pee while they make your order. ‘What is this?’ I enquire.

‘It’s an iced latte’ says the girl.

‘I wanted a regular one-shot latte and I’m sitting in so I would like it in a proper cup,’ I state, as icily as the beverage that I didn’t actually order.

That’s Karma for you, she’s likely thinking, as I sit, coughing and bleeding in my t00-short-for-a forty-year-old skirt.

There is an American behind me chatting about his workload, setting boundaries, and Jesus. As you know, I have nothing against Jesus and would have a fair few conversations with Him myself, but not loudly, in a coffee shop. I consider asking him to say a wee prayer for me, but reflect that if he’s any sort of Christian he’s already noticed my pathetic self and has sent one up on my behalf. I fear too that he may suggest we pray together and  there’s few things I hate more than public praying. The last time though, that I was involved in a spot of public praying, it had unexpectedly good results. It was in the winter a couple of years ago, on a wet Wednesday afternoon upon the Ormeau. I was trotting past St Jude’s Church of Ireland with the girls and there was George, their friendly rector, waving animatedly from the gazebo from which they dish out tea and coffee and hot chocolate, to believers and non-believers alike. In we dandered to say ‘hi’ and one of the young people (God love her, she’ll know again to keep her mouth shut) asked how I was, whereupon I subjected her to a rant about how dreadful life was and the unfairness and the terribleness of everything. She nodded, sagely. I then narrowed it down to one particular problem which was causing me a disproportionate amount of distress.

‘Shall we pray about it?’ she asked.

Now oddly, I hadn’t seen that coming, (though clearly that was naïve.) But anyway, pray we did and flip me, but on and on she went, and the kids were looking baffled and pulling my hand to go and we were, as I said, on the Ormeau, where I know nearly everyone and there I was engaged in this very public and very protracted act of praying. I was a wee bit embarrassed. But, and here’s the weird thing, and I know you don’t expect this from my Sour Wee Bastard blog and trust me, I don’t expect it myself and I’m as surprised as you are, but I walked away feeling almost perceptively lighter.  AND the problem I had, all but evaporated. It just fecked off. I stopped agonising over it and felt a great deal better. I don’t know what Marian Keyes would make of that really.

So there you are. I started this post to write about feeling shit and it ended on the ‘power of prayer’. You just never know what’s going to happen when you sit down to write. One of life’s lovely surprises.

(I wouldn’t really recommend ‘District’ by the way. Bit pretentious and I don’t think they take the prospect of environmental catastrophe seriously, by the looks of them).