SWB gets hot and bothered

Last night I sliced a shallot with tremendous speed and dexterity. It fell away from the knife in tiny translucent cubes and I was thrilled with my ‘chefiness’. What happened to get me all euphoric over a glorified onion? It’s all down to Brian McCann, the Head Chef at Shu on the Lisburn Road. I headed over to the launch of their 2018 Apprenticeship Programme with a few other lucky bloggers and PR guru Cathy Martin, to get a taste of what working in a restaurant kitchen is like. Then to my delight, (this blogging lark had to finally start paying off some dividends) we were invited to sample our roast halibut and Eton mess with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. How very jolly.

I was excited, SO excited, that in my haste biking over to Shu that morning , I almost crashed head-on into a school boy cyclist, as he came hurtling towards me in a most devil may care manner. I came crashing down on the cross bar with a powerful thud, and foolishly, had forgotten to wear my padded cycling shorts. It’s a week later and my lady bits are only starting to feel normal.

Thus I arrived, red of face and sore of arse, with my hair in a sensible braid for health and hygiene standards and a pair of trainers so that I didn’t take the toe off myself with an errant knife. I had even forgotten to apply lipstick. This was not the case with the other bloggers, all svelte, bejewelled and in trendy rig-outs. I looked like their Brethren cousin.

But I soon forgot about aesthetics when I got into the kitchen. ‘The knives are sharp and the stoves are hot,’ Brian warned, before we trooped in to start trimming asparagus and shelling peas while we watched sous-chef Matthew whizz up a puree.

One of the first things Brian told us was that he wasn’t at all academic and had in fact ‘failed’ (his words) at school, but always been interested in food. I want to get a raft of disengaged school kids in here, to watch him fillet an 8lb halibut: slicing eight perfect  pieces with a few deft flicks of a silver blade. Despite being fluent in French, he uses words I have to go home and look up, like how to serve up ice-cream ‘rocher’ style and ‘brunoise’ his vegetables. I’m slightly in awe to be honest, like Bridget Jones when she concludes her interviews with the freedom fighter from Kosovo admitting she has ‘frankly, a bit of a crush.’

‘Phew, it’s hot in here,’ says one of the girls. ‘Hot?’ Brian raises his eyebrows. ‘The ovens aren’t even on. You want to be on a Saturday night.’ No wonder he has to keep fit. He’s only after running the London Marathon, and he knocks back an effervescent juice crammed beetroot and goji berries while we tuck into the fish and buttery potatoes. ‘I was quite a big fella,’ he says, but then I stopped eating a lot of fatty foods and we eat a lot of veg from the garden now.’ ‘Better for up here,’ he says, tapping his head.

When looking for his next apprentice, he wants passion and a desire to learn, ‘a touch of madness helps too,’ he adds.

His sous-chef smiles when I ask him what it’s like working with Brian. ‘He’s always open to ideas,’ he tells me. “If I think there’s a better or quicker way to do something, he wants to see it. Doesn’t happen that often though.’

It’s been about three years since I’ve been to Shu, but I’m booking a table soon, if only so LSB can see the competition. 😉








SWB chats about ‘Breastival’

I’m just back from Kaffe-O where I had a fun and illuminating chat with Jennifer Hanratty, co-founder and chair of Breastival Belfast, which celebrates breastfeeding and creates a community of support for mums. Breastival wasn’t around when my children were babies, and I had a shocker of a time trying to feed Georgina myself- so much so that I didn’t attempt it with child number two. I needed help, I needed support and I needed A LOT of it, and in its absence I started exclusively bottle feeding. Sadly this is what happens in Northern Ireland, as Jennifer told me this morning that 80% of mothers stop breast feeding before they are ready, or want to.


In other cultures, where mothers and grandmothers have breastfed themselves, they are on hand, night and day to offer support. Breastfeeding wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in Ireland when I was born, and I didn’t have many people to ask. I wish I’d had a network of mums or people who, like Jennifer, were knowledgeable about the process and could dispel myths and allay fears.


I worried when I heard about the Breastival movement, that it would be a bunch of breast-feeding evangelicals (you all know how I can’t be having evangelicals of ANY kind), being all judgey and self-righteous about their decision. Jennifer shakes her head when she hears my presumption, and visibly shudders at the phrase ‘breast is best.’ Her take on it is that it’s just ‘normal’ but because women in Northern Ireland haven’t been exposed to it, it’s often simpler to bottle-feed, like the generation before. What she wants, is that if women choose to breast-feed, that they have the resources available to them to do so for as long as they wish.


Breast-feeding isn’t always easy, but the healthcare professionals don’t want to openly admit this, lest it puts anyone off. Perhaps we need to think of it differently, as being a skill that we learn and improve as we find the technique which works best for us and baby. I felt that it was something that as a woman, I should instinctively ‘know’ and when it didn’t work out I self-flagellated something shocking. I think if I’d Jennifer on the other end of a phone I might have made my way out of the mire.


Keep at it Jennifer. You’ve created an inspiring movement.



SWB muses on Fathers Day


You may have woken up to instagram pics this morning, (#fathersday) of smiling, tearful dads, opening parcels of socks and slippers or craft beer if they have Hipster leanings. Here in the Sour Towers residence, we don’t much go in for Hallmark holidays. ‘I don’t buy into that bullshit’, I have been heard to utter. Last year, LSB was tasked with erecting some Ikea furniture, and a spot of light hoovering. There is photographic evidence to prove it.


The school, has however, indoctrinated the little ones well, and they have been beavering away making cards all week. Their granddad has obviously heard about my lack of diligence in this area, and when he came to babysit last night he came armed with sweets they could give, as a token of their appreciation.


Alas, this show of devotion for their dad was sadly misplaced at 6.55 this morning. I had been at a 40th on the Belfast Barge, where I’d danced the legs clean off myself, and LSB had been partying away at the Liam Gallagher concert in the park. Neither of us was happy at the early wake-up call. In they came, over and over again. I tried to block it out, but it’s hard when a small child doesn’t quite whisper in your ear, ‘I’m giving dad a computer game. And JELLY TOTS!!’ Their enthusiasm is touching, as is their ingenuity, but not prior to seven am on a Sunday morning, FFS.

When I finally made it down the stairs to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I saw evidence of gift-giving. They had rifled through LSB’s belongings and parcelled them up with a handful of Maltesers and two Mars bars. The floor was littered with the wrapping paper I had squirreled away to reuse, covered in stickers.  The ‘porridge’ was a hefty amount of oats with milk slopped in. It had clearly been sitting for at least an hour. I scraped it into the compost bin when they weren’t looking. LSB got the Dyson out to vacuum up the trail of oats on the floor. When he envisioned getting his oats this weekend, I don’t think that’s what he had in mind.

But we then hoover and tidy and cook lunch. My friend Alison has taken the girls to a birthday party in Funtasic, so we have the house to ourselves. LSB finds an alternative love songs list on Spotify, and wiping down surfaces while listening to The Guillemots and The XX is quite nice. I’m actually not quite sure how anyone copes without an Alison, or a Brenda, for that matter, in their lives. I’m quite sure that without the pair of them I’d be institutionalised by now.


My own dad didn’t fare much better when it came to the celebrations. They came up to go for lunch in Sakura on Botanic yesterday, which was less than relaxing as my pair of menaces frolicked on the spiral staircase and hashed with their food, when it was they who had requested the sushi bar in the first place. Since it was a birthday/father’s day outing, poor dad ended up forcing money into our hands, then came home and tidied my garden.


The Mothership didn’t get off lightly either. She wandered from room to room, aghast. ‘This is terrible, terrible,’ she said, shaking her head as she registered the state of chassis in which we exist. ‘Are you not ashamed to have people in?’ She took one look at my toilet and said, ‘I’m speechless.’ ‘No mother dear,’ I said. ‘You’re not. My mother, is rarely speechless. Off she went to get the bleach. The house, since I cleaned out my resources in work (blog post on the career change to follow) and organised the fashion stall in school, has seen a sudden accumulation of ‘stuff’. Chaos breeds chaos, and in truth, I know not how to impose order on the situation. Instead of dealing with it, I go for a run, or try to write or chat to a friend over coffee. But with my mum’s dark mutterings in my ear, I set to, and together we ironed and folded and then drank some tea.


As weekends go, this one has been a cracker. Perhaps all this Fathers’ Day BS has a point. Anything which makes you feel grateful or appreciative of all the good people in your life can’t be a bad thing. So a massive thank you to all those who bring sunshine to a Sour Wee Bastard, (especially, for the day that’s in it, to himself.)

SWB on Breast versus Bottle

What a pertinent article by Niamh Mulvey in ‘The Pool‘ this week. Looking back with clarity, when the fog of baby days has finally lifted, I see how almost deranged with guilt I felt when my breast feeding plan failed with my first child. She couldn’t latch on, and by God did I try everything. I watched video tutorials; I stopped random mothers in cafes and in the queue at Sainsbury’s; I pestering midwives. My boobs were banjaxed. I felt rubbish. What was the point of my 34D rack if they couldn’t fulfil their basic function? Why did women smile serenely as they breastfeed, while I yelped in pain and choked back sobs for the duration of my child’s feed?

Except, as my addled brain failed to commute, my supply had dwindled and wee Georgina wasn’t actually been fed at all. Cue a dash to the Ulster with a 3 week old jaundiced, underweight baby. She was starved and for the next few months I felt the weight of my ineptitude. If I think about it long enough, those feelings or shame still flood back.

So thanks Niamh. Sometimes breast feeding doesn’t work out; it doesn’t make you a bad mum, and in the heightened emotional state that new motherhood brings, we need that spelt out for us.

SWB joins the PTA

Another week, another eco-friendly endeavour!  This time I’m harassing people to part with and then buy some new outfits. Just in time for summer!

My friend and I signed up to be joint chair of the PTA at school, which was about 20% altruism on my part and 80% as opportunity to push my environmental agenda. We started off by creating a new stall at the Summer Fair. I sent out notes and before I even admitted to them, a few mums Whats-Apped me saying ‘we know you’re behind this.’ It was, of course, a pre-loved fashion stall and I exhorted kind parents in the school to donate any of their quality used frocks for a good cause. All proceeds went to the PTA, and hurray, hurrah, we made over £125 on the day.


We got well toasted, standing around in the heat, and dare I say it a trifle tiddly too, because there was a prosecco and a gin stall. I’m not kidding. (Wouldn’t happen in a Protestant school, heck no. Far too much craic would be had. Coffee and a tray bake; that would be your lot there.)


It was pleasant, standing in the sun, Bombay Sapphire in hand, flicking through the rails of gorgeous spoils. There were tops by Karen Millen, dresses by Ted Baker and coats by Tommy Hilfiger and Max Mara. They are generous bunch at our school, (or maybe they are just minted) either way, I’m not complaining. In a panic I sent a message to my friends the night before to see what they had on the go, and my pal, the fabulous Jane Kelly, raced home from her work at lunchtime to do a quick raid on her wardrobe. One of the frocks never hit the rails I’m afraid as it was pure McClements. In went my fiver and on went the dress.


I was lucky to have my right hand man on the stall, in the form of LSB. I was worried he’d feel as though he’d had his testicles lopped off with a shearer, being put to work in female fashion for an afternoon, but I was very, very wrong. He was in his element, channelling his inner Del-Boy, or Gok Wan. ‘This would be terrific on you,’ he said, waving tops in front of potential customers.  ‘Any formals to go to? Weddings? This dress has a matching handbag and bolero.’ He didn’t even have any gin (someone had to drive) and he was in quare form. Later on, when it came to dismantling gazebos he got to show off some muscle, so any doubts over masculinity were restored.


Anyway, I can recommend this as an excellent way to bring in some lolly for your PTA. Everyone likes a bargain and we all know we accumulate too much stuf. Better to share and root out your old threads. We’re having one last go today at a ‘pop up stall’ at school to see if we can shift any more items. I must say, I’m quite enjoying myself at this lark.

SWB on taxis and comfort food

‘A dog bowl. I’m telling you, you get your lunch in a f**king dog bowl. Hamburger, cheeseburger, curry chips, cheesey chips. You name it. If it clogs your arteries, you get it. For a fiver. In a dog bowl.’

Our taxi driver is off on one. Proper carried away he is, on the merits of a good-value lunch in the city centre. Mikey’s, apparently. I’ve somehow managed to live in this city for 20 years and remain ignorant as to its existence. Not any more. It’s next door to the Northern Whig which is all shut up at half ten of an evening because the city centre has been rendered a ghost town due to our dinosaur politicians, (so says our driver but I’m inclined to agree.)  But of a weekend, Mikey’s is open til 4 or 5 in the morning, so revellers’ can line their tums and stave off the hangover. And then, they’re ‘up an at it’ again to keep the workforce fed on a Monday morning. I’ve got to try it. Watch out for pictures of me, SWB, eating from an aluminium dog bowl on Instagram, on a phone near you. Can barely contain myself….

‘Woof Woof,’ shouts our Foneacab driver as he drives off into the still-light evening, his right hand waving out the window. I’m telling you; Belfast, what a city.  Would you live anywhere else?

SBW feels the heat

It is hot, very hot. But no matter, for I am perky, chipper, on top of the world. I have to take the kids swimming but after that I have a lovely evening planned at a housewarming party for friends who have moved into our street. I can enjoy a fine glass of red and retire early, dandering up the road in my new Camper sandals. Life is good, until I collect the children. ‘I DON’T WANT TO GO SWIMMING,’ yells the small child. ‘Me neither,’ adds the older one. ‘It’s boring.’ The small one nods emphatically. Normally they love their swimming lesson. I am momentarily stumped but then my optimism returns, for I have planned ahead. ‘I have snacks,’ I declare, and point to the strawberries and rice cakes and fruit stars in the back seat. Equilibrium is briefly restored until I drive over a speed bump and fruit stars hit the deck. There is more crying. I stop, so stars are scooped off the floor and off we set again.


Driving to Avoneil Leisure Centre is always an education. I generally come undone at the Beersbridge Road, and this afternoon traffic is particularly heavy and drivers are impatient, if I’m being charitable, or deranged if I’m not. We make it, unscathed and in we trot, to be met at the door by a long queue. Registration for the ‘Summer Scheme’ has opened, and parents stand in line, clutching papers, desperation in their eyes. I feel their pain.


We get to bunk the queue on account of the lessons. And then it happens. Only one small, pink swimsuit is to be found. It fits the small child, but she is adamant that she is not swimming without her sister. The older one looks overjoyed, recalling a time when she cut her knee and was allowed to come to the café  and choose a giant Haribo star and eat half a Twirl. She imagines such a treat lies in store again. I assure her it doesn’t.


‘I will get another swimsuit,’ I say, heading back to reception. No one meets my eye. One receptionist leaves her post to meddle with air-conditioning. The process of enrolling into the Summer scheme seems akin to Theresa May’s new draconian immigration policy. The mood is bleak and I am ignored.


The small child sits in her pants, refusing to put her swimsuit on. ‘Please go in,’ I urge. ‘We’ll go to Mauds after.’ ‘I DON’T LIKE MAUDS ICE-CREAM,’ she yells. My children have a knack of making me look like Satan himself, especially when I try to be nice. The woman beside us on the bench encourages her daughter to hurry up. ‘I’ll punch you, so I will,’ she says, and the child laughs, waving her fist in her face. ‘I’ll punch you back.’ My temples throb.


After more fruitless forays to reception, where there are neither swimsuits available to buy or even a ‘rack of shame’ where one can borrow a lost property suit. This is a terrible and glaring omission. I return to the changing room. ‘You’ll like it once you get in,’ I tell the small child, popping on her goggles and handing her over to Paul, who is the kindest of all swimming instructors. She joins in for a few minutes until, racked with sobs I take her out. ‘Not having any of it today,’ sighs Paul.


Five minutes into the journey home, and she is fast asleep in the car. The older one wryly observes, ‘Maybe you should pack the bag the night before Mummy.’ ‘Maybe Stormont should get its arse in gear and build the Robinson centre, so I don’t have to drive across town and arrive in a sweaty discombobulated mess,’ I retort, as the older child dusts some dirt of a Fruit Star and pops it in her mouth.


TFI Friday y’all.