SWB starts the week with a grumble

My children seem to have reached a difficult age. Everything, unless it involves eating sweets or an excursion to a park or friend’s house, is a ‘no’.

ME: I’m just signing you up for gymnastics after school.

THEM: No. Don’t like it. It’s horrible.

ME: (weary) Music then.


ME: (melted) Well you’re flipping going to Irish Dancing then and that’s the end of it.

The shouting and the wailing and the foot-stamping that goes on, because God forbid you’d like them to do a wee jig. It’s not as if their Irish Dancing teacher is unpleasant either, unlike my experiences. I remember as a small child being trailed to dancing and the woman was a notorious old bint who shouted and guerned at us non-stop. ‘Hop two three, hop two three: No your OTHER foot. I said your OTHER FOOT are you stupid?’

‘No, I’m four years old and I’m pure terrified,’ (you auld bastard).  Mum tried to bribe us with a trip to a café, but this was the eighties so that was obviously a massive disappointment too. The coke was warm and the coffee was cold ( I can still recall my mum’s face) and the buns weren’t even home-baked, just a few Mr Kipling’s French Fancies which must have been lying out as they were dry as a f**king stick. It was gloomy and depressing and mournful music played in the background.

I was also sent to the GB (Girls’ Brigade for the benefit of my Catholic readers) which I absolutely loathed. Three whole years I had to stick that malarkey, and even the Mothershsip who forced me to go, said: ‘Would you mind if I gave the display a miss this time, because it was VERY long last year. I had my coat on ready to go when the leader said she was looking forward to the second half.’

We used to be sent, my wee friend and I, on a Friday night. Since we were both shit at the P.E. we did extra scripture or crafts as a delightful alternative.  We made baskets out of margarine tubs and such likes, while listening to the definition of what made a ‘proper’ Christian. (‘Jesus in your hearts, have you asked him in yet? Now put the pen lids back on tightly please.’) After wards, by way of compensation, our mums would take us to Papa Capaldis on Queen’s Parade for ice cream. One night I was SO, so looking forward to my two scoops of honeycomb with fudge sauce and a wafer, but my friend’s mum arrived to pick us up looking very harried. ‘Quick,’ she said, ‘the minister’s called and I have to go back and make him a cup of tea.’ My disappointment was acute, but that was nothing compared to my friend who had wanted to watch TV but instead had been forced to join in family prayers, holding hands round the pool table in their games room. I still can’t decide whether she made that up or not, but she said he stayed for ages and the laugh was, none of the family ever crossed the door of the church. Maybe that was why he lingered.

Readers, I tell you, isn’t it a wonder I’m as sane as I am? And don’t my two wee blighters have it lucky, with their Kaffe O and their Al Gelato and Parkrun and no GB? There’s the Monday moan over for the week. My next post will be up-lifting, I promise.

SWB gets ripped into Instagram (she’s still on it, mind).

Help me readers. How do I manage Instagram? Because I’m flipping lost. I was never a great one for taking photos: in fact, lazy bastard that I am, I was always happy for OTHER people to do the snapping, so I didn’t miss out on the moment. I always wanted to be DOING the activity, not living it second-hand through a screen. But some of my lovely friends thankfully would take pictures and even print them out and send me one, and for these I was always grateful.


But now, I don’t know where to draw the line. I write a blog, (doh, obviously) and I’ve found that Instagram is a great way to draw people to it. But my blog is about the writing, not the visuals. I feel like I’m selling my soul on Instagram- (Here’s me! Check out my new blog post!) Boke. But it’s just what we do now, or so it seems to me.


And the notion has got into my head now, so much so that I’m thinking: I’m having a coffee, should I take a picture? #Chillingout. Here’s a sunset, #beautiful. Here’s my child eating brunch, #Howcuteisshe? And not forgetting my pet peeve, #blessed: it’s so saccharine it makes my teeth hurt. I find I’m not enjoying where I am, because I feel I SHOULD be documenting the activity, and that feels like work, not the lovely downtime it should be. On Sunday I visited my friend and her two gorgeous twins. She baked an Apple Cake and handed me a huge earthenware cup of ginger tea to help my cold. I felt spoilt and cherished and also like I should be FECKING Instagram-ing it. I didn’t. I let it pass and we chatted instead. But it’s always there, this FEELING that I should be going clickety-click, and God help me: ‘building my brand,’ as my PR friend recommended.

‘Brand?’ I said, ‘What brand? I’m not bloody Cath Kidson!’ (Just pop over to Sour Towers to see just how un-Cath-Kidson I am).

‘But you are,’ she said. ‘You’re Sour Wee Bastard, and whether you like it or not, you’re branding yourself. And since Helen McClements and SWB are one in the same, that’s you. You. Are. Now. A. Brand.’


She’s a funny one, my friend.


Gulp. I didn’t like that one bit. I’m me, and I write and hopefully people will read my stuff and ONE DAY I might even write a wee book. But a brand? Hell no.


One of the things I DON’T like about Instagram is that it can seem, a bit, well, smug. Funny enough, I never mind posting about my eco-issues because that’s important to me. I can live with a smiling selfie of me if it’s getting the message out there. But when my kids were small and the idea of a holiday was frankly impossible, I used to almost weep with RAGE when I saw Facebook pics of people who were having a glorious time abroad. Oh yes, self-pity was at an all-time high when we were at home because LSB didn’t have any leave left and I sure as hell wasn’t taking two toddlers away on my own. I’d hate it if I put up pics and they made someone feel shit. ‘What has she got to be sour about, sitting there in Kaffe-O?’ they might say.


So I  have a a whole rake of pictures on my phone that I ruined a moment to take, and then haven’t even bothered to put up. Last week I spent a gorgeous night away with my pal, and we hiked and stayed in the Slieve Donard and thoroughly pampered ourselves, and then I didn’t share any pictures because I felt bad for being away in the first week of term when my teacher friends were back at the chalk face. Maybe I need to soothe my soul by taking some ‘real’ photos of me, like un-blocking the loo (who am I kidding, that’s LSB’s job) or scrubbing the grill or cleaning out the cat’s bowls. Would that address the imbalance?

Truthfully, I don’t know. But keep in touch and tell me your thoughts on this.


Even writing this has helped me figure a few things out. It’s all about where you are in your life, isn’t it? Since my career change, and the corresponding  improvement in my health, I don’t mind looking at other people’s pictures. I’m happier now in myself and I don’t suffer from the same anxiety. A few years ago I was the embodiment of a raw nerve: Ms Kill-The–Craic. I feel better now, and maybe it’s ok to show that.

Speaking of which, here we are, grinning inanely in the Mournes. #childfree #carefree #blessed. (I’m kidding about the last one, though I know we’re very lucky.)


SWB on birthday parties

My Whatsapp has been a-buzz with notifications from the school mums, as the birthday party merry-go-round revs up into action. My kids only resumed school last Wednesday and already we’re one party down and have four, possibly five, in the too-near future. Nothing says misery to me like a soft-play area, and the idea of spending two hours at one every other Sunday for the foreseeable is giving me the dry heaves.


Last year, we had a small gathering in the house on The Small Child’s ACTUAL birthday, then had a joint party with a little boy from her class at Funtastic, along with the rest of South Belfast. It was hot, it was noisy, and the only thing that helped me through was the good humour of other parents from the school. I’m not usually given to blasphemy, , but it was all too much and I just stood, clutching my head throughout saying, ‘Oh Jesus.’ One couple had come together for moral support, but ended up consoling me, as though I was having a root canal procedure. ‘It’s almost over Helen,’ they said in comforting tones, ‘and no one’s been hurt.’


It’s not just me feeling the overwhelm. I met a friend in M&S last week with a face like thunder. ‘I’m off to Smyths AGAIN,’ she said, ‘for another BLOODY birthday present.’ I felt her pain, as since I try to be eco-conscious, it perplexes me no end, when you go to a party and see a huge, teetering pile of presents, AND all the wrapping paper, AND the gift bags. I immediately think of Augustus Gloop or Veruka Salt from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ripping each one open with barely a glance before moving on to the next.


However, this time I felt a bit smug, and here’s why. Last year in my eldest child’s class, a like-minded mum suggested that instead of gifts we gave a fiver in a handmade card. As you can imagine, I was all over that like a wasp on your marmalade. I even mooted the idea in The Small Child’s class and it was pounced upon with alacrity. One of the things for which I’m most grateful, is the lack of pretension in our local school (unless I’m unaware of it, living in my own SWB Bubble.)


The odd parent may bring a present instead and that’s grand, because there’s a bit of variety then for the birthday child, and they have something to open. The plus side though, is that if most folk takes this lack of present policy on board, then the child doesn’t expect the mountain of gifts because they don’t see it at every party they attend.


After some discussion then, you can trot off to Smyths and buy their gift of choice, hopefully something substantial and not a pile of nonsense to add to the clutter in your home. Or, Draconian mother that I am, I realised my child had no concept of the money and so I thought I’d keep it for her bank account. (Did it ever make it to Danske bank?  No it didn’t, but then I did spend a small fortune on excursions and nice things for her and her big sis).


Here is my birthday party survival guide for minimal strain on both wallet and emotional health:


1) Suggest as many joint parties as you can. Heck, why stop at joint? Maybe you could coerce another friend or two on board and that’s three or four down in one go. What a coup.


2) Why not think of an alternative party idea that’s easier on the ear? Many yoga studios now offer yoga for kids and could put on a fun session that won’t have you reaching for the paracetamol three minutes in.


3) A friend of mine has a good idea where she says ‘present or party?’ Kids have no idea how costly parties can be, so this will help them appreciate the expense if they think of it in terms of a new bicycle or a tablet or such likes.


4) Don’t feel you have to go to all parties. Life is busy; we have families, day trips, lives. But if you must, at least offer to take another child or two with you and give some poor bastard the afternoon off. I aim to take a bullet early and then sit a few out.


I would like to emphatically make the point that I am very fond of the parents in our school and indeed consider many of them to be friends. If anyone suggests a soirée on the Ormeau Road, I’m the first to say ‘Yes please! I’ll even organise it!’ (In fact I did in June and Graffiti was superb.) But this doesn’t mean I want to shout over a load of shouting six years olds of an afternoon. No sirree.

Do check out my Instagram account @Sourweeblog to see the wee boxes I’ve been making and chucking a fiver and cute things within. (I’m not a complete auld shite. Just some of the time.)