SWB wonders if Mercury’s in retrograde

It’s been a funny week. We’ve bounced our sickness back and forth, feeling awful one moment and not quite so shit the next. There have been events throughout which I haven’t wanted to miss, but everything I’ve been to or seen has been shot through with a weird vein of imperfection. Perhaps, as my yoga teacher says, ‘Mercury’s in retrograde’ which seems to interfere with everything, particularly technical stuff, but there’s been an edginess to the week, as though at any moment things could disintegrate into madness.

 

On Wednesday I went to the Limelight to see the band Superorganism. I took a friend because poor LSB was out of sorts. I felt sprightly enough to go, but I have to admit, after hearing a few tunes by the support band, I wilted.  I’d been looking forward to the gig but my enthusiasm started to wane. Then on came Superorganism, with a stage backlit by wild, psychedelic flowers and I perked up. I was jigging away merrily when suddenly the sound died and their visuals disappeared. It’s an 8 piece band, but it was their lead singer, a teensy weensy Japanese girl, who took control. But one cartwheel across the stage wasn’t going to cut it. I was tired, and I wanted to go home. My friend works in Newry and I thought she’d prefer to head too, but ‘Cool your jets,’ she said, ‘It’s only been a few minutes.’ Then a chap up at the front volunteered his services as a human beat box, and the lead singer rapped along. They were fabulous, and when the sound returned and they did the rest of their set to rapturous applause. My friend met some former students who greeted her with huge hugs and I met the lovely Emer Maguire, (who I’m sure now thinks I’m stalking her.) It was all most convivial and I left with a sense of gratitude that the audience had been so big-hearted and generous.

 

Things went a bit pear-shaped again on Friday night, when the performance poet Tony Walsh did a show over at the Strand Cinema in Belmont. It was a BYO event, and I imagined small groups of us gathered around tables with flickering candles, as though we were in Montmartre awaiting Aristide Bruant. But instead we filed into the aisles in screen 4, and up Tony bounded onto the stage like a golden retriever on speed. His quick-fire delivery can leave you trying to keep up, especially if you’ve a cold and your head feels like it’s full of mushy mashed potato, but despite my lurgy I loved it. Words flew like sparks. His poem ‘Coming Home,’ gave me such goose bumps that I felt the stubble on my legs pierce through my tights. He read about broken relationships, about death, about those left adrift and uncared for by cruel government cuts. They resonated with us. Well, most of us. There were a few in the audience who seemed unaware of the etiquette at a poetry event. They chatted, loudly; they sloshed wine into cups and through their noisiness they disrupted the energy and the flow of the recital.

 

But Tony read on. Beautifully. In his poetry there is pluck and fearlessness and defiance. He peppers his poems with profanities; he doesn’t shy away from life’s ugliness and absurdities. On that stage he personified all the vulnerability and pain of the human condition.

 

Had he wanted, he could have shot down the raucous listeners with a few sharp lines of invective. He didn’t, and in many ways their presence made the experience more powerful. Life isn’t perfect. It is pretty shite at times and we just blatter on, finding what jewels we can within the mire and holding on damn tight to them.

 

Maybe these guys just didn’t now the craic. But they were still there, at a poetry recital and perhaps the rhythm and the wonder and the rhyme will stay with them, and I hope it does. For me, it was irksome, and I wish he could have read in peace. I felt uncomfortable. But in the highly charged atmosphere it made the need for poetry more pronounced. I expected the crowd to leave in the interval, but they come back. Clearly they needed poetry too.

SWB tries to find peace within

So, we’ve been playing a fun game since the start of September: it’s called ‘Pass-the-Pestilence’, and it goes like this. Someone, usually a child, brings an evil bug into the house, and it infects the rest of us, so we all take it in turns to feel like a bag of shite. At this present moment, we’re a cough and a splutter away from painting a red cross on the door. ‘My throat’s a bit scratchy,’ I say, and LSB retorts ‘Scratchy? You’re lucky, I feel like I’m swallowing shards of glass.’ Then he heads out to run 18 miles in the rain.

 

To add to our grievances, at the weekend the Small Child  developed the chicken pox. It began as a snottery cold which floored her on Saturday, but come Sunday she seemed in much better form, and the phrase ‘caged lion’ could have been coined for her.  To neutralise some of the energy within, I suggested a stroll up Cregagh Glen and all seemed well, as she took off up the hill in valiant strides. However, upon our return, bath time revealed  tell-tale spots. ‘Bugger,’ we said. ‘It’s the pox.’ The poor child had some huge nasty looking blisters up by the next morning, and over the course of the week, we’ve all been feeling poorly, in a variety of ways. I suppose you can’t escape it; every time we go down to the school there’s at least two children with what looks like toxic waste coming from there nose. (No judgement by the way, ours are the same). Thank God they haven’t introduced water charges here, because my hands are raw from washing them after cleaning noses, including my own.

 

As an aside, have any of you, my esteemed readers, ventured up the Cregagh Glen? It is EXQUISITE, a sanctuary of beauty and calm, like a tropical oasis just off the carriageway. It amazes me every time. There’s even an ‘old-school’ rope swing, with a pair of elderly tights attaching the stick to the rope, which is a highlight for the kids, with it’s devil-me-care attitude to Health and Safety Regulations. Here is my child mid-flight:

 

LSB manged to stave off any symptoms until yesterday, when he looked peaky, and this morning he announced, ‘This cold is a real dick,’ as he sneezed into his granola. He has now upgraded it to a ‘viral infection’, and a sort of sickness ‘one-up-man-ship’ has emerged in the house. I felt better and was out and about, while he worked from the sofa. He even seemed slightly resentful of my good humour, since he himself felt so rancid. ‘What do you mean you feel better now and I still feel rotten? What lack-lustre strain did you get?’

 

Needless to say, the mood has at times been subdued. It’s hard looking after children when you feel like there’s a platoon of tiny mice with pickaxes trying to hack their way out of your skull. I couldn’t even get the folks up to help since Dad fell victim to shingles a few years back and we didn’t want to risk reigniting them. Bastard of a thing, shingles. Such was his dose that I ended up ringing a woman in Fermanagh who had a ‘charm’ for them, which she kindly posted to us. I can’t remember what form it took exactly, and nor can he, given his state of delirium, but it involved applying some unguent while reciting Biblical verses. Happily, it appeared to despatch the shingles sharpish, which may seem far-fetched, but we were quite convinced it worked.

 

My Dad is a great believer in divine intervention. As a student at Queen’s, the doctor told him he’d never play rugby again, which caused him terrible distress. But, resourceful young man that he was, he took himself to a faith healer who prayed over his ankle and Hallelujah, it worked, and back to the pitch he went. That was until some big fella tackled him, smashing his ribs to bits and putting him in the Royal. Mum said ‘No more rugby for you’ after that, because every time he inhaled he turned a lurid shade of green, and she couldn’t be doing with it.

 

I’m half way through Anne Lamott’s wonderful memoir ‘Travelling Mercies’, which renders me much more likely to believe in miracles. I see many similarities between Anne and myself, although even at my worst I didn’t binge drink beer that tasted of goat urine for an evening’s entertainment; give me a Hendricks and Fever Tree tonic anytime over that nonsense. Like me, she is also a poor patient, and tells a great story about having a raging head-ache, and asking her neighbour to drop her son off to school. That would have been fine, except the neighbour had stage four brain cancer. She justifies it by saying he was feeling chipper that day, so it wasn’t too great an imposition. I could just see me doing that to a kind-hearted friend. ‘Here, you, I know you’re mid-chemo, but would you mind leaving my pair down to their Spanish class? I’ve a fecker of a period this month.’

 

That’s a long-winded way of explaining why the blog has been quiet the past few days. It’s hard to concentrate when not only are you feeling poorly but a child is watching ‘The Little Princess’ loudly, for the umpteenth time. Of all the children’s programmes, I like ‘The Little Princess’ more than most, as Julian Clary does the voice of the narrator, which quite tickles me. However, after continual bombardment, I have taken to speaking in a Yorkshire accent, which even I find grates upon the nerves. But I must say, despite their respective ailments, the wee ones have been little troopers and I’m very proud of them. (Flip me, but Anne Lamott must be doing me some good.)

SWB fesses up

Can I let you in to a bit of a secret? I really like my children. They are funny and sweet and usually kind, and especially since they’re back in a routine, I’m quite taken with them. When I get them in from school we park ourselves on the sofa in front of ‘Ben and Holly,’ and I just sit and sort of ‘nuzzle’ them, smelling their hair and marvelling at the curve of their cheeks. Every night, even on the days when they’ve been at their most mischievous, I go in and gaze at their faces in repose. They’ve pushed their beds together and sometimes sleep with an arm slung over the other. It’s unbearably cute.

I often call LSB over, so he doesn’t miss out on the joy. ‘Would you look at them,’ I say. ‘Aren’t they just lovely? I mean, have you ever seen such gorgeous children?’ He just nods and smiles, knowing I won’t be quite so enchanted in the morning when they’ve refused three different types of cereal.

So why then, do I only write about the bad stuff, when they’ve pissed me off good and proper?

Back in August I was out for dinner with a few girls and we were sharing horror stories about the holidays. ‘Thank f**k it’s almost September,’ we sighed, ordering another bottle of red. I had written a post about mine being particularly irksome, which one pal had found very funny. ‘I hope people realise that I’m quite fond of them, even when they are being melters.’ I joked. ‘Hmmm,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if it’s always that clear.’

I nearly spat out my Malbec. ‘Shit!’ I thought. I know I complain, loudly and often, but surely it’s obvious that I love the bones of them? Didn’t I take the career break so I could spend time at home and be a better mum? I asked another pal for her take on it. ‘You might need to be more explicit,’ said she. ‘Sometimes I detect a sense of ambivalence.’

Perturbed, I started to harass LSB. ‘You’re the best advert for contraception I’ve ever seen,’ he said, ‘keep writing the blog and there won’t be any more issues about primary school places.’

Feck away off, I told him.

The thing about children, is the paradox of it. One moment I could almost EAT mine, looking on in wonder at them, and the next, I’m  yelling: ‘I AM LEAVING THE BUILDING,’ as I scarper to out the front door. The practice of parenting is just relentless, or as Anne Lamott puts it: ‘Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janice Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you.’ Thanks Anne, I can always rely on you for a good quote.

But if there’s one thing worse than being a whiney mum, it’s being a soppy mum. We all know a few. ‘Dear God,’ we say, ‘not another picture of that child on Facebook,’ #myheart, #myworld, #thatface and obviously, #blessed. PASS THE BOKE BUCKET. I was in Forestside last Saturday, hunting for fresh thyme for a compote (yes, I was reading Anna Jones in The Guardian again) when I met another Mum from school. We’d both delivered our kids to the same party so had a two hour reprieve. ‘Isn’t it brilliant,’ we gushed. ‘YEOOOOO !!!’ (sometimes the West Belfast husband rubs off on me.) It’s not that shopping with your offspring is hell, it’s just hard to plan your weekly dinners when one wants you to buy them a Twirl and the other is crying because you won’t buy her another shite costume for Halloween. ‘Let’s make one,’ you say. ‘You always say that but you never do,’ she cries, as you lambast yourself internally as that is indeed the case. Shopping with a side of pure guilt and misery mixed in.

Anyway, said mum and I got chatting and she said that like me, she thinks her kids are brilliant but she has a pal who posts about three horrifically saccharine photos a week and it makes her feel a wee bit nauseous. ‘I mean,’ she explained, ‘mine say funny things too, but I’m not going to bore the bastard off you about it.’

I appreciate though that I’m very lucky, because I have the grandparents I can talk to ad infinitum about my kids, and it never bores the pants of them. My mum has actually told me to WRITE DOWN all the funny things mine say incase she misses anything. Sometimes I ring and mid-sentence she cuts me off. ‘Hang on, I’m away to get a pen.’ she says. ‘I want to get this just right.’

She has a way of making me feel really good about it too. ‘They’re just so clever and well-spoken. Wherever can they have heard these things?’ ‘Well obviously not their mother with the English degree who is sometimes on the radio,’ I retort.

I know I’m fortunate. I have everything I’ve ever wanted, which I guess makes me feel like a selfish, ungrateful fecker when I feel cross.  But irked I am, when I find half a cheese toasty shoved down the side of the sofa, or have a massive row on my hands because they can’t wear their trainers as they’re wet. ‘Of course they’re frigging wet. I didn’t ask you to run into the tide wearing them did I? And then to bury them in the sand!’ FFS. (That was yesterday after a trip to Bangor. It’s still fresh in my mind.)

In short guys, my kids are great. LSB is a dote. But sometimes you just need to clear the f**k out for a bit, and it’s all the nicer when you return.

 

 

SWB is busy doing nothing

Is anyone else wondering ‘Where the f**k did September go?’ Yesterday, I saw an competition on Facebook and all entries had to be in by the 30th September. I thought to myself, I better get a wriggle on then! On I went about my business until I realised: it was the fourth of October. Now I wasn’t totally unaware of this: I had written cheques, deposited children to clubs and to classes so I wasn’t completely oblivious to the passing of time. But on some emotional level, I hadn’t caught up.

 

Life just gallops ahead, and perhaps it feels more of a shock because I had said to myself, that once the girls started school again, I would ‘get organised’. Four mornings out of five I fully intended to sit at my desk and write, on whatever project I had going. Some days I’d then trot to the gym, do some errands and then pick up the kids, when the little blighters would then dictate the rest of the day.

 

Here’s how it’s working out. I’ll use this morning as an example of how my ‘writing’ goes. I open the lap-top to get started, see an e-mail, and after replying, notice a play on at the Lyric. I book said play, after texting a friend to invite her to join me.

 

I chortle along as the poet Murray Lachlan Young reads a poem about bongo drums on BBC 6 music and then look him up to see what else he writes. He is truly very funny, a master of rhythmical comic verse. ‘WRITE’ I tell myself, but my phone is going berserk from the PTA Whatsapp group, so I make a call relating to lights for the Halloween Disco. (‘But how many DAYS til the Halloween Disco,’ asked my kids this morning, all fizzing and popping with excitement, like little walking-talking tubes of sherbet.)

It’s a good day, so on goes a wash, in the hope I can hang it outside. The microwave really is overdue a scrub, and look! I’ve a couple of elderly lemons, so I squeeze them into a bowl for a good, eco-friendly cleanse. I wash up a few plates and cups, then butter a slab of banana bread for myself. I have not written anything. It is now 10.40 and I remember I have a prescription to get and wonder if I should grab a coffee in Forestside. We’re also out of fruit. I hate being out of fruit. We REALLY need fruit. The light spills into the kitchen and the sky is blue. It’s the perfect morning for a stroll, en route to get fruit.

 

Colum McCann has great advice on writing, which I’ve shared before. I remember, because The Mothership rang and said ‘Please refrain from using words like ‘arse’. MOST uncouth.’ Well sorry. but here it is again. ‘Arse on Seat.’ Three simple words to make you get on with the job. I advocate turning off all social media alerts on your laptop and putting your phone far, far away. A nicer option would be a three day jaunt to the beautiful River Mill retreat near Downpatrick, where Paul Maddern cooks all your meals  and you don’t have to contemplate the state of your microwave. However, you might have to be a ‘real’ writer to go, not just a blogger who blogs about not writing. ‘Sorry, you’re not eligible,’ Paul might have to say, which would be wild hard for him as he’s a nice, polite sort.

 

So I’ve achieved exactly NONE of my set objectives, yet still feel I’ve been very busy. The thought of a coffee in my keep cup at General Merchants sounds very appealing- they also give you reduction when you bring your own drinking vessel. Sometimes I sit and give people the evil eye, as they use their disposable cups without a care. Maybe I better get down there and start saving the oceans, one dirty look at a time.  And I digress again. If you’ve any helpful hints, please get in touch. Or get in touch anyway, because as you can see, I do love a diversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s why SWB keeps banging on about the plastic.

This is less of a Monday moan, more of a Tuesday Trauma. Anyone watch ‘Drowning in Plastic’ last night? Full disclosure: I was tucked under a blanket with a bad cold, and I lacked the necessary fortitude. But I got the gist, and I didn’t want images of chicks with bellies full of plastic filling my dreams. I watched a bit this morning instead, and it wasn’t edifying viewing. Terrifying really- because it feels too late. I’ve come over all ‘End of Days’. If  we’ve already destroyed the oceans to such an extent, then what can we do? Well, I’m not going to get all defeatist. That’s why those mad evangelists refuse to acknowledge climate change and keep doing what they want, because they think the the Rapture’s almost upon us so the preservation of the earth is a waste of time.

Perhaps this is the boot up the backside we need to start prioritising the  environment. We have to stop feeling like a dick by taking our tupperware to the supermarket and asking them to pop in our cheese or sliced ham. We need to fire our Keep-cups into our handbags and store Bags for Life in our car boots. Halloween is looming, as is Christmas- prime time for buying shite we don’t need, wrapped up in excessive packaging. Just stop. Tweet Tesco and Sainsbury’s and tell them why you’re not buying particular products. Once their marketing directors register a spike in complaints raising the same objections, they’ll be forced to reconsider their practices.

There has to be a better way. There was, in the past, and we managed just fine until suddenly the use of plastics insidiously wove its way into the consumer chain, and now we can’t complete a weekly shop without it, in a myriad of forms.

We can’t keep preaching to kids in schools about these issues, then hand them Fruit Shoots and Selection Boxes at the Halloween Disco and Christmas Sale. Or bring them to see Mum and Dad running a 10k race or marathon and see the streets strewn with bottles. It confuses them. Hell, it confuses me.

But we can make it the new norm, to say no. You don’t get anywhere in this life without being just a wee bit annoying. If we want change, we need to pester our councils, our schools and our supermarkets. Will you join me in being a total pain in the arse until we see results? Go on, you will, you will, you will, you will….

If you need any more convincing, here’s the link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bmbn47/drowning-in-plastic