SWB embraces Life

I have decided this week that I am going to MAKE AN EFFORT. Oh yes. No more trogging about in tracksuit bottoms that are all bally and knackered and shite.  I’m tired of rocking up at the school gates looking more dishevelled than a war reporter returning from Gaza.

I’m also going to start accepting compliments. We don’t tend to be good at that, here in Ireland. ‘You’re looking well,’ someone will say to me. My response is to look behind me, wondering who they’re talking to.  ‘This dress?’ I’ll say. ‘I bought it for £3 in Cancer Focus 9 years ago. It’s all cat hairs. And see? There’s a coffee stain from earlier as I tried to slice strawberries, wash lunch boxes and feed the cat while I had my breakfast.’

No more of that caper. Yesterday I off-loaded my children at my neighbour’s so I could do some work in peace. I had dispensed with my usual grotty attire and it didn’t go unnoticed. ‘You’re looking very stylish’. said Stephen.  I agreed heartily with him.  I did look better than usual.  I’d donned earrings, (rose gold with wee diamante bits);  a t-shirt  from local designer Starling Bridge, and a leather skirt from the swap shop last week. I’d applied some of my ‘leg shimmer’ from Tropic so I could go ‘bare legged’ with ankle boots. I’ve no idea whether or not this look is ‘in vogue’ as such things never really occur to me. But yes, I did feel well-turned out.

It’s only been recently, you see, that I’ve started feeling reasonably contented with my refection in the mirror. For years I hated the way I looked. Everyone else seemed more put-together, more svelte and shiny (God, How I hate the shininess of some people) , or had an elusive je ne sais quoi that I lacked. I think these seeds were sown when I was very young and on the receiving end of some mean schoolyard ‘slegging.’ Wee fellas, I found, could be especially cruel. One such lad, when I was perhaps 10 or 11, screamed in my face that I was the UGLIEST person he’d ever seen.  Another one, a few days later, called me ‘a God-damn disgrace to the Human Race.’ I think he liked the way the words sounded: the little iambs bashing along together.  I’m sure plenty of children get insulted on a regular basis and manage to shrug it off, choosing NOT to carry the negative vibes round with them til they’re mid-thirties, but I appeared to lack the emotional resilience.

Girls can, as you know, be spiteful too. At secondary school when I was 14 or so,  a first former (imagine! the cheek of the wee bastard!) accosted me in the corridor to tell me I looked like a ‘Riddler’. Have you ever seen the ‘The Riddlers’? (I actually DO look like slightly like a Riddler, with the big wide mouth and the prominent cheekbones, but that’s hardly the point).   I couldn’t get over it.  Later that year, when I saw her in Etams down the town, I stuck my foot out and she went flying down the aisle, headfirst into the crop tops. I pretended it was an accident. ‘Did you trip that wee girl up?’ whispered the Mothership, who knew not to put that sort of thing past me.  ‘She was the one who called me a Riddler,’ I hissed, as we hurried out on to Main Street. ‘Just right then,’ said the Mothership.

That was all just childish unpleasantness. Then I met my first ‘long-term’ boyfriend. He should never have been ‘long-term’ but for reasons I’ll explain later I let him hang around longer than I ought. Having just started university,  I was trying on different versions of myself and seeing how they fitted. He was 24 to my 18; and had aspirations that we could get married and buy a nice three-bed semi in Bangor. I could get a sensible job when I finished my studies and be home by 5 to cook him dinner.  I felt a bit suffocated by these notions, and tried to leg it, which was when the subtle manipulation came in. I had been quite a good and God-fearing sort of teenager, so he tapped into this first. ‘God really wants us to stay together,’ he said. He tried to find Biblical quotations to illustrate his point. He failed. He didn’t like me going out with any other friends, or out dancing, or doing the normal things students did. I did them anyway. This was where the nastiness started. After I got my hair cut into an unfortunate bob; (it did make me look a bit like a hamster as my cheeks were a lot plumper back then), he told me I was so unattractive, that he didn’t think he could be seen out with me until it grew a bit. Given how awful I looked, and my myriad other faults, he insisted I was best just settling into suburban life with him. Who else would have me, after all?

After a year and a half of his nonsense, I got rid, but not without a quare dent in my confidence. I had the misfortune of bumping into him at the airport a couple of years ago as we headed off to Malaga on holiday. There he was, smug and balding, waving away with gusto, oblivious to what an absolute tool he’d been. I gave him the sourest of stares and he dropped his gaze sharpish. Even his wife visibly wilted. ‘Oh God, not again,’ said LSB. A few years ago, I’d met another ex at the airport, on EXACTLY the same flight to Prague, for maximum mortification. It’s dreadful, meeting exes at airports. There they are at the departure gate; there they are again at the baggage carousel; and then the f**kers appear at the taxi rank. There’s the distinct possibility you’ll also catch them again at Duty Free on the way home.

That was a longwinded way people, of saying that it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally started to like myself. I’ve stopped cringing at photos and feeling grossed out by my own appearance. It’s the change in perception that has made such a difference. Even looking back at old photos, I don’t feel the same pang as I used to. Yes, I may have been a different shape back then, and had some, if I’m honest, brutal haircuts. But my eyes were bright and my smile was wide and tragically my skin was much dewier than it will ever be now. I’ve cut myself some slack too. I made stupid mistakes when I was younger. I didn’t listen to some good advice, and I stayed in some relationships longer than I ought. But had all this not happened, like this, I may not have met LSB and had the two lovely wee ones. Incidentally, the Small Child looks just like me. And I think she’s absolutely gorgeous.





SWB feels buoyant

I just deleted a text I’d intended for LSB, catching myself on before I hit ‘SEND’. I was re-reading it to ensure there weren’t too many typos (sometimes he worries from my garbled missives that I’m mid-stroke, and rings to check if he needs to call 999). The message read: ‘Those towels u hung out are almost dry! No need to tumble! What a productive morning!’

Thus before he received it and thought: ‘What has happened to my wife, and by direct association, my present existence,’ I got rid of it. But the JOY, people, the JOY I felt when I went out to the line and felt the crispness of towels dried in the breeze as Nature Herself intended. There has been such greyness, such a prevailing dampness of late, that the recent rays of sun have been a benison, worth remarking upon. Yes, drying towels on a line as opposed to the tumbler CAN mean that they take the first layer of skin off should you rub too vigorously, but sure we all need to exfoliate, and rarely do we take the time. Dear Lord, I’m really warming to this theme, aren’t I?

By my standards, it’s not even the most mundane of messages I tend to send. Regularly, I give him ‘cat updates’; always a riveting read. ‘Izz loved her leftover chicken. Snoozing now.’ This will be accompanied by a picture of the cat, sleeping, for added intrigue.

I also keep him posted about my current ailments. ‘Left Achilles buggered after run. May apply ice.’

Often they are bowel related: ‘How r ur innards after that curry? Mine r in tatters.’

And they say romance dies 8 years into marriage. Not in this house. Hell no.

Thankfully I’m not alone. A friend sent a photo to the WhatsApp group on Saturday night with a picture of a Danielle Steele novel she’d found while dusting her book case. Yes, you read that right. Dusting. Her. Bookcase. Of a Saturday evening too. She has no idea where the novel came from, as it’s not her usual reading material, what with her being a Professor of Law and all. I too, had come over all Mrs Hinch and had cleared a few surfaces, and even taken out the Pledge. ‘Oh ho, we’re quare rock and roll this evening girls,’ I quipped wittily, to the group. ‘I’ve just put the bath mats on to wash,’ added another. ‘You win,’ I replied.

I was actually supposed to go out DANCING this weekend, until my friend told me that pre-dancing drinks would commence at 9-45. I baulked. 9.45? She may as well have said 2am. Alas all, it would seem that I am hopelessly past it, getting my kicks instead from slipping between laundered sheets, after a day of pottering round church fêtes, stroking baby goats and eating tray bakes made by Presbyterians.

But you know what? I’m ok. It was a quietly glorious weekend, with friends and sunshine and frolicksome children. It’s gently soothing NOT to be running the roads and make oneself fit for the public gaze of an evening. For now I’m content. I’m away to pop on Radio 4 and do a bit of ironing.




SWB on post marathons and single use plastics

So folks, I tried. Down I went to clap and cheer on the Ormeau Road, and try as I might to ignore the mini mountains of plastic bottles strewn along the route, but I couldn’t.


I do love the marathon ever so much. My pal Alison was doing the full thing and is a bit of a pro now it must be said. She stopped though, to give her child a hug, and  the tears were tripping me. I’m utterly emotionally incontinent these days, and marathons evoke strong feelings. I was equally excited to see my friend Brenda, who decided to run her first marathon before turning 40. This is the sort of notion I would bandy about, when 3 glasses of Malbec in at a party. I would never, follow through upon it though. ‘People who’ve had broken backs shouldn’t even COUNTENANCE such a thing,’ says the Mothership. What she really means though, is that she doesn’t want to be minding my children while I lie, prone, on the sofa, for three weeks afterwards.


In the event, I didn’t see Brenda. I didn’t see Brenda because while she ran past, I was pestering a poor girl at a Cancer Focus stall to give me a black bin bag to facilitate mass bottle collection. Brenda saw my children, standing at the side of the road scavenging for bottles. By now, they had entered into the activity with vigour. ‘Where’s your mum?’ she called. ‘She’s recycling!’ replied the Small Child.*


We scooped up over 100 bottles. I scrounged more bags from the kind lady at the stall, then when the arse feel out of one, went into Graffiti where Stephanie gave me a more robust bin liner. LSB joined us after his leg of the relay and was promptly handed a heavy, leaking bag of bottles. ‘Thanks,’ he mumbled. He was slightly more enthusiastic than usual because River Rock are offering 10p for the Running Club with every label collected.


River Rock, as far as I’m concerned, can take their 10 pence and shove it up their grossly inflated arses. While they claim to be supporting local groups with their measly offering, they are doing disservice to the planet as a whole. They know it, we know it, David Attenborough knows it, and still they insist on providing single use plastics, in their thousands. Since they sponsor the event, they perpetuate this notion that runners NEED plastic bottles at 6 miles along the route. Most of the bottles we collected were at least three quarters full. I’m not taking anything away from the relay runners, but most of these guys aren’t doing more than 6.8 miles (6.8 in Leg A) and can surely manage to go for more than 5km without a drink. Churches were also out in force with refreshments, as were individuals and pop up gazebos from charity groups.


In London this year, while there was still some reliance on water bottles, they also handed out edible seaweed pouches of water along the route. These are an infinitely better option for the environment. Belfast, you need to catch up. Yes, River Rock are the sponsors,  but maybe they could take their profits and direct them in to developing eco-friendly options. We’d all be grateful.


Wd came home and operation ‘make a fish to make a point’ began. Water was decanted into 2-litre milk containers, which will has already been used to flush the toilets. We cut off the labels and now a big bag of bottles is waiting to go to the dump. The children have taken some to make ‘jet packs’. In the meantime, should anyone find a purpose for over 100 small bottles do get in touch.


*Before some jobsworth contacts social services, I was a mere few feet away, but rummaging in a box, hence momentarily obscured.

SWB feels sorry for herself

Sometimes the depth and range of my ineptitude and astounds me. Upon waking this morning, I made to turn over and reach for water to slake my thirst. This slight incline to the left and ‘rotating motion’ was clearly too strenuous for my aging form, and I experienced a sharp and nipping pain. My neck now aches and LSB has fed me an Ibruprofen the size of a Tim Peake’s space pod and I’ve a hot water bottle tucked down my dressing gown. I look like an asymmetric hunchback as I sit, grimacing, at my breakfast.

Imagine,  sustaining such an injury, in the very place to where one is supposed to recuperate, rest and restore. Maybe it is the bed’s revenge from overuse of late. Not, sadly, due to amorous exertions (does that actually happen  to couples nearing forty with 2 children and an attention seeking cat?) but since dabbling again with full time work, I tend to come home, and be drawn, sonambulant like, to the cosiness of the king-size. I retreat up the stairs and lie very very still, for AT LEAST half an hour, while the children ignore instructions to ‘sit quietly’ and wreck the house, plastering stones with acrylic paint and strewing stuff about. My father called recently, Mothership in tow, of course, and they actually GASPED when they peered through the window. I didn’t see this of course, because I was lying down, but the Mothership was fit to tell me when I emerged blearily sometime later.

‘Now Helen,’ she began, after pressing a cup of tea upon me, ‘we need to discuss this.’ I swear, Joe Pesci in Goodfellas could evoke less fear in a person, and that’s when he’s waving a handgun about, with half of Medellin’s finest up his nostrils.

Undeterred by my expression, which I think conveyed both pathetic-ness and mirth, she went on.

‘When you own a house, you must ‘Respect the space.’

What the heck has she been reading now, I wonder? ‘Respect the space?’ It’s not like my mother to watch morning television and quote some wanky mindfulness guru, but then again, she’s always had the ability to surprise.

‘You have to look after it. Look around you. Pre-empt disaster before it strikes.’ She led me outside, where my father was doggedly digging out leaves from the guttering. ‘You’re storing up trouble for yourself,’ he puffed, ‘if you let these accumulate.’

The children, in the meantime, still looked like Smurfs, with hands a lurid shade of blue. The windowsill in the living room and a section of the floor, boasted a similar hue. ‘I’m sorry,’ said the Mothership, ‘but I’ll not be starting into that. Yon pair don’t know what to be at. Why don’t you HIDE things? Leaving paint and GLUE about? Put them in the cupboard! High up! Or better still, IN THE BIN.’

That was last week. I haven’t got around to cleaning any of it. And now my shoulder is banjaxed. Today is of course marathon day, and LSB is doing the relay and our two friends on the street, without whom I would infinitely more sour, are running the full hog. They will, because they are brilliant, run the 26.2 miles, and shrug off any compliments or praise. They will finish, looking as though they’ve done nothing more arduous than a big shop at Sainsbury’s. And they will say, as they always do, ‘But how are YOU, Helen?’ and I, unable to help myself because I’m a master of the PLOMB (Poor Little Old Me Bullshit) will say, ‘I’ve tweaked my shoulder and it’s very sore,’ and they will look sad on my behalf and ask me about it all week and offer to be of any assistance.

And to think, that one of the reasons I say I will NEVER run a marathon (apart from being a lazy bastard) is because I ‘don’t want to injure myself.’ I should just have run the flipping thing then at least I could have lapped up any sympathy which came my way.

I’m going to get showered now and try to avoid further mishaps, before heading down the Ormeau with a load of Easter Egg bits in an old Celebrations tub to offer runners. I will take care to only clap with mild enthusiasm lest I bugger the neck further. And I shall try to avert my eyes from all the plastic bottles. Should you see me, please remember to look sympathetic.