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).


SWB puts the ‘open’ into ‘Open House Festival’

Tenx9 audiences usually enjoy a good bowel story; as they do tales of acute embarrassment; odd family  idiosyncrasies and close encounters of the evangelical kind. (There are many of those here in Northern Ireland.) My stories often include all the above. Last year in Bangor I told a tale about growing up on the Esplanade. This one is a bit more exotic and is about my trip to Thailand back in 2004.

‘What are you reading about tonight?’ The Mothership asks when I go down home on Friday night and foist my children upon her and my Dad.

‘The time I had the runs in Thailand,’ I reply.

‘Awk you’re not, are you? Who would want to listen to the like of that? Your father couldn’t stomach it at all. He’d have to get up and go out. Wouldn’t you Ronnie?’

My Dad feigns deafness and pours himself a glass of wine.

Hers’s the story, should you wish to read for yourself.

Tenx9- At The Seaside

I should have known not to have seconds of goat curry. And thirds. Definitely not thirds. This curry was, like most I had eaten in South East Asia, generously spiced with red chilli, and not even the coconut milk was rendering it tolerable. But on I lingered at the table, because this was a celebration, for not just one, but two good reasons.

Rahesh, the owner of our backpacker hostel,  had just completed the building of a sixth hut,  so at least 2 more guests could climb a rickety wooden ladder to a enjoy a ‘rustic’ stay, sleeping on less than pristine bed sheets. Each hut did, at least, have a bathroom, although water pressure was an issue as neither the shower nor the flush had much of an ‘oomph’. I had taken to using the loo in cafes and bus stations and even shops if they’d allow me, because I was very much in love with my boyfriend and I feared that this may not be reciprocated, if he had to hear me emptying my bowels through paper thin walls. On the up side, each hut cost £6 per night and since we were travelling for 3 months, it was in our best interests to be frugal. ‘Please, eat! eat!’ urged our host’s mother, a tiny wiry woman who kept appearing at my elbow, smiling a huge toothless grin as she ladled out spoon-fuls of sticky rice and curry. I ate up. I was very hungry.

The second reason why this was a celebration; was the fact that we were alive and able to eat curry from plates improvised from banana leaves. Two hours earlier I had feared death by drowning in the Andaman Sea after being caught out in a squall. ‘Come kayaking, it will be fun!’ said our new American friends, and so we had assembled at 10am on the beach for a trip. The last place I had gone paddling was Killyleagh, where we had not only been issued with life jackets but helmets too.  Our tentative safety enquiries were met with much derision by the men hiring out the kayaks from their shack on the beach.  ‘You will not need such things. You can swim, right?’ So in we hopped and with a push and a whoosh we were off, paddling through azure waters. It was exhausting. ‘Oooh, let’s look at these fish!’ I would say, ‘What fine phosphorescent creatures!’ My boyfriend knew rightly that I just wanted to rest.

Chicken Island, when we arrived, was unremarkable. We had just left one stunning beach with white sand, for an identical stunning beach with white sand. There was a bar serving the same jam-jars of iridescent red shite which in Thailand masquerades as a cocktail. I was not a fan of these at any time of day, but especially not at 11-30. Even by my standards, this was uncalled for. There was pottering, and sunbathing, and watching in awe as a fruit seller deftly sliced pineapple into uniform pieces with what looked like a machete.

But then I feel rain. Rain does not pitter patter in Thailand. Rain thunders down in heaving plumps, with a force not emulated by the shower in our hut. My intrepid boyfriend, and the American lads, who had told us several times, that they are ‘very strong swimmers’, are flexing their muscles and gearing up for the challenge. We decide to go before the squall whips up even more. Tourists had come over in a glass bottomed boat and they were pointing with incredulity at us, as we clamber into the kayaks. We paddle, fruitlessly. Waves crash into our faces, my stomach lurches and my arms ache. The sky is a huge purple bruise. ‘Paddle harder,’ shouts my boyfriend. ‘FUCK UP!’ I shout back. I cannot paddle any harder. I have reached peak paddle. ‘Can we go back?’ I yell. ‘No need!’ he replies. ‘Look, it’s calmer out there.’

It is not, calmer out there. It actually looks worse. I am going back, I decide. I will swim if I have to.  We turn the kayak. The wind behind us makes our paddle to the shore infinitely easier, and we are almost catapulted onto the sand. There is hardly any room on the glass bottomed boat but for a price they let us drag on our kayaks and we bump our way back to Tonsai beach. We pass our Americans, who are still valiantly trying to conquer the waves. We ask if we can stop and pick them up. I can’t hear what our Captain says but his voice is gruff and his hand gestures are more than a little dismissive.

Back on dry land we scan the seas. ‘Please,’ we ask the owner of the kayak shack.  ‘Can you do anything? Our friends are still out there.’

‘Out there?’ says the man. He laughs and shakes his head. He looks, not only unperturbed, but amused. A long 20 minutes later we see two dots appear on the horizon. Just as suddenly as it arose, the storm packs up its bags and buggers off.  We watch as our friends, who don’t look nearly so cocky now, edge closer and we swim out to greet them. ‘Drinks later?’ they ask. I nod with alacrity.

We have a rest before Rahesh invites us to partake in his mum’s special curry, before heading to the other side of the bay for evening frivolity. On the terrace, windchimes tinkle in the light breeze and Morcheebais playing in the background. The sea is calm and in the darkness it meets the sky in soft, velvety swathes. Everyone is lounging on bright cushions drinking beer, or Coke, all in ebullient form. All, that is, except for me. I am squatting, in a way that is both graceless and deeply uncomfortable, in the most basic hovel known to man. The curry has turned against me. It is the revenge of the goat. In the absence of a lock, the door threatens to open and a misguided cat is mewing and trying to get in.  Twice I try to stand but I am doubled over by crippling cramps. And then, above the whine of the                        crickets I hear my boyfriend’s voice. It is not a voice I want to hear right now. ‘Just a second,’ I say, ‘go back to the others.’

‘I’ll wait for you,’ he says. ‘It’s dark out here.’ There are times when you want your other half to be kind and chivalrous. This was not one of them.

I blunder out and gesture that I need to leave. To reach our part of the island we have to climb over a few rocky outcrops. We usually love donning our head torches and having a moonlit scramble. There are no water taxis tonight. Usually we have to convince them that we like the walk home, and to leave us be. I am now vomiting behind one rock and having the runs behind the next. I have vomited over my new duck-egg blue skirt. I have vomited over my boyfriend’s feet. I don’t know how I have any fluids left. Back in the hut, I assume that I have no moisture remaining to expel, from any orifice. I am wrong. ‘Yon fellow’s going to wish he’d installed better plumbing after this,’ says my boyfriend, as he tries to force carroty pieces of sick down the plug hole with a pencil. The embarrassment I feel singes my soul. I fear that I may be given the boot, but when I crawl into bed I see him futtering with his First Aid Kit. ‘I wonder could I improvise a drip,’ he ponders. He is, you see, a doctor, and instead of being revolted by my condition, is seeing it as a medical challenge. The thought of needles makes me want to vomit again, so instead he rubs my back until I sleep.

When I wake in the morning my mouth feels like the bottom of a hamster’s cage, but I have a concave stomach, for the first time in my life. In bounds my boyfriend with fresh mango and water. ‘It’s gorgeous out there,’ he says, beaming. ‘Shall we go for another kayak?’

‘Fuck off dear,’ I reply.








SWB and the School Holidays

So you know those films where children run amok and you chuckle because it is so extreme and therefore could not happen ‘In Real Life?’ Or else you comfort yourself because you think, ‘Phew, at least mine aren’t that bad?’ Well, shimmy on over and pull up a front row seat because mine are being absolute melters; candidates for Horrid Henry or Alvin and the Chipmunks. Day one of the official school holidays and we have already reached ‘peak melt.’  Earlier, as I walked past the living room, I saw The Small Child tying a basket to a piece of pink tinsel that was hanging from the light fitting. She was loading three cuddly toys (two ducks and a dragon) into said basket and giving it a vigorous push, like those big round  swings at the park.  I always want to curl up and read a book  on that swing sown in Cherryvale Park, except some bastard child is usually already ensconced. Darn shame. They need to open parks, at night, for adults, not necessarily for devilment, just quiet contemplation in relaxing environs.

The pink tinsel, I must admit, has been strung around the light fitting  since the Older Child’s birthday back in October. I think I am still recovering emotionally from that week before half-term when I was at the primary school two night’s running for the ‘Halloween disco’, then we stupidly decided to host our very own ‘Flamingo themed’ party in the house. The recollection of that time still makes my right eye-brow twitch. Even looking at the tinsel brings back feelings of angst and I can’t bear to  actually touch it. Last week I was visiting a friend and I saw she still had some Christmas decorations up in her dining room. ‘Don’t ever change,’ I said to her, clutching her hand in the manner of one demented.

Back to my off-spring: let me list their other offences. Perhaps the most annoying thing is their utter inability to finish a meal while keeping their backsides on a seat. They eat with their hands and with their mouths open, like savages. As a child, my parents were most particular about table manners. Once, I used to be particular about table manners, but I have now given up entirely on such trifling affairs. Avoiding scurvy and Beri-Beri: those are my current concerns, so I do not care how they eat vegetables, as long as they ingest some vitamins which don’t come from a packet of Halibo-Orange for Kids.

This eating ‘on-the-move’ habit which my girls have acquired means that the floor is strewn with bits of bagel, pizza crusts and ice-cream wrappers. LSB shows his love for the girls by buying them whatever they want.  At the moment, the children and Himself are on a quest for the elusive ‘Apple-saurus Rex’ ice-lolly. This has proved to be a fruitless search and to make them feel better he buys them oversized lollies such as Magnums or Super Twisters, to compensate.  Should any of you, on your travels, come across this refreshing icy treat, do get in touch as we have now started to believe that it is nothing but a ruse to draw dinosaur crazed children into shops.

The children are being especially bad and bold because we have a guest. They like to ‘up the ante’, when we have visitors, especially paying guests. This week we are hosting a French person. Her English is ridiculously good so they keep asking me if she’s really French. Our last lodger (of whom we were very fond and wanted to keep; I kid you not, she had a penchant for tidying and she LOVED children) had a very shaky grasp of English. However, since this didn’t interfere with how she enjoyed arranging my cushions neatly and doing jigsaws with my kids, this was no problem whatsoever. Anyway, as the French girl arrived the kids were returning from an outing where they’d ingested half their body weight in Haribo and were in ‘climbing mode’; clambering all over the furniture and swinging and jumping off the bannisters. ‘Go outside!’ I bellowed, at which point they came in to tell me that the cat had left a gift, which was of course a mouse. The cat then appeared with another mouse between her jaws, and we all looked on in horror as she batted it about.  The French girl hadn’t even had a cup of tea at this stage. Order was no sooner resumed when I looked in to the garden and thought, ‘F**k me but the cat really has got enormous,’ before realising it was actually a large black dog. A collie, I think. I had never seen said dog before in my life and then another appeared and they bounded in exuberant circles in the garden before making off through the fence. Meanwhile our feline  hissed and spat with a back so arched she resembled a boomerang.

‘It’s not usually as bad as this,’ I told the French girl. I’m not sure she’s convinced though, as today  the house was in a similar state of chassis.  I was trying to cook, blithely ignoring the children, (I’m a massive fan of the benign neglect method of holiday childcare) and they instantly set upon her when she came in. ‘Let’s play Hide and Seek! Come on!’  They led the poor girl straight into the garden before swiftly returning.  ‘Mummy,’ said The Older Child, ‘guess how many dead mice are on the patio?’

Three. There were three very small, very dead mice on the patio; another lovely job for SWB.  However, given how much food my youngsters leave at their behinds, I’m currently feeling very grateful for Izzy, the ultimate mouse-destroyer.

(In the interests of public health I would like to add that there is a large field behind where we live. There are sometimes cows. We basically live in a farm but without the benefit of fresh eggs. We also employ a cleaner, for whenever I miss a bit.)