The Mothership Makes a Call

It is 7:30 of a Wednesday evening. My hands are covered in glue and some orange paint, as I am helping the Small Child with her ‘Book in a Box’ (don’t ask, F*@king World Book Day as it’s now known in our house). The Older Child is writing her 500 word story (still) and LSB has been called down to start typing it out. He had been upstairs ‘working’ but when I passed earlier with a load of laundry his screen was showing no evidence of this and he was chortling away to himself about a fella stealing a live octopus from a market on Reddit.

The kitchen is an abomination, and even the cat looks on judgementally. Then the phone rings. It’s Herself.

‘Now I MUST talk you. It’s a matter of some urgency.’

I sigh. It is not a good time to chat, when I am trying to fashion a pair of glasses out of pipe-cleaners for a 3 dimensional squid.

‘I’m worried about the children. Tell them to watch who they’re sitting near in school, and if they’ve been away over half-term or the likes, to ask to be moved to another table. I don’t want anyone coughing or spluttering over them. Your father’s after telling me that the Six Nations, hang on a minute ‘RONNIE? WHAT IS IT THAT’S BEEN CANCELLED?’ Yes, I was right, The Six Nations in Italy has been postponed.  Now those rugby ones, they wouldn’t be taking measures like that if this wasn’t bad.’

My mother hasn’t drawn breath. Nothing wrong with her lung capacity anyway.

On she goes: ‘Far too much gallivanting, if you ask me. Skiing in February, the Canaries at Easter, I think the world’s gone mad. It’s like the last days of Rome.’

‘They should be putting an end to air travel. Germs spread fast on a plane with that recycled air. Oh, it’s disgusting.’

‘Mum,’ I say. ‘I can’t go ringing the school. Children are always coughing and spluttering. Including my own.’

‘Well at least you know where they’ve been.’

(That I do- we were at Druid’s Glen and then a wee farm in Wicklow. It was very pleasant, apart from the fact that it rained incessantly. Foundered we were.)

‘We don’t know who walks amongst us,’ she goes on dolefully, ‘and that’s the sorry truth of it.’

‘Well I can’t just not go into work,’ I say. ‘Or keep the children off.’

‘I was up at Bloomfield’s earlier and it was desperate altogether.’

I gesture to LSB that I’m away for a sit down for this conversation. I sense it could take a while.

‘I said to your daddy, will we have a scone, because I have a hunger upon me.’

(I’m not making this up, this is how my mother actually speaks.)

‘So we were in the queue at Marks and Spencer, and I’m not OVERLY found of their scones because whoever us making them is too heavy handed with the baking soda, but I said to your dad that perhaps we could share one, because of his blood sugar he shouldn’t be having a whole one anyway.’

Dear Jesus.

‘And there we were, the pair of us, in the queue, and this well-dressed woman, nice coat and all on her, well doesn’t she start to cough, all over the place. And not a hankerchief, nor even a tissue. This coronavirus has, did I think, been upgraded to a PANDEMIC, and STILL the cakes and buns are all sitting out. Now as you know, I only ever take the gluten free scones because they’re quite tolerable AND they come in a packet, thus germ-free. But then, the fellow in front of us, I’d say he was in his sixties and a sensible looking sort of a person, but doesn’t he lift a custard slice that your woman’s only after coughing all over?’

‘I said to your father, you’d need to be quare and hungry before you would eat the like of that. “We’ll just go on home,’ I said. ‘Safer that way.’

‘Good for you,’ I say.

It is Ash Wednesday and I’m trying to channel my Holy side but feck me,  am I gagging for a big fat glass of Malbec after that.

SWB looks back on breastfeeding (and swears a lot)

A person on my street has just had a baby. We know this because a bassinette suddenly appeared in their front living room and then I saw the dad cradling a tiny new born in the crook of his elbow with a TV remote in the other hand. I was instantly transported back eight years and remembered LSB doing the same, looking quite at ease, despite never having held a baby before his own came along. I have to confess that I stared in a bit. I’m a bit of a starer and it’s not one of my better qualities because I’m not even subtle about it. I keep meaning to address the issue but haven’t managed it yet.

Anyway, when I saw the bloke with the baby I was almost overcome with emotion, and then last night I dreamt I had a baby which LSB had to deliver himself as we were in a café at the time and not a hospital. (I think I was eating a peanut butter ball: it was a vivid sort of a dream). Even though she presented as breech, the baby emerged with tremendous ease and beaming a beatific smile. As I said, it was a dream. I had to have a word with myself about babies after this, because I had woken with quite a strong inclination to have another.

This would be a very bad ideas for a myriad of reasons, not least of which would be the environmental impact, although this time I would be much more diligent and try not to use Pampers and about a billion wipes. Even I manage to recycle every item I ever owned, I’ll never make up for the landfill I created by using bloody disposable nappies.

The other reason that I shouldn’t have any more babies is that during much of the time my children were infants I was quite, quite mad. Looking back, I was almost certifiable. There was just too much new stuff to comprehend and my head all but exploded. I am also, as you may have picked up on, a person who is prone to feeling very bad about things and when you have a baby you have a lot of things over which you can beat yourself up.

The main thing at which I failed spectacularly was the breast feeding. To put it bluntly, it was a fucking agonising experience for three miserable months, and looking back with a rational and well-slept eye, I should have given up at the 3 week mark when my daughter ended up in the Ulster hospital jaundiced and dangerously underweight. The nurse unfortunately couldn’t even offer any advice. She was able to tell me that my baby was starving, and desperately indeed of a decent feed, but she could not, under any circumstances, advise me to offer a bottle. So stringent were the NHS ‘guidelines’ that she actually said, ‘I can’t tell you what to do.’

Now when a first-time mother is sitting in front of you, deranged from lack of sleep and recovering from a caesarean section, it’s probably best not to rely on a ‘join the dots’ form of communication, since subtlety and nuance can by-pass a new mum altogether. Clearly my baby lacked nourishment and my attempts to provide it weren’t doing the job.  However, I had picked up the notion that formula was akin to the devil’s own vomit and the nurse didn’t disabuse me of the notion.

My husband tried to tell me. My mother-in-law tried to tell me, but in my state of confusion and downright stupidity I ignored them, until a visiting midwife saw the state of us both and suggested that I get a bottle into the baby fast.

Between cracked bleeding nipples and my baby vomiting up bloody milk that had me frantically ringing the out-of-hours doctor; the first month of feeding was nightmarish. There wasn’t enough support or information. I didn’t give a shit about feeding in public and in fact DARED anyone to approach me in a café and tell me to feed my new born elsewhere. They could get to fuck. What I worried about was the fact that I couldn’t get the latch right and my milk-production had all but dried up. I needed a nurse on-site or at least on the end of the phone for that first month to establish the feeding routine. Obviously the NHS don’t provide that and new mums are left in a state of bafflement with a terrible side order of guilt.

I did have a wonderfully straight-talking health visitor who sought to  reassure me, and helped me feel a bit better, but I only met her when my baby was about a month old and I already felt I had given her a dreadful start in life.

I wish back then I had known Jennifer Hanratty. Jennifer runs the ‘Breastival Festival’ which encourages and supports women on the breast-feeding journey, and equally, if the experience has gone totally tits up for them (excuse the pun) they’ll help you cope with that too. It’s about creating a community where breast feeding is discussed openly, advice is given and myths are firmly dispelled.

Jennifer will be in conversation with Dr Lesley Dornan as part of the NI Science Festival on Saturday 22nd February. I have no doubt she will be fabulous, and I very much hope there’ll be more such discussions, as this is a subject which, for sake of the mental health of all new mums and their babies out there, needs much more attention.

Incase this resonates with anyone out there, Jennifer has kindly set on these details about groups currently offering support in NI at the moment. I wish you all good luck on your journeys.

Breastfeeding In Northern Ireland Facebook group, a closed group of thousands of women offering mum to mum support and advice 24/7
LA leche League helpline, speak to a local breastfeeding councellor or go along to a face to face meet up for practical, emotional and social support
National breastfeeding helpline 9.30am – 9.30pm every day of the year. Partners/those supporting a bf mum are also encouraged to call for help and advice on how best to support their loved one in her feeding goals.
The lovely Jennifer herself, with child number two. 

SWB and the Troll named Terrance

The Older Child is being somewhat of an annoyance of late. She’s full of a manic, restless energy, hurtling through the house and threatening to dislodge her two front teeth at any given moment on a piece of furniture or stair. This is why I’m none too keen on letting her look at my laptop this evening, lest she sends it flying off onto a tiled floor.

‘I need it to look up ‘500 Words,’ she says, ‘so I can write my story.’

‘You don’t need my laptop for that,’ I say, with barely concealed delight. ‘You have me, I’ve been teaching that very thing, today!’ I had too, and  even looked up ‘creative ideas’ to aid the process.  It’s an industrious sort, I think, who spends a Sunday afternoon googling ‘How to Ignite Creativity in Teenagers.’

In fairness, I read little that was new and informative, resorting back to the hints and tips on the 500 words website, but still, at least it demonstrated enthusiasm.

The Older Child is taking none of my advice and is engrossed in reading other stories, and writing nothing of her own.  I resort to coming at it at a sideways angle. ‘Today, in school,’ I said, ‘I was teaching the children about subverting expectations.’

I am met with a blank stare. Of course I am. She’s eight.

‘So you take a witch, for example, and make her very kind, instead of nasty.  Can you think of an unusual sort of a character?’

She shakes her head while I go on chopping up carrots for the dinner. ‘Like instead of a nice granny, with a fluffy cat, you could have a grotty old granny who has a pet cockroach called Cedric? And she takes it out on a lead for walks?’

Not even a smile.

‘You call EVERYTHING Cedric,’ she sighs. It’s true. In our house, Santa’s seagull is Cedric. The Squirrel who makes an occasional appearance in our garden is a Cedric. We met a pigeon last year in Valencia with a deformed foot and I called him Cedric too but pronounced it in a Spanish accent, ‘Cedriqué’.

‘Anyway,’ she goes on, swiping a slice of carrot. ‘I’ve got my characters, a troll and a pizza delivery man.’

‘That’s wonderful,’ I say, sensing progress.

‘There’s a taxi driver too,’ she adds.

‘What are they all up to?’ I ask. I’m quite intrigued, actually.

‘That’s as far as I’ve got,’ she says, running off to put on her Brownie uniform, because of course, what you really want to be doing in gale force winds, is shuttling your offspring off to a Presbyterian Church on the Saintfield Road.

By the time she has reappeared I have the whole story planned out.

I’ve got it,’ I say when she comes down, all kitted out in her rather vile yellow and brown uniform.

‘What’ll we call the Troll? Terence or Trevor?’

‘Terence,’ she says with a deep sigh.

‘So I was thinking,’ I say. ‘He could be living on BRIDGEway Street, and he orders pizza every night for his tea, and one day he gets a new delivery boy who skids in a puddle as the river has overflowed due to climate change and bumps his head. We’ll call him Neville.’

‘Oh great! Neville,’ she smiles happily. The name Neville always gets a laugh. I always think of Nevilles being clumsy and goofy looking, based on the one who featured in the 80s sitcom Duty Free. That Neville has been somewhat usurped by the hapless Neville in Harry Potter who’s always mislaying his toad.

‘What about the taxi driver?’ she asks. ‘We don’t have a taxi driver,’ I say. ‘We’ve too much to cover, and we only have 500 words.’

‘But he was my favourite,’ she says.

‘Why? How?’  I ask, utterly bemused.

‘He just was,’ she says.

I can only imagine that in her head these characters were fully formed and three dimensional but she just has trouble articulating  this and giving it expression.

While she’s out The Small Child wants me to sit on the sofa under a blanket with her which gives me time to work on the story.

Lonesome and lacking culinary expertise since the death of his wife, Terence the Troll has taken to ordering pizza every night. He has thus grown rotund and unsightly, even by Troll standards. He goes round in a dressing gown and underpants because the billy goats that used to pester him have eaten up all his clothes off the washing line. That’s why he got so cross and had to threaten that he’d eat them up. He had no intention of actually doing this, having tried goat on his honeymoon in Jamaica and finding it to be a tough and reedy sort of meat. He quite liked The Gruff siblings, and enjoyed watching their antics as they frolicked and gambolled over the fields, but goats can be a terrible menace. They’d chewed up all his jeans and tee-shirts, as well as his hydrangea bush which used to give him no end of pleasure in the springtime.

Anyway, Neville, being Neville, is a clumsy sort of a fellow, and skids when he comes to deliver the pizza, (with extra pepperoni) falling off his bicycle and knocking himself out stone cold. Upon waking, he is surprised to find a bewhiskered but kindly looking Troll applying ice to his forehead.  They get chatting and Neville says it’s nice to meet him at last. Neville senses a kindred spirit because he’s a bit on the odd side too and the Troll says that he used to be great on a bike and in fact won third place in the BMX Troll Championships in 1978. He says he’ll give Neville some tips if he wants and Neville is all pleased  and in turn he will show Terence how to knock up a Salad Niçoise which has a fraction of the calories of a pizza and reduces Global Warming because all the pigs slaughtered for pepperoni produce terrible amounts of methane.

Both Terence and Neville feel infinitely better for the encounter and declare that it’s rather a shame that they hadn’t made each other’s acquaintance earlier.

I give the Small Child a brief synopsis of the story and she says it sounds excellent. I’m sure I won’t be the first parent to submit a story to a competition under the guise of being under ten. But sure. Maybe the Older Child will produce her own, complete with her taxi-driver character tomorrow. I wait with bated breath.

SWB hits the Charity Shops

Last weekend I opened up my Mac and up popped a window decreeing: ‘Groundhog Day’. No shit, I thought ruefully, sure isn’t that every day? This month has been long and dark, and the logistics of working full-time, imposing some sense of order on my house and acting as PA and Chief Entertainment Officer to my offspring, is proving hard to manage. Balls are being dropped all over the show. Friends have been neglected, appointments missed, and many are the chores left unfinished.

I was in puerile form altogether last week and thought that urgent action was required. I needed a pleasant Friday evening to obliterate all thoughts of Brexit, embrace frivolity and make room for joy. Isn’t that a brilliant phrase? It could be the title for my memoir: ‘How a Sour Wee Bastard Made Room for Joy.’ I don’t think it would exactly fly off the shelves though, as folk may find the juxtaposition too hard to fathom and assume I was either a sanctimonious twat, or a more rotund and decidedly less effectual Marie Kondo.

Back to Friday night. I did some yoga (which was very joyful) and then met my friend Arlene for a tipple and a Chinese meal. In we trotted to The Northern Lights first where we met a large shaggy haired lurcher. ‘This is what I LOVE about this lace,’ I gushed. ‘You get to drink some wine AND stroke a lovely dog.’

‘You and I are VERY different,’ said my friend, who doesn’t share my enthusiasm regarding the animals, either in or out of a drinking establishment.

We caught up over a Sauvignon Blanc before making our way down towards Macau by the bridge. But en route, as we passed the Concern Charity Shop, what should I spy but something that looked suspiciously like a bed pan, set prominently in the window. We had been walking at quite an accelerated pace since I heard that Macau did wonderful deep fried aubergine and I was keen to get stuck in. ‘Hang on there,’ I said to Arlene. ‘I need to get another look. Perhaps my eyes have deceived me.’

My eyes, however, had not. It was indeed a bed pan, although labelled (incorrectly I think), as a ‘Ceramic Vintage Douche’, selling for the princely sum of £10. ‘Who?’ I stuttered. ‘Why?’

‘You need to find out,’ said Arlene, ‘I need to know the rationale behind this decision.’

‘What sort of a person,’ I mused, ‘starts into their January clear-out, finds a bed pan, and thinks, “I’ll just drop this down to the charity shop.’’

‘What next?’ said Arlene. ‘A vibrator? ‘Just one previous careful owner?’’

How we chuckled.

That made me think of my first car, a lovely Nissan Micra, red in hue and dinky, like a motorised ladybird. It had ‘one careful lady owner,’ who only ever drove it between Bangor and Donaghadee. It was pristine when I got it and remained that way for all of 10 minutes until I rammed it into my parent’s back gate and later into a bottle bank at the old Co-op on the Lisburn Road. ‘Oh, I am vexed,’ The Mothership, used to say, upon seeing the latest dent. We called it ‘The Sour Car’, for obvious reasons.

We were still talking about the bed pan as we tucked into our pork dumplings. ‘It’s quite a personal item, though isn’t it, to give in to a charity shop?’ said my pal.

I nodded vigorously. ‘I can’t imagine saying, as I ‘Marie Kondo’d my house: ‘here’s a dress I’ll never squeeze into again; a Denby cup and saucer and oh, that bed pan I have kicking about under the bed.’

‘Some weirdo might buy it though for other uses,’ she said.

‘Like what?’ I said, hastily swallowing down a mouthful of wine lest I choke.

‘Did you not read about that post which almost brought down Mumsnet?’

I shook my head, oblivious to this altogether.

‘You know, the husband who had a post-coital clean-up routine involving a beaker, which prompted his wife to post a message asking if this was normal behaviour?’

My eyes widened. I definitely hadn’t heard of this, for I’m sure I would have remembered.

‘It’s a very funny read,’ said my friend. ‘Be sure to check it out.’

We got back to the Ormeau bed pan. She suggested that I purchase it and put it to immediate use as a planter for some geraniums. ‘It could be a short story,’ she said. ‘From the point of view of a bed pan. ‘Living My Best Life’ you could call it, with before and after photos.’

So on Saturday morning, despite feeling the effects of the previous evening’s exuberance, down I trotted to ‘Concern’ see if it was still in the window. And yes, there it was, nestled under a china tea set, a box of spoons and a blue tinkly bell. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good root round a charity shop, as my return to work has put paid to such excursions. This was a worthwhile venture, however, as I picked up a spangly top, a pink woolly jumper, a Nora Ephron book and a jigsaw for the children, (complete, I’d like to add, as there ought to be a dark corner of hell for anyone who considers it acceptable to donate a puzzle minus a few pieces)

As I paid up, I asked the gentleman on the till about the bedpan. ‘There’s an item in the window labelled ‘a vintage douche’ and I just wondered if you anything about it?’ He looked at me quizzically.  ‘A what?’ he said.

‘Well it’s labelled a ‘douche’, but I think it’s just a bed pan,’ I said. He raised an eyebrow and said that he’d have to see it for himself. Out he trotted after me. ‘No idea where that came from,’ he said. ‘I only work here on a Saturday.’ Do you think it will sell?’ I asked.

‘Goodness yes, he replied. ‘People always buy this sort of thing. Anything useful goes very quickly.’

He was very pleasant, the man, and seemed quite amused by my line of inquiry. I do like Concern, although it can be pricier than other charity shops along the Ormeau. One gets more of a bargain in The Hospice Shop, as indeed I did, a few minutes later, picking up an M&S leopard print skirt or £3.25. Once, in Concern, I lifted a pair of roller boots for my Older Child. They were £8, which seemed to come as quite a shock to the elderly gent behind the till.  He said, and I quote, ‘Jesus Christ, I thought you were meant to get a bargain in here,’ and gave them to me for a fiver.

So there you are folks. What I want to know is this: would any of you good people either think to heave a bed pan into a charity shop, should one be  lurking on your premises, or would you be inclined to buy one? I’m not convinced this particular pan was worth a tenner by the way, but you may strike lucky and get an understanding chap when you go to make your purchase. It looked in need of a good scrub too, although any residual urine, could, I suppose, bring on the growth of any potential herbs or plants. You know me- always looking for the sunny side….