SWB on lessons during lockdown

During my teaching career, kids have flicked M&Ms at my head.  A peeved teen once got up from her chair and launched it, with some gusto,  in my direction. I wore a pair of ill-fitting trousers and students shouted ‘camel-toe’ at me up and down the corridor. Never though, have I been so relieved to see Friday arrive.  Several times this week, I have had to take myself out into the garden and utter obscenities, to quell the urge to eject a Small Child through a window. ‘I see your Tourette’s is back,’ muttered LSB darkly, hearing me drop the c-bomb while hanging out the towels.

It can be trying enough, the whole ‘home-schooling’ lark. More trying still, when you have all the technical know-how of a seventeenth-century peasant with eye-trouble. Things didn’t work this week. When they did work, I managed to delete the bastard things before I sent them. Everything that COULD run out of charge, ran out of charge. ‘I WOULD do the work Mummy, but my tablet’s at 7%.’ I heard that a lot. The Small Child’s newest infuriating habit is running off when I’m trying to explain things to her. She’s a stealthy wee article, and I was halfway through explaining plurals ending in ‘x’ and ‘ey’ before I realised she’d taken herself off.

The main lesson my progeny will have to take from this, is not to repeat the foul language to which they’ve been subjected. ‘Where’s she fucked off to now?’ I spluttered in disbelief, coming downstairs from the printer with a sheet for The Small One to do. ‘Outside,’  said the Older one, not even looking perturbed by and getting on with her adding-up. The Small Child waved with glee from the top of the slide. I sighed.

They have expressed great reluctance to complete the work sent by their lovely and diligent teachers. I’ve had to prise the Nintendo Switch from the Older Child’s hands and at one point I put it in the bin, only for it to be fished out later by her sobbing sister. ‘But Daddy plays it too,’ she wailed.’ ‘Daddy can just eff off,’ I fumed, since it was Daddy who brought the blasted thing into the house at Christmas.

‘The thing is,’ opined the Small Child, ‘that Miss X is very clear when she explains things and you’re not clear. AT ALL.’

‘No, she’s not, is she?’ agreed her sister.

Little s**ts.

To be fair to them, though, it isn’t all their fault. I should be organised. I should source rubbers and pencils and rulers, and have them at our disposal. I ought to acquaint myself with the see-saw exercises, before I have a small, impatient child standing beside me who just wants to play ‘Harry Potter’ with her sister: ‘Here’s comes Hedwig Harry!’ (cue a small stuffed owl flying past my shoulder.) See-saw isn’t the most straightforward of apps to navigate, and is less so when your new dog is pestering you for a piece of scone and you want to get a load of laundry done because the sun has the audacity to still be out after  17 days.

I just have to accept that at 7 and 8 years of age they  need me to sit with them and not be checking my phone or doing dishes while they work. They need me to be present, which is hard, what with my head being more pickled than a jar of kimchi. But to prevent meltdowns and ensure they get actually learn something, I have learnt to sit. We ask Alexa to time 25 minutes and I have a pile of pencils which I can sharpen and papers to sort while I wait for them to finish. I find these repetitive tasks soothing.  Socks have been paired. Elderly felt tips have been consigned to the bin and  I did some colouring in and drew little birds inspired by a marvellous book, ‘Jip and Janneka’.

Sometimes, they take a sheet up to LSB’s study and do a few sums while he works aways beside them. Often the dog wanders in too, and his work colleagues on Zoom have a bit of a chuckle. Maybe I just need to calm the fuck down. One day, I heard Adam Kay in an interview with Claudia Hammond on Radio 4, saying he never gets stressed about work anymore. Since giving up obstetrics and knowing that no one’s going to die on his watch, he’s decided to give less of a shit. I listened, nodding along sagely. ‘How wise,’ I thought, ‘what a sensible philosophy to adopt.’ Did I take it on board? Did I heck. I can’t even get through a morning without wanting to ingest Domestos, (although perhaps that’s a cure according to the news this morning.)

So next week, I’m doing it differently. I’m printing stuff out the night before. I’m making a plan and I’m putting rules in place, such as they must not run away when I’m teaching and be stompy, humpy little shits. They must not use their pogo sticks inside because it makes my head want to explode. They will learn something though, it’s one of the strangest times to be alive, but I’m happy that they’ve adapted to the new normal well ahead of me.

SWB looks for a Silver Lining

I’m going to go totally off-piste here, but I was thinking yesterday, as we took our mandated hourly walk, of any positives we can take from this experience, and I thought of a few. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are by that turn of events, but there you are. Odd things happen under lockdown.

  • You get to be a nosy bastard. There’s nothing I love more than a good peer into people’s houses. I grew up on The Esplanade where it was almost regulation for anyone passing to have a good gawk in, and very few of them were discreet about it either. Sadly for them, my parents weren’t much into doing up houses with my mother caustically remarking: ‘There’s people in Africa without their breakfasts’ when we mooted replacing the 70’s style carpet or faded wallpaper. It was hardly worth the effort of the folk staring in with such intensity. But now, instead of looking away, I feel I can peer into stranger’s livings rooms with impunity, under the guise of admiring the cuddly toys and rainbows adorning the windows. I’ve very envious of some of the interiors I’ve spied, and I’m thinking that our front room is lacking  a flamboyant feature wall. I should probably be able to get someone in to hang the wallpaper in 2022.

 

  • It’s acceptable to be ‘a bit mad’. Very few of us have ever lived through the like of this before, and please God when it ends, history won’t go repeating itself. It thus feels quite acceptable to be having crazy, apocalyptical thoughts, since the world has been firmly tipped on its arse anyway. I’ve always had a fairly tenuous grip of my marbles, and in moments of high anxiety I fear I’ll lose them altogether. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, and that other people are rationing how many times they listen to the news of a day, and are going around in a state of agitation.

 

  • You can sit on your arse of an evening and not feel guilty. I am flipping LOVING this. In normal circumstances, I could be out every night of the week. Yoga, running, the gym, a literary event, some other edifying activity. Maybe just the pub. Belfast is a happening sort of a place, and I’m often stressed because I can’t make it to an event or I’m just to tired or too busy at home. There is just so much guilt attached to everything: feeling bad for not going to yoga when I now it will be a brilliant class, but then feeling bad for not spending time with the kids when I do go. At the minute, I feel I have license to sit on my arse. I’m staying at home, like I’ve been told. The children are very happy.

 

  • Deliveries- oh, how I have LOVED the deliveries. And I’m not talking about bland old Amazon: hell no, I’m talking about when David Torrans from No Alibis rocks up with a signed copy (the last signed copy in the shop no less) of a short story by Claire Keegan. Our very own Jan Carson wrote a super blog on short stories and I’ve since ordered a half a dozen of them since my demented brain can’t cope with anything longer. In the very same day, we had a delivery of four fabulous wines from The Vineyard as it’s been perfect weather for sipping a New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the garden, and I always add ice to eke it out so I don’t end up binned by 8 o’clock. We can’t be having that (not in front of the children).

  • We’ve been ordering our coffee from Boden Park which makes our breakfast feel a bit more special. We ordered last Monday morning and a couple of hours later Mr McKeating himself landed up with three packets for us. ‘That’s service for you’ I exclaimed, relieving him of his package at the door (all wiped and disinfected he informed me.) ‘I work for a woman sure,’ he said. ‘There’s no rest for me.’
  • The final and most excellent delivery arrived on Friday afternoon when Al himself from Al Gelato appeared with 2 tubs of raspberry ripple, honeycomb, Kinder Bueno and my favourite ‘stracciatella’. He even read my wee note which said that I would reuse the wee spoons from the last time and didn’t need any more. We had a chat over the wall and he admired our cat and it was all very heart-warming indeed. It was like bringing all my very favourite bits of Botanic Avenue and the Ormeau to my door. All we need is for Shed to start ferrying up their roasted chicken and dauphinoise potatoes and we’ll be living our best lockdown life.

I think I can some up everything I’ve mentioned as acts of kindness. Whether we’re being kind to ourselves by having fewer expectations and allowing a rest when it’s needed, or the kindness of others as they bring a little joy to us, by making gorgeous window displays or bringing us goods to brighten our day. We are valuing kindness more and putting to at the top of the list, as a necessity and a priority. It’s brought me some comfort over the last few days, so instead of posting a vitriolic rant at the start of the week I thought I’d go for this instead. Don’t worry though- the home-schooling has to start again later so give it 2 hours and I’ll have plenty of ranty blog-fodder for later in the week.

 

 

 

 

SWB on Wednesday Whinge Day

‘So, what’s been annoying me this week?’ I asked LSB as I sat down to write with a large mug of coffee. ‘Write about what’s NOT been annoying you,’ he replied tersely. ‘That would be quicker.’

As usual he was right. I have been going around in a state of agitation, and after some reflection, I’ve pinpointed at the things that have me most on edge.

Firstly, I never feel I’m ‘off-duty’. Now maybe that’s just normal life, and parenting, and I should just accept that, but I never feel I can open a book or write. I feel I ought to be either exercising, entertaining or educating them, the off-spring. I know it’s the Easter Holidays, but home schooling was at fairly sketchy for the week before they began, thus I feel I ought to be doing a bit now, before their development falls off a cliff-edge. I was asking them a few basic maths questions earlier and there weren’t so much gaps in their understanding, as gaping chasms.

Secondly, it’s my new role, which involves never straying more than two feet away from the sink. The housework never stops does it? The tide of dishes is unceasing, especially when we start to bake. I’m not a natural baker (I wonder these days if I’m a natural anything) and I seem unable to do so without using every bowl in the house.  I was reading a rather superb essay by the Irish writer Sam Blake in a great anthology I was recently gifted, and she wrote one of her first books in the car between drop-off and pick up: that way she didn’t go home and get way-laid by the laundry greeting her at the door. Her back was completely fucked by the poor posture of writing in the driver’s seat, but at least she got a novel out of it.

Today, as the sunlight poured into the kitchen, we cleared the table and had a Spanish style lunch, making us think wistfully back to last Easter, when we went to Valencia. No sooner had the wee ones rested their cutlery than they buggered back into the garden, where they were playing ‘Harry Potter’. The Older one is ‘Harry’ and The Small Child is ‘Hermione’, and this game means that I keep tripping over the mop and brush which they leave at their arses all around the house when they aren’t using them as broomsticks. The poor auld cat is ‘Mrs Norris’ and they have a stuffed dog who is ‘Fang’. It would be quite cute and humorous really, if I weren’t in such crochety mood. Anyway, I called out to them that I was Professor McGonigall and that it was a disgrace that they hadn’t performed their ‘tidying-up spell’ and cleared away the lunch items. They came in and helped quite readily, apart from a few grumbles that I’d interrupted quidditch practice.

Oh, delighted with myself was I, with my ingenuity. Of course though, it all went arse over tit when LSB opened the fridge and out tumbled a big glass jar of pickled beetroot and smashed on the tiles. Being children, (or just plain thick) they had shoved it in so it teetered on the edge, just ready to bounce out at an unsuspecting parent.

I was most irked, firstly because I love my beetroot and secondly because the floor was only mopped yesterday.

The third thing which is getting my goat, is the way we keep saying ‘when this is all over’ and planning for the future. Now I’m a natural pessimist, as you may have picked up on, but are we kidding ourselves to imagine normality resuming anytime soon? To misquote Gerry Adams, I keep thinking ‘It won’t have gone away you know.’ I can’t see me trotting down to Shed or La Taqueria on the Ormeau, where you can practically hear the mastication of the folk beside you as they chomp and chew, and eating my meal with any great relish.

I’m worried that folk will forget all about social distancing and be inching closer in the queue and I’ll be telling them to get to fuck.

I’m anxious that we think it’s all back under control and open ourselves up to a new wave of the virus later in the year. I wish the boys in charge had more of a notion of how to get it under control but I remain unconvinced. So this is my whinge this week.

However, as a means of distraction, I can highly recommend tuning into ‘The Nest’ on BBC Iplayer, a thriller that will keep you from scrubbing your surfaces for an hour and provide respite once you’ve got the weans off to bed. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, sitting down with a cup of tea and pieces of Easter egg, and ogling the gorgeous interiors. And Killing Eve has started back with its spectacular costumes, sharp dialogue and imaginative ways to murder people. The only problem I’ve had is trying to resist watching episode after episode as I don’t have to get up for work.

Enjoy folks, and if you have any ideas on helping me be less of a grouchy auld git through the few weeks, then get on the blower.

SWB gets the slop bucket out (and puts it away again)

Er, what’s that you’re up to? asked LSB as he spied me decanting the remnants of my cup of tea into a milk container. ‘The slop-bucket has returned,’ I said, ‘we have to feed the hedge.’

‘Oh God,’ he sighed, with feeling. ‘Not again.’

A few of years ago, during a dry spell, we had a hedge planted at the front. It has not been a roaring success, the new hedge. Its initial purpose was to keep the children hemmed in while I sipped a glass of Sauvignon of a summer’s evening. The garden is on a slope you see, and the kids couldn’t have been trusted not to go a-hurtling into the footpath. However, the gaps between the bushes never knitted together to form a substantial barrier. There remain unsightly large gappy bits and the children are now old enough to stay off the road.  I’ve now got a border to which I have to weed and tend as if I don’t already have enough to do.

A neighbour, who is both kindly and green-fingered, has sought to brighten up our crap looking foliage, by planting a few bluebells and a rather wonderful pom-pom primula. In my usual inept manner I almost let these die  for lack of watering, hence the return of the slop bucket.

It irks me you see, how much water we waste. While waiting for the shower to heat up, for example. Lots of water, straight down the drain. Our kids are forever ordering drinks, then forgetting about them and own cups of tea go undrunk while we race about after them. Then there’s the rinsing. I am a keen rinser of plates before they go into the dishwasher. LSB is not.  He will shove in his porridge bowls with half the oaty goodness still clinging to the sides. I’m forever having to take them out, and very annoying it is too.

So I was at this business, rinsing and swilling and tipping it into the milk when LSB caught me at it. ‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic, in case it had eluded you,’ he said. ‘You can’t go firing that round the garden. It’ll be like the day of the Triffids out there.’ He had a point, what it being spread by droplets and all. ‘Get it down the sink,’ he said, ‘in case it ends up back in the fridge and into my coffee.’

Oh, most authorative he became on the subject.  So down the plughole it went. However, he’s not coming between me and my shower basin.  No sirree. I’m just thinking that we’ve had a dry spell and there’s obviously going to be so much water used with the extra laundry we’re all doing that I must do something to redress the balance.  I was driving home one day and  I heard Feargal Sharkey on Radio 4. He’s become an environmental campaigner, has our Feargal, and he’s demented about how fast the water authorities are draining the nation’s rivers for public consumption. One would think, what with the torrents of rain to which we are oft treated here in Ireland and the UK , that water shortage be an issue, but you’d be wrong. Rivers have dried up all over the place, and you can see him chat about this here. I have been greatly mocked  in my efforts to preserve water, so it was nice to be vindicated, by Feargal Sharkey of all people.

I’m keen to know any other eco-tips you have during this time. Hit me up for ideas, and get that shower basin on the go yourselves.

Thumbs up for SWB

We’ve decided to shake things up a bit round here. On Saturday LSB suggested a ‘Date Night’ so at half seven I poured myself a glass of fizz and went upstairs to glam up. It wasn’t a moment too soon as I was getting sick looking at myself, trogging about like some Russian babushka in my woolly cardigans and tracksuit bottoms. Added to this, while out in the garden some bastard insects have nibbled my ankles which are now red and splotchy; my IBS is back from nerviness so I’m boasting a bloated look, and my hands are cracked and veiny from the constant washing. I don’t want to emerge from this quarantine with LSB marching down to the solicitor and citing that he wants a divorce because in addition to my habitual crankiness I also look like a sack of shit.

It was nice, listening to Craig Charles on Radio 6 while I dried my hair and applied proper make-up, with a slick of creamy eyeshadow and my Mac lipstick with a fine little brush I’d forgotten I had.  It was nicer still when I went downstairs and the kids said, ‘You look fancy!’ and LSB refilled my glass. The Older One assigned herself the role of ‘Head Waitress’ and served me crisps with a tea-towel over her arm. ‘That’s lovely,’ I said, giving her a kiss and telling them both to clear off to bed. To our amazement off they scampered and didn’t even come back down to annoy. I’m not convinced that LSB didn’t drug them slightly.* We sojourned from the breakfast bar to the table, which earlier we’d cleared of paints and papers and felt tips and other ephemera. We lit a candle and opened a posh bottle of Spanish red. We wondered, if after being in the house for almost 3 weeks if we’d have anything to say to each other. It’s been odd, all of this. During the day, LSB comes down from his study and says things like: ‘What’s the craic?’ and I look up, raise my eyebrows and say ‘What the hell  is likely to have changed in the last hour since I saw you?’

But what we are noting is that it’s the micro-stuff, the minutiae that we’re now reporting, has become imbued with more significance.  It’s actually lovely. Back when I was pregnant and my pelvis was fecked I used to sit at the front window and watch all the people going by with their dogs. I had different names for them all (the dogs, not the people) so a fluffy white Samoyed became ‘cloud dog’ and a grey mongrel who wasn’t a looker, bless her, was ‘hyena dog’. There was, and indeed still is, a guy we call poodle man, who always has his black poodle with him or a coffee, although never both. It was a pleasant diversion, this dog-spotting, from watching the History Channel and endless documentaries about the Holocaust. No wonder I was proper depressed during both maternity leaves.

But this is what we’re back to now, reporting on all the small things. I mention how when I take the kids on our daily walk that we wave in at an elderly man at number 19, or stop and chat if he’s weeding at the front. Yesterday he told me to pick a few of his blue hyacinths and get the girls to draw them. ‘Very tricky to draw, are hyacinths,’ he mused. Every day we spot our friend Paul in his study. He waves his left hand in an animated fashion, while his right grips the phone as he works. We giggle as we know he wears his work shirt and his grey tracksuit bottoms which no one can see over Skype. Often we meet Maggie and her Shitzu, Bubbles. She always extends his lead so the girls can make a fuss of him. The Small Child likes to giggle over the name ‘Shitzu’, for obvious reasons. ‘But Bubbles ISN’T a rude dog at all,’ she opines. We wave in at Emma and her new baby girl and she waves her baby’s hand back at us. At our friend Sam’s house we make rude faces and execute a ‘crazy dance,’ sometimes to the consternation of passing vehicles. Our little pal Sophie likes to come racing out of house and chat down at us from the tree in her garden. Sometimes she climbs quite disconcertingly high.

I have become an irrepressible ‘thumbs-upper’ even though this is a gesture which has, for some reason always irked me. I give the thumbs up as I pass, as it manages to convey so many things: ‘I’m still alive, and obviously, so are you if you can wave out at me.’ It says, ‘This is horrible and frightening but we’re still here.’ It says, ‘I’m trying to home-school my kids, check in with work and stop them gate-crashing their dad’s work calls and putting the hamster on his shoulder, but we’re smiling.’

So these are the stories we tell each other as we sit over our M&S Dine in for two. We talk about the friends who have contacted us from New Zealand, Barcelona and Nova Scotia, and the ones up the road with whom we rarely talk, but who have lifted the phone. Our 91 year-old friend Grace informed me earlier by e-mail that she spotted a woodpecker during a walk in Belvoir Forest. LSB has never seen a woodpecker, other than the reappearing one in episodes of ‘Ben and Holly’. When this is all over he wants to go and have a look. I never had him down as one with bird-watching tendencies, but there we are. It turns out that we actually have quite a lot to cover over our dinner.

*No children were actually drugged on Saturday evening. Honestly. There was, however, extensive bribing with Nintendo Switch and a large bag of Moams.

 

 

SWB on Hump Day during Lock Down

Since it’s Wednesday, or HUMP DAY, I thought I’d come on and have a good auld bitch, just to reassure you all that while life as we know it is in a desperate state of flux, things here remain the same and I’m still a vinegary old bastard. I’ve been a cranky in the house, especially with the children, who have been very reluctant to do any of the school-work they’ve been assigned and have thus been getting on my nerves something shocking. Poor LSB- he got a chewing earlier too- I could have punched him in the face for crunching a Mini Egg too loudly.

Last week I was all excited about Joe Wick’s exercise plan as I naively thought that starting every morning with a good buck-leap about would be an endorphin-boosting start to the day, but I’ve given up on that. The kids only did the warm-up before sitting down for a spot of colouring in, and left me cavorting about, fantasising about emerging from this enforced hibernation with a six-pack and toned upper arms. I overdid it on Friday and spent the entire weekend in a state of agitation over the terrible tightness across the chest.  I kept asking LSB to take my temperature for fear it was the dreaded virus but since no other symptoms presented themselves, I think it was just the press-ups.

I am also in the vice-like grip of ‘sunshine based anxiety’. Anyone else get this? It’s when you feel compelled to make the most of the great outdoors before the bright spell disappears and it pisses down, putting paid to all the things you planned to do when it was fine. Washing, for example. No sooner have I one load hung out than I have another flung on. I feel guilty about how behind I got with it all while I was at my work, and I am trying to atone for that lack of diligence. There’s not a bed in the house hasn’t been stripped and changed.

This ‘sun-shine neurosis’ also applies to gardening. Our garden is a huge embarrassment to me, because LSB wouldn’t know a weed from a wallflower and I haven’t much more of a notion. However, I do know that the big tendrils of tough grass which are strangulating my escallonia at the front looks most unbecoming, and on our government mandated walks round the block I’m noticing all the mowed lawns and spring flowers and tended hedges. Ours looks neglected and sad in comparison, miserable even, and certainly not sparking any joy. 4-30am it was last night when I jolted awake and said: ‘Stevey we have to fill the brown bins, while we still can!’ At that hour of the night/morning, he failed to see the urgency about bins and garden waste. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep and came down and stood outside to listen to the birds in an effort to calm myself. I’m telling you, there’s folk locked up who are saner.

And then, there’s the Mothership. Fuck me. Never off the blower presently. Here she was last week: ‘Now, I’m just ringing because I’m VERY WORRIED. You know Basil, from your Dad’s History Club? Well HE said that his home-help is now coming with a face-mask on her, (and only a week ago she was saying that the whole thing was a nonsense and was raging that there was no loo roll in Asda). She’s NOW telling him that he isn’t to TOUCH the mail with his bare hands in case the postman is infected, and passing it on, willy-nilly. She says he’s to put a pair gloves on and extract the contents with a pair of tweezers and put the envelope straight into the fire.’

‘I’ll not be going to those lengths,’ I told her, but sure then didn’t I google it and came across a crowd of folk who’d emptied their entire Tesco shop into a bath with disinfectant in it, with a loose cauliflower bobbing about in the middle of it all.

So Himself did a shop on Sunday and to be honest I wanted to go, but he said ‘no’ because if I got the fecking virus he couldn’t listen to me and off he went before I could argue. Then he texted from Forestside saying thank God I hadn’t gone instead because I’d just have said “Fuck this’ and come back minus the shopping and we’d have had no dinner. Meanwhile I was waiting with the Dettol spray at the ready, and when he got in, corralled him directly to the laundry room, told him to strip down to his boxers before bundling all his stuff into the machine and putting it on full whack with the anti-bacterial laundry cleanser. ‘I’m not in Maghaberry you know,’ he said, looking perturbed. Then I set to wiping everything down with my spray. ‘What have you become?’ he asked, his eyes wide with disbelief, as he reached for the red wine bottle. ‘NOT BEFORE YOU’VE HAD A SHOWER!’ I guldered.

I mean, please, tell me, do I have to be at this? It’s not like I’m working in the ICU at the Royal. (And a big million thank you from the bottom of my sour little heart to all of those who are. We owe you. Do you hear that Boris? We fucking OWE them.) I just don’t know what to be doing anymore- what’s best practice for groceries?

My nerves are shattered. I suppose that’s why the hamster wheel in my brain is churning round about washing bed linen and gardening because it’s infinitely preferable than worrying about your whole family coming down with the bloody thing because you were too lazy to take a Dettol wipe to a packet of fusilli. Send me good vibes. Send me advice. Send me anything. Let me know I’m not alone, slowly unravelling here.