SWB on Hump Day Covid Blues

All over Belfast today, I know that many women like me, are feeling absolutely melted. It is the second week of ‘holidays’, without any of the usual activities available. Even Trick or Treating has been cancelled. Lockdown, back in March, felt different. It wasn’t cold and blustery for starters, and there was a sort of novelty to it all, (for the first fortnight anyway.) This feels different. The Covid stats are still rising, although supposedly we are back to school (me included) on Monday. I am not reassured by that, so there is a sort of nervous freneticism on the go. I can’t sit down and get stuck into writing or lesson prep, because the children are at home, obviously, looking entertained. Everyone has now had a taste of normal and found a semblance of routine at school again. Mine thrive on structure- they are easier to work with that way, as, I suppose are we all.

But now, LSB is upstairs, tapping away, surrounded by his five fecking screens (two of which are on what used to be my desk.) He is busy working, doing ‘very important things’. He is constantly on Zoom calls, ‘circling back’, ‘squaring the circle,’ ‘reaching out’ and spouting all of that work talk shite.

Meanwhile, I feel as if I am doing nothing of any import whatsoever. I am buzzing from room to room, moving piles of stuff round.  Nothing looks much tidier afterwards. I am frantically washing out cat food pouches and shaking the crumbs out of crisp packets. I am gathering markers and pens that no longer work for Terra-Cycle. It does not feel like meaningful use of my time. I am rinsing out yogurt pots and wondering if I should be making my own and dishing them up with a plum and rhubarb compote from foraged fruit, but then I jolt myself back into reality that these will, in no way resemble a Fruit Corner and LSB will go and buy those anyway, thus rendering my efforts pointless.

I am reading, (or attempting to, when I have gloriously free minute) ‘A Ghost in the Throat’ by Doireann Ní Ghríofra, (available at No Alibis Bookshop) and she too, is attempting to read and write and research, while tending to small children. A stellar job she seems to doing at it, too, since she is publishing poetry and winning prizes and being an all- round literary Goddess. Bitter? Me? Never.

It is interesting though to observe how other people work, and what strategies they use to salvage some sense of achievement when they don’t do a nine-to-five job and their life is, to a great extent, dependent on the needs and whims of others. She too, holds on to the small wins: ticking the dishes, the laundry and the school run off her list. With each scored out item she feels that bit closer to being a better version of herself. Like me and my attempts to save the planet one Tayto bag at a time, she has her own personal mission, which is pumping milk for premature babies. Taking time  out every day to pump and freeze and note, she is trying to impose some sort of order on her life, and feel a connection to something bigger, to be part of the solution to someone, somewhere.  And, the magical thing is that this time, while she is forced to sit still, and let the pump to do its work, she snatches back some time to read and nourish herself.

And that’s how we have to do it ladies. We have to thoughtfully, consciously make that time, to do OUR thing, be it reading, dancing, sewing, meditating praying… whatever it is, we HAVE to make that time, because there’s no one else going to hand it to us at the moment.  Make the time people. Prioritise yourselves because if you’re not feeling a modicum of contentment right now, you’re not serving anyone, least of all your lovely selves.

 

 

SWB on the return of Date Night

It is Saturday night and I am perched at the island in the kitchen, sipping a Margarita that LSB picked up for me at The Errigle, and doing the Guardian crossword. I’m dressed appropriately for date night, which means I’ve donned my leather skater skirt and I’ve applied blusher as well as a light dusting of powder.  The joy of date night in the HOUSE means that I can wear lipstick, without smearing it all over my mask. I can also pop in my earrings, without the worry that I will trail one out of my earlobe when taking off my mask on the way in to a restaurant. Masks are a f**king menace aren’t they, aside from the fact that one might just save one’s life: which  should, I suppose negate any aggravations about aesthetics. I’m also wearing my slippers, and don’t have to wear tights. I hate tights; scratchy annoying things that they are. What’s the point in slathering on my Tropic leg shimmer, only to hide them behind a pair of Sainbury’s opaques?

The other good thing about date night in your house is that you can sit, while your husband makes you an aubergine curry, and read the Guardian Weekend Magazine. Over the last lockdown, I felt myself grow more and more Guardian as the weeks went on. I identified with just about everything Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote. The week, she documented how, in a fever of  spring cleaning, she took a tooth pick to the scum between the tiles in her shower. The day before, I had been caught wielding a cocktail stick, prising crumbs and grime that had lodged around my recycling bin. She felt a huge sense of achievement, and I concurred heartily, having felt a similar surge of pride myself, at the sight of my pristine bin. In the column the following Saturday, she mentioned the unexpected joy of a finding  a slab of sponge cake on her doorstep from a kindly neighbour.  I was only after whipping one up and sandwiching it with cream and jam, and was thinking I might deliver a piece to my mate Maggie who always gives our dog treats. Hannah Jane likes people who demonstrate their love through the medium of baked goods, and who couldn’t concur ? Friends who show their love by handing you a Tupperware bowl of roasted vegetable risotto should be forever cherished. We could be great mates, Hannah Jane and me. We share a love of unusual words (we agree that petrichor is one of the best ever); we are delighted with ourselves when we manage to run a measly 5K without having heart failure, and we are both stricken with similar bouts of apocalyptic dread. All these endear her to me immensely.

Another journalist of whom I am fond, is Hadley Freeman, and she grabbed my attention in her article this week which was about her fear of eggs, which borders on the pathological. LSB has a similar phobia, and like Freeman, has been known to leave the room, when the children start bashing the top of their boiled eggs with a spoon. It’s most irksome. There’s me, stumbling across something that the children will actually eat, and the second they crack open the shell, off he f**ks up the stairs, with a face on him like a truculent toddler.

So far so good, until I read about  Tim Dowling, who admitted that he’d been off the booze for 3 weeks. Three fecking weeks! Well, I was raging: I selfishly want everyone to be in the downward slide into semi-alcoholism as me: solidarity is what I’m after from my print companions, not declarations that they’ve all gone sensible. Still, he admitted that he still feels rubbish and irate, hence is none the better for his abstinence.

This morning alas, as I woke at 5am, feeling as though someone was trying to open up my skull from the inside using a crowbar, I concluded that Dowling perhaps has a point. Date night is all well and good, but in the pub you would limit yourself to one tequila based cocktail and not feel that you had to finish the can which contained four servings. Damn it Tim, but I may have to jump on that wagon with you.

 

 

 

SWB Shares 3 ways to survive a Circuit Breaker

Anyone else feeling like a big bag of shite at the moment? I do hope so, just  so I’m not alone. I must confess to having wilted  this week, as the clouds rolled in on Monday and down it pissed, all frigging day. It would take a saint to stay up-beat these days, and as you know, I’m not inclined towards saintliness, even in normal circumstances.

But I felt so despondent yesterday that I had to stop and reflect.  It went something like this: ‘Cop on, you miserable auld bastard. You have everything you have ever wanted: a family, a nice (if revoltingly messy) house, and now you even have a dog. Have a word with yourself: it’s not like I’m stuck in a refugee camp in South Sudan.’

But still. Usually this time of year we are looking forward to having a nice  break to ourselves with friends. Last Halloween we headed up to the North Coast where I acquainted myself wit the boutiques in Limavady, and the year before we drank Guinness in Galway. This year, I’d be flouting the rules if I nipped down to Bangor to wave in the window at the parents. I’m fed up. I’m sick of playing ‘hunt the f**king mask’ every time I need to go to the shop. I’m tired worrying about catching Covid, because they were bleating on today on the news that even if you are under fifty and on good health it could still leave you with a rake of issues. ‘Excellent,’ I thought. As if I’m not already tired enough with every f**king thing being so f**king complicated, now there’s a chance I might die as well.

But to stop myself going completely mad, here’s a few things I’ve been doing this week that have lifted me a little.

  • Baking: I keep it simple folks. We bake fairy cakes, crumbling chunks of chocolate into one batch and grating lemon into another. It was my nana’s recipe and it makes golden fluffy buns of joy. They don’t even require icing, which is great because I can never be arsed making it (plus the amount of sugar required for icing frightens me.) The Older Child found a tube of pink fondant in the cupboard, that I bought once in a moment of frivolity, then promptly forgot about. She squeezes a blob onto her bun and it seems to keep her happy. The added bonus of bun making is that everyone likes them.  Thus you can dome them out round the neighbourhood, making you look magnanimous and lovely. (Little do they know that really, you only baked them to stop you disappearing down a plughole of despair when it’s shitting it down out of the heavens and there’s another week and a half to go before school starts again.)

  • Listening to Podcasts. Now you know me- I fecking can’t be arsed with housework. You know it, I know it, but complaining doesn’t get the dishes done. But, as I mentioned before, I’m properly hooked on the ‘Poetry Un-bound’ podcast; and this week there was an absolute gem on a poem by the Nigerian writer Chris Abani. It was MARVELLOUS, so marvellous in fact that I ‘Googled’ him (how I f**king hate that that is now a verb) and watched his Ted-talk. It certainly distracted me from picking up pieces of toys that the dog had mutilated in the children’s bedroom. It also makes one re-evaluate their circumstances. Separating the whites from the colours seems easier to thole when you hear what someone who has been incarcerated in a Nigerian prison has had to endure. However, all of that can get a bit heavy so my third tip of the evening is to:

 

  • Sit down on your arse and WATCH TV. Yes. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but sitting in front of the box last night, watching ‘The Bake off’ with the kids and the dog and a cat, made me feel the most content I’d been in a long time. I know you should be doing all sorts of edifying activities with your children, like making Halloween decorations from scratch booking or playing Ludo, but frequenty, I can’t be arsed. Instead we lit the fire, snuggled under the blankets and got very emotionally involved with proceedings. My girls were most indignant on Linda’s behalf when she f**ked up all her pastries and complained bitterly she was booted off. ‘She just didn’t have enough time,’ sighed the Small Child. ‘She had the same amount as everyone else,’ I told her, firmly. So there’s a lesson for you on time management. We were very taken indeed with Laura’s Key Lime Tart last night and agreed that she deserved to be Star Baker.

I know that this sounds like the most simplistic and frightfully obvious post you’ve ever read. Sorry about that. But it’s all my  mangled head can cope with right now. It’s just the small things with a bit of sweetness thrown in that keep us all going at the minute.

 

 

SWB on Two Shades of Grey (Hound and Squirrel and Tom Cruise)

Did you know that the Latin word for the grey squirrel is ‘Sciurus carolinensis‘? Seems to sum them up quite nicely, if you ask me, for they are a bit of a scourge, monopolising the bird feeders and terrorising the red variety. The wee red ones are scarcer to spot than a piece of good news at the moment.  Their numbers have diminished to such an extent that there’s only about six of them in NI at the moment and your might have to traipse Mount Stewart or Ballycastle for the privilege. Anyway, I digress. Basically I’m trying to make myself feel better because thanks to Miss Tilly though, we may be down at least one grey squirrel in the Ormeau area.

We had an incident two weeks ago in Cherryvale, to which we now refer as ‘Squirrel-gate’.  It was one of those balmy evenings, when the air is bathed in a hazy autumnal glow, with the sun slanting through the trees. The older one was playing football with her new wee club, so LSB and I were taking a walk with the dog, watching as the Small Child climbed trees like the nimble little monkey that she is. It was reminiscent of that scene at the end of Jerry Maguire, when the wee lad lobs a ball back at the bigger boys playing baseball and Tom and Renee smile beatifically at each other at the perfection of the moment. That was us, looking like a pair of gormless twats, to be fair.

Tilly was springing around the trees while the squirrels frolicked, and I’m sure I saw one of them give her the finger as it scampered around, leaping from branch to branch. ‘You can’t catch me,’ it said.

‘No,’ said Tilly, ‘but I might get your mate over there.’

One particular squirrel, who was either a dare devil in extremis or dopey as f**k, took a notion of racing straight across the grass, without a tree in leaping distance. Beside herself with joy, Tilly pounced. She caught it, of course she did: not a bother to her at all. A small crowd gathered. Mostly children. It’s not every evening that they watch a dog shake a squirrel like a ragtag chew toy. The squirrel wasn’t the better for the experience. Interestingly, we noted, when LSB had persuaded Tilly to drop it, there were no puncture marks, so she hadn’t sunk the teeth in,  just shook it vigorously, as one would a French Martini cocktail.  (The Tom Cruise theme continues). A chap came to its rescue and lifting it by its scruff, he set it on the bough of a tree. It managed to cling on but was too paralysed with fear to make much of an attempt to climb up.

Opinions on the fate of the squirrel differed amidst the crowd. ‘It is the cycle of life,’ opined a Spanish gentleman, shrugging in the expressive way that people from Continental Europe are wont to do.

A small boy seemed to be crying, but on closer inspection (or as close as I dared to go, given the times), he was actually laughing… hysterically. (Note to self, we might have to keep an eye on that one)

One mum said, ‘Great, far too many of those grey rodents about anyway.’ I liked her. A few others reserved judgement but I think they may have been on the side of the squirrel. Opinions differ on the subject, as this little article from The Guardian demonstrates.

However, had we been at a park reserved for dog walkers, I’m not sure the event would have attracted the same attention. I imagine, with the dog walkers I’ve met at Stormont anyway, there would have been a quiet acceptance that this is the sort of craic that goes down. Anyway, it’s just another reason to petition the council for a  dog park, lest any child or adult was traumatised by the events a fortnight ago.

(I feel I ought to have it noted, lest I am assailed by complaints, that Tilly is a whippet, crossed with a greyhound. We simply refer to her as the latter, since the other is a bit of a mouthful. She is not therefore by law, obligated to wear a muzzle, which would obviously stop her from catching prey. She also seems to be able to differentiate between squirrels and small spindly dogs like chihuahuas, which IMHO, don’t look unlike rodents.)

SWB on doggy parks, (or lack thereof)

I’ve a new favourite place which neither the pooch, nor I, can get enough of it. It’s the doggy play park in Stormont, or ‘The Bull Field’ as the sign says. If you ever need cheered up of a Sunday morning, this is the place to come. Borrow a friend’s dog if you are dog-less yourself, but feel you are missing out on the craic.  I wouldn’t want you to feel left out.

Anyway, the dog park. There’s a crew of seasoned walkers who know their own dogs and dogs in general. It’s very reassuring. The first time we took Tilly I was all: ‘SORRY! SORRY! Is she harrassing your dog? I’m so SORRY!’

They soon put my mind at ease and were well impressed with Tilly’s speed and agility. ‘She’s a greyhound in her, isn’t she?’ said a man waking over to us. He was wearing a beanie and sucking on a vape. ‘They do that. They run after other dogs for the fun, she’s not doing any harm. Sheba will keep her right.’

Over bounded a big Alsation from the bushes, joining in the fun. Tilly deferred almost immediately to her. There must be some sort of dog hierarchy and they know that you don’t mess with a German Shepherd. and Sheba is clearly the Queen of the dog-park, with her regal ruff and knowing eyes.

The regulars at the doggy park seem to know how to behave themselves and not piss anyone off. The dogs are pretty good too. A laid-back atmosphere prevails, with no over-protective princesses with pampered Pomeranians. One morning in Cherryvale we let Tilly off the lead, and she was having a great old time running about with a terrier. However, when her big greyhound mouth is gaping open, she can, I suppose, look a bit intimidating. A lady with a Westie (who let’s face it, can be guerny and antagonistic themselves) took great umbrage and tucked him under her arm and walked the other way. ‘THAT DOG SHOULD BE ON A LEAD,’ she said, pointedly. My girls were affronted on Tilly’s behalf.

But annoyingly, she had a point. There are children (or adults) who may be wary of dogs. It is also upsetting when a dog makes off with your child’s toy. No one wants to watch their six year old wrestle their ball from the mouth of a pitt-bull cross. We must also consider the cyclists. I was in a rush one morning nipping into town through Ormeau Park, and my journey wasn’t rendered any easier by the number of Labradors and collies bouncing out in front of me. I’m a big enough liability on a bicycle.

Hence the point of this post- dog parks. We need more of them. If parks are for everyone, is there any reason why the parks in Cherryvale and Ormeau don’t have a small area sectioned off for the dogs. That way we can all enjoy themselves, and dog owners aren’t shitting a brick that their canine children will wreak havoc. Speaking of which, I’ll be posting up a story later in the week, entitled: ‘When Tilly met a squirrel.’ You can look forward to that one.

 

 

Make yourself less f**king miserable with SWB.

Since it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d tell you about my week and how I tried to be upbeat and organised and productive. I wasn’t entirely successful. Take Tuesday evening for example. Upon extracting a pan of celery soup (which was, incidentally, under-seasoned and bland), from the fridge, I knocked over a large jar of beetroot on the top shelf. It didn’t smash, but  tipped over at a 45 degree angle which allowed all the juice to escape.  Everything got covered in vinegary, cerise rankness. Himself came down to extract a bottle of beer. ‘F**k me, it’s like Carrie in here’, he exclaimed.

A normal sort of person would have addressed the beetroot issue straight away, but I was otherwise occupied and left it until Wednesday. (It took me a day to work up to it.) But before I donned my gloves, I put on a podcast, and listening to the dulcet Cork tones of Pádraig O’Tuama as he read some poems, made my task infinitely more palatable. I highly recommend this approach to housework.

And when Pádraig was through with his poetry I stuck on The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. Have you ever watched this? You probably have, and the question is, where the hell have I been these past forty years and why am I only watching him now?

‘Have YOU heard of Bob Ross?’ I said to LSB, in an accusative tone.

I couldn’t believe it when was all like, ‘Yeah, of course, he’s a legend,’ and I was like: ‘and you never thought of popping it on when I was doing my nut?’

It was almost grounds for a trial separation. Bob Ross would have been just the tonic when I was full of despair a few years ago and kept thinking that the world was about to end, or I was going to be blown up in a terrorist attack in my local Ikea. Fun times. Listening to Bob’s melifluous chat, while he dabbled at his canvass with Prussian Blue and van Dyke Brown, would have soothed my frazzled mind. It’s hard to believe that there’s any badness in the world, as you watch him paint a happy little tree in the foreground, and blend his Titanium white to add in a few fluffy clouds, having the craic up in the heavens.

With times being as they are presently, this is what you need for light relief, as there’s little else to find elsewhere. I thought I’d give ‘The Duchess’ on Netflix a go, since everyone’s gushing over it. But unlike Bob Ross, it got on my nerves something shocking. Now, Mary Whitehouse I am NOT, (case in point I rather adored Channel Four’s Catastrophe) but I just found it this show relentlessly COARSE. And far-fetched. And a bit stupid. What is it with comedians who take to the acting: they think they can just shout a lot, and spout reams of vitriol in a ‘look at me, aren’t I ever so clever,’ sort of a way. They seem to create their character solely as a vehicle to spew their invective. I chuckled a bit at first and though fair play to her, being super mum to the wee girl. Then I admired the outfits and felt an intense envy regarding the décor, but I had to give it up because the dialogue had me all agitated. At the moment, the world is unforgiving enough, without being antagonised by a television character whom you want to slap.

So what am I trying to say? Be kind to yourself: with what you watch, with what you listen to, with whom you allow in your life. If anyone stresses the hell clean out of you, perhaps now is not the moment to give them air-time. Real life and on the telly, it goes without say. It’s self-care all the way, and if you’ve any tips of your own I’d love to hear them. Just don’t go sending me pictures of your home grown vegetables. I’m still not over my teeny tiny courgettes.

 

SWB on breast pumps and other madness

There’s a breast pump which makes a similar sound to the opening bars of a track by Daft Punk called ‘Robot Rock’. Who knew? Lauren Laverne brought this to my attention this morning on her ‘House Music’ feature on Radio 6 Music. LSB laughed when he heard it, concurring that the intro did indeed echo the ‘whirring sound’ of a breast pump in full flow (pardon the pun).

I was pleased that he could now laugh about it, because as I packed up the pump and gave it away a few years ago he said ‘Thank f**k for that.’ LSB hated the breast pump. I hated the breast pump. When I think of the word ‘futile’ I think of the word breast pump and the effort that went in to extracting half an ounce of milk, and I was the proud owner of a ‘Medela’, which was apparently the Rolls Royce of breast pumps. Whatever it was, it was incompatible with my malfunctioning mammaries. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to use a breast pump I don’t suggest that you listen to this tune, lest it triggers your PTSD.

Once, after laboriously extracting some milk I managed to fasten the teat on the bottle incorrectly, and as I fed it to my parched baby, I saw it leak out and run down the front of her bib. I dropped the C-bomb in my distress, very loudy. To any mums out there who are finding breast feeding too hard, can I urge you to try give the bottle a go as backup. Breast may be best, but a starving baby is in nobody’s best interests at all.

These memories came flooding back to me this morning because my oldest child turns nine at the end of the month. I am thinking back to a time when I was unfamiliar with words like colic and gripe water and nipple shields. I may have heard of them, but I did not appreciate their import. I had no actual experience. It’s a bit like now when parents mention the transfer test. I see their faces cloud and their jaws clench, and I think, oh fuck, that’ll be me soon, running to the chemist for Imodium when all that palaver kicks off.

It’s funny though, because in some ways I feel like we’ve returned to a similar chaos these days, in these surreal times. When it comes to leaving house it’s not unlike what it was like with a newborn, except now we’re hunting for face masks and sanitiser and poo bags for the dog. There’s a similar pressure simmering under the surface. Things can fall apart fast.

And in the midst of this the mean little inner voice is saying ‘Hurry up!’ and ‘How can you be stupid!’ and ‘Seriously, did you forget the mask? Again?’

And we’re not stupid and we’re not crazy.  We’re all just very, very tired. I wish I could have chatted to my sleep-addled self when my baby was weeks old and not latching and not sleeping. I would have told me to cut myself some slack. And so I’m trying to do that now when all is strange and odd and stressful. I’m drinking a lot of tea. I’m spending time with the people who make me smile. I’m spraying on my Miss Dior perfume that I only wear for going out. I’m putting on some shimmery fake tan. What I do know for sure, is that me walking round with a face on me like a well-slapped arse isn’t making anyone’s day any better. I know that as the stoics say, “this too shall pass.’ But in the meantime, we have to do what we can to make it bearable.

SWB gets buttered up

Buttery pens. Buttery effing pens. That’s what I was up against this morning. I had dropped the children to school, giving the dog her morning walk in the process. Two birds, one stone- I was winning already. Yesterday I had bought myself a vegan breakfast pot from Kaffe-o in preparation for a good start to the day. LSB bought a filter coffee pot recently so I had a second cup of freshly brewed @Boden Park single roast to look forward to. I opened up my leather bound pink diary with gold embossed flamingos to make a few notes but then couldn’t find a pen. I remembered putting some in the pocket of my handbag for handiness and reached in to lift one out. My hand was met with a greasy, buttery mess. Fuck, I said.

How, you would be entitled to think, could that happen? I will explain. As you know by now, I don’t like waste. In coffee shops, when they give you three little pats of butter wrapped in foil when two will suffice, I pocket the third, fearing that all 25g of dairy goodness will be dumped, and putting butter in the bin is, IMHO, a crime.

It wouldn’t be happening to Marie Kondo though, I’m telling you. No, the crime in her book, would be coming home and firing the handbag down on a chair and neglecting to extract all its contents in an orderly fashion before placing the bag in its ‘special place.’ There’d be no forgetting about the butter and leaving it to melt and coat all one’s new pens in a rancid sludge.

So there you are. As well as cleaning up a pool of greyhound piss this morning because the cat sat blocking the back door and being the deferential type, the dog decided to go and piss in the living room instead,  , I also had butter-encrusted pens in pastel hues to clean. Later, you may notice a photo on Instagram, of my diary and pens and coffee. It will be intended to look as though I am an organised sort of a person. But you won’t be deceived, for you will know the truth.