SWB ruminates on life and writing

Ironing tea towels, that’s where I’m at. I’m even contemplating addressing the blocked plughole in the shower. It is most unlike me. What ails you, SWB? I hear you ask. Well I shall explain. I have an assignment to complete for the novel writing course I started in September with the School of Open Learning at Queen’s. I am thus doing just about anything to avoid getting down to it.

I am wracked with self-doubt and crippling insecurity. Who am I to think that I could even come up with the idea for a novel, never mind start to write one? (I should add that the tutor requires 2500 words of said novel, not the first ten chapters).

I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird on audiobook,  and she’s full of good-humoured advice on helping me shout down all those mean voices in my head who whisper “you’re shite, who do you think would want to read your drivel anyway?” Sometimes I attach a face to one of these voices and to them I say SC-REW YOU , like that cake-chomper played by Matt Lucas in Little Britain. In real life I’d scuttle on past, head down, so it’s all quite liberating really.  “Just keep writing,” urges Lamott, “and churn out that shitty first draft.”

Colm McCann has some sage advice too, but my favourite is quite succinct: Put. Arse. On. Seat. It’s not easy, I can tell you. Even trying to get this post out has been a challenge. So far I’ve done a few squats, been to the loo and had sharp words with the small child who’s not in the form for sleep.

And then there’s the mindfulness approach, where you just sit for an hour and attempt to keep your mind on track, and concentrate ONLY on the task at hand. This means reining in the red setter that runs amok in your head pulling  your attention in every direction, other than your writing. (I use the red setter analogy because I’ve met a few in my time and none of them have been near wise.)

But the biggest obstacle is just myself. I’m not great at saying “Give it a go! It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit pish. Lives won’t be lost if your character’s under-developed or your dialogue could be sharper.”

You will see in the photos I’ve included a bunch of flowers from Memento on the Ormeau and a pink, leather bound notebook, adorned with the bird the moment, the flamingo. My  friends brought these the other night when they came for dinner. I swear to goodness, they could have eaten in James Street South by the time they came armed with wine and gifts. (Still, I’m not complaining since I’ve met enough stingy folk to last me a life time.)

I’ve used these gifts as an analogy to highlight my fear of failure. You will notice how the flowers are still arranged in their gift-wrap, and if I were to open the book you would find its creamy pages unmarked. I fear, of course, that if I took the flowers out I would never get them to look as perfect as before, and I don’t want to demean such a lovely book with my inane ramblings. I’d rather leave it blank than see it thus debased.

But I won’t. I’m going to stop being a wimp and set to it. A while ago I watched Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability in which she advocates that we start opening ourselves up to risk and possibility. In not doing so, she suggests that we will never live the lives we really want. And if you think all this stuff is total bullshit then you REALLY need to watch this Ted Talk since that’s exactly what Brown thought herself before devoting years of study to it.

So I may produce some God-awful drivel for my course assignment, or it may be just about alright, for a first attempt at writing fiction. But I’ll still feel better than if I spend the next week just folding those frigging tea towels.




SWB gets a rude awakening


I have woken up in a bed-ful of bunnies. Not real bunnies, though  in fairness LSB was in ‘Pets at Home’ yesterday and sent me a photo of a particularly fine specimen, so could happen yet. But no, at 6.45 both children pile in. “We’re making a rabbit hammock! Put your knees up!” Bun upon bun is arranged in a line. “Chug a chug a rock star, whoooo” sings the older one on repeat. “Oh fuck me.” I whimper, feeling tangible relief that I have not the merest hint of a hangover.

Bunnies tumble as I ignore their protests and crawl in beside LSB in the single bed in the spare room. The small child flicks on the landing light and nearly blinds us. “This is like Guantanamo Bay,” I sigh. She breaks into a rousing chorus of ‘Jingle Bells.’ No, says LSB. “It’s much, much worse.”

“The library book!” I shout. It’s Monday so it’s the small child’s library day. Every week we forget one or both children’s library book. I’m not even working; how can I be so rubbish at this? We started searching last night but to no end. Their room is strangely devoid of books. “Have you taken them all downstairs?” I implore. Both shrug enigmatically. They are now sitting in a large toy box, the toys upended on the floor. “It’s a car,” they explain. “VROOM VROOM”. Good God. I hunt through the bookcase. I hunt through toy boxes. Despondently I retreat upstairs. “You’ve got this,” I tell myself. “You can, and will find this frigging book with the hedgehog on the front.” Suddenly it dawns on me. I open their Ikea kitchen and find it amid a pile of hardbacks.

I hold it aloft as I enter the kitchen. LSB wordlessly pours me a cup of coffee. His stubble makes him look lupine in the half-light. “Morning my love,” I say, giving him a kiss.

SWB mulls over the mundane


I am in the grips of PMT. I hope to God that’s what it is anyway otherwise I’d be thinking early onset dementia or maybe Parkinson’s. I’ve just dropped a tin of homemade banana bread on the floor and cracked my head off the microwave door. Good rule to remember- always close your microwave door, no one needs being near scalped of a Sunday evening. My friend last night told me her pal always knows when her period is due because she completely loses the ability to park. Parking has never been my speciality so yes, I can identify with that. If you see a demented looking woman on the Ormeau in a silver Qashqai stand well back.


The nesting urge has also begun. I was out a lot this week (quick aside, Noble in Holywood is a gorgeous spot, staff are warm and funny and the soft jazzy music was the perfect soundtrack to the meal. However my cod main was a bit bland and the dessert was miniscule. And for £6.50, come on folks, it wouldn’t kill you to put another dollop of ice cream on the side of the chocolate delice.)


On Friday night then I set upon an ecstasy of laundry. Whites, colours, school uniforms, even a sporty wash since himself has been back to running with renewed vigour, even limping for the last ten miles of the Dublin marathon with the cramps from hell can’t hold him back. (But what is he running away from, the psychoanalysts may ask?) No prizes there: a premenstrual wife, a grumpy cat and two children who refuse even with the dangled carrot of a toy from Smiths to stop wrecking the joint.


face of thon, (and in my bloody bed too)

Then I stumbled upon the notion of separating all the washed and dried clothes into different baskets, his, mine, girls and a separate one for uniforms. To paraphrase Parklife from Blur, this gave me a tremendous sense of well-being, but then I heard Johnny Cash ringing in my ears, that line from Hurt, ‘what have I become?’ (I’ve never heard the Nine Inch Nails version). But in my defence, to make the task more enjoyable I had been listening to Mogwai’s new album and as I sorted and folded it had become quietly meditative and soothing. It can be hard for me to organise my cluttered head so to establish a sense of order over such a humdrum thing as laundry was quite satisfying. I nearly took pictures and then I thought CATCH YOURSELF ON WOMAN. NO ONE IS THAT SAD THAT THEY NEED TO SEE YOUR PANTS, FOLDED OR OTHERWISE. So you are spared that treat.


But to go all philosophical on you (and I promise I’ll make this short) sometimes it’s the small things. The children, aside from trashing the place, were in glorious form this evening. We had a wee jig along to Shiny Happy People on 6 Music and listened to a funny dinosaur story on C-Beebies. Kids just like you being there, that’s what they’ll remember. If I were back at work I’d be in the throes of Sunday night blues right now, instead of typing this, sipping a small glass of wine and exhaling. I used to teach Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and this was its premise, to savour the moment. The kids would have been like “Ye whaa?” And in fairness, one could think, choir practice and milk-floats in the diner, is there no end to the banality? But in the end, these were the things the characters treasured. When I’m knee deep in domestic drudgery I remember his words and his play and I think I’m pretty damn lucky.








SWB needs an argument settled

IMG_1671Just throwing this out there, Trump may be in South East Asia trying to appease relations so World War Three doesn’t erupt, but here on the Ormeau there are different negotiations afoot.

The question here is, is this outfit an affront to the eyes? I’m just after saying to LSB “What do you think of this ensemble” and he said “You look great! It’s mental like, but looking good!”  (I think he’s just relieved that I’ve started wearing make-up again because I was poorly there for a week or two and was running round like a right troglodyte.)

SWB- Elaborate please. How’s it mental?

LSB- Well, you have green trousers and red shoes.

SWB- Pink and red shoes. And there is pink in the trousers

LSB- I think it’s just the green trousers. They are very green.

SWB- Are you saying I look like a leprechaun?

LSB- A bit, but a cute leprechaun, one I’d take for a drink if she was single.

He’s a charmer alright, that LSB one.

But this interchange raises an important issue. There are not enough coloured trousers in Norn Iron. Now imagine you were on the continent: there you would have to don your shades, so bedazzled would you be with the salmon pink and violet and turquoise hues, and that’s only the men.

Back to Belfast and I’m sitting here in Kaffe-O surveying the clientele. Waiting on his takeaway flat white is a fellow so bewhiskered that a peregrine falcon could be hiding in his beard and he wouldn’t notice. Digging into boiled eggs at the bar is a chap with scarlet socks and a floral short but it’s hidden under a sludgy green jumper.  There’s not a pair of bright slacks in sight, apart from mine obviously.

But oh, stop the press: a chap has just emerged from a booth wearing a fabulous orange duffle coat. It is flamboyance made manifest and  screams “Bring on Bonfire night for I am full of autumnal cheer!!” But still, it’s a coat, not trousers and that is the theme for today. From my observations, people are happy to take risks with facial hair and outer wear, but alas with not denims.

However, on Saturday night we threw a dinner party for friends, one of whom arrived sporting the most wonderful mustard cords. What joy they brought to the occasion.

SWB readers, should be start a trend and inject some colour and luminosity into our wardrobes as the evenings darken and with that, almost by default our moods?

And to return to my original question, what’s the verdict on my outfit?


SWB is feeling chirpy


Do you know what makes for a really dry writing week? Having a perfectly lovely mid-term break with your children. No, it’s still me, SWB, you haven’t tuned in to the wrong blog but I’m in an upbeat frame of mind, all aglow with feelings of bonhomie and gratitude.

This has been one of the most exceptional holidays where every day we’ve spent time with old friends, enjoying real, rich conversations. And we’ve had time to do so because the kids have been that little bit bigger, so have started listening and obeying orders and not throwing fecking wobblers every five minutes. They have actually been a delight. I’m in a mild state of shock myself, but it turns out that it actually does get easier.

Do you recall how you’d have been standing in the queue in M&S and the children would have been screaming because you wouldn’t let them buy a magazine with the pack of plastic shite taped to the front, and you’d have been close to tears with fatigue and desperation and some auld doll would have patted your arm and said “Don’t worry love, it gets easier.” I’d have stood, agog, wanting to  scream “When? When EXACTLY does it get easier because I AM BEYOND MELTED” and  wanting to beg the old dear to please, please take my off-spring for twenty minutes while I just went and stared at the short strappy dresses in Oasis and remembered a more carefree time.

Well it turns out that all the auld dolls in Forestside are bang-on-correct because this is the first holiday that we’ve spent at home, with the kids, and I haven’t felt the need to book myself into a retreat to recover. It helps, of course, that I have the most magnificent bunch of friends who have youngsters the same age so there have been playdates where we drink coffee and eat home-cooked fare and the kids have taken themselves off and played and even looked after the mini ones so we can talk in peace. I swear if it hadn’t been for these ladies (and yes mum and dad and the in-laws, you too) I’d have been in the loony bin long since.

Another thing we’ve introduced (and trust me, I was sceptical at how successful it would be) is a star chart. I’ve tried to implement this in the past and the kids just stuck on their own stickers and buggered about and into the bin they went (charts, not children though I was mightily tempted at times). However, suddenly they got the concept and requested that they have one like they have in school. So my Dad dutifully fashioned two out of some recycled card and bought some stickers in some book store in Bloomfields in Bangor and the results have rendered me speechless with glee. The small child has started eating her dinner if it means she gets a star. I have lost hours of sleep tormented that this youngster will be one of those rare and terrible cases of First World children who end up with rickets and beriberi because of the paucity of basic nutrients in their diet. Turns out she can put the broccoli away rightly if there’s a tangible reward in it. They have even volunteered to tidy up after themselves and help unloading the dishwasher, actually arguing about who gets to help more if there’s the promise of a trip to Smiths if they’ve accrued the requisite number of stickers.

They aren’t perfect of course: the place is a fecking tip this evening because they were tired and couldn’t be arsed lifting after themselves, but hey, they ate their dinner and were asleep by 7.45 so the debris can lie there, no one’s visiting so I’m not fussed.

Funniest thing was earlier this evening when I saw them drawing away quietly. “What’s that you’re up to?” I enquired. “We’re doing another star chat,” replied the older child. “Who’s it for?” I asked, imagining it was one of the dolls, or the cat. “You,” came the response.

“Me? Your mother, the boss of you pair?” I asked for clarification. “Yes,” said herself. “You get a star if you say “Excuse me” after you burp or parp, but none if you don’t.” “And” piped up the small child, “if you say bad words you get no stars. You are a very rude mummy.”

I can’t really argue with any of this because I’ve been plagued with trapped wind of late and if I were to excuse myself every time I burped I’d be hoarse. It’s one of the joys of being on a career break, being able to expel gas any which way without consequence, but I suppose I had better start training myself if I wish to return to the realms of professionalism at some juncture.

And the bad language, well, I just need to police myself and stop being so vulgar. Life is good and there is thus no need to go round peppering the air with expletives. If I stop listening to the news about the political impasse at Stormont and this Brexit nonsense then perhaps I’ll be less foul-mouthed. Lets’s see shall we? In the meantime, pats on the back all round. It’s been a glorious week and long may my positivity continue. Watch this space…

SWB enjoys stories. At dawn.


Outside it is very dark. It is very dark because it is 5.54 but this is of no import to the small child, who has clambered in beside me and is throwing her legs about and her tufty hair is tickling my nose. And so it begins, the first day of the holidays. The other one obviously senses a change in the force and wanders in and joins us, chatting animatedly.

My children do this, they wake up and they’re instantly ON. Then we hear a bell as the cat comes up the stairs. She starts tearing up the carpet with her claws to get attention. “Izzy, STOP that, you wee bugger,” I shout. The cat tears with increased vigour. (This is the same carpet I mentioned last night. It’s grey with alternating stripes of turquoise and yellow, subtle and elegant. It complements the golden hue of the walls, creating a warm soothing atmosphere. “STOP THAT, you wee bugger,” shouts the small child.

“I shall tell a story,” says the older one. “There is a pug called Pig and he is mean and does poos and farts and there is a sausage dog called Trevor and he always gets the blame.” “Lovely,” I say. “My turn,” says the small child. “There is a naughty rabbit called Pete and he goes to the shop to buy a fidget spinner but he has no purse! “What a silly rabbit,” we opine. “He went to the toilet to do a poo and his purse JUMPED out of his pocket. That’s why he has no money at the shop.” There is a lavatorial theme to the stories this morning. “That’s nana’s story! She always makes things fall down the toilet! interjects the older child. “Yes,” agrees the small one. And his mummy says “Move your purse , I need to do a pee!” So he gets those metal arm things you use for cooking, “Tongs?” I suggest. “Yes, metal arm things and takes out the purse. The end.” Thank God for that.

The cat jumps on the bed. And then there were four. “I may just feed this creature,” I sigh, and get up. It is 6.14. Happy Halloween, y’all.

I would like to add, that I have done very well off the drink. (Except Thursday when the older child turned six and we went to Scalini’s and my family were 45 minutes late. The kids were tired and my head was sore and I was like “Just give me a bottle of Shiraz. All of it, down my neck, immediately.”) But on Friday I had a tiny glass of red, on Saturday an even smaller one of white because it was horrible and I thought “I am worth more,” so I left it and had a Pukka Tea. And the last night, nothing! And me solo parenting. What a woman.

                                   How virtuous am I today,

What strength have I within,

To have wandered past The Vineyard

And refrained from going in.


SWB indulges in a spot of procrastination


Honest to God, the things you will do to get out of writing. I’ve read countless articles about freelancers who work from home and admit to wiling away hours on social media or having the tidiest Marie-Kondo style cupboards and beautifully empty laundry bins. They will iron pants and towels and the cat if it stops long enough, just to put off getting behind the screen and typing.


I’ve just experienced such a moment myself. I went for a quick pee there and stared at the new tiled floor and thought, “That could do with a quare scrub. I don’t think the mop’s going to cut it; this is a down on your hands and knees job.” Oooh er, that sounds as if I’m contemplating something much more lewd than a floor job. God that sounds even worse. PLEASE don’t let the mother be reading this one or there’ll be another irate phone call from a pensioner.


It’s an opportune moment for such cleaning tasks because LSB is in Dublin drinking post marathon pints and enjoying listening to people commiserate with him after he took powerful cramps at mile eighteen and had to hobble round the remaining eight in a terrible state. Well, IMHO if you will go running twenty-six miles you’re asking for a world of trouble. It’s really as well he’s down there with like-minded folks since I’m stuck here with a sinus infection and after entertaining youngsters all day (poorly, I might add) I wouldn’t be the most sympathetic to his plight.


As I was saying, this would be a good time to get a-scrubbing because the children are now, mercifully asleep so won’t be smearing the floor with dirt from their little trotters, and LSB isn’t here to wander in still wearing his trainers. I tried to implement a ‘no shoes indoors’ policy and I wasn’t even mocked, just downright ignored. I swear to God, we had the lovely new carpet in a day, a fecking day, and your man comes in from a run round the forest, not even the track, and straight up the stairs he goes, leaving bits of damp grass and dirt and f**k knows what all over the joint. I was none too pleased. And you can say nothing, for all you get is “What? All I did was come the stairs to get showered!” “Yes, in your dirty bogging shoes ON MY NEW CARPET!! “Sure it’ll be covered in juice and biscuits in no time,” says he, by way of an excuse. Well I’m not fussy about the juice and biscuits. What I am fussy about is microscopic bits of dog shit because those dogs run amok in Belvoir forest and I’ve enough to contend with without getting the Dettol out and start into that level of cleaning of an evening. Except maybe if I’m supposed to be writing. Then maybe I might welcome the diversion.


I can’t get the floor out of my head now, I’m away to give it a quick once over with the mop, as a kind of compromise.


(And I don’t really mean that runners; you know I think you’re all fantastic really, especially those doing it for charity. Great lads, the lot of ye.)

SWB gets some feedback



Nine-fifty-five of a Sunday evening and the phone goes. It’s the mothership, who else?

MOTHER: “I’m just ringing because I’m on your thing here, you know your blog and I’m after seeing a rogue apostrophe. You need to get on to that. I mean I know you know, but it’s an elementary mistake and one you’d be annoyed if people picked up on. You really ought to run these by me first. Quite obviously they’re done in haste.”

ME: “I’m on to it!” I correct the error and enquire about her day. Then she gets on to the real reason she’s called.

MOTHER: “I’m just thinking, and perhaps you’ll disagree, but is it wise to go round putting that sort of information on line about yourself?”

ME: (EXASPERATED SIGH) “What sort of information?”

MOTHER: “Phrases such as “Roaring drunk”. I wouldn’t go round admitting that if I were you. You don’t know who reads this blog and I’m telling you, if it were any of my friends they would be disgusted. I think it’s quite dreadful really.”

ME: “Well if they went on and read the blog they would see that it was a few glasses of wine and some beer, probably the mix of which did me in. I was out for a meal with friends and got a bit carried away. I wasn’t shooting up crack.”

MOTHER: “Hmmmph.”

ME: “And regular readers know I’m prone to hyperbole.”

MOTHER: “You’re prone to something. But all very foolish, in my opinion. What are you doing now?”

ME: “I’m just having an Indian with a beer.”

MOTHER: “A WHAT? I thought you were off it!! Is that not what I’m just after reading?”

ME: “I’m reducing it, and it’s one beer. It’s also getting warm.”

MOTHER: (AGGRIEVED TONE): “I’ll be on my way then.”

ME: “I think that’s probably best.”

SWB bins the gin (almost)

IMG_1481Fancy a challenge anyone? How about no alcohol, for an entire year. Could you do it? I have major issues just contemplating Lent, which, incidentally, I’ve never managed. Alcohol has insidiously woven its way so deeply into our collective social consciousness that it’s difficult to contemplate its absence from our lives.


But fair play to my friend Amberlea who has boldly undertaken the challenge. She is currently on day 84 of 365 days, sans alcohol, and is documenting the progress on her blog, SilverandAmber. She admits it’s the commitment to the writing that is motivating her to keep off the quare stuff, but in cutting out the booze she’s acknowledging what many of us are loathe to admit, that we have an increasing reliance on drink.


So I too did something uncharacteristic last night. I went to the same party as Amberlea, and I drove. I cheated a bit by having a small glass of wine on arrival, to clink glasses with my friend who was celebrating her birthday, then I drank tonic water. In some ways it was easy. There were many good friends in the room, none of whom would have goaded me to drink. Not drinking booze didn’t mean I enjoyed our conversations less and probably meant that I was better company. I’m always chatty, but wine makes me more garrulous, one might say annoying. I’ve never had much of a filter anyway so a couple of stiff gins obliterates it completely. People up and down the country have been hearing stories of my intestinal tract since 1996.


In her new book, Quit Alcohol (for a month) Helen Foster recommends drinking tonic water on its own with lots of ice and a good squeeze of lime as it mimics the real thing. She makes a valid point. I knew this from working in a bar as a student and being told that bartenders sometimes gave customers who were rightly on their way a glass of tonic with a touch of gin (or vodka) rubbed around the edge and a squeeze of lemon. They didn’t notice the difference. I thought this was a rather good idea; saving them from themselves.


So much of drink is the ritual. Swirling the ice in the glass first to chill it, the hiss as you pop the cap off the Fevertree tonic, the glug of the Shortcross and the squeeze of lime at the end. Well I got all of that, minus the gin. Amberlea was drinking a very palatable non-alcoholic wine with green tea out of a dinky twenties style cocktail glass. In a tailored white sequenced top she was the Daisy Buchanan of the party, except she’s lovely, while most Gatsby fans will agree that Daisy is an asshole.


Last week I got roaring drunk. I attended a spectacular evening at Boden coffee shop on the Ormeau when the owner handed the reins over to glorious duo Jo and Erin of ‘The Edible Flower’. Together they put on a supper club of five tempting courses fusing Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine. It couldn’t have been more up my street, I was practically fizzing with glee. Jo concocted an aperitif and handed us this golden thing of beauty on arrival. It was autumn in a glass, with citrus and honey and a good kick of rum at the finish. She brews her own beer from foraged nettles and the like, so with each course came a soupçon of hoppy, malty loveliness. It was a BYO event so I came armed with a bottle of Macedonian Red. From what I can recall it was mighty good.


But Sunday morning. Oh Holy God. That bit when you raise your head from the pillow and think “What did I NOT drink last night?” before collapsing again. Beery fumes and garlic from the sopa d’ajo competed for supremacy in my nostrils. And oh joy! I was off to the park with the kids for Junior parkrun. Thankfully LSB was on board for moral support and had made the coffee suitably strong.


Instead of reflecting upon the evening as the delight it was, I felt sick and silly. My gorgeous friends said no, I hadn’t been overly verbose and yes, they would indeed go out with me again and to stop being so fretful. But I’d been managing my drink intake well since the holidays and I had a sense of toppling off the wagon, face first.


But this morning, it was with intense relief when I blinked upon my eyes and wasn’t set upon by dark thoughts and throbbing temples. I had a hurrah-for-a lack-of-gin moment, then I set about my day. I’m dining out with LSB tonight and I’m in the Northern Lights as I tap away here, but I’m starting with the Fevertree. That way I can sip a glass of wine with dinner and when I’m taking the kids to a party at Funtastic in the morning, I won’t want to bury myself in a quiet corner of the ball pit and wish for death.

SWB on bill dodgers and frenemies



LSB and I were parked in front of the TV the other night  watching the film Trainwreck with Amy Schumer.  It’s bold and outrageous, just don’t watch it with your mammy beside you as she’ll turn all shades of puce. The scenes which tickled me in particular were those starring LeBron James. Of course I didn’t know who it was. “Should I know who that really tall fella is?” I asked LSB. “You should, but you won’t, of course,” he replied, going on to explain that he’s possibly the most famous basketball player in the world and plays a kind of caricature of himself in this movie.

Apparently he’s unerringly generous in real-life but he’s portrayed in the film as being exceptionally tight, whipping out the calculator app on his phone to divide up who-ate-what for lunch, and driving across town to pick up a pair of cheap sunglasses he’s left behind. He’s a multi millionaire NBA star and in one scene he’s frantically patting his pockets to find he’s forgotten his wallet so his best friend has to cough up for the bill.

Well this made me think of all the excruciating times I’d been out with friends or colleagues and the waiter brought the bill and a terrible hush had descended and all bonhomie was long gone in case some one was diddled out of a pound. I have to admit, if some of these individuals had done a Lebron James and got their calculator out, I’d  have been so relieved they were actually going to pay AT ALL that I might have broken into applause. If there’s one thing I can’t bear, it’s a bill dodger.

A friend of mine went on a charity bike race which involved travelling with a group of people they didn’t  know. Arriving in Vienna late one evening, they found themselves in the only restaurant that could squeeze them in, but was considerably more expensive than they had anticipated. However, since they were tired and half-starved, in they went and were busy ordering the moules frites or pasta special to keep the cost down. All of them, that is, except for Mervyn, who’s getting wired into the filet steak and chips and orders a fine bottle of red. And you’ve guessed it, when the bill comes, there’s not a mention that his meal cost double everyone else’s. He had the audacity to do the same the following evening, but by the third night the party broke up. People went off in twos and threes and so sickened were they by his stinginess, that the whole trip felt a bit flat by the end, and the fizz went clean out of the celebration.

A lack of generosity never makes anyone feel good, but the person with whom we are often the least magnanimous is ourselves. I could self-flagellate for Ireland. I’ll torture myself over a misplaced apostrophe or a spelling mistake in something I’ve fired out into the ‘cloud’ to torment me for all eternity. I won’t give myself any credit for the fact that I’m finally writing after many years of wanting to, but not having the balls to start. Instead, I’ll berate myself whole-heartedly for what I got wrong. It’s not just me either; it’s a human thing, or more specifically, a woman thing. We seem hot-wired to sabotage our own happiness, or contentment.

Now please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect the best from ourselves and go all Californian and clap ourselves on the back saying “Good work buddy!” for writing some shite or buying someone a coffee. But a little self–love can go a long way.

Years ago I had a friend for whom stinginess was a life choice. She would never miss an opportunity to avoid paying for a round or weaselling a drink or a meal out of the rest of us. If one foolishly acquiesced and paid her way  she’d accept the drink smugly with an expression which said clearly “Sucker! Got them again!” And this lack of generosity wasn’t limited to money either. We were friends for a long time, and I don’t think she ever, knowingly, paid me a compliment. What she did have, however, was a forensic memory for any past indiscretions, or moments when you weren’t your best self. I’d be sitting, a forkful of curry raised to my lips and all smiles she’d say: “Do you remember the time when you….” and zoom in on some shame inducing moment from our student days, and parade it for public consumption. I’d feel a hot rush start at in my cheeks and flame down my neck until I was aglow with mortification. Thus discombobulated I’d probably be duped into paying twice what I owed in an effort to scarper, and dampen my embarrassment with a bottle of wine.

We’re not friends anymore. Life is busy and emotionally taxing enough without hanging out with people who make me feel small. I ignore friend requests on Facebook from  people if I have no desire to meet up in person.  Maintaining a friendship requires effort, but if you care for the person you shouldn’t have to think of ways to manage the situation, figuring out ways of protecting your time, your emotions or your wallet. A good requirement in a friend, especially one whom you’ve known from school or university, is a big heart and a short memory. It would have saved me much aggravation if I’d worked that out sooner.