No use crying over pinched milk

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So I mentioned, or rather I whined about going to see a reflexologist the other week. He uses the reflexology as a diagnostic tool and his diagnosis seemed to suggest that I was an old crock. He suggested no dairy, no wheat, no potatoes, no pork, no sugar, ONE coffee a day and on and on he went. It was very depressing. He wasn’t keen on the alcohol either. No way José. I was tempted to ask if it was acceptable to have any sex because that was the only fun I was likely to be having since everything else was (literally) off the table.

 

But I confess I have made some changes and this one has stuck. Pukka’s Three Ginger Tea is a revelation and I’ve been taking a cup every morning without fail. This means that I have a detoxifying beverage which doesn’t taste like shit, and I get to go out later and have a coffee. Case in point, I’m in Kaffe O right now. I’ve eschewed my usual one-shot latte for an americano to keep the dairy down. One thing I have never been able to stomach though is ordinary black tea or coffee but there’s a large proportion of society who can. These people are teachers, and I shall tell you how this phenomenon came to be.

 

When teaching, you simply long for your break. I used to teach like I was on acid just so I could finish my lesson and be standing at the door to run like the blazes to get my restorative cuppa. Once a senior teacher yelled: “Hey you, slow down” as he saw my little blond head racing along amongst the throng. He thought I was a pupil (I’m so short you see, like a wee Year 8) and I never disabused him of his mistake. Anyway, so insistent was I on the necessity of good tea and coffee that I brought in a teapot and cafetières so no one had to suffer the dreadfulness of a sub-standard cup. But sometimes, off I would trek and open the fridge, only to find that some dirtbird had polished off our milk. The horror, I mean, you always think it’s going to happen to someone else.

 

Now, you expect this sort of behaviour in student houses, but really, in a school? Everyone knows that a teacher starved of their coffee is like Richard Burton before his first whiskey, not to be messed with. And what really, really got my goat, was that at our table, we had a rota, and if, woe betide you forgot to buy the milk, you raced off before break and procured some. There were Sunday nights when I remembered at eleven pm that I was on milk duty and poor LSB would be dispatched to get the requisite two litres. “I fucking hate milk duty” he used to mutter. So it wasn’t really about the milk. It was the fact that we had a kitty, we had a rota and often at considerable inconvenience to ourselves, we always made sure we brought it in.

 

But, as in every tale, there’s a villain. And in this one, these were the milk snatchers. They were neither in possession of milk or rota, but were merrily drinking five cups of coffee A DAY. I couldn’t help myself one morning. “How do you like your milk Anthony*? Totally fat free, half-fat free or just like, free full stop?” “Ho ho,” he chortled, helping himself. But he couldn’t meet my eye in the corridor for a few weeks.

 

It wasn’t just our school, other establishments could be touchy too. When my mum used to sub she only drank Lady Grey, since the citrusy notes and bergamot were best savoured without milk. My dad used to take his own little portion of milk in a small Tupperware container. Some schools were so short on fridge space that people just resorted to black tea and coffee, and then never went back on the milk. Really, there are no easy answers. One place where I used to teach provided break and a wee trolley was wheeled in with tea and coffee and scones. (You could have stoned the crows with the scones but it was a nice gesture).

 

So anyway, if and when I go back, I’ll probably just bring in my ginger tea, because I can’t be arsed anymore with the milk politics. Mind you, I’d be very happy to throw in twenty quid a term and get a decent cup of filter coffee and maybe some baked goods. (Let’s see the milk snatchers cough up for that, as if). One lives in hope.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

SWB on feeling blue

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So, a few home truths about SWB. You will have deduced already that I’m a bit of a ‘handle with care’ case, slightly on the fragile side. I love a whinge and a whine, and I’m equally happy to see the joyous side of life when it manifests itself, but truth be told, I find life very, very trying. I have the utmost admiration for folk who cope with the daily grind of jobs, children, housework and global terrorism, and somehow manage to make it to eight in the evening without having imbibed half a bottle of wine and fallen into a depression the size of Mongolia. I tend to get very down indeed, especially when it comes to keeping a stiff upper lip when atrocities assail us from every which way, and you think to yourself, for fuck’s sake, whatever next?

I used to think life was hard enough before I met and married LSB and then fired out the two minis in quick succession. I’m telling you, having the family I’d always wanted has ratcheted the anxiety up something shocking. I can turn the prospect of a happy event into Armageddon in a few seconds flat. Take the notion of a girly weekend to go away and recharge. Here’s the inner monologue. “Oh fab! Where? When? Book it before I change my mind! Madrid? Excellent, let’s go and get tore into the vino tinto and paella”. Then, five minutes later… “What if something happens to me and kids are left motherless, all because I fancied some frivolity?” I’ll lie awake at night ruminating over my options: should I just cancel the trip? If so will my friends still speak to me for buggering them about? The torment grows, along with a seething resentment for people who can just get on a plane without having an existential crisis first. The bottom line is, I still go and generally have a lovely time. But the inner turmoil prior to the event does detract somewhat from the experience.

A plane doesn’t have to be involved to set me off. Oh no, closer to home there’s still a chance of disaster! What if LSB and I set off to the Manor House in Fermanagh and get taken out by a wayward lorry on the M1? Fucking hell. Children left orphaned because we fancied some romance? Or, Dear God Almighty, if the wee ones got sick or mown down or blown up: just how exactly does a buddy claw their way back from that? Jesus, I think I need a drink just writing that.

So to cope with this rehabilitating fearfulness, I have to put a few strategies in place: otherwise life gets pretty grim for all concerned.

1) If you suffer from acute anxiety, as my doctor helpfully pointed out that I did, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if they prescribe you some antidepressants. I used to have a colleague who smoked half a joint before heading to work in a local restaurant of a Saturday evening, ‘just to take the edge off’. She was a brilliant waitress, (maybe I ought to have followed suit, it may have made for a more agreeable experience). I think of the tablets like that, they just get you over a hump in the road, and who doesn’t need a leg up every so often?

2) Talk to people. The more open and honest we can be about our mental health the better, and you discover pretty quickly that you’re not alone: there’s lots of us nut jobs out there. (And, in my humble opinion, some of the worst ones are those who think they don’t have any issues. They’re often the ones to watch).

3) Keep active: whether it be yoga, running, (my own two favourites) or whatever helps divert activity away from the hamster wheel in your head droning on about miserable stuff. Plus you’ll look and feel better too, so every ones a winner.

4) Drink less. Now there’s a tough one, as I think we’ve ascertained that I love a glass of wine, or a G&T, or a craft beer for that matter. I’m loving some of the citrusy ones they’ve had on in Brewbot of late. But, and sorry to be a didactic old git but there’s the teacher in me, any more than three of an evening out and I feel dire. It’s not worth it, as all the negative, self-flagellation and paranoia return with gusto, and all good-feeling from the night before bites the dust. So pace yourselves and all will be well.

5) Limit your exposure to the news. I had a bad accident many years ago now and the hospital chaplain, who quickly deduced that I was a fretful sort of a person long before I came a cropper, gave me this advice: “Listen to the news once a day, on the radio. You don’t need the graphic visuals on the TV to accompany the horror.” Now this is hard to achieve as it’s now on our phones and FB feeds, but I got LSB to disable the news app on my phone and I try just to tune in once in the morning so I know what’s going on, and leave it at that. This may even be too much for some, and I get that. It was LSB’s idea that I write a bit about anxiety and depression after last week’s atrocity in Manchester. He heard about it first while I was still asleep and came in and gently told me before it came on 6 Music while I was dishing out the breakfast. Being married to someone who understands your neurosis is definitely a big help to me.

I could write on here ad infinitum about things that I find useful. Here are the essentials: the value of ‘me-time’, spending more time outdoors and of course, reading. My very favourite author at the moment is Annie Lamott. I find her work to be earthy, insightful honest and funny. If you didn’t laugh guys, well it would be jus shite altogether, wouldn’t it?

(For the past twenty minutes as I’ve been chuntering on, two wee brown, unexceptional looking butterflies have been freewheeling round in circles, like a pair of dervishes. They’re having a quare auld time. Maybe we all need to be more butterfly-ish).

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWB witters on about her new wall arrangement

IMG_0168This is my new wall of art, of which I’m ever so proud. The magnificent Stephanie Prince is responsible for the bottom two: the larger one features LSB in a photo taken with him showing off his medal the day after the Dublin marathon. It’s lucky that Stephanie doesn’t do faces as he was dreadfully smug. (He still talks about the bastard marathon sometimes, with his face all aglow and a sort of wistful look, steeped in nostalgia for the moment at the end when a total randommer swept him up in a giant hug. I think he wishes he could do one every week. The nutter.) Anyway, if you look closely you will see a little pair of eyes and a mouth, scribbled on by an untrained hand. This addition was from the older child, who felt that the portrait was a tad unfinished. Seriously, isn’t it lucky that we like her?

Framed in pink is a print by Alan Kirk of the Mournes, one of my favourite local artists. It’s a view from Dundrum and is quite frankly as close as I ever get to the hills these days since I can’t get myself organised, and any weekend I think I might, it generally shits it down. Are you a parent? Do you long to don your hiking boots and bag a couple of peaks on a Saturday? WELL HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT? Answers gratefully received.

And then, the latest addition to this lot, The Esplanade in Ballyholme by Aly Harte and framed by the gorgeous Dylan in The Hallows Gallery on the Ormeau. He is the most obliging chap altogether: it was a delight going in and having a nosey. Even though I was up-front about the fact we’re broke and won’t be buying any art for a while (try the year 2032) he still showed me round and took ages helping me choose the best frame to show off my print. And then, when I returned to collect it he offered my children lemonade and gave them a wee tour as well! He even let them touch some sculptures. He’s a trusting sort of a fellow. He’s also getting married this Saturday, and still manages to look cheery and carefree. I mean weddings, what a massive pain in the arse. Mine was a headache from start to finish, the only boon being that LSB turned up looking lovely and said “I do” at the appropriate moment. That helped me ignore all the surrounding chaos. (There’s a whole other blog post on that I can tell you.)

There I go, meandering off topic again. I blame the wine, and it’s only 6-45 but my kids were hideous today. It necessitated opening a bottle at 6.05. Is that really dreadful? Don’t even answer that one….

SWB hits the shops

The Cathedral Quarter, there’s a fine place to spend a Friday morning, especially when there’s yoga and a spot of spontaneous shopping involved. Not forgetting the company of the lovely LSB, who ditched his bike in favour of a lift since he was racing in the Les Jones 10k  that evening. First off, we stopped for a coffee in Established on Hill Street, but feck me you wouldn’t need to be in any hurry. You could scald the mouth off yourself, and I almost did, on my oat milk cappuccino. “WTF? Am I on the correct blog?” I hear you splutter. You are indeed, it’s just that I went to an Ayruvedic practionner of reflexology and my digestive system is in tatters apparently. I’ve one unhappy colon, amongst a plethora of other minor ailments. That was a fun experience I can tell you. But I must admit to hitting the tea and coffee a lot of late, and chowing down a load of cake. An over-sugared and caffeine fuelled SWB isn’t that much fun to be around. God but I can digress can’t I? LSB ordered a filter coffee, for which I believe they went out the back, flew to Columbia and waited for some beans to pass through a goat before delivering it to us. At least it was nice, or so he claimed. Fecking need to be, the price of it.

So, back to yoga. Denis in Flow Studios was in fine fettle, fairly launching us into some brisk sun salutations. He’s a poetic soul is Denis, urging us to inflate our chests and adopt a regal posture, through Dancer Pose and Stargazer. He ought to be on the stage really, Denis. But I’m glad he’s not, as he’s a dote and I love our Friday morning classes. Helena’s a hoot too. She does the restorative yoga classes, which are truly wonderful. I was telling her about my new diet. “I wasn’t drinking huge amounts,” I say earnestly, “but I was drinking often. Something had to change” “Indeed” agreed Helena. “Drink more!” How I laughed. Nothing worse than an abstemious yoga teacher. Boring bastards.

They have a sale on in Flow Co and I’m ashamed to say, despite not really needing new yoga gear, I couldn’t hold back. Half price for a matching ensemble, and in my favourite colour too, what luck!

IMG_4062(There I go, in a poor attempt at Stargazer)

From there I sauntered over to Dunnes, or Dunnés Boutique as I like to call it. I needed some cushions for my dining chairs as I was having guests round for dinner on Saturday evening. The former chair pads were a disgrace. I could picture the scene: “Oh, don’t sit there! It’s covered in cake and biscuit crumbs. Take this one. Oh shit, there’s congealed egg on that, and HOLD UP! there’s some half masticated pasta on the other. In fairness, I’d take my chances on the biscuity one. Plonk yourself down and I’ll dust you off later.”

So I selected a few fresh cushions at quite a bargain price. “No no, I won’t need a bag. I’m on a recycling mission.” I chirped. The sales ladies were most understanding, in fact they tied the them together and off I went to inflict myself on the good people of Cat Kitson for a new tablecloth. I asked a sales girl to take a photo of me and my purchases and she merrily obliged. Turns out she writes a blog too called ‘Oh So Soph’. It’s  less vulgar than mine and makes you feel a bit shit about your life because she’s so beautiful and chic. But that’s not remotely her intention as she seems a lovely wee girl; not her fault she’s gorgeous.

I was queuing up to buy some fake tan in Superdrug when it all started to unravel. “Oh no! I had six cushions now I’ve only five!” I yelped. I was getting some odd looks but one helpful lady came to my rescue. “Ach are they yours? I saw one in the toothpaste aisle and propped it up against the mouthwash.”

It’s a miracle all the cushions made it home. I left one lying in the carpark  until a nice man having a fag outside the Dunbar Street Depot spotted it on the ground. “You’ve forgotten something love!” he yelled. Belfast people are generally lovely, aren’t they? To cut a long story short the dinner party was a roaring success and I enjoyed giving the new yoga ensemble a whirl today. Here’s hoping next Friday is as much fun.

IMG_0153(what an eejit)

SWB feels the love

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What a lovely bunch you all are, thank you for your kind words. LSB’s just landed in from a mad day at the office, wondering why he’s been inundated with messages. He never knows what I get posting when he’s out.  I’ve had my mum on- highly agitated herself. “You people shouldn’t be let out” she fumed. “You’ll have yourselves knifed next, and then where will you be?” (I’d hazard a guess at the Royal, or worse still Roselawn). I think you’d have been better just getting off that bus. You should just have said to the wee fella (the schoolboy) ‘Come on you, you’re coming with us.’ That’s what I’d have done.” In fairness I was thinking that myself before the rugby supporters came on and diffused the situation.

But FFS, what next? It’s a pretty poor state of affairs when you can’t take a stroll in the park or hop on a bus without risking injury. We have another lovely foreign student saying with us presently, and I’ve been telling her what a great and safe city Belfast is. I feel a bit of a mug now. Maybe the NI Tourist Board could do a spot of rebranding: “Like bloodsports? Take an adrenalin-fuelled trip into town and try your luck against a drugged up paramilitary!” “Fist fight more your thing? Head to the park on a sunny day and cast your eyes about for anyone on the Special Brew. You’re guaranteed a punch in the head.” “(Free trip to the Ulster included with all of these activities, but wait, this offer only lasts till Theresa May does away with the NHS, then you’ll have to pay for your stitches)”.

It’s not funny though is it. I hear about close shaves all the time and I’m sick of it. For someone prone to anxiety this sort of shit brings the paranoia on big style. But as my pal Ruth said there in one of the FB comments, I guess you just keep doing what you can, and hopefully if there’s more of that about, the eejits will stop their nonsense. Here’s hoping and praying anyway.

SWB takes a bus to town

bus“I’ll throw f**king bleach in your face, I will. I’ll f**king blind ye, swear to God.” It was seven twenty and LSB and I were catching the number 78 into town on Saturday night. We’d called a Foncab but since there were 18 thousand people piling out of the rugby the taxi was a no-show. So down we trotted to Forestside and were relieved to see a bus appear in minutes. On we hopped, excited to be heading to Yugo on Wellington Place, our new favourite restaurant.

 

Eek, here comes trouble we thought as a fellow came sloping on, his face twisted in a belligerent scowl. It didn’t take long for the ugliness to start. He’d positioned himself at the back of the bus beside a school kid. “What are you looking at? You’re f**king staring at me so you are.” The boy tried his best to ignore him, which agitated his tormentor further. As soon as the bleach was mentioned LSB was off his seat. “That’s not on, I’ll going up there,” he said and off he went. “Enjoying the sunshine? Where are you headed?” he asked the kid. They struck up a chat as the bus inched towards Cherryvale where it reached a standstill, as the queue of cars snaked along the Ravenhill. “Oh shit” I thought. “A traffic jam, just the time to be stuck in a confined space with a mentalist.” I placated myself with the thought that three bigger guys had got on near the Co-op to provide a bit of muscle if things turned nasty. “So where are you from?” spat Bleach boy, turning on LSB. “Just up by Forestside” he replied neutrally. “Where exactly? Four winds? F**king fenian, that’s what you are. You look it, so you do.” Down the bus, big guy number one looked up, then studied a pamphlet with renewed interest. Number two suddenly seemed engrossed in his phone. So I joined the party at the back of bus, sitting beside our sectarian pal, between him and LSB. We tried to have a chat about Spanish with the young lad, about to do his first GCSE the following week. It was all somewhat uncomfortable. Various paramilitary groups started to be mentioned, with whom Bleach boy was affiliated. All nice, convivial Saturday evening stuff.

 

The bus pulled in and a crew of rugby supporters trotted on. Oblivious to the small drama unfolding, two older gents joined us. They were great, full of craic, and perhaps more clued in than we thought. One guy was from Carrick and we knew a headmaster in common so had a yarn. I tried to drop in as many Protestant names as possible, but it seemed if you didn’t hail from the ‘estate’ you didn’t cut the mustard with our mate. We were all lying bastards apparently. Outnumbered now, he staggered up the bus and demanded to be let out in the middle of a junction: “Let me aff this bus or I’m f**king wrecking it”he asked politely, before finally careering up May Street with a “You’re dead” gesture.

 

LSB wasn’t going anywhere until the school kid had
met his friend and the nice guys in Yugo were very understanding that we were by now somewhat late for our table. I really, really needed that gin cocktail.

 

So after the Botantic Gardens incident which went viral and this lovely episode, I think we can conclude the sun really brings out the charmers in South Belfast. But LSB, all eight and a half stone of him. What an urban warrior.

Happy Mondays

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Hats off to all those who ran Belfast marathon in the gruelling heat on Monday. Belfast Running Club deserve a massive shout out for their superb relay result of 2 hours 46 minutes. For a fledgling club this is an astounding time where the team worked in impressive synchronicity to bring home the goods. Their mixed team included a German/Italian exchange student who’s a speed demon altogether: I couldn’t believe it when I saw her speeding down the Ravenhill in well under the 3 hour mark. She had the cheek of it to look fresh faced. Personally, I put the team’s success down to a certain wife of one of its members who lovingly cooks him nutritionally balanced meals pre-race meals prior to races to enhance his performance and wordlessly takes his progeny off-side so he can train in peace. Yes, their success is all down to her, clearly. 🙂

 

I spent the marathon morning giving orders. First off, we stationed ourselves opposite Cherryvale Park, where I met club members Eileen and John outside their home on the corner. “Could these runners not do with a jelly baby?” I enquired. I mean the audacity: sure I could have taken myself round to the Co-Op and bought some, but Eileen diligently disappeared indoors and returned with a veritable sack of jelly beans. She proffered these with enthusiasm to grateful runners looking a final spurt of energy.

 

We waved our banner and clapped like evangelicals on speed and caught Laura Graham racing by to snatch the first female place. (That woman has FOUR CHILDREN, and she’s winning prizes for frig’s sake. Is she just trying to make the rest of us feel bad?) We spied our own Flying French man from the club zooming past, looking chipper for someone who only a fortnight before had completed Paris in record time. Seriously, what do these continentals be on? I want in on it. Note to self, it’s not rocket science you daft mare, they just train like f**k. If I stopped drinking wine and taking naps and actually did the exercises the physio suggested I too could improve my time. But in all seriousness, what terrific athletes: all credit to them.

 

Next stop we sauntered over to the Ormeau, where I was all for a caffeine boost from my favourite haunt Kaffe-o. Serious supporters like me deserve a one-shot latte, and maybe even a chocolate mocha ball. However, we were diverted by the carnavalesque atmosphere in the church grounds of St Jude’s, and stopped there for the next hour instead. The minis’ eyes lit up at the sight of juice and popcorn and I got wired in to the coffee. Last August, when I was demented trying to entertain youngsters, I popped down to a summer scheme they organised and was totally won over. It was delightfully low-key; a few toys were flung out and a craft table erected, then a sofa and some comfy chairs were dragged out front and people could plonk down and exhale and thank God that it wasn’t their living room being trashed for the third day running. Sustenance in the form of hot beverages and biscuits were duly wheeled out for the wild-eyed, sleep deprived parents and a sense of calmness was restored. The vicar George is a talented pianist and he bashed out a few songs on the keyboard to finish while the kids shook a tambourine or two. And there was no proselytizing, AT ALL. Well, they were back in business on Monday and I made myself right at home, suggesting that we maybe should offer some drinks and sweets to the runners, and before I knew it the kids were racing forth with cups of water and George set to chopping up Mars Bars and offering them up on a big silver platter. “Chocolate for energy” he called with gusto. “Take please!” It was joyous. The Parador was belting out super tunes and a big fella beside me provided an animated commentary of “Keep ‘er lit!”; “Yer all winners, every one of ye” and “Go on ye boy ye!”

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I took my poor sun burnt and exhausted children home at one o’clock and sighed a contented sigh at a morning well spent. The good people of Belfast were out in force and the craic was mighty. The lively fella was right, we were all winners. More of this type of thing please Belfast.