SWB enjoys stories. At dawn.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

SWB and the joys of casual conversation

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Here’s how last Saturday went. I was wearing what I believed to be quite a fetching outfit, a wine coloured pinafore with an embroidered flower, all the way from Barcelona, of course. I’d paired it with my ubiquitous red Camper boots with a pink heel, because I pair these with just about everything, other than my sporty ensembles.

 

The children were at their Spanish class so I had 50 minutes to whittle away as I chose, so I perched at the bar in Kaffe O and got merrily stuck into the boiled eggs and rye bread. I was reading the Weekend magazine from the Guardian, and was engrossed in the story of Pakistan’s answer to Kim Kardashian; a reality TV star, for whom transgressing gender boundaries didn’t end well. I was thus engaged and sipping my one shot latte when an acquaintance from park run stepped up with a thrilled expression and began tapping my tummy and congratulating me. She made some pre-emptive cooing noises, as though the baby was already here, ensconced in a car seat beside me. Except there was no baby, and there was no foetus, because I am not pregnant. I have not been pregnant for five years. I have however, had two children by caesarean section and recurring bouts of IBS. I’m also not in a mood to be trifled with.

 

“No,” I say wearily, shaking my head and swallowing a large mouthful of coffee. “It have really bad IBS. That’s all.” “But,” says Inspector Clouseau, “you haven’t been running. I’ve seen you at park run, and you haven’t been running. “Well I did today!” I correct her. “And we take turns looking after the kids, so we can’t get to run every Saturday.” On she lingers, and tired of justifying my plump tum and exercise habits I curtly say goodbye and turn back to my eggs, which are rapidly cooling, as boiled eggs are wont to do.

 

So the poor woman, I’m sure she felt I was rude and dismissive but maybe she’ll think twice before going round pawing anyone else’s stomach, unless there’s a pool of amniotic fluid at their feet and she’s ringing an ambulance with the other hand. Then it’s ok, I’ll let her off with it.

 

I text LSB to give off. “Sake” he texts back, swiftly followed by another one, “You’re not are you?” I let him sweat a bit before I respond, but last time I checked you have to have sex to get pregnant and there hasn’t been much of that carry on, what with my vexatious gut.

 

I fended off enquiries on holiday too. There was a lovely waitress, who’d served me poolside glasses of wine and carajillos (that delicious fusion of expresso and Bailey’s) for five days on the trot. “You have two lovely little girls,” she smiled. “Hrrrmph” I say, as they haven’t been at their most endearing that morning (nor the 3 consecutive mornings for that matter). “And I see you have another on the way! I am just noticing!” “No,” I sigh. And she’s a sweet girl and I don’t want to be rude or have to start detailing my intestinal woes so I just get back to my book and question my decision to wear a bikini.

 

I was showing one of my Catalan purchases to my mum and foolishly asked if she thought it was nice. “Well you do know it makes you look pregnant,” she said. Well I fucking do now, thank you very much.

 

And finally, (and then I’ll stop, I promise) I wander into Al Gelato with children in tow and another lady I know is enjoying a coffee. “So when’s this one due?!” she asks gaily, eyeing my midriff. I churn out the same old craic, “No I’m not,” blah blah blah…. But then she says, “But you just look so tired!” I mean, honest to God! Do you remember the month of July when your children are very small? Who doesn’t look flipping exhausted? Why don’t you just assess my dire pore situation while you’re at it, and here, don’t leave out my hands, which with their protruding veins are soon going to require gloves AKA Sarah Jessica Parker in the last series of ‘Sex and the City’. I’m a car wreck, and incidentally it was great to catch up. I shall trot on, with my ego inflated no end.

 

Phew, I’m glad I got that off my chest.

 

I discuss the matter with my friend who’s a midwife over dinner on Friday night. She’s quite animated on the subject. “Unless someone’s told you they’re expecting, it’s never safe to assume. I tend not to, unless I see a head between labia.” “Quite,” I agree.

 

So I’m in a bit of a quandary. The IBS has flared up royally, despite my Colpermin peppermint tablets and a reduction in the wheat and the dairy and the caffeine. (I mean FFS, is it worth getting out of bed in the morning?) Wearing jeans is off the table because they’re frankly cruel on my tummy and as I said, I developed a powerful fondness for ice cream over the summer and I was also a serious cake botherer. I am thus carrying an extra couple of kilos. So I’ve been wearing little tunics over tights and leggings, and sometimes a dress. And I suppose, because I’m not a big person in general, the excess around the middle does protrude and people make assumptions. But they’d be wise to keep these to themselves. I’m thinking of my friends who would like to be pregnant, but aren’t. I’m thinking of the friends who’ve had miscarriages. Or frankly, of anyone who’s in any way sensitive and could live without being insulted. Imagine if they pop out for a bit of peace in a coffee shop and some half-wit comes along and ruins their day.

 

I have the misfortune to have an obstreperous bowel. It’s merely irksome, and thank God it’s nothing more sinister. Fortunately I’ve also developed a thick hide over the years. The aforementioned may be less able to cope with throw-away remarks, so these are best kept to oneself. Unless you’ve seen the two lines on a stick, people, keep it zipped. And when I was pregnant, I had an aching back and I felt putrid for nine months, so if it did happen again, believe me, everyone would know about it. The sourness was legendary.