SWB rediscovers fundamentalism

I have turned into a fanatic. I’m having flashbacks to myself as a teenager when I frequented the Pentecostal Church. There, I would meet kids who one moment were drinking Scrumpy Jack in Brice Park and the next were reading their testimonies and announcing they were heading to Khartoum to preach the Gospel during the summer holidays.

Except this time it’s not about religion, it’s about waste. I plonked myself down in front of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ the other night and I couldn’t focus on Anne Hathaway’s transformation or Meryl Streep’s icy candour. All I could see was the single-use coffee cups from Starbucks. Twitch twitch, went my eye.

Then I took the kids to a birthday party at the QFT last Sunday but, stop the press, I HAD FORGOTTEN my reusable coffee cup. Well, what a moral dilemma that brought on. ‘Please,’ I asked the hung-over looking chap at the bar, “give me my coffee out of one of those mugs over there.’ ‘What mugs?’ he asked, bewildered. ‘Those ones,’ I said, pointing to the draining board. ‘But those belong to the staff,’ he replied, looking around him in desperation. ‘Get me away from this zealot,’ his eyes said. Finally my need for caffeine overrode my concern for the environment and I accepted my latte in a disposable cup. However, not before I’d harassed the manager and helpfully suggested buying some cups that they could fire in the dishwasher. (They do have a policy where if you bring your own cup you get a sizable discount, so at least that’s some valuable market research conducted.)

To assuage my guilt about the latte, I took it upon myself to take home three black bin bags full of waste and sort through them, popping congealed popcorn into my brown bin and washing plastic spoons. (The QFT do recycle plastics and cardboard but they don’t compost and I was in a sort of deranged, save-the-earth-one-sticky-snack-at-a-time mood.) LSB landed in from a fifteen mile run and winced when he saw his kitchen transformed into a recycling plant, and sickly sweet ice-cream oozing onto the floor. ‘God help us’ he uttered, before retreating for his shower.

Last night, I inflicted myself upon the good people of the Ormeau Road in Boden café, where gorgeous duo Erin and Jo of ‘The Edible Flower’ were putting on a supper club. Now, if anyone ever deserves a shout out it’s these pair. I swear, I would hand-on-heart consider turning vegan if Erin would move in and whiz me up her guacamole and deep-fry me a few leeks. Their food is inventive and ethically produced with love and creativity. Jo also brews her own beer and her Sloe Wit brew  was the closest thing I’ve drunk to the Bière Blanche I used to guzzle on Réunion Island. There was sun and hedonism in every sip.

But these girls, boy but they are FEEDERS. We were tempted by golden samosas on arrival, and on and on the sumptuous fare came. By the time the main meal arrived I was lamenting my tight skirt and wishing I’d shunned fashion and donned trousers with an elasticated waist-band. Erin and Jo live in Saintfield in a big old farmhouse where they can grow vegetables- they even have their own pigs. Now LSB has to talk me out of getting a goat or a small pig on a regular basis. ‘But it would eat the leftovers,’ I whine, and he shakes his head and reminds me that just because there’s a field out the back doesn’t mean we live in a space suitable for goat habitation.

So poor old Erin is lifting a few glasses and there I am, pestering her about whether she’s going to be taking the leftover tagine back for her porcine friends. My pals look on, as she explains that they aren’t allowed to feed the pigs food directly from people’s plates for fear of contamination but assures me that at home every last scrap of potato peeling gets sent their way. ‘Good,’ I say, before leaping into a cab and leaving her in peace.

Now, at least I have the self-awareness to realise why I’m doing this. Plastic is a hot topic, what with Blue Planet 2 compelling us all to act; but in the face of the world’s madness I feel so helpless, that I think at least if I do something small, like save a few bottles from the Atlantic, well, it’s better than nothing. But feck, I’m going to have to rein myself in, because very shortly people are going to start legging it when they see me coming. ‘Quick, hide my bottle of Ballygowan,’ they’ll say to themselves, before flinging it over a hedge to avoid a lecture.

If you too, are prone to lunacy, don’t be afraid to get in touch. They say ‘misery loves company’, but us mad women, we quite like it too.

SWB declares war on plastics

Every fortnight my blue bin is overflowing with plastic. I try to cut back and then I spy the Dine In offer in M&S and cave in; and let’s face it, unless you are super committed, avoiding plastics altogether is damn near impossible. At least I recycle most of it, but over Lent especially, I’m going to be creative and make a conscious effort to ditch the packaging and reduce my footprint.

One thing we have managed to cut back on is clingfilm. I used to use rolls of the stuff in a bid to prevent food waste, but I’ve finally caught on to using plates as lids and I’ve invested in tupperware.

But what irks me no end, is when I’m fastidiously washing out my containers and scraping every last scrap of food into my compost bin, is seeing single use plastics being used needlessly.

Schools which proudly display their eco-badges routinely use polystyrene cups. I’m not trying to create work for people: I appreciate there isn’t much time and schools are short on funding. It’s easier to bin cups than wash crockery, but I’m sure there’s some green-minded parents who wouldn’t mind staying an extra fifteen minutes after the nativity play to help wash up. If it stops bag after bag being chucked into landfill then surely it’s worth it.

I took action last week, and off to Ikea I headed to purchase 120 reusable cups for parkrun. As you know, LSB and myself practically live in Ormeau Park at the weekend, between the adult and junior parkrun. On Saturday morning, up to a hundred people sojourn to the Ozone centre to have a hot drink and a chat after their five km. This is entirely separate from parkrun, as at many events the participants complete their run and go about their day, so it’s a testimony to the sense of community at Ormeau that we meet to drink coffee afterwards and have the craic. But on Saturday I was a bit nervous about producing the cups. Would the folks say ‘Here comes Kill-the-Craic on her Save the Earth Soapbox again?’ but they didn’t. It was a talking point and the consensus was that it was a great idea.

Usually two or three black bin bags are filled and binned, but not last week: there was only one. The milk containers were taken away and recycled and everyone helped tidy up. It was a resounding success and it could  happen everywhere, with a bit of organising.

And, it seems I’m not the only one concerned – the BBC thinks its a good idea and wants to ban single use plastics by 2020.

The EU (Brexit or not) has planned it for 2030

So – perhaps this is a case of acting locally, and thinking globally in action?

So my question to you people is, do you do a parkrun, or   congregate somewhere that uses non-recyclables, and if so, could you change it? (Sorry to evangelise, but you know I used to be a right happy-clapper). Small steps to a cleaner earth, and let’s face it, Stormont isn’t likely to have that on their agenda anytime soon. Power to the people!!

SWB hits ‘Robyn’s Nest’ Malahide

Meet Geoffrey. He’s not at his best, bless him. I’ve only managed to get him thus upright by jamming his neck through the door handle. His legs have been so twisted and bent by children clambering astride him that he is unable to stand unaided. Not so much as a tuft of mane remains, after the scissor happy small child got carried away. ‘It was just a trim Mummy!’ Aye right, scalped, he was. A few of their little friends came to play one day and set about him with a selection of coloured stampers, so for a while there he boasted rainbow splodges. (I think he’s had enough juice spilled over him since to wash most of them off.) LSB said he felt sorry for him in August, stuck up here in the foothills of the Castlereagh Hills instead of down the town partying at gay pride. He pulled the short straw alright, did Geoffrey, landing here. I bought him on a whim years ago for the kids when I saw him in a shop in Newcastle. It was a devil of a job getting him up the road, I almost had to shove his neck out the window of the Corsa. It was another challenge trying to hide him too; I swear it would have been easier trying to secrete a corpse.

But if your home is sadly lacking in the almost life-sized stuffed animal department, fear not and take a trip to Malahide and bag yourself a Geoffrey in Robyn’s Nest. I was most taken with this boutique toy and gift shop. There was a distinct lack of plastic shit and plenty on which to feast the eye.  My children were almost stunned into silence with the treasures they beheld.  Agog, they were, when I said them they could choose a small treat each.  The wee one’s a canny wee article though, as upon spying a polar bear boasting a scarlet scarf she enquired if she could have ‘a medium-sized treat.’ I nodded and it was duly wrapped in red tissue paper and placed in a beautiful bag. I think she almost went a full forty-five minutes without complaining after that.

(They’re desperately hard done by, my two: my dad nearly took his end in the newsagent’s in Ballyholme one day when the older child asked him solemnly, ‘Can we look at the magazines that we’re never allowed to buy?’ I think he bought them one each to make up for my parsimony).

Another item they stocked in Robyn’s Nest and which tickled me no end, were ‘Lottie Dolls.’ Have you heard of these? No, I hadn’t neither. They’re the antithesis of Barbie and Bratz dolls with their make-up and improbable figures. They all have a wee back-story, like working in animal shelters and rescuing orphaned kittens, or volunteering in Cambodia, or moving to Chile to go rooting for fossils. All very virtuous and cute. ‘Would you like one of those dear?’ asked the lovely Linda, who was trying to enjoy her mid-morning cup of tea when we landed in on her. She passed the older child the doll with the cochlear ear transplants, which she looked at with polite disdain before dandering off to choose a small stuffed monkey instead. (Well, we had been to the zoo the day before,  thus animals were the order of the day.)

 

So it’s a bit of a traipse all right, and your local Smyth’s is doubtless handier; but for an edifying experience and a bit of craic with the proprietor, I couldn’t recommend this place enough. They do absolutely splendid cards too: I do love a bit of mischief.

(In no way was any of this sponsored by Robyn’s Nest. Given the traffic to my blog I’d probably have to pay them sponsorship.)

SWB on why mums hate fancy dress

We were keeping it classy on the street this morning. 8.05 and I’m careering down our icy drive in my dressing gown and M&S fluffy slippers shouting: ‘STEVEY, YOU”VE FORGOTTEN THE THREE BEARS!’

The bears, you see, were of utmost importance. The small child, was going in to school dressed as Goldilocks. We had no wig of golden loveliness, (and alas the paucity of her own hair was insufficient for plaiting) and we had no fairytale dress. We had upended the dressing up box last night and she had turned up her nose at all of the costumes. ‘NO: that one’s for a queen. NO: Goldilocks DID NOT DO BALLET. NO: that’s the wrong princess.’ The Bo-Peep outfit WOULD NOT DO and the staff was missing in any case, though the older child tried her hand fashioning one out of a kitchen roll tube. The mood was fraught.

Finally, we got to the root of the problem. ‘I WANT TO BE A BEAR!!!’ she wailed. Ahhh, of course she did. There is always an animal theme with the wee one’s outfits. But as the older sister pointed out, ‘Bears in nursery rhymes are usually brown and you only have a polar bear suit.’ I suggested that this Goldilocks could be set in the Arctic but merely received a withering look for my efforts.

 

To soothe tempers, we sojourned to the sofa and read a couple of versions of the tale, and concluded that Goldilocks just needed some class of a frock, which surely we could muster up. The small child still looked despondent though.

 

And then, I STRUCK GOLD. ‘Let’s focus on the bears instead.’ I decreed, triumphantly. I even produced the CIRCULATION BAG, which is the bin bag into which I heave about 20  toys every so often and produce on a whim and the kids think it’s Christmas. ‘Mummy, it’s Eli the Elephant! It’s Henry Sharpe! IT’S STEVEN CRAIG!!!’ (Yes, toys and dolls get their full title in our house.) Three bears were located, duly dressed and chucked in a Tesco Bag. ‘You have PROPS!’ I told the small child, and she beamed.

 

Meanwhile, my phone had been a-buzzing with all the mums’ on the WhatsApp group in a similar state of angst. It was a particular challenge for the boys, but if they donned a green shirt and black trousers apparently that would suffice as Jack and The Beanstalk. I posted a photo of the three bears (of which I was ridiculously proud) and got a panicked message in response. ‘You mean they have to bring toys as well?’ ‘No,’ I typed back. ‘It’s just because her outfit is going to be so shit.’ I got a lot of smiley emojis. ‘Please,’ I implored, ‘Just keep the standard very, very low everyone.’ ‘Teaching our kids a valuable lesson’ replied another exhausted mum. ‘The bare minimum will do.’

 

And so this is why, when LSB trotted off with the girls and I exhaled loudly as I sat down with my coffee, I took off after him like a crazed lunatic when I saw that the bag of bears had been forgotten.

 

Clearly, in my world, the BEAR minimum won’t do….

 

Happy Friday everyone.

Seven ways I made Dry January work for me

So how did I make Dry January a fun, illuminating experience? Yes, you read that right. Not only did I get through Dry January, but I will always look back on it as a special month, of growth, renewal and reconnecting with self. Here’s how I did it….

1. I challenged my notion that non-alcoholic wine was rubbish.   We trotted to the Vineyard and treated ourselves to a selection of non-alcohol wines and beers. And to my AMAZEMENT, some were quite good. So I still took a bottle from the fridge and lifted down my wine glass, but I drank guilt free.

2. I offered to drive. January 6th was Nollaig na mBan and I was meeting three of my finest lady friends for lunch to celebrate. We eschewed our local haunts in favour of The Poacher’s Pocket in Lisbane. I picked everyone up and the craic was mighty on the way there and on the return journey. It was dark when we left the restaurant and the moonlight danced through the trees which lined the country roads. At one point, as I ate my smoked haddock risotto, I thought: ‘A glass of chilled sauvignon would enhance this no end.’ Then my friend said something interesting and I forgot about it.

3. I did more yoga. Since I was busy with work, I struggled to make my morning yoga sessions, so I did a few yoga classes in the evening instead. One Sunday, after spending the afternoon at christening, (there was top-notch cake and coffee, so again, I didn’t feel I was missing out) I took myself down to a meditation class in Flow. The floor was still warm from the Heat class which had gone before, and as I lay, a bolster under my knees, bathed in music and candle-light I thought, this is such a gift to myself.

4. I joined an on-line Sober Club set up by my friend Amberlea, where a group of us posted comments tracking our progress and offering encouragement. Some people were going off the hard stuff for life, others were cutting down and getting 2018 off to a healthier start. It was an honest, funny and inspiring forum, without which I may just have opened a bottle (on the nights when the kids had me driven beserk.)

5. I was much kinder to myself, and focused on the positive. It felt great to wake up fresh every morning and and I found it much easier to give those negative feelings a good boot up the arse.

 

6. I spent time creating a feeling of Hygge in the house. We lit candles and plumped cushions to create a haven where we could relax in the evenings. I bought new furniture in Ikea and Action Cancer on the Ormeau Road and set to making our bedroom clutter free and cosy. It was a treat to slip between fresh sheets and read Eleanor Oliphant under my new light (usually serenaded by a purring cat).

7. I made a plan. LSB embarked on this together. We read How to Quit Alcohol (for a month), and discussed some strategies to keep us on the wagon. And this was why it worked. We decided that for a month, it was off the table. And we got on with it. When I fancied a G&T, I made this delightful concoction instead: Fevertree Tonic, lime and angostura bitters. It hit the spot.

In the interests of transparency, I do need to tell you as I’ve previously admitted, there was a small amount of wine. (though I think having one drink before a gig is a RESULT.)  But after our evening out we spent the rest of the weekend booze free and so far this February, I’ve had a couple of drinks, but a most insignificant amount. Hell, I even drove to a Pub Quiz, and this is UNHEARD OF. I feel that alcohol has relinquished its hold on me. I’m glad I’ve done this, and now I know I don’t need Prosecco to find my sparkle.

SWB gives social media a blasting

Facebook and Instagram; do we need a digital detox? Because let’s admit, they can be a right menace at times.

I was scrolling through my news feed the other evening and could feel my mood plummeting. There was too much information to process. My screen was almost fizzing with activity: there were videos from ecological campaigners, astute political commentary, petitions to sign. Suddenly there were alerts going off in my brain, ten things at once to like, read and comment upon. Then there were the updates from Facebook ‘friends’, having an apparently lovely time. I was suddenly beset with negative feelings and anxiousness. And this is me when I’m feeling sprightly! Not even in one of my ‘woe-is-me and aren’t-we-all-heading-to-hell-in-a handcart-moods.’

The irony isn’t lost on me that if you are reading this it is probably through the medium of Facebook. I hope my sourness isn’t contagious. Although I like a good rant I realize I’m actually living the dream. I’ve a break from teaching, the extension is finished, my children are old enough to give me a bit of peace and I’m no longer having to wrestle pen caps off toddlers lest they choke and dissuade them from eating fluff off the carpet. Maybe you’re a former work colleague rolling your eyes and thinking “What is her fecking problem now? All those coffee shops she frequents and she’s still giving off. What a truly great pain on the rear she is.” But why does a quick glimpse at other people’s lives make me feel so rubbish?

Well I’m not alone, as some research I conducted has shown. The You and Yours Show on Radio 4  did a feature a while back on the effects of social media on the psyche. Many callers identified feelings of angst and extreme dissatisfaction with their own lives as soon as they clicked on Facebook and started seeing posts of their friends basking in the sun or clinking glasses on a rooftop bar. If the highlight of your weekend was a mediocre glass of wine as a reward for housework and ferrying around your offspring, then of course you’re going to feel shite. One lady was undergoing IVF treatment and the bombardment of photos tracking the progress of other women’s baby bumps was too much for her to stand.

Young people are especially vulnerable to the erosion of their self-esteem through the portrayal of other people’s picture perfect lives on screen. And they are perhaps less likely to suspect that life isn’t always as it seems. It is so easy to present a sanitised shot thereby manipulating the truth behind it. (If you read my blog, you’ve seen the photos of my teapot and mugs right? Let’s be clear, that was a very tiny corner of my kitchen).

Years ago a friend took a five-day break to St Lucia with her husband. Such was the value of their air miles that they flew business class, drank champagne and even had one of those clever foldy-downy beds on board. She posted photos of a sand so pure and sea so blue that the greyness of a Belfast morning was almost too much to bear. So when we met up I asked her all about it, my voice high and tight, trying to quell the envy. “God but it was awful,” she told me. Well, I was all ears. “Pete was sick the whole time. He caught a bug off the boys before we left and he was never off the toilet. He couldn’t leave the apartment. We didn’t even make it to the hotel bar.” The poor girl sat by herself on the beach. No wonder there were so many pictures of the sea, she was hardly going to be taking pictures of her vomiting husband, was she?

Pictures of me have appeared on many an occasion suggesting all is splendid in SWB’s world. A couple of years ago himself and I were snapped looking rosy cheeked and full of cheer at the ‘Castlewellan Christmas Cracker.’ It’s a race in which you compete in pairs and we were dressed in matching elf costumes, as one is encouraged to don festive apparel for this eight mile run up a mountain. There were turkeys, butchers and more Santas than you could have shaken a candy cane at, all charging through the forest park. LSB, gazelle-like creature that he is, ran on ahead. Some runners kindly asked me “Are you on your own little elf?” “No,” I replied curtly. “I’m with my frigger of a husband but he has deserted me. If you pass a dark haired elf on your way be sure to give him a good kick.”

I finally found him through the throngs and we finished together looking jubilant. Next stop was the Slieve Donard to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I looked ever so happy. Anyone who saw our photo on Facebook would never have suspected that a week before I’d been in the grip of an anxiety attack so acute I’d taken myself to the GP and been given anti-depressants to settle my nerves. (I chronicled that little tale in one of my Tenx9 stories, which you can read here if you can be bothered.)

At the moment when the photos were snapped I was smiling, and they captured that feeling of joy and relief I felt. I was telling a friend over coffee a couple of weeks later about my traumatic Christmas and she looked completely baffled. “But you looked fine in the photos!” she said. Point made. Facebook posts catch but a fleeting glimpse of life, and sometimes we need to occupy a quieter, more private place.

I am pleased to report that right now I feel settled and content. But if they can rattle me in my positive frame of mind, what are the effects on those feeling a bit rubbish? Something to ponder anyway. (And if you do come off Facebook, you can read my blog on www.sourweeblog.com, or subscribe, so the recent posts go directly to your e-mail.)