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.)

SWB grits her teeth and gets on with it…

I wrote this last night guys and am pleased to say I resisted the grog and took myself to bed early with the wonderful Eleanor Oliphant. It depressed me slightly that someone’s first novel could be full of such sharp, witty prose, but I resolved to just rejoice in her creativity as making comparisons is poor for the soul. To quote Lear: ‘that way madness lies.’ Glorious as the novel is, I’ll still glad that Helen Dunmore posthumously won the Costa Prize for her volume of poetry, Inside the Wave. To write such beautiful, life-affirming words while on one’s deathbed, reminds us that anything is possible.


Now, please do send positive thoughts: my nerves are in fecking tatters.


(Oh and the parents did come up, fed the children, cleaned my sinks and hovered the floor and even scrubbed the minging old grill. They’re a fine pair.)


Here’s last night’s moan…..


Oh Dear God people. I need prayers and positive thoughts by the BUCKET LOAD. I have a teetering tower of papers to process and a looming deadline. I am cranky, I am fraught, and my children are testing me to the limits of my patience. It is actually the older one who is being thran and defiant tonight. Six going on sixteen, she is full of rage and belligerence, and directing her vitriol at me. I had the audacity to suggest that eight o’clock was an appropriate bedtime and met with downright hostility. Finally, after a row and a shouting match I sat on her bed and gave her a cuddle. She says she ‘doesn’t know what’s bothering her,’ but something is afoot. I have work to do and decisions to make and I have just now set my arse upon the sofa and boy, do I have a thirst on me for a large glass of red wine with my beef stew.


Last week, I confess, I cheated on my Dry January challenge, and had a pre-gig tipple before we saw Public Service Broadcasting on Thursday night, and then the tiniest of tiniest glasses on Friday. I’m still mighty pleased with myself though. Two glasses in a month as opposed to in an evening, now that’s what I call progress. But my nerves are in shreds tonight. I shall hoist my sorry self off the settee and direct it towards the yoga mat instead. Perhaps that will shake me from my funk…

SWB gets put right

Finally, it had to happen. The Mothership rings up, aggrieved.

MOTHER: It’s me here. I don’t know why I even go near your blog. It only annoys me. (Note the lack of preamble, barely even a “Hello, how are you?”)

ME: Ach, sure it was just a bit of fun.

MOTHER: I am by now, used to the ridicule, and you putting this notion about that I always ‘do you down’. However, I do not like being made out to be stupid. In front of people too.

ME: Is this about the cold air?

MOTHER: Exactly. Now if you would just amend what you wrote. You know perfectly well, that when one is cold, one is susceptible to colds and flu, because the immune system may be compromised. And that is when these viruses settle in.

ME: Indeed. (As if to prove her point, LSB starts coughing up a lung in the background. He’s been running the legs off himself as usual. He may even have dipped his feet in the wintery chill of the Atlantic on a running club excursion to do Portrush parkrun. I hastily move until he is out of earshot.)

MOTHER: I mean, some people wouldn’t have it.

ME: Have what, a virus?

MOTHER: NO, their child vilifying them on the internet. I’m telling you, I don’t think ANY of my friends would stand it. If their children were to dole out the abuse you give me, I think they would write them out of the will.

ME: But that would show a meanness of spirit and demonstrate that they had  no sense of humour, not like you at all.

MOTHER: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ (Mother tends to go a bit grandiose and quote Shakespeare or the odd Biblical verse when wronged.)

ME: Quite. I have a bit of work to do so I may head on.

MOTHER: Now when do you need us up to mind those children?


And that people, is the joyful thing about my mum and dad. They love to give off and take umbrage, but are always on-hand to scrub my hob and clean my microwave, while entertaining my children.

The Wise Old Elf, I am happy to report, has recovered from his lurgy and has resumed his busy timetable of events, bar perhaps the tennis and the yoga. He has almost returned to his former self, which is just as well as the work I undertake in January has come in and the floors haven’t been vacuumed for a while. I’m sure that counts as the ‘gentle exercise’ he is supposed to undertake….




SWB discovers The Green Bicycle Company

It’s a gloomy Tuesday morning. I’m tired after overdoing it on the exercise front yesterday: walks and runs and Irish Dancing. I’m fed-up buggering about with a short story which reads as though a semi-literate adolescent has penned it thus far.

And then a my phone pings and a photo of my friend Jane pops up. Jane is one of these irrepressibly happy people, which could be irksome if she wasn’t so consistently funny, generous, and above all else, kind. In short, she is THE CRAIC.

She is also the reason I’ve decided to do this Triathlon sprint in May. I swear to God, no one else could have talked me into it, but Jane says , ‘Here, there’s a triathlon in Limavady, I’ve done it, and it’s ok actually,’ and I go ‘Grand! I’m in!’

The triathlon consists of 30 laps in a pool (not open- water so less chance of drowning), a 20k cycle (out and back on a straight road with no traffic so less chance of  being killed) and a 5k run. Well sure, I run all the time. That bit should be grand, apart from the jelly legs from all that has gone before.

Except, I don’t have a bike. Well I do, but not one fit for the purpose. Mine is blue with a lovely big wicker basket for baguettes and bottles of wine. When LSB bought it for me he obviously forgot that we live up a steep hill in Belfast, as opposed to in La Provence.

But no matter! Because Jane has just pointed me in the direction of The Green Bicycle Company, and I’m hoping they can sort me out. I don’t want to spend money I can ill-afford on a brand new bike, so I will take a look at their second hand models. And THIS IS THE BEST BIT, they fix bikes for a bargain price, and if you have old ones which are beyond repair, they will do what they can to recover bits and reuse them. Their aim is to prevent bikes ending up in landfill.

These guys sound like the business, so before you go chucking old rusty bikes in the dump give them a bell.

I’m remarkably cheered up now. Happy Tuesday everyone.

SWB goes Dry, for January anyway

It is the 22nd of the month good people, which means that I am halfway through my Dry January challenge. And I am feeling, wait for it, yes CHIPPER! I know, not a word one would normally associate with a sour wee bastard, but there you have it. LSB is off the quare stuff too, and this has made the experience infinitely more doable. We can be a poor influence on each other, and it all goes a bit Craggy Island round here when it comes to the booze. ‘Sure you’ll take a glass of wine. Just the one sure, a wee drop in your hand. You will, you will, you will.’

I feel I must add here, (just incase you’re about to lift the phone to social services) that we are not a pair of drunks. To use Father Ted as a point of reference again, remember when he offends the Chinese family on the island and looks like a Neo-Nazi? And he has to show the slideshow and the words ‘TED, NOT A RACIST’ flash up to subliminally enter the consciousness of his audience? In a similar vein then, let me stress, ‘SWB, NOT AN ALCOHOLIC’ and ‘LSB, NOT ONE EITHER.’ We took on Dry January because we realised we were drinking a bit too much, a bit too often, and when you have a go counting up the weekly intake in units, they add up so quickly that it’s a bit, well, scary.

So we downed our glasses and channelled our energies into getting healthier, feeling better and saving some money.  And this, we thought, was an ideal time to do it, since January with all its cold and bleakness, can test a person’s resolve. And here is the most interesting thing I’ve found. Because I’ve taken on Dry January and the #LearnuaryNI, I’ve committed to making small changes every day and sticking to them. In short, I have eliminated vagueness. Indecisive by nature, I often resist wholly committing to things, because then I don’t have to fail. Then I can backtrack, telling myself: ‘I hadn’t really committed to it; it was just an idea.’ This time I have cut the bullshit and am actually doing and learning new things. It feels good to be succeeding at something.

I also came to a realisation, or epiphany, if you will. If you are prone to the PLOM (Poor Little Old Me) syndrome, you may find yourself whining: ‘Oh life is sooo hard, I am sooo tired: pass me a drink to get me through this Godforsaken winter.’ When I had this notion in my head, I often felt listless and rubbish. It was the mind-set which had to change; then I addressed the habits which allowed me to indulge it. (Forgive me if I sound preachy but I’m directing this entirely at my own behaviour patterns.)

I’ve started being a bit tough with myself if I find my thoughts going down these particular avenues of doom. ‘SWB,’ I say firmly: ‘Are you currently residing in a refugee camp in Calais?’ No. You are stuck in a traffic jam on the Boucher Road. Your kids will be late for swimming. Big deal.

Or: ‘Are you a Rohingya Muslim who’s been driven from their home?’ No. You’re in good health with a lovely family. Now make a donation via Concern and while you’re at it, have a side order of perspective with your latte.

Tough love is easier when you’re treating your body with respect. We’ve both been reading more, practising yoga and as a result, sleeping better.  We’ve made fewer forays out to dine at the weekends where it would be hard to resist a glass of chilled white loveliness. (We are stony broke, so this was somewhat forced upon us.) Instead, we’ve eaten steaming bowls of curry  with candles lit and the wood-burner going to create ambiance, in front of BBC 4’s Spiral. (I can’t say the severed heads in the current series do much for my appetite but it’s one hell of a show nevertheless.)

I’m training in preparation for The Roe Valley triathlon in May, and I know it’s probably psychological but I already feel leaner. And in my head I feel better: less introspective and A LOT more patient. I can be narky enough without having a hangover to boot, and I have a low tolerance for alcohol these days. (You can read some of my advice on how to manage children and hangovers here.)

I wonder if any of these positive vibes come from what Helen Foster suggests in her book Quit Alcohol (For a Month). The feeling of wellbeing when you have completed a challenge is, she says, because ‘success begets success when it comes to making change, do one thing and you become more confident in your ability to change a second.’ I can definitely relate to this.

LSB and I are planning a meal out in February to celebrate his birthday and our completion of our month of sobriety. I’m looking forward to a glass of Malbec, but I’ll cap it at two. I’m starting to like this fresher version of me. I might try and keep her around a bit longer.




Here’s a podcast featuring SWB on disastrous school trips

Anyone ever wondered what SWB sounds like? Well, wonder no more – here I am telling my Beowulf story at Wednesday night’s Tenx9 event in The Black Box in Belfast.

My story is first up, but listen on for two more fantastic stories from Paul Hutchinson & Máire Grattan all on the theme of ‘Never Again’.

I love how podcasts are like  ‘radio on the move’ as David Gordon said at his brilliant seminar on Friday afternoon at The Ormeau Baths. You can listen while you jog, have a bath or do the housework. So for those out there whose arses rarely hit a seat, this one’s for you.