SWB’s Top Five Books for Small Children

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Hold it right there, I know where you’re going. You’ve just got another birthday invitation to a small child’s party and you’re making the obligatory journey to Smyth’s. Why not take a trip to your local independent book store instead and see if they’re stocking any of these titles? (Can you hear the mantra? No more plastic shite, no more plastic shite….)

 

Tidy by Emily Cravett 

This great tale about a badger with OCD carries a sound ecological message. When Pete can’t get the forest looking ship-shape because of pesky leaves and muddy footprints, he sets about wrecking the place, with predictable catastrophic results. Thankfully his woodland friends help him return things to as they were before, once he realizes his folly. 

When developers come digging up the greenbelt in your local area, don’t be surprised if your little tree huggers are the first on site with their placards, fighting the good fight. 

 

This is Jane, Jim by Kaye Umansky and Margaret Chamberlain 

When a new baby arrives home and starts snaffling all the attention, Jim is nonplussed. He wanted a hamster, but has been landed with a sister instead and he’s feeling the neglect acutely. I’ve read this story about twice a week for the past three years and I still, STILL choke up on the last page. It’s gorgeously written in iambic tetrameter and the simple verses just dance off the pages. Buy this for any friends who have just fired out another baby. I guarantee their wardrobes are already full of M&S clothes for infants; this book is what they REALLY need. 

 

The Bear with Sticky Paws by Clara Vulliamy 

Do I just like this book because the wee girl looks like a mixture of my two children and has the temper to boot? No, it’s just a delight full stop. From the mischievous bear who comes to visit; the savvy mum who just pours her tea and clears away off to get her head showered, and the cosy ending when the child is gently taught a thing or two. The author’s mother is the veteran writer Sally Hughes of Alfie and Dogger fame and Vulliamy shares her talent for capturing tiny details to snare your child’s imagination. She just gets children (and has a fair notion about their mum and dads too), she even has the pet cat down to a tee. Her writing is playful and glorious, as are her pictures. 

 

Jip and Janneke by Fiep Westendorp 

This book is delicious: little snapshots to take you through the seasons in Holland, picking up on a few cultural titbits along the way. The two children’s characters are shown as little black silhouettes against a backdrop of exquisite colour. It’s another one I’m never done reading, and each time I open its lovely pages I’m like GET ME TO HOLLAND. Those continentals are so civilized, with their Van Gogh and their tulips and their sipping coffee by a canal and pedaling by serenely on their bicycles. I open this book and the imagery transports me right back to a holiday in Amsterdam, many years ago. It makes me want to pack a bag and take the family to the city zoo and visit a few windmills.  That’s half term sorted then….

 

Chus Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrations by Adam Rex  

Poor Chu, the panda, is troubled by the severity of his sneezes. He finds them  difficult to harness, much to the chagrin of his world weary parents. Such is his affliction that he’s a liability to take anywhere: threatening to create havoc in the library, the diner and finally at the circus where it all goes spectacularly belly up. The illustrations are simply out of this world. My favorite is the kangaroo who waitresses in the diner. She’s one gorgeous Antipodean. LSB prefers the giraffe at the lending desk at the library. It’s hard to choose, to be honest.  

 

Have a great weekend everybody, and if you do end up at a party I hope there’s at least good coffee on the go.

 

 

 

SWB discovers Books Paper Scissors

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This is the sort of shop that gives LSB apoplexy. It’s the kind of store into which I wander and am overcome with a keen feeling: I am meant to be here. I am home. The walls are pastel hued, the ceilings are high and the bay windows look out onto the Ulster Museum. Books are sorted into neat little piles, thoughtfully chosen. The contenders for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction jostle beside Penguin Classics. Children’s books sport handwritten reviews from local youngsters. Teachers from Methody trot over with small classes and set up reading groups in the space out the back. (Apparently one forward thinking gentleman brought over a few kids who were on detention and they had a delightful time.)

While I’m there a couple of regulars come in for a yarn. There’s a blackboard behind the cash desk with details of a monthly book group held at the venue. I’m getting the feel of a literary hub.

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I limit myself to buying one book and struggle enormously with the decision before settling on Judy Blume’s latest offering for adult readers: In the Unlikely Event. I adored this author as a teenager and then was reacquainted with her adult work when I picked up a copy of Summer Sisters in a book swap in a hotel in Bangkok. It made a ten hour bus journey down to Krabi in the south much more bearable. I bought this one to read on holiday but it was an odd choice for a nervous flyer. Neither its title, nor the fact that the cover shows a woman looking into the distance with an anxious expression suggested it’s subject matter: I didn’t quite join the dots. Needless to say, when we boarded our Jet 2 flight home from Girona and the cabin was like a sauna due to a ‘problem regulating one of its engines’ I was all for barrelling off the plane and staying in Spain.

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Anyone with a fetish for fine stationary will be titillated beyond their wildest imaginings. (I exaggerate. For that they need to take themselves off to Japan where one stationary store has seven floors, one of which is entirely devoted to pens.) Everything is carefully chosen; I buy a card with a fluffy ostrich nuzzling its chick for my friend who’s just had a baby girl. Normally I am VERY stingy about cards; a) because I used to painstakingly make my own and now I can’t be arsed so I resent paying for them, and b) unless they are either extremely beautiful, thus worthy of a frame, or else highly amusing, I reckon they’re a waste of time.  They bring out my OCD.  Although I do love one popping through the letter-box, especially if it contains a little note. Anyway, I pick the card up and the owners Paul and Linda tell me its origins. “Oh yes, that’s an English lady makes those. She’s taken a career break and thought she’d give creative pursuits a bash. So we took a few off her.” See? You’re not going to get that background detail in Clintons are you?

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So next time you are looking for a thoughtful gift, or find yet another child’s party invitation in the bottom of their school bag, get thee to an independent book store such as this. The recipient won’t be disappointed (and if they are, reevaluate the relationship).

 

SWB hits the dance floor

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Test-driving some of my dance moves in the garden in my new Catalan rig-out

“Card declined, sorry,” says the cashier at M&S. “No it can’t be! I’m just after registering my new one” I bleat. But no, the new one is nowhere to be seen, and I‘m standing gormlessly holding the old card, now invalid. I’ve just realized I’m overdrawn on my current account AND the only other card in my wallet is one I never use because I don’t recall the pin. It’s a perfect storm, like being a student again, or being back at work but paying for two children’s childcare so still being without a bean. “Let me ring my husband,” I tell the man, who looks nonplussed by now. “Will I just set it behind the counter?” he sighs, “Probably best.” I mutter.

LSB lands down, all suited and booted for the wedding we’re supposed to be at, like NOW, except I’m pissing about, making us late.  I’m ‘White Knighting’ he tells a different cashier, who seems quite taken with him. (LSB, saving the day again). I, on the other hand am feeling sad and deflated, and looking anything but smart. I’ve got the post-holiday blues and to be frank I’m wondering if I have it in me to get dolled up for a night of frivolity. The Barcelona attacks left me shaken and with all this  Trump v Kim Jung II (or whatever the fuck’s he called) business I’m all a-quiver. Every time North Korea is mentioned on the news I jump a foot in the air and LSB is stealthily hiding newspapers and leaping up to switch off the radios lest I go off the deep end again. If we ever renew our vows I’d make one of his be “I promise that on my watch, you’ll never hear a news report that makes you want to euthanise myself before the big guns do it for you”.

We leave M&S and meet Moya from the school run in the mall. “I’m off to a Big Gay Wedding tonight, but I’m not really feeling it,” I inform her. (Poor woman, she only said hello, probably wasn’t wanting an update on my psychological state.) “Her eyes widen. “A big gay wedding you say? Well you had better start feeling it! What you need is either a big glass of fizz or else something short and strong. What’s it to be?” “Oh I can’t be having the fizz,” say I, all earnest. “Did you not see that article about what it does to your teeth? “Daily Mail fear-mongering!” she retorts. “But no, it was Zoe Williams, in The Guardian,” I correct her. (The Guardian would never make you feel bad for having a few scoops would they?) “Oh Williams SchWilliams, go and enjoy your party!!” God, I love Moya. She always looks fantastic and radiates positivity. I should hate her, but I can’t, she’s just too fabulous.

Home we go, and I get a grip of myself and find my lovely new frock I bought in a  Catalan boutique and put it on. (Any wonder I’m over-drawn?) I try out some make-up tips from my Benefit tin of delights, and when I undo my plaits from earlier there’s a delightful kink in the hair. (It stops half way down, but you know, feck it.) And down to The Empire we zoom to be greeted by our two favourite newly weds, and we set about creating havoc on the dance floor. The wedding band, The Moonshines seemed heaven sent to cheer me up. They nearly did Prince better than Prince, no mean feat I’m sure you’ll agree. It was quite simply, outrageously good fun and my mood lifted considerably, due, I think, to the transcendental power of dance. It would be unfair not to mention the incredible food from Posh Nosh, and the warmth and conviviality of the wedding party too. The last wedding to which we were invited didn’t end quite so well for me, as I came home via the Ulster Hospital, having dislocated my toe after falling on it, hard, while Irish Dancing with vigour to ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. (Almost worth the pain though, since it was tremendous fun too). So all digits intact we made it home, and with only the slightest of hangovers the next morning because sure I didn’t have time to drink, so busy was I tearing up the floor.

The morale is: get dancing people! It shook me out of my funk no end. (it has also made me consider hiring this band for my fortieth, which gives me almost two years to save up. Might have to drag my sorry ass back to work at this rate)

 

 

New school blues

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“Go home mummy. Just go!” “Why am I not allowed to come?” “Because both of you here is just embarrassing.”. And so it begins, aged four, and the small child is already mortified by my very presence. LSB and I have united forces to walk the small child down the road together, as it’s her first day of school. Couldn’t come soon enough I can tell you. She slept poorly, with a tickly cough, so we were all up in the night tending to her, then from 7.15 onwards we’ve been listening to her complaints. “I’m getting dressed now!” “Oh please don’t,” I implore.     “You don’t go in until 10 O’clock.” “Don’t care! And I DON’T WANT BREAKFAST!” She refuses to let any liquid pass her lips as she is “BORED WITH DRINKING.” (so am I to be honest after that holiday but if this continues I’ll be back on the grog by tonight.) “I don’t like this school bag, it’s ho-ble (horrible) why did you choose it for me?” “My lunch box is too small. You always get me ho-ble things.” Exasperated sigh from the mother. “Will I just go back to the mummy shop. “NO.” “Why not? I’m clearly getting it all kinds of wrong here.” “Dad needs you.” “Really?” Well at least someone does.

The grumbling continues despite the pair of us pointing at cats and dogs and blackbirds, usual items of interest to her.  “Where did we get her from?” I ask LSB. “Must I answer that?” he replies. Fair enough. My P1 photograph shows a small child with a similar mutinous expression.

I feel sorely tempted to say fine then, clear away off, but I don’t. And as we approach the school gates, a wee hand slips in to mine. I look to see if she’s taken LSB’s too, for if that were the case she’d be instigating that we give her a swing, but she hasn’t. Lovely Mrs T is waiting at the door, and two of her friends are playing together at a table as she goes in. “I am so, so glad to see the back of that one,” I tell her teacher, who having had the older one last year, is well used to my ill-humour, “but I have it on good authority that she’ll be better for you.” “Course she will,” smiles Mrs T with a confidence I don’t entirely share. As we turn to go both wee friends wave enthusiastically, and when we take a final peek through the window, one even pushes her nose against the glass. Ours approaches too and we wait expectantly for a smile. Then she grits her teeth into a sort of snarl. shaking her head like a bulldog with a chew toy. “And we’ve to be back here at 11.45,” I sigh to LSB. “Let’s go and get ploughed into some caffeine.”

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PS. Small child came out of school pleased as punch, only raging because she’s not in again until Monday, since she enjoyed it so much. I too, am irked that she’s not in until Monday. Anyone want her tomorrow? 😉

SWB lets off some steam

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“God Almighty I’ve no bikini bottoms on!” I leap up from the sun lounger having just looked down and seen that I’d forgotten to change into the lovely new Spanish bikini pants and am sitting wearing a fetching floral top teamed with flesh coloured knickers. To add insult to injury I’ve been up and about, rearranging sun loungers and moving bags, applying sun cream and exchanging pleasantries, all blithely unaware of my gaff. But no matter, for it is the annual meet up in Spain with my friends and we’re all too excited and happy to be worried about wardrobe mishaps. “Errrm though, did nobody notice that I was wearing pants by the poolside?” I enquire, (it’s not yet 11-30 so it’s not even as though anyone is already on their merry way.) “Oh no,” they chorus. “I actually thought you’d worn them on purpose, a kind of stylish combo,” says Anna. “Me too” Jojo hastily adds. “I think it’s a good look, leave them on.”

 

Ahhh, they’re a great bunch of gals altogether which is why in January when my phone pings with gentle enquiries as to who’s in and who’s out of the August bank holiday trip I’m the first to say “Me! Absolutely and totally, me!”

 

You know the craic yourselves. All year you make decisions, tick off ‘to do’ lists, and suffer the vagaries of Irish weather, and you’re pure melted. “What’s this you say? (Those loyal readers who’ve seen my earlier post) Were you not just on holiday?” Well yes indeed I was, and I waved my family off in a taxi before stepping on a train and choo-chooing my way back down the coast to Calella on the Costa Barcelona. But that was a family holiday, and while I’d be the first to say that I’m somewhat keen on LSB and am reasonably fond of my children, there’s still quite a degree of being on, being at their service, being a general harried dogbody. A holiday with a four and a five year old can be quite an intense experience; hence I recommend an immediate trip afterwards to recover. Preferably with an all-inclusive deal so there’s no bickering or standing around being polite debating which tapas bar to frequent and thus precious time is saved to sip cava and sun yourself until all’s no more.

 

As a group our pleasures are uncomplicated. There is much sunbathing and swimming. We paint each other’s nails and share make up tips and practise the perfect fish-tail braids. (Note that I am only ever the recipient of such beauty advice because such things are not my forte. I love it: I practically bask, luxuriating in the pampering session). We take in the absolute wonder that is the evening attire of continentals, saying things like “Check out that fascinator on yer wan over there,” or “Canary yellow jeans, hmmm, it’s a courageous choice isn’t it, for yon fella, and him near seventy.” (As if I’m one to talk, me of the aforementioned pants.)

 

And it’s not all sloth and gluttony, oh no, I’m far too Protestant for that. Happily my friend Fie is there to take me in hand and I accompany her with whatever her training programme dictates. Fiona, you see, is an all-round-super-person and is only going to compete in Calella’s Iron Man competition next month. Yes, I was pacing her up and down the sea front, all thrilled with myself that I was fit to train with a proper triathlete. Plod plod plod we went, for kilometre after kilometre and then WHOOSH! straight in to the surf for an epic cool down before heading back for a hotel breakfast of champions.

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Training is infinitely more fun in Catalonia: so much to feast the eye upon. There are always muscular men striding past with the flimsiest of chihuahuas, or cycling by gamely with a Yorkie in their bicycle basket. (I always think the Southern European men are more comfortable with their feminine sides.) Or the sheer loveliness of seeing the elderly enjoying a gentle stroll hand in hand, or having a pedal at an outdoor gym. “I’ve a business idea,” I puff to Fie, as I try to match her stride. “Catalan trips for the very old. No tours or sight-seeing, none of that bollox, no. Tapas. Beautiful Rioja. Gentle trots by the beachfront and let them feast their eyes on the waves. Simple pleasures. You’re guaranteed that the sheer beauty of it will do for at least one of them, but you could get a deal with a local undertaker. I mean if I was going to die at 95, I’d be delighted if it was after a slice of manchego and a plate of Iberian ham.” Fiona just nods, and jogs on. She’s nice that way.

So other than a wee go down the slide by the pool it was quite calm until the Sunday, when the cava levels in the system were at a peak and suddenly we were throwing ourselves with gusto into pool side zumba; LOVING the bippity-bop of the Euro-pop; participating with glee in the impromptu foam party and some amongst us maybe even had a teeny little (partial) skinny dip after a strong mojito at the glorious beach bar on the final night. Yes, it would seem as though a little steam needed to be let off and happily we’ve all gone our separate ways somewhat decompressed.

Sour? Me? No, you’ve definitely mistaken me with someone else.;)

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If you can keep your MAC when all about you are losing theirs and blaming LSB

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“I should update my blog,” I say to LSB. “Facebook has been pestering me to post something, although I can’t really be arsed.” “Well just check in and say you’re on holiday, so you haven’t had anything to be sour about,” he suggests. “Ahem?” I raise an eyebrow. “Fair enough,” says he, “you were fucking furious for the first 4 days.” I couldn’t disagree. It started in Belfast, at the airport. Normally I try to pack light but this time we decided to check in a big bag, and so thrilled was I at the prospect of lots of different ensembles that I went berserk accordingly. All the shite of the day was chucked in: piles of clothes, emollients of every kind, books, kids’ stuff; no end to it.

So we arrived with 5 bags of differing sizes and at the last minute I threw in 2 cartons of Ribena for the girls, because the little one doesn’t drink enough and I have a terrible fear of children being dehydrated. Some people would encourage this on an Easyjet flight, but not me. But sure I forgot all about the juice and a commotion at security ensued: LSB apologising about liquids while putting his shoes and his belt back on and throwing his loose change all over the joint, while I grappled with the children and was X-rayed to rule out harbouring anything incendiary on my person.  We both acknowledged the grey laptop lying in the bottom of the self-same grey tray but each assumed the other had it and the upshot was we found ourselves at 36 000 feet and LSB turned and said do you have the Mac there and I said no, it’s in your bag, you know the LAPTOP bag and he says but sure you use it as much as I do so it could be in your bag, so no, it was left at Aldergrove. There was plenty sourness I can tell you. The only incendiary thing about me was my temper.

 

(Incidentally, when the long suffering father-in-law comes out a week later to join us, so we can inflict our children upon him, he collects the Mac, then forgets his own keys at departures and so we’re all now on first name terms with Derek, who’s in charge of lost property at the airport. And very civil he is too.)

 

I had these romantic notions of tapping away on the balcony while the children slept, sipping a Limón Damm and doing writerish things by the light of the moon. I also had a deadline to adhere to so there was a certain urgency too. But alas, the hotel room to which we are assigned lacked a balcony altogether, and played Godawful Euro-pop til 11 each night. It was small and cramped and we may aswell not have bothered bringing all the clothes because they ended up strewn about, since the children like at least 3 changes per day we found ourselves trapped in a sea of sandy, trampled garments.

In response to not having to do any work I got stuck into the wine with lunch then after an attempted siesta with the mad children launching themselves about, I endeavoured to shake off the inertia with the delightfully named carajillo which is an expresso with Baileys. Before you know it then it’s time for dinner with lovely Rioja. So between the shite disco music and the messy room and the hyperactive children, plus my fully indulged alcoholic tendencies, I started to get crabbed in the extreme. Then I would berate myself for being in such a sour mood when the sun is shining and that aside from the rubbish room the hotel and staff were actually lovely and the Catalans are being stoical and ‘business-as-usual-like’ when terrorists are ploughing into civilians only 70km down the road. In fairness maybe that’s what had me demented, with poor LSB leaping with alacrity in front of any TV screens and discreetly pointing to the concrete barriers which had been hastily installed as a deterrent to any would be terrorists in our neck of the woods.

So alas, I was none to sane for the first part of the trip but now LSB has flown home with the minis and I’ve found a most pleasant hostel for the night, before I traipse back down the coast again to meet my friends and sip cava by the poolside while putting this topsy-turvy world to rites. I am now in sole custody of the laptop so if I lose the fecker I’ll only have myself to blame, and I bet I probably won’t even open it after tomorrow.

SWB is sunny-side-up

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I’ve given up trying to eat breakfast with the family. I only end up with indigestion and that seems an inauspicious way to start the day. So I sip a coffee or a ginger tea while assembling lunches and being ordered about by my mini-dictators, and once they’re deposited at school or summer scheme I break my fast in peace, and usually in one of my favourite coffee shops.

I blame my mother. I usually do, if you’re familiar with my blog, but the woman has a lot to answer for. Sure who could settle for a bowl of cornflakes after the the decadent breakfasts she used to put down to us when we were little.  Not really a morning person, (how could she have been, neither my brother or I slept until 4am until we were about two,) she deliberately booked us into the later session of nursery so mornings could be a more relaxed affair. Being a child of the country, she was always keen on a good feed of a morning, and indeed she dished out a veritable smorgasbord. There was freshly squeezed orange juice, carefully checked for errant pips. Sometimes there was sliced pineapple or mango, but inevitably these were served up with deep sighs of disappointment, for back then the fruit didn’t seem to make the journey from the tropics unscathed and were inevitably deemed bereft of flavour “and at the price of them too.” Then she would fastidiously de-seed grapes, so we’d be spared the indignity of having to spit the seeds out ourselves. I remember being horrified when I saw a wee friend having to de-seed her own grapes because her mum didn’t get going with the paring knife. To me, that was tantamount to neglect.

After the fresh fruit course came soft-boiled eggs, with a knob of butter  on top, for added cholesterol. “Soldiers or sailors?” she’d inquire as to what our morning preference was for the width of our dippers (sailors were wider, apparently). Then we’d plough in, my brother and I, digging out every last bit of yolk and white (“mind the shell now!”) and requesting more buttered toast to complete the task at hand. We’d finish by up-ending them and presenting them to our granddad (who lived with us) who’d pretend to tuck in to one, only to find its innards already gouged out. Oh, how we chuckled….

There may have been more toast, cut this time in triangles and liberally spread with homemade preserves, usually from strawberries picked by ourselves from the ‘pick-your-own’ fields in Ballywalter. Particular tableware was employed, because children can be fussy creatures and woe betide the thoughtless parent who serves up such dainty fare as boiled eggs in a displeasing receptacle. I recall the vivid primary shades of a plastic tablecloth, and the way the sunlight spliced diagonally through the dining room, illuminating our repast.

While Mum would be preparing this feast I’d be generally clobbering her round the legs with a book, or battering her with a doll that needed its dress put on. In these instances she’d shout “Take that away in to your granddad!” who seemed never to grow tired of reading my favourite story, “The Little Lamb” or wrestling some doll into the chosen attire for the day ahead. (You can deduce from this that I was a right royal pain in the arse).

As we got older the breakfasts were adapted to fit the time constraints of the school run. Sausages (shortened to sages in our house) and bacon were cooked the night before and popped into a buttered roll to ensure we’d time to ingest them. On many a night Mum would leap up from Coronation Street yelling ‘The SAGES!” to go and yank their cremated remains from the oven. My grandmother, who also lived with us, used to make a large saucepan of porridge of an evening in the winter, and I would be handed a small bowlful before bed. She used to wear a blue housecoat or overall, and I remember its rustle as she stood stirring for what seemed liked an age at the stove. The bowls would be covered by a side plate and stacked, one atop the other, to be reheated in the microwave the next morning. Something about a cold breakfast seemed to send shudders down the spine of my family. It was inconceivable, that one should wake up, and eat cereal with milk straight from the fridge, especially on a morning when there was ice on the ground and it would have ‘foundered you’. There were dark mutterings about some auld doll who fore-went her cup of tea one morning and was found collapsed at a bus stop somewhere near Kilrea.

I’ve never been able to replicate eggs or porridge like that made by my mum or my grandmother, and aside from a period of buggering about with over-night oats and compote I’ve more or less given up. So in the light of this, is it any wonder that when I got my bank statement this morning there was nothing only contactless payments to Established on Hill Street and Kaffe O? As I said, I blame my mother entirely.

Anyway, we’re off to Spain on Monday, where I’ll swap my eggs for croissants and cafe con leche and tell my children to serve their wee selves from the all-you-can-eat buffet and leave me in peace. I’m almost levitating with excitement.

SWB needs her head showered

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Has anyone else’s off-spring been total melters this summer? Mine have been extremely bold the last couple of weeks; I think their aim in life has been to render me an incoherent and gibbering wreck. The house has been trashed. Many of the newly painted walls boast peeling patches, where they have ‘Pritt-sticked’ their artistic endeavours. They’ve turned into little fashionistas and go through several ensembles a day, so every conceivable space is strewn with clothes. The laundry’s a riot, I can tell you. They have erected a ‘slide of death’ in the garden, where the toddler sized slide has been placed at a jaunty angle above a short drop. This provides a thrill for them but alas proves an issue when actual toddlers visit, and mine refuse to re-situate the said slide and behave in a manner which complies with normal health and safety standards. In these instances it’s usually up to me to play ‘catch the infant’ while the poor guest drinks coffee with a bemused expression.

 

Last week’s misdemeanour of note however, was when the small one nabbed my engagement ring and chucked it in her dressing up box. Two days I spent looking for it, achieving very little else until it was located. At least in the fun charade of ‘hunt-the-ring’ I found a missing shoe, a make-up bag and a tenner. Then finally, I thought I’d take a look in their room (or pit) where I probably ought to have started, to be honest. “THERE IT IS!!” I shrieked, as I shook a witch’s costume (how apt) and clunk, out it fell. “Oh yes,” she says, mild as can be. “I dropped it in there.” She’d sworn she’d never seen the ring, let alone touch it. Amnesia when it suits her, clearly. She’ll go far if she fancies a career in politics.

 

Back to their other foibles. They have taken agin being washed, in either tub or shower. After an episode tonight in which all was well and truly soaked, the small one told me I was definitely going back to mummy shop, sharpish. “Can’t bloody wait,” I said. (My language has gone to the dogs these holidays. LSB keeps giving me wild dirty looks for shrieking “Will you pick this shit off the floor before I break my bloody neck?” It hasn’t been the most tranquil of abodes, to be sure.) “Will there be other mums there?” I enquired. “Yes,” she nodded. “What about tea? I asked. “Will there be plenty of tea, and maybe a biscuit?” “Yes” said she. “And, you can sit on a shelf with the other mummies.” Sounded fair enough, as long as there was no laundry involved. “Great. Can’t wait. When am I going?” “Now,” she went on, “But they’ll be no wine, or dancing. Just cup-of-tea-ing.” The other one nodded, solemnly. Wine or no wine, I was all for packing a bag.

 

Interestingly, there has never been any mention of a Daddy Shop. That’s probably because their dad takes them to the cinema then goes to Forestside to buy them each a pair of dungarees but comes home with a whole new wardrobe for the pair of them, plus pink hair extensions. Just what I need, more garments through which to wade.

 

I think upstairs in Brewbot could be the perfect Mummy Club. I’m happy to join any of the other ‘returned goods’ of an evening. Mums or dads, anyone’s welcome, and they’ll be sympathy aplenty for those deemed unworthy by their rude and entitled progeny. No wine, my arse.

SWB jumps on the Supper Club bandwagon

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One new thing a month: that’s the task I set myself when I took the career break. The year out turned into two and I’m thrilled to say that come mid-August this summer, instead of dragging myself back to the chalk face, I’m heading to Spain on hols instead. So as my third year out approaches I’ve stayed loyal to my resolution of doing new things. And this month it was an ambitious one, to host a supper club, from the SWB residence, no less.

 

Broaching this with LSB (My husband, Long Suffering Bastard for any new readers) required some tactical manoeuvring. I sneakily waited until he was at a wedding in Liverpool and rang him the day after, when he was feeling less than sprightly. His resistance was lowered, and I could sense him shaking his head and acquiescing into his hair-of-the-dog pint. The last time he went away he ended up taking me for a slap-up lunch in Balloo House, followed by a visit to a woman who re-homes cats in Killyleagh. He came home with a lighter wallet and small tortoiseshell cat. An evening in the company of randomers sounded perhaps less daunting, and certainly required less commitment.

 

“You’re doing what? A nutter, that’s what you are.” That was the reaction from most of my friends and acquaintances when I told them. “That’s a bit strange, isn’t it?” said another. “Like how many, ten strangers, sitting in your own house?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Wouldn’t catch me doing that.” “Look,” I wish I’d replied, “I’m not lying naked on a table and letting them eat sushi from my less than perfect form. I’m roping a couple of friends in and cooking a meal for some people to come and hopefully enjoy.” So we planned it, did it, and you know what, we’d do it again. It was brilliant craic and no one got poisoned or got hammered and wrecked the joint or was insulted or offended (I think). People came on their own but left in twos and threes to walk down the road together or share lifts. Everyone laughed. A lot. Not enough laugher these days.

 

Mind you I wasn’t laughing mid-week when, distracted listening to my hyper off-spring I burnt my rice and fucked up the main course entirely. My friends, (valiant guinea pigs that they were) tried to be supportive about the bland chicken they were fed. “What made you choose a Lebanese theme?” they enquired, tactfully. “You know,when you’ll admit yourself that it’s not your forte?” Well I blame the Guardian weekend magazine. There are only so many Ottelenghi recipes you can read before you start getting z’atar and pomegranate molasses on the brain. I had a fine cauliflower salad in Kaffe O one day and I thought to myself, I have to get into this Middle Eastern Cookery lark. So a plan started to form and between a few of us we made it happen.

My mum raided her cupboards for extra tablecloths and napkins and provided matching glasses. (You see Marie Kondo? This is why you dn’t go fecking everything in the bin). Claire (the other half of Supper Club) took her children to Botanic Rose Garden and collected a selection of rose petals to dress the table. There were trial runs and and more trial runs.

 

On the night itself LSB was roped in to keep the children off side and the French au pair did something special with potatoes. Once we’d removed the rice (and the children) from the equation it was grand. But the real star of the show is my friend Claire, one half of Harper’s Yard. I post about Claire and Martina often on my Facebook page because I have the greatest respect for them. Being a self-deprecating Irish woman I think “Ooooh, that would be a good idea,” then I think of everything that could go wrong with the plan and talk myself out of it sharpish. But these two are different. Claire’s English and Martina’s from the Czech Republic. They have a quiet confidence about them and are happy to give something their best shot.  Must importantly, their gift for doing things well is infectious.  On the night itself, my chicken was neither bland nor stringy.

 

So, we had eleven people round our table on Saturday evening, and what a diverse and international group we got. A Greek, an American, an English girl, a Chilean, and one brave man who came with his wife and had the best of craic. Two of my friends came which was lovely because it gave me a bit of encouragement to see two familiar faces, but to be honest, even had they not it still would have been fine.

 

One guest, the lovely Lyn who runs Hola Muchachos Spanish club, arrived with a basket of veg from her partner’s allotment. (orange beetroot if you please and it was cracker). Others who weren’t even drinking still brought a bottle, and everyone was hugely complementary.

 

Something we often forget, is that people are generally kind. I think if you’re a curmudgeonly old  bastard you probably wouldn’t put yourself through a night with strangers in someone else’s living room. A few weeks ago I went along to Haypark Supper Club for an evening of Thai cuisine. The food was restaurant standard and the hosts were incredible, welcoming us with a G&T Far Eastern style (Thai basil I think) and feeding us until we were almost ready to expire. I’d go again tomorrow except they’re nearly always booked out. Everyone there was lovely too, and do you know, even if the food was a bit shit, I wouldn’t have minded. If there’s openness, laughter and hospitality, that’s already a lot on the table.

 

So to those who came, thank you, and maybe we’ll do another in the autumn. In the meantime, I have to get thinking what my new thing this August is going to be….. any suggestions welcome (but I am NOT doing the naked sushi thing).

  • Thanks to The Vineyard and Kaffe O on the Ormeau Road for putting up posters
  • Check out Haypark Supper Club (posters can be found in Bread and Banjo on the Ormeau.)