Why everyone needs their mammy


I bumped into my friend in 5a coffee shop the other day as I recovered from a run along the towpath. “I’m away in here to sit down,” she said. “I’m exhausted.” She did actually look plain done-in. Her husband often works away and she has two small children. It turns out she’s also been promoted to a post which will mean increased hours and more travel. She’s excited, but also daunted at the prospect. I explained the joy of the au pair, which is how I came to be sitting, latte in hand in 5a of a Wednesday morning. “I don’t want someone all the time though” she reasoned. “If they could just lift the shite off the floor and clean up after dinner while I bathe the kids and get them to bed.” That’s one of the grimmest bits I recall when I used to work. The kids would throw themselves at me with glee when I picked them up at 5, but by the time I got into the house and tried to get them their dinner they were past themselves with fatigue. I wasn’t one of those organised mums who defrosted a lovingly made Annabel Karmel sweet potato stew, (primarily because my children wouldn’t have eaten it). So I would have been grimly draining spaghetti with them both hanging off my leg, trying to avoid a trip to the Royal with a small scalded child. Then there were the dishes, the laundry, the baths and the bedtime (always a moveable feast in our house anyway, we wouldn’t have been getting prizes from Gina Ford with our routine). These delights were followed by marking and lesson prep for the next day. Purgatory.

Anyway, back to the pal again. “What about a student?” I suggested. “Someone just to do a couple of hours each evening just to cut you some slack?” She looked unconvinced and frankly I don’t blame her. Students are famous for lacking in gumption, and often there’s an inverse correlation between intellect and common sense (dopey bastards). The last thing you need when you’re stressed is someone standing looking gormless in your kitchen. “I know exactly what I need,” she sighed. “I need a mammy.” Don’t we all?

Grandparents can be indispensable. My folks just come in, roll up their sleeves and get to it. They’re usually not through the door five minutes until they’re unloading Asda bags in to the fridge and making a pot of tea which they promptly forget to drink because they’re too busy hoovering and playing hide and seek with the kids. There will, inevitably, be some criticism of my housekeeping skills, but I can live with that when they’re ironing LSB’s shirts.  I usually just point to the wall, where some art work by the girls has been blu-tacked, and really, wasn’t that a better way to spend the afternoon, as opposed to cleaning? The parents acquiesce that indeed it’s brilliant and isn’t it all just great and we finally sit down to that nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

And the great thing is, even if they do make a horrible caustic remark you can a) make one back, b) seethe inwardly then write about it in your blog, or c) let it wash over you and open the wine. I’ve been known to do all three. And the thing is, generally with parents and siblings, you can get away with this. I know fine rightly I don’t realise how lucky I am. That’s what Lemn Sissay said when I saw him back in January in the Black Box. For him, the most magical thing about family is that you can be at your most dreadful you don’t even have to say sorry.


Sure, it’s nice, indeed proper if you do, but I know my parents have seen me at my vilest and they’ll still come and put a wash on for me. A bit of appreciation goes a long way but isn’t it reassuring to know in this ever transient word that someone’s about when you need them? So yes, we all need a mammy. And a papa and the in-laws. And the gin. Then we all rub along just fine.

SWB on all the important stuff



So, as if I need to tell you, it’s pissing down. Of course it is, what with it being July, and who doesn’t remember those sodden summers from childhood? A particular miserable memory of mine was ‘picnic time’ in Ballywalter. Grim wouldn’t be in it. A few dismal ham sandwiches would be assembled, maybe a Jacob’s cream cracker sandwiched with butter. A Penguin biscuit if we were lucky, though usually these were reserved only for break time at school. And we were piled, complaining, into the petrol blue Derby (which was, incidentally an abomination, and will be the subject of a post all of its own) and off we vroomed, to the dizzy heights of Ballywalter, so my mother and nana could take a tour of the ‘factory shop’, which for a child, was where hope went to die.


Inevitably it was raining, so we would be driven to some vantage point from where we watched the clouds gather into something of a rage, and have to remain seated IN THE CAR BECAUSE WHAT IF YOU GET WET? and eat our dreary luncheon fare. My parents had a terrible fear of children being damp, which apparently caused not just the common cold, but likely pleurisy, followed by TB, and then, quite probably death. They weren’t happy unless you thought you were at death’s door.


Then we’d go home, where further boredom would ensue. It was some craic I can tell you, being a child of the eighties in Bangor. That’s not all strictly true, as my mother will doubtless remind me, there was usually a pit-stop in Donaghadee where our lovely aunties would take pity on us and we’d be escorted to the The Cabin for their homemade ambrosia: custard ice cream. Even their large cones were pitifully small but it still saved the day. And what with it being summer, we were permitted to indulge our love of ice cream without fear of it killing us. I’ll elaborate….


To break the journey home from our cousin’s farm near Coleraine, we would stop at Mullin’s ice cream shop in Kilrea. On one notable visit, the helpful server told my brother and me that even the small tubs could hold up to three scoops. Oh, the unbridled joy as we could choose strawberry, chocolate chip and honeycomb. What a thrill, until we got in to the motor with our spoils. “Heaven help us” exclaimed my nana. “Have you ever seen the like?” Now there was no mention of tooth decay, or a tummy ache. No, she jumped straight to heart failure. Nana told us the sorry tale, which I shall try to recount here and replicate the doleful diction. “There was once a man, from the post office. And he went out of an evening, and he had a sweet tooth, and he bought himself a powerful size of an ice cream. And that very evening, he went home and took a pain in his chest. And that was the end of him.” Well. I mean for fuck’s sake, who does that to a child? There was tutting and shaking of heads from my auntie and my mum and the sound of my brother guzzling away because no amount of doom and gloom was going to come between him and his tub of delights. Was it possible to enjoy a frozen treat less? I think I ate a few spoonfuls before like Seamus Heaney, after his encounter with the angry toads ‘I sickened, turned and ran’. Of course I was in the back of the God forsaken Derby so I didn’t actually run anywhere but I retreated inwards to contemplate the perils of ice cream eating of a cold night and whether my death would be lingering, or quick.


This is all a long-winded way of suggesting that you all treat yourselves at Al’s Gelato, which has opened on the Ormeau. I think I’m already his best customer, having sampled almost every flavour already, from his mango sorbet, Bounty bar or Malteaser. Alistair makes the ice-cream himself and has strived to create a coffee bar/crêperie for when it shits it down and everyone’s too foundered for anything cold. It deserves a visit, especially if like me, you’re a person with a distinct lack of imagination when it comes to entertaining youngsters, then this is the hang out for you.


(I started writing this yesterday, as I sipped my usual one shot latte in Kaffe O, watching the raindrops bounce off the pavements. The sun is now beating down and it’s beautiful, while I wait in The Ulster to see if the small one needs a staple to the head after falling off a bench. She looks rightly, and is eating a Haribo and playing as I type. Here’s hoping no staples are required and we can get back in to the garden, although I may contemplate gluing her arse to a seat for the rest of the afternoon.)






SWB needs a hug



I find myself in unchartered territory. Last year, the eldest child was leaving nursery and off to P1. I took that in my stride. (I didn’t take the summer in my stride, trying to entertain two small people who, after years of crèche then nursery were firmly institutionalised, thereby expecting wall-to-wall amusement.)


Call me unsentimental, but I’m not one to bemoan every last vestige of baby hood. To put it crudely, the sooner mine could clean their own arses the better. So they’ve finally lost their dummy? Excellent. Out of nappies and pull-ups? Yeeoooooo. No more reeking stench of ammonia to greet you of a morning. Ability to feed themselves? Result. All these are massive pluses in book, and means they are ready (or more than ready) to move on to the next stage.


Child number 2, to whom I lovingly refer as Father Jack because of her often un-sunny disposition, left pre-school on Friday. And I’m not quite sure I’m fit for the transition. She’ll be grand; I harbour suspicions that she’ll run for presidency someday. But for me, this means severing 5 years of almost daily contact with Hilcrest nursery on Anadale Embankment. I first dropped my eldest there when she was 9 months old, and I went and cried into a plate of mushroom soup in Graffiti on the Ormeau, on her ‘settling-in’ day. I wasn’t relishing the prospect of returning to work and leaving her in full-time day-care. ‘I’m such a bad mother’ I wailed to Louise, who soothed me more than child and assured me it would be fine. I neglected to check my teeth after the soup and when I collected her I must have looked like some medieval wench. (although after listening to the Reith Lectures by Hilary Mantel I now know that most people kept their teeth just fine unless they were punched out in a fight.) Louise again, didn’t pass comment at the blithering idiot I must have appeared to be and my baby was fine, and continued to be so until she left nursery last year and trotted on to P1.


And Louise was there through all the stages of crèche and nursery and in fact was the nursery leader for both the girls. And I’m a little devastated to be losing her. She’s heard it all: having endured all the trials of my working mum years, my building that fucking extension stage, my misguided decision to foster a puppy stage. She lets me come in and read the kids a story or teach them some French when a tiny ember of me wants to feel like a teacher again, (for a fleeting 15 minutes then that’ll do, thank you very much.) When my children have me driven pure demented she sympathises accordingly and assures me they never let me down a bucketful in nursery, thus saving all their tantrums for me.


Nothing makes my day more, than when I trot up the stairs and hear my child chatting and laughing before I clap eyes on them. Or if I creep in quietly and see then utterly engrossed in play. Or see them getting a cuddle or just having the craic with their teachers. When they can be such little tyrants at home it’s uplifting to see them behaving themselves in public.


So yes, I’m a bit gutted. Louise and the rest of the girls have been, without exception, an integral and wonderful part of this first chapter with my children. Tears were shed, less for them, the confident little buddies that they are, and definitely for me, as I sever these ties. So a massive thank you to all the people who make the early years such a special time for both kids and parents. You deserve all the credit. Ahh shit, there I go again, reaching for the Kleenex. If you see me on the Ormeau Road in dark shades you’ll know why. (Let’s face it, it’s hardly likely to be the sunshine).

SWB gets behind the mic again


Last night I made my second appearance at the wonderful 10×9 event in the Black Box. What a cracker night all round. Some stories were heart-rending, some Hitchcockian in their duplicity, (thank you Eliza for almost giving me a heart attack) but all thought-provoking. After hearing about one girl’s account of being caught up in the latest terror attack in Brussels,  I thought, Oh Lordy, mine is a disgrace. Here’s someone baring her soul and I’m just talking about getting wasted on my year abroad. But I knocked back a G&T and on I went anyway. As the wonderful Anne Lamott says, ‘laughter is carbonated holiness’ And I got a few laughs. Here’s the story if you’d like a read.


Hélène! Quelle bêtise! In French, an act of great stupidity is known as a ‘bêtise’. And this phrase which roughly translates as “Helen, what daft thing have you done now?” was a refrain I came to hear often on my gap year on the French island of Reunion. Reunion lies in the Indian Ocean, tucked in snugly beside Mauritius to the east of Madagascar. As a French student at Queens it was part of the course requirement to spend a year in a Francophone country. Some of my classmates ended up in industrial Lille or stuck out in the sticks in the Massif Central. But I bagged my first choice: Reunion island! Frankly, I lucked out.

Reunion is a tiny little island, with beaches to the west, a mountainous interior and spectacular coastline on the east. It has a diverse weather system, caused by the mountains at its centre, over which the clouds break after midday. The capital St Denis, in the north was subjected to torrential downpours every afternoon. The east coast also got a daily dousing, and with no reef, it was foolish to swim in the sea for fear of being swept away by rough tides, or being eaten by a shark. But I was posted to St Pierre in the south. The sun shone 93% of the year. I’ll repeat that statistic, as that’s hard for a Northern Irish audience to digest. 93%. A strong breeze often blew in off the ocean but this was quite welcome to make the 30 degree heat more tolerable. We lived a stone’s throw from the beach, so there many a happy afternoon was spent.

Our flat became known as the ‘maison de fête’ because we truly did live on the best spot on the island. Errr, sorry, I hear you say, but weren’t you supposed to be working? Chi-ching, luck struck again. As a language assistant in a school one is contracted to work 12 hours a week, usually spread out over four days. I never worked on Mondays. I never worked 12 hours, as the assistant’s timetable appeared to be quite fluid. In France you can rock up for your lessons and leave when they’re finished, there’s no hanging about all day. No wonder I found teaching in Belfast hard to stomach. A mile from our school was a jolly little café which served up the traditional meal of curry, locally known as carré for lunch. We had a 2 hour lunch break, which meant there was ample time for a starter, carré, a beer or wine; followed by fresh, chilled mango and pineapple. We then knocked back expresso to shake us from our inertia and see us fit to teach that afternoon.

Happy, happy times.

Now you’d think that with all this free time we’d have produced some fairly stellar lessons. Alas no. Language assistants in my day weren’t big into lesson plans, and most of my students had such limited English that conversation classes were fairly one-sided. This is where my portable cd player became my closest ally. The nearest thing the Reunionais people have to a national religion, is their deification of Bob Marley. This was a lifesaver. I would print out the lyrics to ‘No woman no cry’ and “3 little birds” and leave a few gaps so the kids could fill in the blanks. You’d have thought that I may have tired listened to Bob, but I was just way, way too grateful for how easy he’d made my teaching prep.

Another benefit of the heat and Bob playing in the background meant that a laid back ambiance prevailed in my classes. Discipline was rarely an issue. Reunionais people in general tended to be quite chilled, and this could have been partially down to a local product, which grew willy nilly. It was everywhere, and it was called zamal. “We love zamal,” my students told me. “It’s very relaxing, you can brew it in your tea, or put it in a gateau au chocolat..” Being a naive 20 year old, I was rather green about these matters, but I still expressed a concern that it did sound just a little bit like cannabis. “Oh no” they assured me. “Not the same at all, sure we’ll bring some round and you can try it.” And this is how it came to pass that three teenagers arrived at my house with an sizable bag of weed, which no, wasn’t cannabis because it’s the dried resin, this was marijuana in it’s true unrefined glory. “Helene!” said the flatmates. Quelle bêtise! You can’t go buying drugs off your students! Don’t go giving it back though til we sample it.” In fairness no money exchanged hands, but here I was, former Pentecostal Christian and now supplier of Grade A grass, as apparently it wasn’t bad stuff.

So there’s drugs covered. On to theft. School began at 7-45, and to my misfortune, twice a week I taught a class first thing. Even with the bright sunshine, this was an ordeal, for I was seldom at my prime at this hour. I arrived panting at the bus terminal one morning to buy a new carnet of tickets before the bus took off. Bus drivers were seldom at their prime either in Reunion, and no ticket, no journey, and they won’t sell you a ticket on the bus itself. But the booth was empty. I waited and waited before losing patience and making a grab through the window for the pile of carnets on the counter. But ‘quel catastrophe’! The carnets were firmly fastened by a band and I couldn’t get a single carnet out. Then the woman came back. I panicked and unseen by her, threw the whole load into my bag. “Dix billets s’il vous plait’ I stammered. “Mais ce n’est pas vrai,” said the lady. “Où sont ils?” She looked around in vain while I stood in stunned silence at my act of theft. I was new to the island and unsure of their legal system. What would the penalty be for the pilferage of at least two hundred bus tickets, even by accident? I didn’t know and didn’t wait to find out. I bought a single carnet and scurried off. Quelle bêtise indeed. For the rest of the year, all the language students travelled for free on the buses. Some school kids did too. I was like the Robin Hood of public transport. I tried to seek advice from some locals about my predicament but they seemed to find it quite amusing. “Ne t’inquiètes pas oté’ they shrugged, which to paraphrase Bob means, don’t worry, about a thing….

But I never grew accustomed to how early Creole people got up of the morning. They often rose at dawn, as did their livestock. Our landlord lived in the apartment next to us, and below was a little garden with a veritable menagerie of chickens and goats. They were noisy little bastards and we grew to hate them. The problem with working (or not really working) a 12 hour week is that there’s plenty of time to enjoy other pursuits. The best live music bar on the island, Tam Tam Café, sold light citrusy bière blanche and it was just up the street. Their Rum Punch was another favourite and was of such high quality it seemed rude not to partake. So we all partook, with gusto. 5am, when the goats began their bleating and the cocks began their crowing, came round very quickly after a night out.

One morning in March, after months of being awoken by sprightly foul and beasts, a different pitch of bleat was heard. “Oh Lord, make it stop,” I groaned, and miraculously, it did. A knock at the door came later and our landlady invited us for lunch. It was a Hindu festival and we invited to join them for a feast of…… goat curry. And veggie and vegan friends I am so, so sorry but I ate the goat, at a makeshift table, with my bare hands, off a large banana leaf. They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold, but it was actually quite spicy, and it sat uneasy on a gut still queasy from a night on the rum. What followed was horrific. Ultimately, I think the goat had the last laugh.

To some up, I didn’t learn all that much French on Reunion Island. But I did become an authority on how to travel on a budget, a little about the sourcing and disseminating of local produce, and how many cups of rum punch one could consume before being violently ill. But most of all, I tried to absorb some of the island mentality: ‘Ne t’inquiètes pas oté’: every little thing was going be ok. For an uptight Ulster Protestant such as myself, this was some sage advice.

SWB on religious nut jobs

dont-be-a-dick-550x550-2It’s that time of year again, long balmy evenings, exams are over, papers (almost) marked, and we can slowly begin to exhale. It’s perfect weather to do a bit of light gardening, or open a bottle of Viognier and start on that pile of Guardian reviews lying piled, dust heavy in the cover. Or, you could don a suit, meet your cronies, and head out and start bellowing fire and brimstone Bible verses from a loud speaker. Are you familiar with this lot? If you live in Northern Ireland then I’m guessing so. Feckers are everywhere, scaring the shit clean out of you when you’re just relaxing after your dinner.


I used to live off the Cregagh Road and I loved it there, and had tremendous affection for my wee house. One night, I was getting ready to go and meet my friends when there was a powerful crack of static and then a roar: “Have you repented? I will ask again, have you repented for the hour of the Lord is near!!!!!” Oh it was awful. They were at the corner of my street, so not even on the main road, at the cross roads on an avenue. On and on the thunderous ranting went. I was practically a-quiver, not with rage, but with fear. You see, I’d had a very bad accident and was feeling very fragile and jittery. I didn’t like living on my own much and was new to the area. So to see these men dressed in funereal garb and yelling was not soothing to my soul at all. Not one bit.


Now, that I’m feeling a bit stronger in myself and less easily cowed I’d have made my feelings clear, with the aid of a power hose. But back then, not so much.


My friend has just bought a house in Lisburn, and she and her husband aren’t from that part of town. You can imagine how thrilled they were the other evening when a similar mission to save souls was staged practically outside their kitchen window. It was after seven and they were putting the infants to bed, or trying to, when this racket began. To exacerbate the situation the temperature had been in the twenties all day so the windows were open. “Who are those men and why are they shouting at us?” asked their frightened four year old. So fair play to my friend, out she went and had a quiet word and they shuffled off, with their portable sound system.


I’m telling you, if I had been one of their wives I’d have had something to say. Here’d be me: “Neville! Where do you think you’re headed with that loud speaker? Skiving off again? There’s laundry to put out and a child to bath so you may put that speaker down and get back in here. NOW.”


Or here’s an idea. How about, instead of scaring the bejesus clean out of children, these fellas make a few brownies and take them to their local mums and tots for the poor knackered parents who’ve been up all night with sweltered youngsters? Or they could visit a local nursing home and read some uplifting passages of Scripture to elderly folk who can’t make it out to church. They could bring a sponge cake with cream and jam, organise a flask of coffee and put in a grand afternoon there. This might make a lasting impression on the overworked care-home staff. You see, so many good ideas, which don’t involve being a public nuisance.


They’ll probably argue that they have to go to their work. Well if you’re so holy take a day’s unpaid leave and help the needy, instead of harassing the general public at an hour that suits you.


Now listen, you may not believe this, given my love of the wine and tendency to swear like a sailor, but I’m actually a believer. Yes, my faith could do with a bit more nurturing and I’m definitely a work in progress, but I have my beliefs, and they’re between me and the big man (or woman) upstairs. No group of men cawing like malevolent crows would make me wish to darken the door of any church. But I’ve met a few people who do, and they don’t need a loud speaker to show me how loving and compassionate they are.

Happy Father’s Day, LSB


There he is, taking the Dyson to a car seat. On Father’s Day.

“The period has arrived,” I tell LSB, in a sorrowful tone. I was feeling weak and pathetic, a pale and wan shadow of my usual cheerful, ebullient self (as if). “I knew it was en-route,” he sighed in a similar, sorrowful tone. “I saw the washing had started in earnest.” Started? STARTED? Oh, that got me riled. Ask any parent of small children or wife of a sports enthusiast, and you will be aware that the washing never stops. But according to LSB as the old period draws near so too does my fervour for cleaning things. I’ve even been known to hoover, and that’s no regular occurrence in our house. But if I didn’t load the washer, we would live in a terrible, stained state of chaos.


One summer I went on a school trip. LSB kindly picked me up. “Don’t worry,” said he, “I’ve done the washing.” I went on to have a wee complain about the heat of the bus, the rubbish food, the child who was sick on the bus, the child who lost 100 euro on a beach even though they were told to bring 20 quid AT MOST. On and on I went. “But,” he interrupted, “at least you don’t have to do the washing. I did that.” He pointed to himself to illustrate the point. I came home. There were still pants lying on the bedroom floor. Strewn round the living room was a various assortment of pyjamas, shorts and t-shirts. But indeed there was one large basket of washing which was clean and dry. And all boasted a delicate pinkish hue. He’d just f**ked the whole lot in together and sent it chuntering away merrily at 40 degrees. I just put it away. I didn’t even comment. Sometimes what’s the point?


But back to this weekend. Yes, I was in an ecstasy of washing but wasn’t it tremendous drying weather? And with my love for bunging stuff on the line and saving electricity I was in my element. So Sunday night (Father’s Day) we roasted a chicken and after telling the kids to “Get into bed AND FLIPPING stay there” we got a few chores done. LSB built an Ikea bench for shoes and assembled a trolley. (All the rage now, trollies). I folded some laundry that had blown dry in the balmy air. We washed and cleaned a car seat we’re passing on to a friend. We listened to Arcade Fire and opened a bottle of Bordeaux. The small child came down of course and demanded some food and attention but we bundled her back to bed after a piece of chicken. “Wasn’t that a lovely evening,” I said. “Better than a night out!” LSB just gave me a funny look. Some people get a fancy dinner, maybe even a wee cake. LSB gets his tool kit out. And God love him, that’s not even a euphemism.


Here’s the trolley, a trifle askew to the right, but that’s to provide wall support to my droopy aloe vera plant. (That’s not  a euphemism either.)







Would you ever think that this bench from Ikea was destined to be a television stand? For the princely sum of £10, it doubles here as handy shoe rack, the top of which will be the ‘forever home’ of our keys, in a little bowl. I’ll not be shouting “Where are my f**king keys?” anytime soon. No sirree.


SWB gets analytical

Careful what you believe in, and to to paraphrase U2, “She moves in mysterious ways“. This morning this might have seemed like the ideal scenario for the DUP, the parochial party from Northern Ireland now thrust into the big time as the Queen maker. But as the dust is settling, the rest of the UK media sees who Theresa May has allied herself with, a party that (in no particular order) opposes same sex marriage; refuses women the right to have their say over their own bodies; believes that creationism should be taught in schools (despite having press calls at the Giant’s Causeway); thinks that Muslims should only go to the shops for them, and literally have an economic policy where ash means cash. ( so much for the ‘stewardship of the earth’, we’re supposed to demonstrate; they happily skip over that Biblical passage as they line their cronies’ pockets.)

The rest of the UK, will look at this sudden power broker and literally will think “what the flying f**k?” this isn’t anything we voted for. These are not values we believe in, nor the government we wanted.

Northern Ireland has its own set of problems, the United Kingdom as a whole has an entirely new set of problems that didn’t exist yesterday, this is an attempt by an extremely weak Prime Minister, clinging on to that last hope of power for herself, not for the good of the country.

Yesterday the people voted for hope, this pact/deal flies in the face of that.

However, all is not lost. Already the backlash to this has begun, with a Prime Minister who has made the u-turn an art form, this decision is unlikely to last (as is she). To echo back to U2 – Don’t let the bastards grind you down. The whole situation is so absurd that it has to be short-lived, and I for one hope that we have the right leader to pick up the pieces when things fall apart.

Insomnia strikes SWB


I couldn’t get to sleep last night. Maybe it was my persistent cough; (damn those fags*) or the ill-advised two cups of coffee that day, or maybe it was just the horror sinking in of the most recent terrorist attacks. I have two close friends who live within spitting distance of London Bridge. Before we all had kids I was never off their doorsteps, flying over for half-term and Easter for my London fix. We’d spend our mornings in Spitalfields where I’d snap up a whole rake of cheery tunic dresses for work, then hit Brick Lane for a curry. We’d feast on sushi in South Kensington’s Kulu Kulu before basking in the gardens of the V&A. And we’d spend a lot of time just lounging in my friend’s house on Butler’s Wharf, watching the swell of the Thames and the hustle and bustle below as we drank Rioja on her rooftop.

I mourn those days. I used to book a flight without a thought; dip my toe into that sunny cosmopolitan world, before nipping back home to teach on the Falls. I miss that carefree time without kids, but I always longed to take the girls there when they were big enough to enjoy it with me. I hate that I now feel scared of some madman with a knife on the rampage, or behind the wheel of a van destined to kill.

These ruminations weren’t conducive to sleep, so I tossed and turned beside a snoring LSB before taking myself to the spare room where I could be as fitful as I liked. So amid all these bleak thoughts, I came over all Theresa May and said: “Enough is enough”. (That’s as close as May and I will ever come to agreeing on anything). I did took some deep yogic breaths: in for eight out for eight, in for eight out for eight, and I felt my heart rate start to slow. Then I thought of some nice things. What buns would I make for my friends’ next pop up café, Harper’s Yard? Rocky Roads, I concluded. Could I lay hands on some of the sustainable cups I’d bought ages ago and tidied away somewhere? While down this road I thought about some savoury canapés that are served on edible pastry spoons. (These are very big in France and are served as ‘Amuse bouches’ for hors d’oeuvres. Feck, something needs to be amused these days, and it may as well be your mouth.)

Now, I can see some of you rolling your eyes and thinking: “God Almighty, the threat of another terror attack is imminent and she’s actually on about canapés and baked goods?” But let me justify my musings. The edible spoons mean you need neither napkin nor plate, so your bellies feel full but the landfill doesn’t. And who doesn’t like a Rocky Road of a Saturday morning?

As these frothy and frivolous thoughts began to swirl, the anxiety began to leech away. It didn’t go, but it retreated for a while. And finally, I slept.

*I don’t actually smoke, haven’t in years. But if I thought the world was ending tomorrow I’d be back on those bad boys in a jiffy. I loved a menthol with an expresso. Or with a G&T. Or just sitting on my own, in the park with a book. Loved them full stop. Addictive little feckers.






No use crying over pinched milk


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

*Names have been changed to protect identities

SWB on feeling blue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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