SWB at the coalface

Wise

All has been quiet on the SWB blog, because at certain times during the year I do actually, shock horror, undertake some work. Oh yes. During these stressful periods, LSB develops a tick in his jaw and runs for cover as my legendary sourness goes off the chart. The exact details of my work I won’t disclose, but it involves trawling through mounds of paperwork, deciphering information, separating the wheat from the chaff. It necessitates great concentration, so I can’t listen to Lauren Laverne in the background, or Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour. I actually think I’d be great on Woman’s hour. ‘The Trials of the Modern Mum; women who try to have it all, then realize their life is shite, so turn to blogging in an effort to redefine themselves.’ Might make for an interesting feature. Back to THE JOB. It is also monumentally boring, ninety percent of the time. Can you imagine any other work, which gives you a longing, an actual longing, to iron? Or contemplate the heady thrills of scrubbing the bathroom floor? There’s a corner of the floor by the shower door and I’m itching to get at with an old toothbrush. This behaviour, it goes without say, is quite alien to me. I’m not a bit pleased with the turn of events.

The Wise Old Elf has withdrawn all sympathy for my sorry state. I landed down this afternoon  so I could offload the kids and get some of this infernal work done in peace. I was about to launch into a tirade when he fixed me with the look. It clearly said: “I tell you every year not to do it, you do anyway, so don’t come running to me with the face guerned off you.” I withdrew wordlessly to the other room with a cup of perfectly brewed tea (if there’s one thing that AAI does well, is make tea. And God forbid you hand her a substandard cup. Really, she needs to get out more.) My Dad has a point, and indeed it’s one I’ve made many times myself over the years. We all know someone who drones on and on about an issue, but doesn’t take heed of any advice. If you don’t like it, don’t do it, and if you still insist on doing it, then shut the fuck up about it. I’m sure there’s many a person has put that more succinctly, but my brain feels like partially cooked mashed potato, so you’ll have to make do with drivel. And I guess, if you don’t like it, feel free to unfollow me. I wouldn’t want to read this rubbish of an evening either.

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Thankfully, gin is at hand, and a rather spectacular bottle my sister-in-law bought me for Christmas is now on the go. Nick Mulvey is on the playlist and I’ve put both my work and the hoover down. Equilibrium is returning with each sip of the Sipsmith. Cheers everyone, let the weekend begin. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LSB gets a roasting

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Most people would take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to write something heart-warming about their partner, and maybe chronicle the reasons why they chose to shack up with them. I think we’ve established by now that I’m not of that ilk, so I’m going to get the knife in instead. LSB’s birthday was at the weekend and I bought him tickets for the rugby AND organised a night away, so the party’s over, let’s go!

 

(Now I say a knife, more of a palette knife, round at the edges, but a knife all the same. )

 

LSB is a likeable sort of a fellow. Well I thought so anyway, hence I married him, and I’m not one for suffering fools. They used to get kicked to the kerb sharpish. But he can, at times, be exceptionally annoying. Let’s explore how for a moment, so we can analyse if I’m over-reacting.

 

I’m presently ‘not at work’ (save the odd seasonal bit I do from home,) thus I have my mornings free until I pick up the wee one, then it gets very busy, quickly. It is thus up to me to do the lion’s share of the housework, and with my pair and himself, this is no picnic.

 

So how does he piss me off, let me list the ways. First up, he literally ‘stamps’ off his jeans or ‘lounge wear’ and I have to go a-hunting for socks and boxers which remain entwined within. If he does deign to pop them in the linen basket, they remain all rolled up and I have to unscrunch a load of dirty socks; a most unsavoury task.

 

He’s a hairy sort of chap, but after shaving would he ever give the sink a wee wipe? And I say hairy, but he’s not a yeti, which one would think given the amount of shower gel and shampoo he goes through in a week. ‘Like shit through a goose’ as folk up the country would say. I get on my environmental high-horse, with all that polluting of the oceans.

Then there’s the running obsession. Well I’ve only myself to blame, it was me got him into it. But he does take it to extremes. Last week he insisted in venturing out in sub-zero temperatures when he wasn’t a bit well. “Don’t go,” I pleaded. “You’ll be sick as a dog.” He went on of course, regardless. Cheeks aglow, he returned, full of chat and slight bravado about his speediness. Next morning, he’s coughing up a lung and shuffling around, his visage slate-grey and forlorn, while I get the kids up and out and delivered to their respective schools, resisting the urge to punch him in the face as I bundled them out the door.

 

With OTHER people however, he’s a dreamboat. Take our safari trip, back in 2010. I’ll come clean, I didn’t know how he’d fare. I’d camped in the wilds before: I’d bumped along the dirt tracks, I’d had the shits behind a tree, I thought I was ready for the challenge. Himself, he’d been to a few music festivals. Turns out, that makes you a pro. He could handle any amount of discomfort. He put up our tent, then put up everyone else’s. This meant that he was often last in the queue for the bathrooms, so for 15 nights he never had a hot shower. He didn’t get one at all in the Serengeti, because the local elephants had a play fight with the remains of the water. Bastards didn’t even drink it, just sprayed it round the place. And, he was always up for the craic, chatting animatedly as we trundled through Tanzania, while I snored beside him in the van. When we managed to get stranded in Zanzibar, I nearly had a stroke, so terrified was I that we’d be robbed and left for dead at the airport which was about the size of a Texaco service station and had as much security. “I’ll sort it,” he said (well he is from from the Falls), and he negotiated a flight the next day and our safe passage back to Stonetown for the night.

 

Closer to home, (note, not AT home) he’s obliging too. At the weekend, we were invited to a terrific bash for some friends, celebrating 20 years together. There he goes again, stacking chairs, lifting tables, and putting to use skills honed from playing Tetris to pack them back into a van. “Isn’t he wonderful”, gushed some guests. “Hmmm,” I replied. He drove too, so I could get a bit merry. “Why the hell can’t you as helpful in our house,” I grumbled later. He ruminated over the question before suggesting: “Maybe you should make it more of a game.” I mean, FFS! So not only do I have to direct him towards the chores that need doing, but I have to make them fun too! I already have to play ‘hunt the fucking sock’ when I put a wash on, and I’m not laughing. Apply your fecking Tetris skills to the dishwasher once in a while, perhaps that will amuse.

 

I wish not to pick too grim a picture however. He has something of the caveman instinct about him and having warmth in the home is a priority. Without his vigilant eye, we’d be forever foundered, for it is he who keeps an eye on the gas meter and ensures it’s always in credit. One cold Saturday night in November, we ran out of oil when our first baby was 3 weeks old. With no oil coming til Monday, he stayed awake practically all night to ensure she hadn’t frozen, and lugged heavy emergency oil drums first thing on Sunday morning.

 

He has also just come back from a run with some quality wines from which we can take our pick and imbibe of a Tuesday evening since, hurray, it’s half term, and there’s something of a holiday feeling in the air. And of course, it’s still Valentine’s Day. Maybe I will go and light a wee candle after all. I’ve kind of come round to him again after writing this.

 

 

SWB goes mad for Bear and Mouse

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I have just discovered the Bear and Mouse series by the wonderful Bonnie Becker, and the question is, where have they been all my life? Ms Becker has a shrewd understanding of the human condition, and depicts these foibles beautifully through her eponymous characters. Bear is a gruff sort of creature, solitary and abrasive. He gets a bit Shakespearean when irked, bellowing “Begone!” and “I AM UNDONE” when Mouse doggedly seeks out his company. Finally though, through determination and perseverance, Mouse wins him over, and finds that beneath this crabbed exterior, Bear is as soft as a lightly whipped mousse. We all need a Mouse in our lives.

 

(The stories actually reminded me of LSB and I when we were dating. I was a tough nut to craic, but he hung in there, and God love him, he’s still here. I actually read him The Sniffles For Bear the other night and he enquired “Did you actually write this?” I wish. He thought my likeness to Bear was uncanny.)

 

It was a lovely friend who introduced me to this glorious duo. She had brought her two boys round for dinner and my youngest, to whom we refer as Father Jack because of her less than sunny disposition, was in a right old strop. Susan tried some light cajoling to dispel the gloom, but it didn’t go down at all well. Hmmm, she sighed, “To quote Bear, I clearly do not appreciate the gravity of the situation.” I knew right away that these books would be right up my street, and Susan kindly lent me her collection.

 

So yesterday I sought them out in Waterstones, and shock horror, they are soon to be out of print! Why is it always the good ones? So I urge you, get on to e-bay or Amazon and bag yourselves a copy before it is too late. In fact, buy several copies and there’s the rest of the year sorted for kids’ birthday presents if you’re doing the circuit at the moment, as am I. Stem the tidal wave of tat and buy a Bonnie Becker. Less plastic shit and more quality stuff. And this, dear friends, is pure quality.

SWB gets good news

bowels

So as a treat for getting my work finally done and dispatched, I spent yesterday morning at the Royal, having a series of ultra-sounds to determine why my bowel is so badly behaved. The night before, all imbibing of liquids and foodstuffs had to end at 10pm to begin my fast, which was only broken at 11am with 2 vile cupfuls of barium meal. To those of you who are mercifully unfamiliar with this substance, it’s white, chalky and liquorice-ish. You have to gulp it down with great vitesse so it stays in one gloopy homogeneous mass and its passage through your gut can be monitored with ease. It adheres itself to lips and skin like Poly Filler and is a terrible disappointment when all you long for is a sip of water.

 

It’s an odd thing, fasting, and has made me think once again how I would fail miserably as a devout religious type. I would not be a pleasant person to know during Ramadam. My great pal, Rosa, was in Tunisia during the festival of Ramadam.  (Imagine, not so much of a drop to drink in the heat. I tell you, I’d be ever so dead.) So her husband, (who’s a Bon Vivant if ever there was), had his Michelin guide at the ready and off they went to the best restaurant in Tunis. The waiter, already visibly wilting in the midday sun, did not cope well with Rupert’s chirpy request for a wine-list. “On ne boit JAMAIS d’alcool ici,” he fumed. “Et en plus, c’est le RAMADAM.” The tagine which followed was a dreary affair: the only lasting memory of the meal was the sad lack of a chilled white wine.

 

I’d gone to my appointment armed with my Kindle and laptop but the whole procedure took no time at all. Turns out there is no evidence of Crohn’s disease or anything more sinister, I just have a bowel greatly prone to irritation, a bit like its owner I suppose. It is healthy and just incredibly speedy, hence they got the results so quickly. I put down its expediency to a dose of dysentery I suffered in Madagascar back in 2000, the details of which I will spare you. Still, it was a welcome relief from the chronic constipation I endured as a child and a teen. To think of all those wasted hours, perched upon the throne, with very little to show for it. Seriously, I could write a book on the subject of my innards. Perhaps I will; I’m sure it’ll knock E. L. James clean off the bestseller list.

 

I celebrated my result with a coffee and a pain au chocolat in the café at the Royal, and it was like manna from above. LSB bought me a pair of wireless headphones and I listened to Desert Island Discs, with the very lovely Nigel Owens. Now there’s a gent if ever there was, and I don’t even like rugby much. Anyway, here’s to a happy bowel, and a lovely beverage. Heaven indeed on a Thursday morning.

 

SWB gets a good telling off

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AAI is properly raging. She read the last post and the profanities were just too much to bear. “I was angry.” I reasoned. “It was a totally justifiable rant when I”m on a one-woman-mission to encourage recycling, only to be thwarted at every turn.” “I still feel it’s excessive”, she sniffed. “Language of the gutter. You never know who’s reading this blog, and if they recognise us we’ll be disgraced.” She warmed to her theme. “Your Auntie Ethel came across a man one day, who was rude to her in the Post Office. And she said, I recall it to this day, “I don’t know who he was, but I thought he was very ill-bred”. Imagine if people said that about you! Letting us all down a bucketful.”

 

The Wise Old Elf looks up from his Bernard Cornwell. He doesn’t normally comment on the blog because he’s embarrassed by me, but he caught sight of the post while checking his e-mails. “Yes, I would temper that language. No need for it: does you a disservice in fact.” He shakes his head, looking genuinely saddened at my descent into vulgarity. “Devalues your argument in fact,” he concludes, determined to hit me where it hurts. “But,” I protest. “I try to be a helpful person. Plenty of those pious ones might look at me askance for swearing, but I don’t see them bin-hoking for Coke cans.” (In a recent display of greenness I set about fishing cardboard boxes, food cans and plastic bottles out of neighbouring black bins and transferring them to the blue one. No wonder my house rarely gets cleaned). “They’re content enough to burn wood pellets in an empty barn to be sure, but you wouldn’t catch them dropping the F-Bomb.”

 

“Hmmmm,” says herself, not in the least appeased and resolutely unswayed by my argument. So no daughter of the year award for me then, alas.

 

*Wise Old Elf, so called because of his likeness to the character in a well-known children’s programme.

 

 

SWB channels her vitriol constructively (for once)

bins

So how did I find myself up-ending a brown wheelie bin last week? Not the most pleasant experience, olfactory or otherwise. Since the shift to the temporary abode I’ve been concerned (or rather, obsessed) about the recycling, or lack of it. We have neither any glass collection or composting bin. So after 3 months of complaining, I duly rang the council. Well, they sent a man in a van the next day. And as serendipity would have it, I happened to be cycling back from a run just as he pulled in. A lively chat ensued and a brown bin materialised within the week. Ask and you shall receive. Not just as progressive on the glass front, alas. Apparently in flats all the recycling tends to get mixed up with broken glass which poses a health hazard, so it just isn’t done. So I was all excited with the brown bin and saw some others were using it too: result! But then, some fuckwit fired a load of glass bottles in on top of the food waste, plus other rubbish. I nearly went berserk. There was me, fastidiously scraping every last coffee ground into my green bag and carting them down 3 flights of stairs and it was now all contaminated so destined for dumping. I was very irked.

 

Not to be deterred, I set about hoking out the bottles, but one, inevitably, had smashed. Bugger it, I thought and took off on a run to channel my energies elsewhere. But en route, I spied two council workers emptying litter bins, and stopped to regale them of my plight. “Can’t be up to them,” sighed one, “thos’uns. They see a bin, and they just fuck anything in til’it. They don’t give a rat’s arse”.  We shook our heads; the futility of our quest for a greener Belfast having worn us down. “No”, I said. “I won’t have it, me schlepping potato peelings up and down and all for nothing.” Seeing my distress, the chap sprang into action. “In that case, you’ll need gloves” said he. “And a black bag”.  So off I skipped with my council bag and gloves, and hid them behind a fence while I did my run, before returning to the flat. My renewed vigour waned quickly as the stench was rancid and my stomach was turned. Plus at 5 feet nothing, I was practically inside the bin, and there were spiky shards of glass everywhere. (Should I maybe, just go back to work, I wondered?) But, perseverance pays off. Another fellow came to my rescue, this time from the serviced apartment. He upturned the bin and we sifted through the bags together, chatting as we did so. Life felt better.

 

And this, dear readers, is what I love about Belfast. It is quite clear, that I am daft as a brush, but people are kind. They could have eyed me with suspicion and sent me on my way and I could have given up on the whole mission. But I didn’t, and I felt a wee bit more positive about myself and the world as a result.

 

But please, all those in Anna Hill, for fuck’s sake save me the effort and sort your rubbish out next time. We’ve a planet to preserve you know.

 

Dog-Tired

I am properly sour after doing the school run over the last few days. The pavements are disgusting, and it’s an even bigger disgrace given the number of schools and nurseries in the area.  Shower of lazy feckers. It prompted some vitriolic verse:                                                          theres_no_such_thing_as_the_dog_poo_fairy_classic_round_sticker-r04a582b9651e454ea0d14f3cdb353274_v9waf_8byvr_630

Good people of Rosetta,

Could you possibly see fit,

To avail yourselves of plastic bags

And pick up your pooch’s shit?

 

Each morning as we trot to school,

Round fetid mounds we step,

Since you reckon it’s beneath you,

To clean up after your pet.

 

Each day it seems there’s more and more

On Wynchurch Avenue,

But the kids race on regardless

As mums chorus WATCH THE POO!

 

Fido’s left a pile like horse manure,

Of which he’s proud as proud can be,

But us pedestrians are less impressed

That it’s been left for us to see.

 

Instead we lift our feet and scan the street

As we skirt around the dirt,

And lament your lazy feckless ways,

As your dog duties you shirk.

 

So once more I implore you,

If it’s not too much to ask,

That you grow up and do the needful,

Or else cork your canine’s ass.

Balm for the soul

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I’ve just read Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine and I’m still reeling to be honest. It was one of those novels in which the characters grab your heart, limpet-like, and it takes a while to shake them off. She writes about children so well: their heavy warmth, from the new-born nuzzling your neck to the toddler on your hip, wee leg wrapped lemur-style round your waist. Sometimes I miss my babies, but then I give thanks that I’m still not knee deep in nappies as that period dragged on a while.

 

So vividly did she paint 1960’s Soho that I could have been in the Coach and Horses too, eavesdropping on Jeffry Bernard and his motley band of mates. But what I really admired though was her ability to do justice to the mundane and banal. The achingly long hours minding a baby, when one exists as though in a vacuum, while the rest of humanity, buzzes around purposefully but your world has shrunk, to one room and one tiny infant you have to keep alive until your partner comes home at 6. I recall it vividly.

 

I read the writer Shirley Hazzard’s obituary in The Guardian and she summed up what it is to write about the everyday: “the expression of something in a supreme way.” That’s O’Farrell for you.

 

This Must Be The Place is her most recent novel and I’ve just started it, but I’m almost rationing myself to a few pages at a time, eking it out so as to savour the story and the characters. She always hooks you in with a bit of mystery, making you want to devour it in one big greedy go, but I’m on to her wiles now and I’m going to try and take my time.

 

I find it difficult to get my arse to a seat long enough to churn out a blog post but she produces these works of beauty (I know I sound sycophantic but I’m mad about this woman) while running after three youngsters, who often seem beset by bugs and ailments.

 

For all our sakes Maggie, would you just feed them some Imodium or cork their backsides so you can get back to your computer and keep doing what you do so brilliantly? You help me transcend the misery of Brexit, of Trump, of all the shit out there. But you sharpen the experience of what it is to be human, to hurt, to long for and just to be. And there is always, always in her work, a sense of redemption, and reconciliation. We all need that. Are you listening Arlene?

My many incarnations

10x9

So they say everyday you should do something that scares you. Well every day’s a bit much, I mean I’d be dead, my heart couldn’t take it. But I thought I’d start the year on a scary note and tell a story at 10×9. You can have a read below. It was a nerve wracking experience but I am ever so lucky to have a crowd of loyal supporters, who said encouraging things and bought me gin. They’re a lovely bunch. As my brother once said, I’m a Lucky wee Bastard.

6 weeks. It took my parents 6 weeks to settle on a name for me. Dad was keen on Eleanor, Mum preferred Stella. I think for a while I was actually called Anne-Marie before they settled on Helen, which apparently neither of them actually liked that much, but at least it was one on which they could agree.  Aside from the idea that Anne-Marie coupled with my surname was a bit long, there was also the notion that it was ‘a bit too Catholic’. They wanted my brother Richard and me to have neutral names, neither obviously one or the other, so no one could immediately guess our religion. This was 1979 so it was a valid consideration, but you know, this is Northern Ireland, where to paraphrase Avenue Q, everyone’s a little bit sectarian. In West Belfast, four years on, another set of parents were choosing a name for their son, and applying the same logistics to their decision. They eschewed Conor and Liam and Fergal before settling on Stephen, because they didn’t want him labelled either.   The fact that he grew up on the Falls Road was perhaps indication enough what foot he kicked with, but enough about Stephen for now, he’ll crop up later.

 

It was ironic that mum and dad agonised over a name for so long, given how little Helen was ever used. My aunt had a little boy the same age as my brother, and she had another boy a month before I was born. So convinced was Richard that he would have a baby brother too that my mother didn’t want to disabuse him of the notion, so for the first few years of my life, I was known by everyone, as the Baby Boy. It really was a miracle that serious gender issues didn’t manifest themselves.  I don’t think Richard ever really forgave me, a) for being born at all, and therefore for my intrusion, b) for not being male, ergo rubbish at football, or in fact any other sports at all.

 

Growing up in our house was like being trapped inside a Lewis Carroll poem: there was always fresh nonsense afoot. In addition to ‘The Baby Boy’ I was also, Helencianna, wee Lencabel and if was bold I was the Bad Baby Boy, which morphed into BBB, which became BBB from the BBC. I didn’t work for the BBC. I was in no way affiliated with the organisation. I was 3 years old. I could perhaps have been the subject of a Panoroma investigation into stupid names given to infants. Close friends invited to the fold were quickly nicknamed, you could see the disappointment register in my mum’s face if there was no immediate effective rhyme available. If a name didn’t appear soon they weren’t generally keepers.

 

Mum owes these idiosyncracies to a great Uncle of hers, William Martin, whose portrait hangs in the landing of the house in Bangor. A kindly soul, he too spoke in riddles, gave everyone odd names and on Christmas Day gave all of his animals an extra handful of hay. I’ve inherited this trait, and no doubt my own kids will call me out on it.

 

If one was sensitive to nicknames, perhaps teaching wasn’t the ideal career move; children can be mean. But I’d been teaching my dolls and bears since I was six years old, grimly annotating their work: Brandy, this is not good. Cuddles, more space please. Prince Crawford, this writing is a DISGRACE. So it was no great surprise when I decided to become an English teacher.

 

The initial weeks of the PGCE at Queens were like the phoney war. Lectures, theory, quite a lot of lunches on Botanic Avenue and pints in Dukes Hotel. It was peachy. Then teaching practice began, taking two buses out to East Belfast, this was before Ballyhackamore became trendy. As we trundled through the Beersbridge Road in the 8am gloom I couldn’t help but think of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. The lesson planning, and the trying to ingratiate yourself to the harried staff and supervisors all got very wearing indeed. The kids weren’t much into poetry. The truth is, in an all girls grammar, there didn’t seem to be much craic. I actually longed for a bit of life, a bit of animation, light impishness perhaps. There was a lesson in this for me: be very careful what you wish for.

 

Cue my next school, an inner city secondary. Oh, was there animation! On a daily basis I dodged missiles such as M&Ms, pencils, and on one memorable occasion, a chair. I quite literally took to the hills and a crowd of us used to hot-foot it down the Mournes of an evening and I would regale them with my tales of woe, until we got to about Dundrum, when someone else may have squeezed a word in. Then we walked up and down Binian and Bearnagh, Meelmore and Meelbeg, and it soothed my soul, at least until morning.

 

I created a Unit of Work based on a character called Spindletrim. It was an extract from a book given to us by our course tutor, some of you may even be familiar with the piece. So taken was I with Spindletrim and his plight at the hands of the evil bullies, that I designed several activities through which pupils could explore the intricacies of the English Language. Very little of this stuck. What did stick was Spindletrim, their nickname for me. In fairness, it was better than some others to which I’d been subjected, namely ‘camel toe’ after an ill thought out pair of trousers, and ‘arsehole’, yelled at me from a bus stop. That one caught on too, for a while.

 

There was one particular child called Daniel. One might say that he was a ‘spirited’ youngster, bustling with energy. I’ve never been one for political correctness, so I’m just going to call him a little shit. Daniel ought to have been with a teaching assistant at all times, but he was quite the escapee, and would often be found roaming the corridors, often at tremendous speed. One such day, I was heading to class when I felt the vibrations of heavy footsteps behind me, getting closer by the second. In hindsight, I should have stepped aside, as one does a charging bull, but instead I wheeled round, elbows bent and raised to protect myself. And so Daniel, who was also quite a portly chap, literally ran straight into my fists and sort of ‘bounced’ off. A mighty shout went up from a few onlookers: “SPINDLETRIM’S HIT DANIEL!” as indeed I suppose I had, although it wasn’t my intention. Oh fuck me, I thought, there’s my teaching career over, before it has even begun. Thankfully though, a nearby teacher witnessed the scene “Terrible love, I saw what happened, you’re grand, yon eejit needs locked up”. Thus it was clarified that I had not indeed hit Daniel, and if anything, this event lent Spindletrim a wee bit of street cred. I subbed in the same school for a month after my teaching practice had ended. At one stage my dad offered to pay me the daily rate, which was £70 to stay at home, because he couldn’t listen to the guerning. He’s nice like that, my dad. All my family are. Mad as a box of frogs, but nice.

 

 

 

And so to my final incarnation. To fund my course I worked on Botantic Avenue in the Mexican restaurant, Acapulco.  Saturday nights were hectic. I got super fit, taking those stairs two at a time to deliver margaritas as though they were pints of blood in the ICU. We ran out of milk one night, and it fell to me to run down to the Spar by the train station. My feet were on fire, and as I waited, shivering in the queue, a chap tried to engage me in conversation. “Are you having a good night there love?” “Err no, like I’m working, hence the apron?” Detecting the hostility in my tone, he made a vaguely sarky comment, to which I replied rudely. Not expecting such invective he replied: “Well you’re a Sour Wee Bastard aren’t You?” and stomped off. I was taken back. In fact I rang my mum the next day, looking sympathy. Instead she went into peals of laughter, and called over my brother, who joined in heartily. They seemed to agree that never had a person so aptly summed up a complete stranger’s character, in so few words. And thus I am now known by the pair of them, as SWB. I’d actually quite like to thank the randomer from the Spar that night for giving me my nom de plume.

 

And so to the chap from the Falls Road. Well listeners, I married him. And no one can quell my sourness quicker. I didn’t become Helen …………, because I’ve been called enough things over the years. So I remain Helen ……………………, AKA Sour Wee Bastard. The irony being that at the moment, thank God, my life has never been sweeter.

 

 

SWB sees Red

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WARNING: May put you off your dinner. Especially if bolognese.

Periods. Since popping out my off-spring, my periods have become sorer, heavier and more sheet defying. Perhaps you’re familiar with those wooden devices that you thrust into half a lemon and twist firmly to extract the juice? That’s how my lower abdomen feels on the second day. And sometimes, as a treat, it goes up my back passage too.

It’s the surprise element that gets me. Usually it’s on a 23 day cycle, except when it isn’t. One month it could be light and relatively pain free, another and it will saturate a tampon and a pad in an hour. That’s one way to endear yourself to Easyjet flight attendants, when your reserves are locked in the hold and you have to deplete their own personal tampon supply.

Holiday times are when my periods are at their most objectionable. On a trip to Malaga last year it was late. Very late. After two negative pregnancy tests I still couldn’t relax and enjoy my Rioja, lest I damage the budding embryo within. It finally arrived on the last day of the holiday. “Isn’t Mother Nature a malevolent old witch?” I opined.

It made a very visible appearance when we stayed with new friends in Barcelona. After being deceptively light it came a-gushing one morning; LSB had to coral the kids out while I assessed the damage. Like the f**king Texas Chain Saw Massacre, that’s what. Upon seeing an armful of bed linen, our gracious hostess assumed it was a ‘niña’ who had wet the bed. “No pasa nada!” she smiled, while I shook my head, trying to convey the necessity for Ariel Non Bio in my rubbish Spanish, and set to scrubbing the scarlet stain. I bet she can’t wait for me to come back next year.

So what brings on this particular rant today, one may wonder. Well, the first period of the year is always hideous. It’s not called the curse for nothing. We honeymooned in January and I learnt to my mortification that Hungarian toilets have the most half-hearted of flushes. LSB returned from a trip to the loo after me, his face positively ashen. Another year I almost crashed the car, as a searing white rage descended, to accompany my throbbing gut. And so to today and the reason for my ire: as I drove to Bangor with the girls I was beset by a fit of coughing, the force of which seemed to further dislodge my womb lining so that it soaked through to my nice frock. “Nice to see you Mum! Sorry I look like I’ve haemorrhaged, any chance you could nip up to Boots for me?”

AAI* is always good in a crisis and produces the needful, which I’d (of course) forgotten to bring. “How dreadful dear, but sure won’t be long until you’re rid of the damned things. I wasn’t much older than you when mine buggered off for good.” So I’ve hot flushes to look forward to next. It just keeps getting better.

Bring back the Red Tent I say! No need for Always Ultra, just a shared space with friends; the peace to sit, off the hook from chores and responsibilities, sipping wine together until the fecker had passed. Maybe our sisters back in Biblical times didn’t have it so bad after all.

I’m off to find the Feminax, night all.

*AAI is an acronym for my mother who is Almost Always Irked by something, or somebody. (Frequently me).