SWB on when altruism goes tits up

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LSB has a very big heart, but a very short memory. He has started to bleat about wanting a dog. Last year, I made a terrible mistake. Ostensibly, I took a career break to ease stress and spend some quality time with my progeny, who are still really quite wee. Since himself and I worked full-time hours, I thought that my period off work would be an excellent opportunity to trial having a pet. And what better way to do this than fostering a puppy for Assistance Dogs NI. Perfect, I told myself.  We get a beautiful puppy, get plenty of lovely walks and pass it on to someone who really needs it. Wouldn’t that be a fabulously altruistic thing to do? In theory, yes. In reality, a total nightmare.

 

An adorable russet coloured Labrador Retriever arrived at Halloween last year. Eight weeks old and exquisite- the cute-ometer went off the radar. You could have eaten her. In turn, Lily wanted to eat EVERYTHING. Labradors are known for their exceptional greediness-this one would have eaten yourself. We tried putting her in her crate during mealtimes, she howled and howled, wolfing her own dinner in seconds and demanding more. Every mealtime was like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

 

Something I never considered before, but autumn is the worst time ever to get a dog. Trudging the streets on dark mornings and even darker nights in the freezing drizzle, hopping from foot to foot as you wait for them to defecate. Worse than defecation was non-defecation, when she held it in until she was home again and did it on the floor. I could have taken shares out on Dettol.

 

A few issues arose. One, the dog took no notice of me, ever. No matter how I tried to adopt a strong, authoritive tone, I might as well have said: keep barking loudly, piss on the floor and leap on the table and chew my new bracelet to shreds. Fill your boots! And LSB was even more useless, being a softly spoken type. Thing is, he’s quite a sensitive soul, and while we weren’t meant to lavish the pup with constant attention, I’d come home to the pair of them flaked out on the sofa, Lily’s head on his shoulder, the picture of contentment. “She’s meant to be in her crate, on her blanket, she’s a working dog!” I’d remonstrate. “She’s a baby and she needs a cuddle, so bugger off” he’d retort.

 

Father Jack was also only 2, and a petite sort of a creature, so the puppy just knocked her flying. Wise Old Elf was beyond terrified that in a fit of ebullience she’d lose an eye by a wayward claw, so he was thrown into a state of panic that no amount of Rioja could quell.

 

Then every week, the puppy had to be taken for training and meet all its siblings which sounds like a jolly enough affair. However, I appeared to be exceedingly inept at this. It was like being the dopey child at school; if I remembered her training bib, I forgot her treat bag, (actually she’d chewed that to shreds). On a couple of dreadful occasions I had to bring the small child, who was completely overwhelmed and cried plaintively throughout. I was on a knife-edge. Having this bouncy, noisy, non-toilet trained creature 24/7 took its toll on my nerves. With FJ still in nappies, I had to clean up an inconceivable amount of poo. I felt like Lady Macbeth, hands red and raw.

 

The last straw came at the so-called Christmas Party. I misread the missal, and thought we all went in fancy dress. So training bib was left at home, and pup dressed in a scarlet furred ensemble, like an assistance dog for an autistic elf. The year before we had ordered matching elf costumes for the park run, which, in the midst of the turmoil I couldn’t find. With five minutes to spare, I threw on a red jumper and, a black leather skirt and red tights. Etched on my mind indelibly, is the image of me trying to get the pup to walk to heel, then wiping up pee, while being publically chastised for not bringing her correct bib, all in the f**king leather skirt. The shame. Then LSB arrives, all smiles, ready to don his reindeer costume (seriously, is this penchant for fancy dress bordering on a fetish?) and join in the fun. I’m in tears with the dog running rings round me, and the ambiance distinctly lacking in festive cheer.

 

The whole experience taught me a few things. 1) I care more for soft furnishing than I thought. 2) I need some time off the clock. If it wasn’t a child needing me, it was the dog, leaving me no room for anyone else. When my friend’s new baby wasn’t doing so well there was no way I could be there for her, with this pup in tow. Thankfully, a new foster carer was found for Lily, and I hear she’s doing very well. The best bit though, was that child number one had an acute fear of dogs before, she would have run into oncoming traffic to avoid one. Now, she pesters me every day for a canine pal, but until she’s of an age to walk it herself, that’s a non-starter. My nerves have only just recovered from the other debacle. So LSB, you may bleat on.

Lovely art with a side order of gibberish

The lovely and decidedly unsour Stephanie Prince provided the graphics for this blog, and I thought captured the off-spring and me rather well. LSB is next in line for a portrait but he’s so emaciated with all this running lark that I’m making him wait until he looks less of a starvo. Further examples of Stephanie’s work can be found here. I’m particularly fond of her style a) because it’s quirky and b) the lack of face detail happily conceals my battered visage. I spent a year living in the tropics as a student and I rarely wore suncream and partied like it was 1999. Well it was 1999 and I was dreadfully worried about the world ending and me being stuck on a remote island in the Indian Ocean when the Rapture took place. I drank rather a lot of local rum to calm my nerves and the whole experience put years on me. As a result of this foolishness and the lack of sleep now afforded me by the girls, I’m a bit of a train wreck up close. As AAI* has remarked on more than one occasion: “You’re the sort of wee girl who needs to put her make up on”. A few years ago I bought a cheap foundation (I think it was No 7 but I’ve been told since they’ve much improved).  Anyway, she picked up the bottle, tutted, and muttered darkly, “This just isn’t going to cut it anymore”. No wonder I have issues.

So if like me, you frighten yourself in the mirror from time to time, this sort of illustration could be just the ticket, to make you feel a bit less crap. I feel that what Stephanie really grasps is the essence of her subject, and if that detracts from one’s prematurely wrinkled appearance, then hat’s off to her.

*AAI is my mother, also known as Almost Almost Irked because she too, shares the tendency to be peeved.

 

SWB on Radio 4 and the ugly side of marathons

So this week, thank God above for Radio 4 and the solace it brings to the downtrodden housewife. On Monday I chopped carrots and blitzed beetroot (I know, FFS, I’ll elaborate later) to an exploration on identity by the fabulous Lemn Sissay. The inclusion of Australian comic Deborah Frances-White’s adoption story was both heartbreaking and hilarious. Don’t procrastinate, just go get it on the iPlayer out and judge for yourself. So there was one carrot and lentil soup and a Bolognese whipped up with much needed intellectual nourishment to boot.

 

LSB is on the countdown to Dublin Marathon and although he’s trained like a demon he’s been stricken by back-to-school bugs and has been sick as a dog, all grey and wraith-like. He’s shuffling around croaking inaudibly and looking feeble- not unlike a Zombie, which I suppose does obviate the need for a Halloween costume so that’s a saving at least. As I observed his deathly pallor and sympathised as he made sad, snuffly noises, I suggested that perhaps training and running 5 minute miles of an evening wasn’t a sensible suggestion but oh no, no way, there was running to be done! With his friends!  Silly me, I’d have thought being well would have been a prerequisite to completing a marathon, as opposed to being dead on your feet and fecking exhausted before you began.

 

However, the real reason for my ire, (as well as a barely concealed terror that he’ll be one of those poor bastards who croaks it as mile 24) is the augmentation of my household chores since he’s been too incapacitated  to be his usual helpful self. The marathon training appears to exert a terrible strain in the lower forearm, rendering runners utterly beyond lifting a cup, dish or plate from dining table to sink, after any meal. Hip flexors have been similarly adversely affected, with the injured party incapable of removing socks or boxers from the floor and placing them in the laundry basket. A previously unknown symptom of excessive training appears to be paralysis of opposing thumbs, with the sufferer unable to remove his empty contact lenses containers and move them from wash basin to bin. Or used dental floss. Said victim is however, more than able to partake in a 10k run with mates, coach two Jog Belfast sessions a week and sup a few pints in the Erigle with full range of movement miraculously returned to forearms to enable him to swig craft ales with gusto.

Meanwhile, like a twit, I’m reading up best foodstuffs to ingest prior to extended running periods, hence the inclusion of roasted beetroot in mashed potato. Honestly, if I wasn’t clearing off on holiday with my friends the day after the marathon leaving him to mind HIS OWN CHILDREN, I’d deserve wife of the year award.

So back to Radio 4, and its therapeutic effects. On Wednesday my solitary toil continued, and I brushed and hoovered my floor to the Book of the Week, a collection of essays on the subject of identity in the UK today. This essay by Varaidzo, called A Guide to being Black, tackled issues faced by a mixed race girl growing up in Middle England, and movingly depicted how a child doesn’t know what they are, until some helpful adult points it out to them. Her essay mentioned a recurring issue about the politics of how to wear one’s hair if one is a person of colour. This is something which as a white woman, had never occurred to me, but had cropped up repeatedly in Americanna, the latest novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. What a coincidence then, that the essay was followed by an interview with Adichie on Woman’s Hour. I could listen to her all day; never mind the richness of her narrative I just want to luxuriate in her velvety tones.  Half of a Yellow Sun is one of my favourite novels, and I’m utterly in awe of how someone in their thirties wrote such a classic.

So thank you, Radio 4, for bringing a bit of diversion and livening up a few  hours which may otherwise have been a bit dismal. Suddenly the teetering piles of laundry became less of an arse-ache, and the sourness abated somewhat.

 

 

 

 

SWB on Hoodies

Met a lovely friend and her offspring today for a coffee and chat. Note to self- Caffè Nero is actually quite nice: normally I never darken the door of a chain establishment, but all credit to them, it was beyond reproach. Latte, banana bread (toasted with President butter, nothing but the best) and service were all top notch. I suppose there’s about a billion of these shops for a reason.

Anyway, pal and I were discussing the delights of apartment living, en ville. 

ME: I do like feeling the hustle-bustle of the town, you know, like you’re right in the middle of things. Most cosmopolitan, seeing all those Metro buses zooming by, and all the foot-fall. It gives one a different perspective of the Ormeau road, quite exciting really.

DROLE IRISH FRIEND: Oh yes, I agree. We rented a flat overlooking the Lagan a few years ago and I could have sat there for hours, people-watching.

ME: Oooh, I bet you saw all sorts of folk, commuters, joggers, people engaged perhaps in a romantic tryst? How splendid.

DIF: Oh God no- no no, you rarely saw any of those. They’d have been beaten to a pulp. No, just crowds of Hoodies from the estate beside the river. It was kinda their stomping ground. There was one fella was never without his golf club; always at the ready to beat the head off somebody, you know, if the situation arose.

ME: (nodding gormlessly).  Ahh, yes…. I hadn’t thought of that. (People from the posh part of Bangor don’t). All  those moody shots of the plush new apartments and offices you see featured in The Fall and you’re actually never more than 10 feet away from some fecker wielding a golf club.

DIF: (getting into her stride). Or a hurl, or a baseball bat, depending on their social status. There was one we just referred to as F**k sake Anto.  I never, ever heard him referred to by his Christian name alone. It was always ‘F**k sake Anto, only slegging, put the golf club down’ or ‘F**k sake Anto wind your neck in’. Wee Anto, (she intones fondly) I wonder what became of him.

(DIF has a much bigger heart than me. She also appears to have drifted into a reverie, recalling these happy memories of carefree apartment living by the river.)

ME: So what took you away from the delights of Lagan Quays then?

DIF: Ah sure they took all the patio furniture and fired them in to the river. So much for sipping a nice glass of Pinot Grigio of an evening, when there wasn’t a chair to be had. No, we went on our way after that….

This interchange reminded me of my own memories of walking along that particular stretch of the Lagan. I’d just broken up with a boyfriend and was beyond distraught. I’d dragged myself into work and just about got through the day, then decided to hop off the bus a few stops early to ‘take the air’ and clear my head. That September in question had been unseasonably hot, so what I hadn’t allowed for was the utter stench of the river. So there was me, sobbing as I careened along, and taking great lungfuls of what smelt like pure piss. Talk about pathetic fallacy. If my memory serves me right I cadged a cigarette off a startled looking passer-by, thinking at least the smoke would be more palatable than the reek of ammonia.

Still, I suppose I should just be grateful that no one took a hurl to me, and that I didn’t end up with both legs broken, as well as my poor heart.

 

 

 

SWB on mothers, or more precisely, her own.

 

My mum is rather terrific really. Maybe it’s because she’s an Irish mammy, but we chat almost every day, despite living only 12 miles apart. If ever feeling despondent, as I often am, what with being prone to fits of apocalyptic despair, I can always pick up the phone, and offload my woes. Usually the chat goes:

 

SWB: Hello (small miserable voice) it’s me.

AAI: Ach, you don’t sound at all good today. Sure why would you, in this miserable climate. Just dreadful. It would blow you away down here. And it’s lashing. I hope you had a coat on you when you dropped off those children. And a hat. That cat’s been in and out like a yoyo, I’ve had to dry her off with kitchen roll, twice! Totally drenched, the stupid creature. She’s up now, having a lie down on MY CLEAN DUVET. It’s a disgrace. But she’s only a wee P.C.* you know, so I’ll leave her to it. (Brief intake of breath.) Now what’s the matter?

 

ME: Mutter incoherently about Russia flexing its muscles in the Crimea and Syria and the possibility of a Third World War, while admitting horrific feelings of guilt for being more worried about for my own welfare in the light of nuclear annihilation than the current plight of the besieged in Aleppo.

 

AAI: What’s annoying you? Russia? I see you still have that BBC news app on your phone then. Turn it off! Get rid! You have enough on your plate. Do you not have those wee girls and a husband to tend to? You can’t go taking on the affairs of the world. Do you think people in days gone by had the time to ponder life’s calamities? Were your Nana and the aunties worrying about world affairs when your granddad had his bad legs and they were trying to run a farm while looking after sickly hens?

ME- (utterly bemused) Eh?

AAI- Have I never told you about the time your Nana bought a load of hens and they all took the paralysis and couldn’t stand? Oh it was desperate, sure they all went and died then, and not an egg.

ME- Not a leg either by the sounds of it.

AAI- Hmmm, (then, after the briefest of pauses for inhalation), mind you, the Russians have always been up to no good. Let me get your dad: here he is now, would you get your nose out of that book when I‘m asking you something? It’s SWB, she’s worried about a war. Do you think there’s another war coming? (Incomprehensible chatter, as though they are discussing this week’s grocery shop). Ahem, so he says no, he doesn’t think so. What’s that? No, he’s stopped watching the news, actually, so he’s not sure what you’re on about, but says he it’s unlikely. He’s all about the Napoleonic Wars at the moment. Now, if you were to ask him about Wellington, you’d be told chapter and verse. Listen, how did we get on to this anyway? I’m thinking it’s time for lunch. Have you eaten or will we just pop into ASDA and come on up and see you? I’ll get some fruit and custard tarts for the girls.

 

By the time you’ve listened to that monologue you’re kind of past caring about pending doom and so just make another cup of tea, contemplating the madness on your doorstep instead of further afield. As a tactic of diversion then, it’s probably quite effective, on my mother’s part.

* P.C.- Pussy Cat. Affectionate term for any cat in the vicinity.

SWB gets her nails done

This week, I’ve been feeling the need for a good stretch, so I’m embracing yoga at every opportunity, and off I set merrily into town to enjoy a class on Friday morning. Foolishly, I hadn’t checked on-line and the class was cancelled due to teacher training. “Bollocks” I thought, with me all decked out in my yoga ensemble and raring to go. But, ever the opportunist I gave LSB a bell and we thought we’d try out a new coffee establishment. Well, that was an underwhelming experience. Two overpriced coffees for which we waited at least 10 minutes too long, and a bun which never turned up at all. “That was definitely her fault” yelped the ineffectual barista, passing the buck to the poor girl who’d taken our order. This confirmed to me that not only was he a blustering idiot, but a none too chivalrous one to boot. We didn’t leave a tip, and LSB usually would. He’s nice like that, even if he found shrapnel in his sausage, he’d still dig deep.

 

So with an hour to spare, I thought I know: I’ll get my nails done, what a treat! Well, it maybe wasn’t a treat, shall we say, but certainly an education. I stepped into a high street salon where the chemicals that permeated the air would have taken the breath from you. SWB, have a word with yourself, I counselled. You’re building an extension, paying rent, and you’re not at your work. You can’t be running to Gorgeous Nails on Stranmillas at the drop of a hat. This may be a somewhat insalubrious joint, but get a file and polish done and be on your way.

 

Gingerly I took a pew and chose a slatey mushroomy colour, (the sort that you can get away with a bit of housework before it goes completely to shite.) My ‘nail artist’, (Charmaine, according to her badge) fluctuated between maternal and psychotic. ‘Put your wee hands in there love’ she instructed, sounding like a kindly nurse. Then, continuing her conversation with another client about the perils of flying: “So that’s me barred for life from Jet 2. ‘Antisocial behaviour’ they called it. I’d a half-litre of vodka in me before the flight, so I was off my face; dandering up and down the aisle. Here’s me to randomers: “Where are youse staying? San Antonio? Us too, sweet!” F**kers took me to court and all but I’m not paying no four grand fine. It’s Easyjet all the way for me from now on.”

 

From there she inquired into the health of a colleague’s son. “How’s he doing after his wee procedure last week? “Ach, he’s very sore, and a bit f**king scundered too.” said Jade. Well, I waited with bated breath to hear more. “So he was just lying there, moaning an’all, but then I was jumping up to shut a window and I managed to knee him in the nuts, well, one nut, I suppose is all he has now. Awful awl scar they left too. You should’ve heard the language outta him! Poor love.”

 

“He’ll be grand so he will”, comforted Charmaine. “Fella on our estate had only one ball. ‘One ball Bobby’ we called him. You can get these wee plastic ones to pop in the other side, even up things a bit. Silicon I think they’re made out of. I know all about balls, me”. She gave me a theatrical wink. “Only joking”. Hmmm, wouldn’t be too sure I thought, but who am I to judge?

 

Less of a salon experience, more of a pantomime. But certainly more entertaining than reading Hello.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sour Wee Poem

Later….

Later, I will unpack some boxes

And think what to cook for tea,

Sweep up crumbs and orange pith,

Florets of wilted broccoli.

 

I’ll change some sheets and flip a mattress,

And to the laundrette head.

LSB has had the night sweats,

And he’s drenched the f**king bed.

 

I’ll pick hairs out of the plug hole

Then squirt bleach down the loo,

And scrub in vain a stubborn stain,

That is probably hardened poo.

 

I’ll let rip with antiseptic spray

And the table give a wipe

And eradicate those pesky germs,

That make us all feel s***e.

 

I’ll pop out to get essentials,

Though what was that I read?

Yes, glyphosate (or weed-killer)

Has been found in UK bread.

 

But before this toil I undertake,

The kettle I will fill,

And just stare out my window,

To take this moment to be still.

 

Aside from traffic all is tranquil,

With no squawking children near

To detract from this serenity,

Which I’m blessed to see from here.

 

Leaves circle and wheel as they skitter,

Up the street in the speeding cars’ wake,

Crunchy golden wisps of russet,

A beautiful autumn scene make.

 

The beech tree’s in constant motion,

Its leaves’ burnished undersides,

Catch the light like chinks of copper

Like gilded butterflies.

 

They quiver in silent symphony,

And my flagging spirits lift,

It’s hard to be sour when you raise your eyes,

And take in a view like this.

 

SWB on yoga, dental hygiene and provocative dancing

If a week goes by without a few downward dogs then I’m not in a good place. I have a couple of favourite yoga hangouts- Tuesday morning in Lorag with the inimitable Rain, and then Flow Studios, either Hill Street or Malone Road. Any of the teachers are brilliant there- you’ll never come away short changed. So last week, I was all ready to do my yoga, with Rain, wee outfit an’ all on, but I had a visit to the dentist first. I thought this was going to be a short procedure, but turns out getting impressions done for implants is, in fact, horrific. ‘Every part of this is brutal,’ sighed my world-weary dentist, as he prised a gluey blue mould off my top teeth, and it felt like every last tooth left in my head was coming off with it. Quick word here: Look. After. Your. Teeth. Follow your offspring round the house with a toothbrush and wrestle the fecking Haribo out of their hands. They’ll thank you when they’re 37 and haven’t wasted thousands of pounds and spent endless hours of misery in the dentist’s chair. Far too many Fanta orange beverages and insufficient flossing on my part have led to a painful and costly reckoning. Pam Ayres, God bless her, was right, and I ought to have taken heed. Anyway, having missed a week, today’s yoga session was a benison to the soul: one of those glorious occasions where body and mind work in cohesion and you want to melt on to that mat (preferably in reverse corpse posture, which sounds much nicer than it actually is). Clearly I just needed grounded, my wee body crying out for stillness. Just as I type, some frigger at 6 Music has decided to play Uber Capitalist Death by Cabbage. It’s every bit as vile as it sounds. Radio 2, it’s over to you. Restless by Louis Berry, that’s more like it.

Oh God, Oh God, something terrible has happened. My first born, who has always been an innocent sort of creature, has just taken off round the communal kitchen/living area, performing a quite shockingly provocative dance. She’s shaking and gyrating her bottom, her hands mimicking paws as she squeals ‘IT’S A WAGGY WAGGY DANCE’. She loves being Rocky from Paw Patrol so she’s obviously fused the ‘pup pup boogie’ with something more sinister. I need a drink.

SWB gloats a bit to her husband

I go on and on and on, (Mrs Doyle style, in keeping with the the Father Ted theme) about stuff cluttering up my life and causing me misery. Yes, I accept that I’m prone to hyperbole but being surrounded by shite, littering every surface and frankly devaluing the few actual nice things I possess, gets me down. In some ways, I was actually slightly less stressed (only very marginally because work was a total pain in the arse) when I was out at work, because I wasn’t surrounded by mounds of toys and clothes all day. LSB doesn’t appear to notice the debris because he goes around in a kind of daze at home, his mind distracted by binary bits and bites and some fecking Boa Constrictor, (or is it Python?) language, which I hear him muttering about occasionally. So once again, I look like some class of demented housewife, wittering on endlessly about the banal. But no, hurrah! My friend posted this article this evening which I read with a delighted relief. Like I have always said, it is neither normal, nor necessary to inhabit a space which resembles a creche. I thrust said post in his face and he conceded that I may have a point. Told you, I said.