SWB looks back on breastfeeding (and swears a lot)

A person on my street has just had a baby. We know this because a bassinette suddenly appeared in their front living room and then I saw the dad cradling a tiny new born in the crook of his elbow with a TV remote in the other hand. I was instantly transported back eight years and remembered LSB doing the same, looking quite at ease, despite never having held a baby before his own came along. I have to confess that I stared in a bit. I’m a bit of a starer and it’s not one of my better qualities because I’m not even subtle about it. I keep meaning to address the issue but haven’t managed it yet.

Anyway, when I saw the bloke with the baby I was almost overcome with emotion, and then last night I dreamt I had a baby which LSB had to deliver himself as we were in a café at the time and not a hospital. (I think I was eating a peanut butter ball: it was a vivid sort of a dream). Even though she presented as breech, the baby emerged with tremendous ease and beaming a beatific smile. As I said, it was a dream. I had to have a word with myself about babies after this, because I had woken with quite a strong inclination to have another.

This would be a very bad ideas for a myriad of reasons, not least of which would be the environmental impact, although this time I would be much more diligent and try not to use Pampers and about a billion wipes. Even I manage to recycle every item I ever owned, I’ll never make up for the landfill I created by using bloody disposable nappies.

The other reason that I shouldn’t have any more babies is that during much of the time my children were infants I was quite, quite mad. Looking back, I was almost certifiable. There was just too much new stuff to comprehend and my head all but exploded. I am also, as you may have picked up on, a person who is prone to feeling very bad about things and when you have a baby you have a lot of things over which you can beat yourself up.

The main thing at which I failed spectacularly was the breast feeding. To put it bluntly, it was a fucking agonising experience for three miserable months, and looking back with a rational and well-slept eye, I should have given up at the 3 week mark when my daughter ended up in the Ulster hospital jaundiced and dangerously underweight. The nurse unfortunately couldn’t even offer any advice. She was able to tell me that my baby was starving, and desperately indeed of a decent feed, but she could not, under any circumstances, advise me to offer a bottle. So stringent were the NHS ‘guidelines’ that she actually said, ‘I can’t tell you what to do.’

Now when a first-time mother is sitting in front of you, deranged from lack of sleep and recovering from a caesarean section, it’s probably best not to rely on a ‘join the dots’ form of communication, since subtlety and nuance can by-pass a new mum altogether. Clearly my baby lacked nourishment and my attempts to provide it weren’t doing the job.  However, I had picked up the notion that formula was akin to the devil’s own vomit and the nurse didn’t disabuse me of the notion.

My husband tried to tell me. My mother-in-law tried to tell me, but in my state of confusion and downright stupidity I ignored them, until a visiting midwife saw the state of us both and suggested that I get a bottle into the baby fast.

Between cracked bleeding nipples and my baby vomiting up bloody milk that had me frantically ringing the out-of-hours doctor; the first month of feeding was nightmarish. There wasn’t enough support or information. I didn’t give a shit about feeding in public and in fact DARED anyone to approach me in a café and tell me to feed my new born elsewhere. They could get to fuck. What I worried about was the fact that I couldn’t get the latch right and my milk-production had all but dried up. I needed a nurse on-site or at least on the end of the phone for that first month to establish the feeding routine. Obviously the NHS don’t provide that and new mums are left in a state of bafflement with a terrible side order of guilt.

I did have a wonderfully straight-talking health visitor who sought to  reassure me, and helped me feel a bit better, but I only met her when my baby was about a month old and I already felt I had given her a dreadful start in life.

I wish back then I had known Jennifer Hanratty. Jennifer runs the ‘Breastival Festival’ which encourages and supports women on the breast-feeding journey, and equally, if the experience has gone totally tits up for them (excuse the pun) they’ll help you cope with that too. It’s about creating a community where breast feeding is discussed openly, advice is given and myths are firmly dispelled.

Jennifer will be in conversation with Dr Lesley Dornan as part of the NI Science Festival on Saturday 22nd February. I have no doubt she will be fabulous, and I very much hope there’ll be more such discussions, as this is a subject which, for sake of the mental health of all new mums and their babies out there, needs much more attention.

Incase this resonates with anyone out there, Jennifer has kindly set on these details about groups currently offering support in NI at the moment. I wish you all good luck on your journeys.

Breastfeeding In Northern Ireland Facebook group, a closed group of thousands of women offering mum to mum support and advice 24/7
LA leche League helpline, speak to a local breastfeeding councellor or go along to a face to face meet up for practical, emotional and social support
National breastfeeding helpline 9.30am – 9.30pm every day of the year. Partners/those supporting a bf mum are also encouraged to call for help and advice on how best to support their loved one in her feeding goals.
The lovely Jennifer herself, with child number two. 

SWB and the Troll named Terrance

The Older Child is being somewhat of an annoyance of late. She’s full of a manic, restless energy, hurtling through the house and threatening to dislodge her two front teeth at any given moment on a piece of furniture or stair. This is why I’m none too keen on letting her look at my laptop this evening, lest she sends it flying off onto a tiled floor.

‘I need it to look up ‘500 Words,’ she says, ‘so I can write my story.’

‘You don’t need my laptop for that,’ I say, with barely concealed delight. ‘You have me, I’ve been teaching that very thing, today!’ I had too, and  even looked up ‘creative ideas’ to aid the process.  It’s an industrious sort, I think, who spends a Sunday afternoon googling ‘How to Ignite Creativity in Teenagers.’

In fairness, I read little that was new and informative, resorting back to the hints and tips on the 500 words website, but still, at least it demonstrated enthusiasm.

The Older Child is taking none of my advice and is engrossed in reading other stories, and writing nothing of her own.  I resort to coming at it at a sideways angle. ‘Today, in school,’ I said, ‘I was teaching the children about subverting expectations.’

I am met with a blank stare. Of course I am. She’s eight.

‘So you take a witch, for example, and make her very kind, instead of nasty.  Can you think of an unusual sort of a character?’

She shakes her head while I go on chopping up carrots for the dinner. ‘Like instead of a nice granny, with a fluffy cat, you could have a grotty old granny who has a pet cockroach called Cedric? And she takes it out on a lead for walks?’

Not even a smile.

‘You call EVERYTHING Cedric,’ she sighs. It’s true. In our house, Santa’s seagull is Cedric. The Squirrel who makes an occasional appearance in our garden is a Cedric. We met a pigeon last year in Valencia with a deformed foot and I called him Cedric too but pronounced it in a Spanish accent, ‘Cedriqué’.

‘Anyway,’ she goes on, swiping a slice of carrot. ‘I’ve got my characters, a troll and a pizza delivery man.’

‘That’s wonderful,’ I say, sensing progress.

‘There’s a taxi driver too,’ she adds.

‘What are they all up to?’ I ask. I’m quite intrigued, actually.

‘That’s as far as I’ve got,’ she says, running off to put on her Brownie uniform, because of course, what you really want to be doing in gale force winds, is shuttling your offspring off to a Presbyterian Church on the Saintfield Road.

By the time she has reappeared I have the whole story planned out.

I’ve got it,’ I say when she comes down, all kitted out in her rather vile yellow and brown uniform.

‘What’ll we call the Troll? Terence or Trevor?’

‘Terence,’ she says with a deep sigh.

‘So I was thinking,’ I say. ‘He could be living on BRIDGEway Street, and he orders pizza every night for his tea, and one day he gets a new delivery boy who skids in a puddle as the river has overflowed due to climate change and bumps his head. We’ll call him Neville.’

‘Oh great! Neville,’ she smiles happily. The name Neville always gets a laugh. I always think of Nevilles being clumsy and goofy looking, based on the one who featured in the 80s sitcom Duty Free. That Neville has been somewhat usurped by the hapless Neville in Harry Potter who’s always mislaying his toad.

‘What about the taxi driver?’ she asks. ‘We don’t have a taxi driver,’ I say. ‘We’ve too much to cover, and we only have 500 words.’

‘But he was my favourite,’ she says.

‘Why? How?’  I ask, utterly bemused.

‘He just was,’ she says.

I can only imagine that in her head these characters were fully formed and three dimensional but she just has trouble articulating  this and giving it expression.

While she’s out The Small Child wants me to sit on the sofa under a blanket with her which gives me time to work on the story.

Lonesome and lacking culinary expertise since the death of his wife, Terence the Troll has taken to ordering pizza every night. He has thus grown rotund and unsightly, even by Troll standards. He goes round in a dressing gown and underpants because the billy goats that used to pester him have eaten up all his clothes off the washing line. That’s why he got so cross and had to threaten that he’d eat them up. He had no intention of actually doing this, having tried goat on his honeymoon in Jamaica and finding it to be a tough and reedy sort of meat. He quite liked The Gruff siblings, and enjoyed watching their antics as they frolicked and gambolled over the fields, but goats can be a terrible menace. They’d chewed up all his jeans and tee-shirts, as well as his hydrangea bush which used to give him no end of pleasure in the springtime.

Anyway, Neville, being Neville, is a clumsy sort of a fellow, and skids when he comes to deliver the pizza, (with extra pepperoni) falling off his bicycle and knocking himself out stone cold. Upon waking, he is surprised to find a bewhiskered but kindly looking Troll applying ice to his forehead.  They get chatting and Neville says it’s nice to meet him at last. Neville senses a kindred spirit because he’s a bit on the odd side too and the Troll says that he used to be great on a bike and in fact won third place in the BMX Troll Championships in 1978. He says he’ll give Neville some tips if he wants and Neville is all pleased  and in turn he will show Terence how to knock up a Salad Niçoise which has a fraction of the calories of a pizza and reduces Global Warming because all the pigs slaughtered for pepperoni produce terrible amounts of methane.

Both Terence and Neville feel infinitely better for the encounter and declare that it’s rather a shame that they hadn’t made each other’s acquaintance earlier.

I give the Small Child a brief synopsis of the story and she says it sounds excellent. I’m sure I won’t be the first parent to submit a story to a competition under the guise of being under ten. But sure. Maybe the Older Child will produce her own, complete with her taxi-driver character tomorrow. I wait with bated breath.

SWB hits the Charity Shops

Last weekend I opened up my Mac and up popped a window decreeing: ‘Groundhog Day’. No shit, I thought ruefully, sure isn’t that every day? This month has been long and dark, and the logistics of working full-time, imposing some sense of order on my house and acting as PA and Chief Entertainment Officer to my offspring, is proving hard to manage. Balls are being dropped all over the show. Friends have been neglected, appointments missed, and many are the chores left unfinished.

I was in puerile form altogether last week and thought that urgent action was required. I needed a pleasant Friday evening to obliterate all thoughts of Brexit, embrace frivolity and make room for joy. Isn’t that a brilliant phrase? It could be the title for my memoir: ‘How a Sour Wee Bastard Made Room for Joy.’ I don’t think it would exactly fly off the shelves though, as folk may find the juxtaposition too hard to fathom and assume I was either a sanctimonious twat, or a more rotund and decidedly less effectual Marie Kondo.

Back to Friday night. I did some yoga (which was very joyful) and then met my friend Arlene for a tipple and a Chinese meal. In we trotted to The Northern Lights first where we met a large shaggy haired lurcher. ‘This is what I LOVE about this lace,’ I gushed. ‘You get to drink some wine AND stroke a lovely dog.’

‘You and I are VERY different,’ said my friend, who doesn’t share my enthusiasm regarding the animals, either in or out of a drinking establishment.

We caught up over a Sauvignon Blanc before making our way down towards Macau by the bridge. But en route, as we passed the Concern Charity Shop, what should I spy but something that looked suspiciously like a bed pan, set prominently in the window. We had been walking at quite an accelerated pace since I heard that Macau did wonderful deep fried aubergine and I was keen to get stuck in. ‘Hang on there,’ I said to Arlene. ‘I need to get another look. Perhaps my eyes have deceived me.’

My eyes, however, had not. It was indeed a bed pan, although labelled (incorrectly I think), as a ‘Ceramic Vintage Douche’, selling for the princely sum of £10. ‘Who?’ I stuttered. ‘Why?’

‘You need to find out,’ said Arlene, ‘I need to know the rationale behind this decision.’

‘What sort of a person,’ I mused, ‘starts into their January clear-out, finds a bed pan, and thinks, “I’ll just drop this down to the charity shop.’’

‘What next?’ said Arlene. ‘A vibrator? ‘Just one previous careful owner?’’

How we chuckled.

That made me think of my first car, a lovely Nissan Micra, red in hue and dinky, like a motorised ladybird. It had ‘one careful lady owner,’ who only ever drove it between Bangor and Donaghadee. It was pristine when I got it and remained that way for all of 10 minutes until I rammed it into my parent’s back gate and later into a bottle bank at the old Co-op on the Lisburn Road. ‘Oh, I am vexed,’ The Mothership, used to say, upon seeing the latest dent. We called it ‘The Sour Car’, for obvious reasons.

We were still talking about the bed pan as we tucked into our pork dumplings. ‘It’s quite a personal item, though isn’t it, to give in to a charity shop?’ said my pal.

I nodded vigorously. ‘I can’t imagine saying, as I ‘Marie Kondo’d my house: ‘here’s a dress I’ll never squeeze into again; a Denby cup and saucer and oh, that bed pan I have kicking about under the bed.’

‘Some weirdo might buy it though for other uses,’ she said.

‘Like what?’ I said, hastily swallowing down a mouthful of wine lest I choke.

‘Did you not read about that post which almost brought down Mumsnet?’

I shook my head, oblivious to this altogether.

‘You know, the husband who had a post-coital clean-up routine involving a beaker, which prompted his wife to post a message asking if this was normal behaviour?’

My eyes widened. I definitely hadn’t heard of this, for I’m sure I would have remembered.

‘It’s a very funny read,’ said my friend. ‘Be sure to check it out.’

We got back to the Ormeau bed pan. She suggested that I purchase it and put it to immediate use as a planter for some geraniums. ‘It could be a short story,’ she said. ‘From the point of view of a bed pan. ‘Living My Best Life’ you could call it, with before and after photos.’

So on Saturday morning, despite feeling the effects of the previous evening’s exuberance, down I trotted to ‘Concern’ see if it was still in the window. And yes, there it was, nestled under a china tea set, a box of spoons and a blue tinkly bell. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good root round a charity shop, as my return to work has put paid to such excursions. This was a worthwhile venture, however, as I picked up a spangly top, a pink woolly jumper, a Nora Ephron book and a jigsaw for the children, (complete, I’d like to add, as there ought to be a dark corner of hell for anyone who considers it acceptable to donate a puzzle minus a few pieces)

As I paid up, I asked the gentleman on the till about the bedpan. ‘There’s an item in the window labelled ‘a vintage douche’ and I just wondered if you anything about it?’ He looked at me quizzically.  ‘A what?’ he said.

‘Well it’s labelled a ‘douche’, but I think it’s just a bed pan,’ I said. He raised an eyebrow and said that he’d have to see it for himself. Out he trotted after me. ‘No idea where that came from,’ he said. ‘I only work here on a Saturday.’ Do you think it will sell?’ I asked.

‘Goodness yes, he replied. ‘People always buy this sort of thing. Anything useful goes very quickly.’

He was very pleasant, the man, and seemed quite amused by my line of inquiry. I do like Concern, although it can be pricier than other charity shops along the Ormeau. One gets more of a bargain in The Hospice Shop, as indeed I did, a few minutes later, picking up an M&S leopard print skirt or £3.25. Once, in Concern, I lifted a pair of roller boots for my Older Child. They were £8, which seemed to come as quite a shock to the elderly gent behind the till.  He said, and I quote, ‘Jesus Christ, I thought you were meant to get a bargain in here,’ and gave them to me for a fiver.

So there you are folks. What I want to know is this: would any of you good people either think to heave a bed pan into a charity shop, should one be  lurking on your premises, or would you be inclined to buy one? I’m not convinced this particular pan was worth a tenner by the way, but you may strike lucky and get an understanding chap when you go to make your purchase. It looked in need of a good scrub too, although any residual urine, could, I suppose, bring on the growth of any potential herbs or plants. You know me- always looking for the sunny side….

LSB is too cheerful for January

If there’s anything more upsetting than a depressed husband, it’s a relentlessly cheerful one. While the usual approach to January is just to grit one’s teeth and hope fervently for better things, LSB* has been taking this month as a personal challenge to bug the shit clean out of me by being in fine fettle. It’s working very well, I must say.

‘What are you grinning about like some sort of lunatic?’ I asked him on Tuesday. I mean, what normal person comes in of an evening looking decidedly cheerful? He proceeded to tell me about his ‘whopping’ day at work and his ‘epic gym session.’ He wasn’t even being sarcastic: delighted he was with himself, having got a new PB on the bench press, and done 3 sets of weighted Bulgarian split squats. Meanwhile I was frying up chicken thighs for a mid-week supper, with a face on me like a busted sofa.

‘I find,’ he said helpfully, as he watched me put the broccoli on to boil, ‘that a run always helps when I’m in bad form.’

‘I’ve BEEN for a run,’ I replied, hotly. I had been very pleased to get out and do 5k with some girls after work, but the endorphins had long since disappeared, once I’d come home to homework and lost lunchboxes and confusion over a Baptismal photo which had been dully printed out and since lost. I also had an absolute fucker of a period with cramping so intense it felt as though my uterus was being wrung out like a damp dish cloth.

And the thing about my husband, is that he takes everything very personally. Like you couldn’t have looked sideways at me this week because I was tired (isn’t everyone?) and cranky and had far too much to do. I was therefore very ‘snappy’ and I swear to God, it was like booting a Golden Retriever, with him going round all sweetness and light. Very stung he was, at my causticity.

But men: they can be very annoying. Take the weekend, for example. On Saturday, I thought a gathering might be nice, to help dissipate the gloom, so I invited some friends round for ‘light bites’. I had to leave Himself in charge of tidying though since I was taking the Older Child to her first ever Irish Dancing Festival. Now in hindsight, I should have sent him, as he is infinitely more patient than me. It turns out, I’m getting increasingly like the Mothership, who wouldn’t sit through my GB displays, even though she insisted upon sending me to the bastard thing in the first place.

Now I’m not saying that the dancers weren’t talented and super cute in their wee outfits, but flip me doesn’t a festival go on a bit? After approximately 30 minutes, I was well tired of watching children capering about a stage.

‘Where the hell are we on this program?’ I asked the mum beside me, who had an older child and knew the craic. She pointed to the first page and how my heart did plummet when I saw we had quite a bit to go. Two and a half more pages, to be precise and this didn’t even mention the adjudication. Turned out we had to listen to a lengthy appraisal of the dances THREE TIMES: after the reel, after the jig and after the ‘hard-shoe-clippety-clop-treble-jig-novice- fiddle-dee-dee-dance.  There was no end to it. After two hours and two cups of tea and a traybake (that I’d made myself and had to buy back) I legged it.  I had to go and buy the required ‘light bites’ at the big Tesco at Newtownbreda: an excursion which I wouldn’t recommend as it was rammed full of people who looked even sourer than me.  After filling my trolley full of olives, mozzarella, and other such Mediterranean fare, I rushed back lest my child be waiting despondently, but not a bit of it. There was yet more dancing, and yet more judging to sit through, and me with salads to assemble and bathrooms to clean.

I sent a text warning Himself to make sure the house was in a reasonable state for guests.

‘Grand,’ came the monosyllabic reply.

But you should never trust men, and that’s the sorry truth. Yes, he had hoovered, so fair play to him, and he’d made a start on ‘operation clear bar’ (which just means clearing the island in the kitchen of accumulated debris.) But there was truck meeting me in the hall: shoes, school bags, all general paraphernalia that could fell a buddy as they came in. I made it my business to check the bathroom and THANK GOD I had the foresight. There was no loo roll in one, no hand towel in another and both toilets bore evidence of recent use and unflushed contents. How I wish I was only talking number ones here.

However, The Small Child was in robustly good form, having spent the latter part of the afternoon curled up under a blanket playing the Nintendo with her daddy.  The Older One wasn’t too perturbed despite her medals being for sixth place in most dances, (which basically meant a prize for showing up.) The friends arrived in twos and threes and fours and a bottle of fizz was opened with a glorious pop.

It was all rather lovely and nobody clattered over the clutter in the hall.

Poor LSB though. He’s blissfully unaware of the slegging he’s getting as he watches some shite that looks suspiciously like Star Trek but appears to be set in a French Vineyard.

I’ll keep you posted on his mood tomorrow. As we hurtle towards Brexit on Friday, I can’t imagine my acidity will diminish too much this week.

*Long Suffering Bastard- the husband, (for the benefit of any new readers)

SWB on Altruism

So, it’s January, as you may have noticed. I’m frozen, tired and not even feeling smug and virtuous because I’ve neither given up  wine nor embraced a meat-free lifestyle. Last night a friend put a picture of her steak dinner in a local bistro up on Instagram, which prompted me to think: ‘Take that down before you’re lynched!’ I am just properly NOT in the form for any class of self-denial. I am working full-time. I have two small, demanding children. I am trying not to think about the pending apocalypse. Boris Johnson is still PM. Trump is still President. How are earth are people managing NOT to drink? If you’re doing Dry January and still managing to stay remotely positive then I applaud you.

Equally, I extend my admiration for my friends, who in growing numbers have embraced ‘Veganuary.‘ Sometimes, (and I know this makes me a bad person) but I wish my friends could be a bit more rubbish, just to make me a bit better about myself, and my limitations. Maybe I could live without drink, or TRY to be a vegan, but definitely not as a double whammy. And not in January. I can’t even manage to SAY ‘Veganuary’ without it sounding like some sort of invasive gynae procedure. I think the NHS may have missed a trick in not coming up with ‘Vaginuary’, to encourage more women to get their cervical smear test over early the year and look forward to brighter things ahead. While on the topic of lady bits, check out the new candle range from Gwyneth. Dear God. Whatever next?

However, as a nod to a healthier attitude towards my innards and climate change, I have been experimenting in the kitchen with hearty soups and dhals. My red lentil dhal, in particular, was a thing of great beauty. But having given it a great deal of thought, the idea of never eating a soft boiled egg or a bagel slathered in cream cheese would make me very sad indeed.

But instead of feeling shite about what I’ve NOT managed to do, I’ve been thinking back to something I did last year which brought me much happiness.  At the risk of being perceived as a sanctimonious do-gooder and all round pain-in-the-hole, I shall elaborate. Lately I’ve been noticing features on Radio 4 and shared articles on social media on the benefits of doing good and I’m thinking, feck, these guys might just be ON TO SOMETHING.

At the school where I’m currently teaching we got word of a BBC initiative  to encourage children and the elderly to read poetry and then bring them together. It was thus named, imaginatively, ‘Poetry Together’. ‘How fabulous,’ I thought to myself.  As a preliminary exercise I went along to a local residential home with my  offspring and read some poems: Pam Ayres, Wordsworth, Marriott Edgar, (quite the eclectic mix.)  Initially my children looked a bit sullen but I made them go round with a bowl each of Murray Mints and Butter Balls, which perked them up a bit. The next week the Small Child even managed a tiny smile and by the time our third visit rolled around they were actually saying ‘Is it time to go yet?’ The residents were brilliant, some of them sparky and acerbic, which I enjoyed very much. I was giving off about how dreadful my children were one evening when one grey haired lady chirped up: ‘What did you bother having them for if they’re so awful?’

I thought this was marvellous. ‘Sometimes they’re alright,’ I conceded. ‘I did take you for ice-cream after school, didn’t I?’ I said, nudging the Older One.

‘She did actually’, she confirmed.

Nice to know they have my back.

So when it came to taking the pupils from school down for the ‘official reading’ it was all a lot easier. It helped that I was familiar with the place, because when organising any trips these days it can be a stressful affair, with about a million risk assessment forms and God knows what else to consider. Given my past experiences, that’s probably just as well.

But, to my utmost delight, it all went swimmingly, better even than expected. (That’s the joy of being a pessimist, any positive outcome is always a tremendous boon).

I had prepped the kids with some questions to ask, and one wee fellow went straight up to a lady and said ‘Hello! What pets did you have when you were young?’ She was all pleased, and told him about her lurcher, who according to her father, was even better than the border collie for rounding sheep. All the kids circulated, chatted away unselfconsciously without any awkwardness, before performing their poem. A few even volunteered to read out their own limericks. I was almost in tears with the loveliness of it all.

I’ve decided to continue to call in when I can. One afternoon we borrowed Fred, our friend’s springer spaniel and he went down an absolute storm. He’s nine now and a sedate sort of a fellow, thus a perfect fit for a care home. We did, however make the mistake of going at lunch time and he would have had an elderly gent’s beef and cabbage swiped off his plate had I had not a mighty grip of his lead.

That same day we got chatting to a lady who had been an evacuee during the war and had been sent to live on a farm in Tyrone. She said she missed it dreadfully when she got back to Belfast and had loved animals ever since.  I’m thinking of getting on the line to Streamvale Open Farm and seeing if I could get the lend of a few chicks, or maybe a rabbit. That would make for a fun visit.

In contrast to all these good vibes, a couple of times over the holidays I found myself in the city centre. It was a frightful experience altogether: most people had the faces gurned off them, and I overheard a few irate gentlemen opine that ‘it was all fucking shite, so it was.’ I agreed with them entirely.  All the horrible mindless consumerism doesn’t appear to be making us any happier. Maybe volunteering would be a better way to spend an afternoon, (or part thereof.)

It’s true, as Phoebe from Friends once said, that there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed. Anytime I take a trip to the home I leave feeling a bit more contented with my lot.

So you heard it here first: altruism is the new drug of the twenty-twenties. In the midst of all this horror-show it’s lovely, actually, to take some time with a few nonagenarians and take a few deep breaths. It’s soothing for a troubled soul, and makes me feel less bad about the glass of Primotivo of an evening. I guess if we do what we can, in whatever way works best for us, we can ignite a few sparks as we wait for the spring to arrive.






SWB on Armageddon (again)

Peter Broelman / Australia

It’s almost a week since the decorations came down: does anyone else agree that it has felt more like a year? Or an ultra-marathon? Or just a week long sojourn in Dante’s seventh circle of hell?

I definitely overdid the frivolity at Christmas because I had the utmost difficulty squeezing into my work outfits. No matter, said I, sure I’ll go for a few runs. Well. Those plans came to naught, such was my fatigue coupled with the fear of being tossed in the air by a tempest. Up here on the hill the gales have been frightful, and I can’t help but feel that they mirror the worldwide turbulence, so no rest for my tormented soul there.

You know already that I am inclined towards hyperbole, but I kid you not when I say that upon hearing of Trump’s antics last Friday my innards turned to ice. I made the mistake of sitting down to the news with a bowl of steaming noodles which were abandoned as my stomach lurched. So gripped with a powerful fear was I, that I did the only sensible thing a 40 year old can do in those circumstances, and rang my mum.  While the Mothership can work herself up into quite a frenzy about the price of Nambarrie tea bags, or a misshapen Hovis Loaf, she’s actually quite reassuring when it comes to the possibility of world annihilation.

She’s also quite tech savvy, so while she’d only heard the headlines she got herself on the net and quickly caught up, tutting under her breath. ‘Hmmph, you’d think he had better things to do, with him on his holidays in Florida. Yon fella shouldn’t be let out.’

‘I feel sick,’ I told her. ‘He’s done it this time. There’s no way back from this. We’re all doomed.’

I’d worked myself up into a powerful state of agitation.

The Mothership was quite abrupt in her response. ‘We’ll have none of that nonsense,’ said she. ‘What use would you be to man or beast if you went down that road?’

I agreed that quite, to adopt an attitude of fatalism wasn’t going to help anyone.

But she was warming to her theme.

‘Listen now,’ she said. ‘I’ve lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, not to mention all the recent strife. You can’t let yourself go under because of what MIGHT happen.’

‘There was your Nanna hiding under a table during the Blitz. Ans she lived until she was 88! You wouldn’t have caught her carrying on like this!’

She was quite animated by now, and ended the call by suggesting that I go and tidy the living room, because the last time she was up it was ‘nothing short of appalling’ and really, people might talk. Yes, I said. People are absolutely going to talk about the state of chassis that is my house, what with the possibility of a nuclear fallout.

But she did well. I managed to eat some of my lunch, though being rice noodles they had become somewhat congealed. Once I composed myself I took the kids to visit my friend and she fed them sausages and chips and we drank tea and ate Kitkats in the warm glow of her twinkly Christmas lights. I told her that I was very worried indeed, quite shaken, truth be told.

She shrugged. ‘It’s just the new normal isn’t it?’ she said, as she poured me more tea.

She’s so right too. The world is terrifying and run, seemingly by mad men. It makes one feel impotent and lost. So we could all down tools and await the apocalypse or just motor on, doing things that bring us joy and savouring each moment as we go. In the meantime, let’s sign some petitions, join some protests and in whatever tiny way we can, show that we’ll not be dragged headlong into a shit-show because of some narcissistic prick on either side the pond.

Though given my tendency towards self-absorption, calling people narcissists is probably quite rich. Such were my lamentations during the week that it prompted LSB to say: ‘If the world does end, it won’t just happen to you, you know!’

He made a valid point. Please God let things take a brighter turn, and should they not, chin up everyone.






SWB on New Year Resolutions

I’ve been feeling like a great and terrible disappointment to myself over the holidays. I had, you see, hoped that I might set time aside to write a bit more. This has, inevitably, not occurred. But upon reflection, this was a  ridiculous notion from the get-go. For a start, the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘break’ don’t belong in the same sentence together. Even if you don’t go berserk at Christmas, which we don’t, it’s still a busy, frenetic sort of a time. And the children. God, the children. In the absence of any sort of camp, they’ve been at home, with us, all day. Unless a friend or neighbour (of which, thank fuck, I have many) has carted them off somewhere, it’s up to us to amuse them, and this is a taxing sort of a task.

I feel as though I have simply swapped teaching for the less lucrative job of being my children’s PA.

The problem is, of course, that they have become institutionalised. In the primary school classroom every slot is accounted for, all nicely displaced on the wall so they know exactly what they are doing and when.

I think I need to do a little holiday timetable of my own and display it prominently. It won’t be as rigid as school, nor as polite. It may, for example read:

7am- 8am: Don’t even think about it.

8am-9am: Television Time, AKA leave Mum and Dad the fuck alone.

9am- 10am- House based activity AKA we are NOT trailing you around the countryside.

As I putting them to bed the other night the Older Child had a face on her like a well-scalped arse. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked.

‘We only did three things today,’ she replied. ‘And one of those was going to Forestside.’

Imagine! Third rate parenting indeed.

For the last 3 weeks (because it began even before the holidays) the children have been desperately hard to please. They ricochet between abject misery and elation, depending on where I’m sending them or who’s coming to play.

It’s exhausting, nerve-wrecking, and encourages great dependence on Sauvignon Blanc. Take yesterday, as an example. (Also, remember that it was New Year’s Day and after a party my head and innards were feeling as tender as the finest Japanese Kobe steak.)

‘So if we’re going out on Friday afternoon,’ ruminates the Older Child, ‘what are we doing on Friday morning?’

‘Well let me just get to it,’ I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly be sitting at home, without a plan.’

She either didn’t get the sarcasm or chose to ignore it, handing me my mobile. ‘Just put a message on WhatsApp and see who’s free please,’ she said, firmly. At least she asked this time. She swiped my phone once to text my friend Brenda and enquired if her son could come and play. Very convincing she was too, as the little chap arrived shortly afterwards, much to my surprise. (Fortunately, we are very fond of him.)

They are strong-willed, opinionated children that I have raised. Yes, their wills of steel may prove useful should they ever come up against the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, but I have spent the last while feeling as though I live under a tyranny.

Even if they could just tidy the house before inviting people in: that would appease me slightly. I have seen children’s mouths DROP open upon seeing the state of the living room floor. ‘My mum would KILL ME if I did this,’ said a wee girl the other day, looking stunned at the piles of shite everywhere.

And God FORBID you ask them to rectify the chaos they created in the house.

‘Are you going to do what I’ve asked or just keep sitting there?’ I seethed earlier to the Small Child, who was watching ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, cross-legged upon the sofa. ‘Hmmm,’ she replied, ‘I prefer Option 2.’

Little f**ker.

I remember reading ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ in which the author advocated that ‘frustration is a life skill,’ and therefore it was quite ok for children to be bored sometimes. I thought this was marvellous. I was bored quite a lot as a child, and it does build up a certain self-reliance. Philip Larkin, one of my most favourite poets, (miserable auld bastard that was), claimed that his childhood in Coventry was very dull indeed. A great poet it made of him too.

My children don’t do bored and I feel I may be doing them a disservice by arranging playdates and organising bracing walks for their edification. Maybe they will never reach their true potential because they haven’t experienced to the true humdrum nature of life.

I’ve been in such a state of agitation that even three yoga classes over the holidays haven’t helped. I keep uttering, ‘I’m not going to drink,’ before necking a glass of Prosecco at six o’clock. (Except Christmas day of course: I started at 11 then, for the day that was in it.)

I keep saying I’ll have a night off,  before sending LSB to the fridge to pour me something nice. I like how he swirls the ice around the glass to make it extra special, until I remind myself that these shenanigans may bring on renal failure.

So, I’ve decided, (and hear me out on this because it might sound all a bit wanky and New Age,) but I’m going to adopt Anne Lamott’s theory on self-improvement as my New Year resolution. Over January I’m going to make lovely soothing soups; chuck out  the clutter that’s making me unhappy and try to be a bit less frantic and a bit more sane.  It annoys me when I don’t practice my yoga or set an hour aside to write. I get narky at the kids when I don’t manage my time better and need to learn that it’s not unreasonable  to tell them to piss off and leave me in peace. I’m going to go to bed earlier and bank some sleep in these long nights. I don’t want to spend this year coming up with ways to escape from my life; I would like to attempt living in the present. (I warned you that this could be wanky).

The nice thing about this is that it’s not a hard and fast resolution, it’s a way of thinking how I can live a better life and keep this more at the front of my mind. On Christmas night I went to bed at half 8 and read a book my friend Grace gave me and listened to 6 Music. It was blissful. More of that sort of thing this month, I hope.







SWB goes loco for llamas this Christmas.

Festive greetings Sour Wee Readers. I could have written a lovely post about the congenial nature of a family Christmas, but that’s not really what you expect so I’ll stay true to form and share this rant instead. I wrote it on the 23rd, in the midst of a shopping frenzy. I’m still recovering, if I’m speaking frankly.

In the interests of public safety, do not, for fuck’s sake, venture anywhere near Forestside on the run up to Christmas. Same goes for the retail park opposite, or actually anywhere this side of town because proper, full on madness is afoot. I trotted down on Monday, clutching my ‘bags for life’ at 8-15. Now, in fairness, I survived Sainsbury’s without incident: people still afforded me the common courtesy of not ramming trolleys into the back of my heels, which I always find a bonus.

M&S, on the other hand, was more chaotic than my large intestine after a feed of sprouts. It was even worse than last year, when it was totally nuts too, but I went down at 10am so I suppose was asking for it. (‘Will we just go home Mummy?’ the Older Child asked, as she sensed my rage escalating).

At 8-25, I was at least two hours too late. The store was almost at a standstill, since the executive decision had been taken to park those big feck-off green carts full of carrots and potatoes in the middle of the aisles. About a million people were trying to squeeze past, peering over the teetering truckloads of turkey and biscuits and booze. The ones who most pissed me off though, were the dithering eejits ON THEIR PHONES. Really, would this be the time of day to enquire whether your son’s new vegan girlfriend prefers oat to soya milk for breakfast? Yes, we get it, you’re awfully middle class, now move your cashmere clad ass along.

However, I’m not really one to be calling anyone else middle class, since I was on the hunt for lychees for Christmas breakfast. I have a fondness for lychees, because when I lived on Reunion Island, 20 years ago, now December was ‘lychee season.’ It was considered rude to show up to anyone’s door without a plastic bag full of them, and many people had lychees trees in their gardens. (We didn’t, but we still the happy recipients of many a bag). Here you can buy a small punnet with no more than 7 in it for £2-50, but I buy them anyway to remind me of when I was young and carefree.  I’ve been feeding them to the girls ever since they were old enough to chew, and they are their absolute favourite fruit. They’ve requested extra lychees this year ‘From Santa.’ Anyway, I couldn’t get near the fucking lychees, because M&S employee of the year Valerie was pushing a cart full of festive fruits which blocked access to mangoes, pineapples and papayas, (anyone else think papayas have the taste and texture of soggy cotton wool soaked in piss?) and she met her old friend Tricia, who said she had forgotten Valerie still worked in M&S. But she did!! Fancy that!

Valerie had been up from 2am, to be in work for 4. ‘You must be very tired,’ said Tricia, who with such powers of deduction should clearly be working for MI5.

‘Is there any fucking chance?’ I thought to myself, while these banalities were exchanged. I met a few people I knew myself, but there was no lingering for us, just the briefest of salutations in a ‘may the force be with you’ sort of way. I came over all a-quiver and had to leave and have a restorative coffee in General Merchants. I would have just gone home, except I was on a mission to buy a replacement llama from Dunnes, which had still to open. I’ll explain.  LSB had purchased the children ‘heat up cuddly llamas’ on Saturday, because he likes to buy them things, to curry favour. It doesn’t make them any more biddable, I can tell you that. He’s a lot to learn, my husband. They have, as I may have mentioned, a multitude of cuddly toys, and have no need of a llama, heat up or otherwise.

Anyway, on Saturday evening we were cordially invited for dinner at our neighbours’ house. It had been a fraught sort of a day and so glad was I to see my friends that I took to the drink with gusto. I disgraced myself really, not a bit of need for it, at 40 years of age.

The Small Child had her llama clutched under her wee arm and wanted it heated up, to show it off in all it toasty glory. My poor friend, who was simultaneously refilling wine glasses and slicing up Christmas cake, popped it in the microwave.  I think she hit minutes rather than seconds because the next thing we knew an acrid stench emanated from the kitchen.

‘Oh shite,’ she yelped, ‘I’ve cooked the llama!’  racing in to rescue it. A terrible sight awaited us.

The glue was all melted and the microwavable bag had exploded. The beans had stuck to the glue which created the unfortunate effect of a llama with a bowel disfunction, with little grey beans stuck to its undercarriage, like a bad dose of the runs.

My friend felt very bad. She felt it was all her fault, but I said really it was the child’s fault for omitting to remove the heatable innards. ‘Melted llama anyone?’ said my friend’s husband, who’s a witty sort of a chap.

We set the llama outside on the window sill, so we weren’t overcome with fumes while we sipped our coffee and ate chocolate.  It looked in at us with a baleful expression. It was amazing, opined my pal Brenda, just how bad a polyester cuddly toy could make one feel.

Hence there I was, on the morning of the 23rd, on the hunt for a llama that my child most definitely didn’t need but felt strongly that she deserved. The queues in Dunnes were long and I didn’t feel like asking the stony faced assistants for help. Home I came, llama-less.

Still, despite this episode we’ve had a rather lovely Christmas. LSB forked out for a Nintendo Switch, an idea to which I was was thoroughly opposed, and I’m thrilled to say that the present the kids have so far enjoyed the most is a ‘colouring-in fairy house’ which has kept them busy all yesterday evening and they’re still at it now. Happy Saint Stephen’s day, everyone, and FFS don’t be running down to the Next Sale. We’ll have none of that nonsense please.








A C-Change for SWB

My Tourette’s is back with a vengeance. The Older Child heard me effing and blinding away in the kitchen the other day, when I  burnt the arse out of a saucepan, cremating my chickpea curry.

In she trotted, forefinger aloft. ‘MUMMY,’ she said, ‘there is NO NEED for that sort of language.’

Luckily she wasn’t in my sub-consciousness last night, when in a dream I told a man we know that he was not just a misogynist, but also a narcissistic c**t. In the dream a friend was remonstrating with me, saying that I had really ‘let myself down’ and needed to ‘have a word with myself’. I woke up most perplexed, although IRL, the man in question is both of the above and would have deserved the lambasting entirely.

‘I must moderate my language,’ I sighed to LSB as we headed to Harper’s Yard this morning. ‘It will be my New Year’s Resolution. In fact I’ll use up all my c**ts by Christmas.’

‘You do listen to the news don’t you?’ he said. ‘Good luck with that.’

It would be easy, wouldn’t it, to slide into a funk after those election results. But sometimes, one has to look around, and when I do that, I see I’m surrounded by the good people of South Belfast, for which I’m most grateful.

Take yesterday morning, when I nipped down to Ormeau parkrun. Sometimes, especially when it’s 4 degrees and you’ve brewed a pot of Fair Trade Rwandan coffee it can be hard to prise yourself out of your pyjamas.  But since I had arranged to meet my friend Grace, off I hopped, leaving a hungover LSB with the children, who were watching ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’. I think I got the better deal.

Arriving late, I found Grace deep in conversation with a couple of park run tourists, one of whom hailed from New Zealand. ‘That volcano,’ I heard Grace tell him, ‘had been rumbling away for ages. They shouldn’t have let anyone near it.’

He nodded, and on they talked about seismic activity. It confused me, so I turned to his friend.

‘Are you from New Zealand too?’ I asked him.

‘No, I’m Dutch,’ he replied.

‘Oh, Grace speaks Dutch, I said.

‘Hallo, hoe gaat het,’ he said to Grace.

‘Het gaat goed met mij dankjewel,’ she replied.

I don’t think either of them expected this chat as they shivered at the start line, but then they haven’t met Grace. Grace is 91 and has done over 50 parkruns. Her running career began at 89, after open-heart surgery put paid to her mountain hiking days. I want to be like Grace when I’m a nonagenarian, though given our current world leaders, the chances of the planet surviving the next 50 years, never mind me, is looking increasingly unlikely.

Speaking of leaders, who should we meet next but Claire Hanna. Any other woman, given the week that’s been in it, would have stayed at home, jammy clad and cosy, but not Claire. There were hugs a plenty for her, and rightly so.

Had it not been for news of her success on Friday, I could have sunk into a deep despondency.  Why I’m even remotely shocked at politics anymore, I don’t know, but how that cabinet remains in office, with the collective moral integrity of the African dung beetle, baffles me. It’s hard not to feel that something very wrong is afoot.

But one must have hope.

‘It’s desperate, isn’t it?’ I said to Grace, as we ran round, her like a sleek ninja in her black hoodie and leggings. I was supposed to be offering her encouragement as we ran into the icy wind, but on I moaned. ‘I find,’ said Grace, as her glasses steamed up with her exhalations, ‘that you must have hope, and count your blessings. That’s what I try to do.’

Life has tried to quash Grace, but she’s not having any of it. This week she told me that she didn’t have time to go out walking in Belvoir Forest, as she had too many ‘old people’ (her words) to visit in care homes around Belfast. She baked a Christmas Cake, and taught English at the weekly classes for refugees at her church. In the New Year she’s going out to the Bahamas to help residents displaced by Hurricane Dorian.

So, if you’re feeling a bit wobbly after that election, my advice, for what it’s worth, is to be a bit more Grace. It’s hard to feel low when you’re looking to the future with hope, grit, and determination.

Then this morning at Ormeau Bowling Green, I drank coffee and ate cake at Harper’s Yard, the community café run by my friends Martina, Claire and Brian. Lots of my friends were there, and some had brought their dogs. I find petting animals soothes me when I’m fraught, so I was in luck.

At each Harper’s Yard event they support a local charity, and this time they were raising money for the NI Hospice. Taxes really, should be keeping the Hospice afloat, but since the Tories don’t give a f**k about the NHS anymore, or people, whether they’re dying or not, I guess it’s up to volunteers to bring in the funds.

So in the New Year, I’m going to try and replace the ubiquitous ‘c’ word with another one: ‘community’. I think we could be in a right auld mess under Boris’s direction, so sticking together may be more essential than ever.

Keep going, I reckon, and if you have to turn the air a bit blue while you’re at it, then so be it. There’s worse things after all: just look at the PM.






SWB welcomes the ‘Elf on the Shelf’

Folks, I caved, I gave in, I acquiesced to my children’s demands: on Monday, the ‘elf on the shelf’ arrived. I had been vehemently opposed to this notion. The girls already had experience of elves at school, where teachers with imagination in abundance, created a fun festive atmosphere with elves up to mischief galore. This was sufficient enough tomfoolery, I felt, and hoped that I, could therefore remain exempt, left in peace to pursue my own Advent activities. I had high hopes of running 5km every day until the 25th, or maybe even ON Christmas Day itself when we have a tradition of doing Wallace parkrun. Last year a friend brought a bottle of prosecco and chocolates. Oh, what comfort and joy.

My aim, this Advent, was to reap the rewards of headspace, shed some pounds and remove myself bodily from the temptation of eating crackers and cheese at 6pm while preparing the evening meal.

Eight days in, I have managed two runs, one of which involved jogging to a local watering-hole; drinking a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (albeit a small one) then jogging home again. I mean, does that even count as a run? I do hope so: much of it was uphill and thus decidedly unpleasant.

It’s now the 8thDecember and my stomach remains portly and my nerves remain fraught.

Well of course they are. Who has time to go jogging when they have a house to decorate, nativities to attend, an actual JOB, and now this bastard elf as an extra obligation? Who needs to pay to go to a pantomime, I ask you? Our lives are pantomime enough.

I tried to dissuade my children from having an elf by describing the evil antics some of them got up to. I heard of one, I told them darkly, who peed into a basin, then left it in the laundry room, where he proceeded to unclip all the socks and pants off the whirl-i-gig drier so they all plopped down into the piddle. ‘Imagine, your lovely socks covered in elf WEE,’ I said.

‘Our socks aren’t lovely,’ said the Small Child. ‘They are all odd and some have holes in.’

‘That must have been a Black Elf’ said the Older one gravely. ‘I’ve heard they’re really bad. Green ones are nice. Red too.’

‘Hmmm…’ I said.

LSB beckoned me over. ‘See that parcel that arrived yesterday?’ he whispered. ‘I ordered them an elf!’ He looked ever so pleased with himself, ebullient, even, full of Christmas cheer.

‘For f**k’s sake,’ I said. Although it was he who instigated the elf’s arrival, it was I who removed it from the twenty tons of packaging (thank you Amazon) and arranged it so it was ensconced in the sweetie tin with a Freddo tucked snugly under each arm to greet the children on Monday morning. Jeepers, the excitement when they blundered,  bleary-eyed into us, to announce its arrival. ‘I thought it was a dream!’ said the Small Child, her face aglow. ‘But it’s here! And its HOLDING FREDDOS!!!!’

Turns out there are some benefits to being a curmudgeonly sort of mother. If you actually do something agreeable, your children can hardly believe it.  Every morning, they have been dancing down the stairs and going ‘on the hunt.’ They were thrilled to find it tangled in some wool suspended from lights in the kitchen, its hat caught in the yarn. I didn’t even have to do that; gravity took care of it. The elf has been having a grand old time to itself: sitting atop our Christmas llama decoration; stealing their dad’s beer from the fridge, and their favourite so far- climbing inside a toy ‘tree puppet’ and writing ‘HO HO HO’ with Lego and hair bobbles. (I was quite proud of that one, I must admit.)

And here I must share a startling revelation. I have LOVED this. Life, as I’m sure you can appreciate can be so very serious and GLUM. Oh, the all-pervading glumness of it at times. I mean, who in the name of God would ever of thought Princess Anne could bring a moment of levity to world politics? We must be in a very dark place indeed. And BoJo and Corbyn- send in the clowns indeed. So introducing this gentle silliness, this whimsy, is most welcome. Last spring I went to see the Australian cartoonist Leunig chatting with Pádraig O’Tuoma in The Black Box, and he was very keen on embracing the whimsical aspect of life. Being curious, being open, daring to wonder when everything seems to have gone to shit. Sometimes life needs brightened by the lightest of touches, and a sense of magic and nonsense. Very soon my little pair will be too old to give a flying f**k what an elf is up to, so for the moment, it’s here and giving us a bit of its craic. I’m beginning to suspect it may even be more for me than them.