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, 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.

SWB moves to a temporary abode

So, this week the trauma of life continues. It’s a first world problem alright- we’ve had to move out since I want a bigger kitchen and an extra couple of bedrooms, it’s not like we’re being bombed to shit in Aleppo. But I am looking forward to the day we can all fit round the dining table without someone being brained every time we open the fridge. And since I’m a total midget a few low level cupboards wouldn’t go a miss so I can reach things without being hit on the head by a condiment. I’ve had enough of head injuries of late.

Anyway, it’s amazing how fast one becomes conditioned to doing things. I’ve always been a keen recycler. I recall being taken to play at the school where my dad was a teacher. Seeing the hall littered with Coke cans I found a bin bag and started collecting with vigour, much to the mortification of my friends. At my school I joined the ‘can-crushing’ club, where about 6 of us organised for recycling bins to be ordered and then set to crushing the cans in the greenhouse beside the biology rooms. I still remember the sweet cloying reek of the fermented juice; and the wasps in summer: I was one earnest wee child. Twenty years on, there’s a no cans policy in most schools, though I know much of the paper and cardboard in many is taken straight to the dump which is a disgraceful state of affairs altogether.


It was with great consternation then, that I noted an absence of compost bins in the new apartment. I attempted to reason with myself and let it go, but the OCD crept in. A little part of me dies inside every time a banana skin goes in the bin. So we’re just going to cart it to the dump twice a week, which thankfully is beside where we run, so no wastage of petrol there. Composting is a most worthwhile endeavour, the results of which have already been noted by my pal’s mum, who got a couple of bags from her local dump, and has seen her roses flourish as never before.


LSB has lived up to his acronym this weekend. Since it’s full steam ahead with the extension and the builders are about to ‘break through’ as they say, it’s necessitated a move to an apartment down town. It’s quite New Yorky in feel, high ceilings, big windows, minimalist furnishings…. until we arrived with all our crap. I had sought to adopt a ‘pared down living’ lifestyle for 6 months, but it’s amazing how much stuff one seems to need just to get on with daily life.


I’ve succeeded in rationing clothes, but I need a functioning kitchen. I can’t seem to settle with out knowing I have my herbs and spices to hand, and my favourite pots and pans. Since I’m also prone to burning arses of woks it’s probably safer that I use my own and leave the others in the state we found them.


Anyway, the actual move commenced on Friday, with LSB taking the day off work. Now I’d been emptying cupboards and packing glassware for a week, so emotionally I’d processed we were off. But, not so with himself, who’s been running, or coaching running, or planning f**king running routes all week, so Friday appeared to bring on a mild attack of anxiety. Thankfully this attack didn’t render him inert and he successfully organised broadband and built beds, his main priority being that the Minis’ room was cosy and inviting. This sounds kind and loving but really it’s because we can bear to listen to any more whinging. They’ve taken to our new digs insofar as they see the corner sofa and chairs as an assault course, and when they’re not vaulting over them, they’re lying like baby tigers draped along the tops. The effing bo is still firmly clenched between FJ’s teeth and a steady dribble making it’s way down the fabric. There goes the deposit.


Neighbours looked on in barely disguised horror as they witnessed our removal strategy; I think they thought a lot of knackers had arrived in. I commandeered a large trolley from the local petrol station to cart boxes from the car park, into the lift and up to our third floor flat. I’m not sure the double doors remained unscathed, and some colourful language may have been employed. There has to be some value in a ‘less is more’ style of living.

SWB lets rip on clutter…..again

It seems to be very much a first-world problem to be bemoaning the amount of stuff we accumulate. People speak of Marie Kondo in deferential tones; there’s hardly been a women’s magazine without a feature on how to ‘declutter your life’ and in doing so find health, wealth and happiness. As I have previously mentioned, friends of mine have bought her book and successfully parted with a third of their belongings and claim to be feeling the better for it. So I buy the book, but feck me, I’m bored. And frustrated. Poor wee Marie Kondo; I mean why were social services never involved? This is a young girl, a middle child obviously short of attention, who shunned socialising entirely to spend hours upon hours, sorting out the contents of drawers and cupboards. I mean would her parents never just have taken her to the park, arranged a play date or at the very least have sat her down in front of the telly with a packet of Tayto or a Happy Meal? (or seaweed crisps and smiley sushi or whatever constitutes a kids’ treat in Japan). There has to be some form of OCD or anxiety disorder there. At one point she is ‘almost in tears’ when she discovers a slimy residue, not only on the bottom of her shower gel but also on the base of the wire rack on which it sat. This is referred to as the ‘disgusting slime episode.’ God, that must have been horrific. My heart goes out to her.

I mean, I accept, I should hoover my house more frequently. Maybe even reacquaint myself with a mop. And I need to re-evaluate my relationship with some dresses, which, for the sake of decency should never see the light of day again. But as for apologising to my house for the clip of it, or feeling sorry for the socks that I’ve had the temerity to pair together, in a ball, well I draw the line at this point. I reckon there are enough people in this world to whom I may owe an apology, without having to start with my undergarments.


I had the good fortune to tune into Radio 4 last week and catch a snippet of John Le Carré’s biography. In it he mentioned his inspiration for the character Tessa Quayle in ‘The Constant Gardener’. This was a feisty French woman who overcame an abusive childhood and addiction to be the saviour of countless refugee and displaced children in places as diverse as Cambodia and the Congo, before her untimely death in Kosovo in the nineties. She also sounded like pure craic. As I listened, in awe at her courage and indomitable spirit, I thought, why have I never heard of this person before? And then, why the fuck are we all worshipping at the alter of Marie-bloody-Kondo, who is famous for her organisational skills and innovative folding technique? Was she standing in the French embassy in Phnom Penn, facing down officials while corralling orphans onto a plane to safety? What are we thinking?


But back up a minute, this is the world we live in. It is a consumerist society and we’re all guilty of getting our kicks from popping into the House of Fraser and doing a gleeful jig when we see the Ted Baker stuff is on sale. But since reading the ‘Joy of Tidying’ and ‘Stuffocation’ by James Wallman, I’ve definitely been a bit more circumspect with my shopping habits. I’ve bought less and I’ve given away more. A start-up toddler group has benefitted from a large pile of toys which were annoying the like clean out of me. My friends have inundated the charity shops in South Belfast with bags of clothes and books, and they’re never done firing cheques off to Oxfam and Unicef. It’s okay to take advice on how to live better and more comfortably, and these days that means reducing what we have. And if it takes reading what a certain, slightly sanctimonious lady suggests to propel us into action, then so be it.

Father Jack

Now why in the name of all that is good would a mother nick name her youngest child Father Jack, after a repellent character in a farcical Irish Comedy, and even call her it in public? Well, there are some uncanny resemblances. Father Jack, in the programme, can be ghastly. Snap. This one is an obstreperous article, even if unprovoked. You just never know when a wee leg might poke out and give you a kick, just in passing.

She is particularly partial to a bottle of milk, which she called her ‘bo’. God, how we the that word. ‘MY BO’ she’ll holler, and we’ll all prance around in a frenzy to find it, just to make her shut up. She has affected a walk, with said bottle, which makes her look like a drunk, staggering around, taking a  swig and giving off.  The early hours are her favourite time to torment, waking us up at any time from 5am, growling MIIIILK in our face, until someone (usually LSB) blunders down the stairs to the fridge. We kept losing bottles a while ago; turns out the little s**t was hiding them in infrequently used cupboards, so we would find bottles of yellow rancid awfulness. This was of course, during the height of summer.  I’m not convinced that was a coincidence. She’s fairly sharp, for a 3 year old.

Another aspect of her Jackishness, is the hair. She screams if one dares to brandish a brush, only being cowed into submission by a granny, or maybe an aunt. Thus hair sticks perpetually at a rakish angle, as demonstrated in some of the expensive nursery photos we’ve stupidly purchased.  Mornings are a treat, to be sure. After a night on the ‘bo’ she’ll present herself delightedly, with the hair plastered to one side of her face, sticky with congealed milk. It’s lovely.

So Father Jack she is, and Father Jack she’ll stay, until she behaves herself. And relinquishes that effing ‘bo’.