Dog Day Disasters

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t get a dog. So if you are thinking of acquiescing to the demands of your off-spring (or trying to convince your husband to bow to yours) you may wish to read the following first, just to help you arrive at an informed decision.

I have spent a great deal of time during this Lockdown period, convinced that my family are trying to gas light me. Perhaps you have felt the same. Here’s how it goes:

ME: Where’s my phone?

OFF-SPRING (in unison, playing on their f**king Nintendo): Don’t know. (And don’t fecking care either).

Two hours later the phone is located on their bedroom floor where one child films another leaping from bed to bed while giving a running commentary in a fake and grating American accent.

Now the dog has started conspiring against me too. Single slippers are deposited on the lawn, as are table tennis bats. When I’m weeding and set down my trowel for five seconds she make off with that too, and my gardening gloves don’t fare any better. I constantly lose things anyway so I don’t need children and animals adding to my messy, muddled mind.

I’m not sure whether our dog thinks she is a person or whether she regards the rest of us as her pack of dogs. Either way, she likes to be very involved in every activity, and whines pitifully if the children have the audacity to go into the garden without her. LSB went for a snooze the other day and woke up with her asleep beside him, head on the pillow. He jumped, I laughed, she snored. It’s like having a shadow following us about and God help her when normality returns, because she won’t want to be left.

The cat is still non-plussed at her arrival, especially because Tilly devours all her food which is costing us a fortune in fecking Gourmet Purina pouches. At least they have settled down around each other now- the first few weeks it was like living in an episode of ‘The Wire.’

I am acquainted with a local poet, whose Twitter bio reads: ‘Servant to a menagerie of creatures.’ Join the club, I thought at five this morning, as I wandered around the garden trying to convince the dog to pee. This is not the norm, I might add, but unfortunately when your greyhound manages to impale herself on some unknown sharp object while on her morning walk to the meadow, this is the outcome.

Some lengthy surgery ensued, and her thigh needed to be all stitched together; no easy feat when you consider the breed’s skin, which is taut and thin. The poor vet didn’t have much to work with. Quite a mischief she did to herself, and we now have to monitor her day and night lest she escapes from her collar of shame and rips out her stitches. She has been put on strict bed rest, which, for a youthful energetic creature like herself, isn’t so much a challenge as an impossibility. Moreso for us, trying to police her. You’d have better luck trying to get Dominic Cummings to STAY AT HOME. Incidentally, when she refused to pee outside this morning I put Saturday’s Guardian on the floor to see if she would urinate on that, but she said no, she’d have another go outside before she’d relieve herself on your man’s face. Finally, when I took off her collar she deigned to go. There’s forty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

She has only managed to defecate once in the last forty-eight hours, due to the combined effects of trauma, a general anaesthetic and a reduced appetite. The Small Child though, still managed to find the solitary shit, and not only stand in it, but proceed to slide down the slide with most of the canine faeces on her trainer, (which were, of course, white) thus necessitating the cleaning of both slide and shoe.

I have thus spent the last two days in a state of high agitation. We are, naturally, besotted with her, and she has rallied so well. The Mothership was dead against me getting a dog, (past experiences have been disastrous) until she met Tilly, and now asks me to send her a photo every day. The reason she was so agin getting her was that it’s just so flipping awful when something happens to them. Plus I’m forever ringing her to whinge about my over-burdened life and there is no doubt that having a dog at least doubles the housework. Even a shorthaired dog like herself moults something shocking.

But getting the dog, (at a lesser extent our tetchy and taciturn cat), has helped bring  us together and give us a common focus during this time of weirdness and social distancing. It helps dispel the angst and gloom, and when I’m not treating them with flea powder and carting them off to the vet, it’s been a welcome reprieve.

SWB gets into Leather

It has just dawned on me why hippies go around smiling beatifically and it’s got nothing  to do with the free love, psychedelic drugs or dropping out of the rat race. I think it’s all down to their casual disregard for structured clothing and tight waistbands: that’s why they look like they don’t give a f**k. How I hate an underwired bra and skinny jeans, that leave your tummy with cruel button indentations and deep channels running down your poor squeezed thighs.

I haven’t put on a pair of tights since Lockdown began and this has made all the other hardships much easier to bear. I think my favourite part of summer holidays is not packing tights: chucking on a diaphanous dress and heading to the pool with all notions of my M&S black opaques forgotten. And do your tights ever go on in a twist, as you fight your way into them in the half-light of an icy winter morning? God, how I hate that. Hell for me, would be going round for all eternity wearing twisted hosiery, with only instant coffee to drink and listening to Baby Shark on a loop. I’d be well miserable, (but that, I suppose, would be the point.)

So, in an effort to see me in something other than leggings and pyjama bottoms, didn’t Himself go online and order me a selection of garments. Now there was me trying to be green and ecologically aware, and well-pleased with myself I was, that I hadn’t bought anything new in months, (not even an ethically sourced cotton t-shirt.) He’d been reading the Guardian Weekend and there was Jess Cartner-Morley parading about in a pair of high-waisted leather look trousers. Naturally enough, what with her being a fine looking girl who can, unlike me, tolerate wearing heels, (I HATE HEELS, fecking torture for feet) she carried them off with aplomb. I’m not sure they sat so well on my five feet nothing and increasingly pot-bellied frame. I’m keeping them though, because when we emerge from this, I will need something to heave myself into.

But he hadn’t stopped there. Oh no. There were three other leather look articles for me to peruse, including one pair of orangey-brown trousers that looked like the sort of protective clothing one would don if they were checking the accumulation of micro-plastics in their local sewerage treatment plant. Two skirts too, which were, I feel an optimistic purchase on his part, that I’ll tart myself up since it’s the weekend and inject a bit of glamour into proceedings while he makes me a French Martini. ‘Look at their nice soft waistbands,’ he said, looking hopeful. Perhaps I should apply some fake tan and we could do an online poll to help me decide whether to keep them or not.

I wore my black trousers to Sainsbury’s on Thursday evening and met a friend. Instead of doing the decent thing and inquiring about her family’s health, my opening conversational gambit was, ‘Do you like my new trousers, or do I look like Patsy in Ab Fab?’  ‘Very fetching,’ she replied and kind soul that she is, didn’t make any reference to mutton or lamb. She was wearing a face-mask though which probably helped when arranging her features into an expression of positivity. I think she could see the demented look I had about me and had no wish to crush my wilting spirit.

There we are then- I’ve covered fashion, hippies and notions about the afterlife. Happy Friday everyone- now away out there and nail down all your new patio furniture and trampolines before this gale blows them clean into Belfast Lough.





SWB feels a bit wobbly

As I write this my husband is out in the laundry room, apologising to the cat. ‘I’m sorry about this Izzy,’ he begins, ‘but the shop had none of your usual fare, so you’ll have to make do.’ I can only imagine the cat’s face when faced with a bowl of dry Purina pellets instead of her Gourmet sachets. She’s been in terribly poor humour since the arrival of the greyhound, and takes herself in to LSB’s study to shout at him, or lands on his head at about 4am and stats kneading his hair. She knows not to bother with me, as I can withstand the yamming of a cat better than he. She has good reason for finding fault with the dog, because Tilly keeps finishing off all dinners so when she goes back for her second helping she is confronted with the licked clean surface of an empty bowl. It’s enough to give a cat a complex.

It’s been a strange auld weekend. It should have been Georgina’s First Communion on Saturday, which is the most Catholic thing you’ll ever hear a Protestant from North Down say. I’ve been round the houses at bit with religion, but since I’m Church of Ireland, Catholicism isn’t too much of a leap.  I quite like going to Mass actually. I like the quiet and the introspection and the fact that no one bothers me for an hour. I find myself drifting into a kind of meditative trance, and almost always come out feeling the better for having gone. Nobody ever goes in for any of that mad carry-on: waving their hands in the air and clapping like a seal on ketamine, which is a relief after I flirted with the Pentecostals as a teen (after which I  think I may still be suffering from PTSD). I didn’t realise how much I’d missed having it in my life until I listened to the wee message the Parish Priest sent out for the kids, and when he said the Blessing  I burst into tears. I’d been going every week you see, and it’s been nine weeks now and it was just so comforting to hear. So there you are, that was surprising.

Less surprising was that Herself went and got her dress and was halfway into it until LSB shouted ‘PUT IT AWAY’ because sure she would have had it clarried in muck in five seconds flat. The next thing she has it laid out on the floor which hadn’t been mopped in at least 3 weeks as she tried to manoeuvre it back into its protective bag. And there was me, just trying to drink my coffee in peace. There’s a lesson there. Just don’t think, that you will ever, during this lockdown, get to enjoy a hot beverage. You’ll be lucky if you get it down you before it’s cold, never mind being able to appreciate the rich notes of caramel and hazelnut in your Single Origin Columbian Roast. ‘PICK IT UP OFF THE EFFING FLOOR,’ I shrieked, which was rich for a woman who thirty seconds previous had been wiping away tears after listening to a priest on You Tube.

Another thing that made me sad was that Harper’s Yard was cancelled. For the uninitiated, Harper’s Yard is the brainchild of some friends of mine and their fabulous neighbour Brian Harper. It’s a simple enough premise- neighbours meet to eat cake, drink coffee and chat, and make a donation to a local charity. But here’s the thing- anything that looks so simple is never simple. HOURS of icing and baking and organising go into it.  This was going to be a special Twilight Session with wine and music and fairy lights. The beneficiary this time was Cruse Bereavement Services, which LSB and I have both availed of over the last five years. In fact, were it not for the counsellor I saw, who told me that I ought to write, I maybe wouldn’t have started the blog at all, which as I’ve said, has been a form of therapy in itself. Of course they put up lots of lovely messages about how we’ll do it all again when it’s safe to do so, and that had me snivelling all over again. So there you are: totes emosh. (Did I really just say that? This Lockdown must really be getting to me.)

SWB enjoys some lockdown luxury

No flipping way, I thought initially, if I’m ordering in, I want it to arrive hot and ready to eat. I don’t want to have to light my oven and read instructions and potentially wreck the expensive dinner before it’s even hit my plate. No, I thought: until it is deemed safe enough to venture out again, I will stay put, and enjoy a meal without the risk of butchering it.

For me, eating out is about the escapism. It is leaving behind the carnage of my house and obviating the need to clear the table of accumulated ephemera. It is the wine list and the joy of choosing a wine to suit each course, if one is making a night of it. It is sitting in the window of General Merchants and Shed and seeing friends walk by who may even pop in and say hello, or the munching of chicken wings on a cheeky mid-week outing to the Northern Lights.

It is not a van drawing up outside your house and handing you two brown paper bags at three in the afternoon. Except, last Friday it was, because this is lockdown and needs must and the thought of eating my own fecking food for another consecutive night had me sourer than a Free Presbyterian stumbling in on an episode of Normal People, and on a Sunday too.

Someone on social media drew my attention to Taste & Tour and happy days, they were delivering, and wasn’t it Indian themed, and I am partial to an Indian. But I am also (and here’s a surprise,) a very FUSSY connoisseur of Indian cuisine because when I lived on Reunion Island we had Indian landlords, who would occasionally drop us in fresh samosas and the odd goat curry. I have since found it hard to countenance the dishes to which one is often subjected here, with all the gloopy sauce and mounds of green pepper. Why do takeaways INSIST on shovelling green pepper into everything? Nigella Lawson says they are an abomination and I’m inclined to agree. Bitter and tasteless but much cheaper than their red counterparts, hence their popularity, I suppose.

Feck me but don’t I digress?

Back to Taste & Tour: flipping gorgeous it was. My fears were unfounded: there’s actually fuck all to do. It arrives, like any normal takeaway, but requires heating. So on went the oven and in went the starter and main. LSB did this, while I ran up the stairs and fired on nice top and skirt and some lipstick. ‘Aww would you look at you!’ said he when I reappeared, delighted to see me out of my rotten old active wear.

Up at the breakfast bar I perched and he opened the pouch of East India Gimlet and shook it over ice. Yes, these guys provide a cocktail in a pouch. To be fair, when I saw the menu I was like, chickpea starter, hmm, lamb biriyani ok so, but then my eyes lit upon the word COCKTAIL and I was all, Feck! Yes! Get it ordered! It was aromatic and zesty and given my swift descent into gentle inebriation, fairly lethal too. Down the hatch it went, sharpish.

‘Ding’ went the timer and the first course was ready. I’ll be honest. A few potatoes and some chickpeas done with tomato and spices. I was not initially enamoured. But, when decanted upon the plate with the yogurt dip, mint & coriander chutney and pomegranate seeds, it was sensational. And this is when it suddenly became a restaurant sort of experience because I became all poncy going ‘Do you SEE how the freshness mint brings out of the spiciness of the chilli? And the yogurt and the chickpeas? Have you EVER encountered such a perfect pulse?

‘I could eat ten of those’ declared Himself as he put down his fork. ‘Me too,’ I said, and then we discussed how, if we had meals like this more often we could go vegetarian. But DING went the timer again and out wafted the smell of slow cooked lamb which put paid to that notion for now. We heated the dahl in a pot for five minutes and the main was ready go.

Another revelation: never before have I heard my husband comment positively about a lentil. ‘My God,’ he said, with feeling. ‘I wouldn’t even KNOW that was a lentil.’ He’s been a long time agin lentils, has Himself, after a bad experience with a Dansak we once shared in the Bengal Brasserie, the consequences of which I shan’t labour here. This dahl, on the other hand, was rich and indulgent. And the lamb. I am still thinking about the lamb. Delicately spiced, velvety and succulent, it was a dream, and even more so when topped with raita and red onion.

I like cooking, but I’m too busy to be flavouring a raita with cumin and coriander, or footering about making a tamarind chutney. I’m not about to start cooking a dahl for five hours, or making a curry with a base of 25 ingredients. Nor am I a precision cook who ensures that that’s an interesting mix of tastes and textures on the plate. In short, I’m a mum who’s wearing about 4 different hats at the moment. So to have this beauty dropped on my doorstep was a Friday Delight indeed. We were too full to have dessert so waited until  on Saturday before sampling the chocolate brownies from Little Pink Kitchen. I never would have thought of adding cardamom to a brownie but it certainly lent it a Bombay twist, and along with a scoop of Al Gelato (which we’d ordered separately,) it was an unctuous, stunning combination.

All in all, it came to over fifty quid, at £23 a head plus extra because Himself had ordered 6 bottles of beer. This meant we had free delivery and for restaurant quality food I think it was worth it. Given the money we have saved by not going out and how we have all but eliminated food waste- I think this is an indulgence well worth forking out for.

(Taste & Tour are no longer offering this particular Friday night service, but keep an eye on their website for other exciting developments.) Meanwhile, keep supporting restaurant when you can, so they are still up and running when we are.

SWB is still ranting away over here

Readers, I tried. I really tried. I was going to be all shiny and positive this week because lovely neighbours have deposited books and buns and plants on my doorstep (sadly no dog’s pyjamas have arrived as yet) and I was trying to channel all my feel-good vibes and be thankful and full of gratitude. But after half an hour of home-schooling yesterday, this noble pursuit was dropped quicker than Prof Neil Ferguson’s trousers, so hey ho, you’re stuck with another rant. Bear with me.

Life under lockdown can be summarised as a series of interruptions, can’t it? Everything takes about three times as long, with treble the amount of aggravation. About a month ago, when I was still trying to be healthy and doing  ‘Yoga with Adrienne’, up popped one of the Master Class adverts featuring Joyce Carol Oates, who offered this nugget of wisdom: ‘You cannot write if you are constantly interrupted.’ Really Joyce? Fecking really? Is that true? Because I’ve become the next f**king Anne Tyler since my kids have been at home 24/7 and my husband’s backside is cemented to his swizzle chair at the computer upstairs.

I never get two minutes peace. The second I think I’m making some headway with a task, in wanders a child needing a drink or a snack or their ball retrieved from the top of the shed.

Of course, the real battle is with myself, trying not to look at the WhatApp on my phone which is going a dinger, and thinking that really the loo could do with a good scrub while I’m supposed to be writing or marking or helping a child do Tally Charts. ‘I HATE TALLY CHARTS,’ wailed the wee one on Wednesday. ‘You hate everything, unless it involves taking out paints and giving me work,’ I snapped, ‘so you may just get on with your sums.’

I really am not my best self at the moment.

Even my Mac conspires against me, as I can almost see my battery plummet by the second, while the poor fan chunters away like mad, seeing as it’s being used as the portal for my work, the home-schooling system and the eleventy billion other things I look up on a day to day basis. A quick look at my browser history shows that yesterday I googled ‘How to Draw a Baby Seal’ on You Tube, ‘How to Start Your own Wormery’ and in the middle of this I decided to order some dessert from Al Gelato (I told you I was easily distracted).  All this I did while waiting for the child to come back downstairs where she’d gone to get a red felt tip and got distracted.

(In fairness, the seal we drew together as the day’s ‘fun creative activity’ wasn’t half bad.)

I am, of course, not the only poor devil losing this battle while they try to work. A teacher colleague of mine was busy last week contending with spreadsheets and data while her sons pestered her with questions as diverse as ‘Does this picture look more like pâte or ham to you?’ for his French homework, and another wanted her to simplify quadratic equations with him.

I think my temper has been so frayed because I feel so guilty all the time; I can never concentrate at the task at hand because I feel I should be crossing something else off my ‘to do list.’ And meanwhile, the dishes! How they mount! And of course, we went and got the dog who likes to be made a fuss of so I can’t walk past her without giving her a hug, so she’s another great interruption, but a lovely one, it must be said.

But if you’re in the same boat as me here’s a tip; (and I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, what? A tip from you, you crazed mad woman?) but on Tuesday I took my friend Gayle’s advice and I set an alarm and forced myself to get up at 6-45. I shook off the sleep and opened the laptop and did three finicky wee jobs that I couldn’t get near the day before. Boom, boom, boom, I had them all done in no time with no one asking any questions except for LSB who did enquire as to the state of my health, so uncharacteristic was this behaviour. I’ve never been a morning person but I can see now how people get up at 5-30am run round looking all smug and pleased with themselves. It’s a joy, really, to start the day with a win rather than a sense of dread, if like me, you usually feel defeated by 9-15.

Anyway, it’s Friday evening now and I took the day off home-schooling and my work and we walked the dog together and ordered in a feast from ‘Taste and Tour’ and I’m feeling very much better. I’m telling you, it’s cheaper than therapy, this writing lark. Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

(Only got to posting this on Saturday, due to constant interruptions).

SWB has a grumble- like all Normal People, right?

It’s bad to whinge, isn’t it? I mean am I a bad person? We are living up here on the hill, we can walk our dog in the meadow and we have the shops beside us where all the staff are lovely and kind and most people, (apart from one prick my husband encountered on Friday,) adhere to the social distancing rules and don’t ram their trollies up your arse while you’re checking the dates on your M&S rotisserie style chicken.

But it’s me, and I am prone to a good old moan so off I’ll go, and don’t go judging me. I’m just f**ked off at this stage. Earlier I reached over LSB for my coffee and he said ‘Ouch! You just after knee-ing me there!’

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to.’ ‘Or DID you? said the Older Child, her eyebrow raised knowingly. ‘I think perhaps you did.’

Perceptive wee article she is too because it wasn’t long after he’d cleaned the living room and said, ‘Now I don’t want to blow my own trumpet (well you may as well as I won’t be blowing it for you) but haven’t I done a great job in there? You may want to take a look.’

What is it with men? Every flipping day I do the dishes and the laundry and hang it out and take it in and cook the dinners and I don’t go around saying: ‘Oh, wasn’t that a great load of whites I just flung on there at 30 degrees?’ or ‘Check out these pots? Aren’t they positively gleaming after that good scrub with my responsibly sourced bamboo scrubber?’

I’ve started now, so I might as well tell you what else is annoying me.

I’m pissed off with people making sourdough and posting it on social media because its’s just rude when they can’t have me round and pour me a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso and serve it up to me with a hunk of manchego and homemade chilli jam. (Yes Louise, I’m talking about you, so I am.)

I’m fed up with the Zoom and Whatsapp calls that falter when the connection’s bad and you spend half your time saying ‘Oh No! You first! No, you go on sure! You first! Didn’t quite catch that!’ Then you get chatting about something interesting and in wanders the dog. ‘Oh and here’s the dog! Isn’t she lovely!’ ‘Oooh yes!’ ‘And here’s my child! And there’s your child!’ ‘Hello, Hello!’ Cue inane waving, when frankly, lovely as your children and your friend’s children may be, you want to have a proper, no holds-barred chat that is MOST definitely not for the tender age of the under eights.

I’m also fed up meeting people in the street or over the wall and saying a million time to the kids ‘2 metres! 2 metres! Keep well back there!’ which makes any class of normal conversation impossible.

I’m narked, that instead of sitting across from my mates, all tarted up and having a grand catch up over coconut margaritas in La Taqueria, that we are waving at each other across the street, wearing jogging bottoms and clutching small plastic bags of recently excreted shit, still warm from dog’s large intestines.

I’m agitated because I naively thought, that through all of this that I might get my house in order and do a spot of decluttering, but no, sure there’s no charity shops or recycling centres open so we’re still wading through mounds of shite and sure, by way of getting a dog we just brought at whole lot more truck in.

There’s no end to dog paraphernalia, I’m finding. Rugs and coats and leads and toys and food and treats. If you land yourself with a greyhound, you should know that they are prone to a chill, so we had to get a wee coat for Tilly. We ordered her pyjamas too, much to the Small Child’s delight, but they haven’t arrived yet, much to everyone’s disappointment.

And I’m really quite distraught, that Normal People is over on BBC 3. It was so heartrendingly, beautifully shot and so true- there’s a scene with Connell in episode 10 and if he doesn’t get Oscar nominated it’ll be a crime against acting. I enjoyed the book but I didn’t LOVE it- I got frustrated with the characters, I kept thinking, just fecking GET TOGETHER and be done with it. But in the series the fragility of the pair of them was so much more apparent and convincing to me. One could see how easy it was to be misunderstood, vulnerable and insecure as a young adult, perhaps with a distorted perception of self.  I worry that with all the media hype surrounding the sex scenes (and perhaps I’m underestimating teenagers here) that the point may be a bit lost on them- but to me it summed up so much of what it is to be young and confused; feeling lost and listless at university, especially as an arts student. Navigating new friendships and articulating what it was you wanted when you didn’t know yourself: that was hard, wasn’t it? (I feel, for the benefit of The Mothership here that I have to add that there was never anything in the way of bondage in my student romances, least she splutters out her tea and scalds herself.)

LSB said he was bereft when it was over, (‘Normal People’ that is, not his time at Queen’s after which ended he felt nowt but relief) and I feel the same- I haven’t seen anything that has affected me quite so much in a while. There was just such incredible tenderness in it, and at the moment, when everything is so emotionally charged-it had me in bits.

So there you are- just something else to be raging about. And it’s Sunday night, so another week of home-schooling and cramming in your own work and housework and feeling rubbish at every last bit of it. At least the dog is happy, even without her wee pyjamas, so that’s something.

SWB on lessons during lockdown

During my teaching career, kids have flicked M&Ms at my head.  A peeved teen once got up from her chair and launched it, with some gusto,  in my direction. I wore a pair of ill-fitting trousers and students shouted ‘camel-toe’ at me up and down the corridor. Never though, have I been so relieved to see Friday arrive.  Several times this week, I have had to take myself out into the garden and utter obscenities, to quell the urge to eject a Small Child through a window. ‘I see your Tourette’s is back,’ muttered LSB darkly, hearing me drop the c-bomb while hanging out the towels.

It can be trying enough, the whole ‘home-schooling’ lark. More trying still, when you have all the technical know-how of a seventeenth-century peasant with eye-trouble. Things didn’t work this week. When they did work, I managed to delete the bastard things before I sent them. Everything that COULD run out of charge, ran out of charge. ‘I WOULD do the work Mummy, but my tablet’s at 7%.’ I heard that a lot. The Small Child’s newest infuriating habit is running off when I’m trying to explain things to her. She’s a stealthy wee article, and I was halfway through explaining plurals ending in ‘x’ and ‘ey’ before I realised she’d taken herself off.

The main lesson my progeny will have to take from this, is not to repeat the foul language to which they’ve been subjected. ‘Where’s she fucked off to now?’ I spluttered in disbelief, coming downstairs from the printer with a sheet for The Small One to do. ‘Outside,’  said the Older one, not even looking perturbed by and getting on with her adding-up. The Small Child waved with glee from the top of the slide. I sighed.

They have expressed great reluctance to complete the work sent by their lovely and diligent teachers. I’ve had to prise the Nintendo Switch from the Older Child’s hands and at one point I put it in the bin, only for it to be fished out later by her sobbing sister. ‘But Daddy plays it too,’ she wailed.’ ‘Daddy can just eff off,’ I fumed, since it was Daddy who brought the blasted thing into the house at Christmas.

‘The thing is,’ opined the Small Child, ‘that Miss X is very clear when she explains things and you’re not clear. AT ALL.’

‘No, she’s not, is she?’ agreed her sister.

Little s**ts.

To be fair to them, though, it isn’t all their fault. I should be organised. I should source rubbers and pencils and rulers, and have them at our disposal. I ought to acquaint myself with the see-saw exercises, before I have a small, impatient child standing beside me who just wants to play ‘Harry Potter’ with her sister: ‘Here’s comes Hedwig Harry!’ (cue a small stuffed owl flying past my shoulder.) See-saw isn’t the most straightforward of apps to navigate, and is less so when your new dog is pestering you for a piece of scone and you want to get a load of laundry done because the sun has the audacity to still be out after  17 days.

I just have to accept that at 7 and 8 years of age they  need me to sit with them and not be checking my phone or doing dishes while they work. They need me to be present, which is hard, what with my head being more pickled than a jar of kimchi. But to prevent meltdowns and ensure they get actually learn something, I have learnt to sit. We ask Alexa to time 25 minutes and I have a pile of pencils which I can sharpen and papers to sort while I wait for them to finish. I find these repetitive tasks soothing.  Socks have been paired. Elderly felt tips have been consigned to the bin and  I did some colouring in and drew little birds inspired by a marvellous book, ‘Jip and Janneka’.

Sometimes, they take a sheet up to LSB’s study and do a few sums while he works aways beside them. Often the dog wanders in too, and his work colleagues on Zoom have a bit of a chuckle. Maybe I just need to calm the fuck down. One day, I heard Adam Kay in an interview with Claudia Hammond on Radio 4, saying he never gets stressed about work anymore. Since giving up obstetrics and knowing that no one’s going to die on his watch, he’s decided to give less of a shit. I listened, nodding along sagely. ‘How wise,’ I thought, ‘what a sensible philosophy to adopt.’ Did I take it on board? Did I heck. I can’t even get through a morning without wanting to ingest Domestos, (although perhaps that’s a cure according to the news this morning.)

So next week, I’m doing it differently. I’m printing stuff out the night before. I’m making a plan and I’m putting rules in place, such as they must not run away when I’m teaching and be stompy, humpy little shits. They must not use their pogo sticks inside because it makes my head want to explode. They will learn something though, it’s one of the strangest times to be alive, but I’m happy that they’ve adapted to the new normal well ahead of me.

SWB looks for a Silver Lining

I’m going to go totally off-piste here, but I was thinking yesterday, as we took our mandated hourly walk, of any positives we can take from this experience, and I thought of a few. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are by that turn of events, but there you are. Odd things happen under lockdown.

  • You get to be a nosy bastard. There’s nothing I love more than a good peer into people’s houses. I grew up on The Esplanade where it was almost regulation for anyone passing to have a good gawk in, and very few of them were discreet about it either. Sadly for them, my parents weren’t much into doing up houses with my mother caustically remarking: ‘There’s people in Africa without their breakfasts’ when we mooted replacing the 70’s style carpet or faded wallpaper. It was hardly worth the effort of the folk staring in with such intensity. But now, instead of looking away, I feel I can peer into stranger’s livings rooms with impunity, under the guise of admiring the cuddly toys and rainbows adorning the windows. I’ve very envious of some of the interiors I’ve spied, and I’m thinking that our front room is lacking  a flamboyant feature wall. I should probably be able to get someone in to hang the wallpaper in 2022.


  • It’s acceptable to be ‘a bit mad’. Very few of us have ever lived through the like of this before, and please God when it ends, history won’t go repeating itself. It thus feels quite acceptable to be having crazy, apocalyptical thoughts, since the world has been firmly tipped on its arse anyway. I’ve always had a fairly tenuous grip of my marbles, and in moments of high anxiety I fear I’ll lose them altogether. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, and that other people are rationing how many times they listen to the news of a day, and are going around in a state of agitation.


  • You can sit on your arse of an evening and not feel guilty. I am flipping LOVING this. In normal circumstances, I could be out every night of the week. Yoga, running, the gym, a literary event, some other edifying activity. Maybe just the pub. Belfast is a happening sort of a place, and I’m often stressed because I can’t make it to an event or I’m just to tired or too busy at home. There is just so much guilt attached to everything: feeling bad for not going to yoga when I now it will be a brilliant class, but then feeling bad for not spending time with the kids when I do go. At the minute, I feel I have license to sit on my arse. I’m staying at home, like I’ve been told. The children are very happy.


  • Deliveries- oh, how I have LOVED the deliveries. And I’m not talking about bland old Amazon: hell no, I’m talking about when David Torrans from No Alibis rocks up with a signed copy (the last signed copy in the shop no less) of a short story by Claire Keegan. Our very own Jan Carson wrote a super blog on short stories and I’ve since ordered a half a dozen of them since my demented brain can’t cope with anything longer. In the very same day, we had a delivery of four fabulous wines from The Vineyard as it’s been perfect weather for sipping a New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the garden, and I always add ice to eke it out so I don’t end up binned by 8 o’clock. We can’t be having that (not in front of the children).

  • We’ve been ordering our coffee from Boden Park which makes our breakfast feel a bit more special. We ordered last Monday morning and a couple of hours later Mr McKeating himself landed up with three packets for us. ‘That’s service for you’ I exclaimed, relieving him of his package at the door (all wiped and disinfected he informed me.) ‘I work for a woman sure,’ he said. ‘There’s no rest for me.’
  • The final and most excellent delivery arrived on Friday afternoon when Al himself from Al Gelato appeared with 2 tubs of raspberry ripple, honeycomb, Kinder Bueno and my favourite ‘stracciatella’. He even read my wee note which said that I would reuse the wee spoons from the last time and didn’t need any more. We had a chat over the wall and he admired our cat and it was all very heart-warming indeed. It was like bringing all my very favourite bits of Botanic Avenue and the Ormeau to my door. All we need is for Shed to start ferrying up their roasted chicken and dauphinoise potatoes and we’ll be living our best lockdown life.

I think I can some up everything I’ve mentioned as acts of kindness. Whether we’re being kind to ourselves by having fewer expectations and allowing a rest when it’s needed, or the kindness of others as they bring a little joy to us, by making gorgeous window displays or bringing us goods to brighten our day. We are valuing kindness more and putting to at the top of the list, as a necessity and a priority. It’s brought me some comfort over the last few days, so instead of posting a vitriolic rant at the start of the week I thought I’d go for this instead. Don’t worry though- the home-schooling has to start again later so give it 2 hours and I’ll have plenty of ranty blog-fodder for later in the week.





SWB on Wednesday Whinge Day

‘So, what’s been annoying me this week?’ I asked LSB as I sat down to write with a large mug of coffee. ‘Write about what’s NOT been annoying you,’ he replied tersely. ‘That would be quicker.’

As usual he was right. I have been going around in a state of agitation, and after some reflection, I’ve pinpointed at the things that have me most on edge.

Firstly, I never feel I’m ‘off-duty’. Now maybe that’s just normal life, and parenting, and I should just accept that, but I never feel I can open a book or write. I feel I ought to be either exercising, entertaining or educating them, the off-spring. I know it’s the Easter Holidays, but home schooling was at fairly sketchy for the week before they began, thus I feel I ought to be doing a bit now, before their development falls off a cliff-edge. I was asking them a few basic maths questions earlier and there weren’t so much gaps in their understanding, as gaping chasms.

Secondly, it’s my new role, which involves never straying more than two feet away from the sink. The housework never stops does it? The tide of dishes is unceasing, especially when we start to bake. I’m not a natural baker (I wonder these days if I’m a natural anything) and I seem unable to do so without using every bowl in the house.  I was reading a rather superb essay by the Irish writer Sam Blake in a great anthology I was recently gifted, and she wrote one of her first books in the car between drop-off and pick up: that way she didn’t go home and get way-laid by the laundry greeting her at the door. Her back was completely fucked by the poor posture of writing in the driver’s seat, but at least she got a novel out of it.

Today, as the sunlight poured into the kitchen, we cleared the table and had a Spanish style lunch, making us think wistfully back to last Easter, when we went to Valencia. No sooner had the wee ones rested their cutlery than they buggered back into the garden, where they were playing ‘Harry Potter’. The Older one is ‘Harry’ and The Small Child is ‘Hermione’, and this game means that I keep tripping over the mop and brush which they leave at their arses all around the house when they aren’t using them as broomsticks. The poor auld cat is ‘Mrs Norris’ and they have a stuffed dog who is ‘Fang’. It would be quite cute and humorous really, if I weren’t in such crochety mood. Anyway, I called out to them that I was Professor McGonigall and that it was a disgrace that they hadn’t performed their ‘tidying-up spell’ and cleared away the lunch items. They came in and helped quite readily, apart from a few grumbles that I’d interrupted quidditch practice.

Oh, delighted with myself was I, with my ingenuity. Of course though, it all went arse over tit when LSB opened the fridge and out tumbled a big glass jar of pickled beetroot and smashed on the tiles. Being children, (or just plain thick) they had shoved it in so it teetered on the edge, just ready to bounce out at an unsuspecting parent.

I was most irked, firstly because I love my beetroot and secondly because the floor was only mopped yesterday.

The third thing which is getting my goat, is the way we keep saying ‘when this is all over’ and planning for the future. Now I’m a natural pessimist, as you may have picked up on, but are we kidding ourselves to imagine normality resuming anytime soon? To misquote Gerry Adams, I keep thinking ‘It won’t have gone away you know.’ I can’t see me trotting down to Shed or La Taqueria on the Ormeau, where you can practically hear the mastication of the folk beside you as they chomp and chew, and eating my meal with any great relish.

I’m worried that folk will forget all about social distancing and be inching closer in the queue and I’ll be telling them to get to fuck.

I’m anxious that we think it’s all back under control and open ourselves up to a new wave of the virus later in the year. I wish the boys in charge had more of a notion of how to get it under control but I remain unconvinced. So this is my whinge this week.

However, as a means of distraction, I can highly recommend tuning into ‘The Nest’ on BBC Iplayer, a thriller that will keep you from scrubbing your surfaces for an hour and provide respite once you’ve got the weans off to bed. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, sitting down with a cup of tea and pieces of Easter egg, and ogling the gorgeous interiors. And Killing Eve has started back with its spectacular costumes, sharp dialogue and imaginative ways to murder people. The only problem I’ve had is trying to resist watching episode after episode as I don’t have to get up for work.

Enjoy folks, and if you have any ideas on helping me be less of a grouchy auld git through the few weeks, then get on the blower.

SWB gets the slop bucket out (and puts it away again)

Er, what’s that you’re up to? asked LSB as he spied me decanting the remnants of my cup of tea into a milk container. ‘The slop-bucket has returned,’ I said, ‘we have to feed the hedge.’

‘Oh God,’ he sighed, with feeling. ‘Not again.’

A few of years ago, during a dry spell, we had a hedge planted at the front. It has not been a roaring success, the new hedge. Its initial purpose was to keep the children hemmed in while I sipped a glass of Sauvignon of a summer’s evening. The garden is on a slope you see, and the kids couldn’t have been trusted not to go a-hurtling into the footpath. However, the gaps between the bushes never knitted together to form a substantial barrier. There remain unsightly large gappy bits and the children are now old enough to stay off the road.  I’ve now got a border to which I have to weed and tend as if I don’t already have enough to do.

A neighbour, who is both kindly and green-fingered, has sought to brighten up our crap looking foliage, by planting a few bluebells and a rather wonderful pom-pom primula. In my usual inept manner I almost let these die  for lack of watering, hence the return of the slop bucket.

It irks me you see, how much water we waste. While waiting for the shower to heat up, for example. Lots of water, straight down the drain. Our kids are forever ordering drinks, then forgetting about them and own cups of tea go undrunk while we race about after them. Then there’s the rinsing. I am a keen rinser of plates before they go into the dishwasher. LSB is not.  He will shove in his porridge bowls with half the oaty goodness still clinging to the sides. I’m forever having to take them out, and very annoying it is too.

So I was at this business, rinsing and swilling and tipping it into the milk when LSB caught me at it. ‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic, in case it had eluded you,’ he said. ‘You can’t go firing that round the garden. It’ll be like the day of the Triffids out there.’ He had a point, what it being spread by droplets and all. ‘Get it down the sink,’ he said, ‘in case it ends up back in the fridge and into my coffee.’

Oh, most authorative he became on the subject.  So down the plughole it went. However, he’s not coming between me and my shower basin.  No sirree. I’m just thinking that we’ve had a dry spell and there’s obviously going to be so much water used with the extra laundry we’re all doing that I must do something to redress the balance.  I was driving home one day and  I heard Feargal Sharkey on Radio 4. He’s become an environmental campaigner, has our Feargal, and he’s demented about how fast the water authorities are draining the nation’s rivers for public consumption. One would think, what with the torrents of rain to which we are oft treated here in Ireland and the UK , that water shortage be an issue, but you’d be wrong. Rivers have dried up all over the place, and you can see him chat about this here. I have been greatly mocked  in my efforts to preserve water, so it was nice to be vindicated, by Feargal Sharkey of all people.

I’m keen to know any other eco-tips you have during this time. Hit me up for ideas, and get that shower basin on the go yourselves.