My many incarnations


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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



SWB sees Red


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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











SWB has a whinge


Sometimes, I catch myself getting a wee bit excited about Christmas. And then I remember, that it’s quite simply a pain in the rear. For years I quite loathed the day itself because in an act of Christian charity my mum would insist in inviting an elderly uncle and aunt around, who weren’t known for their love of children and we had to be polite and behave. We called the aunt ABC (Aunt Bloody Caroline, she really was the most insufferable old crone) and the pair of them used to put a right old dampener on proceedings. Then they died, and there followed a few years when it was just a small family gathering and you know, it was fine, but in truth I wish we’d all just gone to the Canaries and had a proper rest instead of the whole festive rigmarole. Jump to 2010, the year we got married and it snowed and we spent the whole fecking time worried no one would make the wedding. Then the cake AAI* insisted in baking broke to bits and we spent Boxing Night searching the Co-op in Ballyholme for baking powder to make a new one. God, was she irked that night. (The cake, incidentally, was delicious but the ruthless staff at LaMon Hotel threw in the bin after only a small proportion had been consumed. Terrible choice of venue, but that’s another story.)

And now we have the offspring, yey! So it’s meant to be all the magic of Santa and joy, and so it is. For about 45 minutes. But the thing is, even though I actually quite like my children, (I even hug and kiss them on occasion), they are exceedingly intense little people. The guerning to which we’ve been subjected has been nothing ordinary. The incessant whining, despite trips to parks and play dates and loving family lavishing gifts upon them, has our nerves in tatters. We’re just over the Winter Solstice, everyone is supposed to be slowing down a little, breathing more deeply, sleeping more soundly. But my pair? They didn’t get the memo. The small one has been particularly obstreperous with about 5 meltdowns before noon. My skills of diplomacy have been so sorely tested that I feel fully eligible for a job with the UN peacekeepers.

And just to add to the lack of festive cheer, I always, always, get fucking sick. A ghastly cold made itself known on Christmas Eve and being drenched 3 times amid squally showers further exacerbated my misery. A normal person, in response to illness might have taken the opportunity to sit on their arse, but oh no, Stoical Wee Bastard me! Parkrun was duly completed on the morning of the 25th, followed by the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker on the 27th. What better for one’s wheeziness than racing 8.4 miles over hill and dale, through marsh and field and shoe-sucking swamps. All great fun, bedecked in matching elf costumes, we ran alongside snowmen and cowboys and even a few turkeys. We then legged it, in all our mud splattered elfed-up splendour to the Slieve Donard, for a night of romance. Well, we just about stayed awake long enough to partake of dinner, before passing out by 10pm. I woke the next morning feeling like my lungs had been sand-papered, hawking and spluttering with bronchitic vigour and ruing my bravado the day before.

What a way to spend one’s wedding anniversary: waking in a bed the size of a small Polynesian island, with muscles in spasm and a rattly chest, trying to conceal one’s vileness from the husband alongside. Let’s just say we didn’t do the 5* suite justice.

So in short, despite the efforts of family to spoil me with gifts and meals and loveliness, there seems to be some sort of Christmas conspiracy, intent upon making sure I don’t enjoy it as I might. And only 11 days until the kids go back to school! Christmas, the holiday that just keeps on giving.

*AAI- Almost Always Irked- acronym for my mother

SWB doles out hangover advice


You wake up bloated and groggy and your tongue feels like you’ve licked next door’s dog. Piecing together the night before, you realize that you lost the run of yourself altogether. You recall countless glasses of Prosecco, lovingly topped up by gracious hosts, and later by your merry self. You went to town on the sausage rolls, the tortilla chips and vol-a-vents. There wasn’t a saturated fat that went un-nibbled. Judging by the cloying reek of garlic in the air you let rip on the dips too. And there was cake, oh Good Lord above was their cake. Mince pies, Büche de Noel, a slab of something rich and gateau-ish too that would have made Mary Berry proud. There was probably Baileys. Hang on, as you raise your head from the bed and get a scalding pain behind your eye sockets, there was definitely Baileys.

Used to be, back in those halcyon pre-children days, that you could have slept off the dreadfulness and gone for a fry in Maggie Mays, or Café Conor if you were feeling flush. But this morning, one small child has an elbow on your bladder and the other is bellowing “Mummeeeee, I’m lonely” as she watches Octonauts. How you hate Octonauts, but could be worse, could be Justin. Is that eejit ever off the air?

Prior to last night’s munch-a-thon, you’d been doing quite well. There had been yoga and running and you’d even ingested some fruit. So what’s to do? No use wasting precious energy self-flagellating and fretting: you’ll need every ounce to drag your battered body from the bed. So it’s futile to languish in a pit of despair: neck a glass of water then hit the shower. First liberally apply a citrusy body wash (my current favourite is Happy Buddha by Rituals) to revive you and then put a body brush to good use. Brush away from the heart and get yourself a-tingling. This stimulates the lymphatic system and kick starts the detoxing process. You should now be feeling a little less vile, so reach for the tinted moisturiser, or maybe you’re more in need of Estée Lauder’s Double Wear. The main aim is to not want to chunder when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror.

So you’ve taken the bad look off yourself. Kids are plonked in front of the TV eating toast. (LSB comes into his own sometimes). Take your laptop somewhere quiet and do a few stretches. I appreciate that this sounds like the twattiest thing I’ve ever suggested, but this will help. Yoga with Adrienne has brightened up many a day for me, and she does a session for every eventuality. Morning Yoga, Yoga Rinse, (my own favourite) or Yoga for the horrifically hungover. Normally I wouldn’t be dying about an American ‘go gal!’ type but I got in to her through my good friend Emma, who takes no shit. A few gentle postures with ambient tunes may be just the ticket soothe your soul and propel you onto action. A scented candle or failing that, a drop or two of Eucalyptus oil on a tissue will help cut through the fug.

And then, nothing else for it, out you go. The kids will be skipping about in a mild frenzy by now, launching themselves off the sofa. Holidays do that to children, which is why we long for them and dread them in equal measure. Fresh air will relieve the cabin fever and if you’re lucky Hatch coffee van will be in Cherryvale where John or Claire will sympathise with you while you bemoan the choices of the night before. All is good guys, all is good.

(The following advice is only useful or relevant if you just had a few too many glasses of wine. If you went to town on the shots and all the rest, then God help you. I have no answers.)

SWB gets effusive

This is the inimitable Susan Clarke, sipping a well deserved glass of bubbly to celebrate her stage debut last Wednesday. The art of story telling is something for which the Irish are renowned, but sadly it’s an art that’s on the wane. I reckon it’s down to greedy publicans who deliberately have the music blaring so forcefully that you merely exchange banalities and thus drink faster in their watering holes. Shower of bastards. However, last week I finally made it down to the Black Box for one of their 10×9 evenings, and it was wonderful. 9 brave and talented people told a tale; some funny, some poignant, some both, and all terrific. The organisation of the event, combined with the sheer craftsmanship of the storytellers made this an unforgettable night, and I was frankly, a bit awestruck. Next one is on the 11th Jan. I’d love to be courageous enough to do one myself but the standard was so high I fear I’d look like a total prick. But regardless whether I share a tale or not I’ll be there. My New Year’s Resolution is to do more quality things-if 2016 has taught me anything it’s that life is fleeting and fragile, so do what makes the heart soar.

SWB on letting rip

Christmas: always makes me feel like an orange in a Nutri-bullet. Yes, there is wonder and delight and magic, but being one who’s prone to gloom and sadness, this dichotomy can render me a trifle raw this time of year. So anyway, in a long queue in Forestside the other day I was heavy of heart and short on patience. I tend to go a bit ‘Tourettesy’ in such situations and thus was swearing away to myself quite audibly and I caught a few ugly looks. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but then a little cross. I was clearly agitated, I didn’t need other people to make me feel even worse.


Choice language is something for which amongst my friends, I’m renowned. Allegedly there was a sweep-stake as to which child would say utter the F-word first. It was of course Father Jack but at least she waited until she was two and half. Clever little buddy though. When I went pale and did the usual, “Mummy only says that when she’s very, very stressed, you NEVER say that word,” she nodded, sweetly. So she sang it instead. We called it the ‘Fucking Hell’ song. She would sing it away happily in her car seat, imitating the profanity I use when trying to make a right turn coming out of the crèche. Little shit. The older one would look on agog, half shocked, half thrilled at her audacity. With teaching though, it’s quite the occupational hazard. You never know which little sod is going to run home and tell their mum that you let rip with some expletive in class and cause heartache all round.


For someone with an English degree though, my knowledge of etymology can be somewhat shaky, and has led to some inappropriate use of insults. For a time I became quite fond of the word ‘scrote’ and bandied it about the classroom with abandon. Indeed, in their end of year thank you card three girls signed off, not with their names but as ‘your three favourite scrotes’. It was only when one likeable chap asked “Miss, have you thought what scrote actually means?” and I sounded it out, that the penny dropped. A friend taking me home after school almost crashed his car when I told him of my learning experience. “WHAT? So you’ve been going round all this time calling your pupils ball-bags?” Put like that, it did indeed sound crude. Honestly, I’d had no idea. Neither had my mum; she’d been calling my brother and me scrotes for years.


The thing about me is, I’m dreadfully judgemental about the swearing. It’s ok if I say it, but if it’s a crowd of youngsters on a bus then I’m the first to feel disgruntled. I don’t want to be one of those eejits who uses the eff word as punctuation, but I must admit, I think I’m sworn more profusely since becoming a mum than ever before. Children will do that to you. Christmas will do that to you. Life is very, very stressful. There’s a satisfaction in uttering the harsh fricative ‘f’ sounds of ‘fuck’, and it relieves a bit of tension when fiddle-dee-dee just won’t cut the mustard. In fact my swearing has helped my kids develop a bit of empathy. When I’m stricken by another dreadful news report or have been cut up by some wanker on the road, I can’t contain myself. The older one, who has a bit of sense, just sighs and says: “What’s wrong now mummy?” They get it. I get it. So the pious can clear away off and leave me alone. You never know what people are going through and why they may be letting off steam. Plus, I guarantee there’s still a few kids in Belfast having a chuckle about their nutty teacher.


SWB goes hopping mad


It’s Christmas time, which means less about the miracle of a Virgin Birth and more about conceding to the every whim of your spoilt children. Mine are currently banging on about a rabbit. Just what I need, I’ll finally get my lovely new kitchen and they’ll be some bastard rabbit hopping round, chewing cables and excreting on my new (expensive) tiles.

The small child has always loved bunnies. Asked what her favourite animal is and she responds: I like bunnies, And MORE bunnies, and then REAL bunnies. It seems churlish to refuse her one, but we all know who’ll be de-lousing it and and raking up pee-soused sawdust.


Last year I wobbled briefly on my stance and popped into Pets at Home on Boucher. It was a child’s birthday and I thought I’d make enquiries about a lop-eared bun as a gift. I swear one could probably foster a child refugee with less rigmarole. I left the premises convinced I lacked the necessary wherewithal to care for a rabbit. Apparently, they are so dim that if they live in a hutch you MUST seal off the access to the run when it gets cold, otherwise they just sit outside and freeze to death. Who knew? There were numerous other considerations, and really one wondered, was it worth the effort?

I met a nice rabbit on my travels once, while living on the French island of Réunion. I used to teach English to a family who owned a giant bun, who rejoiced in the name of Jean-Baptiste. He lolloped about the garden and in the heat of midday would seek sanctuary under the sofa indoors. It seemed to enjoy the television, when it wasn’t asleep. A sanguine and docile creature, he almost made rabbit ownership look doable. He was their second rabbit, their first was lovely too apparently. He was called Jean-Jacques. What happened to him? I asked politely. The child replied with a typical Gallic shrug. “Il est mort et on l’a mangé” (he died and we ate him). I could just imagine them, raising a toast to auld Thumper, before tucking in to him à la moutarde. The French, you gotta love ‘em.


I digress. I think the only bunny Santa will be bringing is the kitch lamp featured above. And that’s only if I sell I kidney to fork out the £55.

SWB runs her way out of the shit


2016 has been a stinker of a year, and November hasn’t pulled its punches either. You keep thinking it can’t get any worse then that fecker Trump gets in and your lovely relatives go and die on you. Being one who can slip into despondency without much prompting, it’s been a struggle to remain up-beat. However, by hanging out with good people, and keeping up the exercise, I’m keeping the dark thoughts away. Just about. So I don the trainers and off I skip.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of running for me is as a means to commute. I get a surge of satisfaction as I canter by clogged up lanes of traffic. It’s also a brilliant means to incorporate exercise into one’s daily business. I jogged over to the RVH recently for an appointment, which was a brainwave. I knew exactly how long it would take thus I didn’t have to factor in time for busy traffic AND it obviated the need to queue for car parking. Dealing with snarled up roads and grumpy drivers as a consequence is something I can live without.

It’s also brought a new aspect to the phrase ‘school run’ since I now jog over with child number one on her bike, before doing a few errands on foot and getting on with my day. This also eases the conundrum of what to wear as I just fire on my running gear and get trotting.

I’ve found running to be a remarkably sociable activity. As a member of Belfast Running Club I have the option of many social runs or training sessions throughout the week. However with my mornings free I prefer to scoot out then. And how lucky am I to have the Towpath on my doorstep? Once a week I meet my friend, (The Racing Retiree) at Cutters and she puts me through my paces. We swing a right up into Stranmillis, endeavouring not to break our necks at Cardiac Hill, then hit Shaw’s Bridge before arriving purple of face at Lock Keepers. (I’m always puce, she’s fresh as a Daisy, at over fifty, the cheek of it). This fortifies us sufficiently to run back, even fitting in a sprint finish. Another pal and I do the same except we sojourn to 5A for a chocolate peanut cup. Last week the frost lent an ethereal beauty to the scene, the hazy sunshine imbuing it with a certain stillness. It was like pressing the mute button on an otherwise difficult week.

Ask any of my friends why they run and their response is unanimous: it clears their heads. Jane, a dentist with three kids swears it’s what keeps her sane. Her husband automatically hands over her trainers and tells her to leg it when she adopts a certain expression. She’s learnt to perfect the look. LSB has taken the same approach with me when he sees me sour of face and ratty.

I am not a gym bunny. I am not flat of tummy and toned to perfection. I have neither the time nor the inclination to emulate the Tatlerites who I think exist to make the rest of us feel inferior. But I’m speedy, and thanks to my yoga I’m strong. To me running is like medication, keeping me fit in body and mind. And it justifies the crisps and wine, another bonus.

SWB on Possession Incontinence


Here’s the Sour-bike. You may have seen it of late, chained forlornly outside the QFT or Kaffe-O, or the Errigle. It should have a sign, ‘Abandoned by one hapless owner’. Since LSB and I started the building work, we’ve left everything at our behinds, principally our keys. I’ve been pedalling off without a care, popping on the lock before realizing I’ve no means with which to unlock it and get home.

That is how stress manifests itself with me- I lose stuff. While at Queens I lost my bank card so many times I was on first name terms with the staff from Lost and Stolen at Nationwide. LSB clearly suffers from the same condition, since his set of keys were left on Air Coach to Dublin at some point over the marathon weekend. On Monday the hole in the wall swallowed my card while I buggered about with my phone, and later on we mislaid the gas card for the flat. “You are f**king kidding me”, sighed LSB: he thought his days of pay-as-you-go amenities were long gone. It was cold. It was wet. And it took us 2 hours and much aggravation before heat was restored and tempers soothed. “Don’t even think about coming home without wine,” said LSB between gritted teeth, on my third foray to the shop. Thank God for the quality selection at the Vineyard.

Next I mislaid the remaining key for our family car which I needed to take the kids to Bangor. I was like a creature demented- there was no way I missing my mum’s mince. A mother on a mission for mince- it may sound ridiculous, but the thing is, my version resembles Victorian gruel, whereas mum performs some form of alchemy with meat, tomatoes and Worcester sauce, transforming mere ground beef into an epicurean delight. Luckily, I’m on good terms with the nursery next door so the boss leant me car seats to shove into the other motor. Thus I wasn’t denied the simple pleasures of a dinner and an infant free hour while mum dutifully played ‘shops’ and painted with the girls. The Wise Old Elf came in from an afternoon quiz, and put on his party piece- ‘the naughty dinosaur’ where he scarpers around after the kids and they shriek and hide and I drink a cup of tea in a different room, far, far away, wishing it was wine but making do. The key turned up in the one coat pocket I hadn’t checked the next day.

It’s all made me think: when I was at a work I was stressed out and demented, and though freed from its shackles, I’m still a blundering idiot. Mind you, it runs in the family. The Wise Old Elf lost his wallet last week too. After ransacking the house and pestering half the shopkeepers in Bangor he found it lying in a pile of crap at the bottom of his wardrobe, having fallen out of a hip pocket. It wouldn’t happen to Marie Kondo. The chucking out recommences tomorrow…..

SWB considers getting her rack out


So, it’s official, we’re going to be broke. I probably ought to have done my calculations ahead of time, but if you’re basically doubling the size of your house, the chances are you’re not going to want to live in an empty shell, and you may wish for some floor tiles, a kitchen, and a wee splash of paint. Oh, and heating, that’s where we were last week. Or rather I was, sitting up at Mourne Fireplaces looking so tired and pathetic that the lady made me a coffee before telling me how much I’d be fleeced. A fortune for the stove itself, (a fancy Norwegian burner, but those Scandis know their shit) then nearly £400 for a piece of slate on which to set it, apparently hand bevelled hence the price tag. Look, I just don’t want the fecker to burn through my new floor, I’m not overly worried about aesthetics. After that they have to install it and install flues to insure we’re not burnt in our beds. I mean why would you go to the trouble of incinerating yourself these days? Give Trump a few weeks to f**k up and the Russians will do that for us. Anyway, price wise, we’re talking thousands.

So lucky then, that this week, I got a bit of pocket money, doing my first ever bit of Extras work. Oh yes, go me, on set in The Merchant for the next series of Line of Duty. I’d say the novelty could wear off pretty fast. Once you’ve glimpsed a couple of stars, who eye you with not so much disdain as repulsion, the excitement wanes. To my bewilderment, only one other person had brought a book. Lucky I was there, with my trusty range of of Guardian magazines and supplements to dole out. At one point I offered to do a bit Irish Dancing to dispel the boredom but no one seemed keen. On set, I was in a mild state of panic, my blocked sinuses having rendered me quite deaf, so I kept mishearing whether they’d actually called Action and trotting on to early or hanging back. Finally the Assistant Director sighed and said “Look, when he moves, you move, get it?” I got it, finally. Don’t imagine I’ll get a call back.

“Get a lot of work do you?” I asked a seasoned extra from Omagh, who was utterly non-plussed at the 7am start. “Depends,” she shrugged. “The last thing they offered me was a topless corpse on Game of Thrones. 2 days work, £500.” My ears pricked up. “In fairness, it was less the nudity, more the lying on top of other naked people, in a pit. Just wasn’t for me”. I texted LSB. “If you want that f**king stove, get them out” was his instantaneous reply. I suppose I could at least warm up nicely when I got home, is perhaps the only silver lining there.