SWB feels less than festive

In our house, everything is a catastrophe, and I mean everything. Case in point, those bastard PTA Christmas Cards. Do all schools do this these days? For the uninitiated, the children illustrate a blank piece of card which you then send off with a cheque and a lot of aggravation to receive 6 copies back  to show friends how talented your off-spring are.

Last year, I organised this whole fucking charade on behalf of the PTA and the whole experience put years on me- motoring back and forth to Holywood and counting cash that was actually labelled ‘dinner money’ or opening envelopes which allegedly contained £18 but were, in fact empty.

On Tuesday, the children arrive home in a state of excitement, bordering on agitation. ‘We have to do our Christmas cards! By tonight! Can I do a dog wearing a hat?’ I pass the felt tips and tell them the dog can be doing whatever he wants, as long as I don’t have to draw him. Off course, I end up drawing numerous dogs on a practice sheet, ‘just for ideas’ before the Small Child finally decides that her first attempt was her finest. I check my 900 What’s App messages and see that they have actually have until Friday, which gives them ample opportunity to decide they hate their designs and contemplate other notions.

The Older Child has been practising her reindeer drawing skills when she suddenly becomes distraught because she has LOST HER CARD. ‘It’s ok, don’t panic!’ I say, as I am trying to fry chicken thighs and onion, as I run between the laundry room unloading the tumble drier while I ask the Small Child her spelling. ‘But remember Georgina,’ the Small Child says gravely, her forefinger in the air: the teachers said ‘NO REPLACEMENTS’. Sobbing begins anew. I look longingly at the wine bottle I have opened to add to the Spanish Chicken. ‘There isn’t a bat in hell’s chance of only flinging this wine into the dinner this evening,’ I think to myself as I pour a glass. It is only 6.25 and I had hoped to hold off until 9pm, when I have an episode of ‘Big Little Lies’ to look forward to.

‘And Mummy,’ the Older One cries, I still have to make the robot!’

‘What robot?’ I growl.  She came home on Monday wittering about this and I assumed naively that this was a product of her lively imagination, since there was no mention of it in her homework diary, and I continued to lie on the sofa like a collapsed lung.

She hands me a small crumpled note which I read, my heart growing wearier with every word. ‘This week, instead of numeracy homework, children are to make a 3D robot (not life size!) You can get plenty of ideas for these on Pinterest!’

I fucking HATE Pinterest. Nothing on Pinterest ever turns out to be ‘simple’: even navigating the site isn’t simple.  Making a robot CERTAINLY isn’t simple: you end up needing a soldering gun and access to the technology department in local school.

Now you would think, what with me being a keen recycler and re-user of stuff, that this sort of project would have me skipping about with excitement, but you would be wrong. I am too busy to be painting yogurt pots and sticking them to shoe boxes with double sided tape. I am cooking meals from scratch and chopping up fresh pineapple and oranges to boost our immune systems so we don’t fall prey to the pestilences stalking the country.

I know that I’m missing the point, that of course it is my 8 year old, not me, who should be cutting and sticking and creating. Sadly though, it never quite works out this way does it? And you don’t want to be the parent who sends the child in with a pile of shite while everyone else’s junk model looks like something you might pay £40 for in St George’s Market.

The other day my godchild and her little sister came to visit and expressed a desire to watch ‘Peppa Pig’. ‘Alright,’ I said, because shoving small children in front of a television is a very easy way of looking after them. I recommend it highly. I thought that I must have endured every episode of ‘Peppa Pig’ ever made, but apparently not, as there was a new one. In this one, Madame Gazelle asks the children to make a castle out of junk, and Peppa and Suzy Sheep and Pedro Pony all clap and ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. Their parents, however, exhibit less enthusiasm, and when they arrive with the finished articles their faces convey great exasperation. I saw a lot of myself in the grim expression of Mummy Pig.

It is now Sunday and the robot-making is still in the early stages. For four days the robot has consisted of the recently emptied shoebox, a pair of shit binoculars that my dad got for free on a cruise and part of a CD holder. It would not win any prizes for ingenuity. ‘I think it would look better painted,’ I say, ‘except obviously we’re not going to do that.’

The Older Child then, and I was rather impressed with this, suggested tinfoil, which obviates the need for any pesky painting and glue, and we might make some toilet roll arms. That’s as good as it’s going to get, I’m afraid. Tragically, all these creative ideas seem to have lit something within them, and late this afternoon they used my good scissors to cut up cardboard from which they plan to make festive elves to stick to the windows. These can jostle for room alongside the black cat stickers which are still up from Halloween festivities. I’m contemplating just buying Elf Hat stickers and adding those on. I may then pop hearts round them for Valentine’s so they can be ‘Love Cats’ and perhaps get them bonnets for Easter. I’m actually starting to embrace all this myself. How very odd.








SWB is Supersonic

Months ago, LSB booked tickets for Liam Gallagher. ‘Liam? Really?’ I said. I’m not very keen on Liam, because I think he is a gobshite. Noel, I can tolerate, not least because I love his latest album, particularly, ‘Holy Mountain’, with yon French woman using the scissors as percussion. Listening to an entire solo Liam album would put years on me, and LSB has been instructed to remove any such items from the CD system in the car, lest I stumble across it and drive into a wall to put an end to the agony.

This has been the most busy, frenetic of weeks. We came to Dublin last Friday too so I could hear Elizabeth Strout’s talk on her latest novel, ‘Olive Again.’ I had aspirations of writing about this, and I still haven’t managed to do so. I am however, half way through the novel and left many things neglected in order to do so. It is a marvel.

‘But FECK,’ I said. ‘Away again, so soon? And to be doing so just to see Liam Gallagher? Me nerves!’ I got myself into a right state of agitation.

‘I see your Tourrette’s is back,’ sighed LSB.

I had various reservations. Liam can attract a loutish crowd, and at 40 years of years my face is already past its prime, and a headbutt in the eye isn’t going to improve it any. And as I said, I don’t much like his solo stuff, and that I know I can eff and blind like the best of them but he makes me look like Mary Whitehouse.

I express these concerns with LSB and he is remarkable sanguine- he knows I have been STRESSED TO F**K this week, because I have repeatedly informed him of the fact.

‘It’s ok if you want to leave it,’ he says, even though by now it is Saturday morning and we would have been stung for the accommodation. ‘But we will get a good dinner and I think you’ll like the hotel. It might also be nice to get away from the children,’ he adds, hopefully.

‘Ok,’ I say, sighing deeply, like the miserable old bastard I have become.

But when I hop in the car and for the second time in as many weeks zoom over the Hillhall Road, I feel a peace descend as we put distance between ourselves and the chaos of life. We listen to Giles Peterson on 6 Music and the smokiness of the jazz and the whoosh of the wipers works some kind of hypnotic magic; (on me, not LSB, who thankfully focuses on the road ahead).

By the time Himself deposits me at The Spencer Hotel and goes to find parking I feel almost mellow. After a cocktail called ‘No Name’ I feel mellower still. A man comes up to bar and orders a Porn Star Martini, a Guinness and two Club Oranges. ‘Take that to your mum, he says to his small boy, ‘AND BE CAREFUL WIT IT!’ The child carries the Martini over to his Mum with great reverence, as though it is The Holy Stone of Clonrichert. A grand job he makes of it too.

‘I need to train mine,’ I think to myself. The Older Child, in her constant state of excitement, would have had it fucked over the floor or some innocent bystander in 3 seconds flat.

I’m in fine fettle by the time I’ve eaten a dish of Cambodian ‘ Cha Traop Dot’ in the East Restaurant and sampled their house Pinot Grigio, which came highly recommended and is a change from the Sauvignon Blanc I usually glug.

I think,’ I say,’ leaning over to LSB with a conspiratorial air, ‘that I may actually be looking forward to this gig now.’

‘Yes!’ he says beaming, almost punching the air because I’ve been so glum of late. ‘Let’s go then!!’

We trot off to the 3 Arena and join the queue for the seated area, where everyone looks our age or older. It appears hooligan free, which is a relief. Behind us a woman is discussing her dilemma about what to buy her third God-daughter for her First Communion. ‘It was easier for the first two, but these are different times,’ she says perplexed.  I catch her eye and smile. More rock’n roll is her next conversational gambit: ‘I was FUCKED after those mushrooms we did the other week. How were you after them?’ she asks her mate, a lady of a similar vintage. ‘Not good. Not good at all,’ she replies, shaking her head. Confusing times indeed, I think.

You have to just accept some things when you go to see Liam Gallagher. No matter where you sit, some frigger is going to chuck a pint over you. I mean, obviously, why pay €6 for a pint if you’re not just going to heave it into the crowd?

And it’s not just the flying pints of Heineken you have to worry about. Flares, apparently,  are now a thing. Huge, f**k off flares. I’m telling you, if they’d had these fellas on the Titanic, The Carpathia would have been over in a jiffy and lowered the rate of casualties  drastically.

Some clampet sets off a red one which he then proceeds to drop. From our vantage point above the standing area it looks like the mouth of Hades has appeared and is having a good yawn. Still, nobody seems too rattled, aside from me, obviously.

‘Burnt alive!’ I say to LSB. ‘We’ll be burnt alive, at a Liam Gallagher gig! What a way to go!’

Liam is on to it. He’s none too pleased after a fan in Sheffield last week had her clothes set on fire. ‘I don’t want to be busting your bollocks, he tells the crowd, ‘ but you need to calm the f**k down with them things.’

Who would have imagined that they’d ever have to listen Liam Gallagher doing public health announcements?

On goes the gig. I am up out of my seat and dancing  along to Wonderwall and Roll with It. Singing along too I am, arms aloft. Very taken I have become with the whole affair. I am almost in tears to Champagne Supernova and by the time he comes on for the bonus encore of Cigarettes and Alcohol I’m like that mad auld doll in Father Ted (only without the casual racism).

‘He’s good value, that Liam Gallagher,’ I tell LSB as we stroll back to the hotel, hand in hand along Mayor Street. The crowd were pleasant too. A large chap from Tallaght engages me in a full on chat about recyclable toilet paper. We compared notes.  I swear to God, you couldn’t make it up.

I come down to breakfast the next morning and I’m humming ‘and maybe, you’re gonna be the one who saves me.’ I am still grinning. Do you know, honey,’ I say to himself. ‘I’m really developing a love for the south.’

‘That’s good dear,’ he says. ‘Now you just have to convince all the other Prods up North.

SWB V ‘Hump Day’

We have reached ‘peak middle-age.’ This evening, LSB disappears next door to retrieve a parcel. He returns looking all merry and pleased with himself.

‘What’s that you have?’ I enquire. I am helping a child to write an imaginative paragraph with predominant ‘ee’ sounds, while trying to remove a stubborn stain from a shirt collar. I’m in poor humour.

‘You’ll probably think it’s a bit sad really,’ he says, BEAMING as he snips through the sello- tape with a pair of nail scissors, but it’s a SMART thermostat, so we can control our heating!’

‘Gosh,’ I say, my tone flat.

‘We can even ask Alexa to turn it on and off for us!’

‘Hmmm.’ I still struggle to exhibit enthusiasm.

‘Ultimately it will reduce our gas bills!’ he adds. I haven’t seen him so excited in quite some time.

‘Are there not just basic timers to do that?’ I ask, which is a cheek really, because I have never, despite having reached the age of 40, successfully used a central heating timer.

He bats away this notion, and continues to futter about with his new appliance.

I retreat downstairs with a pile of marking.

Later, as further evidence of the rubbish week I’ve been having, the cat emerges from outside and chooses my exact spot on the sofa to ensconce herself and start licking her bottom. Should anyone ever tell you that cats are clean animals, refute it. I have pictures to prove it. I had been about to park myself, with my filet of microwaved salmon, rice and broccoli florets, beside my Frida Kahlo cushion.

‘Scarper,’ I tell her, and she hops off before sitting down and narrowing her eyes, with her most disgruntled expression.

As if our evening can’t be any less satisfactory, it deteriorates further.

LSB and I have reached a drought with our viewing. We’re up to date on Spiral, have finished Mind Hunter and last week we saw the last episode of Unbelievable, which was, tragically, only a ‘limited series’. I am feeling the loss of this programme acutely. I would like Toni Colette to please come to Belfast and be my friend; and I loved the brooding intensity and complicated relationship with the Almighty conveyed by Merritt Wever. In a different life, I think, I too could have been a Detective.

I sit down hoping that Himself has been ‘on to this’ and discovered a new series with which I shall fall instantly in love and can thus, for at least an hour a night, ignore all other obligations. But he hasn’t, and his negligence irks me. We have jobs in our house: mine revolve around laundry and food, while he takes charge of anything techy (see above) and ensuring bills are paid so they don’t cut off the electricity while I’m engrossed in my shows. He is also in charge of finding programmes and lining them up for my viewing pleasure. It depresses me how traditional we are but if he washes anything it either come out blue or doll-sized, and I would rather not subsist on ready-meals from Sainsburys. (How I wish I were exaggerating for effect here).

‘Should we,’ I say, (because I can’t be arsed swiping about with Netflix), watch something on terrestrial television?’

LSB feels my forehead. ‘You must be feeling bad,’ he says.

‘Just get on with it,’ I say, as I do when he’s feeling amorous.

As he flicks through the channels I spy Paul O’Grady’s ‘For the Love of Dogs’. My spirits lift.

I know, don’t judge me. I felt a rush of nostalgia, because in those carefree, halcyon days pre-children, we used to hike in the Mournes of a Sunday, and on the drive home listen to Paul O’Grady on Radio 2. Week after week he read out missives from listeners in need of consolation, after Dickie the Dachshund or Cedric the Schnauzer had passed away. Sometimes,  I‘d shed a tear.

‘What a find!’ I thought to myself. Paul was looking ever so smart in a woolen coat, and first to feature on the show was Ruby, a 9 month old stray terrier, and mother to three pups. Despite being a mere adolescent herself she was coping admirably. How we oohed and ahh-ed. But then it took a sudden downward turn. The Battersea dog wardens arrived with Penny, a lurcher cross who had been dumped in a skip, with the sort of virulent skin complaint one might expect, had a skip been your domicile for the last month. It wasn’t palatable viewing, and there were several, what I felt to be unnecessary close-ups.

‘Just watch what you like,’ I said, in a weary tone.

Well, I could almost feel the glee radiating off Himself. ‘Really?’ he says: ‘Can I watch the Star Wars thing?’

I think it was the lowest part of my day: enduring the spectacle of grown men in ridiculous helmets capering about in the snow. There was an aardvark playing a recorder and communicating in chirrupy noises. For a Disney production I thought the special effects were shoddy: there was a robot that was motoring around that was basically a bin on wheels.

‘What even the f*ck is a ‘Mandalorian’? I ask.

He looks aghast at my ignorance. ‘Legendary warriors fighting against the Jedi! They can kill with their bare hands and were trained by Boba Fett.’

I look blanker than I did about the new heating timer.

‘See him?’ He says, pointing to a tall fellow wearing full body armour and a visor. That’s Javier Pēna (Pedro Pascal) from Narcos.

‘I can’t be!’ I gasp. ‘What a step down!’

‘Step up you mean,’ he replies, shaking his head. ‘This is a spin-off from Star Wars; he’ll be minted!’

He’s found his happy place: like Fiona Paisley in the Maldives, only we’re not lying on sunbeds feasting on mango and lycees with a waiter on standby offering  rum cocktails.

The only plus side of having a Wednesday this shite is that the rest of the week can only improve. Keep everything crossed folks- I’m relying on the good vibes to see me through.


SWB has Pumpkin Fatigue

‘I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PUMPKIN,’ I said last year, with feeling. Last November I had set myself a challenge to do one positive a thing every day. It damn near killed me. I attempted to take the ‘zero waste’ approach to Halloween. I failed miserably in most respects but I did end up carving a lot of pumpkin. People started bringing me their Jack-o’-lanterns  that otherwise would have gone to waste: all that pumpkiny goodness languishing in landfill. I couldn’t bear it, so I set to, peeling and chopping and popping them into boxes. I ended up posting pictures of them on FB to see if anyone fancied pre-prepared veg for soups and curries.

‘Please, let there be an end to the pumpkin,’ sighed LSB. This was ironic as it was he who bought the bastard thing in the first place with the intention of creating a festive decoration.  He then proceeded to leave it there, staring at me until November 1st when he conceded ‘there wasn’t really much point anymore.’ I never would have started any pumpkin related nonsense had he not started the shenanigans.

And then, THIS year, what does he trail home from Sainsbury’s but the biggest f*ck-off sized pumpkin that one could ever imagine. He arrived with it on the 26th October, at half past five, precisely half an hour before twenty guests were due to arrive for the Older Child’s 8th birthday. This, I’m sure you will agree, is not the best time to start carving a mammoth squash, when there is beer that needs chilling and floors that needs sweeping and wives that need a fortnight in St Lucia* booked before they explode with rage and the sheer exhaustion of existence.

On the 27th October the children asked could they carve it, but we were too busy clearing the post-party debris to contemplate such a chore. On the 28th they enquired again. On the 29th we were heading to the Roe Valley for two nights and attention was diverted as we tried to catch the cat to cart her off to her ‘pet retreat’ in the Castlereagh Hills. She seemed to sense her impending departure because upon awaking she did a large shit in our shower; a most unpleasant surprise, and frankly not very ‘birthdayish’, as the Small Child opined. Of course she then legged it, refusing to return. Her reservation thus had to be cancelled and favours called in from LSB’s Dad to come and feed her, with dire warnings to check the shower on each visit.

‘NO, THE PUMPKIN IS NOT BLOODY COMING,’ neighbours heard me shout, as I dragged my bags to the car. The Older Child by now seemed to think of the pumpkin as a family member, or perhaps a pet, rather like Father Jack and his brick but with more nutritional value. We nearly had an episode, which I now call ‘Mother Close to Tears Prior to Departure’ which happens on most trips and has LSB saying, ‘we’ll get you a gin at the airport,’ or in this case, ‘Here, just drink that can of Sauvignon Blanc in the car. I’ll drive carefully.’

I thought I’d left all pumpkin related woes behind, until I heard a ping:

‘I’m going to have to make a soup when we get home,’ I muttered miserably to LSB.

‘I’m removing that app from your phone.’ he said, having looked over my shoulder. I had signed up to Olio recently in a bid to minimise waste. They send me all sorts of interesting snippets and this one stated that the number of pumpkins chucked away uneaten in October would be enough to give every person in the UK a bowl of soup.

We came home and the pumpkin seemed to be staring at me, daring me to not to do something with it. I googled ‘how to cut up pumpkin’ on Youtube and watched an  Ozzie fellow set to with a carving knife, but even with his deliberate air of insouciance it still looked hard work. I had wanted an easier way. There is no easier way, with pumpkins, I have found. It’s a huge effort, and one could suffer injury if not extremely careful. But I persevered. I chopped red onion, garlic and red pepper, plus the persimmon fruit which we had bought earlier that day in the veg shop on the Ormeau. ‘Can we try that?’ asked the Older Child.

‘Why not?’ I said; I’m nice like that. Disappointing it was: rather bland and most unworthy of the 69p it cost. So I fecked it in the saucepan along with the rest of the veg, which I fried gently in coconut oil. I roasted the rest of the pumpkin, generously seasoned with salt and pepper and rapeseed oil. Our kitchen took on the heady scent of autumn, and for a while I was cheered, and a tad smug, if I’m honest.

Then I tried to blend it, forgetting that the last time I used the blender I had a disaster. Said disaster reoccurred, and the mixture leaked out, all over the worktop, all over the floor and tragically over my new M&S slippers.

‘FUCK ME,’ I seethed.

I managed to salvage some, and eventually blend it. If there is any good to be derived from this sorry tale, is that when LSB came in from work and I presented him with a bowlful, he claimed that it was a marvellous and exactly what he needed on a Monday, when he felt all cold and feeble. Still, if he dares bring another into the house next year he may well end up in the Royal with pumpkin issues unrelated to carving, but simply a blow from one aimed at his head.


Witching Hour for SWB

There are newish neighbours at number one on our street. They hail from Derry. Sometimes it’s not that apparent, and at others, the Derry-ness is pure hanging out of them. I shall explain. Down I went the other day and called in, as they are not only neighbours now, but friends, and occasionally we inflict our off-spring upon each other, and partake of the odd glass or two for the purposes of merriment.

‘I’ve just er, been making a couple of silhouettes for the lawn,’ the man of the house says, heading out to the garage. ‘Come on til you see them.’ I look blank, having no idea what he’s on about.

‘Witches,’ he says, ‘You know, for next week?’

He’s been busy all afternoon, up to his eyes with a Stanley knife and spray paint. Had that been my husband, we’d have been in the Royal for sure, with a pair of severed thumbs.

Inside the garage stand two huge witches he’s cut out of cardboard packaging from a lawnmower, using a photo he found on the net for inspiration. They are far superior to any of the nonsense down in B&M and he made them without so much of a template. If there was a ‘Bake Off’ for homemade Halloween Decorations he’d at least make the semi-final, no doubt about that. His wife, my pal Brenda, is very taken with the witches. There’s talk of a cauldron, into which they will pop a skeleton and fake smoke.

Proper raging I am, because I need allies on the street who do FUCK ALL for Halloween. I’m utterly sick bemused by this malarkey because I’m not from Derry, and I haven’t a notion, and there’s no way I’m heading out to the shed to mess about with five-foot witches. My husband will claim he’s got one of those already.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Bangor, but we never took H’ween seriously. Au contraire, up here in the Rosetta region, certain families go ALL OUT- and preparations begin weeks in advance. Now, before the Mothership rings up, incandescent with rage and calling me an ingrate, we did, when I was at primary school, host a few Halloween parties. I recall bobbing for apples and homemade apple pies with coins carefully wrapped in tinfoil. There were fairy cakes with white icing and some rather dodgy looking spider webs on top. (My nana was a wonderful baker, but faltered somewhat when it came to embellishing her creations. Again, no ‘Star Baker’ for her on ‘Bake-off’.)  Back to the parties.  My mother strongly discouraged any dressing up on these occasions: ‘Don’t bother going to all that trouble,’ she would say. Once a child came along decked out in a full-on creepy witch ensemble, with her face powdered white and a spider drawn in eyeliner on her cheek. She felt like a right prick with everyone else in their jeans and jumpers.

Funny enough then, I never won any prizes when it came to the Brownie’s Halloween party. Many’s the notion of dressing up I harboured, but all came to naught. Other than a mask bought for 49p in Wellworths, all our costumes were dug out from our ‘dressing up box.’ There were a few floral nighties we used for fairy costumes, a long black velvet skirt for witches and a cowboy hat. There was also a black and white poncho- or the ‘all purpose poncho’ as it became known. I wore this when I dressed up as a witch to every  Halloween party between 1984 and 1987 and when starring as a Native American in a primary school production. My brother wore the poncho. Little friends wore the poncho when they visited (maybe they were just cold; our house was several degrees chillier than everyone else’s).  There’s even a picture of a toy womble wearing the poncho, when he was off to a party. My toys had terrific social lives.

I did used to like Halloween though, that was until my evangelical phase when we went up to the Elim for youth club one night and the pastor showed us a scary video of satanic practices, which possible eluded to child sacrifice. I was only 14 and very innocent and it scared the absolute shit clean out of me. I couldn’t look at any class of a costume or even foil wrapped orange sweet in the same way for quite some time after it.

But people, this Halloween caper has become infectious. We have bought a skull and cat stickers for the window. My lovely friend (also from Derry) brought me a selection of garlands and tinselly things in autumnal shades, and today, in Portstewart, I came across a ‘Party Shop’ and was stricken by what Marian Keyes refers to as a ‘sudden wild enthusiasm.’ Yes, I was as surprised as anyone, when I came across a werewolf decoration which made a scary sound while holding a welcome sign.

‘WE HAVE TO GET THIS,’ I gushed, as LSB looked round him, looking for an alien spaceship which had body-snatched his wife. Terrifically gleeful I was, and wanted to buy another ghoulish creature to boot, except the children protested. ‘Put that back mummy!’ yelped the older one.

It would appear I’ve come round to Halloween: happy trick or treating everyone.

SWB runs for her life

‘There’s wiser wans locked up,’ puffs a girl in front of me to her friend. I nod, wryly. It is 12.15 on Saturday afternoon, and most people are inside, where like us, they are also frustrated, as they watch the New Zealand team trounce Ireland in the rugby. At least they are dry, I think, with access to warm beverages. We, meanwhile, are getting more sodden by the second as we run under a Biblical downpour. Not yet one mile in, and with 7 to go, my spirits are sagging as much as my spare tyres.

Since making the decision to work for a living again, I have become rather rotund. Delighted I am with myself, that I had the foresight not to donate some of my maternity clothes to charity shops. With the addition of a belt, they have come in very handy the last few weeks. There are ones who float about my work, eating things like apples or maybe a mandarin for their break. I look askance at this sort of behaviour. I don’t care if it’s a posh Pink Lady from Marks and Spencer, or a Taste the Difference Clementine from Catalonia. I will be having a Lion Bar with my filter coffee after a morning of teaching, or perhaps a Toffee Crisp. Fortification is needed after seeing 90 different children in as many minutes, especially if I’ve had my pair to deal with since 6.52am.

Tragically though, the downside of seeking solace from chocolate, caffeine and the odd glass of wine (AHEM) in the evenings is that my energy levels have plummeted, and I have no inclination to exercise. And I miss it. This time last year, I would have joined my friends for a trot of a Wednesday morning; haring up the hills in Belvoir Forest and stroking the odd Labrador before stopping for a latte in 5a coffee shop. It was bliss. We covered 10k easily, and never noticed the agony in our calves because the craic was so mighty.

And this is why I said: ‘Damn it, I WILL run Dundrum’ even though for the past month I’ve whimpered ‘I’m just so tired,’ on repeat, to anyone unfortunate enough to be heading my direction. I’m a joy to be married to presently, as LSB will duly testify.

So, there I was, with 29 other Belfast Running Club members, at 10am, standing outside the Ozone waiting for the bus.  And waiting. And waiting. ‘There it is!’ we shouted, as a tiny vintage looking vehicle drew up, and on we hopped and off we chugged. Just passing Forestside we were, when it became apparent that we’d taken another club’s bus. ‘Should we just run round the embankment and go to the Errigle for lunch?’ suggested one canny member. I liked this notion: eight miles over varying terrain including 2 miles of beach is a lot for one who’s out of shape.  But back to the leisure centre we zoomed, swapped buses and set off again, this time in a superior class of a coach which included a toilet, which by that stage, we were all grateful for.

I would suggest though, establishing the whereabouts of the light switch and the availability of toilet roll, before relieving oneself. It was also an inopportune time for the driver to hit a bump on the road between Carryduff and Ballynahinch, and my head wasn’t the better for being cracked off the hand drier.

Worse was to come, when after two miles I almost jacked the run in, when I became aware of the dreaded phenomenon known as ‘chub-rub’. Wet leggings do not help this condition. I comforted myself that this doesn’t just happen to people who are nearing a size 14, and that my husband, skinny bastard that he is, had a bad dose in the summer.  Initially he blamed me and my new eco-friendly laundry cleanser, until he was told by his doctor that it was his excessive sportiness brought it on.

Still, the skies brightened and so did my mood, especially when after three miles the rain stopped and the wind was mercifully with us as we ran towards the Mournes along the beach. I was drenched; my lungs practically aflame, but with each mile came a distance between me and the stresses of the week. It does seem counter-productive, to go running when you feel knackered and grouchy, but the lift in my spirits was tangible as the endorphins surged. The members of the Murlough AC are a most encouraging bunch too, which helped somewhat. ‘Get stuck in Helen!’ roared a woman as I faltered towards the end. Another man offered his hand for a high five, but I mis-took the gesture and went in for a hug instead. I may have been hallucinating at this point. The support was immense, and the post-run spread superb. An egg sandwich was never so welcome (and let’s face it, it’s the spread we run for).

Following a dinner in the Maghera Inn that would have choked a donkey, to quote the Mothership, I was practically delivered to the door by the Executive Class Coach. Fine fettle I was in, upon returning to the house. LSB had been ferrying children back and forth from birthday parties all day. His pallor was grey and his sense of humour somewhat failed him, as I came bounding through the door, full of bonhomie and pride after my endeavours. ‘I did it!’ I shrieked. ‘I ran eight miles!’

I’ve done ‘We are Vertigo’ and I’ve just cleaned the toilet. Want some wine?’ he replied.

‘Yes please,’ I said. ‘Let me just go and put some Vaseline on my thighs first.’


SWB on early mornings and tooth fairies

3.54am in the early hours of Sunday morning and I am wide eyed and restless. That’s the problem with climbing into bed at 9-45 of an evening, your circadian rhythms jolt you awake and make you desire a soothing cup of tea at an ungodly hour. I was already fully conscious, contemplating life’s more pressing questions such as ‘did I cook enough bolognese for lunch or could I eke it out with the addition of chopped courgettes,’ when the Small Child wandered in, bleary eyed.

‘In you get,’ I said, drawing back the covers. LSB made a groaning sound and prepared to exit. ‘Night night,’ I muttered, feebly. Then I remembered the tooth. The Small Child was ever so excited about her tooth coming out, and the anticipation of a couple of quid under her pillow. I still, at this point, harboured some hope of returning sleep quickly, so as LSB was ousted to the bed downstairs, I told him to do the Tooth Fairy duty, in pigeon Spanish, lest the Small Child’s overhear.

<Necessito deneiro para ella – tu sabes, sus dientes’.*>

LSB had some wine last night and looked on, bewildered.

<Sus DIENTES > I repeated, pointing at the child’s head, in the direction of her teeth. <Ah, si, si> he mumbled, plundering through his bed stand drawer for change. There was much noise, and things clattering onto the wooden floor. I was rendered quite awake by now.

<Dos>, I said, because she has been a good child of late, most endearing. Au contraire, the Older One has taken to answering back, so when her tooth fell out on Tuesday she only got a pound. Tooth Fairies round this neck of the woods tend to listen in, a bit like Santa’s Seagull, who was a regular when I was growing up in Bangor. He was forever looking through the window with a beady eye and reporting any misdemeanours back to base in the North Pole. I held a grudge against seagulls for years, but I’m quite over it now, and even feel sorry for them with all the plastic in their tummies.

I toss and turn and sleep is not forthcoming. Apparently, in the olden times, pre-electricity, this was the norm. (Not pre-dawn raids hunting for change for in return for teeth,) but being awake at two or three in the morning. This was because everyone went to bed when it got dark (in the winter months anyway,) then woke a few hours later and had a snack and a chat and maybe some sex, before going back to sleep. How very pleasant, and how obviously never going to happen here, because between children and the cat our house is like an episode of ‘Whose bed is it anyway?’ Poor LSB knows the answer to that one, as he makes his forlorn way to the downstairs bedroom. ‘ Never my fecking bed,’ he says, trudging off.

While I’m in a ranty mood, here’s something else that I have issues with: over zealous parenting. Those ones who ‘go the extra mile’ seemingly with the only intention of making the rest of us frazzled mortals feel shit. I’m talking ‘rate per tooth’ here. IMHO, no tooth should ever warrant more than £2, except of course, if the tooth fairy was exhausted/tipsy or both and forgot to come for say, 3 lost teeth in a row. Then, fair enough, give the child a fiver, so they don’t that cast up to you as they heave you into a home when you’re eighty.

Also, for the love of God, don’t be writing letters in fancy calligraphy to your offspring  on behalf of a mythical creature. If you’re contemplating such hijinks, have a word with yourself. Anyone with that amount of spare time on their hands can come round here and deal with a few loads of my laundry. Those sort off shenanigans set expectations, that we all have to start penning missives, waxing lyrical about the wonder that is children growing up. The only letter our fairy is going to write is: ‘If you don’t stop strewing your dirty socks and pants round the house I won’t be back. Ever.’

When I was looking up images for a tooth fairy to adorn this piece, I came across pre-written messages which you can purchase online. These spout lots of shite about the kid being wonderful and enquiring after their general health. Some frigger somewhere is making a fortune out of that racket and I want in on it. I might suggest threatening versions for when children have been horrid: I’d be good at writing those.

*Those fluent in Spanish may feel the need to offer some corrections. Please refrain. I don’t actually speak much Spanish and I’m thrilled to bits with myself with the odd bit I know. Don’t burst my bubble. Trust me, it’s already well punctured at this stage.

LSB gets a Glasgow kiss

Image result for headbutt zidane

It is 4.22am and I have a dream that I am in the staffroom at work and a Home Economics teacher is telling me to incorporate ‘short walks into my daily routine’ to lower my cholesterol. She demonstrates by taking the long way round to the water cooler via the fridge, and mentions a staff member whose husband had a stoke in his forties.* ‘I have just turned forty,’ I whisper, in a voice, tinged with fear. ‘I know,’ she replies. ‘Eat more runner beans and walk more.’ In a sleep addled panic I sit up suddenly and fall back into the pillows .

‘OUCH!’ says LSB. I have fallen onto him and my head has connected with his nose. ‘OUCH’ he says again. He is both sore and disconbobulated. ‘I had a dream,’ I said.

‘Where was it set : Glasgow?’ he replies.

He can be quite sharp, LSB, even when awoken by a headbutt at an hour most ungodly.

Hence, it is 4-45 and he is browsing on his phone with a disconsolate expression and I am blogging because if I don’t write now I probably won’t until next Sunday. It brings me some relief to blog because at least if I’m doing this I’m not just mulling through the list of calamitous thoughts going through my head.

I am so, so tired about feeling bad about everything. I feel bad about the essays I marked because I stuck rigidly to the mark scheme and upon reflection I think I was too harsh.  I feel bad that the Small Child needs to practise her reading more and  yesterday morning as we sat under a blanket on the sofa she said it would be nice if her mummy could just work ‘a wee bit less.’ Ouch. So many ouches in my world right now. If ouches came in physical form I would be black and blue.

I feel bad about drinking too much at dinner on Friday night and being hungover on Saturday morning. I feel anxious because when I drink I become garrulous and dominate conversations. I can’t remember if I did that but I know I talked A LOT. I asked my friend whether ‘over-talked’ or not and she tells me to stop being paranoid. I feel bad about being paranoid: it’s a sign of stress and I feel bad that I can’t manage my stress better.

I used to manage my stress by running but I haven’t been able to shoehorn it into my routine, plus my Achilles is fucked and I need to see a physio. I feel bad about this because it’s been weeks and I still haven’t made an appointment. I did a parkrun yesterday and as I waited to have my token scanned I didn’t know whether I was going to cry, vomit or have an impromptu bowel movement. I feared I may do all three.

‘Are you ok?’ asked a concerned LSB, who was the one scanning my token. ‘Don’t be nice to me,’ I say, ‘or I will cry.’

‘Errr, ok then,’ he replies. ‘Maybe just go and drink some tea?’

In the event I drink some tea and chatted to my friends and I felt better. I feel bad though that it is now 5.07am which is 19 hours after my run and I still haven’t stretched my legs and my calves are throbbing. I swore I would stretch. People with a banjaxed Achilles should stretch.

My heart rate has at least slowed down and I feel good that I have used my time constructively. ‘Here, have a quick read at this,’ I ask LSB. He scans it quickly, and nods before rolling over to go back to sleep. At least my writing is good for something.

*Not an actual person, a dream person whose dream husband had a stroke. Although in real life I imagine it happens a lot, especially if they’re teachers.

SWB declutters her head

The Mothership has been up, collecting children from school, putting them over their sums, browning pans of mince on the stove and boiling potatoes. She and my Dad come once a week and try to restore order to our home, where teetering piles of paperwork, clothes and what Marie Kondo refers to as ‘kimono’ and I call ‘shite’, graces every worktop and flat surface. The tip, apparently, to a decluttered home, is keeping flat surfaces clear. I could do that, if I had a PA, but since I don’t, and am unlikely ever to be in such a position, I shall probably be found dead one day, under a pile of mismatched socks and unopened statements from Mastercard.

While sipping a cup of tea so scalding that it would take the throat off an average person, The Mothership becomes highly animated.

‘Disagreeable, Helen, not ‘unagreeable’, there’s no such word.’

I look bewildered. I’m just in the door and am still coat-clad and Sherpa-like, carrying my handbag, bookbag, and the basket I take for my lunch.

Seeing my confusion, she elaborates.

‘Your last blog post; that was just one of several mistakes I detected. We were taught those prefixes in school- you wouldn’t have caught us getting that wrong, would you Ronnie?’

My dad shakes his head. ‘Indeed you wouldn’t,’ he says.

‘What you need,’ she goes on, ‘is an editor.’

‘I’m not Marian Keyes,’ I say, divesting myself of garments while accepting hugs from small people as I edge closer to the teapot.

‘No, and you’re not likely to be either, if you keep making mistakes like that,’ she says, acerbically.

‘What I suggest,’ she goes on, ‘is that you give me your password for the blog and I’ll go in and vet everything, before its unleashed upon the general public.’

‘What’s that you say?’ She now has my full attention.

‘You obviously can’t proof-read it yourself, you’ve made that much obvious,’ she continues, ‘and your sentences are FAR TOO long. They would be greatly improved by the use of the semi-colon.’

‘I do use semi-colons!’ I say indignantly.

‘Sure just write it down there, your password, and I’ll set to it this evening,’ she says, handing me a child’s Newsletter from school. ‘Pop it down on the back of that.’

‘Flipping sure I won’t,’ I say.

Can you imagine it? God only knows what she’d be putting up, and she’d have all my ‘fucks’ and ‘shites’ replaced by ‘Heaven’s above!’ and ‘Goodness gracious.’ It wouldn’t read like my blog at all.

‘Start your own blog!’ I say. ‘YOU see how easy it is to update it and proof read it and try not to offend anyone who may recognise themselves and never speak to you again.’

There is a ruminative silence while she drinks her tea.

She is right though- there is no time, especially if you’ve spent the last two Saturdays at the Aspects Festival in Bangor, learning from the best what it takes to craft a novel.  We looked at ‘My name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout and ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ by David Park under the judicious eye of Patsy Horton from Blackstaff Press. They were both short novels but covered epic themes of love and loss and quiet desolation. They struck me deeply and the sessions afforded me the opportunity to do what I love best- dissecting a text; delving into its themes and identifying what made it singular; what made it come alive. I was a member of a book group for many years and loved it dearly, however, without a curator asking the right questions, it quickly became a brief chat about the novel and a excellent opportunity to drink merlot. This workshop therefore appealed to my inner geek, and I left feeling enriched and thrilled to have met some delightful folk.

The downside though, to spending your Saturdays doing literary things, is that you’re short of time for the banal but necessary tasks of homemaking. You forget things, like checking pockets and then popping fleeces into the washing machine with a packet of open Oreos in them. (LSB was not pleased about the soggy end his biscuits met.) We’ve spent most of Sunday cleaning and shopping and getting our shit together and yet I still feel the overwhelm acutely and the tension needling at my temples like sharp pins.

But you can’t give it all up can you? The soul must be fed, and if that means you have to hoover bits of dried Oreos out of your tumble drier, then so be it. And if anyone knows an editor willing to work pro bono then let me know, but herself’s not getting her hands on that password; no sirree.

*I decided to do this course at the last moment and LSB immediately had his phone out to order me the books from Amazon. ‘Stop right there!’ I said, and rang Books Paper Scissors on the Stranmillis Road instead. They confirmed that they had the books and Himself trotted over on his lunch hour to get them. Expedient, local, and not run by money grabbing corporate bastards; I’d much rather give these guys my custom .


SWB feels overwhelmed

My children have developed a new, and most annoying habit. When they lose sight of us, for hmmm, all of 20 seconds, it begins. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ chirps one, ‘Where’s he gone?’ demands an other. ‘What’s he doing?’

I’ve started not replying, and taking deep fortifying breaths instead. ‘But Mummy, is Daddy lost?’ Daddy is usually not far away, since he is a man of routine. If, for example, it is eight-twenty of a morning, daddy is ensconced upon the toilet, where he is pontificating, as he does every morning, trying to shoehorn in an extra few minutes of peace before the onslaught of the day begins. They are constantly searching, my children, and I wonder if they are simply curious as to our whereabouts or whether this constant need for reassurance is indicative of a deep-seated terror that we will disappear.

I have you see, returned to work, and while not a long-term arrangement, it is a period of adjustment for us all. I wonder have the children taken it ill, and has this manifested itself in making them nervy and agitated, for they are certainly most irksome.

There is a certain, let’s say, level of intensity, when you work full time and then, of an evening, have to ferry about off-spring and keep a home which doesn’t resemble a squat. And people, I feel bad, ALL THE TIME. I feel bad because I should have been at the climate strike on Friday but my new and temporary place of work declared it was ‘business as usual’ and I didn’t want to ask out and cause a rumpus. ‘You’re alright,’ I comforted myself. ‘You sign petitions and you recycle and you buy second hand.’ But it’s not enough is it? I spend my whole life feeling bad for being so shite.

For example, we run two cars and I simply can’t countenance the notion of taking my bicycle and arriving at work a sweaty mess; or the alternative, of being wiped out and killed, which is a very real possibility, because I wouldn’t be the most adept, on two wheeled modes of transport.  I also still eat meat. Can you call yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat?  I have, in the past, attempted to replace it with more vegetables and pulses but my unforgiving innards revolt and my stomach swells and there is both pain, and flatulence. I assure you that it’s most unagreeable. Last night though, I bought tofu, for a vegetarian take on ‘beef and black bean sauce.’ We were out ‘enriching ourselves culturally’ at both Culture day AND night in the town. LSB had himself a big burrito for lunch on Saturday and we all sampled the delights of the food vans,  so I felt we had eaten well, and indulgently. But when he inquired, ‘What’s for dinner?’ in a tone which suggested that really, meal preparations should have been well underway, at 8-15 of a Saturday night, my reply that we were having tofu caused great consternation. Most indignant he was, almost tearful.

‘You’re kidding me?’ he said, astounded. ‘TOFU For dinner? On a Saturday?’ I swear to God, it was like the scene out of Shirley Valentine, except I didn’t end up with a plate of eggs and chips in my lap.

‘Think of the forests!’ I said. ‘The Amazon’s AFLAME because of all the meat we eat! We need to eat more tofu or we are all seriously, FUCKED!’ He nodded at this, albeit sadly. ‘It’s just,’ he said dolefully, ‘that I think of tofu as more of a mid-week meal.’

‘Weekend nights thus, from now on in, will have to be Michelin style affairs. I’ll work on that.’ I said, my tone somewhat caustic. (Incidentally, I thought the omission of meat did no harm at all to the dish, and I rather liked my nod to the East with the addition of water chestnuts.)

There is a litany of things about which I feel bad, and I shall keep you informed in the coming weeks. Presently though, I feel bad that I have laundry to which I must tend, and a further backlog of tasks, after a weekend of frivolity. Left undone, these will render Monday morning utterly unbearable, and a stressed and shouty affair. I don’t need to feel worse than normal on a Monday, so I shall skedaddle for now, and go about my business, bleak as it is.