SWB finds consolation in cats

Boris. Fecking Boris as PM. No wonder I’ve felt a bit unhinged this week. I remember being outraged and bewildered at the Brexit vote; then shocked at Trump. Now, with yer man in, I’m not remotely surprised but certainly saddened and perplexed.  I’ve been doing a lot of moaning to LSB and his helpful response, as I descended deep into existential angst was this: ‘Not to worry, we’ll all be dust soon enough.’

‘How in the name of God is that meant to be uplifting?’ I said in disbelief.

‘Well, can you control it?’ he said. (He’s back reading ‘The Stoics’. I hate it when he reads ‘The Stoics’).

‘No, I can’t, but I’m worried that the ones who CAN are just accelerating our demise,’ I retorted.

‘I suppose you have a point,’ he conceded.

I do think we’re in trouble now, with this crackpot elected as grand overlord. It’s dispiriting in the extreme and since I have a tendency to get depressed I’m going to tell you a story about a cat instead.

A few weeks ago, a black cat turned up on our street and made herself known to all the neighbours. My children were thrilled, as she was the sort of cat who would mew loudly and say hello, then purr and roll about inviting them to tickle her tummy. She was quite a hit, this cat. I called her ‘The Roly-Poly Puss’.  The Older Child called her ‘Midnight’, and started inviting her in to eat our cat’s food. Since our cat often turns her nose up at her dinners, (especially the duck and tuna flavours) I was delighted to see it being eaten up by at least one grateful feline.

In the way that cats do, she ingratiated herself to other families too, and discovered the perfect shady spots in their gardens to rest herself. The neighbours across the road called her ‘Rocky’, and started feeding her cooked ham and chicken from a small bowl that their daughter had bought her. Three doors down, the family began stocking up on Whiskas and a modest selection of toys. They called her ‘Ollie’. Maybe it was the unusually good weather, or maybe it was the arrival of the cat, but we all spent quite a bit of time chatting in the street, deliberating as to what to do about her. We ruminated as to whether she was male or female. ‘He’s obviously male,’ said my husband. ‘Look at the size of him.’  Given that his deceased mother’s (and therefore now his father’s) cat is the size and shape of a corgi, I couldn’t see his logic on this one. A neighbour shook her head. ‘No, I’m going to say she’s a girl; she’s very fine about the face.’ We tried to look at the cat’s bottom to ascertain the sex, but we didn’t reach any conclusions.

We went off to a wedding and a neighbour insisted that she would come in and feed our cat while we were away. ‘I can go in and play with her if you like, in case she’s lonely,’ said the little girl across the road.

The visiting cat would pop up intermittently. My neighbour came out looking despondent the other morning. I had lent her our cat box to take the cat to the vet to see whether she was microchipped.

‘I’ve been so busy,’ she said, ‘that I never got her to the vet, then she disappeared. I haven’t seen her for 3 days.’

‘Is that not her there?’ I said, as the cat appeared that very moment from under said neighbour’s car.

‘Ah yes, that’s her alright,’ she said in surprise.

Since the arrival of this cat, my kids have been invited over to throw water balloons with the child across the road. I now know the names of the new family three doors down, (who actually aren’t that new as they moved in a year ago) and there has been chat about a BBQ. I hope to God they host it, as BBQs are NOT our forte. Then this morning I rang LSB from Armagh where I’ve come down to go to a few readings at the Hewitt.

‘I’ve news!’ he said excitedly. ‘It’s about the cat!’ The neighbours had finally carted her off to the vet and the mystery was speedily solved. Since she was micro-chipped they were able to contact her owner and find out that she’s a girl cat, and goes by the name of ‘Coco’. She’s quite the adventurer and on her last excursion she turned up in Hollywood, which is quite some distance from where she lives. She’s under lock and key now, but annoyingly I don’t know where because of bloody GDPR. I would have quite liked to visit her, perhaps with a few sachets of the food that our cat rejects from the multi-pack.

He goes on to tell me that two sets of neighbours have decided that they miss having the cat around so acutely that they’re thinking of heading to Cats’ Protection at the weekend to acquire one of their own.

‘How are the girls?’ I asked LSB. I feared they may have taken the news badly, since she appeared to be infinitely more craic than our own cat, who  can be, if I’m honest, a bit on the dull side.

‘They wanted to contact the owner and see if we could swap cats,’ he replied.

My children are nothing if not opportunists.

Given that I’m home now and my cat has already scratched me on the hand, I admit that they have a point.

Still, I’m just delighted that one small visiting cat brought about such a  feeling of warmth on the street. It warmed me, even more than the soaring temperatures which are only making me feel more apocalyptic about life.




SWB goes out for sushi

This time last week I was sat outside in a sea-food restaurant in Mullaghmore*. It was 25° and felt like Magaluf, with about the same number of crimson faced Irish people. Today, I have taken to my bed, having been beset by a severe head-cold, while rain thunders against the window. The sky is a sodden grey and is almost as heavy and oppressive as my mood. Very doleful am I, and I’m feeling very cross at myself for daring to think last week that it might have been ‘too hot.’ I decide to compound my misery by thinking back to my holidays when it wasn’t pissing out of the heavens and I was indulging all my seafood cravings in Galway.


‘Oh wow, they’re so cute! I can’t believe your kids eat sushi!’

We are sitting in Tomo Dachi, an airy sushi restaurant we’ve found on the corner of Shop Street in Galway. The kids are wielding their chopsticks like pros, since a dinky Japanese waitress wearing a skater skirt and red DMs has brought them each a pair with a rubber panda at the top, making them easier for little hands to manage.

Looking on in awe is a six foot blond girl, from Holland. ‘Our nieces would NEVER eat that, would they?’ she asks her husband and he shakes his head. He is from Kerry. His nieces eat sausages and chips and oddly, he adds, beetroot.

Our pair are oblivious to the stir they are causing, hoovering up salmon nigiri and cucumber maki, and the Older One is even having a go at my pork gyoza. I reluctantly hand over a piece of California roll with mango, asparagus and avocado. They are so busy eating they can barely speak. When they aren’t speaking, they’re not complaining, which is bliss. There has been a lot of complaining so far today, from the inevitable ‘Are we there yet?’ (No, we’re still on the M1) to ‘I’m too hot!’ (It’s called summer) ‘Do we HAVE to walk?’(It’s round the FRIGGING CORNER!)  and ‘She called me POO FACE!’ (Ah fuck it, I have nothing left to give).

It is very hard, when you’ve driven all the way from Belfast to Galway and stopped off in the world’s worst town (yes Mullingar, that title belongs to you, and digging up the centre didn’t help), NOT to tell your children to shut the eff up, but nice middle class parents don’t do that apparently. There has been much gritting of teeth and fantasising about chilled bottles of sauvignon blanc, rendering this moment in the restaurant when a stunner from Holland tells you your kids are brilliant, a pleasing one indeed.

Yes, my children do eat sushi. It’s expensive, and they are fans of quite a lot of expensive things, (like their mother, sighs LSB ruefully). But you have heard me lament many times about the nightmare that is feeding them. I keep them alive on pizza and chicken nuggets and chips and bowl upon bowl of pasta with ketchup. It is a source of great shame to me, that hey are such dreadful eaters. The bribing and the shouting and the pleading that has to go on, just to get them to eat a vegetable. I’ve been known to down a gin and tonic faster than Shane Magowan just to get through the ordeal that is dinner.

But tonight they are gastronomic trailblazers, from the North, with their cosmopolitan   habits. Will I disabuse the Dutch girl of the notion that my kids are marvellous? I decide not. ‘They’re just great,’ I say, and she gives them a Milky Bar Wafer from her handbag.

LSB is three pints down and offering our new friends slices of Beef Teriaki off his plate. ‘Never mind her: the blond beside you will eat the beef Teriaki!’ I hiss under my breath, since the kids have demolished half of my daily special. ‘Just trying to be friendly,’ he says. He’s a laugh, my LSB.

The staff come along and take a picture of the kids with a polaroid which they put on the wall, and give them each a lolly. ‘They are soooo cute,’ they gush, to which they smile beatifically and say ‘thank you’ without being prompted.

I come to the conclusion that my children can really be quite agreeable, provided that they’re getting exactly what they want, when they want it. Bit like myself, when I think about it.

*The restaurant is called Eithne’s Place and it has rave reviews on Trip Advisor. However, who in the name of all that is good can afford to pay 60€ for a lobster? Thankfully there were other options available for those of us who aren’t minted, and they catered well for the children.  They also served gorgeous wine by the glass which was just as well as the service was appalling and we aged about three years waiting for our order, while  wilting in the heat like a plate of boiled spinach. I said to girl, ‘I expect this is the busiest day you’ve had all year,’ to which she replied, ‘No, it’s always like this in the summer.’ It perhaps wouldn’t be an outrageous suggestion to hire some extra staff, I thought to myself, but resisted saying to her. She had enough to do, without listening to an irate SWB.


Pier Pressure In Salthill

My husband has a t-shirt. It is a Galway Bay Brewery t-shirt with a picture of the diving board on the front. He’s always talking about Galway, is my husband. He spent a year on placement there in 2003 and the bits he can remember, he enjoyed very much.

We are down in Galway to celebrate our friend Brenda’s 40thbirthday. On the agenda is pizza and wine and merriment aplenty. But first, we rendez-vous beside the diving boards, for the tantalising cocktail that is salt water plus adrenalin. Brenda’s family have set up camp. Picnics were not a thing in my family, and if they were it was a drab affair: wilted sandwiches and a Penguin and carton of warm Um-Bongo. Not with this crew though: if  picnics were cars, then this picnic would be the Audi TT.

There is hot tea in flasks and overflowing cool bags with strawberries and cream (or yogurt should one prefer) and Shloer and chocolates and every type of bar a child could wish for. There are exciting cones full of sweets for each child too- my pair are wide-eyed with glee. You’d think they’d never seen a sweet. ‘Can we really have this?’ the Older One says. I say yes, obviously. This is a celebration! But before any fizz is popped we go for a dip. Our friend Stephen has already sailed off the boards and is encouraging us to do the same. Stevey braves the water for a swim before heading up. He starts engaging folk in chat, as he is wont to do. ‘Don’t you be procrastinating now!’ I say.

I stride up too, but then I hear my mum’s voice in my head. ‘You could give yourself a heart attack, jumping into cold water.’ I don’t want a heart attack. My 40 year old heart may not, I fear, take the strain of leaping off into the chilly depths, so I descend and wade in first to acclimatise.  It is 20 degrees, therefore it’s not as though I have to break the ice before I get in, though being Ireland, it’s still a bit nippy.

I swear a bit, then swear some more. I find it helps. A flame haired woman in her fifties is treading water and smiling broadly. ‘It’s grand once you’re in,’ she says. I tell her I’m worried about my heart stopping.

‘Lookit,’ she says, ‘they’ve done studies, and I don’t think you have a heart attack, because of the cold.’

‘I don’t want to be the first,’ I say.

I look up at the boards and see LSB still standing on the edge, chatting. I swim a bit more and when I look back up he’s still there. A queue has formed and kids are taking running leaps off the top board instead. Brenda is taking a video. I think Brenda’s right arm may be starting to hurt. I go up to do some cajoling.

‘Come on!’ I say. ‘You’ve done it before!’

‘I’m going,’ he says, but his body says no, he isn’t. His toes curl round the edge of the board, even though his body is launched forward, like Eddie the Eagle Edwards.

‘Ach, come on,’ says a young fellow. I’ll count you down…’

‘Do I launch out so I’ll miss the rocks? says Stevey.

‘There are no rocks,’ says the young lad, ‘three, two, one…..’ At this Stevey lifts his feet and is momentarily airborne. Our friends cheer.  Then he pulls himself back in. He is shaking his head. ‘My legs are jelly; I don’t know what’s wrong.’

‘Do you want this wetsuit I ask? Wetsuits afford both insulation, and protection.’

‘No,’ he says. ‘Right I’m going, I’m going….’ He launches forward, and his arms go back and ‘THIS MUST BE IT’ we think. We all hold our breath; then he pulls himself back in. We all sigh, sadly. I’m getting very cold.

Our children arrive.

‘Come on Daddy!’.

‘I’ll give you a push,’ I suggest helpfully.

‘DON’T PUSH MY DADDY!’ shouts the Small Child. Another little girl is offering advice.

‘Just look at the Big Wheel and jump,’ she says.

‘Go on ahead,’ says LSB. Off she sails.  A group of teenage boys have now landed up. The pressure is immense. 20 minutes now, we have been there.

All of Brenda’s family are watching and waiting. Another 10 minutes pass. I  fear we are going to have an emotional episode.  Everyone else jumps off to give him some space, and then after 5 minutes they come back again. They are all, every last kid, kind and supportive.

‘GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!’ shouts Brenda’s family. And then we all stop. It’s not going to happen. Even the young fellas are looking upset on his behalf.

I think dark thoughts to myself. ‘Tonight’s going to be some craic,’ I ruminate. ‘With himself staring morosely into a pint, and it Brenda’s birthday too.’

He leans out again, and says ‘Right! This is it!’…. and he says put.

‘It’s not easy, now, I’m telling you,’ says a man, while a young boy takes a running jump off the top board, hollering in glee as he plunges into the water.

We start to chat among ourselves and then, he bends his knees for the umpteenth time, looks ahead, and leaps off. The relief is palpable.

There are ‘whoops and whoohoos!’ and applause from the boards, from the pier, from those in the water. Brenda’s father Jimmy surprises us all by being an enthusiastic ‘Yee-o-er’. Stevey, being from the West, loves a good ‘Yee-ooo!’

Later, everyone has a story about watching Stevey on the pier. He was up there for 35 minutes, so they had plenty of time to take in the atmosphere. As Brenda’s family cheered him on, an elderly couple reprimanded them. ‘Jaysus, would you leave the fella alone,’ said the gentleman, who was trying to drink his tea in peace. ‘That is our friend!’ said Brenda. ‘We’re supporting him!’

Everyone, it turns out, is supporting him. As he emerges from the water, shaking his head like a wet Schnauzer,  he is welcomed back like a war hero.  A queue has formed to shake his hand. The woman I met earlier in the water wants a photo with him for her blog. Strangers clap him on the back.

‘That was some entertainment, Stevey, if you don’t mind me saying,’ says Jimmy.

‘Will I do it again?’ he says to me. ‘Like fuck you will,’ I reply. ‘I want to get out this evening.’

Later, on our way back from Super Macs we meet all the teenage boys from the boards. ‘It’s your man!’ they say, and stop to high five him. Stevey punches the air and shouts ‘Yeooo!’

‘I can just see the headlines in the “The Galway Advertiser”‘ I mutter. ‘Belfast hero shocks locals by jumping off  Salthill diving board.’

That evening, as he walks into the The Crust Bucket where we are having pizza, he gets a standing ovation. ‘It’s Michael Phelps himself!’ says Brenda’s brother.

Despite having run several marathons and winning various awards for sporting related endeavours, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so delighted.








SWB seeks inspiration

(I wrote this last week when I was in Belfast and feeling miserable. I’m now in Galway and having a rather lovely time. I find I write better when I’m pissed off though- it’s harder to write when you’re in buoyant humour.)

My head is sore. It is thudding and I feel stressed, and when I am stressed I have a tendency to choke.  I have choked on water, which I was only drinking to alleviate my tension headache and render me more energetic and sprightly. My throat is now scratchy and I have caused some consternation in the coffee shop where I sit at the bar by the window, in a skirt which is perhaps a trifle too short for such perching. Wouldn’t it be great to be 25 again and perch wherever you wished with youthful insouciance?

I digress. I am thankful that no one else is at the bar and has not therefore been sprayed with lukewarm latte. The reason I’m in the coffee shop is that when Marian Keyes came to Belfast (as part of the brilliant CQAF) she made the mistake of asking if anyone had any questions. Up shot my hand, of course, and I asked if she had any hints for being disciplined and keeping at the writing. I asked because when I’m at home all day the lonesomeness makes me go a bit peculiar: I end up putting on load after load of laundry and starting, but not finishing, household tasks. I end up writing very little but accomplishing fuck all else. The whole experience is deeply unproductive, and unsatisfying.

‘Go to a coffee shop,’ advised Marian. I know that Jan Carson writes in coffee shops. Jan Carson writes in airports. I think that with the amount Jan Carson writes she must also write in the bath, on the toilet and perhaps even while she sleeps.

‘I can’t go to a coffee shop’ I tell Marian. ‘I know too many people. I chat.’

‘Could you perhaps go to a coffee shop that is further away?’ suggests Marian, in a kindly tone, but one that hints that I may be a bit cerebrally challenged.

‘I know a lot of people,’ I reply. It’s true. I could go to Coalisland and I’d know someone. And Newcastle. I have yet to walk down Newcastle High Street and not meet anyone. Or Donegal. Any part thereof. When on holiday I like to go ‘relaxed and make-up free’; a look which could frighten small children, and indeed sometimes does. This is not a look that works in Donegal, when every corner you turn, whether  in Rathmullan or Rossnowlagh, you meet someone you know, and inevitably you look like a bag of shite and you have a face on you like a well slapped arse because it’s raining and your children are there, annoying you.

So today I’m in a different coffee shop and I’ve now sliced my finger opening up a packet of paracetamol. I now have a headache,  sore throat and sliced finger. There are drops of blood on my new, rose gold laptop. I am in ‘District’ on Stranmillis and they have already offended my sensibilities by handing me a iced latte in a plastic cup. That’s what happens when you nip for a pee while they make your order. ‘What is this?’ I enquire.

‘It’s an iced latte’ says the girl.

‘I wanted a regular one-shot latte and I’m sitting in so I would like it in a proper cup,’ I state, as icily as the beverage that I didn’t actually order.

That’s Karma for you, she’s likely thinking, as I sit, coughing and bleeding in my t00-short-for-a forty-year-old skirt.

There is an American behind me chatting about his workload, setting boundaries, and Jesus. As you know, I have nothing against Jesus and would have a fair few conversations with Him myself, but not loudly, in a coffee shop. I consider asking him to say a wee prayer for me, but reflect that if he’s any sort of Christian he’s already noticed my pathetic self and has sent one up on my behalf. I fear too that he may suggest we pray together and  there’s few things I hate more than public praying. The last time though, that I was involved in a spot of public praying, it had unexpectedly good results. It was in the winter a couple of years ago, on a wet Wednesday afternoon upon the Ormeau. I was trotting past St Jude’s Church of Ireland with the girls and there was George, their friendly rector, waving animatedly from the gazebo from which they dish out tea and coffee and hot chocolate, to believers and non-believers alike. In we dandered to say ‘hi’ and one of the young people (God love her, she’ll know again to keep her mouth shut) asked how I was, whereupon I subjected her to a rant about how dreadful life was and the unfairness and the terribleness of everything. She nodded, sagely. I then narrowed it down to one particular problem which was causing me a disproportionate amount of distress.

‘Shall we pray about it?’ she asked.

Now oddly, I hadn’t seen that coming, (though clearly that was naïve.) But anyway, pray we did and flip me, but on and on she went, and the kids were looking baffled and pulling my hand to go and we were, as I said, on the Ormeau, where I know nearly everyone and there I was engaged in this very public and very protracted act of praying. I was a wee bit embarrassed. But, and here’s the weird thing, and I know you don’t expect this from my Sour Wee Bastard blog and trust me, I don’t expect it myself and I’m as surprised as you are, but I walked away feeling almost perceptively lighter.  AND the problem I had, all but evaporated. It just fecked off. I stopped agonising over it and felt a great deal better. I don’t know what Marian Keyes would make of that really.

So there you are. I started this post to write about feeling shit and it ended on the ‘power of prayer’. You just never know what’s going to happen when you sit down to write. One of life’s lovely surprises.

(I wouldn’t really recommend ‘District’ by the way. Bit pretentious and I don’t think they take the prospect of environmental catastrophe seriously, by the looks of them).


SWB puts the ‘open’ into ‘Open House Festival’

Tenx9 audiences usually enjoy a good bowel story; as they do tales of acute embarrassment; odd family  idiosyncrasies and close encounters of the evangelical kind. (There are many of those here in Northern Ireland.) My stories often include all the above. Last year in Bangor I told a tale about growing up on the Esplanade. This one is a bit more exotic and is about my trip to Thailand back in 2004.

‘What are you reading about tonight?’ The Mothership asks when I go down home on Friday night and foist my children upon her and my Dad.

‘The time I had the runs in Thailand,’ I reply.

‘Awk you’re not, are you? Who would want to listen to the like of that? Your father couldn’t stomach it at all. He’d have to get up and go out. Wouldn’t you Ronnie?’

My Dad feigns deafness and pours himself a glass of wine.

Hers’s the story, should you wish to read for yourself.

Tenx9- At The Seaside

I should have known not to have seconds of goat curry. And thirds. Definitely not thirds. This curry was, like most I had eaten in South East Asia, generously spiced with red chilli, and not even the coconut milk was rendering it tolerable. But on I lingered at the table, because this was a celebration, for not just one, but two good reasons.

Rahesh, the owner of our backpacker hostel,  had just completed the building of a sixth hut,  so at least 2 more guests could climb a rickety wooden ladder to a enjoy a ‘rustic’ stay, sleeping on less than pristine bed sheets. Each hut did, at least, have a bathroom, although water pressure was an issue as neither the shower nor the flush had much of an ‘oomph’. I had taken to using the loo in cafes and bus stations and even shops if they’d allow me, because I was very much in love with my boyfriend and I feared that this may not be reciprocated, if he had to hear me emptying my bowels through paper thin walls. On the up side, each hut cost £6 per night and since we were travelling for 3 months, it was in our best interests to be frugal. ‘Please, eat! eat!’ urged our host’s mother, a tiny wiry woman who kept appearing at my elbow, smiling a huge toothless grin as she ladled out spoon-fuls of sticky rice and curry. I ate up. I was very hungry.

The second reason why this was a celebration; was the fact that we were alive and able to eat curry from plates improvised from banana leaves. Two hours earlier I had feared death by drowning in the Andaman Sea after being caught out in a squall. ‘Come kayaking, it will be fun!’ said our new American friends, and so we had assembled at 10am on the beach for a trip. The last place I had gone paddling was Killyleagh, where we had not only been issued with life jackets but helmets too.  Our tentative safety enquiries were met with much derision by the men hiring out the kayaks from their shack on the beach.  ‘You will not need such things. You can swim, right?’ So in we hopped and with a push and a whoosh we were off, paddling through azure waters. It was exhausting. ‘Oooh, let’s look at these fish!’ I would say, ‘What fine phosphorescent creatures!’ My boyfriend knew rightly that I just wanted to rest.

Chicken Island, when we arrived, was unremarkable. We had just left one stunning beach with white sand, for an identical stunning beach with white sand. There was a bar serving the same jam-jars of iridescent red shite which in Thailand masquerades as a cocktail. I was not a fan of these at any time of day, but especially not at 11-30. Even by my standards, this was uncalled for. There was pottering, and sunbathing, and watching in awe as a fruit seller deftly sliced pineapple into uniform pieces with what looked like a machete.

But then I feel rain. Rain does not pitter patter in Thailand. Rain thunders down in heaving plumps, with a force not emulated by the shower in our hut. My intrepid boyfriend, and the American lads, who had told us several times, that they are ‘very strong swimmers’, are flexing their muscles and gearing up for the challenge. We decide to go before the squall whips up even more. Tourists had come over in a glass bottomed boat and they were pointing with incredulity at us, as we clamber into the kayaks. We paddle, fruitlessly. Waves crash into our faces, my stomach lurches and my arms ache. The sky is a huge purple bruise. ‘Paddle harder,’ shouts my boyfriend. ‘FUCK UP!’ I shout back. I cannot paddle any harder. I have reached peak paddle. ‘Can we go back?’ I yell. ‘No need!’ he replies. ‘Look, it’s calmer out there.’

It is not, calmer out there. It actually looks worse. I am going back, I decide. I will swim if I have to.  We turn the kayak. The wind behind us makes our paddle to the shore infinitely easier, and we are almost catapulted onto the sand. There is hardly any room on the glass bottomed boat but for a price they let us drag on our kayaks and we bump our way back to Tonsai beach. We pass our Americans, who are still valiantly trying to conquer the waves. We ask if we can stop and pick them up. I can’t hear what our Captain says but his voice is gruff and his hand gestures are more than a little dismissive.

Back on dry land we scan the seas. ‘Please,’ we ask the owner of the kayak shack.  ‘Can you do anything? Our friends are still out there.’

‘Out there?’ says the man. He laughs and shakes his head. He looks, not only unperturbed, but amused. A long 20 minutes later we see two dots appear on the horizon. Just as suddenly as it arose, the storm packs up its bags and buggers off.  We watch as our friends, who don’t look nearly so cocky now, edge closer and we swim out to greet them. ‘Drinks later?’ they ask. I nod with alacrity.

We have a rest before Rahesh invites us to partake in his mum’s special curry, before heading to the other side of the bay for evening frivolity. On the terrace, windchimes tinkle in the light breeze and Morcheebais playing in the background. The sea is calm and in the darkness it meets the sky in soft, velvety swathes. Everyone is lounging on bright cushions drinking beer, or Coke, all in ebullient form. All, that is, except for me. I am squatting, in a way that is both graceless and deeply uncomfortable, in the most basic hovel known to man. The curry has turned against me. It is the revenge of the goat. In the absence of a lock, the door threatens to open and a misguided cat is mewing and trying to get in.  Twice I try to stand but I am doubled over by crippling cramps. And then, above the whine of the                        crickets I hear my boyfriend’s voice. It is not a voice I want to hear right now. ‘Just a second,’ I say, ‘go back to the others.’

‘I’ll wait for you,’ he says. ‘It’s dark out here.’ There are times when you want your other half to be kind and chivalrous. This was not one of them.

I blunder out and gesture that I need to leave. To reach our part of the island we have to climb over a few rocky outcrops. We usually love donning our head torches and having a moonlit scramble. There are no water taxis tonight. Usually we have to convince them that we like the walk home, and to leave us be. I am now vomiting behind one rock and having the runs behind the next. I have vomited over my new duck-egg blue skirt. I have vomited over my boyfriend’s feet. I don’t know how I have any fluids left. Back in the hut, I assume that I have no moisture remaining to expel, from any orifice. I am wrong. ‘Yon fellow’s going to wish he’d installed better plumbing after this,’ says my boyfriend, as he tries to force carroty pieces of sick down the plug hole with a pencil. The embarrassment I feel singes my soul. I fear that I may be given the boot, but when I crawl into bed I see him futtering with his First Aid Kit. ‘I wonder could I improvise a drip,’ he ponders. He is, you see, a doctor, and instead of being revolted by my condition, is seeing it as a medical challenge. The thought of needles makes me want to vomit again, so instead he rubs my back until I sleep.

When I wake in the morning my mouth feels like the bottom of a hamster’s cage, but I have a concave stomach, for the first time in my life. In bounds my boyfriend with fresh mango and water. ‘It’s gorgeous out there,’ he says, beaming. ‘Shall we go for another kayak?’

‘Fuck off dear,’ I reply.








SWB and the School Holidays

So you know those films where children run amok and you chuckle because it is so extreme and therefore could not happen ‘In Real Life?’ Or else you comfort yourself because you think, ‘Phew, at least mine aren’t that bad?’ Well, shimmy on over and pull up a front row seat because mine are being absolute melters; candidates for Horrid Henry or Alvin and the Chipmunks. Day one of the official school holidays and we have already reached ‘peak melt.’  Earlier, as I walked past the living room, I saw The Small Child tying a basket to a piece of pink tinsel that was hanging from the light fitting. She was loading three cuddly toys (two ducks and a dragon) into said basket and giving it a vigorous push, like those big round  swings at the park.  I always want to curl up and read a book  on that swing sown in Cherryvale Park, except some bastard child is usually already ensconced. Darn shame. They need to open parks, at night, for adults, not necessarily for devilment, just quiet contemplation in relaxing environs.

The pink tinsel, I must admit, has been strung around the light fitting  since the Older Child’s birthday back in October. I think I am still recovering emotionally from that week before half-term when I was at the primary school two night’s running for the ‘Halloween disco’, then we stupidly decided to host our very own ‘Flamingo themed’ party in the house. The recollection of that time still makes my right eye-brow twitch. Even looking at the tinsel brings back feelings of angst and I can’t bear to  actually touch it. Last week I was visiting a friend and I saw she still had some Christmas decorations up in her dining room. ‘Don’t ever change,’ I said to her, clutching her hand in the manner of one demented.

Back to my off-spring: let me list their other offences. Perhaps the most annoying thing is their utter inability to finish a meal while keeping their backsides on a seat. They eat with their hands and with their mouths open, like savages. As a child, my parents were most particular about table manners. Once, I used to be particular about table manners, but I have now given up entirely on such trifling affairs. Avoiding scurvy and Beri-Beri: those are my current concerns, so I do not care how they eat vegetables, as long as they ingest some vitamins which don’t come from a packet of Halibo-Orange for Kids.

This eating ‘on-the-move’ habit which my girls have acquired means that the floor is strewn with bits of bagel, pizza crusts and ice-cream wrappers. LSB shows his love for the girls by buying them whatever they want.  At the moment, the children and Himself are on a quest for the elusive ‘Apple-saurus Rex’ ice-lolly. This has proved to be a fruitless search and to make them feel better he buys them oversized lollies such as Magnums or Super Twisters, to compensate.  Should any of you, on your travels, come across this refreshing icy treat, do get in touch as we have now started to believe that it is nothing but a ruse to draw dinosaur crazed children into shops.

The children are being especially bad and bold because we have a guest. They like to ‘up the ante’, when we have visitors, especially paying guests. This week we are hosting a French person. Her English is ridiculously good so they keep asking me if she’s really French. Our last lodger (of whom we were very fond and wanted to keep; I kid you not, she had a penchant for tidying and she LOVED children) had a very shaky grasp of English. However, since this didn’t interfere with how she enjoyed arranging my cushions neatly and doing jigsaws with my kids, this was no problem whatsoever. Anyway, as the French girl arrived the kids were returning from an outing where they’d ingested half their body weight in Haribo and were in ‘climbing mode’; clambering all over the furniture and swinging and jumping off the bannisters. ‘Go outside!’ I bellowed, at which point they came in to tell me that the cat had left a gift, which was of course a mouse. The cat then appeared with another mouse between her jaws, and we all looked on in horror as she batted it about.  The French girl hadn’t even had a cup of tea at this stage. Order was no sooner resumed when I looked in to the garden and thought, ‘F**k me but the cat really has got enormous,’ before realising it was actually a large black dog. A collie, I think. I had never seen said dog before in my life and then another appeared and they bounded in exuberant circles in the garden before making off through the fence. Meanwhile our feline  hissed and spat with a back so arched she resembled a boomerang.

‘It’s not usually as bad as this,’ I told the French girl. I’m not sure she’s convinced though, as today  the house was in a similar state of chassis.  I was trying to cook, blithely ignoring the children, (I’m a massive fan of the benign neglect method of holiday childcare) and they instantly set upon her when she came in. ‘Let’s play Hide and Seek! Come on!’  They led the poor girl straight into the garden before swiftly returning.  ‘Mummy,’ said The Older Child, ‘guess how many dead mice are on the patio?’

Three. There were three very small, very dead mice on the patio; another lovely job for SWB.  However, given how much food my youngsters leave at their behinds, I’m currently feeling very grateful for Izzy, the ultimate mouse-destroyer.

(In the interests of public health I would like to add that there is a large field behind where we live. There are sometimes cows. We basically live in a farm but without the benefit of fresh eggs. We also employ a cleaner, for whenever I miss a bit.)

SWB gets harassed

The Small Child has woken in prickly humour. I wake to find her little hand on my shoulder at 7-10, an unwelcome intrusion to my slumber. She is wearing a vest and her grey skirt. ‘I need a shirt,’ she says. ‘And a tie.’ Now.’ I am awake, but barely. It has been a busy weekend. It has been a  busy year. I have to get up, make lunches, serve breakfast, THEN go to work and top the day off with a visit to the dentist for two fillings. I wonder should I just book in my cervical smear test too and be done with it. I do not wish this day to begin. But begin it does. ‘Your summer dress is on the bannister,’ I say. ‘Put it on.’

‘No,’ declares the Small Child. ‘I DON’T. WEAR. DRESSES.’ In her white vest she is like a mini Stanley Kowalski. ‘It is not summer,’ she says. ‘It is cold. I am wearing my uniform.’ She disappears and returns holding her tie aloft, triumphantly. ‘Now I just need my shirt’ she says.

The child has a point. Outside the sky is grey and it has rained heavily in the night. I know this, because against her better judgement, the cat insisted on going out at ten-thirty as we went to bed. Thus, when I woke to use the loo at 12 I took pity and went down to let her in. She shot past my legs, her coat sodden, mewing pathetically. I lovingly dried her with kitchen roll and off she went to bed.

It is still mizzly and I feel for the child. I too, have shunned sandals of late, and returned to wearing ankle boots, with ankle socks underneath. Last week I wore a hoodie, and actually put the hood up to keep my ears warm. I counted three different men in Botanic Gardens wearing hats, and a few women in scarves: not wispy silk scarves, but scarves of weight and substance. I therefore get the Small Child’s point, but I’m f**ked id I’m digging out her shirts which have been washed, ironed and put away (in a rare show of organisation).

The Older Child is in ebullient form, leaping from bed to bed. They’re wild keen on the leaping, my children. In the garden, they are forever catapulting themselves out of the shrubbery, and often, I see a child, airborne, flying past at a ferocious rate.

The grandparents have been up minding them on Mondays of late. This means that when I get in at 4pm, they had been fed Maud’s ice-cream, pizza from Lidl and generous slabs of Dairy Milk. They are often engaged in gardening tasks, clearing weeds and suchlike. ‘They were VERY good,’ my parents will say, in a tone which suggests that they are wonderful children and don’t merit the complaining I do about them. But why wouldn’t they good, when enjoying such an abundance of treats? ‘Try doing their homework with them or making them have a bath,’ I want to snarl.

‘They have expressed interest in a swing,’ The Mothership tells me in a conspiratorial tone. ‘Will I just go out and buy one?’ ‘No’ I reply, with feeling. We live on a hill, you see.  Our garden is built on 3 tiers and given my children’s propensity for taking flying leaps I fear one or both of them would come sailing through the kitchen window as I’m peeling the potatoes. I grew up in a house with a large, flat garden. Never once, was it mooted that I be bought a swing, or a climbing frame, or any class of garden paraphernalia common to our neighbours on the Esplanade. I decide against voicing any of this. The Mothership will, of course, read it here, and then ring me up to gripe that I’m ‘doing her down again.’

Speaking of which, you wouldn’t need to be sensitive on this house. The Small Child, was hoking through a drawer of mine earlier, while I combed her hair. ‘What’s this?’ she said, aghast. ‘It’s a passport photo, of me,’ I tell her. (I got photos taken in Dalkey in February. I have yet to the fill in my application for my Irish Passport). The Small Child shakes her head. ‘Desperate,’ she says in a withering tone, putting it back. She is 6 years old and sounds exactly like the Mothership, when she was on the phone last week, insulting me. ‘I need to talk to you, AT ONCE. It’s about your hair.’

‘What about my hair?’ I said. I was just in from work and trying to enjoy a cup of tea and a Bourbon cream.

‘You need to do something about it,’ she says. ‘You put a picture of yourself up on Twitter, and it may have been in jest, but regardless of that, you looked about 50. “Ronnie,” I said. “Would you look at the cut of that?” There is a swathe, a swathe of white, not even grey, across the front. You need to get that sorted. I would suggest you have a few different shades put in when you get your high lights done. Or I could do it myself, from a packet. Save you a fortune.’

Well that would be a treat indeed- The Mothership doing my highlights at the kitchen table while my progeny laugh and cackle and possibly take pictures. No, I think I shall go and drink coffee and read Red magazine in Riah, as per usual. Anyway, I don’t think I’d be nearly as grey were it not for cantankerous off-spring and mercurial mothers.  And it’s almost the holidays! All that extra time with the children to enjoy. I think I might just pack them off to Bangor for a week by the sea. The Mothership might just be reviewing her opinion then….


SWB and the collapse of civilisation


It is Thursday and I am not working. I am walking back from a class at the PEC. LSB had dropped me down earlier and I met a friend for coffee. I bought some books for summer reading and sauntered a bit, before a gruelling 25 minute class. I cannot cope with hour long classes at the moment, preferring short bursts of horror to get it over quickly.  Many of the exercises at a ‘HITT’ (High Intensity Interval Training) class are burpee related, with much reaching over my portly tum. And lunging. There is an emphasis on lunging and squatting. These classes are not to be recommended after a latte and a peanut butter ball, a fact that I know well, yet am loathe to note. I thank the teacher and leave. I am keen to have a walk to disperse the lactic acid after my exertions.

As I walk along the embankment towards Ormeau Bridge I hear much shouting. I assume it is the the coxes in the rowing boats on the Lagan. I hate how they gulder. It is loud and aggressive. I do not need loud and aggressive voices right now. My thoughts can be loud and aggressive enough.

But it is not a cox shouting at his rowing eight. It is a crowd of men clad only in their pants, hopping on one leg as they tug on their jeans. They are barefooted. One wears a red felt hat, with yellow writing embroidered on the front.  His chest hair, of which there is an abundance, glistens with sweat and booze. He guffaws loudly as I pass. I feel his spit on my face. ‘Ha, look at this one!’ shouts another.  There are bottles of Buckfast and the stench of alcohol closes in on me. Several runners have jogged past already unmolested, and I refuse to cross the road. It is 12.43 in the afternoon. I will not be intimidated at 12.43 in the afternoon in my local environs. There are two girls also in the group, one of whom is shrieking and cackling at a pitch which is most offensive to the ear. Another is small and fine featured with chestnut hair, pulled into sleek pony tail. She has a sweet face and huge brown liquid eyes. Her expression, however, is not sweet. She seeks out and tries to hold my gaze as though to provoke a response. The menace from her is almost more unsettling than the larger men, in a state of undress. I refuse to meet her eye and walk on, but I do not alter my pace. They do not follow me or touch me or verbally abuse me. But their intention is clear, to create a disturbance and ruin a peaceful afternoon.

This is the third time I have felt threatened recently on the Ormeau; my favourite part of Belfast and the place I call home. This time it was older teens, or perhaps students. The previous occasions have been by young, drunk teenagers. They occurred in the early evening, further up the road, near the Vineyard. Stevey challenged one boy, who was flanked by two larger teenage girls.  He insulted an elderly man who had remonstrated with him for repeatedly thumping a sign. Alliance, I think it was. I recall it was yellow.

‘Could you not leave it alone?’ said the man.

‘Could you not fuck off?’ said the boy.

‘Here’ said LSB. ‘No need for that.’

The girls jeered and the young fella wanted to show off and retorted with another obscenity. We had been to Greens for pizza with the girls.

‘That’s enough,’ I said, gesturing towards the children.

‘You shut up, you’re nothing but a hoor,’ shouted the boy.

Well that was LSB off after him while I pulled the girls close. They were shaken and bewildered.

‘LEAVE IT!’ I yelled. The trio ran off and Stevey let them. He was furious. (Stevey has a bit of a superman complex and is often referred to as ‘Stevey Garland, Urban Warrior’ by his friends. Once he saved a couple of Emo kids getting their heads kicked in, in the McDonalds in town. He has, though, also been set upon in the past, and had a kicking himself.  Warrior behaviour is therefore not something I actively encourage. He couldn’t possibly put a wash on or get the children breakfast with head injuries. It would be a great imposition on my life. Anyway, it wasn’t even eight o’clock. Our evening had been soured, any bonhomie shattered.

So there we are. Marching season is not even upon us and the air is thick and turbulent, making me feel the need to keep sharp and alert. This is the time  when we should be able to relax, and enjoy the long evenings, watching as dusk merges into twilight and the sky turns from blue to lemon to pink and  the sun sets over the hills. I wish some sense could descend upon the city and we could do just that.

SWB on the pre-birthday wobble

‘Am I going to be middle-aged?’ I ask LSB.

‘Are you thinking of buying a sports car?’ he replies.

‘No,’ I say, with conviction.

‘Well then, definitely not,’ he says.

(I hesitate to tell him there’s a white Audi TT for sale down the street).

On Tuesday I will be forty. Months ago there was talk of a party, but then I not only joined the PTA with my friend but the two of us decided to chair it. Since that error of judgement, neither of us has an interest in organising anything ever again. We are done with organising now. Last week there was a party, an anniversary dinner for our school in a local hotel. We hired ‘The Bandoliers’ and such was the vigorous dancing on my part, that I feared I may be suffering from whiplash the following morning. I wasn’t, but that didn’t stop me lying in bed until 1pm after the exertion of the evening.

This weekend has been calmer. On Saturday morning I took myself to a sewing workshop at Portview Trade Centre in East Belfast. My friend Kirsty has a studio there and was showing a few of us how to make a decorative hoop to hang on the wall. LSB knows that Kirsty makes reusable hygiene products for women in the developing world. Given that I’ve recently started using a menstrual cup, he misunderstands and thinks that the hoop is some sort of Earth Mother gynae device. (His words). He is relieved when I tell him it isn’t, and that his intervention won’t be needed to extract it.

(One day, when I am brave enough, I will write a post about my Tulip Cup experience. I am au fait with the process now, but it took a while.)

Back to sewing and my friend. Kirsty is a bit of a legend, and I’m not one for bandying words like ‘legend’ about. She has founded the charity Shared Threads which brings hope and education and dignity to those who have none. She’s just back from a trip to India, where she taught women in a prison how to sew sanitary pads themselves. She took the family with her too. ‘Most people take their kids to Disney Land’, she laughed on Saturday. ‘Mine looked for tiger poo in the jungle.’ I think her children will remember that trip with fondness. None of that ersatz saccharine shite for them.

Kirsty’s studio has a minimalist feel to it, and it’s airy and uncluttered. Two spider plants sit on the window sill, underneath which is a table with a rose gold lamp and an old Singer Sewing Machine. It’s a space which wills one to be creative and exhale.  The vibe makes me feel like I could actually get some work done here. There is a rose gold cafetière containing extremely good coffee.

Kirsty shows us how to embroider messages onto fabric which will be encased inside a wooden hoop. I am sitting beside a heavily tattooed man with a well-groomed beard. He sews impeccable stitches in blue thread onto a speckled linen cloth. I am in awe at his precision. We sip our coffee and work steadily, mindfully, and I am grateful for the calm. I didn’t know what message to sew on my hoop, but I settle on the words ‘Still I Rise’ from Maya Angelou’s gorgeous poem. It’s about feistiness and courage and resilience; attributes I need to hone. I’m tired and bewildered and a bit directionless at the moment. Still, anytime I read the poem it brings me joy and a profound sense of hope. The letters may be a bit wonky but I kind of like the fact that life is messy, but that’s all part of the fun, or at least the journey.

Later on Saturday, a crowd of us gather at some friends to celebrate their child’s birthday. The men opt to drive and drink non-alcoholic beer while us girls sip prosecco. There are cheeses and pastries; fresh fruits and cured meats and two types of home-baked cake. The kids shed their shoes and bounce and play and there is a warmth and conviviality which has me almost in tears. I grow steadily more emotionally incontinent as the years pass. I identify the feeling which threatens to overwhelm as gratitude. I am so grateful for the kindness and the steadiness and in particular, the irreverent humour of the people around me. I find life a bit tricky at times. But like the title of Ruth Fitzmaurice’s beautiful memoir, ‘I found my Tribe’,  I feel I’ve found mine. I’ve a few tribes actually, some of which overlap. They all help me rise in different ways; whether it’s rising to challenges or rising above some of the nonsense in life one has to face.  I’m thankful for every one of them.

SWB ruminates on Formal Fever

Last night was another belter of an evening down at The Black Box for Tenx9. A huge thanks to Paul Doran and the lovely Cara. Pádraig was away at a poetry seminar but was well represented by a puppet instead. It’s quare craic, down at the Tenx9, and no better way to spend a Wednesday, in my opinion. The stories last night were magnificent. The theme was ‘ Once, when I was young…’ so I thought I’d write about my school formal. You can read the whole sorry tale below…

(a young SWB, aged seventeen and a half)

Once, when I was young, I had a dream, a dream that I would go to my Upper Sixth formal, svelte and glamourous, with a boyfriend in tow. For 7 years, the ‘formal’ had been at the back of my mind. The formal was when you shrugged off that bright blue uniform and emerged, radiant, to show your peers & teachers that you were more than just a nerdy teen. I was most disappointed that one of my teachers couldn’t go, as she had booked a Daniel O’Donnell concert on the same night. Most unfair, I thought, as everyone made an effort for this, even those who hung round church all weekend in their Lee jeans from the factory shop in Newtownards and Fruit of the Loom sweatshirts. Girls who NEVER dressed up, were rendered unrecognisable, with glossy locks and shimmery lipstick. And of course, they all had boyfriends. I rarely had a boyfriend. And then, miracle of miracles I managed to find myself a sort-ofboyfriend. He’d recently been dumped and needed a diversion, and I was anxious to fill that role because 1) he was a bit of a dish, and 2), it was Christmas and the formal was in February and I just had to hold on to him until then.


Formal fever took hold. We took the train to Belfast, going to Delaney’sfor lasagne and chips and sneaky bottles of Mateus Rose. Trips to Belfast were a new thing, and not something I did on a whim, lest I be blown up or shot. It was 1997, so that was still a real possibility. The mere mention of going to Belfast, & my grandmother would say in a sombre tone, ‘Watch out for the bombs’. In fairness, she had lived through the Blitz, hiding under the kitchen table while the roof crumbled above her. She probably had PTSD. However, I was willing to risk losing a limb if it meant getting a nice dress.


In those days, few people spent hundreds on formal attire. We ogled dresses from Kookai and Monsoon,thoughEtamsand Top Shopwere more our price range. I bought a red satin dress in Principlesfor £35 with a cowl neckline and spaghetti straps. Inevitably, another girl worse the same dress on the night, (cheeky bitch) but we resolutely avoided each other.


In the preceding weeks I was in shocking humour as I tried to diet, ditching my after-school snack of 4 slices of white toast, with real butter and homemade raspberry jam. Sometimes I had a slice of Cadbury’s Chocolate roll to finish, or a slab of my grandmother’s cake. Oddly the weight dropped off and I didn’t have to resort to laxatives. A friend gave me make up tips and I booked an up-do with Michael Conroy on High Street. Then, disaster struck. One of our friends was let down by her date. Never the most pro-active it had to be said, she left it up to us to find her another, with 2 days to go. At the time, the principal’s son was doing a bit of Janitor work in the school. He was a smiley sort of a fellow so I asked if he’d like to be her date for the evening. He said he would. Phew, we all sighed.


Then, mydate announced that he might not make it after all. Our formal was on a Wednesday and he worked in Dublin. Previously, it had felt like the height of sophistication, having a graphic designer ‘sort of’ boyfriend who worked in Dublin but that feeling soon dissipated when this news broke. Much to my embarrassment now, I recall asking if there were any flights between Dublin and Belfast. That, I thought, would be quite James Bond-ish, with him ‘jetting in’ for the occasion.  There weren’t, but he made it with just enough time to look smug and self-satisfied in a photo, with the air of someone who was doing me a terrific favour, which, I suppose, in a way he was.


The actual event at The Culloden, was probably the biggest disappointment of my life to date. We were served platefuls of dried up turkey, most of which was scraped directly into the bin. The band was mediocre and there was, to me anyway, a sense of acute let down. The real anti-climax, however, was the afterformal. The organising committee, had, in an act of madness or desperation, booked the Sea Catfor this. It was sold to us as an excellent option, as the bar was open all night. There was the promise of ‘live music’. God help anyone taking the journey for real that night, with about a hundred kids in formal attire lurching about from excess drink or the rhythm of the waves. The ‘live music’ was one disconsolate chap on a keyboard. His eyes bore an expression of utter defeat, as indeed they would, if your career trajectory had led you to here, playing ‘Sweet Caroline’ to a bunch of pissed sixth-formers. The janitor ditched my friend for another girl at the Sea Cat terminal before we even set sail, which meant that she spent the whole crossing to Scotland and back, crying inconsolably.


‘Sort of’ boyfriend and I broke up shortly afterwards. ‘Don’t worry,’ said my mum. ‘There will be other formals.’ ‘I never want to hear of another bastard formal again,’ I replied.  But six years later, there I was, this time as a teacher in Bloomfield Collegiate. Back to North Down we went, this time to the Clandeboye Lodge. I had an actual boyfriend this time, called Donal, but he was a doctor, up doing ‘doctory’ things that night in Coleraine. I missed him: I wished he could have seen me, in my finery. This formal was even more tedious than the first formal. It wasn’t so much no craic, as minus craic; a craic vacuum. I took to the drink, and suddenly, the band seemed to improve. I bopped about a bit and metamorphized into Miss McClements, the ‘young cool teacher’, giving it stacks on the dance floor. Of courseI took the shot a student offered. Ruby red in colour, it tasted innocuous enough, until the tabasco hit the back of my throat. Little f**ker. I retched & ran to the bathroom. If toilets could talk, that one would have rung the Samaritans. Up came the shot, the wine and the dinner. My eyes were streaming, my throat was burning and a small crowd had gathered outside the cubicle. ‘Are you ok Miss?’ they asked, genuinely concerned. ‘Oh, I’m absolutely fine,’ I chirped, adopting the cadences of the locale, as though that was going to detract from the state I was in.


My dad had kindly agreed to pick me and two others up when festivities were over. I rang home. ‘Can you come early,’ I bleated, ‘I am most unwell.’ I hid in the toilets before attempting to emerge discreetly. I didn’t manage that. My friends were in fine fettle by now and non-plussed at being told they had to leave. It was 10 o’clock. ‘My dad will be here soon,’ I said. And there he was, in his anorak, marching purposefully across the dancefloor. Raging he was too. ‘Into the car,’ he said. I was a dishevelled mess with mascara down my face. ‘What am I going to tell Donal?’ I wept. Donal was a committed Pioneer. He didn’t get pissed at formals, or anywhere else. ‘You say nothing!’ snapped my dad. ‘You’re not a Catholic, you don’t have to confess everything!’


I will urge my children when their time comes, to avoid the whole formal pantomime. Nine years ago, I did however, squeeze into my Principlesgown and attend another formal in the Stormont, this time with the husband. It too, was shite. ‘I’m sorry for dragging you to this,’ I whispered as we left early to go to the Errigle. ‘Totally worth it to see you in that frock,’ he replied. I wish I could have shared that moment with seventeen year old me. She’d have loved it.

(2009 with LSB, when I should have been old enough to know better.)