SWB gives an update!

Poor LSB. I came in from a short run Sunday morning,  bubbling over with enthusiasm. ‘I’m going to do a vlog!’ I proclaimed. He misheard me.

‘A blog? Is this two years ago?’ he asked.

‘No, a VLOG, not a blog,’ I said.

‘Ah.’ he said. I think he sensed this day was coming. ‘Are you going to film it yourself?’

‘No, you are.’

‘Of course I am,’ he sighed. ‘Let’s get on.’

So off we went. I don’t like to overthink these things. At least I put some make-up on, unlike the Shu morning where I looked a cut. It seems everyone’s doing vlogs these days, except me that is. I looked up a few on decluttering on Friday and though ‘mine can’t be any worse, these are desperate,’ and so I’ve leapt upon the bandwagon and will incorporate them from now on, when I can be arsed doing myself up.

The point of the vlog anyway, was to document my journey towards minimalism. Hence, I rocked up to Ormeau Park yesterday morning, with a lurid green laundry hamper, filled with bags. I’d like to say that my friends looked surprised as I approached thus burdened, but they rarely so much as raised an eyebrow.

I think they quite enjoyed plundering through my items. Martina gladly took  my yoga leggings, which incidentally, looked much better on her than they did on me.  Her little daughter was the pleased recipient of a pretty white frock which she can wear now while the sun shines, or if she’s an angel in the nativity at Christmas. Both mine were lovely wee angels in the self-same dress which proves that it must wash well. Claire was delighted with the Marian Keyes book, and even put together a whole new ensemble for her child: skirt, tee-shirt and a bolero cardigan. Swanky. I even managed to offload a full bottle of fabric softener onto Louise.  Success all round.

Inevitably though, I met some opposition, and a few items look like they’re staying.

‘That’s my polar bear hat!’ yelled the small child. ‘That’s from Nana! From her holiday!’

‘Bollocks,’ I muttered. The bear hat got left in the mud and didn’t fare well in the washing machine. It looks quite deranged.

‘It doesn’t look a very happy polar bear,’ I said.

‘He’s mine,’ she replied tersely. She hasn’t looked at the frigging hat in months. However, it’s staying, as is a hideous skirt that I bought for one euro in Spain when we ran out of clean clothes last year.

A rookie mistake, having your children  present when you try to give away their stuff. Read and learn. Ah well, at least some items found a happy home.

Next, some advice for you. If you’re trying desperately not to accumulate clothes, stay THE HELL out of Concern on the Ormeau Road. I popped in on Friday and met Aileen who is their retail manager. What a dote. We trotted round together and she showed me the range of fabulous things: linen jackets from Jaeger, jumpers from Reiss, dresses from Frank Usher and Comptoir des Cotonniers. Designers aplenty and at a most affordable price. I bought a few small items and legged it, since I can’t be trusted not to scupper my attempts to live more simply.

Aileen told me something interesting. She sometimes works in the store in Hollywood where some mums from the local primary  buy their outfit for their Christmas ‘do’ in a charity shop and turn up and show off their purchases. I thought this was lovely, what with Hollywood being quite posh n’all.

Confession time thought: last week in Dublin I bought four BRAND NEW  things from a boutique called Coco. I do love a boutique, especially if there’s a sale rail, as there was here. I snapped up a skirt, a dress and two scarves for €70, and hand on heart, I will get 30 wears out of them.

I think I may have some way to go on this journey, but I’ll keep you updated along the way.

SWB gets hot and bothered

Last night I sliced a shallot with tremendous speed and dexterity. It fell away from the knife in tiny translucent cubes and I was thrilled with my ‘chefiness’. What happened to get me all euphoric over a glorified onion? It’s all down to Brian McCann, the Head Chef at Shu on the Lisburn Road. I headed over to the launch of their 2018 Apprenticeship Programme with a few other lucky bloggers and PR guru Cathy Martin, to get a taste of what working in a restaurant kitchen is like. Then to my delight, (this blogging lark had to finally start paying off some dividends) we were invited to sample our roast halibut and Eton mess with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. How very jolly.

I was excited, SO excited, that in my haste biking over to Shu that morning , I almost crashed head-on into a school boy cyclist, as he came hurtling towards me in a most devil may care manner. I came crashing down on the cross bar with a powerful thud, and foolishly, had forgotten to wear my padded cycling shorts. It’s a week later and my lady bits are only starting to feel normal.

Thus I arrived, red of face and sore of arse, with my hair in a sensible braid for health and hygiene standards and a pair of trainers so that I didn’t take the toe off myself with an errant knife. I had even forgotten to apply lipstick. This was not the case with the other bloggers, all svelte, bejewelled and in trendy rig-outs. I looked like their Brethren cousin.

But I soon forgot about aesthetics when I got into the kitchen. ‘The knives are sharp and the stoves are hot,’ Brian warned, before we trooped in to start trimming asparagus and shelling peas while we watched sous-chef Matthew whizz up a puree.

One of the first things Brian told us was that he wasn’t at all academic and had in fact ‘failed’ (his words) at school, but always been interested in food. I want to get a raft of disengaged school kids in here, to watch him fillet an 8lb halibut: slicing eight perfect  pieces with a few deft flicks of a silver blade. Despite being fluent in French, he uses words I have to go home and look up, like how to serve up ice-cream ‘rocher’ style and ‘brunoise’ his vegetables. I’m slightly in awe to be honest, like Bridget Jones when she concludes her interviews with the freedom fighter from Kosovo admitting she has ‘frankly, a bit of a crush.’

‘Phew, it’s hot in here,’ says one of the girls. ‘Hot?’ Brian raises his eyebrows. ‘The ovens aren’t even on. You want to be on a Saturday night.’ No wonder he has to keep fit. He’s only after running the London Marathon, and he knocks back an effervescent juice crammed beetroot and goji berries while we tuck into the fish and buttery potatoes. ‘I was quite a big fella,’ he says, but then I stopped eating a lot of fatty foods and we eat a lot of veg from the garden now.’ ‘Better for up here,’ he says, tapping his head.

When looking for his next apprentice, he wants passion and a desire to learn, ‘a touch of madness helps too,’ he adds.

His sous-chef smiles when I ask him what it’s like working with Brian. ‘He’s always open to ideas,’ he tells me. “If I think there’s a better or quicker way to do something, he wants to see it. Doesn’t happen that often though.’

It’s been about three years since I’ve been to Shu, but I’m booking a table soon, if only so LSB can see the competition. 😉








SWB chats about ‘Breastival’

I’m just back from Kaffe-O where I had a fun and illuminating chat with Jennifer Hanratty, co-founder and chair of Breastival Belfast, which celebrates breastfeeding and creates a community of support for mums. Breastival wasn’t around when my children were babies, and I had a shocker of a time trying to feed Georgina myself- so much so that I didn’t attempt it with child number two. I needed help, I needed support and I needed A LOT of it, and in its absence I started exclusively bottle feeding. Sadly this is what happens in Northern Ireland, as Jennifer told me this morning that 80% of mothers stop breast feeding before they are ready, or want to.


In other cultures, where mothers and grandmothers have breastfed themselves, they are on hand, night and day to offer support. Breastfeeding wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in Ireland when I was born, and I didn’t have many people to ask. I wish I’d had a network of mums or people who, like Jennifer, were knowledgeable about the process and could dispel myths and allay fears.


I worried when I heard about the Breastival movement, that it would be a bunch of breast-feeding evangelicals (you all know how I can’t be having evangelicals of ANY kind), being all judgey and self-righteous about their decision. Jennifer shakes her head when she hears my presumption, and visibly shudders at the phrase ‘breast is best.’ Her take on it is that it’s just ‘normal’ but because women in Northern Ireland haven’t been exposed to it, it’s often simpler to bottle-feed, like the generation before. What she wants, is that if women choose to breast-feed, that they have the resources available to them to do so for as long as they wish.


Breast-feeding isn’t always easy, but the healthcare professionals don’t want to openly admit this, lest it puts anyone off. Perhaps we need to think of it differently, as being a skill that we learn and improve as we find the technique which works best for us and baby. I felt that it was something that as a woman, I should instinctively ‘know’ and when it didn’t work out I self-flagellated something shocking. I think if I’d Jennifer on the other end of a phone I might have made my way out of the mire.


Keep at it Jennifer. You’ve created an inspiring movement.



SWB muses on Fathers Day


You may have woken up to instagram pics this morning, (#fathersday) of smiling, tearful dads, opening parcels of socks and slippers or craft beer if they have Hipster leanings. Here in the Sour Towers residence, we don’t much go in for Hallmark holidays. ‘I don’t buy into that bullshit’, I have been heard to utter. Last year, LSB was tasked with erecting some Ikea furniture, and a spot of light hoovering. There is photographic evidence to prove it.


The school, has however, indoctrinated the little ones well, and they have been beavering away making cards all week. Their granddad has obviously heard about my lack of diligence in this area, and when he came to babysit last night he came armed with sweets they could give, as a token of their appreciation.


Alas, this show of devotion for their dad was sadly misplaced at 6.55 this morning. I had been at a 40th on the Belfast Barge, where I’d danced the legs clean off myself, and LSB had been partying away at the Liam Gallagher concert in the park. Neither of us was happy at the early wake-up call. In they came, over and over again. I tried to block it out, but it’s hard when a small child doesn’t quite whisper in your ear, ‘I’m giving dad a computer game. And JELLY TOTS!!’ Their enthusiasm is touching, as is their ingenuity, but not prior to seven am on a Sunday morning, FFS.

When I finally made it down the stairs to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I saw evidence of gift-giving. They had rifled through LSB’s belongings and parcelled them up with a handful of Maltesers and two Mars bars. The floor was littered with the wrapping paper I had squirreled away to reuse, covered in stickers.  The ‘porridge’ was a hefty amount of oats with milk slopped in. It had clearly been sitting for at least an hour. I scraped it into the compost bin when they weren’t looking. LSB got the Dyson out to vacuum up the trail of oats on the floor. When he envisioned getting his oats this weekend, I don’t think that’s what he had in mind.

But we then hoover and tidy and cook lunch. My friend Alison has taken the girls to a birthday party in Funtasic, so we have the house to ourselves. LSB finds an alternative love songs list on Spotify, and wiping down surfaces while listening to The Guillemots and The XX is quite nice. I’m actually not quite sure how anyone copes without an Alison, or a Brenda, for that matter, in their lives. I’m quite sure that without the pair of them I’d be institutionalised by now.


My own dad didn’t fare much better when it came to the celebrations. They came up to go for lunch in Sakura on Botanic yesterday, which was less than relaxing as my pair of menaces frolicked on the spiral staircase and hashed with their food, when it was they who had requested the sushi bar in the first place. Since it was a birthday/father’s day outing, poor dad ended up forcing money into our hands, then came home and tidied my garden.


The Mothership didn’t get off lightly either. She wandered from room to room, aghast. ‘This is terrible, terrible,’ she said, shaking her head as she registered the state of chassis in which we exist. ‘Are you not ashamed to have people in?’ She took one look at my toilet and said, ‘I’m speechless.’ ‘No mother dear,’ I said. ‘You’re not. My mother, is rarely speechless. Off she went to get the bleach. The house, since I cleaned out my resources in work (blog post on the career change to follow) and organised the fashion stall in school, has seen a sudden accumulation of ‘stuff’. Chaos breeds chaos, and in truth, I know not how to impose order on the situation. Instead of dealing with it, I go for a run, or try to write or chat to a friend over coffee. But with my mum’s dark mutterings in my ear, I set to, and together we ironed and folded and then drank some tea.


As weekends go, this one has been a cracker. Perhaps all this Fathers’ Day BS has a point. Anything which makes you feel grateful or appreciative of all the good people in your life can’t be a bad thing. So a massive thank you to all those who bring sunshine to a Sour Wee Bastard, (especially, for the day that’s in it, to himself.)

SWB on Breast versus Bottle

What a pertinent article by Niamh Mulvey in ‘The Pool‘ this week. Looking back with clarity, when the fog of baby days has finally lifted, I see how almost deranged with guilt I felt when my breast feeding plan failed with my first child. She couldn’t latch on, and by God did I try everything. I watched video tutorials; I stopped random mothers in cafes and in the queue at Sainsbury’s; I pestering midwives. My boobs were banjaxed. I felt rubbish. What was the point of my 34D rack if they couldn’t fulfil their basic function? Why did women smile serenely as they breastfeed, while I yelped in pain and choked back sobs for the duration of my child’s feed?

Except, as my addled brain failed to commute, my supply had dwindled and wee Georgina wasn’t actually been fed at all. Cue a dash to the Ulster with a 3 week old jaundiced, underweight baby. She was starved and for the next few months I felt the weight of my ineptitude. If I think about it long enough, those feelings or shame still flood back.

So thanks Niamh. Sometimes breast feeding doesn’t work out; it doesn’t make you a bad mum, and in the heightened emotional state that new motherhood brings, we need that spelt out for us.

SWB joins the PTA

Another week, another eco-friendly endeavour!  This time I’m harassing people to part with and then buy some new outfits. Just in time for summer!

My friend and I signed up to be joint chair of the PTA at school, which was about 20% altruism on my part and 80% as opportunity to push my environmental agenda. We started off by creating a new stall at the Summer Fair. I sent out notes and before I even admitted to them, a few mums Whats-Apped me saying ‘we know you’re behind this.’ It was, of course, a pre-loved fashion stall and I exhorted kind parents in the school to donate any of their quality used frocks for a good cause. All proceeds went to the PTA, and hurray, hurrah, we made over £125 on the day.


We got well toasted, standing around in the heat, and dare I say it a trifle tiddly too, because there was a prosecco and a gin stall. I’m not kidding. (Wouldn’t happen in a Protestant school, heck no. Far too much craic would be had. Coffee and a tray bake; that would be your lot there.)


It was pleasant, standing in the sun, Bombay Sapphire in hand, flicking through the rails of gorgeous spoils. There were tops by Karen Millen, dresses by Ted Baker and coats by Tommy Hilfiger and Max Mara. They are generous bunch at our school, (or maybe they are just minted) either way, I’m not complaining. In a panic I sent a message to my friends the night before to see what they had on the go, and my pal, the fabulous Jane Kelly, raced home from her work at lunchtime to do a quick raid on her wardrobe. One of the frocks never hit the rails I’m afraid as it was pure McClements. In went my fiver and on went the dress.


I was lucky to have my right hand man on the stall, in the form of LSB. I was worried he’d feel as though he’d had his testicles lopped off with a shearer, being put to work in female fashion for an afternoon, but I was very, very wrong. He was in his element, channelling his inner Del-Boy, or Gok Wan. ‘This would be terrific on you,’ he said, waving tops in front of potential customers.  ‘Any formals to go to? Weddings? This dress has a matching handbag and bolero.’ He didn’t even have any gin (someone had to drive) and he was in quare form. Later on, when it came to dismantling gazebos he got to show off some muscle, so any doubts over masculinity were restored.


Anyway, I can recommend this as an excellent way to bring in some lolly for your PTA. Everyone likes a bargain and we all know we accumulate too much stuf. Better to share and root out your old threads. We’re having one last go today at a ‘pop up stall’ at school to see if we can shift any more items. I must say, I’m quite enjoying myself at this lark.

SWB on taxis and comfort food

‘A dog bowl. I’m telling you, you get your lunch in a f**king dog bowl. Hamburger, cheeseburger, curry chips, cheesey chips. You name it. If it clogs your arteries, you get it. For a fiver. In a dog bowl.’

Our taxi driver is off on one. Proper carried away he is, on the merits of a good-value lunch in the city centre. Mikey’s, apparently. I’ve somehow managed to live in this city for 20 years and remain ignorant as to its existence. Not any more. It’s next door to the Northern Whig which is all shut up at half ten of an evening because the city centre has been rendered a ghost town due to our dinosaur politicians, (so says our driver but I’m inclined to agree.)  But of a weekend, Mikey’s is open til 4 or 5 in the morning, so revellers’ can line their tums and stave off the hangover. And then, they’re ‘up an at it’ again to keep the workforce fed on a Monday morning. I’ve got to try it. Watch out for pictures of me, SWB, eating from an aluminium dog bowl on Instagram, on a phone near you. Can barely contain myself….

‘Woof Woof,’ shouts our Foneacab driver as he drives off into the still-light evening, his right hand waving out the window. I’m telling you; Belfast, what a city.  Would you live anywhere else?

SBW feels the heat

It is hot, very hot. But no matter, for I am perky, chipper, on top of the world. I have to take the kids swimming but after that I have a lovely evening planned at a housewarming party for friends who have moved into our street. I can enjoy a fine glass of red and retire early, dandering up the road in my new Camper sandals. Life is good, until I collect the children. ‘I DON’T WANT TO GO SWIMMING,’ yells the small child. ‘Me neither,’ adds the older one. ‘It’s boring.’ The small one nods emphatically. Normally they love their swimming lesson. I am momentarily stumped but then my optimism returns, for I have planned ahead. ‘I have snacks,’ I declare, and point to the strawberries and rice cakes and fruit stars in the back seat. Equilibrium is briefly restored until I drive over a speed bump and fruit stars hit the deck. There is more crying. I stop, so stars are scooped off the floor and off we set again.


Driving to Avoneil Leisure Centre is always an education. I generally come undone at the Beersbridge Road, and this afternoon traffic is particularly heavy and drivers are impatient, if I’m being charitable, or deranged if I’m not. We make it, unscathed and in we trot, to be met at the door by a long queue. Registration for the ‘Summer Scheme’ has opened, and parents stand in line, clutching papers, desperation in their eyes. I feel their pain.


We get to bunk the queue on account of the lessons. And then it happens. Only one small, pink swimsuit is to be found. It fits the small child, but she is adamant that she is not swimming without her sister. The older one looks overjoyed, recalling a time when she cut her knee and was allowed to come to the café  and choose a giant Haribo star and eat half a Twirl. She imagines such a treat lies in store again. I assure her it doesn’t.


‘I will get another swimsuit,’ I say, heading back to reception. No one meets my eye. One receptionist leaves her post to meddle with air-conditioning. The process of enrolling into the Summer scheme seems akin to Theresa May’s new draconian immigration policy. The mood is bleak and I am ignored.


The small child sits in her pants, refusing to put her swimsuit on. ‘Please go in,’ I urge. ‘We’ll go to Mauds after.’ ‘I DON’T LIKE MAUDS ICE-CREAM,’ she yells. My children have a knack of making me look like Satan himself, especially when I try to be nice. The woman beside us on the bench encourages her daughter to hurry up. ‘I’ll punch you, so I will,’ she says, and the child laughs, waving her fist in her face. ‘I’ll punch you back.’ My temples throb.


After more fruitless forays to reception, where there are neither swimsuits available to buy or even a ‘rack of shame’ where one can borrow a lost property suit. This is a terrible and glaring omission. I return to the changing room. ‘You’ll like it once you get in,’ I tell the small child, popping on her goggles and handing her over to Paul, who is the kindest of all swimming instructors. She joins in for a few minutes until, racked with sobs I take her out. ‘Not having any of it today,’ sighs Paul.


Five minutes into the journey home, and she is fast asleep in the car. The older one wryly observes, ‘Maybe you should pack the bag the night before Mummy.’ ‘Maybe Stormont should get its arse in gear and build the Robinson centre, so I don’t have to drive across town and arrive in a sweaty discombobulated mess,’ I retort, as the older child dusts some dirt of a Fruit Star and pops it in her mouth.


TFI Friday y’all.



Non, SWB ne regrette rien

(Thanks to Tenx9 for the photo. Who doesn’t need a set of crocheted undergarments? There’s LSB’s Christmas gift sorted.)

Oh people, what an absolute cracker of a night was had in The Black Box at Tenx9. It’s an evening where you manage to come out tickled and humbled.  Last night my ribs were sore from laughing during some tales, and I struggled to hold back tears in another.  You never know what you’re going to hear next, and one story can be as poignant as the next is hysterical. Or maybe it’s both, and therein lies the joy, along with the whole delightful absurdity of the human condition.

My offering on the theme of Regret is below, and I urge you to check out the podcasts from some of the other stories. Make a cup of tea, preferably  Barrys, (since it’s Richard O’Leary’s preferred brew, and he’s a  seasoned Tenx9 story teller and a committed tea-drinker)  and get listening.



Some of you may remember a story about my time on Réunion Island, where I went to improve my French as part of my degree. You may also recall that I didn’t, in fact, develop my language skills much at all, instead sampling the delights of this idyllic isle, and hanging out with the other teaching assistants, most of whom were English.


So enamoured with the experience was I, that I applied for another post as an assistant in Corsica, as by now, I had developed a penchant for island life. I thus finished my degree and half-heartedly applied for a PGCE as a back up plan and booked no fewer than 3 flights to go to Corsica in September 2001.


Now, language assistants, since they are often young and gormless, are assigned a ‘réponsable’ to look out for them when they first arrive. My ‘réponsable’ on Reunion had been called Alain Cretineau, and he was every bit as cretinous as his name suggested. He batted away my questions with a  flick of the wrist and let me use neither the telephone, nor the internet to let my parents know that I had arrived safely.


(My poor mum agonised for days, drawing solace only from the fact that she didn’t hear any news footage of Air France planes plunging into the Indian Ocean.)


But when my predecessor from Queen’s who’d been in Corsica the year before, contacted me, she assured me that this would not be the case this time. She was full of rapturous praise for Elizabeth, who would be my ‘réponsable’. ‘Ohh she’s wonderful,’ she gushed. ‘Une ange!’ Deborah was one of those annoying people who continued to pepper her conversation with French words long after she’d returned to Irish soil.


So I rang Elizabeth to announce my arrival and hopefully be put up for a day or two at the start of my séjour. But the conversation didn’t go as I’d hoped. It went something like this:

Brrrrrrrr Brrrrrrrr

Allo? (sullen voice of male, possibly a teenager.)

Bonjour! (Me chipper) Je m’appelle…… So in French I said I’m ‘Helen, I’m the language assistant, can I speak to Elizabeth please.’

Non. Elle est morte. (In more sullen tones, the young fellow appears to be telling me that his mother is dead. I imagine I’ve misheard and blather on.)

Non, mais je suis l’assistante irlandaise et….

ELLE EST DECEDÉE! This time I understand and mutter ‘Mon Dieu! Désolé!’ before hanging up.

Elizabeth would thus not be waiting for me at the airport with open arms because she was suddenly and inexplicably deceased. ‘Oh shit,’ I said.


Then 2 days later on September the 11th as I bought a few last minute items for my trip, I saw on a TV screen what appeared to be a joke as the twin towers came crashing down.


The world appeared to be going mad. I was feeling a bit unhinged myself. ‘Should I go? Or stay in Belfast and wait for the world to end here?’ I didn’t know, but if we WERE on the brink of the apocalypse, perhaps it would be better with a fabulous red for which Corsica was famed in hand. So off I went.


In the absence of Elizabeth’s hospitality, I stayed my first few nights in a grimy boarding area of a local school. Luckily, another teacher, Fabienne, came to my rescue. In fact, the other assistants and I spent so much time at her house that she devised a system whereby we paid 30 francs if we wanted a vegetarian meal, or 40 if she threw in some chicken. Given that the wine flowed at these soirées, this was quite a bargain. There was still the problem of my lodgings, but once again, Fabienne was on to it.


She rang me with great news after a week and a half of living in squalor at the school. ‘I’ve found you somewhere and ‘c’est parfait!’ she said with glee, before escorting me to an apartment in her blue citroën 2CV. She had good reason to be excited. The flat was above a boulangérie, so the aroma of freshly baked goods wafted up to the balcony, which overlooked the Mediterranean. My bedroom was spacious, the rent was cheap and Geneviève, my future room-mate seemed lovely and normal. I moved in immediately and Geneviève took to cooking me specialities from Aix-en-Provence where she came from, and we ate delicious meals with a glass of sweet muscat as an aperitif to start, sitting on the balcony under starry skies. She had a large boxer dog by the name of Kitsy, with whom I got along famously, especially when I took him for walks along the beach several times a day.


Now unlike Reunion, where I worked a limited number of hours, here, I worked hardly any. The college to which I had been assigned, were having staffing issues, and my role was far down their list of priorities. Each week they would say, ‘We don’t need you, we’ll call you on Monday.’ This might sound perfect, but when the other assistants were busy at their jobs, and the only other people expressing interest in me were salacious men in cafés, it got quite lonely. I felt unnerved, especially when I turned on the TV and saw that the French too, were convinced that the end was nigh. Every channel showed footage of nuclear warheads being fired up and grave-looking Parisians holding up envelopes they thought contained anthrax but were actually washing powder. I tried going to the gym. I tried immersing myself in literature, but I grew more anxious by the day.


This was exacerbated by Geneviève’s ex-boyfriend, who took to landing round at the flat. He was a pugnacious chap who bore a striking resemblance to the dog, except the features which make a boxer so handsome beast don’t translate quite so well on to the human visage. His visits only served to upset the dog, who clearly resented his master’s impromptu leaving, and he took to urinating extensively over the furniture in a fit of pique. Facts slowly unfolded that Geneviève had only booted Luc out of the house a mere two days before I was asked to move in. It was all very awkward.


One day, after Luc arrived unexpectedly I took the dog for a walk to get out of the flat. Kitsy was unsettled and pulled hard at his lead. His mood was not improved when a small, West Highland Terrier had a bit of a yap at him. He took off, and proceeded to shake the Westie like a rat. Naturally his owner went berserk. ‘Prends ton chien, prends ton chien!’ he yelled, but I had no mission of wrenching Kitsy off. All I managed was a feeble, ‘Mais ce n’est pas mon chien,’ (It’s not my dog!) by way of explanation. Kitsy finally released the Westie, who miraculously remained unhurt, although tufts of white fur flew in the wind. His owner had fallen on his arse during the tussle, and it was all rather frosty. The dog, upon returning to the flat, went straight outside and hid on the balcony. He knew he’d been bold.


Two months in, I decided I’d had enough. I booked a flight, or rather 3 of them, and left. So cross was I about the school’s lack of concern for my well-being, that I didn’t even tell them I was going. The caretaker eventually called to the flat to make sure that I had neither: ‘been kidnapped or killed’ or so it was reported to me. Speaking of which, I finally discovered what had befallen Elizabeth. Turns out the ‘réponsable’ had been none too responsible at all, and this lady, famous for her pearls and twin-sets, had managed to asphyxiate herself in an act of auto-eroticism. Not so angelic after all, then. The newspapers had ruled out third-party involvement and concluded it was ‘la plaisir solitaire’ that had finished her off. No wonder her son had sounded so glum on the phone.


So did I regret going to Corsica? Well, it wasn’t a roaring success. I came home 7 months early and it took a while to regain any semblance of equilibrium. On the plus side though, my French progressed exponentially, because Geneviève’s English had been non-existent and she spoke very very fast.


It also taught me a hefty dose of humility. After my year on Réunion, I had been a bit dismissive when students complained about their year out. ‘It’s what you make of it,’ I had thought. But no matter what I tried to do in Corsica, I couldn’t make it work. It wasn’t an easy lesson, and it didn’t do my liver any good, but ultimately, I feel grateful for the experience.