SWB on Charity Shop Chic

‘Oh Dear God,’ I hear you moan. ‘First it’s the coffee cups, then it’s the plastics, and now it’s the clothes on our backs. Give us a f@*king break., we’ve enough to feel guilty about.’

In fairness, I was the same when all this green living lark started. One minute you’re doing ‘meat-free Monday’ and the next you’re a militant vegan making your own soap and shopping only at farmers’ markets. It felt like there was always some nutter trying to make you feel shite about your life choices, and if you listened to them long enough you’d become a zealot yourself.

But as the list of ‘Things that Kill the Planet’ grows, from exhaust fumes to excessive plastic, it’s tempting to say ‘Ah feck it,’ and order an extra large McDonalds for lunch after a shopping spree in Primark.

But let’s not. Instead of feeling over-whelmed, I have tried to make small, subtle changes to my lifestyle, which make me feel slightly better about my life choices. It also helps me self-flagellate less about the size of my carbon foot-print as I fly to Spain not once, but twice this summer.

And as I mention it, looking out the window it seems indeed that summer beckons. Finally! The sun has emerged and how my heart doth soar. But. One of my first instincts when the seasons change is to liven up my look. I’ve conditioned myself to wear a lot of dark colours and I don’t want be wandering round the Ormeau looking like the angel of death on a bright day.

However, since I’ve embraced this eco-friendly business, I can’t in all consciousness go buying whatever I like without checking the label.  I’m now thinking more about how my buying habits affect the people (mainly women) slaving away in piss-poor conditions so we can buy tee-shorts for £3. So I’ve been directing my energies (or what’s left of them; is anyone else knackered at the moment?) into sourcing some ethical brands and having a good nosey round the charity shops. Let’s be honest, there’s plenty of those in the locality.

I’ve been a keen ‘charity shop shopper’ ever since I met my mate Maureen Faloona during the PGCE at Queen’s. Many’s an hour we spent merrily browsing on Botantic Avenue when we should have been brain-storming lesson plans for the leaders of tomorrow. But no, we tried on heels in Action Cancer instead.

Kindly my friend from The Newsletter sent along a photographer so I could show some of the wares in the local Hospice shop on the Ormeau Road. I’ve tried not to look too sour in the photos, although when the Mothership saw the ‘beach look’ she shook her head and said ‘Never smile like that again. What were you thinking? You look very odd.’ Cheers Mum.


SWB isn’t sorry.

As I write, the early evening sunshine pours into my living room. It warms my feet and cheers my heart. It has been a long winter. It also illuminates the handprints on each window and makes the dust smotes dance. On the floor, alongside toys, books, ousted cushions from the sofa and an abundance of stationary, is a small pile of sand that a child has emptied, with cheerful insouciance, from a bucket. There is a liberal smattering of cat hair on most surfaces. This week, people, I have lived in even greater squalor than normal.


Should anyone call at the door, my first instinct would be to feel aghast as they witnessed the mess within. ‘Sorree!’ I would say, frantically lifting items in a futile attempt to cover up the chaos.


As if they cared. My friends know of my disdain for housework, and they still call to see me, and are (I think) judgement free. (I’d like to add that I up my game in the kitchen and pride myself on good hygiene there. I don’t think any guests who’ve dined here have fallen victim to food-poisoning. Yet.)


But I think we’re all far too hard on ourselves. Self-deprecation is inbuilt into our psyche here in Northern Ireland. I spend my life worrying if I’ve possibly offended someone, and apologise about everything.


When I was a trainee teacher I sometimes got a lift to school with other teachers, many of whom were the age I am now, with small children. ‘Sorree!’ they’d yelp as I climbed into their car, stepping over juice cartons and sitting on bits of squashed apple. They would apologise for their choice of radio station; the fact they were two minutes late, and the litany would continue almost by way of a greeting for the first part of the journey. And I never cared about any of it; I was just super grateful I didn’t have to take two buses to get to work.


I mean, I know there’s limits, but I think a messy house and a slightly unkempt look suggest that we’re getting some things right. The muddy boots show that my kids can frolic at the park the way kids are supposed to of an afternoon, rather than sit hypnotised before a screen. The floor littered with toys shows that they can play creatively. Cluttered surfaces may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they prove that I’ve been writing or running, not cleaning and tidying.

And I know cats love to wreck the place: leaving hair over everything and sharpening their claws on the suite and Izzy’s personal favourite, ripping up the carpet; but they do add a homeliness which I think a feline-free house lacks.


Homes which are exceptionally tidy trigger a deep unease in me, especially if said home belongs to a family with children. Years ago I heard a story which I hope to God was exaggerated. Midwives at a local clinic were concerned about a baby which hadn’t shown much animation or development at any of its routine checks. When a nurse called unexpectedly one afternoon, she soon discovered why. The house was spotless and the mother was busy hoovering when the nurse called. When she enquired as to where the baby was, she saw the carrycot….. under a coffee table. The baby lay  inside, awake but mute. This was where it spent its day, while the mother kept the house pristine around it.

That tale still gives me the shivers.

While I wish I could get my pair to confine their artistic endeavours to paper and not furniture, and to stop taking my things so I feel I’m being gas-lighted, some of their mischievous antics make me smile. Slightly. So to steal the line from the current breast-feeding campaign: ‘Sorry, not sorry.’ Maybe we need to stop apologising and get on with living.


SWB feels uplifted by dance

If you’re a teacher in any of the schools in the Ormeau vicinity and you see a few yawning youngsters in your class today, give them a by-ball. In fact, send for a basin and fill it with iced water so they can revive their feet. Chances are they were doing some foot-stamping and toe-pointing at the Waterfront Hall last night, and folks, it was A BLAST.


Ballynafeigh School of Irish Dancing gave us a mighty showcase of local talent in their production ‘Then, Now & Forever’, taking daily life on the Ormeau as their inspiration, tracing the years from the Second World War until now. With Marie-Louise Connolly, the BBC NI Health Correspondent acting as compère, the vignettes fused together seamlessly to show the vibrancy of our local area. The performance illustrated how life may have changed in the last eighty years but what remains the same are the bonds of family life, encased within a strong and supportive community.


The packed theatre at the Waterfront bore testimony to this community, as did the fact that members of the six-piece band ‘The Gather Up’ who played throughout, and two of the singers who make-up ‘Saffyre’ had daughters in the production.


What was most evident was that the chorographers knew how to put together a show and kept the audience entranced with their inventiveness and creativity.


Despite my acidity, I’m surprisingly sentimental, and welled up a few times, most notably when the band took down the tempo to play a slow melodic rendition of ‘Pack up your Troubles’. During this sequence, when the tiniest of the Junior Dancers took to the stage as child evacuees, complete with brown labels, the ‘awwww’-factor went off the scale.


Then, when the khaki-clad soldiers returned from war to the glorious Technicolor of the street, with the women and children waving coloured flags of every hue, the joyful and carnival-esque scene had the audience whooping and clapping with delight.


There was a glorious nod to Dancing at Lughnasa in the sequence inspired by laundry, when dancers in aprons and headscarves whirled like dervishes; spinning white sheets as though buffeted by the breeze. Here was the mundane infused with magic; and since laundry forms the back-drop to most of my life as a mother of two with a sporty husband, I was glad to see it imbued with the significance it merits.


Act Two took us to the present and showed scenes with which every parent on the Ormeau could identify; from the frenzied school run to the Bredagh matches and the well-deserved evenings’ out when mums sparkle in their sequins and dance away their cares. ‘The Gather Up’ proved here that they don’t simply excel at Irish Traditional music, playing ‘Nine-to-Five’ and other contemporary tunes with a flair that had the audience dancing in their seats.


The West End may watch out too, for if soloist Anna Smith doesn’t end up taking to the stage there I’ll be amazed. Was there a dry eye as she sang ‘Bring Him Home?’ I for one was glad I remembered my tissues.


The quotidian is not celebrated enough, but this show draws our attention to tireless work that takes place every day to foster talent and nurture relationships. Watching the younger dancers master their reels and their slip jigs, stepping and swinging with the more experienced dancers was a joy to witness.


This weekend, what with the backdrop of war in Syria and the ever-worrying world climate, I felt anxious and sad. But as the band sang the words ‘what’s the use in the worrying’ I felt a peacefulness descend. Life is uncertain, and frankly, quite terrifying. This is why we must cherish each moment and learn to let ourselves go every so often, immersing ourselves in the beauty of dance and music. We must also be grateful to those who champion it.  Dancers of Ballynafeigh and your teachers, I salute you. You warmed my sour little heart tonight. Thank you, you were all luminous.







You don’t want to know what’s in the wood shed.

It is the first dry day in what feels like a decade and I tell LSB ‘There’s nothing else for it. We must tackle THE SHED.’ The state of the shed has hovered in our consciousness like a toxic cloud, as one of those dire things to tick off your to-do list, like filling in your tax forms or having a cervical smear test.

Last week, I was all set to cycle to a literary event on my new bicycle. (Once again can I plug’ The Green Bicycle Company. I’m telling you, that Karl is a great fellow.) I donned my helmet and packed a rucksack and laid my hands upon the lock. (The children had been playing with it so the fact I found it at all was a minor miracle.) Then I opened the shed, and alas my bike was buried within.  I took the car. As our friend Davey says, most people’s sheds are in a state of disorder, but most in a vertical sense of the word. Ours has a sink at the bottom, several chairs and some parkrun paraphernalia, and the bikes are chucked on top. Throw in a few plant pots, hula-hoops and a couple of children’s scooters and you’re getting the picture, of horizontal chaos.

So this morning I started on it, somewhat deviously, because it meant I had scattered bits and pieces over the patio area and there was no going back when LSB returned from his 14 mile run. ‘I’m exhausted,’ he’d said earlier, ‘it’ll not be a long one.’ ‘Define long,’ I said when in he came, later than expected, dripping sweat over my nice clean floor.

He took a look outside and his flushed face fell. ‘Oh shit, does that mean we are actually doing this?’ I nodded grimly. I was in poor humour, having already fallen victim to a badly scraped shin from a tumbling bike and nursing a sore eye after a piece of grit or feck knows what fell into it. It took it three hours to work its way out. ‘Do you think I need to go to the Royal?’ I bleated, but LSB’s advice was just to let the eye water. ‘If I stare at all this shite long enough and consider the task at hand that shouldn’t be too hard,’ I replied.

After lunch I took to my bed for brief nap, because tasks like this reduce me to a feeble wreck and I need rest to cope. My doze was punctuated by small children arriving shrieking ‘Look what we’ve found!’ clutching rubbishy old toys that I had neither the sense nor the courage to just bin outright.

Then himself trotted up, looking non-plussed. ‘How have we so much cardboard?’ he asked ‘and saucepans?’ Oh and I’m giving the lawn-mower to one of the lads.’ That woke me out of my stupor. ‘We could have Gumtree-ed that!’ I said. But LSB has taken against Gumtree after people made snide comments about some garments and a roll of feature wallpaper I’d tried to sell. ‘I’m not wasting my time putting up ads so people can rip the piss out of us,’ he sniffed. I argued that people were more likely to buy garden equipment than a damaged wedding dress but he was in no mood to be trifled with. ‘Oh, and I found a whole suitcase of stuff for a car boot,’ he said. ‘Why do you have this?’ He held up a box of wipes for bald men. I have no idea how these found there way into my shed, or into my life. “Refreshing on the head,” it says they are,’ he said, and started Whatsapping his friends, who later photo-shopped some of the boys into the picture.

When I came downstairs, discombobulated and aggrieved because it was my turn to ‘sort’ and take some stuff to the dump, the children were playing with a new toy from their cousin which appeared to be hamsters on wheels which raced around the floor making shrill electronic noises. ‘This day has taken an odd turn,’ I thought to myself, reflecting that this time yesterday I was wandering around Glendalough in a state of beatific wonder.

But it is now 8-10, I am about to put a bike on Gumtree, regardless of what himself says (though after the fortune that was Druids Glen he may well just be pleased to see his bank balance in credit.) Our shed is organised and our load feels lighter. And tomorrow, the little buggers go back to school. There is a God after all.

SWB on saving lambs from the slaughter

‘Hurry up, HURRY UP! COME ON!’ That was the small child this morning, anxious to get off to school. The older one was fiddling with hair clips and wrestling on her shoes. This enthusiasm for leaving the house is not the norm, but today is the Easter jumble sale, and the excitement in the air is palpable. Last year tempers flared when I secretly packed off a small basket that I’d been tripping over for months, and a small boy bought it. ‘Declan bought my basket!’ wailed the older child, puce with indignation. ‘What will I do my Easter hunt with?’ This year we selected some items together, to prevent similar fall-outs.  This explains  why my husband has a lamb in his pocket. It was initially in the bag but they changed their mind at the last minute and home it was sent on Monday to be forever treasured. ‘You can buy ONE thing, and that’s IT, I warn them, as I drop them off.


Their classroom assistant overhears and comes running. She knows all about my aversion to clutter. (She must have read the Marie Kondo one where I gave off).  ‘I’ve kept them a nice big bag for all their goodies!’ she says, with a mischievous gleam in her eye. ‘One year,’ she goes on, ‘the sale was over and there was still MOUNDS of stuff left. Mrs Clarke just opened the doors and yelled, “It’s all free!” Some kids went home with bin-bags.’


Dear God. I think I might actually die if anymore trash arrives in our house. At half-term we spent A DAY, no word of a lie, A DAY in the children’s bedroom. Lifting, hoovering, folding, sorting, purging. Well, not so much of a purge as a ‘reshuffle.’ ‘We’re filling this bag,’ I declared. ‘Pop in some toys and say “Bye! See you at Easter!”’ I duly produced a cerise House of Fraser bag and in went about twenty dolls and cuddly toys, who are currently residing in a downstairs cupboard. I did this a year ago but the forgot all about them. The little buggers then tearfully told their grandparents that I had given away one particular bunny of which they were very fond. Granny went straight out and bought them a new bun each, so we gained two instead of reducing the pile.


So here are two tips to help you whittle down your mountains of random plastic crap.


  1. Get on that WhatsApp group and suggest that instead of a present at the birthday parties, it should be the class policy to give a fiver in a handmade card. That way, you can oversee what your children buy, in a toyshop of your choice, and because they’re probably too small to know the price of things, squirrel away the rest in their bank accounts, so they can blow it on something equally unsuitable when they’re eighteen.


  1. Sticking to the party theme, hunt out all your plastic tat such as toys from McDonalds; remnants from other parties which they won at ‘pass the parcel’; and those bits of plastic rubbish which come stuck to children’s magazines. Instead of handing out party bags full of Haribo shit to send them hyper and rot their teeth, let the small revellers choose their own piece of nonsense from your giant sack of cast-offs. I did this at our P1 party recently and the parents thought it was genius. I could see their eyes light up as they finally saw a home for all their accumulated dross.


Happy Easter to you all, and I hope you have more luck than me keeping your houses in order over the festivities.


*Names have been changed to protect identities 😉

Six things you can do to infuriate your child.

The older child is moving out. Proper raging she is. We have been (I say we but it’s mostly me) have been ‘MEAN’ and ‘HORRIBLE’ to her, all day.  So if you too, want to inflict so much mental torture upon your six year old that they pack a Sainsbury’s bag and erect a ‘tent’ of a rainy evening so they don’t have to spend ‘ONE MORE SECOND’ with you, then here’s how to go about it.

  1. Take them to Junior parkrun where they can run and frolic with their friends  with wild abandon.
  2. Bring them to Kaffe-O for refreshments afterwards, since like Hobbits, children like a ‘second breakfast’, especially after zipping about, hither and thither.
  3. Spare them the ordeal that is Palm Sunday Mass and instead motor over to Stormont where they can swing and slide, pick buttercups and stroke a spaniel, and gambol about the grass like carefree little Easter goats.
  4. Head to town and do some colouring at the Mac, listen to a Yukelele band and acquiesce to take them to ‘Yo Sushi’ for lunch, despite there being numerous food vans at the ‘Belfeast’ carnival which offer more nourishing and no doubt, more ethically sourced fare.
  5. Resist the urge to go berserk when the bill in ‘Yo Sushi’ comes to forty-two pounds, since the little buggers have been swiping salmon nigiri & maki rolls off the belt and then have the audacity to grab a sizeable dessert each. (The bill total excludes the price of a hoisin duck bao bap. “I’m sorry to tell you this,’ I told our server, when he had the misfortune to enquire how our meal was, ‘but that  was one of the vilest things I have ever eaten.’ He nodded, looking utterly unsurprised. ‘ The sauce was so cloying and synthetic it tasted almost radio-active,’ I went on. Off the bill it came.)
  6. Before heading for home, take a trip into ‘The Black Box’ where your offspring can make themselves an Easter bunny with the aid of an icing bag filled brimming over with white chocolate. Allow them to eat them in the car home, because frankly, you just don’t care anymore.

So reading this, I’m sure you can see why the older child wants to leg it.

I give it ten minutes after I post this for the Mothership to lift the phone. ‘FORTY-TWO POUNDS,’ she will say. ‘IS IT ANY WONDER THAT YOU’RE BROKE? NOT RIGHT WISE, I’M TELLING YOU.’

And this time, sadly, she’s absolutely right.

SWB witnesses a St Patrick’s day miracle

It is early, ludicrously early on St Patrick’s Day morning. Himself is braving the elements to run the ‘Craic 10k’ and so I drag my tender self from bed to join my pair of tyrants upon the sofa. (Friday night saw me and two girls from the Tri-team let loose in General Merchants on the Ormeau. Dry January felt a long way off, I can tell you.) As we warmed our frozen feet under a blanket, and I tried to quell the queasiness within, I looked over at the fireplace.


‘How long has there been a face drawn there?’ I ask. My children shrug.


‘Seriously, who has been drawing on the mantelpiece?’ I repeat.


‘Not us,’ they reply, with indignation. Having never noticed it before, I begin to wonder if long-term exposure to Catholics makes one see miraculous apparitions on your mantelpiece on Saint’s days.


It definitely wasn’t me,’ insists the older child, and to prove her point, hops down onto the chilly floorboards (we remain rugless after the puppy we fostered urinated so extensively on the last one that I had no choice but to bin it) and starts doing an illustration by way of comparison. ‘You see,’ she says, after a few deft strokes with a felt-tip, ‘My ponytails look like THIS,’ she points to her picture, ‘and this ponytail,’ she points with her pen to the graffiti, goes like this.’


She returns to her snug position on the sofa, with something of an exonerated air. For six-fifty-five of a Saturday morning, I must say, I’m impressed.

The small child is keen to protest her innocence too. Up she jumps and sets to with colouring pencils. Her drawing bears even less resemblance to the mystery on the mantle. She holds it alongside, and makes flicking motions with her wrist, to show the upward thrust of the hairstyle on the grafitti’d face, in contrast to that her own. ‘You see,’ she says, solemnly, pointing at her picture. She shakes her head, looking every inch like a disgruntled holiday maker who gets her picture taken beside her over-flowing cistern in her hotel in Fuengirola and has her story featured in Take a Break.


I have no idea when I last looked at the mantelpiece. In fairness, the illustration could have been there for weeks. I could almost hand on heart say it was the small child, because that’s the sort of thing she does. That, and eat entire tins of biscuits behind the sofa of an afternoon. After resuming her seat, she chirps up, ‘You know, how sometimes, we have other children to visit?’ ‘Yes,’ I nod. ‘Must have been one of them.’


I’m hoping that the pair of them can find good jobs as barristers and keep LSB and me comfortable in our dotage. In the meantime, anyone know of a good French polisher?



A hungover SWB endures a soft play area

Take some advice from one who knows. When it is bucketing down and you are in the grips of PMT, just stay in bed. Or, if that is not an option, since you have to deliver small children to their Spanish lessons, just park yourself in Kaffe-O until it’s time to retrieve them. Drink your one-shot latte and sit back until the rain subsides, and pray that your rage tapers off with it.

In my efforts to visit the library and do other non-essential tasks, I left my gloves in ‘Threads’, my car keys in the pharmacy and my mind somewhere between Corries and the Mace. Up and down the road I traipsed, in a state of befuddlement, but not until I’d bought a two kilo bag of spuds which I had to lug after me.

And all this was before, BEFORE the small child’s joint party with a little boy to celebrate their fifth birthdays. I need not tell you, that soft-play areas are my nemesis. The noise. The garishness. The bloody parents, especially those who feign ignorance when little Joshua elbows Hermione off the slide. ‘What? Who? Where?’ Surely not!’ You may recall that on Saturday the rain was torrential, so it felt as if every child between the ages of 0 to 9 a ten-mile radius, was in Funtastic. It was MAYHEM.

The small child was terrified when pluckier children took her off into the deeper entrails of the centre to the ‘big slide’. Balls were lobbed and tears were shed. She ended up making her own fun with a few others in their little ‘party room’ where they launched themselves off the sofa onto the pile of coats they had shunted onto the floor. I didn’t give a shit as long as I didn’t have to do anymore consoling, I was trying to put a brave face on it myself.

I have discovered, that since doing Dry January, I can’t drink anymore, or not without feeling truly vile anyway. We had headed for pizza on Friday night as I was in no mood to cook (I had a rabbit cake to bake, I wasn’t cooking dinner as well; HELL no.) I drank two small glasses of red and I might as well have polished off the bottle for the throb in my temples the next morning.

You will, however, be pleased to know that the chocolate bunny cake, despite having a lop-sided head, was a success. ‘Wow,’ said the small child, looking on in wonder. ‘Told you you could do it!’ chirruped the older one, and my sour little heart soared.


But I was saved by the loveliness of the mums and dads who came along to the party. Every time I muttered ‘For fuck’s sake’ as some haribo-fuelled hooligan tore past, they smiled in sympathy and made reassuring comments. My friend and I practically had to exert force to make them accept a cup of tea or coffee. One mum refused outright. ‘No way, I’ll get my own,’ said she, and I had to almost rugby tackle her away from the café queue. ‘I have brought you here, to this ninth circle of hell, for my child’s party,’ I said. ‘for fuck’s sake accept a cup of coffee.’ She sat back down and drunk up smartish when it was proffered.


I rang the Mothership after to report how it had all gone. ‘Dreadful,’ she said. ‘I’ll never forget the time we had your party in the Groomsport boathouse and those boys, the RAMSTAMMING of them up and down that hall. And those wee girls, ashen they were, for fear of being trampled, or having their head taken off by a football. I had a migraine for a week after it.’ Yes, I don’t recall that party being much craic myself.


‘I hope you at least got the mums and dads a nice cup of tea,’ said Mum.

‘Surely,’ I said, and told her about the woman I verbally abused as I exhorted her to take a cup. Sometimes mum can cope with swearing. Not last week.

‘You said WHAT to the woman?’

‘Relax,’ said I. ‘everyone swears a bit now.’

‘Desperate altogether, to think how such profanities have infiltrated everyday parlance.’

(I think she’s reading the Classics again.)


SWB on World Book Day

(Folks I started this last week, before our wonderful granny passed away. I just finished it this morning as I think Anne would have liked it, especially the bit about her being well organised.)

People I am melted. Pure melted. Hot on the heels of ‘Dress your little darlings up as a Fairy Tale Character’ comes ‘World Book Day’, so head directly to Sainsbury’s and buy another fucking costume so you can create more clutter in your house and empty your wallet in one fell swoop. Now, I am a ‘stay-at-home mum’ so perhaps you are thinking, what has got her goat this time? MAKE something you lazy article.’ But alas, I may be able to fling a few words at a page, but artistic I am not, and sewing is not one of my skills. I think before we built the extension I had a needle and thread but in sooth I know not where one is to be found these days. Long gone. Anything in need of fixing is sent directly to my mother or mother-in-law. In fairness, if it goes to my mum it is set upon ‘The Chair’ and is then retrieved and sent to the mother-in-law where it comes back fixed within the week. I come from a line of procrastinators. (‘Doing me down again,’ I can hear my mother say.)


In first form at Glenlola Collegiate, the Home Economics exam entailed a sewing exercise whereby we had to sew around a circle, square and triangle on an A4 sheet. My sewing machine was at the back of the room on a funny little desk and I recall my foot getting stuck on the pedal. When I handed up the massacred sheet of paper the teacher looked on agog, before  enquiring if I was making some sort of feminist statement about girls being forced to do needlework.  (I went on to win the prize for Home Economics at A-level, for which I was awarded a silver teapot so clearly feminism had never been on my agenda).


But you know by now that I’m mad about the reading. It’s why my house is bogging, and why I never get round to gardening because if I’m not writing or cooking dinners I’m engrossed in a book. The children are never out of the library and the poor critters are read to morning noon and night. But does this mean that I want to so spend my evening sewing a fecking costume? It does not.


So back to World Book Day. The small child wants to go in dressed as a koala bear after the book ‘A day at the Animal Airport’ (which is pure genius and has been penned by someone as demented as me by family life and the trauma that is flying with small children.) ‘Righteo,’ said LSB as he started looking up koala costumes on Amazon. I nearly had a fit. ‘Houl on a minute there, we have no more need of another costume! sez I. Upstairs we have two child sized and one adult reindeer outfit, three rabbit ensembles, one polar bear suit and a giant banana. There are numerous girly princess dresses and a clatter of other random fancy dress paraphernalia. ‘I WILL NOT BOW TO CORPORATE GREED,’ I yell to himself, who nervously closes the laptop and mutters, ‘and me only trying to help.’


The older one wants to be ‘Plop, The Owl who is afraid of the dark’. I remember that LSB’s reindeer suit was next to wrecked after the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker and start contemplating cutting it up into bits and sticking brown fuzzy scraps on to cardboard wings.

In the end, after the week took a horrible turn, on Wednesday evening LSB says ‘What about World Book Day and I say ‘Oh fuck it,’ and we march the little people into M&S and one gets to be Rapunzel and the other is Alice in Wonderland. And then it snows, so they don’t even get to wear them into school on Thursday. We are forty quid down, and there is YET MORE CLUTTER. But as I watch the kids don their outfits and dance away some of their sadness for a moment,I don’t really care. ‘Come here til we have a story,’ I say and we cuddle on the sofa and give ‘Animal Airport’ another whirl.





SWB feels the chill

At significant times in my life with LSB it has snowed. Heavily. When we announced our plans to marry at Christmas in 2010, the Mothership was immediately resistant to the idea. ‘What if it snows and guests can’t make it to the day?’ she muttered. ‘Putting people in mortal danger. Not on, in my book,’ she went on.       ‘It’s never that bad here,’ I replied, dismissing her concerns. My mother is prone to hyperbole. Well, wasn’t I in for a rude awakening. That was the Christmas where the weather was so inclement that the pipes froze and emergency water had to shipped over from Scotland. Guests arrived in their finery to our wedding having had an all-over wash with baby wipes that morning.


We were to see plenty of baby wipes in the two years that followed. When our second daughter arrived in February 2013, I was looking forward to taking her our for a stroll in her Uppa-Baby, when the heaviest snow in my lifetime hit Belfast. In our Four Winds micro-climate, we were completely cut off. Forays to Sainsbury’s were an expedition which necessitated snow boots, and skis would have been the more expedient option.  Optimistic guests came with baby gifts only to find themselves in an Arctic Tundra, unable to get up the hill.


And this week, we face a horribly new phase in our lives. The loss of a parent. LSB’s mother, who had taken ill in January, passed away on Monday. And the snow came, this time with its full Arctic blast, as if to reinforce our feelings of shock and disorientation. We weren’t ready for this. Anne had been ill before, but a defiant and resilient spirit meant that we were  convinced that she was going to stick around for a while.


In the same week that saw the small child’s fifth birthday, sympathy cards now jostle with birthday cards on the mantle. Decorations were erected on Tuesday for a small party for her birthday, and taken down last night so we could take soup to warm us after the funeral service and the cremation. I was tempted to leave the mint green and peach bunting up as I think the mischievous streak in my mother-in-law would have approved. Garlands for Anne Garland would have been appropriate, but in the end decorum won out. We will grieve when it is the time to grieve and later we shall celebrate her love for this family and her indomitable spirit.


So all feels odd and strange and more tenuous than before. But what remains despite the sadness is the warmth of the people who surround us. The phones which have buzzed, not just with good wishes but with practical offers of support, of which we have not been too proud to avail. Our beautiful girls have been minded; we have been fed and cheered and comforted and this has quelled the emptiness in our hearts.


Anne would have been thrilled f she could have seen how it went today, and what a stellar show was played out in her honour. And somehow, with the tingling glow we felt despite the sadness, I think she may well have had a inkling.


(LSB found this beautiful photo of Carrauntoohil on Twitter. It was from today, but we have no notion who took it. Fair play to them, it’s perfect.)