SWB hits the news (letter)

Did you know that Belfast has 3000 acres of parks? No, neither did I, but Chris Hawkins on BBC 6 music this morning, has just given it as a ‘fun fact’ about Belfast . Given how much time I spend in the parks, and Ormeau in particular, I feel I ought to have known that. But it’s another reason why this is such an amazing city in which to live. Parkruns, fun days, rose weeks, orienteering: it’s all happening, and if people aren’t chucking lit BBQs into bins (this actually happened in Lady Dixon last week and the Fire Service had to get involved. FFS, Tracy) it’s all good fun.

On Wednesday, I roped my good friend Martina into digging out her wedding dress and popping it on for a photo shoot in Ormeau. (‘Thank you very  much’, her dress said, ‘it is nice to be released from the SHOE BOX in which I’ve been stored for the last 10 years’). The wee kids in Parkside looked on agog as we played on swings and frolicked on roundabouts. I actually, no word of a lie, didn’t want to take my dress off. The sheer heft of a full length gown is something we rarely experience; there’s a heft to it which somehow grasps the weightiness of the decision to get married. It’s the real deal, getting hitched, and putting the dress on again made me relive choosing it and that sense of excitement and promise.

So I’ve come to a decision about what to do with my dresses. The pearly frock in the photo above is staying, and the kids can play in it and if it’s worth salvaging by the time their big day comes, they can do with it what they wish. And the other gown gown, in which I actually said ‘I do’,  is going to be repurposed. How, I don’t know, but I’ve been to Bangor and brought it up to Belfast where proceedings will begin post-haste. I’m thinking of having to shortened and dyed, so I can  wear it out of an evening.

I’ve loved gathering stories about dresses while researching my article, and loved what my friend Helen did with hers, donating it to Oxfam but keeping her veil which she has lent to pals as their ‘something borrowed’. What a gorgeous idea. My oldest child has been running round all weekend wearing my tiara, and it’s rather lovely. I’d love to think of it being worn again on a special day.

And while I’m talking weddings, I’m getting political and saying that I’d like to see the same right extended to our gay and lesbian friends here in the North of the Ireland. One couple close to my heart have been together 23 years and refuse to get married until they can take their vows in the City Hall. I hope this happens soon, and they know where to come if either of them wants a tiara.

P.S. I’ve finally dragged my ass out of the dark ages and can now be found on Twitter and Instagram. If you’d like to follow me, jump on board and share some pictures and ideas.

SWB and the Wedding Dress Conundrum

Last week I posted a photo of a candy-floss pink shirt so you lovely readers could help me decide whether to keep it or send it on its merry way. Tonight I’m bringing out the big guns and for the week that was in it, tackle THE WEDDING DRESS dilemma. I’ve actually got two, not that I’ve been wed twice and have managed to keep that quiet (as if, you know  how I like to off-load), but no, I managed to acquire two beautiful wedding gowns but in the end I did the standard thing of walking into a bridal shop and going for the brand-new option.


The other, an empire style, be-jewelled beauty, I bought for a song in Blush outlet, but after much deliberation we decided it didn’t look its best after a trip to the dry-cleaners on Stranmillas .(Incidentally, it has  since changed ownership I believe). The Mothership took one look and said, ‘No, I’m not having that, I’ll buy you a new frock. Come along.’ She got very forceful.


My poor father just sighed and sojourned to the other room with his Daily Mail every time the wedding dress came up in conversation. ‘Oh please, make it stop,’ his eyes seemed to say.


So I wore the other, a gorgeous, full-length champagne gown and it was a cracker. LSB still talks about it and every time we pass Jenny Lindop’s shop in Bangor (from which it came) he cranes his neck to see what she has in the window and usually says ‘Not a patch on yours’.  In fairness, he said the same about Meghan Markle’s dress so I think he may just be trying to gain favour. Nonetheless, it’s still good to hear. Life’s hard enough without worrying that your betrothed thought that you looked like a sack of spuds on your wedding day.


I digress. Two frocks. One stained and crushed with mud round the hem and a ripped underskirt. The other, very elegant but in need of TLC. The former needs a dry-clean and reparation, which could cost £100 or more.


Both children tonight expressed considerable interest in the dresses, but there’s probably about a 5% chance of them actually doing anything with them.


So, should I:

  1.  Dry-clean and donate
  2.  Up-cycle and repurpose them so I still have 2 cracker dresses
  3.  Dilly-dally further and do nothing. The plus side of this is that it won’t cost anything and still give the girls an option if they want to do something with them when they’re older.


(Full disclosure, I’ve kinda made up my mind  but I want to see what you people think because you come across as an intuitive, creative bunch.)


Also, while you’re in the mood to share, have you done anything special with your dresses? I have a couple of ideas which will appear in The Newsletter on Saturday. If you like them, maybe we could get our heads together…

I  found this site today when I was doing a bit of research  and the writer had some brilliant ideas. I just wish I’d found it 8 years ago. Would have saved the parents a fortune… http://www.recycled-fashion.com/search?q=wedding+dresses 

                                                This is the couture dress from Blush that I didn’t wear in the end. How wonderfully Jane Austen it is though. Elizabeth Bennett-esque in every way.

And this is the one I wore, Paloma Blanca from Jenny Lindop. Just imaging it in a much more creased, bedraggled state. There was some energetic dancing that evening to which the dress now sadly bears witness.

Four things I’ve learnt from my first triathlon

A week ago, I did my first ever sprint triathlon and I’m still aglow. Here’s four reasons why: 

People are generally nice

You know me. I can be a moody sort, prone to bouts of misanthropy. But the truth is, since I started training for this event, I’ve been smiling more. Some of this perkiness, I’ve put down to the dopamine produced by the exercise. But much of the good-feeling came from hanging out with great people.

The obvious ones to mention here are the tri-girls themselves, full of craic, bonhomie and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. In my head, triathletes, of any description, were an intimating sort, but happily, not this bunch.

Also nice, were the poor random swimmers I accosted, and shamelessly pumped for tips for my dodgy front crawl. Or all the people who said ‘Your first tri? Cool!’ instead of being of harbingers of doom or casting doubt over my ability.

My understanding of bicycles and how they operate is embarrassingly limited, rather like Boris Johnston’s diplomacy skills.

The morning of the tri, my friend’s husband kindly checked my tyres and brakes before we set off. (‘He loves doing that sort of thing,’ she assured me.) However, he warned me to check my brake which was rubbing on the front wheel. ‘Don’t worry though,’ he said, when he saw my face. ‘Someone up there will take a look.’ And sure enough, I’d only stood about looking gormless for five minutes at Limavady Leisure Centre when a twinkly eyed man called Colin appeared, tweeked my brakes, adjusted my saddle and sorted out my gears. ‘Not a bother!’ said he, as I cycled off with renewed confidence and comfort.

This triathlon, has thus restored my faith in people. Sure, there’s a few total spanners out there, but in the most part, folk are kind and want to help. We all need to remember that when we’re feeling a bit disenchanted with the world.


Triathlons are actually super fun

 I normally take parts in running events, where there’s a great buzz at the start and finish, but other than that, not much craic. If you’re an event junkie, you therefore NEED to do a triathlon, if only for the frenetic fun of the transitions. Even getting my head stuck pulling my cycling top over my wet tri-suit couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Up-beat tunes blasted from speakers; an excitable fellow manned a microphone and volunteers shouted encouragement as I mounted and dismounted my bicycle with all the dexterity of an arthritic rhino. I didn’t detect a single snigger.

It’s ok to do it your way

Most people, unless they are total novices or else a tad unhinged, choose to do their cycle on a racing bike. The aim, after all, is to maximise your time with minimal effort. Wide, mountain bike tyres aren’t then, the ideal choice. But I had never sat astride a racer before this year, and when I tried it I felt precariously perched, rather like a circus elephant atop a ball. As I didn’t want to invite such unsteadiness into my first triathlon, I did my cycle on my mountain bike. I didn’t fall off, and though I wouldn’t break any records with my speed, I didn’t break any bones either. I was happy with that outcome.


Take your place

And here is the most profound thing I’m taking away from the experience, and one that I may apply to life in general: don’t be afraid to take your own space. When I’m swimming, for example, I tend to hug the side of the lane, so I don’t impede the person coming in the other direction. The downside of doing this is that your arm gets bashed off the rope which is painful after a while. I did this A LOT at the event because I was nervous, but after being continually clipped my elbow got sore. So I moved over a bit and enjoyed the remainder of my swim.

I was up to the same foolishness on the bike, keeping into the side so much that I was wheeling through pothole after pothole and at one point narrowly avoided the ditch. ‘You mad eejit,’ I said to myself, ‘Would you just shift your ass to the smooth bit of the road.’ I noticed that the other cyclists were  whizzing along merrily; they weren’t confining themselves to the hedgerows. Hell, they couldn’t those spindly racing tyres couldn’t have tholed it.

There I was, trying to make myself small and unobtrusive, but I was actually putting myself in danger and feeling mighty irked in the process. No one likes a martyr. This martyr in particular, didn’t really like herself.

Lesson learnt. Own your space in life. You don’t have to be dick about it, just trust who you are and what you’re doing.


To sum up:

There were so many reasons that I may not have done this event. Fear of looking stupid; fear of not being fit enough, or fear of falling off the bike. But the scariest thing of all, is how I could easily have let fear stop me having such a brilliant, life-affirming experience. I loved everything about the triathlon, and raised some money for a most worthwhile cause while I did so. So my only question is, when’s the next one?




SWB has a dose of the jitters

There are few sorrier sights than a half-deflated paddling pool still full of water, reflecting our tentative optimism from Sunday, when it seemed summer might deign to appear. Now the water slowly drains way, along with our good-humour. Bits of garden debris float in its murky depths, and a Barbie Mermaid lies facedown at the bottom, like a plastic Ophelia. She’s not even ours, and belongs to our best bud Sophie down the street. Looks like that’ll be another trip to Smyth’s Toy Store for a replacement.


The cat is miffed beyond belief and wanders around mewing plaintively. She seems to hold LSB and me personally responsible for inclement weather, endowing us with some sort of meteorological-god-like status. How I wish that were indeed the case! Perched upon the sofa with my over-sized cup of tea and listening to the crackle of the wood burner, I wish I could stay here for the next two days, but as you know, in a fit of over-exuberance (or delirium perhaps) I signed up for the Roe Valley Sprint Triathlon. And it’s tomorrow. This title may be misleading because in no way, and I repeat, in NO WAY, does the word ‘sprint’ relate to my vitesse. I merely want to survive the event with limbs and head intact.


For the uninitiated, (of whom I was one, until lately) a sprint triathlon refers to  shorter distances than those in a ‘normal’ triathlon. It is thus ideal for newbies like most of the girls in our group, or those who want to show off and get an amazing time. (I shall choose to avoid such individuals, should I come across them. I’m not sure we’d get on.) So what lies ahead of us tomorrow is a 750 metre swim, followed by a 20km cycle and finally a 5km run. This all sounds doable enough, until one considers the transitions in between and the fact it all takes place within roughly two hours. Presently, if I go to the pool and then pootle about with my day, I’m ready for a power-nap come 4pm. Thus the prospect of squooshing all three things together has me a bit perturbed. (I should say that I rarely get the chance to nap, since good-parenting practice dictates that I keep an eye on my offspring of an afternoon.)


The mood on our Whatsapp chat was buoyant up until a couple of days ago. Now the LOL’s and smiley faces are being replaced with WTF?s and ‘Bleepity Bleep Bleep Bleep Bleeps’, as reality dawns. Panicked questions pop up about every 20 minutes or so. ‘Have you got a race bib?’ ‘Are you taking gels or jelly babies?’ ‘Who in the name of God is going to be out of the pool in 22 minutes? Who dreamt up that notion and can we hit him?’ ‘AND WHAT IF WE GET A PUNCTURE?’


When I decided back in January to do this triathlon I was feeling quite confident. I started swimming regularly, trotted diligently off to spin classes and got back to speedier times at my parkruns. Then life got busy and tricky and sad in February and my training floundered. I got it going again in April until a bad dose of indigestion coupled with a banjaxed shoulder saw me head to the Royal fearing I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, thank God, but I was advised to rest. ‘For F**k’s sake,’ I said.


Since I’m both a pessimist and a worry-wart, I felt a bit antsy. I hadn’t done enough stretching or all-round conditioning for the event. I was going to be shite.  So I had to have a word with myself. ‘SWB,’ I said firmly. ‘Take it handy in the swim and don’t bust yourself for the cycle. On the bike, just don’t fall off. And then run like your life depends on it to make up for the poor performances which will precede it.’ I started to feel a bit better.


I’m clearly still a bit jittery though because tonight I scrubbed my hob until it gleamed) and vaguely colour-co-ordinated one of my  bookshelves. This is not normal behaviour for a Friday evening…


The best bit, of course, will be the after-party. Some husbands mooted that they could come up and cheer us on with children in tow, but this notion was strongly discouraged. Given how little my arse actually hits a seat at the weekend, I’m tempted to see this whole adventure as a bit of downtime. (After the swim/cycle/run bit of course). Merriment is planned for later, as we sojourn en-masse to the Radisson Roe for bubbly and a picnic lunch, before we hit a fine eaterie in Limavady for dinner. Here, my aim is to stay awake along enough to avoid face-planting into my meal.


What I really hope, is that the rain stays off to make the cycle less arduous. So if you have a Child Of Prague, set him out. And the rest of you say a few prayers and send positive thoughts our way that we don’t make big mad eejits of ourselves. I’ll be back with a debrief some time next week. I hope.



SWB gets some tips from The Mothership

If you happened to be listening to Radio Ulster of a morning over the month of April, you may have heard a new voice on ‘Thought For the Day’. And that little voice belonged to me, Helen McClements, AKA Sour wee you-know-who.

I told some of my friends to tune in and a couple rang me in astonishment afterwards. ‘What that you?’ they said, ‘You sounded lovely! Totally different!’ (Oh the surprise of them.) One pal said: ‘I tuned in and thought it was someone else. So I turned it off again.’ That says a lot for my captivating message, doesn’t it?

Of course one was more surprised that I was going to be on the radio than the Mothership. Here’s how that chat went.

MOTHER: You’re going to be on where?’  (incredulous tone) Thought for the Day? I thought it was only people of note who got on to the like of that. Sorry. Not that you’re not ‘of note.’ But you’re not really, are you?

(Flip, but you wouldn’t need to be sensitive, would you?)

SWB: I wrote a few things and they liked them so I’ll be on for four Mondays in April.

MOTHER: And what, dare I ask, will you be ruminating upon? Not your terrible childhood in Bangor you keep writing about, I hope?

SWB: No, just topics like loneliness and parkrun. Friends and stuff.

MOTHER: Hmmmmmm. Well you had better let me vet them. God only knows what you’ll be saying, on the air.

SWB: I’ve already sent them on. I just have to go down and have them recorded.

MOTHER: So you’re reading them?

SWB: That’s usually how it works.

MOTHER: RONNIE, SHE’S GOING TO BE ON THE RADIO AGAIN. Sorry, I was just shouting up the stairs to your father. Now, you won’t like this, but I listened to you when you called into Frank’s Phone In and you didn’t sound well at all. Think it was cups you were on about. Plastic ones. But you were very nasally. As though you had a bad cold and were full of catarrh.

SWB: Deep sigh.

MOTHER: When I taught over in the Londonderry, (primary school in Newtownards for those unfamiliar with it) some of those children used to be singing down in their boots and I soon put them from it. It’s very simple, just hum through your teeth until your lips tingle. It clears out your airways. Do it now, til I hear you.

SWB: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…. (humming)

MOTHER: Are they tingling? They have to tingle. If they don’t, you may as well not bother your head.


MOTHER: Good, now do that before you go in. And then say ‘Oranges and apples I eat everyday.’ That helps you enunciate. Stretches your mouth out.

SWB: Can I go now?

MOTHER: They could nearly have me on you know. I’ll have a think of some future ‘thoughts for the day’. I have plenty of things I could suggest.

SWB: Oh God.

So if you saw a short person walking in the direction of the BBC at the end of March, making odd shapes with her mouth and emitting a low buzzing sound, it was likely me.

(In fairness to the Mothership, when I listened in to the first one, I hardly recognised myself. She does, alas, know what she’s about. Just don’t tell her I said that.)


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 😉