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SWB and the Truth about Pets

I’m not going to lie to you. We got over-excited. I got over-excited. We don’t have the time, energy, or frankly, the funds, to own three animals right now. Don’t get me wrong; I love the dog and the cats to bits. The dog infinitely more, because she’s loving and sweet and she returns our efforts with affection, unlike the cats who are as transparent as f**k, only sidling round your legs when they’re after their fifth meal of the day. The dog is genuinely grateful for any attention she receives, and curled up beside me, as she is now, it’s hard to imagine there’s any badness in the world at all.

But wait til I tell you. Last week the three of them* conspired to be total melters. We’re still recovering, to be honest. We’ll start with the cats. We don’t have a cat-flap: there’s probably no point, as the rotund cat, (who goes by the name of Bramble,) probably couldn’t get through it, given his girth. But we’re rarely out that long and we have a litter tray, lest they take short. But on Monday, the fat cat took umbrage. LSB had the temerity to mix-up his routine of a morning, and visit the gym before twelve. He nailed a few work issues from his desk at home, took himself out  for an hour and returned, feeling well-pleased with his productivity, only to find a massive dump left in the bedroom. On my V-pillow, on which I like to recline to read. Can you imagine coming home and finding that? Bramble decided that nature called and had chosen to defecate extensively, just to let his feelings be known.  Frankly, he was telling us, we should never leave the house.

On to Monday night then. I was fast asleep, as indeed one tends to be at ten past two in the morning, when the dog woke me with her plaintive crying. On went the slippers, coat thrown over the jim-jams and down the stairs we went so she could relieve herself in the moonlight. And then she disappeared. She was prone to taking off through the hedge and into the field behind us a while back, until LSB, (at considerable expense and effort) erected a fence. She has since found another hole somewhere, and away she went. Now, I’d had the foresight to put her collar on that has battery operated lights (rechargeable, I might add), so I could see the wee red lights flickering in the field beyond. Into the neighbour’s garden I went, calling her softly so as not to wake anyone. My entreaties went unheeded, and it was after six before she returned, after Himself and I had taken turns to walk the roads.

I’m telling you all this to make you thoroughly interrogate your levels of stamina before you cave to your children’s pleas and get them a pet. Much as we adore our animals, (and trust me, we do, otherwise we’d have got shot of the bastards by now), they cause no end of strife. A girl in work was talking about getting a pup today and I counselled against it. My very good friend looked at me like I’d had a stroke. ‘But you LOVE animals,’ she said. As a student, she once had to persuade me to give a vagrant back a terrier puppy which he was carting around in the front basket of his bicycle, outside Maggie May’s on Botanic Avenue. I was cradling the pup in my arms and was wondering whether to call it Pippa or Penny, when she suggested that I might ring the Mothership first and check if it was alright. The Mothership told me to put the pup back in the basket IMMEDIATELY and that was the end of it. When I was telling this girl to enjoy her current dog free existence, my old pal found it very odd indeed. But maybe the Guardian had it right when in the Saturday’s Weekend section’s article on 60 ways to make you happier, number two on the list was walking a dog. Not your own dog, I might add. A dog which you find on borrowmydoggie.com. If you’re thinking about getting an animal, test drive it first. Enjoy the benefits of a purposeful stroll with a canine companion, without the kennel bills, the hair-strewn furniture and the nocturnal wanderings. And if you’re seriously contemplating life with a pet, you can have this one for two weeks in July as a tester. Don’t all jump at once…

*Izzy (the wee tortoiseshell cat) didn’t do anything dreadful, she just kept up her sustained campaign of climbing over us in our beds and knocking things off the dressing table until we get up and feed her. (Usually at around 6am).

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SWB takes her long-awaited trip

“Did you get pick-pocketed on the Ramblas?” It’s the first thing everyone asks when you say you’re Barcelona-bound. It’s sad that the Catalan capital is now synonymous with thieves as opposed to all the other joyous things about it, but there you go. Anyway, we don’t get pickpocketed because we stayed well clear of the Ramblas, Park Güell, and the Sagrada Familia. We just can’t be arsed with all that lark. But happily, we holidayed in the district of Sarrià, which has so many of its own attractions that we didn’t need to venture any further. We didn’t get on a train, or the underground and instead, hopped on buses, jumped in a cab or dandered along, punctuating our journey with ice creams or a cerveza in the square. There was A LOT of  sipping chilled verdejo on the terrace, and this suited me just fine. And people were always coming over to chat, which made me feel like I was on back on the Ormeau, except the sky was cerulean blue and instead of the greyhound at our feet we had a portly English bulldog.

We didn’t go to Barcelona with the intention of dog-sitting, but when I rang my friend Rhaiza to suggest a visit, she offered me her flat since she had booked a trip at the same time. This worked out extremely well, as we paid for two nights in a hotel and spent the remaining three in her bijoux apartment. It was bliss, I tell you, bliss. Rhaiza showed us around on the first day and thus we acquainted ourselves with the locale and she directed us to all the best cafés and restaurants. I can be very annoying on holiday, almost as annoying as I am at home. My principal complaint is that I hate being, as I keep telling LSB, ‘on the periphery.’ I hate coming across like a tourist, blundering around looking bemused, and eating rubbish masquerading as local cuisine while the locals dine on superior cuisine in the place next door.

 

Another annoying thing I do on holiday is switch off. Once I’ve landed, and find myself free from the demands and drudgery of  life at home, I enter an almost somnambulant state. Once again, poor auld LSB, because it’s up to him to consult bus timetables and maps while I wonder along gormlessly in his wake. It could, of course, be weaponised incompetency, just like him and the laundry at home, when he fucks in a navy sock with the whites, and everything ends up a wishy-washy blue. But he brings the role on himself as he’s very good with navigation and timings, so I leave him to it. Anyway, you too can be good at sussing the bus system in Barcelona as like New York, it’s based on a grid system: V for vertical and H for horizonal. We were flying about the area no problem at all, and at no point, unlike a recent experience in Belfast, did I hear a fella yell, ‘BALL BAG!’ out the window at his mate.

 

Three brilliant things to do in Sarria

Visit the CosmoCaixa museum.

Almost Guggenheim-esque with spiral ramp by way of a staircase, this is no ordinary science museum. It boasts a replica of a sunken Amazon forest, complete with an Aquarium with comical looking stingrays, turtles  and massive pirarucu fish. Looking up, birds flapped around happily, (don’t ask me what they were, but one looked a bit like a flamingo) and a capybara was rooting about in the shrubbery. The children, of course, weren’t content until they’d bought a toy capybara in the  gift shop. ‘What’s his name?’ I enquired, expecting something of a Latino bent, like Rodrigo or Pedro. ‘Nigel’ came the reply, which makes him sound like an insurance salesman in Wolverhampton. (The other child bought a stuffed penguin, who rejoices in the name of ‘Mr Waddles’.)

Aside from the rainforest, there are exhibitions about the sun and another on climate change and the Arctic. I swiftly moved on, past the harrowing statistics about how f**ked we’re going to be if we keep burning fossil fuels. I felt terribly hypocritical because there’s me calling myself an environmentalist and sure didn’t we all take a Ryanair flight to get there in the first place. There’s my green credentials straight down the toilet.

 

Carreta de Aïgues

I do enjoy a mountain walk, especially if it’s flat. And this is what ROCKS about La Carreta, because it’s a ten kilometre path AROUND the mountains, so although there’s a steep, (but mercifully short) trek up to it, it’s all rather pleasant once you’ve got your breath back. Unfortunately it attracts proper sporty types;  cyclists in all their lyrca’d glory, and fell- running enthusiasts, sinewy and svelte and not even having the decency to sweat. Then when you’re back in the square, chowing down the aforementioned tapas and gelato, you see them racing past again. I’d rather not witness this sort of caper when I’m sipping a Prosecco at two in the afternoon, but what can you do.

Tibidabo Amusement Park

I’m not a fan of amusement parks in general because the rides make me vomit, but the wee ones fancied taking the funicular up to see the Big Wheel on the mountain, and thus I acquiesced. I read a review which claimed that the rides were better suited to ‘younger children’, so I thought I might be ok. I wasn’t.  Perhaps the rides themselves aren’t on the same level as say, The Oblivion in Alton Towers, but it’s the fact that they swing out OVER A CLIFF that sent my stomach churning. Anyway, LSB enjoyed the big swingy things and let out a good auld West Belfast ‘YEOOO’ as he whizzed by me. I think I’m still recovering from the Log Flume. ‘Going round again?’ asked the sprightly chap after we’d been round once. ‘NO WAY,’ I yelled, staggering out, followed by a soaked but disappointed LSB. I actually quite enjoyed the whole experience.

In short, I loved every second of the trip and am planning my next one. And staying at a pal’s house is definitely one way to save if you’re feeling the pinch. The hotels cost a fortune which leaves much less pocket money for all the lovely wine.

 

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SWB on when a plan finally comes together

It’s 3-45am in Dublin Airport, and apparently we’re in the fast track lane. However, we haven’t moved an inch. The air is tight with the frustrations of hundreds of passengers all crammed together, hot and breathless under their face masks. I feel sweat run down my back in rivulets and gather at the base of my spine. ‘If you can’t say something helpful, just keep your mouth bloody well closed,’ snaps the girl behind us (who bears an almost freakish resemblance to Peter Griffin in Family Guy) to her travelling companion. Suddenly security opens and the queues shuffle forward. They are mercifully efficient and soon we are disgorged through to the departure lounge where I think longingly of coffee, until I see there’s at least a twenty-minute wait between me and a latte. LSB’s eyes wander towards the bar and I can almost hear his brain trying to compute whether it’s too early or too late for a Guinness. Either way, the bustling mass in line for their pints seems to put him off the notion.

And yet, I am not oozing my usual anger and impatience because despite it all, I am here, and even making it to Dublin to fly to Barcelona feels like a miracle. I will be meeting my friend Rhaiza for the first time in two years. I haven’t seen   her daughter since she was four, and next month she turns fourteen. This all feels very wrong. It has been a marathon to get to this point with both parents finally catching Covid and my dad ending up in hospital. All this when my brother made it back from UAE for the first time in three years. For over a week my stomach has been in a swirl, and I’ve been demented. ‘You can’t smell burnt toast, can you?’* asks LSB, when after a lengthy search, he relocates all the passports, which he diligently left on the table, and I have swept into the blue recycling bin with a pile of newspapers the day before we leave.

Incredibly, our Ryan Air flight gets us into Barcelona ten minutes ahead of schedule. The airport feels almost empty compared to Dublin and the sky is a dazzling blue when we step out to hail a cab. There is initial confusion when I tell the driver to take us to the ‘Attico’ district in Sarrià, and he looks bewildered. I show him the address and he informs me that ‘Attico’ means ‘the top floor’, so I just sit back and let him drive, without embarrassing myself further.  Upon reaching the apartment block I am practically out of the car before the driver has the brakes on, leaving LSB to pay up. Too impatient to wait for the lift, I run up nine flights of stairs by which stage I am almost too breathless to even manage ‘Hola’ as Rhaiza opens the door. The others have beaten me to it and as we all pour in, Jason the bulldog jumps joyfully around our feet and the preceding week of chaos melts away.

Follow up post coming soon on the delights of the Sarrià area where we stayed.

*apparently a sign of stroke. I did not know this.

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SWB Feels the Squeeze

I rang The Mothership yesterday and she had a quare laugh to herself, at my expense. I’d called to tell her that on Saturday morning I’m going to be chatting to Will Leitch on ‘On Your Behalf’ at Radio Ulster at half past ten. We’re talking ways to reduce spending, as the gas and electricity prices rocket and we all feel the pinch. You should have heard the laughs of her.

‘Is this an April Fool’s joke,’ says she. ‘You, on the radio, talking about SAVING money?  Who’s going to listen to someone who’s never off the Ormeau Road, having her dinner?’

‘Well, that’s just where you’re wrong,’ I told her, ‘because while I love an evening out, I’m very good a cutting corners elsewhere.’

That much at least is true. On Thursday night I had a dress on me that I bought in 2018 off a sale-rail in a Dublin boutique, with a pair of boots I picked up for a fiver in the Hospice Shop. ‘Rewearing is caring,’ I told the Mothership. ‘You’re telling me,’ she said. ‘I’ve clothes up there in the wardrobe that our twenty years old, at the very least.’

But it’s not just The Mothership’s frugality when it comes to buying clothes that she’s passed on. She’s also runs an EXTREMELY energy efficient home, and has passed those traits along to me.  I’ve LSB’s head turned as I run round the house switching off all the lights when he leaves them blazing away. He has the place lit up like Blackpool Illuminations, and also never turns off the radio when he leaves the room. It makes me twitch.  I, on the other hand,  won’t run the tumble drier unless it’s absolutely essential. I pluck chargers out of their sockets as soon as my devices are at full capacity and I only ever half fill the kettle for a cup of tea. I also eke out all our curries and pasta sauces with lentils and hidden vegetables to bulk them out so we get an extra lunch or dinner.  ‘I’m really very conscientious,’ I said, as I regaled the Mothership with all of this. She made a non-committal ‘Hmm’ sound.

Hard woman to please. Anyway, here’s another few suggestions below, some of which I’ll be mentioning on the programme.

Car-pooling. The week before last I travelled to work with a friend, thus saving money on petrol and reducing air pollution. A happy by-product of this was that it eliminated the stress of parking. I hate parking, and didn’t realise just how much until I was spared the ordeal of it for a week.

Eating out. Of course we want to support our local cafes and restaurants, but if you feel like trying a more expensive venue, opt for going out for lunch instead of dinner, or go for a pre-theatre menu. If you fancy a tipple along with your meal, it’s also much easier to get a bus during the day instead of paying for a taxi later in the evening. Often the quality of the service is much better at a less busy time and your can actually hear your dining companions, if you’re like me and are a bit deaf. I HATE having to shout to be heard over blaring music. (Yep, I’ll lift my zimmer on the way out.)

Spending time with friends. Seeing people you care about shouldn’t be about wowing them with a four-course meal with fillet steaks and a bottle of Bollinger. (As if. Come to mine and it’s invariably a chicken curry, though there may be a nice piece of cheese from Indie Fude.) But seriously, going all out when you have people round only piles on the pressure and makes them resistant to hosting in return. If you’re a busy person and perhaps a working parent, just keep your expectations low and enjoy being with your guests.

Birthday gifts. Well, these can be an arse-ache when the kids are at primary school and you have half the class coming to the party. A mum in our daughter’s class suggested giving a fiver in a hand card card. How we embraced it!  It saves the aggravation of trailing round Smyths  and your stay mercifully clear of wrapping paper and plastic shite your child never wanted in the first place.

Check out Freecycle on line before you buy. There is a brilliant Freecycle scene here in Northern Ireland; and it’s where I got most of my hall furniture and a child’s bed.

Changing how I shop.  ‘Swap don’t shop’ and ‘rewearing is caring’ have become my favourite mantras. It’s important to dispel the notion that people, (usually girls,) feel that they have to have a different outfit for every evening out, and this has been exacerbated by Instagram. As a result, many young people subscribe to the notion that if it’s been worn once, then it’s finished with. What a nonsense! The earth can’t keep up with this idea, and so it’s time we consider other options. I love a good clothes swap, and recently attended one at the Lyric Theatre, hosted by  ‘The Homeless Period.’  It’s also an opportunity to do a clear out, and who doesn’t need that? ‘The Wardrobe’ on the Newtownards Road also hosts these, and it, along with Déjà Vu on the Lisburn Road, are excellent options for good quality second hand clothes. They are also on the look out for decent outfits which are still in good condition, so it’s worth approaching them with that outfit you bought for a wedding and know you’ll never wear again.

Recently I’ve become  obsessed with selling clothes via the Vinted app. It’s easy to use and I post the items off in recycled packaging, which gives me no end of pleasure since our house is full of it. My best (and only purchase from Vinted so far) was a warm winter coat from Next which I bought for £10. The buyer pays for the postage and I find this an easier way to sell than e-bay.

Insurance. Another quick way to keep a few extra pounds in your pocket is to challenge your home or car insurers when they send you the renewal letter. I never pay automatically; I pick up the phone, tell them I’m one of their loyalest customers and ask if they’ll do me a better deal. I usually save about £40 immediately, which I feel smug about for approximately five minutes until I remember that I need to get petrol. Back to that car pool idea then…

Seriously though; this is a dire situation for many and I appreciate that the struggle is going to be real. We will definitely be staying in more, especially if we want to afford a holiday. With that in mind, there are some lovely ideas in today’s Guardian about making your home a calmer place where you feel happy and relaxed. I know those adjectives may seem at odds with our current world climate, but as I said in last week’s post, we have to grab the good vibes where we can, and as programmes like The Home Edit can show us, some bright colours and a bit of organisation may just give us a tiny bit of the peace we crave.

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SWB on the curse of Wordle

Some things are sent to try us. Children. Pets. Wordle. Wordle started off for me as an enjoyable diversion from the woes of the day. It was Fi Glover, (of the ‘Fortunately’ podcast with Jane Garvey) got me on to it. It’s one of the highlights of her day, she says. Up she gets, pours a cup of coffee and climbs under the covers until she’s cracked it. It may seem sad that one of the best bits of her day happens before eight am, but given the state of the world, that may be the case for most of us.

 

However, what turned out as ‘a bit of fun’ for me, has inevitably, morphed into a  torment. Oh, the gloom which descends when I struggle to find the solution, because increasingly, these words can be strange and elusive. Don’t start me on the American spelling of humour from a few weeks ago, that nearly turned me off Wordle altogether. But it didn’t, because now I’m hooked and sadly for me, LSB is too. He’s also irritatingly good at things, and he’ll mildly trill, ‘Got the Wordle on the second go!’ while I generally take four or five. I no longer associate the word ‘great’ with any success. Surely it should be ‘mediocre’, if you’re only one step away from ‘phew’.

 

It is also ill-advised to attempt the Wordle of the day at seven thirty, as I did on Saturday, when I was mildly hungover and tender of tummy, since the night before, a friend and I had dined in General Merchants on the Ormeau. It has resumed its evening service after a long hiatus and I’m delighted, having always loved the cosy, candlelit warmth therein. The chef excelled himself with a creamy, caramelly, baked custard, topped with a fig and strawberry glaze. I’m still thinking about it. We had no more need for a cheese board, but ordered it anyway; a foolish move as I horsed a slab of blue cheese into me that would have felled a donkey. Anne Patchett recently decluttered her home, a task made more difficult because of her habit of anthropomorphising the things of which she wanted rid. I take this sort of madness even further, imagining the slab of blue sitting there on the platter, (looking like my veiny ankles after I’ve stood too long on a warm day), all sad and overshadowed by the brie and the fancy cheddar flavoured with stout. In order to preserve its feelings, I ate it up, resulting in twisted tormented dreams. I woke up agitated and cross, turning to the Wordle for comfort.

 

Well, it didn’t soothe me, not one bit. There I was, propped up upon my pillows, peering at my screen like a wretched crone, when in trots LSB. ‘It’s a hard one today,’ he says, ‘Took me four goes to get it.’ Hadn’t he only gone and solved it while he sat upon the loo, and then came in to gloat. Have you ever heard worse?  THEN, as if he hadn’t annoyed me enough, he sat there playing the ‘Heardle’ over and over until he got it too. I would never have got the Wordle had he not given me a hint, and even now, I’m not too sure what ‘epoxy’ is. Far too niche and not at all suitable for a weekend when one may have imbibed too much the night before.

He sent me a jolly little text when I was at work today, saying he got it on his first try. Given that it seems all the rage to dish out a good slap should the mood take you, he may start watching himself. If you’re not hooked already, my advice would be the avoid Wordle, and all its other variations. Just drink your coffee in peace and have one less thing to fight with your other half about.

 

 

 

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SWB Dances in the Dark

Did you know, that if you dance (with mild to moderate exuberance) to Arcade Fire’s ‘Here comes the Night Time’, that you can accrue 750 steps on your Fitbit, AND feel much sprightlier than you do before? Well, you know now, and if there’s ever been a time to boost the endorphins then this might be it. I’ll tell you how I came by this statistic. In the dark gloom of December, I trotted into Kaffe O for a latte and spoke to my favourite barista. She’s always smiley, radiating bonhomie, even when there’s a long queue. She manages this without ever being annoying, which is how I find most excessively positive people. ‘Tell me,’ I asked her. ‘How do you stay so upbeat?’ She puts it down to starting the day with yoga followed by a spot of dancing. Every. Single. Morning. I found this astounding, especially since she often has to wake at 5.30 if she has to open the shop. The very thought of that gives me the dry bokes. Dawn, in winter. I’d say there’s not a bit of need for it but then we all need coffee. ‘I’m going to take to the dancing,’ I told her, but if course I didn’t.

Fast forward three months and f**k me, but if I ever needed cheering up it’s been March 22. Everyone had Covid, bar me, so I still had to go to work. School was relentless. I had writing deadlines due, and then the cat started taking a shite in the living room again, just for kicks. Yep, I was floundering.

Inevitably, I wasn’t looking after myself either, rushing hither and thither, fuelled on caffeine and caramel squares, lashing the merlot into myself of an evening when all was dank and bleak. My work clothes were becoming as strained as my temper. I finally thought the barista might be onto something, and I roused my groggy self to get up early and cavort about a bit. Turns out, if the tunes are good enough, you can get into it rightly. It felt like a small win to be heading to work with over 1000 steps done, and the cheery thought that for four and a half minutes I had shut everything else out and danced in the kitchen. In an effort to improve my saggy arms I even danced with a 400g tin of butter beans in one hand and tinned pear halves in the other. LSB wondered if I was planning an odd sort of breakfast when he came down to put the coffee on. ‘Nope,’ says I, ‘it was just for the dancing.’ He nodded and said nothing, (sometimes that’s for the best).

Dancing isn’t going to solve the war in Ukraine, or help you wade mark coursework. It won’t magic away your anxiety, but it will give you a boost. But even in the midst of upheaval it you can find fleeting moments of joy. Recently I turned to Anne Lamott again, as I do when I need encouragement. I also reached out to a very wise and kind friends. Their advice was the same; havng a genuine interest in helping others, whether by making donations or volunteering will help you grapple your way out of the mire. That all sounds very righteous, and I don’t mean it to. But you can’t help anyone or be there for your family if you feel rotten.

Courtney Barnett sings, I’m having trouble breathing in,’ which sounds like the anthem of our times. But if you starve yourself of joy, as I was doing, it does no one any good. LSB was sick looking at me going about, with all the zest and vigour of a constipated goat. He did, in a fit of optimism, reference a certain survey I was talking about with Frank a couple of weeks ago, that suggested ‘getting intimate’ five times a week in a bit to keep stress levels down and relationships afloat. Bless him; it’s good to dream.

 

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SWB tries to declutter

Last Sunday we should have been tucking into fresh croissants and hot coffee in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire, prior to a dander round the town where I entertained options of bumping into Marian Keyes and being all, ‘well it’s never yerself is it?’ and she’d be like ‘It is to be sure and aren’t you gas craic, will we stop off here for a cup of tea and a bun?’

Anyway, that never happened, because Covid hit everyone in the family aside from me, and instead we hunkered down while Storm Dudley battered the windows and I said to Himself, ‘there’s nothing else for it, we may tackle the front room.’ The front room is where hope goes to die in our house. It started off life as our bedroom, because when we moved in here back in 2011 I was pregnant and so huge and buggered of back that I couldn’t climb the stairs.

Its next incarnation was guest bedroom, which worked a treat when we had guests, but in between times the bed just became a receptable for shite. It was the room where everything was pitched, often with force, when friends came for dinner and we had to do the ‘emergency tidy’. Then LSB (without so much as asking) took over the desk I used in his study, and set up two screens so he could escape to play Halo with his head-phones on and ignore us all. There I was, a nomad in my home, ousted and deskless. I demanded action. Down came the bed nobody slept on and he installed a desk for me and I up-cycled a chair I rescued from a skip with a pretty floral cover. Up went shelves onto which went a spider plant, some photos and a picture of a tree I bought on Etsy. So far so ‘Good Housekeeping.’ I think I sat at the desk about three times, and then the room filled with clutter again, as all manner of ephemera accumulated. There were papers, so many papers. An overabundance of toys. Coats I like but never wear. And so last Sunday we cleared and hoovered and dusted and between Zero Waste Freecycle and the recycling centre at Ormeau we established some order.

‘Feverish’ and ‘frenzied’ would be the adjectives which best described my mindset. It wasn’t really about the room. It was just a desperate attempt to control something. Under my breath I was singing ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ in some sort of plea that things could go back to normal. The Older Child overheard me and asked, ‘WHAT NOW?’ as usually when she hears me saying ‘Jesus’ I’m not humming a hymn, so she assumed I was cursing under my breath. Isn’t that just a terrible state of affairs?

The next morning I woke up and practised some yoga on the floor. It felt good, amazing even. On Tuesday morning I came down to see a damp patch where an animal had relieved itself. Not only that, but the dog had fished a packet of Gourmet Purina out of the bin and bits of gravy and foil lay strewn on the carpet. Out came the hoover and on went the Marigolds. I didn’t bother doing yoga that morning, and haven’t done any since, if I’m honest.

I still have three bags of stuff left to sort and tired tripping over them in the hall, I’ve shifted them back in again. I’m not sure that the universe wants me to have this room. Maybe it’s a sign to stop writing? I don’t know. But I did order a new carpet, so I’m not giving up on it yet.

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SWB on Unrealistic Expectations

Working full-time. Dogs to walk, children to cart, dinners to dream up and cook. Home works to supervise, essays to mark, lunches to pack, clothes to laundry, iron and put away. Then Monday rolls round again and it starts anew. This all sprung to mind when I read the results of a survey by Warner holidays on happy relationships last week. According to 2000 couples, in order to stay healthy, every marriage needs six meaningful conversations, three long walks and sex five times a week. Yes, you read that right. FIVE. Who, pray do tell, are these people? Are they, a) still in their twenties, (and if they are, then their opinions don’t count;) b) do they sprinkle a light dusting of cocaine onto their Weetabix of a morning or c) did they just lie to make the rest of us feel bad? If they do actually exist, would they ever just fling me whatever vitamins they’re taking? And while they’re it, take the dog round the block and babysit the children, so Himself and I can take the longer route down to the pub.

 

Seriously, I think surveys like this are just designed to make you feel shite about yourself. The couples also suggest having two ‘barn-storming rows’ a fortnight. Do these happen before, during or after all the shagging? Surely all the deep and meaningful chats should obviate the need for huge fall-outs, which in my mind, only happen after resentment has built up and festered for a while, or, if your husband has run a half marathon before drinking 6 pints, having only had a bowl of soup for lunch and falls asleep on the stairs on a Sunday evening. (Yes, on. Not at the bottom, or the top, just on). That day didn’t end well for anyone. Especially him.

 

Relationships though. Tricky. As a working mum I feel I am constantly letting someone down: the kids when I heave them oven chips and chicken nuggets; the pupils when my lesson is dry as crackers; myself, when I drink half a bottle of shiraz on a Tuesday. And your relationship just sort of bumbles along in the background. I feel bad when Himself sees me go out to work all dolled up with funky shoes and a nice skirt, then I come in and immediately change into troggy old leggings with long exhalations of  relief, because fuck me, aren’t tights really uncomfortable?

 

But this is all while I actually like Valentine’s Day, even it is only buying the M&S meal deal. It’s just about recognising that you, as a couple, deserve space and that it’s not bad to take it. We don’t buy crap cards or red roses flown in from Kenya at extortionate prices. But I do raise a glass and feel very, grateful that I met LSB. He straightens my hair before work and makes me my coffee. He encourages me to meet my friends and still buys me ridiculous dresses from God-only-knows-where on the Internet, but they remind me that he doesn’t see me as a knackered, 42 year old mother, but the twenty something who was bopping about in the Duke of York that he met many years ago. And that makes me very happy.

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SWB is Home Alone

So, I was upstairs doing a few sit ups when Himself took the kids to the track last week. (Don’t laugh- I have serious stomach issues to address and if I take action now, as opposed to mid-June when I usually start, I may feel better about the form I’m trying to wrestle into a swimsuit.)

I was about to hop into the shower when I had the terrible thought that the front door was open, and how dreadful it would be if someone was to boldly walk in and murder me. How stupid would I look then, to be so daft as to take a shower in my own home, without taking the necessary safety precautions, at ten to six of a Wednesday evening?

On went the dressing gown and down the stairs I went, clickety-clicking all the locks; the front door, the back door, and the side door too, just in case the hypothetical assailant decided to chance their arm and do a thorough recce of the property.

As I waited for the water to heat, (diligently catching it all in the little glass teapot I reserve for the purpose,) I sighed deeply. Minutes before, I had been merrily crunching my abs as directed by Adrienne on her You tube channel, and now I was picturing the horror of my husband and children returning home to my naked, blood-stained corpse. That’s the thing, as if being murdered isn’t enough, you then have the prospect of becoming part of the crime scene and have to lie there, dead and unable to pull in your tummy, while loads of strangers look on.  I mean, dear God, could you imagine the indignity of it, and me nowhere near reaching my desired weight goal?

And isn’t it just a fecking disgrace, that you can’t look forward to your evening without these hellish scenarios creeping, unbidden, into your head?  Because until women stop being strangled when they go for a run, or bludgeoned or knifed to death by ex-boyfriends, we simply can’t ever, properly feel safe. I have never been an excessive locker of doors or checker of windows, and I’m raging that now, in my forties, I have to become that person, because apparently, it’s just how life is.

A friend shared these horrifying statistics: since Sarah Everard’s murder, 78 women have been killed by men or died in suspicious circumstances in England. Closer to home, the PSNI received 32,000 calls for assistance from women in 2020 and reckon that on average, 32 instances of verbal or physical aggression have passed before they call.

Reassuring, that, isn’t it? I don’t want my girls to see my fear; clenching my phone and looking over my shoulder in underground carparks, but ultimately, I have to keep them, and myself safe. Right now they’re still quite little, but pretty soon they’re going to be nudging at the boundaries we’ve set, and we’ll have some deeply unsettling truths to break to them. Except like all young people, or most of us, I suppose, they’ll think it won’t ever happen to them. We can only just hope to God it doesn’t.

 

 

 

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SWB one the tyranny of abs

So, do you know what annoyed me last night? I came home from work and instantly migrated to the sofa, kicking off my shoes and reaching for a Guardian weekend magazine which had been mocking me from about October, as all I’d managed to do so far was skim read the ‘Experience’ section and complete three crossword clues. There’s nothing like a crossword to make me feel howlingly dense, and horrifyingly provincial. For example. I have no more notion about the names of Former Soviet states. I tried to commit them to memory, only for them to be re-named some years later. I’m similarly oblivious to English cities, counties and rivers. Case in point, Had it not been for Martin Freedman’s perfect Scouser tones, I’d never have known where ‘The Responder’ was set. Damn good show, by the way.

 

There I was, cup of tea in one hand and a triple chocolate tiffin from M&S (the third bun of the day, alas) in the other, and I thought to myself, things are looking up, for as Hump Days went, Wednesday was living up to its name. Then I turned to Jess Carter Morley’s column. I’ve always been a fan of Jess, and thought of her as a woman not unlike myself, with a decent enough hold on reality.

 

But what was she on about only toned abs, and what one should wearing to show them off. Imagine, the pure cheek of it, mentioning sculpted abs after the collective trauma of the last two years. I wasn’t pleased, and firmly believe that now is not the time to be discussing the rigidity of one’s core. I know I’ve had my nose in the trough too much of late, and too often sought the solace only found at the bottom of a glass of Malbec, but I don’t need to attention drawn to the fact, thanks very much.

She also suggested, and I’m raging about this, that abs are in and boobs are out. It is bad now, apparently to draw attention to one’s breasts, but not to one’s abs. I mean, hell no. By drawing attention to my upper region in an outfit I hope to detract a little for the catastrophe that is my stomach after two caesarean sections and an inordinate number of Magnums.

 

But, as LSB told me emphatically, because he was tired listening to me whinge, we have just lived through a pandemic; it has been hard to summon the energy to work out, and especially to the level one would need to tone one’s mid-drift thus. Frankly, anyone with well-defined abs right now must neither have children nor any craic at all of a weekend. As a colleague in work wryly noted, nobody stares into a coffin and says ‘nice abs’. She hastened to add, though, that if by some miracle she does boast a six pack when she’s laid out, she’d like an open casket.

 

But instead of lying on sofa I roused myself, and while the wee ones did their session at the Mary Peter’s Track, LSB and I took the dog for a walk. It was windy, but not cold; in fact it was unseasonably mild. As we went along, I mellowed a bit, and felt slightly less aggrieved at the world and the travails of teaching and parenting and the feeling that I ought to be thinner. I think a flat stomach will always evade me, but I don’t really care. What I do know, is that I miss being outside and the boost it gives my wilting spirit. Lately I’ve been too stressed to do my yoga or my stretches or runs, and I’ve felt ratty and out of sorts, (the family will testify to this). So maybe I should say thanks to Jess for rabbiting on about sit-ups, as it did shake me out of my stupor, and I went to bed happily with over 13 000 steps done. I’m taking that as a win.