SWB meets the Boke-A-Tron

Perplexed that your step count has reached a paltry 7875 and fallen short of your daily milestone? Worry not! Perhaps your child will morph into the Boke-a-tron 2000 at 11.05 and send you scuttling up and down the stairs with boke soaked sheets, duvet and mattress cover. As you worry why the stench lingers even after vacuuming and mopping, more steps await when you discover THE DRAWER OF DOOM! That’s right, those handy storage devices that fit snuggly under the bed come into their own when your child is ill. Who needs a basin or similar receptable when a drawer left slightly ajar is perfectly placed when a stomach needs emptied sharpish.


After said child has been tucked up into your bed, with hugs and reassurances, now is the ideal time to survey the damage, and note how your holiday clothes and aspirational items, (the ones you hope to squeeze into again) are now liberally covered in gunk. Watch those steps mount as you shake the worst of it off outside before taking a sponge to them. Watch your heartrate soar on the little screen after you’ve loaded up the washing machine with soiled sheets, only for your other half to suggest that you wait til morning to put it on so it can ‘run off solar power.’ ‘Of course, it won’t stink out the drum,’ he says, ‘It’s self-cleaning!’ ‘Like fuck,’ you reply, but acquiesce since he’s not a bad spud and has volunteered to kip on the sofa since the Small Child will be taking his side.


Did you think a mere 1000 steps was all you were getting? Never fear! Turns out a ten year old’s stomach has an infinite capacity for half-digested Chicken with Ol’ El Paso Seasoning and now, it’s YOUR bed’s turn! And, you’ve guessed it, what does your bed share in common with the child’s little IKEA number? Oh yes, another DRAWER OF DOOM. This time, the consistency is less of a soup, more of a consommé, hence plenty of liquid to seep its way through to most of the contents. Extra calories can be burned off by unclipping the fitted sheet from the mattress suspenders and stripping a king-sized bed, before nipping back down the stairs again.*


Now it’s the turn of some upper strength training as you lift small, confused barfy child into the bath after they have ploughed through the sick. Finally, it’s time to burn some mental energy as you debate which blankets you care least about, to dress the bed lest there is, by some miracle, anything left to resurface. Only the joyful thought of the morning keeps you from sweet slumber, as you imagine the Great Wash of 2023, as you contemplate more loads of laundry than you ever deemed possible.


(In reality, the GW23 was even worse than anticipated, with cats scarpering in desperation as they thought that they too were going to be loaded in in with the clothes. Thank God for Stuart at The Washing Well, who took three loads, while my machine still went a dinger at home. It was a bad weekend to only to do the bare minimal and leave a backlog. That’ll teach me.)


*(Ironically we have 12 steps, the same number of a program I may have to embark upon if this hellscape should ever reoccur.)



SWB On Sound Rage

Do any of the following make you start grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw? Scraping, screeching, slurping, sniffing, snorting, slamming, (and those are just the sibilant ones.) Throat clearing, coughing, whistling, and in particular, that sort of through-the-teeth whistling, make me want to commit acts of violence.

Once, I stood behind a woman in the queue for customs at the International Airport. In an act of what I can only describe as utter misanthropy, she had chosen the buzzer from ‘Catchphrase’ as her message alert. As her texts came flooding in after the flight, her phone buzzed and chimed and dinged and it took a Herculean effort not to wrestle it  from her hand and crush it to bits, right on the ‘Welcome to Belfast’ mat.

When I’m stressed out or tired, my sensitivity to noise becomes unbearable. I have abandoned shopping trolleys in Sainsbury’s because of raucous children and the jingly-jangly ambient music which churns on in the background, on an endless loop. I’ve asked to move seats in cafes and restaurants when neighbouring customers shriek with laugher. More than once my dining companions have labelled me, ‘The Fun Police.’

As a student, I clambered on top of a wheelie bin and bashed at a security alarm with a golf umbrella, and only stopped when the police arrived and told me that should I continue they’d be forced to bring me in.

I couldn’t control my facial contortions at an erstwhile friend’s high-pitched cackle, and had to backpedal my way out of the friendship with as much delicacy as I could muster.

I was thus reassured to read an article in The Guardian about ‘misophonia’ which is an extreme reaction to sounds. It didn’t completely exonerate me, (because I admit that I am generally intolerant and pernickety,) but I felt understood and comforted that 18% of the UK population also experience a disproportionate reaction to certain noises.

‘You’re easily annoyed,’ was a refrain I heard often as a child. It wasn’t unjustified, because I was a crabbed article, by turns irked and aggrieved, but when it came to the noise issue, I wasn’t alone, and if anything, I was the most normal one in the family. The Mothership’s particular nemesis was the whirr of the extractor fan; while my dad harboured a hatred for the shrill ding-a-ling of the doorbell. Any slurping of tea at breakfast time had my brother apoplectic with rage.  Ironically, we lived next door to a drummer, which I think proves the point that if there is a God, she has a sense of humour.

Now, my misophonia is triggered by the aggressive purring of Bramble when he wants fed, especially when it’s so close to my face that I can feel the air from his little feline nostrils on my cheek. The crackling sound made by pupils when they  squeeze plastic water bottles when I try to teach them, is responsible for the frown lines on my forehead. Chairs scraping against the floor made me search the internet for chair socks. Basically, it’s not easy being me. There’s no collective noun for us misophones, but I’m going to suggest ‘a twitch’, although LSB prefers ‘a cacophony.’ Feel free to share your own peeves and vexations, to make me feel better about my own idiosyncracies.







SWB Airs her Dirty Laundry

Poor Stacey Solomon has been subjected to an ear-bashing when she admitted to changing her bed sheets once a week. I tend to agree with the nay-sayers, because I’m more of a once-a-month girl myself. But as I said to Frank earlier when I was on chatting to him on the phone-in, I think this is plenty. It’s also a seasonal issue, because I would feel more guilty about using the tumble drier to dry all the sheets than I would about them smelling less than fragrant after a couple of weeks. During the summer I change them more often, when they can blow merrily in the breeze, and one is less at the mercy of our capricious climate.


But let’s be clear about this; changing the bed linen is a work-out. Our mattress is very deep, so deep that even the ‘Extra-Deep King Size Fitted Sheets’ sometimes struggle to fit. Many nails have been sacrificed at the altar of cleanliness in our bedroom, not to mention the risks to my dodgy back. We were so tired of the sheet untucking itself on a nightly basis that LSB got to googling solutions and made an investment. Cue the arrival of four ‘bed suspenders’; curious little black straps with clips (STOP IT EVERYONE, I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING) which secure the sheet in place. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that they’ve changed our lives.


Down in Bangor by the sea, the Mothership was also experiencing mattress issues. Her elderly mattress was banjaxed and thus began the search for a new, thinner version, which wouldn’t result in strained ligaments and visits to the chiropractor after changing day. A helpful gent in the bed emporium she visited, assured her that a thinner mattress was no worse for her back and so she procured one on Tuesday. I am eagerly awaiting her consensus.


Should you want to feel a semblance of cleanliness, but can’t be arsed with the whole palaver, then I advise you to change the pillowcases, even the duvet cover if you must. After reading KC Davis’ book, How to Keep House when You’re Drowning, I’m all about life’s shortcuts. We all have tasks we will prioritise, and for me, having clean clothes and some home-cooked dinners is much more important than the bedsheets. I also fear I’m suffering from PTSD from the constant laundering of sheets when the children were very small and sometimes peed the bed, or more ghastly still, when they came into our bed, and peed in it. The misery. The days were the trenches, I’m telling you. The absolute worse though, was when you stripped the bed and forgot about it, and had to start the whole bloody rigmarole at eleven o’clock of an evening. Any wonder mummy drinks?


My advice? Do what works for you. There are cleaning videos galore on the old Insta, and I said recently, I enjoy watching them, as they soothe me, a little bit like white noise, mere chewing gum for the eyes. But do I clean like that? Hell no. Suit yourself is my motto, and as long as I’m not lying on toast crumbs or an excess of pet hair*, then I’m happy enough to stick to my monthly schedule and not lose sleep over it, (boom boom).


*I realize that this will differ person to person. I imagine some of you have the dry bokes just reading that. I apologise.


SWB on the new stars of Instagram

Haven’t I gone and got myself hooked on Instagram. And once again, I am plumbing the depths of banality, because I am watching video after video of CLEANING HABITS. The old me wouldn’t have understood why anyone would watch a randomer scrub their toilet. What levels of stultifying boredom would you have to reach, I’d have wondered, before you’d willingly observe someone dust their skirting boards? And yet, every day Instagram is helpfully suggesting new people for me to follow, the likes of @TidyDad and @nonstopmumma. The algorithms tell me that I need to follow any account with ‘washy-washy scrub scrub’ as their tag-line, and reels pop up with stupidly enthusiastic women (almost always women) saying: ‘come clear your plughole with me!’ You may not think this is the most tantalising of click bait but there I am, all, ‘Would you believe the shine off that stainless steel sink! Behold the gleam of that hob!!


I know we’re all suckers for a ‘before and after’ post, and I can understand how we could be excited to witness the radical transformation of say, a lovely living room, but tidying a desk? Sprucing up the ensuite? Really? Who’s going to hand over their valuable time to watch that? Well, me, as it happens. And clearly, I’m not alone, given the thousands of followers clocked up by these cleaning gurus. They are the superstars of Insta, their microphones replaced by mops and their guitars with tubes of grout-buster.


Frankly I’m amazed, but maybe it just sums up how small my world has shrunk since Covid, and how happy I am to keep it that way. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m not a natural housekeeper. I find everything a struggle, from stocking my cupboards with essentials or keeping the surfaces clear for more than ten seconds. It runs in my family. Anytime I heard the hoover when I was a child I asked, ‘Who’s coming?’ LSB is as bad. He sends me little messages when I’m at work, listing his accomplishments. ‘Dishwasher empty!’ he will declare, or ‘Towel wash on!’ I’ll reply with the clapping hands emojis, with no trace of irony since I’m delighted that he’s taking the initiative. Let’s face it, it’s no given that I’ll do it any time soon.


Perhaps these videos work because they offer clarity. I have a shocking habit of over-complicating everything, whether that be washing up or cooking, you can bet your nelly that I’ll make it more of a ball-ache than it needs to be. This tendency of mine only serves to impede progress, of course. I think in a very binary fashion, assuming that we are either good or bad at housework and that I fall into the latter category. I can’t accept that we can just develop habits and routines and try to adhere to them, at least some of the time.


The tyranny of housework has of course been exacerbated by the pets, quadrupling the work load as I rinse out food tines, lint-roller the chairs and mop and spray when one of them takes a surprise poo somewhere. Always a joy. Now I’m also running round scooping up the bowls after they eat. I wouldn’t want anyone falling into Tilly’s dish and suffering cuts and bruises.


So for a person like me, who struggles and gets distracted easily, a motivational video seems to help. If I have to watch someone hoovering their sofa in real time to simplify it for me, then maybe these videos serve a purpose. Provided of course, that I don’t just get suckered in to scrolling through Insta for two hours. That’s a whole other challenge. But the truth is, that yes, a clean house is actually possible, if I just take fifteen minutes here and there and get on with it. And do you know what else occurred to me, (and then I’ll stop chuntering on), but I always take the piss out of Marie Kondo, but when I saw those boys cleaning up the stadiums at the World Cup I was so impressed. I started reading all about Japanese rituals and how they respect their spaces and take pride in them and I thought to myself, my children have a lot to learn! And me too, I have a lot to learn. I love my house, and I love having people in to it, so maybe I should try to enjoy caring for it. Does that sound mad? Probably yes, but I’m sure you’re used to me now.


SWB says ‘New Me?’ No. Old me will do rightly.

I never cease to amaze myself. Yesterday, tired and queasy after an evening’s over-exuberance with an ill-advised mix of alcoholic minerals, I determined that a resolution was needed. New year, new me! Leaner, calmer, less likely to succumb to liver cirrhosis. But today, feeling sprightlier and buoyed by sunlight, I thought to myself, isn’t January a bloody stupid time to be embracing the new? Friends, we are far too fragile for those shenanigans. Perhaps if we lived in balmier climes, where we could leave the house without a kettleful of water to sling over the windscreen, cocooned in a heavily padded coat, we could entertain such notions. But here? Now? It’s a flat no.


I am unconvinced that now’s the time to starve ourselves, or subject our bodies to a punishing regime. Nor should continue the excesses of the season, because that way lies coronary failure. But to put the brakes on all the good stuff, all at once? I think not. One reason I am agin such antics is that presently, I have a fridge full of leftovers, of which only a small proportion is of a healthy variety. I have enough cheese to choke a donkey, and half a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t care what a coq-au-vin recipe dictates, but wine of that calibre is going straight down my throat. There’s a reason for a mediocre vin de table at £4.50 in Sainsbury’s, and I suggest it’s for a casserole.


As I type, I’m drinking coffee with a slab of panna tone. It is the last hefty slice, and I am enjoying every last festive morsel. But what does one DO with all the other leftovers? Let me help. First up, I have a white bloomer languishing on the counter which I shall concocting it into a bread-and-butter pudding, with dates instead of raisins, because I have a packet of those I intended to stuff with cheese for a New Year’s Eve nibble, but couldn’t be bothered. LSB refers to bread and butter pudding as ‘that eggy mess’ but I shall make it in ramekins and share with friends, who aren’t pass-remarkable ingrates.


I’ve a glut of tomatoes softening in the fridge, which I’ll whizz up into a soup. I can plonk mozzarella into this, which ticks two boxes for wastage.  Another alternative would be a sauce for pizza bagels which LSB lovingly makes in the morning, in his air fryer. I’ve never seen him take to a kitchen appliance the way he has to his air-fryer. He’s dying about it, as am I because I don’t have to think up lunches for the children, a job I loathed because they are fussy little buggers. The rest of the blue cheese I will freeze to make a dip in the future.


It’s clear to see that I’m not cutting out the fat and sugar this January. But I am trying to cut down on waste, so that’s a start. Other realistic goals are: spending less time scrolling on my phone; doing on-line yoga at least three times a week and keeping my study uncluttered. I think those are doable, and not nauseatingly sanctimonious. If you’re doing anything yourselves let me know- or harass me occasionally to see whether I’ve kept on task. Hold me accountable! And a very Happy New Year to you all.


SWB on the Elf on the Shelf

I’m going to write something very controversial this St Stephen’s Day and here it is: I don’t mind the Elf on the Shelf. As you are well aware, I tend towards the curmudgeonly end of the spectrum. I don’t suffer fools, especially small pretend ones, clad in red. But the key to this malarkey, is to set the bar low, extremely low, and befriend others who do the same. Should you associate with the sort of people who wrap up their entire kitchen with Christmas paper or tin foil, then I suggest you rethink the allegiance: there’s enough packaging going straight into the bin during the festive season without this sort of nonsense. And tell me, who has time for these shenanigans anyway? Not I.


If you are a parent of small children, debating whether to get involved with Elf nonsense, then this may be the post for you. I read in the i-paper of some eejit who got on the trend and rued her decision, having spent hours planning activities, and forked out money on it too. Was she right in the head? I asked myself. Aside from buying the thing a couple of years ago (and it was, of course, LSB’s idea, which was initially met with deepest opprobrium,) all I bought this year was a packet of Haribo Star Mix from which I fished out the eggs  so the Elf could do a fry up.


Our ‘elfsploits’ usually took place after 10pm, when one of us would sigh and say ‘What’s that fecker doing tonight? Some shuffling about ensure before it would do something feeble, like read or book, or sit on our decorative llama.


My favourite activities did require a wee bit of thought, (still, after ten o’clock though) such as when I drew a rough illustration and coloured it in, writing, ‘I’ve done an elf-portrait!’ On a baltic evening mid-December, I drew a fire and dressed the elf in a coat my lovely Aunt Freda had knitted for a Barbie. ‘I’m cold!’ said the note, because our elf isn’t blessed with imagination. When Messi clinched the final for Argentina the elf boasted a blue and white striped shirt, attached with a piece of tape. ‘Vamos Messi!’ it had written. It played Happy Families one night with two teddy bears, whom it was beating soundly, sitting proudly with a whole family of moles, another of owls and foxes. The teddies didn’t fare well, but they never have been known for their intellect.

LSB thinks he trumped it though, by wrapping it in brown paper and printing out a QR code. The note read, ‘Your Mum tried to sell me on Vinted!’ After that, the only thing he did was set the Elf in a shoe. He peaked too soon. One weekend, the Elf spent the entire time in the tree, Friday through to Sunday. ‘Flip, that elf really is rubbish,’ I said to the girls. ‘She seems to like it up there,’ opined the Small Child. Sure enough, in her farewell note, the elf wrote that she loved coming to our house and hanging in the tree like a sloth. I’m telling you folks, keep it simple. And if your kids don’t like it, just say the elf didn’t like it either and won’t be back.

I hate to quote Christina Rossetti, because she truly was a miserable auld bastard, but when she wrote ‘The Bleak Mid-Winter,’ she wasn’t wrong. So a wee bit of magic for the kids with minimal effort? For twenty-five days, I can just about manage it.



SWB on Harry Kanes’s penalty

Ha! Made you look! Of course I’m not going to talk about football. I don’t have the skill-set to even comment on the sport. I’ve no more notion, other than to say that I felt for Kane and the whole squad on Saturday because they seem a decent bunch of lads and I wished them well. It’s a tricky subject, wondering whether to support the English team when you’re married to a man from the Falls Road. He’s the green and I’m the orange in this relationship, so I’m going to skip the footy and chat about oranges instead today.

This morning I looked in my fruit bowl, where two mouldy easy-peelers and an elderly lemon glared back at me, with acidic, citrussy judgement. Beside the bowl sat three bananas, completely black and waiting expectantly to fill their higher purpose of being turned into muffins, or perhaps even a loaf. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen, and instead my compost bin awaits. (Part of me blames LSB, because he bought an air-fryer which obscures my view of the fruit, making me more likely to reach for a KitKat instead.)

The sight of the languishing fruit provoked an attack of self-loathing. ‘Why am I so shit at everything?’ I wondered. So much flagellation, at seven thirty-five of a morning, all caused by a fruit bowl. As I walked the girls down to school, trying to admire the soft hues of the hills in the low winter sun, I thought about the fruit looking at me with reproach. They were showing me what I hadn’t done, but no one was telling me what I HAD done this weekend.  I won’t bore you with ALL the details, but my arse barely hit a seat. In a frenzy of organisation, I restored order to my shambolic hot-press; changed the child’s beds (a necessary task, given the cat hair) and I washed and put away a load of freshly laundered towels. They were even FOLDED. And that was only on Sunday! Day of rest my foot.

I thought how we judge ourselves by what we haven’t done, rarely by what we have. I challenge you to ask any woman, anywhere, be that in the Sainsbury’s queue, the staff room or the office, and she will lament about the state of her kitchen; the vertiginous pile of washing, or the fact that her child hasn’t eaten a vegetable since August. Despite even having the selfies to prove it, we still don’t remember the walks, the outings, the places to which we ferry the kids. Then there’s the ‘unseen’ work; the playdates we organise; the homework we check, the bedtime stories we read when downstairs there’s a dishwasher to fill, pots to scrub and bins to be take out. I’m out of puff just thinking about it.

So much of what we do is intangible; therefore it doesn’t register. What we DO see is the minging fridge, or the detritus from the crafts, or the ‘to be ironed’ pile. (Frankly, the ironing can get to f**k and be flung straight into the wardrobe. To hell with the creases.)

Let’s take a moment before the tumult of December kicks off, to appreciate what we do on an everyday basis. Let’s try not to see judgement when maybe it’s not directed at us at all (especially if the perceived judgement is coming to us from an inanimate object.) And maybe, my bananas actually fulfilled their higher purpose by becoming rich, crumbly compost after all.











SWB gets the declutter-bug

I took a notion folks, and I acted spontaneously. I saw that Order in the House had a cancellation and in I swooped and snapped it up before anyone else languishing in their own chaos could beat me to it.

They came, they saw, and they sorted my shit out. Well, most of it, since it was only a half-day session and it was a VERY messy space. But miracle of miracles, I am typing this post sitting at a desk in a room which last week make me feel queasy, littered as it was with debris and unfulfilled potential. The room in question was supposed to be my study, but instead, it had become a repository for toys, junk, or anything which required a temporary home. The cats spent more time in it than anyone else, a fact to which the scratched sofa bears testimony.

Last Christmas we spent a day clearing it out and it remained pristine for a week before all the crap migrated back in. The floor vanished first and then, not to be out-done, so did the desk. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the shambolic state of the so-called study reflected the scattered feeling in my head.

Anyway, Claire and Lisa rocked up and pitched in, upending boxes and helping me see what could go. When you see your random stuff through the dispassionate eyes of a stranger, you do question your mental clarity. It turns out that I didn’t need my P6 vocabulary book, lovingly backed in 1980s superfresco wallpaper; nor did I need two scuffed Easter straw hats, or even a navy bag with a broken handle my dad had got free from Laithwaites.

My main problem was hoarding everything, with neither system for finding it, nor storage solutions to prevent it getting damaged. It rendered the whole process of keeping piles of teaching notes pointless as I could never find what I needed.

Prior to the girls’ arrival, they directed me to Homebase in search of ‘Really Useful Boxes’, since the key to successful storage is being able to see what you have. I have a problem with boxes, in that, if I happen upon what I consider to be a good box, I am reluctant to part with it. Many of my belongings where thus shoved into said boxes, willy-nilly. The problem was that my boxes were cardboard, and without opening each one and digging in, I could never find what I needed.

Turns out I’m not the only member of the ‘love a good box brigade,’ as when I reached the storage aisle in Homebase, I met an older gent, looking on with a beatific expression. ‘These are GREAT boxes,’ he said, ‘if you’re looking a box, don’t go past these ones.’ It was clear that he already had quite a few of the boxes already, but I saw him return to the aisle several times, clearly wondering whether he could justify buying some more. I bought four, and am inclined to agree that they are excellent indeed.

Three and half hours my professional declutterers were with me, sorting and labelling, organising and colour-coding, all the while gently challenging whether I needed to hoard all the things I had accumulated. Do you need it? When is the last time you used it? Is there a more natural place for it? (I love this last one, which is really just code for, why the hell is there a bra lying on the sofa? Why is there a linen tablecloth in a House of Fraser bag in the bottom of your slide-robe?)

Immediately after they left, I carted five large bags to the recycling centre (aka ‘the dump) lest I start rootling around in them, taking items back out and undoing all the work.

I learnt that I don’t have to keep all the girl’s exercise books, even if there are lots of pages left. Keep one and throw the rest into the paper bank. Broken toys go in the bin, not the floor. Bank statements go into a filing cabinet. If a sentimental item is worth keeping, then it goes in a designated box.

Pens, so many pens, and colouring pencils. I was instructed to ask my girls to sharpen the pencils they wanted and store them neatly, and to try the felt tips and bin the dud ones. What is, of course irksome, is that I KNOW all the this. But when you pay for a service, it forces you to keep at the task, not make yourself a cup of tea and wander off after twenty minutes. I know this because this is what I do when I try to do the job myself. I have failed. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, it was expensive. Yes, I had ‘decision fatigue’ after it, and felt a bit emotionally drained. But I have a study now, all bright and clear and spacious. I can breathe now. Was it worth it? Absolutely.









SWB Rejects Black Friday

So last week I clicked on an advert for fancy shelves I’d been ogling for a while on my Instagram feed. My collection of books is steadily increasingly (I blame the second-hand shops on Botanic for my most recent haul) and I want to be able to store them effectively. ‘Oooh,’ says I to myself. ‘A deal! How serendipitous.’ Except it wasn’t. While the initial ad lured me in with 50% in bold font, most shelves I looked at had a mere 20% discount and were still so over-priced that I wouldn’t even entertain buying them. The books will remain in teetering piles on the floor then.

It will be the same in the shops and I guarantee you that if you’re in the town today you will see promotional material displayed willy-nilly, but on closer inspection will find that many items are hardly reduced at all.

And if they ARE discounted, you need to consider whether they are still worth buying. ‘Which?’ magazine award ‘don’t buy labels’ to items which they deem duds, and a waste of money, whether they are heavily discounted but are in fact duds or not. Black Friday Deals rely on the assumption that consumers will buy on impulse, and perhaps haven’t done their research and think that one TV or fridge freezer is as good as the next.

According to Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, ‘if you weren’t going to buy it, but do it only because it’s half price, then you’ve wasted 100% of your money.’ Now that’s hardly rocket science, yet I can see how it happens when the furore and panic that surrounds Black Friday deals mounts and so people panic shop, for fear of missing out. Don’t give in to corporate greed and allow them to suck you in!

I’ve been thinking more and more about ‘conscious gifting’, taking the time to ask friends and family what they really want. I’ve collected items for umpteen school fairs and ballot prizes over the years, so I’ve see first-hand the unwanted and unopened gift packs of toiletries that people have donated. Undoubtedly, this is the sort of generic item that will be snapped up by folk trying to get ahead with their Christmas shopping on Black Friday. A colleague who moved house recently found a huge box in the roof space, which was crammed with bath products, all still in their packaging. All that money for a quick ‘thank you very much’ before it’s fired into a cupboard to add to our never-ending clutter.

If ever there was a time, then surely it’s now, to ask the people we buy for what they’d really like. Maybe it’s their favourite lip-stick (Mac in ‘Fast Play’ if you’re asking), or fancy coffee, or maybe it’s new socks. SOCKS? I hear you say, has SWB become so Grinch-like and boring that she’s advocating we all buy each other SOCKS? Hear me out on this though. Socks are useful but I’ve never said to myself, ‘I’m away out here to treat myself to a nice pair of feet warmers.’ I like to have toasty trotters so I’m always happy to receive a few pairs.  And it’s actually become so cliché to give socks as gifts that it doesn’t happen as much anymore, making recipients of socks even more grateful.

My message is this- stop buying stuff you don’t need, or if it’s a gift, something that wouldn’t want yourself. If it’s not a ‘hell yes!’ then it shouldn’t be coming home with you. Support the small businesses where you can, our growers and grafters, our potters and painters and those who have turned their passion into livelihoods. Instead of investing our hard-earned cash into something bland and generic, let’s support the real heroes of the high street, those whose sole purpose isn’t greed but a desire to see the world in a more imaginative, colourful way.


SWB on taking it slow in November

Do you know what has only just dawned on me? The first two letters in November are ‘NO’. I’m taking this to mean that we say a big NO THANK YOU to anything which doesn’t serve us this month. Sure haven’t we all enough to be doing, working and ferrying youngsters about, all the usual stuff, as well as avoiding the news lest we’re just catapulted into Nihilistic despair. Darker are the nights and dreary are the days and all too easily your mood can go to shite as the gloom descends. SO here’s what I’m saying ‘no’ to this November so that I can exhale and let my mind and body say YES. (Not in a Meg Ryan way but sure wouldn’t that just do us the power of good? Anyone want to mind my menagerie here and let himself and me away for a night? No takers? Well, one can dare to dream.)


I digress. Firstly, it’s a big NO to doing MO-vember. Life’s sufficiently trying without Himself running round looking like a 1970’s West Belfast blanket man. We’ll make a donation to this excellent cause and be done with it. There’s not many can rock a moustache IMHO, except perhaps Bear Grylls; but he doesn’t count as he’d still look attractive boasting his handlebar moustache while drinking his own pee in the Outer Mongolian outback. What LSB CAN rock however, is the sexy stubble look, and he’s taken to visiting the Turkish barbers for a shave once a week. He looks the business and I’m all chuffed because he doesn’t get the razor out and clog up the sink with a million little bristly hairs.


It’s a NO to going out in town. Lynette Faye was on the money on this when she posted about the dire state of affairs on Twitter at the weekend. I can’t be doing with this caper, so if I go out at all it’s going to be on the good old Ormeau so I can leg it up the road when I want to. The days of fruitlessly ringing for a taxi are GONE, I tell you. Frankly, the stress of trying to get home outweighs any of the enjoyment had, so unless someone volunteers to drive, I’m either staying local or staying on my sofa. End of.


It’s a NO to festive shopping and in particular, Black Friday and ‘fear-of-missing-a-bargain’ nonsense.’ I HATE all the e-mails flooding my inbox and the panic shop that they are supposed to prompt. I’ve wasted time and money on this before and I’m not doing it again. I refuse to go down the middle-class Boden and Joules route, paying excessively for a tee-shirt because it boasts an appliqued sloth. Rarely are the bargains worth the effort. The fabulous duo at Order In The House are posting great gift ideas which support local businesses and won’t clutter up my home, so I may get on to that. But not now. And not yet. Not during my NO month.


It’s a massive YES to nourishing the soul. I’m inviting rituals into my life; I’m lighting my candles and toasting my toes at the fire. I watch an episode of Malcom in the Middle with the girls before a chapter of Judy Blume (our favourite is Superfudge, but we’re presently on ‘Are You There God It’s Me Margaret’) before bed. They need the quiet time too. I’m refusing to do anything in my free time which doesn’t lighten my mood and unburden the spirit. Too much? Perhaps. But I’m enjoying myself, and to paraphrase Father Fintan Stack in Father Ted, ‘I’m having my fun and that’s all that matters.’ With the Christmas season comes inevitable traipsing, and there are invitations to which we just can’t say no. My rationale is thus to say no now and conserve energy.


For the next six weeks I’m doing a writing workshop with the poet Anne McMaster. It’s called ‘The Dancing Light’ and is every bit as magical as it sounds. For two glorious hours a week I hang out with creative souls and we let our ideas bubble to the surface. November, we have decided, should be a time of contemplation, a pause before the frenetic hither and thither of December. I have carved out this ‘me time’ and trust me when I say it’s golden. When I log on to Zoom I feel tired and lacklustre, but within a few minutes I feel a creative surge of energy, as though Anne has taken metaphorical bellows and sparked a flame within.


Nourish your souls dear people. Make the time and relish every second- I refuse to just put the time in until Christmas. Every day is precious, let’s find ways to make each one count.


*Thanks to Anne McMaster for letting me use one of her photographs from Rosehill Farm near Garvagh. I chose this photo because it illustrated what we talked about last week. Winter may strips trees back, but a stark beauty remains.