Monthly Archives:

November 2016


SWB runs her way out of the shit


2016 has been a stinker of a year, and November hasn’t pulled its punches either. You keep thinking it can’t get any worse then that fecker Trump gets in and your lovely relatives go and die on you. Being one who can slip into despondency without much prompting, it’s been a struggle to remain up-beat. However, by hanging out with good people, and keeping up the exercise, I’m keeping the dark thoughts away. Just about. So I don the trainers and off I skip.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of running for me is as a means to commute. I get a surge of satisfaction as I canter by clogged up lanes of traffic. It’s also a brilliant means to incorporate exercise into one’s daily business. I jogged over to the RVH recently for an appointment, which was a brainwave. I knew exactly how long it would take thus I didn’t have to factor in time for busy traffic AND it obviated the need to queue for car parking. Dealing with snarled up roads and grumpy drivers as a consequence is something I can live without.

It’s also brought a new aspect to the phrase ‘school run’ since I now jog over with child number one on her bike, before doing a few errands on foot and getting on with my day. This also eases the conundrum of what to wear as I just fire on my running gear and get trotting.

I’ve found running to be a remarkably sociable activity. As a member of Belfast Running Club I have the option of many social runs or training sessions throughout the week. However with my mornings free I prefer to scoot out then. And how lucky am I to have the Towpath on my doorstep? Once a week I meet my friend, (The Racing Retiree) at Cutters and she puts me through my paces. We swing a right up into Stranmillis, endeavouring not to break our necks at Cardiac Hill, then hit Shaw’s Bridge before arriving purple of face at Lock Keepers. (I’m always puce, she’s fresh as a Daisy, at over fifty, the cheek of it). This fortifies us sufficiently to run back, even fitting in a sprint finish. Another pal and I do the same except we sojourn to 5A for a chocolate peanut cup. Last week the frost lent an ethereal beauty to the scene, the hazy sunshine imbuing it with a certain stillness. It was like pressing the mute button on an otherwise difficult week.

Ask any of my friends why they run and their response is unanimous: it clears their heads. Jane, a dentist with three kids swears it’s what keeps her sane. Her husband automatically hands over her trainers and tells her to leg it when she adopts a certain expression. She’s learnt to perfect the look. LSB has taken the same approach with me when he sees me sour of face and ratty.

I am not a gym bunny. I am not flat of tummy and toned to perfection. I have neither the time nor the inclination to emulate the Tatlerites who I think exist to make the rest of us feel inferior. But I’m speedy, and thanks to my yoga I’m strong. To me running is like medication, keeping me fit in body and mind. And it justifies the crisps and wine, another bonus.


SWB on Possession Incontinence


Here’s the Sour-bike. You may have seen it of late, chained forlornly outside the QFT or Kaffe-O, or the Errigle. It should have a sign, ‘Abandoned by one hapless owner’. Since LSB and I started the building work, we’ve left everything at our behinds, principally our keys. I’ve been pedalling off without a care, popping on the lock before realizing I’ve no means with which to unlock it and get home.

That is how stress manifests itself with me- I lose stuff. While at Queens I lost my bank card so many times I was on first name terms with the staff from Lost and Stolen at Nationwide. LSB clearly suffers from the same condition, since his set of keys were left on Air Coach to Dublin at some point over the marathon weekend. On Monday the hole in the wall swallowed my card while I buggered about with my phone, and later on we mislaid the gas card for the flat. “You are f**king kidding me”, sighed LSB: he thought his days of pay-as-you-go amenities were long gone. It was cold. It was wet. And it took us 2 hours and much aggravation before heat was restored and tempers soothed. “Don’t even think about coming home without wine,” said LSB between gritted teeth, on my third foray to the shop. Thank God for the quality selection at the Vineyard.

Next I mislaid the remaining key for our family car which I needed to take the kids to Bangor. I was like a creature demented- there was no way I missing my mum’s mince. A mother on a mission for mince- it may sound ridiculous, but the thing is, my version resembles Victorian gruel, whereas mum performs some form of alchemy with meat, tomatoes and Worcester sauce, transforming mere ground beef into an epicurean delight. Luckily, I’m on good terms with the nursery next door so the boss leant me car seats to shove into the other motor. Thus I wasn’t denied the simple pleasures of a dinner and an infant free hour while mum dutifully played ‘shops’ and painted with the girls. The Wise Old Elf came in from an afternoon quiz, and put on his party piece- ‘the naughty dinosaur’ where he scarpers around after the kids and they shriek and hide and I drink a cup of tea in a different room, far, far away, wishing it was wine but making do. The key turned up in the one coat pocket I hadn’t checked the next day.

It’s all made me think: when I was at a work I was stressed out and demented, and though freed from its shackles, I’m still a blundering idiot. Mind you, it runs in the family. The Wise Old Elf lost his wallet last week too. After ransacking the house and pestering half the shopkeepers in Bangor he found it lying in a pile of crap at the bottom of his wardrobe, having fallen out of a hip pocket. It wouldn’t happen to Marie Kondo. The chucking out recommences tomorrow…..


SWB considers getting her rack out


So, it’s official, we’re going to be broke. I probably ought to have done my calculations ahead of time, but if you’re basically doubling the size of your house, the chances are you’re not going to want to live in an empty shell, and you may wish for some floor tiles, a kitchen, and a wee splash of paint. Oh, and heating, that’s where we were last week. Or rather I was, sitting up at Mourne Fireplaces looking so tired and pathetic that the lady made me a coffee before telling me how much I’d be fleeced. A fortune for the stove itself, (a fancy Norwegian burner, but those Scandis know their shit) then nearly £400 for a piece of slate on which to set it, apparently hand bevelled hence the price tag. Look, I just don’t want the fecker to burn through my new floor, I’m not overly worried about aesthetics. After that they have to install it and install flues to insure we’re not burnt in our beds. I mean why would you go to the trouble of incinerating yourself these days? Give Trump a few weeks to f**k up and the Russians will do that for us. Anyway, price wise, we’re talking thousands.

So lucky then, that this week, I got a bit of pocket money, doing my first ever bit of Extras work. Oh yes, go me, on set in The Merchant for the next series of Line of Duty. I’d say the novelty could wear off pretty fast. Once you’ve glimpsed a couple of stars, who eye you with not so much disdain as repulsion, the excitement wanes. To my bewilderment, only one other person had brought a book. Lucky I was there, with my trusty range of of Guardian magazines and supplements to dole out. At one point I offered to do a bit Irish Dancing to dispel the boredom but no one seemed keen. On set, I was in a mild state of panic, my blocked sinuses having rendered me quite deaf, so I kept mishearing whether they’d actually called Action and trotting on to early or hanging back. Finally the Assistant Director sighed and said “Look, when he moves, you move, get it?” I got it, finally. Don’t imagine I’ll get a call back.

“Get a lot of work do you?” I asked a seasoned extra from Omagh, who was utterly non-plussed at the 7am start. “Depends,” she shrugged. “The last thing they offered me was a topless corpse on Game of Thrones. 2 days work, £500.” My ears pricked up. “In fairness, it was less the nudity, more the lying on top of other naked people, in a pit. Just wasn’t for me”. I texted LSB. “If you want that f**king stove, get them out” was his instantaneous reply. I suppose I could at least warm up nicely when I got home, is perhaps the only silver lining there.


SWB on hairdressers


Choosing a hairdresser can be a risky business. Obviously one doesn’t want to leave looking like a dog’s dinner, and charged a fortune to boot. Having your colour done can be a lengthy affair and you don’t want to feel trapped in the ninth circle of hell for the duration.

I made a mis-judged decision one morning to visit a budget blow-dry bar in the university area. After a seemingly interminable wait with only sub-standard reading material on offer, my head was finally in the basin when a great “Oh My Gawd” went up. My ‘hair technician’ left her post and a hurtled to the window with all the others to observe a rat ‘the size of a f**king terrier’ through the window. It was tucking in to the remnants of some animal carcass from an upturned bin, presumably relieved of its contents by a fox (or drunken student) the night before. There was a chorus of “That’s stinkin”, “I’m going to puke, so I am”, and “Oh mummy”, before my hair washing resumed. A carnavalesque atmosphere ensued, with much animated chatter and hilarity, bringing both staff and clients together. I think it was the highlight of their week. I got a decent enough blow-dry but I wouldn’t say it was the most edifying experience.

Since then, I’ve moved on, and my current establishment of choice is Riah on the Ormeau Road.  Convenience initially played a part, as I avoided paying for city centre parking which was the case with my last hairdresser. But they have utterly won me over with their charming ways. The manager is a straight-talking gal, which is a quality never to be undervalued in a hairdresser. I briefly contemplated a shorter style, carried off with aplomb by a friend, and another of Nuala’s clients. That suggestion was booted into orbit swiftly. “You don’t have that type of face” was her immediate response. Then, as my greys started peaking through with more insistence I entertained the notion of just accepting it and going kind-of silver foxy. ‘No”, said Nuala. “How old are you again? 37?  Catch yourself on.”

I absolutely love this honesty. A hair-dresser may well be an expert of their craft, but if they can’t tell what suits you it’s a waste of time all round.  My mum has slightly rounded shoulders, (which she notices more than anyone else). Anyway, she used to visit a pricey joint in Bangor where she once got a cut which made her look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Jeez, were we glad when that grew out. I wanted to brain the fecker for what we had to listen to.

Back to Riah anyway, so there’s Nuala, who sports a voluminous russet bob; with her high bronzed cheek bones and brown liquid eyes she’s like Autumn personified. I may have a slight girl crush. Then there’s Emma, a gorgeous blonde whose gentle mannerisms belie great skill. She’s an award winning colourist and she can blow-dry my hair into submission in minutes. Her soothing tones have also calmed me on many an occasion. I love Will too- he’s in possession of the most incredible hands. If you’re ever feeling rubbish, get yourself down there, lie back and have him do wonderfully tingly things to your scalp while he washes your hair. I think he worried I’d gone and died on him once, so relaxed was I upon the chair. If I could afford it, I’d never blow-dry my own hair again.

But the BEST thing about these guys, is that they don’t talk to you constantly. I mean they will if you want, and be rightly up for the banter, but they don’t interrogate you about shite when you just want to get your head showered.  There are few things grate on me more than a garrulous stylist. I’ve seen myself, head bent at an awkward angle in the sink, being badgered about nonsense and feeling I have to respond. Or worse still, over the noise of about 3 hairdryers. Maybe they  feel they have to talk, but if you actually say, “I’ve a really sore throat”, or “If you don’t mind, I’m just very tired today” and they still witter on regardless, it’s time to find a new person to do your hair.


When I trot into Riah, they ask how I am and I complain a bit about my life, then they make sympathetic noises before handing me a latte and a Red magazine and I drift into a delightful reverie. If it’s a colour I’m after, I may even have a short nap, head forward like an old person, or a corpse.  They always have a decent playlist, so there’s no local radio churning out crap to assault your ears, and the coffee’s good. These people are all gifted, because you don’t just leave with great hair, you leave with a sense of well-being.  Which, with my inherent sourness, is no mean feat at all. I can’t think of a finer place to be coiffed.


SWB on the perils of yoga attire

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It might sound a tad pretentious, but one of the greatest impediments to practising yoga with ease is inappropriate attire. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions I’ve spent, riven with agitation and discomfort, because I’ve worn the wrong gear. The worst offender, in my book, is a loose tee-shirt. Try getting your downward dog right when the top has crept up towards, (or maybe even past) your bosom. Even before two caesarean sections, my mid-drift was never my best feature. Think pot-bellied, like a Vietnamese pig, but less cute. So it was always acutely embarrassing when my tee-shirt gathered round my neck and shoulders, exposing a few inches of untoned, porridge coloured tummy, (why is it we fake-tan our limbs and neglect the stomach?) To do a yoga session justice, you need some class of a fitted top.


Which leads me on to bra tops. Is there anything more irritating than a bra strap slipping off your shoulder during your connecting vinyasa? Most distracting. I thought I’d found my solution with a great vest top with a built in bra from H&M. But like a dope, I didn’t test-drive the ensemble. Forward fold and ‘Hello Boys!’ There they were, bursting forth from their insufficient hold. To my shame, I actually popped a nipple at one stage, which my discreet instructor ignored. Yoga isn’t a gym session, but it is a work out, and support is essential. Who wants to spend a class scooping your breasts back into position? Trust me, I’m no prude, but it does get to me that at 37 years of age I still can’t manage to dress myself properly.


While on the subject of undergarments, choose your pants wisely. I know some ladies love a thong, but frankly I feel like I’m being sliced in two by a metal cheese cutter, and I can only imagine that effect is going to be intensified in pigeon pose. Generally I wear a good pair of leggings, and a pair of M&S knickers. Happier posteriors all round.


The guys have been neglected a bit, but here is a matter which needs addressed……the builders’ bottom.


Dear God. It’s bad enough being confronted with these on the street, but try being nose to crack with some fellow you’ve never met, in a crammed yoga class. For flip’s sake guys, before you head out the door to an exercise class, prance about a bit. Try and touch your toes, maybe do a star jump or two. If the joggers creep down, put the feckers in the bin and put the rest of us out of our misery. It doesn’t matter how zen you may feel during your practice, a randomer’s hairy arse in the face is always going to detract from the experience.


When it comes to bottoms though, I’m a slow learner myself. I had these leggings once, and boy did I get my wear out of them. I wore them under tunics, under long baggy jumpers, and sometimes, I even wore them to yoga. They were from Top Shop, and fairly bog-standard Lycra, but they were ever so versatile. Well. Our running club once teamed up with a local practitioner and we did yoga for runners in a school assembly hall. This had its perks as we all had plenty of space, thus no putting anyone’s eye out in trikonasana. However, it lacked a little in ambiance where lighting was concerned, and was insufficiently dim for my liking. I had a great class one evening, and came home all stretched and limbered up, congratulating myself on my thriftiness. “Who needs expensive sports’ wear when my trusty leggings do the trick?” I thought smugly. Then I caught my husband eyeing my behind. Go me, and my pert little arse I thought. But no. “Please don’t tell me you wore those tonight” he asked, directing me to the mirror. The bloody things were almost see-through with over-use. Now that would have been bad enough, but I hadn’t worn any pants, such is my loathing of a VPL. And of course, of course, that was the session where we’d been doing loads of hip openers, and side lunges. ‘Let’s go a bit deeper on the left side, stretch it out, just a liiiiittle bit further…’ I still can’t look some club members in the eye.


The bottom line is, I love yoga, and I try to practise at least twice a week. It is unapologetically ‘me time’ and a chance to disconnect from the hurly burly of life. If I was going out for a meal I’d wear something that made me feel good, and the same therefore goes for my practice. For a while I dipped my toe in the yoga scene, doing a class every couple of months or so, and never really feeling the benefits. Now, I’m no expert, but I’m at ease on my mat, and I make an effort to meet with other yogis and enjoy our sessions. If I look good, I feel good, and plus I don’t have to feel scundered next time I go for a social run.




SWB on when altruism goes tits up


LSB* has a very big heart, but a very short memory. He has started to bleat about wanting a dog. Last year, I made a terrible mistake. Ostensibly, I took a career break to ease stress and spend some quality time with my progeny, who are still really quite wee. Since himself and I worked full-time hours, I thought that my period off work would be an excellent opportunity to trial having a pet. And what better way to do this than fostering a puppy for Assistance Dogs NI. Perfect, I told myself.  We get a beautiful puppy, get plenty of lovely walks and pass it on to someone who really needs it. Wouldn’t that be a fabulously altruistic thing to do? In theory, yes. In reality, a total nightmare.

An adorable russet coloured Labrador Retriever arrived at Halloween last year. Eight weeks old and exquisite- the cute-ometer went off the radar. You could have eaten her. In turn, Dora wanted to eat EVERYTHING. Labradors are known for their exceptional greediness-this one would have eaten yourself. We tried putting her in her crate during mealtimes, she howled and howled, wolfing her own dinner in seconds and demanding more. Every mealtime was like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Something I never considered before, but autumn is the worst time ever to get a dog. Trudging the streets on dark mornings and even darker nights in the freezing drizzle, hopping from foot to foot as you wait for them to defecate. Worse than defecation was non-defecation, when she held it in until she was home again and did it on the floor. I could have taken shares out on Dettol.

A few issues arose. One, the dog took no notice of me, ever. No matter how I tried to adopt a strong, authoritive tone, I might as well have said: keep barking loudly, piss on the floor and leap on the table and chew my new bracelet to shreds. Fill your boots! And LSB was even more useless, being a softly spoken type. Thing is, he’s quite a sensitive soul, and while we weren’t meant to lavish the pup with constant attention, I’d come home to the pair of them flaked out on the sofa, Dora’s head on his shoulder, the picture of contentment. “She’s meant to be in her crate, on her blanket, she’s a working dog!” I’d remonstrate.

“She’s a baby and she needs a cuddle, so bugger off” he’d retort.

Father Jack* was also only 2, and a petite sort of a creature, so the puppy just knocked her flying. Wise Old Elf was beyond terrified that in a fit of ebullience she’d lose an eye by a wayward claw, so he was thrown into a state of panic that no amount of Rioja could quell.

Then every week, the puppy had to be taken for training and meet all its siblings which sounds like a jolly enough affair. However, I appeared to be exceedingly inept at this. It was like being the dopey child at school; if I remembered her training bib, I forgot her treat bag, (actually she’d chewed that to shreds). On a couple of dreadful occasions I had to bring the small child, who was completely overwhelmed and cried plaintively throughout. I was on a knife-edge. Having this bouncy, noisy, non-toilet trained creature 24/7 took its toll on my nerves. With FJ still in nappies, I had to clean up an inconceivable amount of poo. I felt like Lady Macbeth, hands red and raw.

The last straw came at the so-called Christmas Party. I misread the missal, and thought we all went in fancy dress. So training bib was left at home, and pup dressed in a scarlet furred ensemble, like an assistance dog for an autistic elf. The year before we had ordered matching elf costumes for the park run, which, in the midst of the turmoil I couldn’t find. With five minutes to spare, I threw on a red jumper and, a black leather skirt and red tights. Etched on my mind indelibly, is the image of me trying to get the pup to walk to heel, then wiping up pee, while being publically chastised for not bringing her correct bib, all in the f**king leather skirt. The shame. Then LSB arrives, all smiles, ready to don his reindeer costume (seriously, is this penchant for fancy dress bordering on a fetish?) and join in the fun. I’m in tears with the dog running rings round me, and the ambiance distinctly lacking in festive cheer.

The whole experience taught me a few things. 1) I care more for soft furnishing than I thought. 2) I need some time off the clock. If it wasn’t a child needing me, it was the dog, leaving me no room for anyone else. When my friend’s new baby wasn’t doing so well there was no way I could be there for her, with this pup in tow. Thankfully, a new foster carer was found for Dora, and I hear she’s doing very well. The best bit though, was that child number one had an acute fear of dogs before, she would have run into oncoming traffic to avoid one. Now, she pesters me every day for a canine pal, but until she’s of an age to walk it herself, that’s a non-starter. My nerves have only just recovered from the other debacle. So LSB, you may bleat on.

*Long Suffering Bastard- the husband

*The Wise Old Elf is my dad, so monikered because of his resemblance to a character in the children’s programme ‘Ben and Holly‘.

*We used to refer to The Small Child as Father Jack because she used to run around with a bottle and descend into a vitriolic fury when one wasn’t issued quickly enough.)