Monthly Archives:

July 2017


SWB jumps on the Supper Club bandwagon


One new thing a month: that’s the task I set myself when I took the career break. The year out turned into two and I’m thrilled to say that come mid-August this summer, instead of dragging myself back to the chalk face, I’m heading to Spain on hols instead. So as my third year out approaches I’ve stayed loyal to my resolution of doing new things. And this month it was an ambitious one, to host a supper club, from the SWB residence, no less.


Broaching this with LSB (My husband, Long Suffering Bastard for any new readers) required some tactical manoeuvring. I sneakily waited until he was at a wedding in Liverpool and rang him the day after, when he was feeling less than sprightly. His resistance was lowered, and I could sense him shaking his head and acquiescing into his hair-of-the-dog pint. The last time he went away he ended up taking me for a slap-up lunch in Balloo House, followed by a visit to a woman who re-homes cats in Killyleagh. He came home with a lighter wallet and small tortoiseshell cat. An evening in the company of randomers sounded perhaps less daunting, and certainly required less commitment.


“You’re doing what? A nutter, that’s what you are.” That was the reaction from most of my friends and acquaintances when I told them. “That’s a bit strange, isn’t it?” said another. “Like how many, ten strangers, sitting in your own house?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Wouldn’t catch me doing that.” “Look,” I wish I’d replied, “I’m not lying naked on a table and letting them eat sushi from my less than perfect form. I’m roping a couple of friends in and cooking a meal for some people to come and hopefully enjoy.” So we planned it, did it, and you know what, we’d do it again. It was brilliant craic and no one got poisoned or got hammered and wrecked the joint or was insulted or offended (I think). People came on their own but left in twos and threes to walk down the road together or share lifts. Everyone laughed. A lot. Not enough laugher these days.


Mind you I wasn’t laughing mid-week when, distracted listening to my hyper off-spring I burnt my rice and fucked up the main course entirely. My friends, (valiant guinea pigs that they were) tried to be supportive about the bland chicken they were fed. “What made you choose a Lebanese theme?” they enquired, tactfully. “You know,when you’ll admit yourself that it’s not your forte?” Well I blame the Guardian weekend magazine. There are only so many Ottelenghi recipes you can read before you start getting z’atar and pomegranate molasses on the brain. I had a fine cauliflower salad in Kaffe O one day and I thought to myself, I have to get into this Middle Eastern Cookery lark. So a plan started to form and between a few of us we made it happen.

My mum raided her cupboards for extra tablecloths and napkins and provided matching glasses. (You see Marie Kondo? This is why you dn’t go fecking everything in the bin). Claire (the other half of Supper Club) took her children to Botanic Rose Garden and collected a selection of rose petals to dress the table. There were trial runs and and more trial runs.


On the night itself LSB was roped in to keep the children off side and the French au pair did something special with potatoes. Once we’d removed the rice (and the children) from the equation it was grand. But the real star of the show is my friend Claire, one half of Harper’s Yard. I post about Claire and Martina often on my Facebook page because I have the greatest respect for them. Being a self-deprecating Irish woman I think “Ooooh, that would be a good idea,” then I think of everything that could go wrong with the plan and talk myself out of it sharpish. But these two are different. Claire’s English and Martina’s from the Czech Republic. They have a quiet confidence about them and are happy to give something their best shot.  Must importantly, their gift for doing things well is infectious.  On the night itself, my chicken was neither bland nor stringy.


So, we had eleven people round our table on Saturday evening, and what a diverse and international group we got. A Greek, an American, an English girl, a Chilean, and one brave man who came with his wife and had the best of craic. Two of my friends came which was lovely because it gave me a bit of encouragement to see two familiar faces, but to be honest, even had they not it still would have been fine.


One guest, the lovely Lyn who runs Hola Muchachos Spanish club, arrived with a basket of veg from her partner’s allotment. (orange beetroot if you please and it was cracker). Others who weren’t even drinking still brought a bottle, and everyone was hugely complementary.


Something we often forget, is that people are generally kind. I think if you’re a curmudgeonly old  bastard you probably wouldn’t put yourself through a night with strangers in someone else’s living room. A few weeks ago I went along to Haypark Supper Club for an evening of Thai cuisine. The food was restaurant standard and the hosts were incredible, welcoming us with a G&T Far Eastern style (Thai basil I think) and feeding us until we were almost ready to expire. I’d go again tomorrow except they’re nearly always booked out. Everyone there was lovely too, and do you know, even if the food was a bit shit, I wouldn’t have minded. If there’s openness, laughter and hospitality, that’s already a lot on the table.


So to those who came, thank you, and maybe we’ll do another in the autumn. In the meantime, I have to get thinking what my new thing this August is going to be….. any suggestions welcome (but I am NOT doing the naked sushi thing).

  • Thanks to The Vineyard and Kaffe O on the Ormeau Road for putting up posters
  • Check out Haypark Supper Club (posters can be found in Bread and Banjo on the Ormeau.)






SWB leaps upon her soapbox


So here’s a scary statistic to greet you of a morning. Since the 1950s enough plastic has been produced to cover the whole of Argentina. And Argentina, in case you were unaware, is huge. I’m just after Googling it, and it’s about forty times bigger than Ireland. That’s a significant size, don’t you think? I haven’t been yet, but it’s on the list. I digress. Most of this plastic has been produced in the last decade, and most of it ends up dumped in landfill. I think this is the evidence that should finally start filtering through to people, that it’s imperative to stem the tide and think  about our cavalier approach to the using and disposing of plastic.

At the minute, if you start trotting around with your reusable cup and posting things on Facebook about the flood of single use plastic items, people get a trifle irked. I should know, being one of these members of the  anti-plastic brigade. But please, in no way do I want to sound like a sanctimonious twat. I grew up in Bangor, I spent my formative years surrounded by sanctimonious twats and I didn’t care much for them either. But I think, given President Trump’s utter disregard for the environment and the sheer number of single use plastic items out there, would it not be time to reconsider our options and tweek our life-styles to make some tangible difference?

Here’s a few changes I’ve started to implement:

  • Gift wrap- Apparently wrapping paper, once it’s been stuck with sello-tape can’t be recycled, so to stop mounds of it from going into landfill I’ve started thinking of alternatives.  No, I’m not buying into the gift bag phenomenon  (although I shamelessly reuse the ones I have) but I’m popping the gifts in to little shoe bags from Søstrene Grene. I organised the presents for the P1 teachers this year and this was how I packaged the presents. There were no complaints, in fact the teachers seemed to like this somewhat innovative idea, and they can chuck their heels in the bag and remember me fondly when they head to Lanzarote on their hols.


  • Coffee cups-Yip, here’s me, headless of course, outside Established coffee shop with my lovely porcelain cup. Just keep one in your motor, or if you have a massive handbag, stash it there. Same for a knife and fork or chopsticks if you’re prone to nipping out unexpectedly for lunch. (Seriously, is it any wonder I’m broke? I need to address my addiction to food outlets.)
  • Bottled water- Now, aside for in Lancashire, where fuck knows what they did to the water but the locals were near poisoned, our water is lovely, and safe to drink. So why are we buying shedloads of the bottled stuff? I get it if you’re out and about and overcome with a powerful thirst, but this should be an emergency option, not an everyday event. It’s allegedly the age of austerity. If you can drink water for free, drink it. I used to bring a Zigg bottle filled with water to school, from which I sipped at regular intervals, so parched was I from all the teaching. The kids were always keeping me going that it was wine or indeed something stronger within, and on many’s a day I wished to God it had been. But I thought it was a good example to set, that you didn’t need to be seen sipping from a new Evian bottle everyday.
  • Children’s parties- plastic disaster all round. Parties will be getting their very own post entirely dedicated to them but in the meantime, I’ve recently seen loads of reusable cups and plates and table cloths being used and fair play to the mums and dads who are doing this. Go a step further. Address the issue of presents. I do not need any more plastic shit in my house. You wanna buy my kids a gift? Work away. Plenty of gorgeous books out there or a jigsaw to keep them busy. Lego, Playmobil, that too will keep them occupied. But I do not want or need a pile of plastic tat that they play with once then I fall over for the next few months.
  • Bathroom products-I’ve written before about LSB’s hairiness and his penchant for shower gel, which he works his way through like shit through a goose. Well, we were up in Derry last week and I bought a couple of manly soap and shampoo bars out of the wonderful Yellow Yard. It is so worth a visit and I got a trifle carried away I must admit. Anyway, he’s been using away at his zingy mint and T-tree bars with no complaint. (As I keep saying, he is a lovely sort of a fellow.)
  • Event management- Here’s a final bugbear before I go on. Running events, and the sheer environmental havoc they must cause. Could we not follow Carlingford’s lead, where they had reusable plastic cups that were used at the water stations and collected after? Small paper cups could be another alternative. There simply should not be masses and masses of plastic bottles going into the bin. I went round after Lisburn 10k, harassing the chaps from the council as to whether the bottles would actually be recycled. Not a straight answer to be had, so I’m guessing probably not. Not good and not on.

There endeth the sermon. If we can manage to remember our Bags for Life and composting our food waste, surely we could make a concerted effort to whittle down our reliance on plastic. And the bonus is, you won’t have to read another didactic diatribe such as this.


Why everyone needs their mammy


I bumped into my friend in 5a coffee shop the other day as I recovered from a run along the towpath. “I’m away in here to sit down,” she said. “I’m exhausted.” She did actually look plain done-in. Her husband often works away and she has two small children. It turns out she’s also been promoted to a post which will mean increased hours and more travel. She’s excited, but also daunted at the prospect. I explained the joy of the au pair, which is how I came to be sitting, latte in hand in 5a of a Wednesday morning. “I don’t want someone all the time though” she reasoned. “If they could just lift the shite off the floor and clean up after dinner while I bathe the kids and get them to bed.” That’s one of the grimmest bits I recall when I used to work. The kids would throw themselves at me with glee when I picked them up at 5, but by the time I got into the house and tried to get them their dinner they were past themselves with fatigue. I wasn’t one of those organised mums who defrosted a lovingly made Annabel Karmel sweet potato stew, (primarily because my children wouldn’t have eaten it). So I would have been grimly draining spaghetti with them both hanging off my leg, trying to avoid a trip to the Royal with a small scalded child. Then there were the dishes, the laundry, the baths and the bedtime (always a moveable feast in our house anyway, we wouldn’t have been getting prizes from Gina Ford with our routine). These delights were followed by marking and lesson prep for the next day. Purgatory.

Anyway, back to the pal again. “What about a student?” I suggested. “Someone just to do a couple of hours each evening just to cut you some slack?” She looked unconvinced and frankly I don’t blame her. Students are famous for lacking in gumption, and often there’s an inverse correlation between intellect and common sense (dopey bastards). The last thing you need when you’re stressed is someone standing looking gormless in your kitchen. “I know exactly what I need,” she sighed. “I need a mammy.” Don’t we all?

Grandparents can be indispensable. My folks just come in, roll up their sleeves and get to it. They’re usually not through the door five minutes until they’re unloading Asda bags in to the fridge and making a pot of tea which they promptly forget to drink because they’re too busy hoovering and playing hide and seek with the kids. There will, inevitably, be some criticism of my housekeeping skills, but I can live with that when they’re ironing LSB’s shirts.  I usually just point to the wall, where some art work by the girls has been blu-tacked, and really, wasn’t that a better way to spend the afternoon, as opposed to cleaning? The parents acquiesce that indeed it’s brilliant and isn’t it all just great and we finally sit down to that nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

And the great thing is, even if they do make a horrible caustic remark you can a) make one back, b) seethe inwardly then write about it in your blog, or c) let it wash over you and open the wine. I’ve been known to do all three. And the thing is, generally with parents and siblings, you can get away with this. I know fine rightly I don’t realise how lucky I am. That’s what Lemn Sissay said when I saw him back in January in the Black Box. For him, the most magical thing about family is that you can be at your most dreadful you don’t even have to say sorry.


Sure, it’s nice, indeed proper if you do, but I know my parents have seen me at my vilest and they’ll still come and put a wash on for me. A bit of appreciation goes a long way but isn’t it reassuring to know in this ever transient word that someone’s about when you need them? So yes, we all need a mammy. And a papa and the in-laws. And the gin. Then we all rub along just fine.


SWB on all the important stuff



So, as if I need to tell you, it’s pissing down. Of course it is, what with it being July, and who doesn’t remember those sodden summers from childhood? A particular miserable memory of mine was ‘picnic time’ in Ballywalter. Grim wouldn’t be in it. A few dismal ham sandwiches would be assembled, maybe a Jacob’s cream cracker sandwiched with butter. A Penguin biscuit if we were lucky, though usually these were reserved only for break time at school. And we were piled, complaining, into the petrol blue Derby (which was, incidentally an abomination, and will be the subject of a post all of its own) and off we vroomed, to the dizzy heights of Ballywalter, so my mother and nana could take a tour of the ‘factory shop’, which for a child, was where hope went to die.


Inevitably it was raining, so we would be driven to some vantage point from where we watched the clouds gather into something of a rage, and have to remain seated IN THE CAR BECAUSE WHAT IF YOU GET WET? and eat our dreary luncheon fare. My parents had a terrible fear of children being damp, which apparently caused not just the common cold, but likely pleurisy, followed by TB, and then, quite probably death. They weren’t happy unless you thought you were at death’s door.


Then we’d go home, where further boredom would ensue. It was some craic I can tell you, being a child of the eighties in Bangor. That’s not all strictly true, as my mother will doubtless remind me, there was usually a pit-stop in Donaghadee where our lovely aunties would take pity on us and we’d be escorted to the The Cabin for their homemade ambrosia: custard ice cream. Even their large cones were pitifully small but it still saved the day. And what with it being summer, we were permitted to indulge our love of ice cream without fear of it killing us. I’ll elaborate….


To break the journey home from our cousin’s farm near Coleraine, we would stop at Mullin’s ice cream shop in Kilrea. On one notable visit, the helpful server told my brother and me that even the small tubs could hold up to three scoops. Oh, the unbridled joy as we could choose strawberry, chocolate chip and honeycomb. What a thrill, until we got in to the motor with our spoils. “Heaven help us” exclaimed my nana. “Have you ever seen the like?” Now there was no mention of tooth decay, or a tummy ache. No, she jumped straight to heart failure. Nana told us the sorry tale, which I shall try to recount here and replicate the doleful diction. “There was once a man, from the post office. And he went out of an evening, and he had a sweet tooth, and he bought himself a powerful size of an ice cream. And that very evening, he went home and took a pain in his chest. And that was the end of him.” Well. I mean for fuck’s sake, who does that to a child? There was tutting and shaking of heads from my auntie and my mum and the sound of my brother guzzling away because no amount of doom and gloom was going to come between him and his tub of delights. Was it possible to enjoy a frozen treat less? I think I ate a few spoonfuls before like Seamus Heaney, after his encounter with the angry toads ‘I sickened, turned and ran’. Of course I was in the back of the God forsaken Derby so I didn’t actually run anywhere but I retreated inwards to contemplate the perils of ice cream eating of a cold night and whether my death would be lingering, or quick.


This is all a long-winded way of suggesting that you all treat yourselves at Al’s Gelato, which has opened on the Ormeau. I think I’m already his best customer, having sampled almost every flavour already, from his mango sorbet, Bounty bar or Malteaser. Alistair makes the ice-cream himself and has strived to create a coffee bar/crêperie for when it shits it down and everyone’s too foundered for anything cold. It deserves a visit, especially if like me, you’re a person with a distinct lack of imagination when it comes to entertaining youngsters, then this is the hang out for you.


(I started writing this yesterday, as I sipped my usual one shot latte in Kaffe O, watching the raindrops bounce off the pavements. The sun is now beating down and it’s beautiful, while I wait in The Ulster to see if the small one needs a staple to the head after falling off a bench. She looks rightly, and is eating a Haribo and playing as I type. Here’s hoping no staples are required and we can get back in to the garden, although I may contemplate gluing her arse to a seat for the rest of the afternoon.)







SWB needs a hug



I find myself in unchartered territory. Last year, the eldest child was leaving nursery and off to P1. I took that in my stride. (I didn’t take the summer in my stride, trying to entertain two small people who, after years of crèche then nursery were firmly institutionalised, thereby expecting wall-to-wall amusement.)


Call me unsentimental, but I’m not one to bemoan every last vestige of baby hood. To put it crudely, the sooner mine could clean their own arses the better. So they’ve finally lost their dummy? Excellent. Out of nappies and pull-ups? Yeeoooooo. No more reeking stench of ammonia to greet you of a morning. Ability to feed themselves? Result. All these are massive pluses in book, and means they are ready (or more than ready) to move on to the next stage.


Child number 2, to whom I lovingly refer as Father Jack because of her often un-sunny disposition, left pre-school on Friday. And I’m not quite sure I’m fit for the transition. She’ll be grand; I harbour suspicions that she’ll run for presidency someday. But for me, this means severing 5 years of almost daily contact with Hilcrest nursery on Anadale Embankment. I first dropped my eldest there when she was 9 months old, and I went and cried into a plate of mushroom soup in Graffiti on the Ormeau, on her ‘settling-in’ day. I wasn’t relishing the prospect of returning to work and leaving her in full-time day-care. ‘I’m such a bad mother’ I wailed to Louise, who soothed me more than child and assured me it would be fine. I neglected to check my teeth after the soup and when I collected her I must have looked like some medieval wench. (although after listening to the Reith Lectures by Hilary Mantel I now know that most people kept their teeth just fine unless they were punched out in a fight.) Louise again, didn’t pass comment at the blithering idiot I must have appeared to be and my baby was fine, and continued to be so until she left nursery last year and trotted on to P1.


And Louise was there through all the stages of crèche and nursery and in fact was the nursery leader for both the girls. And I’m a little devastated to be losing her. She’s heard it all: having endured all the trials of my working mum years, my building that fucking extension stage, my misguided decision to foster a puppy stage. She lets me come in and read the kids a story or teach them some French when a tiny ember of me wants to feel like a teacher again, (for a fleeting 15 minutes then that’ll do, thank you very much.) When my children have me driven pure demented she sympathises accordingly and assures me they never let me down a bucketful in nursery, thus saving all their tantrums for me.


Nothing makes my day more, than when I trot up the stairs and hear my child chatting and laughing before I clap eyes on them. Or if I creep in quietly and see then utterly engrossed in play. Or see them getting a cuddle or just having the craic with their teachers. When they can be such little tyrants at home it’s uplifting to see them behaving themselves in public.


So yes, I’m a bit gutted. Louise and the rest of the girls have been, without exception, an integral and wonderful part of this first chapter with my children. Tears were shed, less for them, the confident little buddies that they are, and definitely for me, as I sever these ties. So a massive thank you to all the people who make the early years such a special time for both kids and parents. You deserve all the credit. Ahh shit, there I go again, reaching for the Kleenex. If you see me on the Ormeau Road in dark shades you’ll know why. (Let’s face it, it’s hardly likely to be the sunshine).