Monthly Archives:

January 2018


SWB grits her teeth and gets on with it…

I wrote this last night guys and am pleased to say I resisted the grog and took myself to bed early with the wonderful Eleanor Oliphant. It depressed me slightly that someone’s first novel could be full of such sharp, witty prose, but I resolved to just rejoice in her creativity as making comparisons is poor for the soul. To quote Lear: ‘that way madness lies.’ Glorious as the novel is, I’ll still glad that Helen Dunmore posthumously won the Costa Prize for her volume of poetry, Inside the Wave. To write such beautiful, life-affirming words while on one’s deathbed, reminds us that anything is possible.


Now, please do send positive thoughts: my nerves are in fecking tatters.


(Oh and the parents did come up, fed the children, cleaned my sinks and hovered the floor and even scrubbed the minging old grill. They’re a fine pair.)


Here’s last night’s moan…..


Oh Dear God people. I need prayers and positive thoughts by the BUCKET LOAD. I have a teetering tower of papers to process and a looming deadline. I am cranky, I am fraught, and my children are testing me to the limits of my patience. It is actually the older one who is being thran and defiant tonight. Six going on sixteen, she is full of rage and belligerence, and directing her vitriol at me. I had the audacity to suggest that eight o’clock was an appropriate bedtime and met with downright hostility. Finally, after a row and a shouting match I sat on her bed and gave her a cuddle. She says she ‘doesn’t know what’s bothering her,’ but something is afoot. I have work to do and decisions to make and I have just now set my arse upon the sofa and boy, do I have a thirst on me for a large glass of red wine with my beef stew.


Last week, I confess, I cheated on my Dry January challenge, and had a pre-gig tipple before we saw Public Service Broadcasting on Thursday night, and then the tiniest of tiniest glasses on Friday. I’m still mighty pleased with myself though. Two glasses in a month as opposed to in an evening, now that’s what I call progress. But my nerves are in shreds tonight. I shall hoist my sorry self off the settee and direct it towards the yoga mat instead. Perhaps that will shake me from my funk…


The Mothership approves

The Mothership has been in touch via email. She has read the last blog post.

She offered one correction.

‘Lurgi is more common spelling. xx’

I think this is high praise indeed.


SWB gets put right

Finally, it had to happen. The Mothership rings up, aggrieved.

MOTHER: It’s me here. I don’t know why I even go near your blog. It only annoys me. (Note the lack of preamble, barely even a “Hello, how are you?”)

ME: Ach, sure it was just a bit of fun.

MOTHER: I am by now, used to the ridicule, and you putting this notion about that I always ‘do you down’. However, I do not like being made out to be stupid. In front of people too.

ME: Is this about the cold air?

MOTHER: Exactly. Now if you would just amend what you wrote. You know perfectly well, that when one is cold, one is susceptible to colds and flu, because the immune system may be compromised. And that is when these viruses settle in.

ME: Indeed. (As if to prove her point, LSB starts coughing up a lung in the background. He’s been running the legs off himself as usual. He may even have dipped his feet in the wintery chill of the Atlantic on a running club excursion to do Portrush parkrun. I hastily move until he is out of earshot.)

MOTHER: I mean, some people wouldn’t have it.

ME: Have what, a virus?

MOTHER: NO, their child vilifying them on the internet. I’m telling you, I don’t think ANY of my friends would stand it. If their children were to dole out the abuse you give me, I think they would write them out of the will.

ME: But that would show a meanness of spirit and demonstrate that they had  no sense of humour, not like you at all.

MOTHER: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ (Mother tends to go a bit grandiose and quote Shakespeare or the odd Biblical verse when wronged.)

ME: Quite. I have a bit of work to do so I may head on.

MOTHER: Now when do you need us up to mind those children?


And that people, is the joyful thing about my mum and dad. They love to give off and take umbrage, but are always on-hand to scrub my hob and clean my microwave, while entertaining my children.

The Wise Old Elf, I am happy to report, has recovered from his lurgy and has resumed his busy timetable of events, bar perhaps the tennis and the yoga. He has almost returned to his former self, which is just as well as the work I undertake in January has come in and the floors haven’t been vacuumed for a while. I’m sure that counts as the ‘gentle exercise’ he is supposed to undertake….





SWB discovers The Green Bicycle Company

It’s a gloomy Tuesday morning. I’m tired after overdoing it on the exercise front yesterday: walks and runs and Irish Dancing. I’m fed-up buggering about with a short story which reads as though a semi-literate adolescent has penned it thus far.

And then a my phone pings and a photo of my friend Jane pops up. Jane is one of these irrepressibly happy people, which could be irksome if she wasn’t so consistently funny, generous, and above all else, kind. In short, she is THE CRAIC.

She is also the reason I’ve decided to do this Triathlon sprint in May. I swear to God, no one else could have talked me into it, but Jane says , ‘Here, there’s a triathlon in Limavady, I’ve done it, and it’s ok actually,’ and I go ‘Grand! I’m in!’

The triathlon consists of 30 laps in a pool (not open- water so less chance of drowning), a 20k cycle (out and back on a straight road with no traffic so less chance of  being killed) and a 5k run. Well sure, I run all the time. That bit should be grand, apart from the jelly legs from all that has gone before.

Except, I don’t have a bike. Well I do, but not one fit for the purpose. Mine is blue with a lovely big wicker basket for baguettes and bottles of wine. When LSB bought it for me he obviously forgot that we live up a steep hill in Belfast, as opposed to in La Provence.

But no matter! Because Jane has just pointed me in the direction of The Green Bicycle Company, and I’m hoping they can sort me out. I don’t want to spend money I can ill-afford on a brand new bike, so I will take a look at their second hand models. And THIS IS THE BEST BIT, they fix bikes for a bargain price, and if you have old ones which are beyond repair, they will do what they can to recover bits and reuse them. Their aim is to prevent bikes ending up in landfill.

These guys sound like the business, so before you go chucking old rusty bikes in the dump give them a bell.

I’m remarkably cheered up now. Happy Tuesday everyone.


SWB goes Dry, for January anyway

It is the 22nd of the month good people, which means that I am halfway through my Dry January challenge. And I am feeling, wait for it, yes CHIPPER! I know, not a word one would normally associate with a sour wee bastard, but there you have it. LSB is off the quare stuff too, and this has made the experience infinitely more doable. We can be a poor influence on each other, and it all goes a bit Craggy Island round here when it comes to the booze. ‘Sure you’ll take a glass of wine. Just the one sure, a wee drop in your hand. You will, you will, you will.’

I feel I must add here, (just incase you’re about to lift the phone to social services) that we are not a pair of drunks. To use Father Ted as a point of reference again, remember when he offends the Chinese family on the island and looks like a Neo-Nazi? And he has to show the slideshow and the words ‘TED, NOT A RACIST’ flash up to subliminally enter the consciousness of his audience? In a similar vein then, let me stress, ‘SWB, NOT AN ALCOHOLIC’ and ‘LSB, NOT ONE EITHER.’ We took on Dry January because we realised we were drinking a bit too much, a bit too often, and when you have a go counting up the weekly intake in units, they add up so quickly that it’s a bit, well, scary.

So we downed our glasses and channelled our energies into getting healthier, feeling better and saving some money.  And this, we thought, was an ideal time to do it, since January with all its cold and bleakness, can test a person’s resolve. And here is the most interesting thing I’ve found. Because I’ve taken on Dry January and the #LearnuaryNI, I’ve committed to making small changes every day and sticking to them. In short, I have eliminated vagueness. Indecisive by nature, I often resist wholly committing to things, because then I don’t have to fail. Then I can backtrack, telling myself: ‘I hadn’t really committed to it; it was just an idea.’ This time I have cut the bullshit and am actually doing and learning new things. It feels good to be succeeding at something.

I also came to a realisation, or epiphany, if you will. If you are prone to the PLOM (Poor Little Old Me) syndrome, you may find yourself whining: ‘Oh life is sooo hard, I am sooo tired: pass me a drink to get me through this Godforsaken winter.’ When I had this notion in my head, I often felt listless and rubbish. It was the mind-set which had to change; then I addressed the habits which allowed me to indulge it. (Forgive me if I sound preachy but I’m directing this entirely at my own behaviour patterns.)

I’ve started being a bit tough with myself if I find my thoughts going down these particular avenues of doom. ‘SWB,’ I say firmly: ‘Are you currently residing in a refugee camp in Calais?’ No. You are stuck in a traffic jam on the Boucher Road. Your kids will be late for swimming. Big deal.

Or: ‘Are you a Rohingya Muslim who’s been driven from their home?’ No. You’re in good health with a lovely family. Now make a donation via Concern and while you’re at it, have a side order of perspective with your latte.

Tough love is easier when you’re treating your body with respect. We’ve both been reading more, practising yoga and as a result, sleeping better.  We’ve made fewer forays out to dine at the weekends where it would be hard to resist a glass of chilled white loveliness. (We are stony broke, so this was somewhat forced upon us.) Instead, we’ve eaten steaming bowls of curry  with candles lit and the wood-burner going to create ambiance, in front of BBC 4’s Spiral. (I can’t say the severed heads in the current series do much for my appetite but it’s one hell of a show nevertheless.)

I’m training in preparation for The Roe Valley triathlon in May, and I know it’s probably psychological but I already feel leaner. And in my head I feel better: less introspective and A LOT more patient. I can be narky enough without having a hangover to boot, and I have a low tolerance for alcohol these days. (You can read some of my advice on how to manage children and hangovers here.)

I wonder if any of these positive vibes come from what Helen Foster suggests in her book Quit Alcohol (For a Month). The feeling of wellbeing when you have completed a challenge is, she says, because ‘success begets success when it comes to making change, do one thing and you become more confident in your ability to change a second.’ I can definitely relate to this.

LSB and I are planning a meal out in February to celebrate his birthday and our completion of our month of sobriety. I’m looking forward to a glass of Malbec, but I’ll cap it at two. I’m starting to like this fresher version of me. I might try and keep her around a bit longer.





Here’s a podcast featuring SWB on disastrous school trips

Anyone ever wondered what SWB sounds like? Well, wonder no more – here I am telling my Beowulf story at Wednesday night’s Tenx9 event in The Black Box in Belfast.

My story is first up, but listen on for two more fantastic stories from Paul Hutchinson & Máire Grattan all on the theme of ‘Never Again’.

I love how podcasts are like  ‘radio on the move’ as David Gordon said at his brilliant seminar on Friday afternoon at The Ormeau Baths. You can listen while you jog, have a bath or do the housework. So for those out there whose arses rarely hit a seat, this one’s for you.



The Mothership imparts wisdom

Life has been busy in Bangor, since The Wise Old Elf has been poorly and the Mothership has morphed into a cranky Florence Nightingale. He’s on the mend, thankfully, but mother is keeping a close eye. ‘Do you know he was all for driving himself to his Historical Club meeting  and I caught him leaving WITHOUT A HAT? “Oh no you’re not,” I said. “Get a hat on you and I’ll drop you AT THE DOOR.” On she goes: ‘I’ve never met his equal,’ I said to him: “Do you WANT to be ill?”

Then she imparted some sage advice: ‘I cannot emphasise enough that you DO NOT WANT to find yourself in the A&E at the Ulster, under ANY circumstance. The number of people coughing and spluttering all round you. I’m telling you, if you weren’t sick before you went in you would be by the time you left. It’s a wonder I’m as well as I am after the night we spent there.’

My mother has her own notions about why people end up in the Ulster.

Going out NOT properly dressed. ‘I was in ASDA the other day, in January and there was a young fellow in a T-shirt. I mean, is he mad or mental? I felt like saying to him, “You’ll be laid up,” but you never know how advice will go down with strangers.’ Quite.

Breathing in cold air (we hear this A LOT). ‘These RUNNERS that you see, out in the icy cold, gulping in lungfuls of freezing air. That is HOW. YOU. GET. A. CHEST-INFECTION. I’m telling you. Plenty of them in the Ulster: I saw it with my OWN eyes.’

Ill-advised eating habits. ‘People DO NOT appreciate how eating rubbish can actually banjax your innards. Do you remember the night I was in hospital with the chest pains? I thought I was a goner but it was just the indigestion. I haven’t eaten a pork pie since, and if I were you, I wouldn’t eat them either. You’ll only disorder yourself.

With so much commanding her attention at home, the mothership has not had the same time to be monitoring my blog and seeing what I’m putting out on display for public consumption.

So the phone went last night. The tone was a trifle acidic.

MOTHER: I’m after reading the blog post. The one about the film.

ME: Oh yes, it went down well at  Tenx9. People seemed to like it.

MOTHER: Hmmm. Some people like that sort of thing I suppose.

ME: Baffled silence.

MOTHER: Anyway, you should know there’s a semi-colon in the third paragraph where a comma would suffice. And you’ve spelt ‘bestiality’ wrongly in the last sentence. There’s a few other mistakes but I’ve forgotten what they are now.

ME: Ah. Thank you.

MOTHER: I’m away on now to make your father a cup of tea.

I can only assume that my mother thinks that I was entirely to blame for the shit-show that was the school outing I organised, or if not, that I should at least keep quiet about the ridiculous things that happen to me.

Until next time everyone, keep yourselves wrapped up, breath only warm air, and FFS, keep out of the Ulster.




SWB on Nordic Myths at Tenx9

Tonight was a cracker of an evening at Tenx9   

I feel privileged to shared a story at tonight’s event. The bravery and honesty of the readers never ceases to amaze me. And while some looked back on painful times, and others to an uncertain futures, I lowered the tone with a tale from my teaching days. I hope you enjoy it, and who knows, it was a good while ago now- you may even have been one of the poor traumatised youngsters…

(A big thank you to all my lovely friends in the audience, and especially to Malachi O’Doherty who was forced to endure my driving and much confusion over parking tickets.) 

‘Never Again’

Imagine you are a substitute teacher in a good grammar school in Belfast. There may be a permanent position coming up, so you find yourself in everything but the crib, trying to make a good impression. In teaching, I have learnt, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend preparing your A-level texts, or what innovative strategies you employ to bring the GCSE poetry syllabus to life. No. You prove your worth by staying after school to run round a muddy field with the cross-country club, or by injecting some life into the tired debating society. Just accept it. If anyone is going to be hurtling over the Glenshane Pass of a frosty night in February, to watch a piss-poor production of A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s going to be you.


But, to really get ahead, you need to show initiative and organise a trip, some class of an outing that will be both informative and enjoyable. So how my heart leapt when I saw that in the year eight English textbook was a chapter devoted to the Anglo-Saxon myth Beowulf, based on a translation by our very own Seamus Heaney. And how even more serendipitous, that the QFT, my favourite cinema in Ireland if not THE ENTIRE WORLD was showing a film, of said story; AND, since it was being screened as part of their film festival it would be shown as a matinee! It appeared that the god of newly qualified teachers was shining down on me.


This was truly excellent, I thought. Indeed, why stop at one class? How terrible it would be for the others who would miss out on this edifying experience. I’d organise for all the first year classes to go. So I booked the Belfast Bus Company and organised one hundred and fifty concession tickets for the QFT. I typed the letter to the parents, collected the reply slips, counted and transferred the money. I recruited the necessary number of staff needed for the ratio of children, and left cover for my classes that afternoon. (Should you ever find yourself dithering over whether to buy the £5 bottle of wine for the English teacher at Christmas or the £20 bottle, always go for the latter. Trust me, they’ve f**king earned it.)


Finally, we boarded the buses and off we set. There was a sense of excitement in the air, as we disembarked at College Green and the little ones descended, and gathered, locust like at the QFT bar and bought them clean out of Revels and Maltesers. I looked on, with a beatific smile. This was no typical excursion to a generic multiplex with its evil blue slushies and greasy popcorn. I had organised, a truly different cultural experience for these children, one that they would never forget. In future years they would say ‘Remember when our English teacher organised the trip to a proper art-house cinema and ignited within us a passion for the arts? It was all down to her.’


In we went, and conscientious bunch that we were, the teachers all spread out round the room so we could monitor the children’s behaviour, lest any other member of the audience be disturbed. As I settled in my seat I smiled over at my friend Anne. All the hard work was done and I could, as they say, sit back enjoy the show.


I’d studied the text in university and I knew that there was a fair amount of slaughter and savagery, but I had every faith that this production, with its PG certificate, would be entirely suitable viewing for my young charges.


I was wrong. In the opening scene, marauding Danes come stampeding towards a odd-looking bearded fellow and his even odder looking young son. The son, who we come to know as Grendel, hides for his life but watches his father being thrown to his death onto the rocks below. The small boy is spared, but decides he is going nowhere without his father’s head as a keepsake. He clambers down the cliff and does a bit of light hacking, so he can obtain his ghoulish momento.


It was all very brutal and shocking. I always looked to Anne to keep me right and I stared over, alarmed. She made a hand movement as if batting away a fly. Anne thought I had a tendency to overreact at the best of times.


But more battle scenes ensued with considerable blood and gore. The small odd looking boy turns out to be, in fact a troll, and all grown up, he sets to murdering all round him to avenge his father. Beowulf, the mighty Geat warrior, comes to the aid of the Danes, who are no match for the ferocious troll. Many more heads are lopped off and men disembowelled, all in graphic detail. Small girls leave enmasse to go to the toilet for a good puke. I looked at Anne again and she smiled in a ‘We’re still all grand here’ sort of a way. I tried to catch the eye of a senior teacher but he had parked himself at the rear of the auditorium and I couldn’t see him in the dark.


It wasn’t just the violence which was shocking. The language was also very coarse indeed, and there was one deeply regrettable reference to bestiality, which I prayed went straight over the heads of the first-formers. Again, I looked at Anne, and she gesticulated as much, waving her hands over her ears. Now just in case you think I’m exaggerating, I did some googling to find reviews of the film. William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, “The film’s near-fatal flaw is its dialogue, which had to be invented wholesale from the Old English text. With more overuse of the F-word than any two Samuel L. Jackson movies, it’s a big mistake.” Indeed it was.


I looked at my watch and saw to my enormous relief that there was only about ten minutes remaining until we could leave and I could start drafting a letter of apology to the parents. But then, in a starling departure from the original text, the screenwriters decided to add a little spice. An action film just isn’t an action film without a sex scene now is it? And as the witch Selma explains to Beowulf that she has a bastard son, we get a flashback to his conception, with none other than Grendel, the troll. My year eights were innocent, but they were neither blind nor stupid. There were very audible gasps and titters.


I looked over at Anne. This time there was no reassuring smile. She shrugged and lifted her palms upwards in the sort of gesture that said, this is now in the hands of God and please let’s pray that none of the parents of these children are high up in the DUP.


I leapt from my seat and ran into the lobby. ‘I have an entire first form in that cinema and they have just watched a troll and a witch having SEX,’ I yelled at the chap on reception. He looked unperturbed. ‘Dead lice hanging off him’, as my mother-in-law would say. He reached over to a guide, then lethargically looked at his computer. ‘Ah yes,’ he said. ‘Says here it’s certificate fifteen, not a PG after all.’ To go back to the reviews, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle says,

Beowulf & Grendel, is full of anachronistic cursing, dark humor and lots of hairy, homely, filthy-looking people. The filmmakers get their point across in about 30 minutes, leaving 70 more for severed heads and period charm.’


As I walked back into the auditorium the credits had startled to roll. Some children looked utterly delighted with themselves, others seemed a bit stunned. I had nothing left to give. I took the window seat at the front of the bus and felt its coldness beside my face. The children were in a state of high animation, although a few did stop and say ‘Are you ok Miss?’ which was rather sweet. The teachers walked up and down the aisles, showing them the QFT programme where the PG rating was clearly, indeed prominently displayed. ‘Miss would never have taken you to see that film had she know what was in it,’ I heard them say to reassure the kids.


I can safely admit that I wasn’t right for weeks afterwards. But those other teachers, if ever they were in need of alternative employment, could get careers as spin-doctors. There was not one single letter from a parent.


After school that day we sojourned to a local bar, where I consumed a glass of red wine the size of my head, in record time. It’s not everyday, children are subjected to graphic images of torture, references to bestiality and finally troll sex, all on your watch. Never again, said I, will I organise another bloody trip.




SWB looks lively

I am getting off my ass this January and rebooting my inner-programming. Everyday, I am learning something new, and recording this digitally. This initiative is called #learnuaryNI and was launched by a local marketing expert, Christine Watson. I’ve been in need of such a reboot for a while now.


Somewhere deep within my psyche, from a time which I can’t pinpoint, a feeling took root that I was just a bit shit. I disguised this with bravado, or humour, or basked in the reflected glory of some of my friends, but always, there lurked a great fear. ‘Don’t give me any responsibility!’ the voices said. ‘I don’t want it, because for certain I shall FUCK IT UP.’ Happily, for all concerned, I am learning to challenge these thoughts.


One way is to quieten the noises in your head and just to listen. On Saturday morning at Ormeau Park, I was sorting parkrun tokens, slowly, and counting them twice because I am not in my natural element with numbers. I looked up and saw that nobody else was way ahead of me: the piles of sorted tokens in front of me, were the same size as those in front of everyone else. Another parkrun devotee sat down beside me. If she’s not running herself she is marshalling, or scanning at the finish line, with a ready smile. ‘I hate counting tokens,’ she said. ‘I can’t count to save my life.’ She laughed and sipped her coffee.


Her lightness in spirit made me feel exonerated. I always think it’s just me who can’t do things. It’s just me who thinks they can’t count, (I got a B in GCSE Maths, I can’t be THAT bad.) It’s just me who stalls at red lights; who puts delicates on a boil wash by accident; who loses their M&S coupons so my points remain at zero when I’ve spent enough in their store over the years to settle the national debt of Greece. It’s just me who can’t get on the WiFi; who finds important e-mails in the junk three weeks late; who realizes it’s PE day and the kit is in the wash.


I have a good friend who happens to be a doctor. Her capacity for kindness seems infinite and she has a good smattering of common sense too. But when I start my usual ‘I’m not wise, I’m half mad’ sort of patter, she has absolutely no patience. ‘That doesn’t make you mad, that makes you human,’ she will say, just about resisting the urge to roll her eyes at me and call me a cretin. I find this enormously comforting and it stops me wittering on about shit so our chat can move on to more interesting topics.


I wonder at what stage this evil little goblin took charge of the controls in my grey matter, pushing the buttons that drip-fed this negativity. I need to break that goblin’s fingers.


For years these voices have said: you are stupid, you look shit; you can’t run; HA HA HA HA, think you can write? Oh how it rolled about with mirth at that one, the little shite. In short, the goblin said, ‘you aren’t good enough.’ Regardless of the fact I came from a secure family, had great friends and went on to meet LSB and have children of my own, the malign voices were still chuntering on in the background.


But, I’m rather fed up with them. And this January I have made it my business to be more positive. Eleven days in and I’ve stayed true to my commitment. I’ve written a little bit, everyday. I haven’t poured a large glass of wine in the evenings because I want to be productive, instead of doing what is easier and familiar. Instead of being intimidated, I have started asking people questions. Yesterday at the pool while my kids had a lesson, I noticed another teacher who was waiting for her pupil to arrive. ‘If she didn’t mind,’ I asked, ‘would she give me some hints on my front crawl?’ She* didn’t mind at all, and told me three ways I could improve and conserve my strength. (I wasted energy on my stroke and held myself back, which seemed to be a metaphor for life in general.)


So instead of saying ‘I can’t,’ I’m going to say ‘I’m learning’. I want to be open, receptive, and less full of fear.


My biggest bugbear is technology, so I have signed up to a class on podcasts in the Ormeau Baths next Friday. The former me would have listened to the voice which said ‘What in the name of God would you do that for? You’ll look like a right mug.’ It may have a point but I’m not giving that voice air-time and I’m going. It’s free and open to all, so why wouldn’t I?


As a caveat, I should say that I didn’t wake up on January the first and decide to change my personality. These thoughts have been ruminating for some time but I’m now, conscientiously, putting them into action. I’ve been reading encouraging words from Anne Lamott and listening to Ted Talks, one of which, ‘How to make stress your friend’ by Kelly McGonigal, was particularly useful in helping me to recognise triggers for stress and manipulate these to my advantage. The most salient point I took is recognising that everyone faces stress and negative thoughts, and by acknowledging this it shakes you out of the self-indulgent ‘Poor Little Old Me’ mind-set and encourages you to just get on with it.


So readers, I’m knackered from all the exercise I’m doing and the usual business of rearing children and trying to write and sort out this FRIGGING house; but I’m chipper. Ish. Or more than usual anyway.


*Her name is Lesley and she gives private lessons over at the Olympia. Lovely woman.


SWB is tested.

You may recall, how back in November I put up a post about spending half term with the children. It was Halloween and since LSB was off running 26 miles for the craic, and later lying around in an incapacitated state, I did it mostly solo. I was in high spirits, ebullient even, because our time together had been enjoyable, edifying, almost relaxing. This parenting lark, I remember thinking; I have it nailed. One simply needs to plan pleasant activities and adopt a positive mind-set. How happy was my heart, and how at peace my soul. And how short-lived was my euphoria (not to mention my naiveté). Fast forward two months and my positivity has shrivelled to vinegary ire. ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT NOW? CLEAR AWAY OFF!’ I am more likely to be heard telling my kids, as opposed to ‘Sit down beside me here and tell me about your colouring-in.’

These past few days, with the exception of some hours ‘out on parole’ with my friends, have been the longest of my life.  I have, on two occasions, actually hidden in our spare bedroom to salvage the few remaining shards of my sanity. My children have been like a pair of springer spaniels on acid. It is hard to avoid cliché because they have, literally, been bouncing off the walls. I have not managed an uninterrupted shower, or, for that matter, a bowel movement, for the best part of a fortnight.

I ring my mother to have a good old yap.

MOTHER: It’s this weather. Desperate altogether.  They can’t get out you see, to run off the energy.

ME: You are wrong there. They DO get out. They have puddle suits, and Ormeau Park may as well be an extension of our garden. And we did park run in Wallace on Christmas Day. They are ALWAYS out.

MOTHER: CHRISTMAS DAY? That was a monsoon. Well then, it’s no wonder then that they’re in poor form. They probably have bad colds, from being subjected to the elements.

ME: I don’t think so. I think they are just overindulged.

MOTHER: (Ignores previous comment as my children can do no wrong.) You have no sense. Pleurisy: that’ll be the next of it. Taking children out and it bucketing on them. There will be a day of reckoning, you’ll see.

ME: Deep sigh and wishing to God that it was February so that I could have a drink.

Back to my rant. There have been play dates and swimming and trips out. Baking, stories, even a little bit of schoolwork. Santa brought the older one a kids’ digital camera that excited her beyond measure. The cat is less enthused, for never has there been a more photographed feline. The more I think about the activities and time spent together, the more virtuous I feel. And FYI, I’m not one of those infernal ‘helicopter parents’ who breathes down their children’s necks all day. Hell no. They are free to watch TV and play and draw and off I fuck with a cup of tea and leave them to it. But without the daily routine of school they are anchorless and agitated. If I have the audacity to set my arse upon a seat they develop an acute need for something and cease not to shout until I attend them. Tidying has been an anathema to them, and rows have ensued at its very mention. I fear that my aching back and hips may be less to do with the gruelling 9 (mostly up-hill) run which constituted the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker and more to do with the ‘bend, lift, straighten and repeat’ which has been my occupation in the house, picking up toys and laundry.

LSB has admitted that he may well emerge with PTSD following this holiday, and that a trigger point may be any rendition of ‘Away in a Manger.’ It is the newest song in their repertoire and they sing or hum it CONTSTANTLY. As if to prove my point the older one has just wandered past, singing it away to herself. I found LSB slumped over the breakfast bar the other morning staring hollow-eyed into his coffee. ‘Who’s died?’ I asked him, passing with an armful of laundry. ‘No one yet but someone will soon if they don’t stop singing that FUCKING song.’ he replied. Now anyone who knows my husband can testify that he’s a civil sort of a fellow and this is most unlike him. Alas, these holidays have tested us all.

On Christmas Eve we were on the Ormeau and they were belting out their favourite carol as two auld dolls went past. ‘Lovely’ they said. Aren’t they just lovely?’ I smiled, in a watery sort of way, not wishing to disabuse them of the notion. Three seconds later and the small one was substituting every fourth word for a burp. I’m telling you, they are pernicious little menaces.

I have subjected myself to intense self-scrutiny. The phrase ‘Why am I so shit at this?’ whirls around in my head. The noise, the clutter, the ceaseless clambering over me like some sort of possessed puppies, is relentless. I am trying to make decisions about life and career and in this state of flux I can find no answers.  It is comforting to know that it is not just me either, because I have caught the eye of other parents and they too have the shell-shocked look of those who have plumbed the depth of the trenches these last two weeks. But at least there is hope, for tomorrow they are back to school and I shall exhale. And a week in and LSB and I are still OFF THE DRINK.

Seven days without the quare stuff

and with circumstance so grim

taking tea instead of craft beer

and tonic minus gin.