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December 2018


SWB is 8 years married today!

The winter of 2010 was an absolute frigger. I blame myself entirely, because I had claimed to my mother that the snow was never that bad in Belfast and thus Christmas would be the perfect time for a wedding. However, despite snow and buggered heating and busted pipes, we managed it, and if I was in shopping mode I’d be away off to buy something cast in bronze (which is supposedly the eighth year symbol). I can’t be arsed obviously, but should you be bored in this festive lull twixt Christmas and New Year, when days slush and slide into one, you can have a listen to me on the podcast from the Tenx9 podcast, telling the story of how our wedding very nearly didn’t happen. Or you can read the transcript here:

Tenx9- Christmas 19th December 2018

‘So when do you think you’ll get married?’ everyone asked when we got engaged. ‘Christmas,’ we said. ‘A nice festive wedding, during that lull before New Year’. ‘Terrible time altogether,’ sniffed my Mother. ‘You can’t be asking people to drive through ice and snow. A dreadful imposition. They may not even come at all.’

Never one to take advice we booked the 28th December. I shrugged off mum’s dark mutterings. Her family was prone to gloom. ‘Seriously?’ I said. ‘When does it ever snow that much in Ireland?’ Well, that provoked the weather gods. ‘We’ll show you,’ they said, (the bastards). This was the winter of 2010. Snow fell in relentless drifts, and the city slowed to a snarled up standstill. Even breathing felt like a chore, my lungs unused to the savage bite in the air. In my head I had seen roaring fires, sparkling dresses, and cups of steaming mulled wine. Now I saw icy roads, ambulances and pneumonia. 

Travellers languished in all major airports. My mother had to try hard to avoid saying ‘I told you so.’ I held my breath and prayed for global warming to kick in. 

On Christmas Eve my lovely bridesmaid booked me a surprise treat at a beauty salon in Belmont. ‘Whatever you do, don’t flush the toilet,’ they said by way of greeting when we went in. ‘All the pipes are frozen, and we can’t turn on the boiler.’  We sat with blankets slung around our shoulders like Russian Babuskas while they manicured our nails to the hum of blow heaters. In hind-sight we should have cancelled the massage, in a freezing room upstairs. ‘My hands might feel a bit cold,’ warned the therapist, as I jumped 3 feet when she placed her icy palms on my shoulders. We left tenser than when we’d gone in, but at least our nails were done. 

Feeling anxious I rang the hotel and a cheery voice reassured us that they had running water, the heating still worked and as such we were good. I started to exhale. It might, after all, be alright. One by one, our guests arrived from abroad. Robert from Montreal was staying us. His flight had been rerouted to Dublin, and he’d been bussed up to Belfast, jet-lagged and frozen. A few whiskeys cheered him initially, but when he woke at noon on Christmas Day he wasn’t in the form for the artisan sausages I’d bought at the Continental Market. ‘I’ve got the flu,’ he grumbled, emitting loud trumpeting sneezes. ‘Why the hell did you have to get married in the depth of winter,’ he moaned. ‘I’ve just come from one frozen shit-hole to another.’ 

We had a pared down and somewhat subdued Christmas Dinner, since my mother was obsessed by operation wedding cake. My parents never swore, or took the Lord’s name in vain. Occasionally dad said ‘Damn it!’ or ‘For frigg’s sake.’ When I dropped a clanger, mum was most disapproving. ‘Language of the gutter, Helen!’ So when I heard a series of shit shit shits issuing from the kitchen, I feared the worst. The bad thing about making a cake at Christmas is that when it breaks in half, you can’t depend on your local Co-op having baking powder to make another. My mother had never, in a lifetime of baking, run out of baking powder, but since everything else was going tits up, this did too. My fiancé came down to spend Boxing Day. The mood was dismal, with last minute cake related crisis and flu ridden guests. Just as in Bethlehem, there wasn’t much room, and he CERTAINLY wasn’t going to be sharing my bed. We weren’t THAT sort of family. The poor cratur spent the night in the baltic front room, the wind swooshing down the chimney and my brother coming in a bit pissed and sitting on him at 2am. 

We arrived at the hotel the day before the wedding, so I could wake up at the venue, relaxed and stress-free. I imagined swishing into the hotel in my new coat, sipping a glass of something chilled, with twinkly lights in the background. ‘Hello! I’m the bride, all ready for tomorrow,’ I told the frazzled looking receptionist at check in. ‘Ohhhh, right,’ she said. ‘You’re the otherwedding.’ Everywhere there were small stampeding children, like errant elves, running amok while their parents looked on, oblivious. 

Said children seemed magnetically drawn to us for the rest of the evening. Their parents looked as though they’d hit the bottle on Christmas of 2003, and hadn’t stopped. I sought refuge in the sauvignon blanc at the table. ‘Can’t hear a bloody thing,’ said Robert. He got quite binned too. In short, it was all quite fraught. 

The snow had stopped but a thick fog and mizzly rain had descended on the big day itself. I’d hoped to have a jog before breakfast.  ‘You’ll not be heading out in that,’ said my mother, ‘if you don’t want to end up in the Royal.’ I decided to have a swim instead, when the hairdresser arrived, earlier than expected. It was 9-45: I wasn’t due to get married until 2-30. ‘That road is very dangerous.  Ring your guests and warn them, you don’t want anyone killed on the way here,’ she said. No, I certainly didn’t. For a person prone to anxiety, this news stressed me out a great deal. I sat, texting away while she curled my hair. ‘Take care on the corner! Mind the fog!’ until a pal put an end it to, ringing to say they were grown ups and could navigate their way safely. ‘And remember she said, it’s your fucking wedding day!’

I was ready by half 11. That left 3 hours to sit about, and wonder what else could go wrong. I opened a bottle of champagne and texted my husband to be, but there was no answer. I drank some more. 

The photographers arrived. ‘Have you seen the groom? Can’t find him anywhere! they said. ‘Oh fuck,’ I said. ‘Helen!’ said my mother.  I imagined the little Micra, which he’d only just learnt to drive, upturned on the road en-route to the hotel. I saw the headlines: ‘Bridegroom in pile up on frosty country lane, because selfish fiancé wanted a Christmas wedding.’ 

I sent my bridesmaid on a recce, and she returned to say all was well. Stevey had woken to no heat or hot water that morning, and had to shower at a friend’s. He’d arrived some time ago and was chatting to the vicar in a quiet corner. When I finally walked up the aisle, tears tripping me from excess bubbly and relief, he was looking rock-star handsome with his black hair teased into curls. The service itself gives me goose-bumps to this day. ‘You’re gorgeous, so you are,’ I slurred. ‘Let me fetch you drink,’ asked my new husband, when we’d done the line-up. ‘Please don’t,’ I replied, ‘I think I’m already quite drunk.’ I can tell you now that champagne doesn’t quell your nerves, and only made me less able to tolerate the ‘other’ wedding, whose inebriated guests Stevey at one point had to bounce off the dance floor. The band was late, the meat was tough and at one point the electricity cut out.  However, if I was having a bad day, the other bride was having a worse one. I may have been drunk, but at least I wasn’t pregnant, or so I heard later from friends who’d encountered her in the toilets, having the most ferocious row with her mother. Aunties and cousins then piled in to offer advice and pour themselves large vodkas from quarter bottles in their handbags. ‘I could write a play about this,’ said one of my writer friends, all delighted.  It could be called ‘Stories from around the cistern.’ 

All in all, it may have been one of the most strained experiences of my life: my Christmas wedding turning into a holiday special of Eastenders, or Shameless. I dreamt of renewing our vows in the Maldives, but even that’s been marred by tales of human rights abuses and our very own crooked MPs.  However, Stevey and I celebrate our eighth anniversary in just over a week. We don’t need another ceremony to celebrate our union, and since Christmas is a time of miracles, we rejoice in the fact that we found each other at all, in this, the most topsy-turvy of worlds. 


SWB feels less festive and more fury

The many faces of The Small Child

I’m NOT EATING THIS RUBBISH! says the Small Child. She mimes taping her mouth and sealing it with an imaginary padlock which she puts in a non-existent pocket. She points at the plate of shepherd’s pie and broccoli and shakes her head in disgust. The other one joins in. ‘Yes; it’s a DISGUSTING dinner. You always make us DISGUSTING dinners. So there.’ Down goes the fork.

We’d already had one almighty row because I made them turn off ‘Horrid Henry’, as tidying the kitchen is a hideous enough task without having that furore in the background. The Older One says icily, ‘You’ve already done ONE awful thing to us once today, making us turn off our programme.’ And, now, she goes on, stabbing an aldente broccoli floret with her fork, ‘you’re making us eat THIS.’

Do you remember Shirley Valentine? Well this was reminiscent of the scene where Pauline Collins gives her screen husband eggs and chips for his dinner instead of steak, which she’s fed to her neighbour’s vegetarian dog out of pity. ‘I’m not eating shite,’ he explodes, sticking his finger in the yolk to emphasis his point, before shoving it violently so it ends up in her lap.  

I lose the head. I feel as though I have raised two little tyrants. ‘Fine!’ I yell. ‘Bed! And you better hope Cyril isn’t flying past because this will NOT go down well.’ Cyril and his twin Cedric are two of Santa’s seagulls who patrol the local environs, reporting back to Himself at The North Pole with behavioural updates. Last year, Cedric wrote my children a lovely letter which included tickets to the panto as a pre-holiday incentive not to be little shits. Clearly it was remiss of him not to call in advance this year.

‘Fine then, I’ll eat it!’ The older one tucks in. She has a good auld go at it too. The Small Child still won’t budge. ‘I wanted sausages,’ she sobs. MAKE ME SAUSAGES.’ You don’t even LIKE sausages,’ I say in a mystified tone. ‘Mum has a point,’ says her sister, ruminatively chewing some of the pie.  Obviously worried that they’ll be no presents and that by association she’ll be scuppered come Tuesday morning, she has a brainwave. ‘This is a SHEPHERD’S pie, and you were a SHEPHERD in the Nativity, so this is part of you, and you, are part of it.’ I’m amazed. She delivers this information like an explanation of the Holy Trinity. This seems to resonate with The Small Child, and I get her to shovel a few mouthfuls into her disgruntled little face. 

Fatigue, I think, is the problem, combined with some serious ‘over-funning’ which I feel, deserves a mention in the dictionary as a compound verb to describe what befalls children during the holidays. This afternoon we went to see ‘Alice in the Wonderful’ in the Lyric. (First –rate acting and singing but FFS, 2 hours is just too long for a panto. 45 minutes, interval, another 30 mins and bang, you’re done. That’s the only way with little kids, I’m telling you. Leave them wanting more and their parents not wanting to mainline the gin.)

Last night we visited the Christmas Market where they whirled around on the carousel, crunched on churros, and went for slides on Royal Avenue. 

Let this be a lesson to you folks.  Dole out your treats and organise your adventures sparingly. We all need to get a bit more Victorian I think, and rein in the craic, before we’re landed with odious little despots. I’m away to get an early night so I can get to town nice and early to return some Santa gifts. That’ll show ‘em. 😉


SWB on the Christmas Countdown

SWB is back and sourer than ever and it’s FRIGGING CHRISTMAS SHOPPING, that has me thus irked. Why so riled, you may wonder, after having been so earnest and eco-conscious.  ‘I shall just buy a voucher for a hotel, and spend our money on experiences, as opposed to things.’ Yes that was me, I can’t deny it. But I can’t have the weans waking up to feck all on the big day can I? ‘Happy Christmas! Santa’s been, and he left a scooter and his voucher for a night in a hotel in January and nothing else!’  Of course Santa didn’t get his ass in gear and organise the night away on time, so anything left was hideously overpriced. Can you imagine it the disappointment on the wee faces. ‘Yes yes, all your friends are waking up to a mountain of gifts but no, you aren’t because your mother has taken agin ‘stuff’ and can’t be having any more clutter or what she deems to be ‘plastic shite.’

Speaking of the latter, I called into Smyths the other day with the intention of  buying them a doll each. No sooner was I in than a large woman with a trolley almost bulldozed me over. She could hardly see over the top of the teetering tower of crap that she was pushing towards the till. Threatening to tumble out was a rake of LOL doll paraphernalia, the biggest of which was a ‘house’: ‘L.O.L. Surprise! Over 85 surprises!‘ said the box.  I think the surprise will be on you lady, when you tear open your credit card bill in January and it dawns on you that you spent £179.99 on a big tacky piece of insubstantial nonsense. I looked in detail at the item when I went home, to see what exactly one got for their £180 quid. Bugger all, would be my opinion. It has one ‘working elevator’ (we’ll give that a week) and comes with ‘DOLL,  LIL’ SISTER and PET!’  One birthday a child bought my daughter a doll, and as all the wrapping paper fell away to reveal tiny bits of inconsequential nothingness, even she seemed to concede it was a total take on. 

Back to the dolls then. I did some mental calculations and worked out the girls have AT LEAST fifteen dolls between them, and that’s not even including Barbies. My front room has been overtaken by a veritable SEA of cuddly toys, because they seem to gather these at a rate of about one a week. Each.  Their father booked a visit to Dippy at the Museum a few weeks ago, at which they were bored rigid. ‘Oh,’ they said. ‘Is that it?’  It reminded me of a time when an elderly relative took his cousin from afar to see the Giant’s Causeway thinking he’d love it. ‘Pile of rocks,’ said the cousin. ‘Pile of bones,’ said the children, except we later discovered that the replica was only plaster-cast. We’d all been duped, and LSB took it particularly to heart. ‘Everything I know is a lie,’ he said, almost descending into existential angst. He’s prone to that. To appease the children, he dropped thirty quid on two stuffed dinosaurs, each wearing a t-shirt. ‘They weren’t expensive,’ he assured me, but I found the receipt when I was emptying his pockets to wash his jeans. No flies on me, hell no. He gets away with nothing.  

Back to Smyths, and the awfulness of it. I looked in the games section for some Christmas Day amusement. Well that was an education I can tell you. Have you seen the shit they’re churning out now as entertainment? And I’m using the word ‘shit’ literally here as there’s one called ‘Flushin’ Frenzy’. It involves a plunger, so perfect for the wannabe plumber in your life. Or how about ‘Doggy Do’? Doggy loves his treat but when he poops you scoop.’ At least that one carries a valuable environmental message, but personally I could live without it after a turkey dinner. And then, wait for it: ‘Pimple Pete.’ I mean for fuck’s sake.   Toys based entirely around dogs voiding their bowels and squeezing spots? Is this really where we’re at?  There’s no end to the scatological theme. Have you seen the “Poopsie Surprise Unicorns?’ Vile, potbellied, alien looking creatures, which poop slime. £50 you have to pay for that bit of tat. I feel a bit sick at the thought.

If you happened to be in Smyths on Tuesday morning, and saw a woman with a pained expression, like she trying to pass a kidney stone, it was probably me. 

PS. Later this afternoon, before posting this, I went into town. It was actually bearable (I know, I was surprised too.) I found some colouring on stuff for the kids and a few small toys, none of which had anything to do with poo. I picked up a few delightful items in St George’s Market, and then packed the whole lot onto a Belfast Bike and peddled up the road. It was mild and pleasant upon the bike, and I persuaded the husband to take me and the kids for dinner in Shed. It turned into a lovely evening, and helped banish all thoughts of defecating toys from my mind. Happy Christmas y’all. 


SWB on rainy days

How do you spot a tourist in Belfast? No, this isn’t some riddle you’d find in your cracker after your Christmas dinner. Shall I tell you? When it’s pissing down of a Wednesday afternoon at the Continental Market, the tourists are the only ones who have donned appropriate attire for the weather. The Lonely Planet guide, dutifully clasped in their hand, informs them that since it rains for at least 200 days a year in Ireland, it’s most likely they’re going to be on the receiving end of a downpour. ‘Bring your umbrellas!’ it instructs, and the clever foreigners also bring their rain macks because they’ve read that it can get kinda blustery and they don’t want to be standing like a tube under a battered brolly.

The Norn Iron populace though, exists in a perpetual state of denial about the rain. ‘Sure it’s just a wee shower,’ most of them say. ‘Why would you bother with a raincoat or anything of that nature? Just a quick dash from the bus into work anyway.’ Then lunch time rolls round and they decide they can’t resist a kangaroo burger from the market and eat it standing under a stall, water dripping from their noses onto their chargrilled marsupial.

And it’s the look of them, standing there, soaked, and utterly raging about it. ‘Always lashing in this fucking country,’ I heard a chap remark to his mate, as they stood outside a Centra having a coffee one wet morning last week. Coatless, he was too, or might as well have been, the futtery wee jacket he had on him.

I can’t decide whether people are optimistic or stupid. Hard to say.

We’ve no more wit when abroad, and I’ll use my husband to illustrate the point. I spent the summer of 2008 in Madrid and he joined me for a few days. Save buying some short sleeved shorts for the occasion, he arrived minus sun glasses, sandals or shorts and there was also a lack of sun-cream or protective hat. A quick trip to El Corte Ingles quickly ensued. I’m just after asking him if he owned a waterproof coat or umbrella before he met me. He shook his head. This is man who used to walk everywhere, because of an aversion to buses.

There was a lovely teacher in the last school where I taught, and he was forever traipsing out to bus duty in all weather, wearing a woollen coat, (not known for their waterproof qualities.) He was scant of hair and getting on in years and it used to concern me greatly. I couldn’t help myself one day. ‘You’ll not be well,’ I said, ‘Please, do get a hat, before you get a foundering.’ I don’t think he was overly impressed: I was only in the school 5 minutes and there I was, doling out wardrobe advice, and him a Vice Principal too. He continued to stand out, like King Lear, unbonneted and blasted upon the heath, until he retired.

Of course I can’t talk, having been equally ill-prepared at times. I remember temping once in a prestigious architect’s office on Bedford Street. I was running late, and had left the house in a rush. What had begun as a light mizzle gathered itself into a near monsoon, as I beetled towards the town. I’d only a flimsy suit on me from Next, and was unprepared for the tricks the capricious weather gods had up their sleeves. Head down, I was cantering along amid a sea of sodden folk, when suddenly they parted before me. A bill board had blown down and lay on the footpath.  Given my tardiness (and lack of sense) I thought I’d just walk over the top of it. What I didn’t appreciate was that when billboards are wet, they are exceedingly slippery. What a tumble I took. There was a moment when I was airborne entirely, before I came crashing down. It gave me quite a fright, and I wonder if  perhaps I didn’t sustain a mild concussion. Certainly my attempts later that day to type were somewhat impaired. I recall the senior partner almost recoiling in shock when I arrived in my bedraggled state at his practice. ‘What in the hell have Grafton sent me this time,’ his eyes said as shook my hand, before I took my little drenched self off to the loos to wring out my trousers.

So do yourselves a favour, Sour Wee Readers, and pop a rain coat and hats and gloves on your Christmas list. What with global warming, our seasons are only going to get more erratic, but with wellies and ponchos at the ready, we’ll be well fit for it.



It’s only the 7th December but already I may have hit PEAK OVERWHELM, at twenty-five past eight in the morning, to be precise. ‘We need to leave NOW,’ insists the small child, ‘We have to get into the hall! First thing! Can’t be late!’

It is turning into a high-octane sort of a breakfast; with much ‘Fa-la-la-la-ing,’ recitation of lines and jigging about. This can only mean that it’s NATIVITY TIME AGAIN.

The Older one has requested a smoothie, and I have acquiesced, chopping pineapple and squeezing oranges. Since they’ve both succumbed to a virulent strain of the cold again, I’m whizzing up the citrus fruits without complaint, to up their intake of Vitamin C.

‘Where’s my flamingo dress?’ she demands, spraying me with fruity, yogurty goodness. ‘Your WHAT?’ I reply, as I use my donkey cutter to make their sandwiches into  appealing shapes, so they might actually eat them.  ‘My flamingo dress,’ she repeats wearily, as though I’m some class of a half-wit.  ‘I brought it home last week.’

‘Oh crap,’ I say, (see how I’ve learnt to moderate my language my language a tiny bit?) ’Your flamenco dress.’

Two weeks ago, upon learning that in their ‘Strictly themed Nativity’ my child would be dancing the tango, I located said dress, popped it in a bag complete with matching hair accoutrements, LABELLED IT and sent it into school. I was most proud of my organisation skills.  ‘Excellent, that’s JUST the thing,’ said her teacher before making the fatal mistake of sending it home again, blissfully unaware of the chaos in which we reside. The dress has since been removed from its bag and vanished.  I fear I may have put it ‘somewhere safe’ which means it may turn up in time for Easter.

Incidentally, since when have Nativities become THEMED? In our day there was a BIBLICAL theme, with wee fellas in dressing gowns with tea-towels on their heads, and a few angels, with tinsel in their hair; none of this “I’m a lonely star’ or ‘I’m a hoity-toity fairy’ sort of nonsense.

It’s like weddings. ‘So what’s your theme going to be?’ asked some eejit who didn’t know me very well on the run up to mine. ‘A what?’ I said, dumbfounded. ‘A theme? So we can’t just celebrate the miracle that two people are willing to commit and tolerate each others’ idiosyncrasies until death?’ I was tempted to tell her that because I’d worked in a Mexican restaurant back in 1999 that I was going to insist all the bridal party don sombreros and have a Mariachi Band to play me down the aisle.  Jeepers, I think she was sorry she asked. But in all fairness,  can love not suffice? Or endurance? That could be a good theme for a wedding: before the meal, guests have to complete tasks in which they  test their skills of resilience and tenacity, then reflect upon how they can bring these skills to their marriage. Anyway, I digress.

Back to this morning. Ten  minutes later I am still popping chopped grapes into small containers and buttering toast when the Small One reappears. She has donned her coat and hat, popped her ear muffs over the top, and is heading for the door. ‘We need to leave NOW,’ she bellows.  I have managed no more than a slurp of coffee and already feel quite defeated.  Maybe a Kaffe-O breakfast will cheer me up, I think. Well, one can hope anyway. Just as long as they haven’t adopted any type of a theme…