Monthly Archives:

January 2019


SWB on the Transfer Test

On Saturday night, LSB and myself took a trot down the Ormeau. There was a buzz and a busyness in the air. The restaurants were heaving. In The Northern Lights we met a friend out with her family. They were celebrating their child’s transfer test results and the relief on their faces was palpable. The process was over: they could exhale. Excitedly, they popped their coats on to go for pizza. I love meeting these guys- and I know whatever the results had been, they would have out anyway.


‘I want that to be us,’ I said, after we passed on our congratulations. ‘Whatever happens in that bloody exam, we are booking a table the week before. We will tell the girls that we are proud of them, and that we are sorry that they have to do this bloody, farcical test at eleven years of age.’


You may have noticed that I stay away from some of the controversial issues. I don’t write at length about Brexit, about the right to choose, about the chasm in our government. I ruminate instead about the everyday irritations I face, and I find this most cathartic.  There are better, more informed and let’s face it, professional journos out there, who are paid to analyse and reflect upon the big stuff. Feedback from the people I meet and who like the SWB blog, tell me they enjoy the irreverent tone and the lighter things I touch upon. Unfortunately, as soon as one does start writing about tougher subjects, along come the trolls and up starts the abuse. I’ve enough to deal with in life without that aggravation.


You may, discerning readers as you are, have picked up on the fact that I’m a worry wart. I can put a day in rightly, agonising over Brexit, potential nuclear annihilation and getting cancer from the micro-plastics in my tap water. I have now started to stress in earnest about my children, and the transfer procedure. They are children who (usually) want to please. They try hard, and sometimes produce pieces of writing and pictures which make me stop and think ‘Wow. What an intuitive little buddy you are.’ However, does this exam really test what matters? And if they don’t get their desired result, how will it affect the rest of their school lives?


A former colleague of mine confessed that she had a headache, a sharp tense pain over her right eye, for four months. She was haggard by the end of the transfer process. Her daughter is bright and zingy and happily sailed off to her school of choice. But I thought about the impact the whole wretched debacle had on the whole family. A friend who had twin girls said he wouldn’t even let them sit the test. No way he said, what if one got it and the other didn’t? The ramifications seem endless.


When I did the 11+ as it was called, it was 1989. I sat in my usual p7 classroom, with my friends, and a kindly looking man in his seventies was the invigilator. He looked like my grandad. Classmates had brought in little ‘good luck charms’ and I set out a dog I’d made from FIMO and a teeny picture of Kylie and Jason dressed in their wedding gear as Scott and Charlene from Neighbours. There was a second exam a couple of weeks later and I don’t remember being overly stressed. Yes, we had done many practice papers in class, but it must, despite being a highly academic primary school, have been well managed by the staff. On the morning of the exam my mum worried I’d be up to ‘high-doh’, but apparently she found me reading away at Judy Blume novel in the back of the car.


Now, as any shell-shocked parents know, children have potentially four tests to do, trailing from school to school and sitting in unfamiliar classrooms. I’ve personally been an invigilator at the grammar school where I used to teach. All of us were under strict instructions to be as welcoming and reassuring as we could. Still, it’s not enough is it? Our efforts to be pleasant do not compensate for the bureaucratic nightmare that it is. I think the system is wrong- separating kids from their friends and encouraging competitiveness and snobbishness (and that’s only the parents.)


As parents, I think all LSB and myself can do, is instill the best sense of self in our girls as we can. We will encourage them to work hard and offer our help and support. We will share our own stories from school, about times when we struggled and felt sad and lost, or moments when we found real pleasure in learning. I just hope it’s enough.


SWB on the Marie Kondo Craze

Right, fess up everyone. Who’s been watching Marie Kondo Tidies Up on Netflix? I’ll admit, I’ve found it hard to resist, but I’ve limited myself to two and a half episodes. I don’t have time to WATCH people tidy, I just need to get on it. I fear it might be a bit like cookery programmes-  thinking yes, I’ll DEFINITELY make that, but I don’t, since everyone likes my Chinese Beef in Ginger so why would I risking something different? I tend to salivate more over the glorious décor than the recipes anyway. I felt so CHEATED when I learnt that Nigella Lawson wasn’t creating her shredded lamb and pomegranate salad in her West London Pad, but in a set at Elstree studios in Hertfordshire.

I digress.  For the uninitiated, Kondo has taken herself off to America, land of excess, to bring her tidy tips to those who’ve accumulated a lifetime’s worth of shite. In she swoops, like an elfin Fairy Godmother, to help them rediscover who they ‘really are’, through binning  their stuff. There are many cringe-worthy bits: the worst of which being the ‘group prayer,’ where they kneel and honour THE HOUSE to give thanks for its presence in their lives and apologise for not recognising its worth. I don’t know why I’m surprised; this is a woman who feels it’s shameful to pair socks. (I may have expressed my annoyance about this before.)

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a bit of Kondo rumination on the appropriate treatment of hosiery:

Socks and Stockings
Some people think it doesn’t really matter if they wear socks with holes in them or tights that are pilled, but this is like declaring ‘today doesn’t really matter’. Your feet bear your weight and help you live your life, and it is your socks that cradle those feet. The socks you wear at home are particularly important because they are the contact point between you and your house, so choose ones that will make the time you spend there even more enjoyable.

Balling your socks and stockings, or tying them into knots, is cruel. Please put an end to this practice today.

See? Told you she was barking. The other irritating bit is when someone, often Kondo herself, falls over a pile of tat, to much hilarity. ‘Babe, we just have too much stuff!’ exclaimed one particularly irksome woman, after taking a tumble. I could just imagine the director staging the whole thing to inject some liveliness into proceedings, since Kondo has all the personality of one of those socks she’s so keen in folding.

The format is thus: in she trots, with lots of insincere ‘semi-hugging’, and cuddling of any infants who happen to be knocking about. (‘I’m the nice lady who’s going to put all your toys in the bin and teach you a new game called ‘organising’.) She then tries not to look absolutely appalled by the clip of the place.

I urge you to watch Episode Two, which features a deranged  American-Japanese couple.  God love them. They didn’t need Kondo, they needed a lifetime of therapy and an in-house Relate Counsellor. A more beleaguered looking husband you’d be hard pressed to find. The wife, who created the biggest mountain of clothing that Kondo had ever clapped eyes on, actually admitted that she shopped when he pissed her off so she could ‘hit him where it hurt.’ Fuck me.

Now that I’ve got thinking about what annoys me I can’t stop. I was apoplectic when I saw about 15 bags of clothes  deemed ‘trash’ while another pile was destined for ‘good will’. Seriously? Up rocked the dumpster truck and off it went for landfill.  And what had Kondo got to say about that? Feck all, so long as it was out of the way.

Happily, I think we’re doing better here in Ireland.  When I dropped off very raggedy clothes into the Barnardo’s bins at Ormeau Recycling Centre, three of them were overflowing, which was heartening.

Thus to conclude, while I find her sanctimonious and irritating in the extreme, I concede that Kondo has a point. If we can move away from the mindset that stuff equals happiness, and make more conscious decisions about our purchases, we’ll be more content. I get it. Just don’t expect to me posting drawer-fuls of tee-shirts standing to attention. I’ve already got a lot of hobbies already, and folding ain’t going to become another one.



SWB on January and Charity Shopping

It’s the third week in January, when statistics indicate we will have abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions, be dreading the credit card bill and be cursing the grey skies and present cold snap. Mind you, I’m relieved to feel the chill because, no word of a lie, three weeks ago I saw what looked suspiciously like blackberries ripening in the brambles outside Forestside.  Global warming isn’t just imminent: it’s here, upon us and scaring the s**t clean out of me.

Thus do we remain apathetic, or make some tweaks to our consumerist habits and do the world a favour? We do the latter people! No point sitting around getting depressed, no Sirree. On Friday morning I took a trot down the Ormeau and partook of a fine coffee with a friend in Root and Branch. It’s a jolly place isn’t it, if you don’t mind channelling your inner hipster and thinking ‘less is more’ with your thimble sized cup. I’m helping my pal run a pub quiz for Tour Guide NI, a fledgling business, organising local events for tourists. I’ve never been a quiz master before but I’ve been to enough to know what makes a really bad one. We’ve all sat through some abysmal quiz with an entire round devoted to soap operas (BOKE) and another one based upon obscure geographical facts that no one has any notion about and a collective gloom descends. The WORST is when the compere feels they’ve missed out their role in life as a comedian, and attempts humour instead of getting on with the rounds. Excruciating.

Now, if there’s one benefit to the new Netflix show: ‘Marie Kondo Tidies’ it’s that there’s fabulous buys to be found in charity shops, since the masses are leaping upon the band wagon and f**king out anything which doesn’t ‘spark joy’. The phenomenon has reached the Ormeau, if ‘The Hospice Shop’ and ‘Concern’ are anything to go by. I was tempted by Chanel inspired classics, 50’s inspired glamour and boho chic kimono pieces. I settled on a frock which looked every bit Desigual but from a company I’d never heard tell of. The lovely lady in The Hospice Shop told me that they find it hard to shift dresses and skirts. I just don’t understand- the stuff is gorgeous. And do you know who needs bright pretty ensembles? Teachers, that’s who. Kids love a bit of glam- who wants to sit looking at someone clad in beige or black, especially wee primary school kids who look at the same person all day. We had a geography teacher in school who was the personification of bland: her clothes were wishy washy and she was zero craic to boot. The Mothership, who used to sub-teach (ever since ditching her job to go gallivanting round Africa) and always chose her work clothes with tremendous care. I remember her looking out quirky pieces of jewellery and selecting lovely outfits since her lecturer at Stranmillis had said, ‘children like that sort of thing.’ She had a ring which looked like an eye that the wee boys in particular loved staring at it.

I recall too, that once you’ve worn a jacket into work and lugged around a few dirty old books, and had wee kids coughing and sneezing all over you; that your clothes get past their best very quickly. One therefore resents shelling out a fortune, and who wants to support fast fashion with all those dyes and micro-plastics flooding the rivers in Bangladesh. 

So to cheer up a mizzly morning, take yourself down the Ormeau. Craic was ninety in the shops and you can sate your inner shopaholic guilt free. Check out my new ensemble (minus the shoes which I wouldn’t last 10 minutes in. I’m clumsy enough without heels, even if they are beaut.) Another top tip, if you happening to be organising a PTA event or pub quiz and are looking prizes, is to have a gander at all the loot IN the charity shops, and pick them up at a bargain price. You could make up all sorts of goody bags and create some much sought after and original raffle prizes. Plus, you’d have a fun morning outing. You see? January isn’t so bad after all…


SWB gets travel advice

In Northern Ireland, do not be tempted to go to a travel agents if you’re looking a holiday. Your local Foncab driver will tell you all you need to know. 

‘I need a night out,’ I tell LSB. ‘You, me, candles. Wine and ambiance.’ I’ve had a headache for 3 weeks- every so often this happens and once I work out I’m not dying I just get properly fed up. Children, and the sounds they generate, are hard to tolerate when you feel that someone has inserted a drill in through your ear and behind your eye sockets. The pain has subsided but bright lights and noise are still an anathema to me. Still, it’s on the wane, and two paracetamol later and a frock on me and I’m good to go. We order a taxi. 

‘Out for something to eat?’ asks our Fonacab driver. ‘Lucky for some.’

He grins at me in the mirror. ‘He spoils you rotten love. Good Christmas?’

There are only so many accounts your Christmas that you are willing to relate to strangers, no matter how lovely it was. ‘Grand,’ I mutter. What about yourself?’

‘Glad it’s over,’ he says. 

‘Oh dear,’ I reply. 

‘F*@king raging I am,’ he goes on. ‘I alwaysgo to Tenerife in January. Something happened this year, and we couldn’t get away. So I’m stuck here, trailing folk round the town. F*@king shite.’

‘Oh. That’s too bad.’ says LSB. ‘I’m sure you’ll get something.’

‘Wife wants to go in June. F*@king June! That’s my lads holiday and I’m not giving that up. I sez to her, we may get down to Thomas Cook because I’ve them vouchers to use. I’m thinking Tunisia, £500, all-inclusive. That’s for two weeks. No one goes there anymore, in case they get shot, but I mean, people are shot in London all the time. Or stabbed, and there’s no shortage of tourists there.’

‘That is the sorry truth,’ I say.

‘In June,’ he goes on, ‘We go out to my dad in Albufeira. Lads’ drinking holiday. We just go boozing for 4 days. Start on the beer at 9 or so. See by the evening? Can’t speak or nothing. When we go for dinner at night I just point at the wee picture. Them wee pictures of the food are great. Young’uns all drink them cocktails. I stick to the beer. But when we were having our fry ups the next morning the wee waiter man sez to me, “What would you like to drink?” and I sez ‘Give us a Pina Colada!’ Lads were near sick. But then we all ordered one. Just have to keep at it, know what I mean?’

Jeepers, I thought I was bad over Christmas, with all those glasses of late afternoon prosecco. I’ve nothing on this chap. I feel like a poster girl for sobriety. 

Happily, we are now on the Ormeau Road. I would like a pre-dinner beverage, to give the semblance of a proper evening out. The fact that it is a Wednesday is irrelevant. ‘If you just drop us at the Northern Lights?’ asks LSB. 

‘What? Iceland? Are yiz off to Iceland?’

‘No, the pub, that one there,’ says Stevey, pointing. 

‘Ah.’ He pulls in. ‘I thought you meant Iceland, where they have those lights, them green ones. Have you been to Iceland?’

‘No,’ says himself. ‘But we were thinking of it.’ 

I will him to stop prolonging the conversation. My glass of Tempranillo is tantalising close, and yet so far. 

‘It’s a dear hole. I’m telling you’. 

I have opened the door. He’s off again. The meter is still running, but he’s in full flow. He reallywants to tell us about Iceland.

‘So my mate went last year, so he did. Took everyone out for their tea. The wife and him had nothing fancy and the kids had them wee chicken balls and chips. Guess how much that was, for that, and four cokes?’

‘A hundred,’ I sigh. 

‘Ninety eight. Ninety eight quid! For that!’

‘So when we went,. I sez, we’re getting an apartment and I made sure it had a kitchen so I could bring my own food.’

‘Like, tins of stuff?’ I ask.

‘No! Steak, sausages, bacon. The LAT. I just wrapped it in tin foil. Into the bag it went. Never said nothing at customs. And they wouldn’t need to have either. Know how much a pint is? Twelve pounds. TWELVE POUNDS.  We bought all our booze in the Duty Free.’

I try to open the door again but he’s really warming to this theme. The meter is still running. We are a couple of soft touches, LSB and myself.

‘Then we got on a bus to see them wee things that come out of the ground.’ 


‘Aye. F*@king a hundred and eighty pounds to drive round and see some pools, with steam coming out of them. I’m telling you, If you’re going to go, bring your own food and drink, hire a car and follow the bus. DO NOT PAY for the bus.’

‘Thanks very much,’ I say, and make to leave. 

‘And the Northern Lights? F*@k that. Do you know what they were going charge us for that trip? Another hundred quid and then the wee man sez to us, it wasn’t guaranteed we’d see them! I was like, you’re telling me, I’ve to pay you to get on a bus, to drive through the dark to hunt for lights we might not see at all? No way mate.’

At this point we made our exit. I was very pleased to sit down, play some chess and stroke a small collie dog whom some fella had brought in with him and he took a fancy to me. I’d like to add to add that having a drink then a meal with wine at Shed does nothing for your headache, but it was still most pleasant to vacate the house for an evening, chat with lovely neighbours and share a steak meal for two, with enough left over to create an Asian beef salad the next evening. Everyone’s a winner, and we’ve some sound travel advice to boot. Fonacab-Travel. You read it here first.