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June 2019


SWB gets harassed

The Small Child has woken in prickly humour. I wake to find her little hand on my shoulder at 7-10, an unwelcome intrusion to my slumber. She is wearing a vest and her grey skirt. ‘I need a shirt,’ she says. ‘And a tie.’ Now.’ I am awake, but barely. It has been a busy weekend. It has been a  busy year. I have to get up, make lunches, serve breakfast, THEN go to work and top the day off with a visit to the dentist for two fillings. I wonder should I just book in my cervical smear test too and be done with it. I do not wish this day to begin. But begin it does. ‘Your summer dress is on the bannister,’ I say. ‘Put it on.’

‘No,’ declares the Small Child. ‘I DON’T. WEAR. DRESSES.’ In her white vest she is like a mini Stanley Kowalski. ‘It is not summer,’ she says. ‘It is cold. I am wearing my uniform.’ She disappears and returns holding her tie aloft, triumphantly. ‘Now I just need my shirt’ she says.

The child has a point. Outside the sky is grey and it has rained heavily in the night. I know this, because against her better judgement, the cat insisted on going out at ten-thirty as we went to bed. Thus, when I woke to use the loo at 12 I took pity and went down to let her in. She shot past my legs, her coat sodden, mewing pathetically. I lovingly dried her with kitchen roll and off she went to bed.

It is still mizzly and I feel for the child. I too, have shunned sandals of late, and returned to wearing ankle boots, with ankle socks underneath. Last week I wore a hoodie, and actually put the hood up to keep my ears warm. I counted three different men in Botanic Gardens wearing hats, and a few women in scarves: not wispy silk scarves, but scarves of weight and substance. I therefore get the Small Child’s point, but I’m f**ked id I’m digging out her shirts which have been washed, ironed and put away (in a rare show of organisation).

The Older Child is in ebullient form, leaping from bed to bed. They’re wild keen on the leaping, my children. In the garden, they are forever catapulting themselves out of the shrubbery, and often, I see a child, airborne, flying past at a ferocious rate.

The grandparents have been up minding them on Mondays of late. This means that when I get in at 4pm, they had been fed Maud’s ice-cream, pizza from Lidl and generous slabs of Dairy Milk. They are often engaged in gardening tasks, clearing weeds and suchlike. ‘They were VERY good,’ my parents will say, in a tone which suggests that they are wonderful children and don’t merit the complaining I do about them. But why wouldn’t they good, when enjoying such an abundance of treats? ‘Try doing their homework with them or making them have a bath,’ I want to snarl.

‘They have expressed interest in a swing,’ The Mothership tells me in a conspiratorial tone. ‘Will I just go out and buy one?’ ‘No’ I reply, with feeling. We live on a hill, you see.  Our garden is built on 3 tiers and given my children’s propensity for taking flying leaps I fear one or both of them would come sailing through the kitchen window as I’m peeling the potatoes. I grew up in a house with a large, flat garden. Never once, was it mooted that I be bought a swing, or a climbing frame, or any class of garden paraphernalia common to our neighbours on the Esplanade. I decide against voicing any of this. The Mothership will, of course, read it here, and then ring me up to gripe that I’m ‘doing her down again.’

Speaking of which, you wouldn’t need to be sensitive on this house. The Small Child, was hoking through a drawer of mine earlier, while I combed her hair. ‘What’s this?’ she said, aghast. ‘It’s a passport photo, of me,’ I tell her. (I got photos taken in Dalkey in February. I have yet to the fill in my application for my Irish Passport). The Small Child shakes her head. ‘Desperate,’ she says in a withering tone, putting it back. She is 6 years old and sounds exactly like the Mothership, when she was on the phone last week, insulting me. ‘I need to talk to you, AT ONCE. It’s about your hair.’

‘What about my hair?’ I said. I was just in from work and trying to enjoy a cup of tea and a Bourbon cream.

‘You need to do something about it,’ she says. ‘You put a picture of yourself up on Twitter, and it may have been in jest, but regardless of that, you looked about 50. “Ronnie,” I said. “Would you look at the cut of that?” There is a swathe, a swathe of white, not even grey, across the front. You need to get that sorted. I would suggest you have a few different shades put in when you get your high lights done. Or I could do it myself, from a packet. Save you a fortune.’

Well that would be a treat indeed- The Mothership doing my highlights at the kitchen table while my progeny laugh and cackle and possibly take pictures. No, I think I shall go and drink coffee and read Red magazine in Riah, as per usual. Anyway, I don’t think I’d be nearly as grey were it not for cantankerous off-spring and mercurial mothers.  And it’s almost the holidays! All that extra time with the children to enjoy. I think I might just pack them off to Bangor for a week by the sea. The Mothership might just be reviewing her opinion then….



SWB and the collapse of civilisation


It is Thursday and I am not working. I am walking back from a class at the PEC. LSB had dropped me down earlier and I met a friend for coffee. I bought some books for summer reading and sauntered a bit, before a gruelling 25 minute class. I cannot cope with hour long classes at the moment, preferring short bursts of horror to get it over quickly.  Many of the exercises at a ‘HITT’ (High Intensity Interval Training) class are burpee related, with much reaching over my portly tum. And lunging. There is an emphasis on lunging and squatting. These classes are not to be recommended after a latte and a peanut butter ball, a fact that I know well, yet am loathe to note. I thank the teacher and leave. I am keen to have a walk to disperse the lactic acid after my exertions.

As I walk along the embankment towards Ormeau Bridge I hear much shouting. I assume it is the the coxes in the rowing boats on the Lagan. I hate how they gulder. It is loud and aggressive. I do not need loud and aggressive voices right now. My thoughts can be loud and aggressive enough.

But it is not a cox shouting at his rowing eight. It is a crowd of men clad only in their pants, hopping on one leg as they tug on their jeans. They are barefooted. One wears a red felt hat, with yellow writing embroidered on the front.  His chest hair, of which there is an abundance, glistens with sweat and booze. He guffaws loudly as I pass. I feel his spit on my face. ‘Ha, look at this one!’ shouts another.  There are bottles of Buckfast and the stench of alcohol closes in on me. Several runners have jogged past already unmolested, and I refuse to cross the road. It is 12.43 in the afternoon. I will not be intimidated at 12.43 in the afternoon in my local environs. There are two girls also in the group, one of whom is shrieking and cackling at a pitch which is most offensive to the ear. Another is small and fine featured with chestnut hair, pulled into sleek pony tail. She has a sweet face and huge brown liquid eyes. Her expression, however, is not sweet. She seeks out and tries to hold my gaze as though to provoke a response. The menace from her is almost more unsettling than the larger men, in a state of undress. I refuse to meet her eye and walk on, but I do not alter my pace. They do not follow me or touch me or verbally abuse me. But their intention is clear, to create a disturbance and ruin a peaceful afternoon.

This is the third time I have felt threatened recently on the Ormeau; my favourite part of Belfast and the place I call home. This time it was older teens, or perhaps students. The previous occasions have been by young, drunk teenagers. They occurred in the early evening, further up the road, near the Vineyard. Stevey challenged one boy, who was flanked by two larger teenage girls.  He insulted an elderly man who had remonstrated with him for repeatedly thumping a sign. Alliance, I think it was. I recall it was yellow.

‘Could you not leave it alone?’ said the man.

‘Could you not fuck off?’ said the boy.

‘Here’ said LSB. ‘No need for that.’

The girls jeered and the young fella wanted to show off and retorted with another obscenity. We had been to Greens for pizza with the girls.

‘That’s enough,’ I said, gesturing towards the children.

‘You shut up, you’re nothing but a hoor,’ shouted the boy.

Well that was LSB off after him while I pulled the girls close. They were shaken and bewildered.

‘LEAVE IT!’ I yelled. The trio ran off and Stevey let them. He was furious. (Stevey has a bit of a superman complex and is often referred to as ‘Stevey Garland, Urban Warrior’ by his friends. Once he saved a couple of Emo kids getting their heads kicked in, in the McDonalds in town. He has, though, also been set upon in the past, and had a kicking himself.  Warrior behaviour is therefore not something I actively encourage. He couldn’t possibly put a wash on or get the children breakfast with head injuries. It would be a great imposition on my life. Anyway, it wasn’t even eight o’clock. Our evening had been soured, any bonhomie shattered.

So there we are. Marching season is not even upon us and the air is thick and turbulent, making me feel the need to keep sharp and alert. This is the time  when we should be able to relax, and enjoy the long evenings, watching as dusk merges into twilight and the sky turns from blue to lemon to pink and  the sun sets over the hills. I wish some sense could descend upon the city and we could do just that.


SWB on the pre-birthday wobble

‘Am I going to be middle-aged?’ I ask LSB.

‘Are you thinking of buying a sports car?’ he replies.

‘No,’ I say, with conviction.

‘Well then, definitely not,’ he says.

(I hesitate to tell him there’s a white Audi TT for sale down the street).

On Tuesday I will be forty. Months ago there was talk of a party, but then I not only joined the PTA with my friend but the two of us decided to chair it. Since that error of judgement, neither of us has an interest in organising anything ever again. We are done with organising now. Last week there was a party, an anniversary dinner for our school in a local hotel. We hired ‘The Bandoliers’ and such was the vigorous dancing on my part, that I feared I may be suffering from whiplash the following morning. I wasn’t, but that didn’t stop me lying in bed until 1pm after the exertion of the evening.

This weekend has been calmer. On Saturday morning I took myself to a sewing workshop at Portview Trade Centre in East Belfast. My friend Kirsty has a studio there and was showing a few of us how to make a decorative hoop to hang on the wall. LSB knows that Kirsty makes reusable hygiene products for women in the developing world. Given that I’ve recently started using a menstrual cup, he misunderstands and thinks that the hoop is some sort of Earth Mother gynae device. (His words). He is relieved when I tell him it isn’t, and that his intervention won’t be needed to extract it.

(One day, when I am brave enough, I will write a post about my Tulip Cup experience. I am au fait with the process now, but it took a while.)

Back to sewing and my friend. Kirsty is a bit of a legend, and I’m not one for bandying words like ‘legend’ about. She has founded the charity Shared Threads which brings hope and education and dignity to those who have none. She’s just back from a trip to India, where she taught women in a prison how to sew sanitary pads themselves. She took the family with her too. ‘Most people take their kids to Disney Land’, she laughed on Saturday. ‘Mine looked for tiger poo in the jungle.’ I think her children will remember that trip with fondness. None of that ersatz saccharine shite for them.

Kirsty’s studio has a minimalist feel to it, and it’s airy and uncluttered. Two spider plants sit on the window sill, underneath which is a table with a rose gold lamp and an old Singer Sewing Machine. It’s a space which wills one to be creative and exhale.  The vibe makes me feel like I could actually get some work done here. There is a rose gold cafetière containing extremely good coffee.

Kirsty shows us how to embroider messages onto fabric which will be encased inside a wooden hoop. I am sitting beside a heavily tattooed man with a well-groomed beard. He sews impeccable stitches in blue thread onto a speckled linen cloth. I am in awe at his precision. We sip our coffee and work steadily, mindfully, and I am grateful for the calm. I didn’t know what message to sew on my hoop, but I settle on the words ‘Still I Rise’ from Maya Angelou’s gorgeous poem. It’s about feistiness and courage and resilience; attributes I need to hone. I’m tired and bewildered and a bit directionless at the moment. Still, anytime I read the poem it brings me joy and a profound sense of hope. The letters may be a bit wonky but I kind of like the fact that life is messy, but that’s all part of the fun, or at least the journey.

Later on Saturday, a crowd of us gather at some friends to celebrate their child’s birthday. The men opt to drive and drink non-alcoholic beer while us girls sip prosecco. There are cheeses and pastries; fresh fruits and cured meats and two types of home-baked cake. The kids shed their shoes and bounce and play and there is a warmth and conviviality which has me almost in tears. I grow steadily more emotionally incontinent as the years pass. I identify the feeling which threatens to overwhelm as gratitude. I am so grateful for the kindness and the steadiness and in particular, the irreverent humour of the people around me. I find life a bit tricky at times. But like the title of Ruth Fitzmaurice’s beautiful memoir, ‘I found my Tribe’,  I feel I’ve found mine. I’ve a few tribes actually, some of which overlap. They all help me rise in different ways; whether it’s rising to challenges or rising above some of the nonsense in life one has to face.  I’m thankful for every one of them.