Monthly Archives:

September 2019


SWB declutters her head

The Mothership has been up, collecting children from school, putting them over their sums, browning pans of mince on the stove and boiling potatoes. She and my Dad come once a week and try to restore order to our home, where teetering piles of paperwork, clothes and what Marie Kondo refers to as ‘kimono’ and I call ‘shite’, graces every worktop and flat surface. The tip, apparently, to a decluttered home, is keeping flat surfaces clear. I could do that, if I had a PA, but since I don’t, and am unlikely ever to be in such a position, I shall probably be found dead one day, under a pile of mismatched socks and unopened statements from Mastercard.

While sipping a cup of tea so scalding that it would take the throat off an average person, The Mothership becomes highly animated.

‘Disagreeable, Helen, not ‘unagreeable’, there’s no such word.’

I look bewildered. I’m just in the door and am still coat-clad and Sherpa-like, carrying my handbag, bookbag, and the basket I take for my lunch.

Seeing my confusion, she elaborates.

‘Your last blog post; that was just one of several mistakes I detected. We were taught those prefixes in school- you wouldn’t have caught us getting that wrong, would you Ronnie?’

My dad shakes his head. ‘Indeed you wouldn’t,’ he says.

‘What you need,’ she goes on, ‘is an editor.’

‘I’m not Marian Keyes,’ I say, divesting myself of garments while accepting hugs from small people as I edge closer to the teapot.

‘No, and you’re not likely to be either, if you keep making mistakes like that,’ she says, acerbically.

‘What I suggest,’ she goes on, ‘is that you give me your password for the blog and I’ll go in and vet everything, before its unleashed upon the general public.’

‘What’s that you say?’ She now has my full attention.

‘You obviously can’t proof-read it yourself, you’ve made that much obvious,’ she continues, ‘and your sentences are FAR TOO long. They would be greatly improved by the use of the semi-colon.’

‘I do use semi-colons!’ I say indignantly.

‘Sure just write it down there, your password, and I’ll set to it this evening,’ she says, handing me a child’s Newsletter from school. ‘Pop it down on the back of that.’

‘Flipping sure I won’t,’ I say.

Can you imagine it? God only knows what she’d be putting up, and she’d have all my ‘fucks’ and ‘shites’ replaced by ‘Heaven’s above!’ and ‘Goodness gracious.’ It wouldn’t read like my blog at all.

‘Start your own blog!’ I say. ‘YOU see how easy it is to update it and proof read it and try not to offend anyone who may recognise themselves and never speak to you again.’

There is a ruminative silence while she drinks her tea.

She is right though- there is no time, especially if you’ve spent the last two Saturdays at the Aspects Festival in Bangor, learning from the best what it takes to craft a novel.  We looked at ‘My name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout and ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ by David Park under the judicious eye of Patsy Horton from Blackstaff Press. They were both short novels but covered epic themes of love and loss and quiet desolation. They struck me deeply and the sessions afforded me the opportunity to do what I love best- dissecting a text; delving into its themes and identifying what made it singular; what made it come alive. I was a member of a book group for many years and loved it dearly, however, without a curator asking the right questions, it quickly became a brief chat about the novel and a excellent opportunity to drink merlot. This workshop therefore appealed to my inner geek, and I left feeling enriched and thrilled to have met some delightful folk.

The downside though, to spending your Saturdays doing literary things, is that you’re short of time for the banal but necessary tasks of homemaking. You forget things, like checking pockets and then popping fleeces into the washing machine with a packet of open Oreos in them. (LSB was not pleased about the soggy end his biscuits met.) We’ve spent most of Sunday cleaning and shopping and getting our shit together and yet I still feel the overwhelm acutely and the tension needling at my temples like sharp pins.

But you can’t give it all up can you? The soul must be fed, and if that means you have to hoover bits of dried Oreos out of your tumble drier, then so be it. And if anyone knows an editor willing to work pro bono then let me know, but herself’s not getting her hands on that password; no sirree.

*I decided to do this course at the last moment and LSB immediately had his phone out to order me the books from Amazon. ‘Stop right there!’ I said, and rang Books Paper Scissors on the Stranmillis Road instead. They confirmed that they had the books and Himself trotted over on his lunch hour to get them. Expedient, local, and not run by money grabbing corporate bastards; I’d much rather give these guys my custom .



SWB feels overwhelmed

My children have developed a new, and most annoying habit. When they lose sight of us, for hmmm, all of 20 seconds, it begins. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ chirps one, ‘Where’s he gone?’ demands an other. ‘What’s he doing?’

I’ve started not replying, and taking deep fortifying breaths instead. ‘But Mummy, is Daddy lost?’ Daddy is usually not far away, since he is a man of routine. If, for example, it is eight-twenty of a morning, daddy is ensconced upon the toilet, where he is pontificating, as he does every morning, trying to shoehorn in an extra few minutes of peace before the onslaught of the day begins. They are constantly searching, my children, and I wonder if they are simply curious as to our whereabouts or whether this constant need for reassurance is indicative of a deep-seated terror that we will disappear.

I have you see, returned to work, and while not a long-term arrangement, it is a period of adjustment for us all. I wonder have the children taken it ill, and has this manifested itself in making them nervy and agitated, for they are certainly most irksome.

There is a certain, let’s say, level of intensity, when you work full time and then, of an evening, have to ferry about off-spring and keep a home which doesn’t resemble a squat. And people, I feel bad, ALL THE TIME. I feel bad because I should have been at the climate strike on Friday but my new and temporary place of work declared it was ‘business as usual’ and I didn’t want to ask out and cause a rumpus. ‘You’re alright,’ I comforted myself. ‘You sign petitions and you recycle and you buy second hand.’ But it’s not enough is it? I spend my whole life feeling bad for being so shite.

For example, we run two cars and I simply can’t countenance the notion of taking my bicycle and arriving at work a sweaty mess; or the alternative, of being wiped out and killed, which is a very real possibility, because I wouldn’t be the most adept, on two wheeled modes of transport.  I also still eat meat. Can you call yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat?  I have, in the past, attempted to replace it with more vegetables and pulses but my unforgiving innards revolt and my stomach swells and there is both pain, and flatulence. I assure you that it’s most unagreeable. Last night though, I bought tofu, for a vegetarian take on ‘beef and black bean sauce.’ We were out ‘enriching ourselves culturally’ at both Culture day AND night in the town. LSB had himself a big burrito for lunch on Saturday and we all sampled the delights of the food vans,  so I felt we had eaten well, and indulgently. But when he inquired, ‘What’s for dinner?’ in a tone which suggested that really, meal preparations should have been well underway, at 8-15 of a Saturday night, my reply that we were having tofu caused great consternation. Most indignant he was, almost tearful.

‘You’re kidding me?’ he said, astounded. ‘TOFU For dinner? On a Saturday?’ I swear to God, it was like the scene out of Shirley Valentine, except I didn’t end up with a plate of eggs and chips in my lap.

‘Think of the forests!’ I said. ‘The Amazon’s AFLAME because of all the meat we eat! We need to eat more tofu or we are all seriously, FUCKED!’ He nodded at this, albeit sadly. ‘It’s just,’ he said dolefully, ‘that I think of tofu as more of a mid-week meal.’

‘Weekend nights thus, from now on in, will have to be Michelin style affairs. I’ll work on that.’ I said, my tone somewhat caustic. (Incidentally, I thought the omission of meat did no harm at all to the dish, and I rather liked my nod to the East with the addition of water chestnuts.)

There is a litany of things about which I feel bad, and I shall keep you informed in the coming weeks. Presently though, I feel bad that I have laundry to which I must tend, and a further backlog of tasks, after a weekend of frivolity. Left undone, these will render Monday morning utterly unbearable, and a stressed and shouty affair. I don’t need to feel worse than normal on a Monday, so I shall skedaddle for now, and go about my business, bleak as it is.





SWB gets theatrical

Image result for lyric- shirley valentine

Have you been to the theatre recently? No, neither had I. I mean, who has the time to make these outings come about?  It’s a bloody miracle in the first place to get a date, which doesn’t involve 90 billion WhatsApp messages. THEN somebody has to book it, and THEN you have to extricate yourself from your household and ensure that spouses aren’t away out running the roads while you entertain the notion of a soirée. Our beloved babysitter has had the temerity to get herself three A’s in her A-levels and feck away off to university in Bristol. Yes, Bristol. What fecking use is that to me, at 8 O’clock of an evening in September, when I need to get FAR AWAY from the endless sea of socks and laundry baskets with their overflowing entrails and an island which looked glorious in MAKE Kitchens but is now just a repository for bills, school newsletter bulletins and half eaten fish fingers. It’s usually Wednesdays which floor me altogether and I think to myself: ‘If I don’t get out of this BLOODY house and get a dinner and a glass of chilled Sauvignon in Shed Bistro I’m just retreating under the duvet until March at the very least.’

You see? This is why people don’t pay me to do reviews. 212 words in and I still haven’t told you the name of the play I saw last night or indeed where I saw it. It was a serendipitous turn of events, that I actually had no plans whatsoever and my friend texted on Friday night. ‘I have a free ticket for Shirley Valentine at the Lyric,’ read her message. ‘Can you make it?’

‘YES!!!” I replied, ‘I’m in!’ Oh the GLEE readers, at a night of emancipation where I had to do ABSOLUTELY nothing, other than clean my teeth and throw on a frock and be waiting at the door at 7pm.

Perhaps you think you don’t need theatre in your lives, what with us all currently inhabiting a Theatre of The Absurd, more barking than Ionesco or any of those French Existensialists could ever have imagined. But I tell you, that this production starring the gorgeous Tara Lynn O’Neill  (the Ma from Derry Girls) is essential for your well-being. Art, in its many forms, should give one the chance to transcend the banal, offering respite from the humdrum, so it’s ironic, given the subject matter of Shirley Valentine, that you find yourself enthralled, watching someone else fry eggs and chips while they talk to the ‘Wall’. in the kitchen. And therein, lies the joy- theatre effortlessly aping life as we know it. Maybe our husbands aren’t useless gobshites; maybe we have travelled extensively, or enjoyed a university education; we still, somehow identify with her, and that wonderful phrase ‘unused life’ hits us right in the solar plexus.

In her review in the Irish News, Jane Hardy said that O’Neill was luminous as the eponymous heroine. I couldn’t say it better myself, so I’m not even going to try. If you remember the film, (and I do, because I just adored it,) you’ll recall the conspiratorial relationship between Pauline Collins and the viewer, and O’Neill does the same with aplomb, creating a real sense of rapport with the audience. So much so, that when she fluffed a line and at one point put a shoe on the wrong foot, we loved her all the more for it. ‘Thank fuck for that,’ I thought. What mere mortal manages to keep us utterly rapt,  performing a monologue for 105 minutes? Jeepers, but it could make a buddy feel inadequate alright.

Standing ovations sometimes make me cringe a bit. You know where you think, ‘Oh should I get up? I actually wasn’t that dying about it but the person beside me has clambered to their feet and I’ll look like a right malcontent if I don’t shift my arse.’ Well, there was no second guessing myself here because I was up and clapping and shouting WHOO HOO! and wanting to give the star a hug afterwards.

In short, just book a bloody babysitter and have a night out. Go the whole hog: order a glass of Porto 6 as a pre-theatre beverage and pre-book one for the interval. Go on your own, bring your mate, bring your mum or give me a shout and I’ll go again if you fancy it. It’s a delight, and you know me by now: I’m a sour wee bastard. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

(For a superb review, do check out Alan’s here. He actually talks about the play, and not just himself. He’s professional like that, is Alan.)


SWB and The Mothership fall short of an agreement

‘MUMMEEEE,’ calls the Older Child. ‘Nanna’s on the phone.’ Yes, Nanna, aka The Mothership, is indeed on the line, with a list of woes as long as her arm. Firstly, it’s the cat which has caused annoyance. Cleo, whom we offloaded to Bangor in 2010, has contracted some class of an ailment, and is putting up immense resistance to getting into a box to be carted to the vet. No amount of manhandling has succeeded, and injuries have been sustained, (to my parents, not the cat). The last time a vet was involved they hired a man who came around with large gloves and an apparent gift for dealing with cantankerous creatures.  He got on the best with my mum and also managed to get the cat to the vet with relative ease. The cat, however, is only the first on her list of complaints today.

THE MOTHERSHIP: I’m only after reading that last blog you put up, and I think it’s the worst yet, actually. It was Michael who told me it was up, and very embarrassed I was, when I thought of the language he had to read. (A family friend, Michael, subscribed to my blog in the early days, to give me some confidence that people actually read it. He’s a mannerly sort, and I fear it may, at times, offend.)

ME: It was a stressful time, the summer.

THE MOTHERSHIP: Hmmmm, so it would appear. I was just thinking to myself, for an English Literature graduate, as you like to keep telling me you are, could you not find an alternative for the word ‘shite’?

(She utters the word shite in a stage whisper, despite being alone, upstairs in the study and dad being in the kitchen where he is, apparently ‘wrecking’.)

ME: (IRKED): I only remind you of the nature of my degree because I never get any credit for anything.

I shall elaborate on this. My children possess, (and forgive me for having a ‘proud mummy moment’ here), quite a varied vocabulary. When for example, I expel some wind in public, they will look AGHAST and say: ‘Mummy, that is not appropriate behaviour for the street.’ (In my defence I would like to add that I check that the street is deserted first.) The Small Child proclaimed that her pasta was ‘exceptional’ the other evening, which buoyed my wilting spirit.  However, when I tell the Mothership of their utterances, she shakes her head and says, in an incredulous tone, ‘But where do they HEAR it?’

‘FROM ME!’ I want to shout. ‘I speak to my children!’ And I do speak to them- we chat often, and many’s the big word they’ve heard me employ.

‘I think they hear it off the TV,’ said The Mothership. ‘That Peppa Pig,’ she uses some nice words.’

(I swear to God I am not exaggerating this for comic effect.)

‘Yes, definitely. I would say that CBeebies is entirely responsible for their vocabulary.’ I sigh.

And then sometimes, they do something truly lovely and I pass these nuggets on, my heart swelling with maternal pride.’ Look,’ I want to say. ‘I may have fucked up a thing or two but I have raised two lovely children.’

I shall offer an example. The Smaller One was in the car coming home after parkrun one wet morning. For whatever reason, my friend was in the back with her and her hands were icy and she couldn’t seem to warm them. The Small Child reached up, took off her woolly hat and wrapped it round her hands, then took them in hers and rubbed them. She did this while telling a story, instinctively, and seemingly without much thought.

My friend told me and I welled up. So did she. ‘The Small Child,’ I said, in a reverent tone. ‘She’s a dote,’ said my friend. ‘She is,’ I agreed.

It was a small gesture, but for a six year old, I thought it was significant.

I rang The Mothership. ‘Wait til I tell you what the wee one did,’ I said.

There is a pause, while she digests the story. ‘Isn’t that just lovely?’ she says finally. ‘very kind. I like it when children are kind; it bodes well. But I mean, WHERE does she get it from? I don’t think I’m all that kind myself.’ (I’d like to add that occasionally she has her moments.)

I’m still here you know,’ I said, ‘On the phone. She may have got it from me! I can be nice!’

‘Hmmm. I suppose you can dear. Sometimes.’

I could tell she wasn’t convinced.

Back to the initial phone call which precipitated this rant.

THE MOTHERSHIP: I do give you credit, for some things. I just wish you wouldn’t insist on getting animals, which bring us no end of bother. You are also, I might add, a professional, so I would urge you to eradicate obscenities from your writing.

ME: I shall endeavour to.

THE MOTHERSHIP: Glad to hear it.

I hang up before telling her that we’ve told the Small Child she can visit the pet shop if she’s good and does her reading every day. She’s after a bearded dragon now.


I am absolutely melted with Brexit, and ‘not-quite-Brexit’ and ‘No Deal’ and ‘Maybe a Deal’ and ‘who fucking knows what’s happening tomorow’. It does me good that at least the Mothership and my children are consistent. Little else is, these days.



SWB on Summer Schemes (now that the Summer is over..)

Summer has mercifully drawing to a close. Life is odd, isn’t it? I spend June longing for the holidays; by mid-July I start wondering why I was ever remotely excited, then in August I find myself stricken as the end looms ominously and I when I consider the prospect of work and school a wee bit of vomit sometimes comes up into my throat. I am often, (and I’ve heard many teachers are the same) consumed by feelings of great angst during the long break. This has happened to me for years, and shows no signs of abating. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of routine or just further evidence that I’m slightly unhinged, but it is most unsettling.

Anyway, thank God for summer schemes or I’d be mad as a box of frogs for two solid months and not just for a week mid July. Below are a list of where I’ve sent the kids this year and a brief appraisal.

Last week they were at Shaw’s Bridge with ‘Mobile Team Adventure’.

Good Points

  • Surprisingly, this camp is not extortionately priced, given that they have to keep a close eye on your progeny to ensure that they don’t drown; shatter bones or eat slugs on their ‘outdoor treasure hunts’.
  • They lay on plenty of energy-zapping activities in the outdoors, so the little bastards come home knackered and don’t ask for further entertainment in the evenings.
  • Somehow, despite being notoriously annoying and hard to please- despite the wasps and the wetness and the shivering until their teeth chattered on canoes in the pishing rain; they flipping loved this camp. ‘CAN WE GO AGAIN?’ they squealed.

Shite Points

  • It’s a day’s work getting them ready with all their wet stuff and dry stuff and lunches, then their wet shoes and dry shoes and fucking sun cream. I forgot to apply the latter and had to run back to the car and keep the group waiting while I plastered their faces while they shouted ‘GO AWAY MUMMY’ and ‘IT’S IN MY EYE’ while I said ‘shite’ in front of all the children and disgraced myself.
  • My children found it impossible to retrieve all their clothing which was more than a little irksome. On Day One I had to wrap the Small Child in a jumper (my own, which I had to remove, and it was, of course, raining) and a towel and carry her barefoot to the car while her big sister cried as she’d been stung by a wasp. ‘FUCK,’ I said loudly. By now, the other kids hovered around me, giggling and listening in to my tirades.
  • Loss of belongings is obviously a regular occurrence and they lay all of the lost and found stuff out in the grass so harried parents can take them home and add them to the ever-increasing pile of laundry. On the second morning I collected a mound of items which were damp and muddy. At this point I congratulated myself warmly that I sent them in in clad in hand-me-downs.

Art Clubs

I sent them to two different ones this summer- one was a lovely camp run at the local parish centre and the other in their primary school. Both did the aforementioned art activities but also games and outdoor play. They got such a warm welcome and the girls sent me photos of them smiling and looking happy. Why the f**k can’t you manage to smile at home, I wondered, and tidy up your truckery WITHOUT BRING ASKED which is apparently what they did there.

Good Points

  • Since these clubs ‘Foster creativity’ I get away without having to produce the paints myself and indulge my children at home, creating mess and doing stuff with which I can’t be arsed.

Shite Points

  • The Small Child chose to don the one full-price jumper I’ve ever bought her and it came home clarried in paint which despite the liberal application of Vanish, remained steadfast.
  • Every day, my off-spring returned laden with artwork, much of which was quite sizeable. It was also, tragically quite good, so I felt bad just fucking it into the bin.  There are still piles everywhere, threatening to take over my house.

Irish Dancing

A culturally enriching activity which is provides exercise and develops co-ordination, which is all wonderful except they come home singing ‘I’ll tell my Ma’ on a loop.


I’ve sent them to Si Si Spanish for years, in a church hall opposite a brilliant park so they charter away in Spanish then swing and slide themselves into oblivion. They come home singing Spanish songs and make me feel all trendy and cosmopolitan and for a moment I forget about Brexit and all its awfulness. Also useful because you can send the children to ask for ‘la cuenta por favor’ in Mallorca, and on one shameful occasion ‘una cerveza para mi madre’ as I had my feet in the pool.

No real bad points to report here, I must admit.

And now- they’re back to school. We’ve so far lost ‘important badges’ mislaid brand new water bottles and exhausted our supply of school socks. I am though, relieved and thrilled to announce that I am getting the hell out of the PTA and thus will free up about a million hours of my life to pursue my writing and life in general. LSB is sighing with a relief unparalleled by all else.