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October 2019


Witching Hour for SWB

There are newish neighbours at number one on our street. They hail from Derry. Sometimes it’s not that apparent, and at others, the Derry-ness is pure hanging out of them. I shall explain. Down I went the other day and called in, as they are not only neighbours now, but friends, and occasionally we inflict our off-spring upon each other, and partake of the odd glass or two for the purposes of merriment.

‘I’ve just er, been making a couple of silhouettes for the lawn,’ the man of the house says, heading out to the garage. ‘Come on til you see them.’ I look blank, having no idea what he’s on about.

‘Witches,’ he says, ‘You know, for next week?’

He’s been busy all afternoon, up to his eyes with a Stanley knife and spray paint. Had that been my husband, we’d have been in the Royal for sure, with a pair of severed thumbs.

Inside the garage stand two huge witches he’s cut out of cardboard packaging from a lawnmower, using a photo he found on the net for inspiration. They are far superior to any of the nonsense down in B&M and he made them without so much of a template. If there was a ‘Bake Off’ for homemade Halloween Decorations he’d at least make the semi-final, no doubt about that. His wife, my pal Brenda, is very taken with the witches. There’s talk of a cauldron, into which they will pop a skeleton and fake smoke.

Proper raging I am, because I need allies on the street who do FUCK ALL for Halloween. I’m utterly sick bemused by this malarkey because I’m not from Derry, and I haven’t a notion, and there’s no way I’m heading out to the shed to mess about with five-foot witches. My husband will claim he’s got one of those already.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Bangor, but we never took H’ween seriously. Au contraire, up here in the Rosetta region, certain families go ALL OUT- and preparations begin weeks in advance. Now, before the Mothership rings up, incandescent with rage and calling me an ingrate, we did, when I was at primary school, host a few Halloween parties. I recall bobbing for apples and homemade apple pies with coins carefully wrapped in tinfoil. There were fairy cakes with white icing and some rather dodgy looking spider webs on top. (My nana was a wonderful baker, but faltered somewhat when it came to embellishing her creations. Again, no ‘Star Baker’ for her on ‘Bake-off’.)  Back to the parties.  My mother strongly discouraged any dressing up on these occasions: ‘Don’t bother going to all that trouble,’ she would say. Once a child came along decked out in a full-on creepy witch ensemble, with her face powdered white and a spider drawn in eyeliner on her cheek. She felt like a right prick with everyone else in their jeans and jumpers.

Funny enough then, I never won any prizes when it came to the Brownie’s Halloween party. Many’s the notion of dressing up I harboured, but all came to naught. Other than a mask bought for 49p in Wellworths, all our costumes were dug out from our ‘dressing up box.’ There were a few floral nighties we used for fairy costumes, a long black velvet skirt for witches and a cowboy hat. There was also a black and white poncho- or the ‘all purpose poncho’ as it became known. I wore this when I dressed up as a witch to every  Halloween party between 1984 and 1987 and when starring as a Native American in a primary school production. My brother wore the poncho. Little friends wore the poncho when they visited (maybe they were just cold; our house was several degrees chillier than everyone else’s).  There’s even a picture of a toy womble wearing the poncho, when he was off to a party. My toys had terrific social lives.

I did used to like Halloween though, that was until my evangelical phase when we went up to the Elim for youth club one night and the pastor showed us a scary video of satanic practices, which possible eluded to child sacrifice. I was only 14 and very innocent and it scared the absolute shit clean out of me. I couldn’t look at any class of a costume or even foil wrapped orange sweet in the same way for quite some time after it.

But people, this Halloween caper has become infectious. We have bought a skull and cat stickers for the window. My lovely friend (also from Derry) brought me a selection of garlands and tinselly things in autumnal shades, and today, in Portstewart, I came across a ‘Party Shop’ and was stricken by what Marian Keyes refers to as a ‘sudden wild enthusiasm.’ Yes, I was as surprised as anyone, when I came across a werewolf decoration which made a scary sound while holding a welcome sign.

‘WE HAVE TO GET THIS,’ I gushed, as LSB looked round him, looking for an alien spaceship which had body-snatched his wife. Terrifically gleeful I was, and wanted to buy another ghoulish creature to boot, except the children protested. ‘Put that back mummy!’ yelped the older one.

It would appear I’ve come round to Halloween: happy trick or treating everyone.


SWB runs for her life

‘There’s wiser wans locked up,’ puffs a girl in front of me to her friend. I nod, wryly. It is 12.15 on Saturday afternoon, and most people are inside, where like us, they are also frustrated, as they watch the New Zealand team trounce Ireland in the rugby. At least they are dry, I think, with access to warm beverages. We, meanwhile, are getting more sodden by the second as we run under a Biblical downpour. Not yet one mile in, and with 7 to go, my spirits are sagging as much as my spare tyres.

Since making the decision to work for a living again, I have become rather rotund. Delighted I am with myself, that I had the foresight not to donate some of my maternity clothes to charity shops. With the addition of a belt, they have come in very handy the last few weeks. There are ones who float about my work, eating things like apples or maybe a mandarin for their break. I look askance at this sort of behaviour. I don’t care if it’s a posh Pink Lady from Marks and Spencer, or a Taste the Difference Clementine from Catalonia. I will be having a Lion Bar with my filter coffee after a morning of teaching, or perhaps a Toffee Crisp. Fortification is needed after seeing 90 different children in as many minutes, especially if I’ve had my pair to deal with since 6.52am.

Tragically though, the downside of seeking solace from chocolate, caffeine and the odd glass of wine (AHEM) in the evenings is that my energy levels have plummeted, and I have no inclination to exercise. And I miss it. This time last year, I would have joined my friends for a trot of a Wednesday morning; haring up the hills in Belvoir Forest and stroking the odd Labrador before stopping for a latte in 5a coffee shop. It was bliss. We covered 10k easily, and never noticed the agony in our calves because the craic was so mighty.

And this is why I said: ‘Damn it, I WILL run Dundrum’ even though for the past month I’ve whimpered ‘I’m just so tired,’ on repeat, to anyone unfortunate enough to be heading my direction. I’m a joy to be married to presently, as LSB will duly testify.

So, there I was, with 29 other Belfast Running Club members, at 10am, standing outside the Ozone waiting for the bus.  And waiting. And waiting. ‘There it is!’ we shouted, as a tiny vintage looking vehicle drew up, and on we hopped and off we chugged. Just passing Forestside we were, when it became apparent that we’d taken another club’s bus. ‘Should we just run round the embankment and go to the Errigle for lunch?’ suggested one canny member. I liked this notion: eight miles over varying terrain including 2 miles of beach is a lot for one who’s out of shape.  But back to the leisure centre we zoomed, swapped buses and set off again, this time in a superior class of a coach which included a toilet, which by that stage, we were all grateful for.

I would suggest though, establishing the whereabouts of the light switch and the availability of toilet roll, before relieving oneself. It was also an inopportune time for the driver to hit a bump on the road between Carryduff and Ballynahinch, and my head wasn’t the better for being cracked off the hand drier.

Worse was to come, when after two miles I almost jacked the run in, when I became aware of the dreaded phenomenon known as ‘chub-rub’. Wet leggings do not help this condition. I comforted myself that this doesn’t just happen to people who are nearing a size 14, and that my husband, skinny bastard that he is, had a bad dose in the summer.  Initially he blamed me and my new eco-friendly laundry cleanser, until he was told by his doctor that it was his excessive sportiness brought it on.

Still, the skies brightened and so did my mood, especially when after three miles the rain stopped and the wind was mercifully with us as we ran towards the Mournes along the beach. I was drenched; my lungs practically aflame, but with each mile came a distance between me and the stresses of the week. It does seem counter-productive, to go running when you feel knackered and grouchy, but the lift in my spirits was tangible as the endorphins surged. The members of the Murlough AC are a most encouraging bunch too, which helped somewhat. ‘Get stuck in Helen!’ roared a woman as I faltered towards the end. Another man offered his hand for a high five, but I mis-took the gesture and went in for a hug instead. I may have been hallucinating at this point. The support was immense, and the post-run spread superb. An egg sandwich was never so welcome (and let’s face it, it’s the spread we run for).

Following a dinner in the Maghera Inn that would have choked a donkey, to quote the Mothership, I was practically delivered to the door by the Executive Class Coach. Fine fettle I was in, upon returning to the house. LSB had been ferrying children back and forth from birthday parties all day. His pallor was grey and his sense of humour somewhat failed him, as I came bounding through the door, full of bonhomie and pride after my endeavours. ‘I did it!’ I shrieked. ‘I ran eight miles!’

I’ve done ‘We are Vertigo’ and I’ve just cleaned the toilet. Want some wine?’ he replied.

‘Yes please,’ I said. ‘Let me just go and put some Vaseline on my thighs first.’



SWB on early mornings and tooth fairies

3.54am in the early hours of Sunday morning and I am wide eyed and restless. That’s the problem with climbing into bed at 9-45 of an evening, your circadian rhythms jolt you awake and make you desire a soothing cup of tea at an ungodly hour. I was already fully conscious, contemplating life’s more pressing questions such as ‘did I cook enough bolognese for lunch or could I eke it out with the addition of chopped courgettes,’ when the Small Child wandered in, bleary eyed.

‘In you get,’ I said, drawing back the covers. LSB made a groaning sound and prepared to exit. ‘Night night,’ I muttered, feebly. Then I remembered the tooth. The Small Child was ever so excited about her tooth coming out, and the anticipation of a couple of quid under her pillow. I still, at this point, harboured some hope of returning sleep quickly, so as LSB was ousted to the bed downstairs, I told him to do the Tooth Fairy duty, in pigeon Spanish, lest the Small Child’s overhear.

<Necessito deneiro para ella – tu sabes, sus dientes’.*>

LSB had some wine last night and looked on, bewildered.

<Sus DIENTES > I repeated, pointing at the child’s head, in the direction of her teeth. <Ah, si, si> he mumbled, plundering through his bed stand drawer for change. There was much noise, and things clattering onto the wooden floor. I was rendered quite awake by now.

<Dos>, I said, because she has been a good child of late, most endearing. Au contraire, the Older One has taken to answering back, so when her tooth fell out on Tuesday she only got a pound. Tooth Fairies round this neck of the woods tend to listen in, a bit like Santa’s Seagull, who was a regular when I was growing up in Bangor. He was forever looking through the window with a beady eye and reporting any misdemeanours back to base in the North Pole. I held a grudge against seagulls for years, but I’m quite over it now, and even feel sorry for them with all the plastic in their tummies.

I toss and turn and sleep is not forthcoming. Apparently, in the olden times, pre-electricity, this was the norm. (Not pre-dawn raids hunting for change for in return for teeth,) but being awake at two or three in the morning. This was because everyone went to bed when it got dark (in the winter months anyway,) then woke a few hours later and had a snack and a chat and maybe some sex, before going back to sleep. How very pleasant, and how obviously never going to happen here, because between children and the cat our house is like an episode of ‘Whose bed is it anyway?’ Poor LSB knows the answer to that one, as he makes his forlorn way to the downstairs bedroom. ‘ Never my fecking bed,’ he says, trudging off.

While I’m in a ranty mood, here’s something else that I have issues with: over zealous parenting. Those ones who ‘go the extra mile’ seemingly with the only intention of making the rest of us frazzled mortals feel shit. I’m talking ‘rate per tooth’ here. IMHO, no tooth should ever warrant more than £2, except of course, if the tooth fairy was exhausted/tipsy or both and forgot to come for say, 3 lost teeth in a row. Then, fair enough, give the child a fiver, so they don’t that cast up to you as they heave you into a home when you’re eighty.

Also, for the love of God, don’t be writing letters in fancy calligraphy to your offspring  on behalf of a mythical creature. If you’re contemplating such hijinks, have a word with yourself. Anyone with that amount of spare time on their hands can come round here and deal with a few loads of my laundry. Those sort off shenanigans set expectations, that we all have to start penning missives, waxing lyrical about the wonder that is children growing up. The only letter our fairy is going to write is: ‘If you don’t stop strewing your dirty socks and pants round the house I won’t be back. Ever.’

When I was looking up images for a tooth fairy to adorn this piece, I came across pre-written messages which you can purchase online. These spout lots of shite about the kid being wonderful and enquiring after their general health. Some frigger somewhere is making a fortune out of that racket and I want in on it. I might suggest threatening versions for when children have been horrid: I’d be good at writing those.

*Those fluent in Spanish may feel the need to offer some corrections. Please refrain. I don’t actually speak much Spanish and I’m thrilled to bits with myself with the odd bit I know. Don’t burst my bubble. Trust me, it’s already well punctured at this stage.


LSB gets a Glasgow kiss

Image result for headbutt zidane

It is 4.22am and I have a dream that I am in the staffroom at work and a Home Economics teacher is telling me to incorporate ‘short walks into my daily routine’ to lower my cholesterol. She demonstrates by taking the long way round to the water cooler via the fridge, and mentions a staff member whose husband had a stoke in his forties.* ‘I have just turned forty,’ I whisper, in a voice, tinged with fear. ‘I know,’ she replies. ‘Eat more runner beans and walk more.’ In a sleep addled panic I sit up suddenly and fall back into the pillows .

‘OUCH!’ says LSB. I have fallen onto him and my head has connected with his nose. ‘OUCH’ he says again. He is both sore and disconbobulated. ‘I had a dream,’ I said.

‘Where was it set : Glasgow?’ he replies.

He can be quite sharp, LSB, even when awoken by a headbutt at an hour most ungodly.

Hence, it is 4-45 and he is browsing on his phone with a disconsolate expression and I am blogging because if I don’t write now I probably won’t until next Sunday. It brings me some relief to blog because at least if I’m doing this I’m not just mulling through the list of calamitous thoughts going through my head.

I am so, so tired about feeling bad about everything. I feel bad about the essays I marked because I stuck rigidly to the mark scheme and upon reflection I think I was too harsh.  I feel bad that the Small Child needs to practise her reading more and  yesterday morning as we sat under a blanket on the sofa she said it would be nice if her mummy could just work ‘a wee bit less.’ Ouch. So many ouches in my world right now. If ouches came in physical form I would be black and blue.

I feel bad about drinking too much at dinner on Friday night and being hungover on Saturday morning. I feel anxious because when I drink I become garrulous and dominate conversations. I can’t remember if I did that but I know I talked A LOT. I asked my friend whether ‘over-talked’ or not and she tells me to stop being paranoid. I feel bad about being paranoid: it’s a sign of stress and I feel bad that I can’t manage my stress better.

I used to manage my stress by running but I haven’t been able to shoehorn it into my routine, plus my Achilles is fucked and I need to see a physio. I feel bad about this because it’s been weeks and I still haven’t made an appointment. I did a parkrun yesterday and as I waited to have my token scanned I didn’t know whether I was going to cry, vomit or have an impromptu bowel movement. I feared I may do all three.

‘Are you ok?’ asked a concerned LSB, who was the one scanning my token. ‘Don’t be nice to me,’ I say, ‘or I will cry.’

‘Errr, ok then,’ he replies. ‘Maybe just go and drink some tea?’

In the event I drink some tea and chatted to my friends and I felt better. I feel bad though that it is now 5.07am which is 19 hours after my run and I still haven’t stretched my legs and my calves are throbbing. I swore I would stretch. People with a banjaxed Achilles should stretch.

My heart rate has at least slowed down and I feel good that I have used my time constructively. ‘Here, have a quick read at this,’ I ask LSB. He scans it quickly, and nods before rolling over to go back to sleep. At least my writing is good for something.

*Not an actual person, a dream person whose dream husband had a stroke. Although in real life I imagine it happens a lot, especially if they’re teachers.