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November 2019


SWB is Supersonic

Months ago, LSB booked tickets for Liam Gallagher. ‘Liam? Really?’ I said. I’m not very keen on Liam, because I think he is a gobshite. Noel, I can tolerate, not least because I love his latest album, particularly, ‘Holy Mountain’, with yon French woman using the scissors as percussion. Listening to an entire solo Liam album would put years on me, and LSB has been instructed to remove any such items from the CD system in the car, lest I stumble across it and drive into a wall to put an end to the agony.

This has been the most busy, frenetic of weeks. We came to Dublin last Friday too so I could hear Elizabeth Strout’s talk on her latest novel, ‘Olive Again.’ I had aspirations of writing about this, and I still haven’t managed to do so. I am however, half way through the novel and left many things neglected in order to do so. It is a marvel.

‘But FECK,’ I said. ‘Away again, so soon? And to be doing so just to see Liam Gallagher? Me nerves!’ I got myself into a right state of agitation.

‘I see your Tourrette’s is back,’ sighed LSB.

I had various reservations. Liam can attract a loutish crowd, and at 40 years of years my face is already past its prime, and a headbutt in the eye isn’t going to improve it any. And as I said, I don’t much like his solo stuff, and that I know I can eff and blind like the best of them but he makes me look like Mary Whitehouse.

I express these concerns with LSB and he is remarkable sanguine- he knows I have been STRESSED TO F**K this week, because I have repeatedly informed him of the fact.

‘It’s ok if you want to leave it,’ he says, even though by now it is Saturday morning and we would have been stung for the accommodation. ‘But we will get a good dinner and I think you’ll like the hotel. It might also be nice to get away from the children,’ he adds, hopefully.

‘Ok,’ I say, sighing deeply, like the miserable old bastard I have become.

But when I hop in the car and for the second time in as many weeks zoom over the Hillhall Road, I feel a peace descend as we put distance between ourselves and the chaos of life. We listen to Giles Peterson on 6 Music and the smokiness of the jazz and the whoosh of the wipers works some kind of hypnotic magic; (on me, not LSB, who thankfully focuses on the road ahead).

By the time Himself deposits me at The Spencer Hotel and goes to find parking I feel almost mellow. After a cocktail called ‘No Name’ I feel mellower still. A man comes up to bar and orders a Porn Star Martini, a Guinness and two Club Oranges. ‘Take that to your mum, he says to his small boy, ‘AND BE CAREFUL WIT IT!’ The child carries the Martini over to his Mum with great reverence, as though it is The Holy Stone of Clonrichert. A grand job he makes of it too.

‘I need to train mine,’ I think to myself. The Older Child, in her constant state of excitement, would have had it fucked over the floor or some innocent bystander in 3 seconds flat.

I’m in fine fettle by the time I’ve eaten a dish of Cambodian ‘ Cha Traop Dot’ in the East Restaurant and sampled their house Pinot Grigio, which came highly recommended and is a change from the Sauvignon Blanc I usually glug.

I think,’ I say,’ leaning over to LSB with a conspiratorial air, ‘that I may actually be looking forward to this gig now.’

‘Yes!’ he says beaming, almost punching the air because I’ve been so glum of late. ‘Let’s go then!!’

We trot off to the 3 Arena and join the queue for the seated area, where everyone looks our age or older. It appears hooligan free, which is a relief. Behind us a woman is discussing her dilemma about what to buy her third God-daughter for her First Communion. ‘It was easier for the first two, but these are different times,’ she says perplexed.  I catch her eye and smile. More rock’n roll is her next conversational gambit: ‘I was FUCKED after those mushrooms we did the other week. How were you after them?’ she asks her mate, a lady of a similar vintage. ‘Not good. Not good at all,’ she replies, shaking her head. Confusing times indeed, I think.

You have to just accept some things when you go to see Liam Gallagher. No matter where you sit, some frigger is going to chuck a pint over you. I mean, obviously, why pay €6 for a pint if you’re not just going to heave it into the crowd?

And it’s not just the flying pints of Heineken you have to worry about. Flares, apparently,  are now a thing. Huge, f**k off flares. I’m telling you, if they’d had these fellas on the Titanic, The Carpathia would have been over in a jiffy and lowered the rate of casualties  drastically.

Some clampet sets off a red one which he then proceeds to drop. From our vantage point above the standing area it looks like the mouth of Hades has appeared and is having a good yawn. Still, nobody seems too rattled, aside from me, obviously.

‘Burnt alive!’ I say to LSB. ‘We’ll be burnt alive, at a Liam Gallagher gig! What a way to go!’

Liam is on to it. He’s none too pleased after a fan in Sheffield last week had her clothes set on fire. ‘I don’t want to be busting your bollocks, he tells the crowd, ‘ but you need to calm the f**k down with them things.’

Who would have imagined that they’d ever have to listen Liam Gallagher doing public health announcements?

On goes the gig. I am up out of my seat and dancing  along to Wonderwall and Roll with It. Singing along too I am, arms aloft. Very taken I have become with the whole affair. I am almost in tears to Champagne Supernova and by the time he comes on for the bonus encore of Cigarettes and Alcohol I’m like that mad auld doll in Father Ted (only without the casual racism).

‘He’s good value, that Liam Gallagher,’ I tell LSB as we stroll back to the hotel, hand in hand along Mayor Street. The crowd were pleasant too. A large chap from Tallaght engages me in a full on chat about recyclable toilet paper. We compared notes.  I swear to God, you couldn’t make it up.

I come down to breakfast the next morning and I’m humming ‘and maybe, you’re gonna be the one who saves me.’ I am still grinning. Do you know, honey,’ I say to himself. ‘I’m really developing a love for the south.’

‘That’s good dear,’ he says. ‘Now you just have to convince all the other Prods up North.


SWB V ‘Hump Day’

We have reached ‘peak middle-age.’ This evening, LSB disappears next door to retrieve a parcel. He returns looking all merry and pleased with himself.

‘What’s that you have?’ I enquire. I am helping a child to write an imaginative paragraph with predominant ‘ee’ sounds, while trying to remove a stubborn stain from a shirt collar. I’m in poor humour.

‘You’ll probably think it’s a bit sad really,’ he says, BEAMING as he snips through the sello- tape with a pair of nail scissors, but it’s a SMART thermostat, so we can control our heating!’

‘Gosh,’ I say, my tone flat.

‘We can even ask Alexa to turn it on and off for us!’

‘Hmmm.’ I still struggle to exhibit enthusiasm.

‘Ultimately it will reduce our gas bills!’ he adds. I haven’t seen him so excited in quite some time.

‘Are there not just basic timers to do that?’ I ask, which is a cheek really, because I have never, despite having reached the age of 40, successfully used a central heating timer.

He bats away this notion, and continues to futter about with his new appliance.

I retreat downstairs with a pile of marking.

Later, as further evidence of the rubbish week I’ve been having, the cat emerges from outside and chooses my exact spot on the sofa to ensconce herself and start licking her bottom. Should anyone ever tell you that cats are clean animals, refute it. I have pictures to prove it. I had been about to park myself, with my filet of microwaved salmon, rice and broccoli florets, beside my Frida Kahlo cushion.

‘Scarper,’ I tell her, and she hops off before sitting down and narrowing her eyes, with her most disgruntled expression.

As if our evening can’t be any less satisfactory, it deteriorates further.

LSB and I have reached a drought with our viewing. We’re up to date on Spiral, have finished Mind Hunter and last week we saw the last episode of Unbelievable, which was, tragically, only a ‘limited series’. I am feeling the loss of this programme acutely. I would like Toni Colette to please come to Belfast and be my friend; and I loved the brooding intensity and complicated relationship with the Almighty conveyed by Merritt Wever. In a different life, I think, I too could have been a Detective.

I sit down hoping that Himself has been ‘on to this’ and discovered a new series with which I shall fall instantly in love and can thus, for at least an hour a night, ignore all other obligations. But he hasn’t, and his negligence irks me. We have jobs in our house: mine revolve around laundry and food, while he takes charge of anything techy (see above) and ensuring bills are paid so they don’t cut off the electricity while I’m engrossed in my shows. He is also in charge of finding programmes and lining them up for my viewing pleasure. It depresses me how traditional we are but if he washes anything it either come out blue or doll-sized, and I would rather not subsist on ready-meals from Sainsburys. (How I wish I were exaggerating for effect here).

‘Should we,’ I say, (because I can’t be arsed swiping about with Netflix), watch something on terrestrial television?’

LSB feels my forehead. ‘You must be feeling bad,’ he says.

‘Just get on with it,’ I say, as I do when he’s feeling amorous.

As he flicks through the channels I spy Paul O’Grady’s ‘For the Love of Dogs’. My spirits lift.

I know, don’t judge me. I felt a rush of nostalgia, because in those carefree, halcyon days pre-children, we used to hike in the Mournes of a Sunday, and on the drive home listen to Paul O’Grady on Radio 2. Week after week he read out missives from listeners in need of consolation, after Dickie the Dachshund or Cedric the Schnauzer had passed away. Sometimes,  I‘d shed a tear.

‘What a find!’ I thought to myself. Paul was looking ever so smart in a woolen coat, and first to feature on the show was Ruby, a 9 month old stray terrier, and mother to three pups. Despite being a mere adolescent herself she was coping admirably. How we oohed and ahh-ed. But then it took a sudden downward turn. The Battersea dog wardens arrived with Penny, a lurcher cross who had been dumped in a skip, with the sort of virulent skin complaint one might expect, had a skip been your domicile for the last month. It wasn’t palatable viewing, and there were several, what I felt to be unnecessary close-ups.

‘Just watch what you like,’ I said, in a weary tone.

Well, I could almost feel the glee radiating off Himself. ‘Really?’ he says: ‘Can I watch the Star Wars thing?’

I think it was the lowest part of my day: enduring the spectacle of grown men in ridiculous helmets capering about in the snow. There was an aardvark playing a recorder and communicating in chirrupy noises. For a Disney production I thought the special effects were shoddy: there was a robot that was motoring around that was basically a bin on wheels.

‘What even the f*ck is a ‘Mandalorian’? I ask.

He looks aghast at my ignorance. ‘Legendary warriors fighting against the Jedi! They can kill with their bare hands and were trained by Boba Fett.’

I look blanker than I did about the new heating timer.

‘See him?’ He says, pointing to a tall fellow wearing full body armour and a visor. That’s Javier Pēna (Pedro Pascal) from Narcos.

‘I can’t be!’ I gasp. ‘What a step down!’

‘Step up you mean,’ he replies, shaking his head. ‘This is a spin-off from Star Wars; he’ll be minted!’

He’s found his happy place: like Fiona Paisley in the Maldives, only we’re not lying on sunbeds feasting on mango and lycees with a waiter on standby offering  rum cocktails.

The only plus side of having a Wednesday this shite is that the rest of the week can only improve. Keep everything crossed folks- I’m relying on the good vibes to see me through.



SWB has Pumpkin Fatigue

‘I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PUMPKIN,’ I said last year, with feeling. Last November I had set myself a challenge to do one positive a thing every day. It damn near killed me. I attempted to take the ‘zero waste’ approach to Halloween. I failed miserably in most respects but I did end up carving a lot of pumpkin. People started bringing me their Jack-o’-lanterns  that otherwise would have gone to waste: all that pumpkiny goodness languishing in landfill. I couldn’t bear it, so I set to, peeling and chopping and popping them into boxes. I ended up posting pictures of them on FB to see if anyone fancied pre-prepared veg for soups and curries.

‘Please, let there be an end to the pumpkin,’ sighed LSB. This was ironic as it was he who bought the bastard thing in the first place with the intention of creating a festive decoration.  He then proceeded to leave it there, staring at me until November 1st when he conceded ‘there wasn’t really much point anymore.’ I never would have started any pumpkin related nonsense had he not started the shenanigans.

And then, THIS year, what does he trail home from Sainsbury’s but the biggest f*ck-off sized pumpkin that one could ever imagine. He arrived with it on the 26th October, at half past five, precisely half an hour before twenty guests were due to arrive for the Older Child’s 8th birthday. This, I’m sure you will agree, is not the best time to start carving a mammoth squash, when there is beer that needs chilling and floors that needs sweeping and wives that need a fortnight in St Lucia* booked before they explode with rage and the sheer exhaustion of existence.

On the 27th October the children asked could they carve it, but we were too busy clearing the post-party debris to contemplate such a chore. On the 28th they enquired again. On the 29th we were heading to the Roe Valley for two nights and attention was diverted as we tried to catch the cat to cart her off to her ‘pet retreat’ in the Castlereagh Hills. She seemed to sense her impending departure because upon awaking she did a large shit in our shower; a most unpleasant surprise, and frankly not very ‘birthdayish’, as the Small Child opined. Of course she then legged it, refusing to return. Her reservation thus had to be cancelled and favours called in from LSB’s Dad to come and feed her, with dire warnings to check the shower on each visit.

‘NO, THE PUMPKIN IS NOT BLOODY COMING,’ neighbours heard me shout, as I dragged my bags to the car. The Older Child by now seemed to think of the pumpkin as a family member, or perhaps a pet, rather like Father Jack and his brick but with more nutritional value. We nearly had an episode, which I now call ‘Mother Close to Tears Prior to Departure’ which happens on most trips and has LSB saying, ‘we’ll get you a gin at the airport,’ or in this case, ‘Here, just drink that can of Sauvignon Blanc in the car. I’ll drive carefully.’

I thought I’d left all pumpkin related woes behind, until I heard a ping:

‘I’m going to have to make a soup when we get home,’ I muttered miserably to LSB.

‘I’m removing that app from your phone.’ he said, having looked over my shoulder. I had signed up to Olio recently in a bid to minimise waste. They send me all sorts of interesting snippets and this one stated that the number of pumpkins chucked away uneaten in October would be enough to give every person in the UK a bowl of soup.

We came home and the pumpkin seemed to be staring at me, daring me to not to do something with it. I googled ‘how to cut up pumpkin’ on Youtube and watched an  Ozzie fellow set to with a carving knife, but even with his deliberate air of insouciance it still looked hard work. I had wanted an easier way. There is no easier way, with pumpkins, I have found. It’s a huge effort, and one could suffer injury if not extremely careful. But I persevered. I chopped red onion, garlic and red pepper, plus the persimmon fruit which we had bought earlier that day in the veg shop on the Ormeau. ‘Can we try that?’ asked the Older Child.

‘Why not?’ I said; I’m nice like that. Disappointing it was: rather bland and most unworthy of the 69p it cost. So I fecked it in the saucepan along with the rest of the veg, which I fried gently in coconut oil. I roasted the rest of the pumpkin, generously seasoned with salt and pepper and rapeseed oil. Our kitchen took on the heady scent of autumn, and for a while I was cheered, and a tad smug, if I’m honest.

Then I tried to blend it, forgetting that the last time I used the blender I had a disaster. Said disaster reoccurred, and the mixture leaked out, all over the worktop, all over the floor and tragically over my new M&S slippers.

‘FUCK ME,’ I seethed.

I managed to salvage some, and eventually blend it. If there is any good to be derived from this sorry tale, is that when LSB came in from work and I presented him with a bowlful, he claimed that it was a marvellous and exactly what he needed on a Monday, when he felt all cold and feeble. Still, if he dares bring another into the house next year he may well end up in the Royal with pumpkin issues unrelated to carving, but simply a blow from one aimed at his head.