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January 2020


LSB is too cheerful for January

If there’s anything more upsetting than a depressed husband, it’s a relentlessly cheerful one. While the usual approach to January is just to grit one’s teeth and hope fervently for better things, LSB* has been taking this month as a personal challenge to bug the shit clean out of me by being in fine fettle. It’s working very well, I must say.

‘What are you grinning about like some sort of lunatic?’ I asked him on Tuesday. I mean, what normal person comes in of an evening looking decidedly cheerful? He proceeded to tell me about his ‘whopping’ day at work and his ‘epic gym session.’ He wasn’t even being sarcastic: delighted he was with himself, having got a new PB on the bench press, and done 3 sets of weighted Bulgarian split squats. Meanwhile I was frying up chicken thighs for a mid-week supper, with a face on me like a busted sofa.

‘I find,’ he said helpfully, as he watched me put the broccoli on to boil, ‘that a run always helps when I’m in bad form.’

‘I’ve BEEN for a run,’ I replied, hotly. I had been very pleased to get out and do 5k with some girls after work, but the endorphins had long since disappeared, once I’d come home to homework and lost lunchboxes and confusion over a Baptismal photo which had been dully printed out and since lost. I also had an absolute fucker of a period with cramping so intense it felt as though my uterus was being wrung out like a damp dish cloth.

And the thing about my husband, is that he takes everything very personally. Like you couldn’t have looked sideways at me this week because I was tired (isn’t everyone?) and cranky and had far too much to do. I was therefore very ‘snappy’ and I swear to God, it was like booting a Golden Retriever, with him going round all sweetness and light. Very stung he was, at my causticity.

But men: they can be very annoying. Take the weekend, for example. On Saturday, I thought a gathering might be nice, to help dissipate the gloom, so I invited some friends round for ‘light bites’. I had to leave Himself in charge of tidying though since I was taking the Older Child to her first ever Irish Dancing Festival. Now in hindsight, I should have sent him, as he is infinitely more patient than me. It turns out, I’m getting increasingly like the Mothership, who wouldn’t sit through my GB displays, even though she insisted upon sending me to the bastard thing in the first place.

Now I’m not saying that the dancers weren’t talented and super cute in their wee outfits, but flip me doesn’t a festival go on a bit? After approximately 30 minutes, I was well tired of watching children capering about a stage.

‘Where the hell are we on this program?’ I asked the mum beside me, who had an older child and knew the craic. She pointed to the first page and how my heart did plummet when I saw we had quite a bit to go. Two and a half more pages, to be precise and this didn’t even mention the adjudication. Turned out we had to listen to a lengthy appraisal of the dances THREE TIMES: after the reel, after the jig and after the ‘hard-shoe-clippety-clop-treble-jig-novice- fiddle-dee-dee-dance.  There was no end to it. After two hours and two cups of tea and a traybake (that I’d made myself and had to buy back) I legged it.  I had to go and buy the required ‘light bites’ at the big Tesco at Newtownbreda: an excursion which I wouldn’t recommend as it was rammed full of people who looked even sourer than me.  After filling my trolley full of olives, mozzarella, and other such Mediterranean fare, I rushed back lest my child be waiting despondently, but not a bit of it. There was yet more dancing, and yet more judging to sit through, and me with salads to assemble and bathrooms to clean.

I sent a text warning Himself to make sure the house was in a reasonable state for guests.

‘Grand,’ came the monosyllabic reply.

But you should never trust men, and that’s the sorry truth. Yes, he had hoovered, so fair play to him, and he’d made a start on ‘operation clear bar’ (which just means clearing the island in the kitchen of accumulated debris.) But there was truck meeting me in the hall: shoes, school bags, all general paraphernalia that could fell a buddy as they came in. I made it my business to check the bathroom and THANK GOD I had the foresight. There was no loo roll in one, no hand towel in another and both toilets bore evidence of recent use and unflushed contents. How I wish I was only talking number ones here.

However, The Small Child was in robustly good form, having spent the latter part of the afternoon curled up under a blanket playing the Nintendo with her daddy.  The Older One wasn’t too perturbed despite her medals being for sixth place in most dances, (which basically meant a prize for showing up.) The friends arrived in twos and threes and fours and a bottle of fizz was opened with a glorious pop.

It was all rather lovely and nobody clattered over the clutter in the hall.

Poor LSB though. He’s blissfully unaware of the slegging he’s getting as he watches some shite that looks suspiciously like Star Trek but appears to be set in a French Vineyard.

I’ll keep you posted on his mood tomorrow. As we hurtle towards Brexit on Friday, I can’t imagine my acidity will diminish too much this week.

*Long Suffering Bastard- the husband, (for the benefit of any new readers)


SWB on Altruism

So, it’s January, as you may have noticed. I’m frozen, tired and not even feeling smug and virtuous because I’ve neither given up  wine nor embraced a meat-free lifestyle. Last night a friend put a picture of her steak dinner in a local bistro up on Instagram, which prompted me to think: ‘Take that down before you’re lynched!’ I am just properly NOT in the form for any class of self-denial. I am working full-time. I have two small, demanding children. I am trying not to think about the pending apocalypse. Boris Johnson is still PM. Trump is still President. How are earth are people managing NOT to drink? If you’re doing Dry January and still managing to stay remotely positive then I applaud you.

Equally, I extend my admiration for my friends, who in growing numbers have embraced ‘Veganuary.‘ Sometimes, (and I know this makes me a bad person) but I wish my friends could be a bit more rubbish, just to make me a bit better about myself, and my limitations. Maybe I could live without drink, or TRY to be a vegan, but definitely not as a double whammy. And not in January. I can’t even manage to SAY ‘Veganuary’ without it sounding like some sort of invasive gynae procedure. I think the NHS may have missed a trick in not coming up with ‘Vaginuary’, to encourage more women to get their cervical smear test over early the year and look forward to brighter things ahead. While on the topic of lady bits, check out the new candle range from Gwyneth. Dear God. Whatever next?

However, as a nod to a healthier attitude towards my innards and climate change, I have been experimenting in the kitchen with hearty soups and dhals. My red lentil dhal, in particular, was a thing of great beauty. But having given it a great deal of thought, the idea of never eating a soft boiled egg or a bagel slathered in cream cheese would make me very sad indeed.

But instead of feeling shite about what I’ve NOT managed to do, I’ve been thinking back to something I did last year which brought me much happiness.  At the risk of being perceived as a sanctimonious do-gooder and all round pain-in-the-hole, I shall elaborate. Lately I’ve been noticing features on Radio 4 and shared articles on social media on the benefits of doing good and I’m thinking, feck, these guys might just be ON TO SOMETHING.

At the school where I’m currently teaching we got word of a BBC initiative  to encourage children and the elderly to read poetry and then bring them together. It was thus named, imaginatively, ‘Poetry Together’. ‘How fabulous,’ I thought to myself.  As a preliminary exercise I went along to a local residential home with my  offspring and read some poems: Pam Ayres, Wordsworth, Marriott Edgar, (quite the eclectic mix.)  Initially my children looked a bit sullen but I made them go round with a bowl each of Murray Mints and Butter Balls, which perked them up a bit. The next week the Small Child even managed a tiny smile and by the time our third visit rolled around they were actually saying ‘Is it time to go yet?’ The residents were brilliant, some of them sparky and acerbic, which I enjoyed very much. I was giving off about how dreadful my children were one evening when one grey haired lady chirped up: ‘What did you bother having them for if they’re so awful?’

I thought this was marvellous. ‘Sometimes they’re alright,’ I conceded. ‘I did take you for ice-cream after school, didn’t I?’ I said, nudging the Older One.

‘She did actually’, she confirmed.

Nice to know they have my back.

So when it came to taking the pupils from school down for the ‘official reading’ it was all a lot easier. It helped that I was familiar with the place, because when organising any trips these days it can be a stressful affair, with about a million risk assessment forms and God knows what else to consider. Given my past experiences, that’s probably just as well.

But, to my utmost delight, it all went swimmingly, better even than expected. (That’s the joy of being a pessimist, any positive outcome is always a tremendous boon).

I had prepped the kids with some questions to ask, and one wee fellow went straight up to a lady and said ‘Hello! What pets did you have when you were young?’ She was all pleased, and told him about her lurcher, who according to her father, was even better than the border collie for rounding sheep. All the kids circulated, chatted away unselfconsciously without any awkwardness, before performing their poem. A few even volunteered to read out their own limericks. I was almost in tears with the loveliness of it all.

I’ve decided to continue to call in when I can. One afternoon we borrowed Fred, our friend’s springer spaniel and he went down an absolute storm. He’s nine now and a sedate sort of a fellow, thus a perfect fit for a care home. We did, however make the mistake of going at lunch time and he would have had an elderly gent’s beef and cabbage swiped off his plate had I had not a mighty grip of his lead.

That same day we got chatting to a lady who had been an evacuee during the war and had been sent to live on a farm in Tyrone. She said she missed it dreadfully when she got back to Belfast and had loved animals ever since.  I’m thinking of getting on the line to Streamvale Open Farm and seeing if I could get the lend of a few chicks, or maybe a rabbit. That would make for a fun visit.

In contrast to all these good vibes, a couple of times over the holidays I found myself in the city centre. It was a frightful experience altogether: most people had the faces gurned off them, and I overheard a few irate gentlemen opine that ‘it was all fucking shite, so it was.’ I agreed with them entirely.  All the horrible mindless consumerism doesn’t appear to be making us any happier. Maybe volunteering would be a better way to spend an afternoon, (or part thereof.)

It’s true, as Phoebe from Friends once said, that there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed. Anytime I take a trip to the home I leave feeling a bit more contented with my lot.

So you heard it here first: altruism is the new drug of the twenty-twenties. In the midst of all this horror-show it’s lovely, actually, to take some time with a few nonagenarians and take a few deep breaths. It’s soothing for a troubled soul, and makes me feel less bad about the glass of Primotivo of an evening. I guess if we do what we can, in whatever way works best for us, we can ignite a few sparks as we wait for the spring to arrive.







SWB on Armageddon (again)

Peter Broelman / Australia

It’s almost a week since the decorations came down: does anyone else agree that it has felt more like a year? Or an ultra-marathon? Or just a week long sojourn in Dante’s seventh circle of hell?

I definitely overdid the frivolity at Christmas because I had the utmost difficulty squeezing into my work outfits. No matter, said I, sure I’ll go for a few runs. Well. Those plans came to naught, such was my fatigue coupled with the fear of being tossed in the air by a tempest. Up here on the hill the gales have been frightful, and I can’t help but feel that they mirror the worldwide turbulence, so no rest for my tormented soul there.

You know already that I am inclined towards hyperbole, but I kid you not when I say that upon hearing of Trump’s antics last Friday my innards turned to ice. I made the mistake of sitting down to the news with a bowl of steaming noodles which were abandoned as my stomach lurched. So gripped with a powerful fear was I, that I did the only sensible thing a 40 year old can do in those circumstances, and rang my mum.  While the Mothership can work herself up into quite a frenzy about the price of Nambarrie tea bags, or a misshapen Hovis Loaf, she’s actually quite reassuring when it comes to the possibility of world annihilation.

She’s also quite tech savvy, so while she’d only heard the headlines she got herself on the net and quickly caught up, tutting under her breath. ‘Hmmph, you’d think he had better things to do, with him on his holidays in Florida. Yon fella shouldn’t be let out.’

‘I feel sick,’ I told her. ‘He’s done it this time. There’s no way back from this. We’re all doomed.’

I’d worked myself up into a powerful state of agitation.

The Mothership was quite abrupt in her response. ‘We’ll have none of that nonsense,’ said she. ‘What use would you be to man or beast if you went down that road?’

I agreed that quite, to adopt an attitude of fatalism wasn’t going to help anyone.

But she was warming to her theme.

‘Listen now,’ she said. ‘I’ve lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, not to mention all the recent strife. You can’t let yourself go under because of what MIGHT happen.’

‘There was your Nanna hiding under a table during the Blitz. Ans she lived until she was 88! You wouldn’t have caught her carrying on like this!’

She was quite animated by now, and ended the call by suggesting that I go and tidy the living room, because the last time she was up it was ‘nothing short of appalling’ and really, people might talk. Yes, I said. People are absolutely going to talk about the state of chassis that is my house, what with the possibility of a nuclear fallout.

But she did well. I managed to eat some of my lunch, though being rice noodles they had become somewhat congealed. Once I composed myself I took the kids to visit my friend and she fed them sausages and chips and we drank tea and ate Kitkats in the warm glow of her twinkly Christmas lights. I told her that I was very worried indeed, quite shaken, truth be told.

She shrugged. ‘It’s just the new normal isn’t it?’ she said, as she poured me more tea.

She’s so right too. The world is terrifying and run, seemingly by mad men. It makes one feel impotent and lost. So we could all down tools and await the apocalypse or just motor on, doing things that bring us joy and savouring each moment as we go. In the meantime, let’s sign some petitions, join some protests and in whatever tiny way we can, show that we’ll not be dragged headlong into a shit-show because of some narcissistic prick on either side the pond.

Though given my tendency towards self-absorption, calling people narcissists is probably quite rich. Such were my lamentations during the week that it prompted LSB to say: ‘If the world does end, it won’t just happen to you, you know!’

He made a valid point. Please God let things take a brighter turn, and should they not, chin up everyone.







SWB on New Year Resolutions

I’ve been feeling like a great and terrible disappointment to myself over the holidays. I had, you see, hoped that I might set time aside to write a bit more. This has, inevitably, not occurred. But upon reflection, this was a  ridiculous notion from the get-go. For a start, the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘break’ don’t belong in the same sentence together. Even if you don’t go berserk at Christmas, which we don’t, it’s still a busy, frenetic sort of a time. And the children. God, the children. In the absence of any sort of camp, they’ve been at home, with us, all day. Unless a friend or neighbour (of which, thank fuck, I have many) has carted them off somewhere, it’s up to us to amuse them, and this is a taxing sort of a task.

I feel as though I have simply swapped teaching for the less lucrative job of being my children’s PA.

The problem is, of course, that they have become institutionalised. In the primary school classroom every slot is accounted for, all nicely displaced on the wall so they know exactly what they are doing and when.

I think I need to do a little holiday timetable of my own and display it prominently. It won’t be as rigid as school, nor as polite. It may, for example read:

7am- 8am: Don’t even think about it.

8am-9am: Television Time, AKA leave Mum and Dad the fuck alone.

9am- 10am- House based activity AKA we are NOT trailing you around the countryside.

As I putting them to bed the other night the Older Child had a face on her like a well-scalped arse. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked.

‘We only did three things today,’ she replied. ‘And one of those was going to Forestside.’

Imagine! Third rate parenting indeed.

For the last 3 weeks (because it began even before the holidays) the children have been desperately hard to please. They ricochet between abject misery and elation, depending on where I’m sending them or who’s coming to play.

It’s exhausting, nerve-wrecking, and encourages great dependence on Sauvignon Blanc. Take yesterday, as an example. (Also, remember that it was New Year’s Day and after a party my head and innards were feeling as tender as the finest Japanese Kobe steak.)

‘So if we’re going out on Friday afternoon,’ ruminates the Older Child, ‘what are we doing on Friday morning?’

‘Well let me just get to it,’ I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly be sitting at home, without a plan.’

She either didn’t get the sarcasm or chose to ignore it, handing me my mobile. ‘Just put a message on WhatsApp and see who’s free please,’ she said, firmly. At least she asked this time. She swiped my phone once to text my friend Brenda and enquired if her son could come and play. Very convincing she was too, as the little chap arrived shortly afterwards, much to my surprise. (Fortunately, we are very fond of him.)

They are strong-willed, opinionated children that I have raised. Yes, their wills of steel may prove useful should they ever come up against the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, but I have spent the last while feeling as though I live under a tyranny.

Even if they could just tidy the house before inviting people in: that would appease me slightly. I have seen children’s mouths DROP open upon seeing the state of the living room floor. ‘My mum would KILL ME if I did this,’ said a wee girl the other day, looking stunned at the piles of shite everywhere.

And God FORBID you ask them to rectify the chaos they created in the house.

‘Are you going to do what I’ve asked or just keep sitting there?’ I seethed earlier to the Small Child, who was watching ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, cross-legged upon the sofa. ‘Hmmm,’ she replied, ‘I prefer Option 2.’

Little f**ker.

I remember reading ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ in which the author advocated that ‘frustration is a life skill,’ and therefore it was quite ok for children to be bored sometimes. I thought this was marvellous. I was bored quite a lot as a child, and it does build up a certain self-reliance. Philip Larkin, one of my most favourite poets, (miserable auld bastard that was), claimed that his childhood in Coventry was very dull indeed. A great poet it made of him too.

My children don’t do bored and I feel I may be doing them a disservice by arranging playdates and organising bracing walks for their edification. Maybe they will never reach their true potential because they haven’t experienced to the true humdrum nature of life.

I’ve been in such a state of agitation that even three yoga classes over the holidays haven’t helped. I keep uttering, ‘I’m not going to drink,’ before necking a glass of Prosecco at six o’clock. (Except Christmas day of course: I started at 11 then, for the day that was in it.)

I keep saying I’ll have a night off,  before sending LSB to the fridge to pour me something nice. I like how he swirls the ice around the glass to make it extra special, until I remind myself that these shenanigans may bring on renal failure.

So, I’ve decided, (and hear me out on this because it might sound all a bit wanky and New Age,) but I’m going to adopt Anne Lamott’s theory on self-improvement as my New Year resolution. Over January I’m going to make lovely soothing soups; chuck out  the clutter that’s making me unhappy and try to be a bit less frantic and a bit more sane.  It annoys me when I don’t practice my yoga or set an hour aside to write. I get narky at the kids when I don’t manage my time better and need to learn that it’s not unreasonable  to tell them to piss off and leave me in peace. I’m going to go to bed earlier and bank some sleep in these long nights. I don’t want to spend this year coming up with ways to escape from my life; I would like to attempt living in the present. (I warned you that this could be wanky).

The nice thing about this is that it’s not a hard and fast resolution, it’s a way of thinking how I can live a better life and keep this more at the front of my mind. On Christmas night I went to bed at half 8 and read a book my friend Grace gave me and listened to 6 Music. It was blissful. More of that sort of thing this month, I hope.