Monthly Archives:

March 2020


SWB Twins Her Toilet

‘Errrr what?’ I hear you say, ‘what’s that mad eejit up to now?’ I shall elaborate. A lovely lady called Christine who does my Irish Dancing Class, told me about this initiative where you donate to this charity and they ‘twin your toilet’ with one in Africa where people don’t have a loo on which to pee while they check their phone/read the paper or just hide from their family. They then send you a picture of the loo you have helped to construct with your donation and you can hang it up in your bathroom and look upon it with a glow of satisfaction while emptying your bowels.

I’ve been meaning to get round to twinning my toilet for ages and I guess now I have no excuse not to get on with it, especially since it’s the weekend and all that home-schooling lark can get to fuck. Since there is a lavatorial theme to this post, I have included my latest Tenx9 story which I read last month in The Black Box. It’s all about my trip to Madagascar in the year 2000 when I fell prey to the sort of pestilence one would expect when travelling round the developing world at twenty years of age and paying blatant disregard to the advice to avoid ice-cubes in your glass of coconut rum.

Tenx9 story on the theme of ‘Nature’

They say if you travel round South America you have tales about hair-raising bus journeys, and if you go to South East Asia, you have tales about your bowels. For the record, I’ve been to both and it’s bowels all the way. But I don’t like to limit myself to just the two continents, and my trip to Madagascar off the coast of Mozambique, fairly took its toll on my innards too.

I have my Malgache adventure in January 2000, because at the time I am teaching (well, teaching in the loosest sense of the word) on Réunion, a French island utterly dwarfed by its neighbour, which is a whopping 233 times its size.

Jo, Will, Katie and myself form a gormless foursome of language assistants, off on a 3 week jaunt of the island, since we are off for the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of summer holidays. How ‘magnifique’, we think, being paid to go gallivanting in search of lemurs and tramping through rainforests.

Endless patience and a strong constitution are a must for trips like these, and sadly for me, I have neither. We are following a route outlined in our Lonely Planet guide, but of course we didn’t appreciate the lack of passable roads to facilitate this journey, which deteriorate the further south one travelled. Our entitled, first world backsides are in for a shock indeed.

Our lovely hosts in the capital, Antananarivo organise a car to take us to our first stop, Antsirabe and though it is rickety and fusty, the amenable driver who stops frequently and lets us commandeer his cassette player, replacing the jingly jangly Malgache tunes with the Beatles White Album.

We have considered a vegetarian diet once we left the confines of our host’s home, after their son took us to a market and pointed to a shack where hunks of meat hung from hooks, dripping blood onto the wooden counter. ‘Voila la boucherie,’ he said, while we looked on and tried not to retch. The bored looking vendor wiped at the blood with a grubby cloth and ineffectually batted the flies away with a brush, a display which we felt was only for our benefit.

However, as I have no patience. After one day of eating rice, I am ever so bored and decide to risk a ‘poulet coco’, as according to the Lonely Planet, Antsirabe boasts the island’s best restaurants. Trust me when I say that The Lonely Planet talks shite. My chicken is all bone and no meat, as though it had been thoroughly gnawed prior to serving. Still, hungry after a long drive and I clean my plate before tucking into a ‘banane flambé’, a dessert so liberally doused with rum that I am sure it would kill any bugs left from the main event.

No rum, as it turns out would be strong enough. Walking back to our guest house I feel the onset of cramps, as if rough hands are wringing out my colon as though it were the neck of the chicken which had so briefly featured in my curry. ‘You might as well just stay in there,’ says my room-mate caustically, as I crawl into the bathroom for the 4th time that night.

She and the others seem impervious to whatever pestilence I have fallen prey, and they lack a great deal of sympathy. I had visited the doctor in Réunion before the trip and upon hearing my destination he had raised his eyebrows and I left with a truck load of antibiotics, rehydration salts and Imodium. It cost me a bloody fortune.

But by the next day, two Imodium and three hours of rough roads later, we all feel very grateful to my doctor. We arrive at Ramomafana National Park in time to hire a guide who takes us on a night safari, smearing banana onto trees to attract small mouse lemurs with bulbous black eyes. Others swing through the trees, chattering and singing, a sound which I can’t decide is endearing or eerie.

What is eerie though, is the immediacy with which my Imodium runs out after the four hour period. I try to ignore the rumblings of my guts but seize my moment when our guide goes off after a trail for the cat-like fossa. I dive behind some trees of which, thankfully, there are many. ‘Could you sing or something?’ I ask my companions. ‘Yes, because that’ll encourage the wildlife,’ said Jo, a straight-talking Yorkshire lass. It didn’t help that the guide is skulking about and appear about three seconds after I had pulled up my trousers. I’m sure he felt he’d witnessed nature at its very best.

The next day, despite having only ingested warm coca cola, I have been to the loo 19 times. By the 12th, it is less of a soup, more of a consommé. By the last few it is water, though I wonder how I have any fluids left to pass. My friends meanwhile go on safari. They see ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, black lemurs, even the rare red-ruffed lemur. The closest I get to wildlife is a bold grey rat which I wake to find nibbling on crackers that supposed to be my dinner.

Once I recover sufficiently to travel, we head to Isalo, another park, this time via ‘taxi-brousse’ which is a dilapidated mini-bus into which a million people are squeezed. The journey will take hours but for £2 each we reckon it’s worth it. That night, however, at our guesthouse, three French chaps strike up a chat and take pity on us when they hear of our mode of transport. They are headed in the same direction and have a four-by-four. Of coursethey will take us, they say, and arrange to meet at 7am the following morning. We drink some rum cocktails before bidding them goodnight, barely able to believe our luck.

At ten to seven we are waiting at reception. We wait, and wait, then take a look for the jeep. It, like them, is long gone. ‘Oh my God, what did you say to them?’ asks Jo. ‘You talked about your bowels, didn’t you?’ she says. ‘They probably thought you’d have the shits all over their hire car.’

‘Gosh,’ I reply.  ‘I don’t think I did, but I did have rather a lot to drink.’ I occurs to me then that when the French men had suggested that we join them for a coffee in their room the night before, and Katie and I had politely declined, that they may have retracted their generous offer.

Still, at least we had clear consciences when we set off to get our taxi-brousse. Three hours we wait under a leaden cloud of smog at the station. Our back packs are bundled on top and secured with ropes and slowly, seat by seat our bus fills up. We have bought four seats but one of these is only half a seat, and guess who ends up getting that.

After two hours of jolting along, I need to pee. We stop alongside some desolate huts where a few women and children sit around a fire.  They point me towards a small dark hut, but they might as well have said ‘follow the flies.’ My North Down bladder refuses to comply and I can’t even go in, although my need is great. I board the bus again which bumps on for 50 or so excruciating miles.

Such is the terrain on one road that it chugs to a halt and my joy is immense.  ‘Let me out!’ I shriek, leaping over a toddler and a basket full of hens.

The shrubbery is sparse, but I find a bush to squat behind and pee. By now I could crush watermelons my thigh muscles are so well developed.

Alas, the relief when I stand is mitigated by the realisation that most of the pee is over my sarong. The bleak scrubland affords little in the way of washing amenities, and my rucksack is firmly lodged on the roof. I stand on the urine drenched sarong hoping to squeeze the worse of it out. As it happens, it dries as we wait outside under a roasting sun for two hours while men poke about under the bonnet.

We reach Isalo and I am rewarded with incredible hiking and spot the rare black and white lemur, like a small pointy panda. At our final beach destination of Ifate, home to the spiny forest of Baobab trees, we see nature at its most peculiar: some trees are shaped like carrots, others have a circumference of ten metres. Here, the worst indignity is at the local disco, where a generator pumps out Cher’s ‘Believe’ on repeat. I feel like I could have lived without the lemurs and come straight here, with its kindly locals and coconut infused rum. I came to Madagascar for the nature, and my trip ended up more about answering its call.










SWB gets a grip on lock-down

Home-schooling, well isn’t that a total arse-ache? I can’t keep up: I’m stressed to fuck. We’re prancing about with Joe Wicks at 9am, then we’re doing a few worksheets, nipping out for some fresh air, reading stories, and  all this amid repeated demands for drinks and snacks and me shouting ‘Have you washed your hands?’ WASH YOUR HANDS!!’ We’ve yet to check out Carol Vorderman doing her sums; nor have we investigated the billion ‘fun educational games’ on the computer (my laptop of course because Himself is up there doing his work) and I haven’t looked near their wee  ‘See-saw’ school  app because my brain can’t process any more information.

Meanwhile, DING DING DING goes the phone as pals post a million humorous jokes and videos where people showcase their creativity and ability to not only cope emotionally with this threat of extermination, but also produce original and entertaining content. I’m not a bit pleased with these ones who are managing to be amusing when I can’t even get my arse to a seat and churn out a blog post. I just can’t, between children wanting me and failure to harness any coherent thoughts. I feel as though there’s a red-setter inside my head who’s dropped a few disco biscuits, cranked up the techno and is having a good rave  to himself.  I haven’t been able to think or or channel any creative thoughts at all. My head is as fried as an overdone egg with burnt crispy bits.

As well as trying to feeding and teach my youngsters, and making sure the house doesn’t descend into a quagmire of filth, I’m checking in with work occasionally and trying to appear normal. But tell me, what does normal look like when normality has packed its bags and legged it through the door? And then, all of a sudden, it’s 6pm and  we are tuning into  Oliver Jeffers reading his stories  as I pour a glass of wine and wonder where the hell the day went.

Could be worse, I suppose. I could be a respiratory consultant with no face mask and a 48 hour shift ahead of me with an empty fridge at home and no loo roll. It’s all perspective really, when one thinks about it.

Phew. Well that’s that off my chest then, how the hell are you all? I hope you’re well and hanging in there and that you got over that brief but terrible shock on Tuesday when Boris threatened to close the off-licenses.

In truth, I’m ok. There are moments when the whole ‘almost apocalypse’ has me wanting to crawl under the duvet and detach myself from reality altogether, but that would be quite selfish now, wouldn’t it?  My kids have actually been (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this) quite sanguine about it all. They aren’t harassing me to have their pals round, and they seem to have digested that something big and beyond our control is afoot and that we just have to accept it for the time being.

Normally when I’m stressed I like to retreat into a book, but I’ll admit that I’ve found reading difficult, because I’ve trouble focus and I’m exhausted by nightfall. Happily though, before lockdown I popped into Books Paper Scissors and bought a copy of Malachi O’Doherty’s  ‘Terry Brankin has a Gun’.  It was quite what I needed: a fast paced page turner that  succeeded in distracting me from our current situation. It’s a shrewd and insightful look into our troubled and not-so distant past and I loved it. Despite the subject matter being dark, O’Doherty manages to inject humour into some episodes with a deftness of touch. I was chuckling away to myself when the equivalent of the Nolan Show gets in touch with Brankin with hilarious results. Only a Northern Irish writer could capture the surreal aspect of society here with such clarity.

Next up, I’m going back to one of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler. With her finely tuned observations and wry tone, she puts me in mind of Elizabeth Strout, a writer with whom I’m a bit obsessed. Like Strout, Tyler examines the most challenging aspects of the human condition, and does so with such honesty and compassion, that you begin to extend some self-love to yourself.

So try, amid the madness of home-schooling and working and keeping in contact with your loved ones, to carve out some time for yourself. I’m away now to hide from everyone and self-soothe for half an hour. Too much reality isn’t good for anyone these days.




The Mothership rings SWB

‘Why don’t you write a blog every day since you’re off?’ suggested LSB helpfully, as he trotted up the stairs, coffee in hand. He was going to ‘work’ at his desk, in the study, in his quiet ‘designated area’.  I, on the other hand, have been downstairs for the past week with the children, overseeing their activities, and reading them an occasional story. It is very difficult to write anything at all in these conditions. The second I open the laptop, a child STOPS whatever they are doing, and comes along to annoy me.

‘Can I have a drink?’ (Yes, if you get it yourself). ‘Can we have our friends around?’ (No, you can’t, in case you all infect each other or worse still, me). ‘Can we look up Assisi and see if they have any dogs we can get?’ (No, because our cat hates me enough already.)

I’m telling you, it never fucking stops.

The Mothership, has, of course been on the blower. None too pleased she was with the last blog post I can tell you.

‘TOO MUCH INFORMATION!’ was her congenial conversational opener when she rang yesterday. ‘Who in their right mind needs a vision of you, sitting on the toilet? I certainly don’t. I made myself my tea and toast and marmalade and took it up to the computer and that was what greeted me. Pee and cat-puke, before 10am of a morning.  Not a bit of need for it.  And the language too. Vulgar doesn’t even BEGIN to cut it. I actually feel quite ashamed on your behalf.’

‘I’m just trying to normalise things,’ I tried to explain. ‘Very few parents ever get a bowel movement in peace anymore, so it’s comforting to know we’re all in the same boat.’

‘COMFORTING? What’s comforting about that? Some behaviour you don’t want to be normalising. No boundaries, that’s the problem with your generation.’

‘But even the great writers talk about their bathroom habits. Karl Ove Knausgaard is renowned for talking about his pee.’

‘Who??’ It was now the Mothership’s turn to be perplexed.

‘He’s a Norwegian. Totally loaded, for writing about his everyday life, in excruciating detail.’

‘Well, talking about excruciating, I was thinking that this would be the ideal opportunity for you to sort out your toilets. The state of them pains me.’

‘Sort what out, exactly?’

‘The sheer neglect Helen. One must tend to toilets, or they get out of hand very quickly.’

(An image forms in my head of my toilet having a fag and cracking open the Carlsberg Special Brew while I’m out at my work.)

‘Now they have improved slightly since I’ve been ministering to them with bleach every Monday when I’m up’ she goes on,’ but I’m very worried that in my absence they will deteriorate to their former state. If I were you, I’d be chucking a good dose of Domestos down them and letting it sit a while to do its work.’

I would like to add, that I have never seen any problem with my toilets, but the Mothership has very high standards when it comes to the sheen of the bowl.

‘Then you could take out the ‘Astonish’ I bought in for you.’

‘What’s that?’ I asked, bewildered.

‘It’s the Mould and Mildew Remover that I got you ages ago. I bet it’s in the cupboard where I left it, with the seal still intact. I don’t want to THINK about the state of the grouting in your shower. I imagine it’s disgusting.’

Well that’s my mother for you, taking this international crisis as an ideal opportunity to address my inferior bathroom cleaning skills.

Toilet bowls aside, I should mention that I would be a very hygienic sort, especially with relation to kitchen cleanliness. I’ve yet to poison anybody, and I’ve been throwing dinner parties for quite some time. Perhaps, as well as the Mothership’s instruction, it’s because I took Home Economics for A-level, and as well as winning the big silver teapot for the top A-level mark (go me) I earned my Health and Hygiene certificate.

I include this information, not to brag about my culinary skills, but to make a suggestion. Aside from staying in and trying not to become a nuisance to the NHS, I’m doing nothing to help those ‘front-line’ warriors, whose nerves must be shot to bits. So, in the spirit of community action, I am going to suggest cooking for someone who is already stretched to their limit. I was thinking along the lines of a: ‘dinner for a doctor’; ‘nosh for a nurse’ or ‘munchies for a mid-wife.’ You get my drift. I heard an interview on the news yesterday with a critical care nurse, perhaps you heard it as well. She had come off a 24-hour shift and gone to buy some essentials, only to find the shelves stripped of anything remotely nutritious. I wouldn’t want anyone treating me who’d been subsisting on Pot Noodles or some similar shite for a week. I’ve already messaged some of my friends who work for the NHS and they’ve said they would be very grateful for a few dinners from next week on, when they know the pressure will be cranked up a notch. (Understatement of the century there). I’m batch cooking anyway so I’m going to pop a few extra portions in the freezer.

In the meantime, can I just say a massive THANK YOU to all those who read the blog and who post me little messages and say nice things. And for those of you who have been asking after my folks at this time, well that is very kind of you indeed. It’s terrible really, not having them up to clean my toilets, entertain my off-spring and drink tea, while the Mothership criticises my, well, just about everything. But still, if she wasn’t around I wouldn’t have half the material, so one has to see the bright side. So Happy Mother’s Day from afar, to the inimitable Mothership, and may all of you out there have some semblance of a Saturday evening to yourselves.



SWB keeps less than calm but carries on…

I was having a pee this morning, perched, bleary eyed upon the throne, when in wandered Small Child, wearing a serious expression. ‘It’s the cat,’ she explained, ‘she’s been sick all over the sofa.’ Indeed she had.  With all the gusto of a student after St Paddy’s Day, she had puked over two of the large sofa cushions and two of the little decorative ones. Another, more recent deposit, had been left in the hall. She wandered in miserably while I surveyed the mess looking very sorry for herself. ‘Miaow,’ she said feebly as I went to fetch gloves and cloths.

It wasn’t the ideal way to start the day, at half six of a Wednesday morning, but still, all is far from ideal right now, and in my extensive clean-a-thon I didn’t have time to scroll anxiously through my Whatsapp messages, e-mail, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I have been reaching, feverishly for my phone in a sort of demented frenzy for the last week. Questions flit through my head: ‘Are we going back into work? Are we keeping the kids off school? Why is Boris saying one thing and then in the same sentence something else which completely contradicts it? (Because he’s a useless dick).  Why is our Assembly so spineless?’

On and on it goes, like some absurd and sinister merry-go-round.

I keep just going for a nap and waking up an hour (or sometimes even two) later to get away from it all. Thankfully, I have a very understanding husband.

‘Could you please just wake me up if I doze off for more than half an hour?’ I asked him this morning. ‘Not a fucking chance,’ he replied. ‘There’s a reason why we let bears hibernate.’

Still, when I’m awake, I’m reasonably productive. Down at my friend’s last week, I admired the number of little pegs they had stuck to the wall, for their children’s coats and accountrements. I try to stick up pegs, but they are always wonky, and fall down, so coats pile in an unsightly fashion upon the floor.

‘You need this,’ said Tony, who’s a handy sort of a fellow, giving me his ‘No More Nails’. Off I went with his tube, and I’ve been gluing things to walls ever since. It has brought me something close to joy, waking up and checking my pictures every morning and reporting to LSB, ‘Look! They’re still up!’

Everyone’s patience is starting to wane with my new found enthusiasm. ‘I’m going to put some of that in the bottom of a bag and start sniffing it if you don’t put it down soon,’ said LSB wearily.

‘Well, you can take the man out of West Belfast…’ I began, but he gave me a very sour look.

‘You really love that glue,’ sighed the Older Child, who doesn’t know what’s going to appear next in her wee room. ‘I don’t even really like that picture,’ she sighed miserably as a new one was popped up in a jaunty red frame.

But I can’t be stopped in my endeavour, as I’ve been enjoying myself very much.

LSB has though, drawn the line at my plan for Ikea shelves above the bed. You know those ones you see in brochures for a couple of books and some cascading ivy and spider plants, so you can breathe in freshly oxygenated air as you sleep?

‘That will be the very shelf that the ‘No More Nails’ WON’T hold,’ he said darkly. He has a point. No one wants to wake up with a klunk and wearing a spider plant on their head, or worse still, be killed outright, should it hit a tender spot upon the temple. I do hope Jan Carson is reading this. She’s rather taken with Agatha Christie novels, and I think that this could be a Christie inspired murder for the twenty-first century.

I finally got the school photos and I want to buy some new frames for them and get a-sticking, but somehow, I don’t think going out to buy frames counts as an essential journey. It’s all very perplexing. The Mothership has been scanned said photos, which prompted an irate phone call. Pure raging she was. ‘When I was a primary teacher,’ she fumed, ‘I had all their wee ties straightened and their hair combed for the photos. ‘What price did you have to pay for those pictures? A fortune I’m sure. And the CUT of their hair: sure it’s all over the place. I think it’s a disgrace. And there was me wanting to send them round them round all my friends.’

One would think that she may have had more pressing matters to irk her at present, but still, I was somewhat relieved to receive the call and see that her spirit has in no way been crushed with all this virus shite.

She and my Daddy landed up the other day. They didn’t come in, but passed in laundered sheets and duvets, freshly washed tea-towels, a tin of iced cakes and snowdrops for the garden. ‘It was ever so kind of them to call,’ said The Small Child as she stood, waving them off from the garden.

The kids are presently making some cards for the elderly neighbours. So far, they gave been remarkably good and have even stopped falling down so much, which has been a tremendous relief.

Keep in touch everyone- I’d love to know what you’re all up too and how you’re keeping sane. At leat the rain has ceased and the birds are a-tweeting, and while I’ve been writing this I haven’t looked at my phone once. Leo is quite right- get outside, breathe, switch off notifications for a while.  This too will pass.




SWB has the jitters

All of a sudden it seems like shit just got real. I’m going to be very honest with you here, on Friday morning I was composing a blog post about how I was going survive confinement with my children if the schools closed, never mind survival of the coronavirus. I was being, of course, facetious. This was prompted by the Older Child, who was doing laps around the breakfast bar  on her scooter and came a-cropper. How the fuck, said I to myself, am I going to contain this pair if they’re only back from school ten minutes and one of them has already bust her lip? Second only to asking if there’s a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, the most frequently heard phrase in our house is: ‘Do you WANT to end up in The Royal?’ Well more than ever, we certainly don’t want to be joining the queues there now.

But later yesterday, the good people at Radio Ulster, got in touch to ask if I’d take a call on Evening Extra about potential school closures. I started scouring the news reports more closely, and I texted a friend down south to hear exactly what their reaction was to Leo Varadkar’s decision.  My friend Orfhlaith is a primary school teacher in Mullingar, and she, and the rest of the staff in her school felt that it was not an overreaction in the least.

Schools are, by their very nature, germ factories. Orfhlaith says she spends at least a cumulative hour every day, repeating the following: ‘Take your fingers out of your mouth; stop sucking your pencil; blow your nose on a tissue, not on your sleeve; stop eating your jumper, you’re not a moth. Wash after you’ve been coughing and sneezing into them.’ I’ve taught in many a secondary and grammar school, and I’m sorry to say that some of the older ones aren’t much of an improvement.

This is a DROPLET SPREAD VIRUS. What is the point in cancelling the Six Nations and Premier League matches if we allow infection to spread in schools up and down the country every day?

Orfhlaith then sent me a video of Anne Marie McLaughlin who is a respiratory consultant in Dublin. She was emphatic that this is NOT a school holiday and that we have a responsibility to protect our communities, and by minimising the spread of infection particularly in relation to the elderly.

The way I see it, as one of the doctors in Italy said, the more youngsters who have to be treated for minor symptoms, then that’s time taken away from older people for whom the consequences are more dire. The World Health Organisation are only after saying that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the ‘herd immunity’ that Boris keeps on about, actually even works. Reassuring, isn’t it?

Down south, they seem to be a bit ahead of us here. They are setting up community links with elderly people who may feel isolated and volunteer groups are offering to call in and get messages for anyone who doesn’t want to risk the shops. I just stopped with an elderly gent on my street who was out weeding his front garden. He looked particularly woebegone. He said all his activities had been cancelled, his bridge and his stamp collecting club and his visits to a local school where he reads with primary five children. He was going to be spending a lot of time on his own, stuck in his house, he explained. He didn’t look too thrilled with the prospect.

So what are we going to do? Look out for each other I guess. Accept that we have to limit our outings for a while. Make changes. Suck it up. Buy lots and lots of wine. But seriously, it’s all a bit shite. I’m scared, and I’m sad, and my shoulders are up to my ears with the anxiety of it all. But humans are resilient and creative. We adapt, because we’ve had to, and we’ll do it again.

(I swear to FUCK, I was just about to press ‘publish’ on this post when the Small Child slipped when on a jigsaw puzzle and cracked her knee with a powerful whack on the tiled floor. She’s now hobbling about holding tightly on to an icepack, crying. Give me strength. It’s a Saturday, and the schools haven’t even closed yet.)


SWB on International Women’s Day. And periods.

Since it’s International Women’s Day I’m in the mood for chatting about periods. Aren’t they a right pain in the arse? I’ve been on about them before, but as a topic I don’t feel that they get enough air time. Presently, mine are being very annoying, arriving at the most inopportune moments. Take November, for example. We were headed down to Dublin to see Liam Gallagher, and as I’ve mentioned before, I think he’s a bit of a gobshite so I wasn’t overly looking forward to the gig. I was, however, excited about a night away minus  off-spring, and in a happy turn of events, Himself had actually downplayed The Spencer which turned out to be a plush establishment with Egyptian cotton sheets and mood lighting and velvet throws, just the thing for an unencumbered pair.  How jolly, thought I. Well, I wasn’t through the door til the period came on, with an almighty splosh and a whoosh, all over the shiny white bathroom tiles. How I wish I was exaggerating.  That fairly put paid to any shenanigans of an amorous nature, I can tell you.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but they are becoming more irregular, heavier and as a result are having a desperate impact on my moods, as LSB would testify in a heartbeat. As soon as he hears pots and pans being clattered about in the kitchen; detects my inability to recollect the whereabouts of my purse, keys or mobile phone, or witnesses my uncharacteristic desire to clean, he knows the bastard is on its way.

The Mothership loves a good rant and rave about them too, ever since she visited the South of France in the 1960s.  All excited she was, about a swim in the warm and enticing Mediterranean, unlike the freezing Atlantic in Portstewart to which she was used. One solitary swim she got until the frigger arrived and spoilt her holiday. She was very young and innocent and hadn’t a notion about tampons, (feck they may not even have been invented back then) so she sat miserably by the water’s edge, watching as her friends frolicked about in the waves. I don’t think she’s over it yet, truth be told.

(Folks I’m telling you, the phone call I’m going to be taking later will be worth listening to, saying the like of that.)

But that’s what they do, periods. Spoil your happiness. Wreck your sex-life. Give you cramps and nausea. Oh, and now of course, we discover, they contribute hugely to plastic pollution. 11,000 sanitary products is what the average woman uses during her lifetime. That’s a wild statistic altogether, isn’t it? Imagine being a wee turtle, going about your way merrily, fins a-flapping, when along come a shoal of Always Ultra. Must be a powerful shock to the system altogether.

And the thing is, for anyone of my generation, having any other means of dealing with them is not immediately apparent. Until my 39thyear, I’d never used anything other than a pad or a tampon. Then a couple of my friends mentioned using a moon cup. It took me a while to get my head round this, and it took me even longer trying to figure out how to get them in and out. It’s possible that the husband, at one point, may even have been enlisted to aid the removal of such an item, as I became familiar with the extrication process. I recall that on this, the most difficult of occasions, I tried to text friends from the bathroom for advice, but they just sent emojis of fishing rods and pairs of pliars. 35 minutes I recall I spent, trying to get the fecker out.

Happily, there was another solution which I found infinitely easier. My friend Kirsty is the founder of Shared Threads, an organisation which makes reusable pads from recycled cotton. Kirsty sends most of her products out to India, and has initiated visits to schools where she goes out, armed with her trusty supplies to educate young girls on how to manage their periods. On these trips she has also taken supplies into women’s prisons to deliver her bags of brightly coloured pads to help women without any sanitary items at all.

Today I went along to an open day at her studio in Portview Trade Centre on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. I’m familiar with this area for the wrong reasons: the congestion, the murals of paramilitary groups, and the towering bonfires which spring up mid-June. But under the sunflower yellow of Goliath, is Kirsty’s studio with a Root & Branch Coffee Shop tucked snuggly underneath. Bright sunshine lit the whitewashed walls and the fresh smell of coffee greeted us as we wandered in.

All around were women and children, cutting cloth and sewing pads from bright oddments of material. There was chat and biscuits and small boys playing with Lego and Rubix cubes. I brought my friend Alison, who swiftly took a pew, carefully snipping out patterns and chatting to the lady beside her. It was ever so convivial.

My kids quickly got in on the action, sketching patterns and cutting out and popping the odds and ends into bins.

God, it was gorgeous. As you know, I’m a miserable fecker. I love nothing more than a good auld bitch and a complain. But I love community more. It pleases me no end to see people coming together to share what ever skills they have in pursuit of a common good, for women who have a far more shite time than the rest of us. So if you have a moment, check out Shared Threads online and see what other projects Kirsty has coming up.

As for my periods, I’ve managed to make mine almost plastic free, between Kirsty’s pads and the occasional use of Yoni sanitary wear, I’ve given up on Always Ultra altogether. It’s a small change, but ultimately, I feel, a significant one. And by talking about this, it’s also a  brilliant way to break down barriers, because we stop making them something that we should ever feel embarrassed or awkward about. I’m starting more and more, at the age of 40, to appreciate my body, and what its been through, and what its created. If I do have a fecker of a period, and need to curl up in the sofa with a vat of tea and a bag of chocolate digestives while watching repeats of Sex and the City, well I’ll take that, thank you very much, and frankly, be quite glad of the excuse.


SWB nips to the shops

I was tearing round M&S on Sunday evening, just as they made the announcement that we had but 10 mins left to make our purchases and get the f@*k off the premises. I was picking up a fitted sheet that The Mothership had ordered for me, since she was helping the kids tidy up their cesspit of a room the other day and happened, unfortunately to peer into mine.

‘I’ve never seen the like of it,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘That bed of yours is like something a dog would sleep in.’

‘Well the cat does enjoy a good old snooze there,’I quipped.

She ignored that. The Mothership has very firm ideas about cats taking liberties, and her cat would get short shrift should it venture near a duvet.

‘I’m going to go online now,’ she said, ‘and order you a fitted sheet with extra depth because that’s what’s required for a mattress of that size.’

‘Can you get extra depth fitted sheets?’ I asked.

She was incredulous.

‘Nine years you’ve had that bed and you STILL don’t know what size of sheet to buy? What planet are you on?’

‘I just thought all fitted sheets were shite,’ I replied.

That didn’t please her one bit.

Anyway, she rang to tell me that there was a brushed cotton fitted sheet waiting at M&S Forestside for me and I was to pick it up and report back. Unfortunately, she told me this on Thursday evening after I’d been out to La Taqueria where I knocked back a Piso Sour and two fish-bowl sized glasses of Tempranillo.

‘What about the new sheet? Is it nice and warm on these cold nights?’she asked,  the next time she called.

Well I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. No one should tell me anything after 9pm of an evening, regardless of whether alcohol has been taken or not. I have huge difficulties retaining information these days.

The penny dropped anyway and down I raced at ten to six on Sunday, where a lovely girl found my order and said wasn’t I lucky to have such a lovely mother.

‘My mother wouldn’t be buying me a sheet,’ she said. ‘She’d be telling me to get my own.’

I agreed the on occasion the Mothership could be very kind, but that on others she could be an absolute melter. The girl smiled in sympathy.

Then I saw my pal Kristina waving over. ‘I have news!’ She said excitedly.

Now, normally when someone says that, you expect them to announce that there’re expecting or engaged or suchlike. But no. Kristina told me instead that she’d been sitting in Kaffe-O and got chatting to a randommer about the bedpan I mentioned on the blog in February.

I have become almost obsessed with the fact that the Concern charity shop on the Ormeau Road has had this grim looking bedpan as part of its window display for weeks now, and are charging a tenner for it.

‘Tell me more,’ I said, disregarding the fact that is was now 5.55pm and I still had the dinner to buy.

So, it turned out that Kristina had been in Kaffe O,  explaining to her son why she wouldn’t buy him a game of Connect Four from The Concern Shop because it was £1.50 dearer than a brand new one on Amazon.

(See? Didn’t I tell you that Concern was a rip-off? They don’t know what to charging.)

As she pointed this out to her child, the lady beside her chirped up and said that she too, found the prices in Concern rather steep. She said that she’d ALMOST bought the ‘vintage douche’ the week before because she had a plumber in fixing her toilet, thus rendering it out of action. However, (and this makes me want to meet this woman because she sounds like my sort of individual) she did the maths, and worked out that she could go to The Northern Lights and drink several half pints of cider, for the same price as buying a decrepit bedpan. This option enabled her to make use of their facilities, without the indignity of peeing into a receptacle and trying to dispose of the contents while a plumber looked on.

Imagine: it worked out better value to spend the afternoon in the pub, drinking cider, than to buy a second hand piss pot in a charity shop.

However, my pal was keen to highlight the absurdity of the whole conversation given that they were in Kaffe-o drinking oat-milk flat whites at the princely sum of £3.40.

But this, people, is what I flipping love about Belfast. It’s the craic. Imagine if you were sitting at a cafe in South Kensington, or at a bar in Bath. Would you be able to start chatting to a random person about whether a piss-pot was a tad overpriced or not? I doubt it. And that is why, despite the fact that the weather is shite;  most of the politicians are climate-change denying morons, and why a single accident on any of the arterial routes brings the city to a standstill, is why I wouldn’t live anywhere else.