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November 2020


SWB on Black Friday and alternative gifting

Black Friday has arrived, or so my spam filters are telling me. Except, what with me being of an environmental bent, it’s not River Island and Top Shop sending me bumpf about their top deals, it’s sustainable fashion co-operatives and ‘Koh’ cleaning products.

I got sucked into the whole Koh cleaning hype when I saw it described on  FB ads as a ‘system’. I was lacking any class of a system at the time, and thought that perhaps if I paid for one, it would change my whole approach to housework, rendering my home a more congenial space to live, instead of the stinking hell-hole it resembled. I was disabused smartish of that notion when the delivery lad rocked up. ‘It’s my eco-friendly cleaning products!’ I squeaked, as he came strolling up the drive clutching the box. LSB was bemused: he rarely sees me exhibit enthusiasm for anything in these peculiar times, let alone CLEANING items.  My excitement was short-lived. It wasn’t a system: it was a box of solution, a spray bottle and 3 cloths of varying shades. Oh, and a grout scrubber, for which I’d paid an extra £8.99, because it popped up on the screen when I reached the on-line check-out and in a fit of spontaneity, I had flung it into my virtual basket. I mean, what the absolute f**k?

(Of course, I really should have known I was on a hiding to nothing with an advertisement on Facebook, especially since it (allegedly) sold us a pup on Brexit and Trump.)

That said, what has this whole lockdown experience reduced me to, that the frisson of excitement that I once felt when I picked up a pair of half-price Camper boots, has now  shifted to purchasing all-purpose surface cleansers?

Well, apparently it has, because instead of browsing through the Oliver Bonas website for deals as December approaches, I’m banging on about some more local gift ideas to consider this Christmas.

Two brilliant local companies I am keen to champion are ‘Do Your Bit’ and ‘Earth Made’. They take such care to source eco-friendly products and document them beautifully on Instagram. Our home is far from being a plastic free zone but thanks to these good people we have upped our game a bit. Both of these guys have such passion and energy for what they do and I’m rather taken with their Beauty Kubes shampoo.

If you can’t see yourself presenting your loved ones with aluminium free deodorant come Christmas morning, the Saintfield based ‘The Edible Flower’ might be more up your strasse. This enterprising duo are selling hampers which they have lovingly filled with a selection of their divine creations such as chutneys and florentines and festive spiced Barm Brack. These sounds to me like the perfect way to spoil the foodie in your life who can’t be fobbed off with bottle of Taste the Difference Olive Oil from Sainsbury’s and a packet of 12 months matured Parma ham.

An artist who gets plenty of airtime on this blog is Stephanie Prince, indeed it was she who painted my logo for the blog. Steph has her own Etsy site now which you can peruse, and see all her whimsical creations. Better still, you could commission her to illustrate one of your favourite people and present that to them for a quirky gift. Thoughtful: tick, Personal: tick, ‘Doesn’t break the bank but suggests that you may have’: mega tick.

Now, as you all know, I love my coffee. (Coffee and alcohol, was there any other means to get through 2020?) During the first Lockdown we became somewhat reliant upon the glorious little pouches from local roasters Boden Park Coffee, which combined a smooth aromatic start to the morning with cheery service from Mr McKeating himself, who seemed to appear chirpily   at my doorstep approximately 30 seconds I placed my order.

And obviously, coffee is enormously improved with a slab of cake, and those Harper’s Yard girls just can’t be kept down and have only gone produced a cookbook featuring recipes from some of their most popular bakes, including one from The Mothership, no less. These days, when you’re not sure whether it’s a nuke from the Iranians or the fecking virus that’ll get you first, I find that having a second large slice of Guinness cake worries me a great deal less.

While on the topic of the boil-on-the-bottom that has been 2020, this is probably the only year when you see me recommend gifting someone a face mask as a stocking filler. But plug these I will, because the masks in question are fecking awesome and if we can’t pick up some milk in Tesco without wearing a  face-covering, let’s at least embrace style. My gorgeous friend Ruth and her pal Lesley have been making masks to support the Lagan Dragons.  The fabrics are so beautiful that when their shit show is finally over I want to ask Ruth to knock me up a skirts or two with without ever remnants she has left.  Masks are available at Coffee Box at Stranmillis Boat Club or DM me and I’ll organise to get you sorted with one.


If the idea of any consumerism at all is a bit much for you this year, maybe you would consider Twinning Your Toilet (or someone else’s). This is another ideal gift for those ‘awkward to buy for’ types. You could write some twee verse on their gift tag: ‘Think of me while you’re having a pee,’ or ‘Something to view while you’re taking a poo.’ There’s a novelty factor to this charity gift that I’m quite charmed by, and as one who has sought out toilets in far out lands and remains somewhat scarred by the experience, I’m always happy to invest money in improving conditions for bowel-evacuation.

I think, on that scatological note, it’s perhaps best that I sign off here, but hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on which to ruminate, which don’t involve making Bezos a few more billions this festive season.



SWB keeps it Local

As you know everyone, I’m not a mad fan of all the buying frenzy which comes with Christmas. All the plastic. All the panic. All the bastard packaging. It makes me go a bit funny. But here’s the rub. My girls are 7 and 9. They still believe in Santa Claus. We are enjoying, what some folk refer to as ‘The Golden Years’, that magical time when, aged between six and twelve, your children have ceased being raucous and mental and are generally rather sweet.  No doubt, in the time to takes Boris to do a U-turn on his Lockdown strategy, they will be teenagers, mortified by everything I do and being all stroppy and nonchalant.

Like seriously, can you imagine what mine are going to like when they realise how nuts I really am? They will be bringing their pals around and I’ll be all: ‘Give me that crisp packet! I can recycle these!’ or: ‘Is that a PLASTIC BOTTLE peeking out of your rucksack? Biggest scam of the century that is, future generations will think we’d lost OUR MINDS buying water when there was bugger all wrong with what was piped into our homes.’

So, what I’m trying to say is that yes, since they are still wee and lovely, they will be getting a few items from the Smyth’s Catalogue because in a couple of years they won’t be wanting `Snax the Sloth,’ or ‘Astrid the purple unicorn ‘Squishmallow’;  they’ll be after studs for their tongues and a £600 phone.  (Incidentally, I’ll be saying an emphatic ‘No’ to both of those.)

This time next week it will be Black Friday, (f**king awful name isn’t it? Sounds far too dismal and funereal to have connotations with Christmas.) Before I got distracted by my rant, what I wanted to do was offer an alternative  wish list, and direct you to some flipping brilliant local creatives. These gift ideas, IMHO, could perk up even those of you who thought your smile may have been permanently erased after this year of absolute pish.

  1. If you like your jewellery classy but understated, then Diane Sutherland is your woman. I admit it, I’m a magpie and flipping LOVE my bling, but there is something undeniably alluring about her spare silver pieces: I’m a big fan of her nugget earrings (which are particularly lovely if you have a couple of piercings) and her bangles. She takes commissions and will discuss a piece with you if it’s something really special that you’re after. She is also a dote, and I want to befriend her just so I listen as she rolls her soft Scottish vowels. Her soothing lilt would comfort me no end on days when I feel like I’ve lost the effing will.

2. Tropic products.  I know I go on a bit about Tropic but it’s so damn good. If there is one thing that this year has taught me, it is to find pleasure in the tiny things, wherever you may find them. It may be the lingering notes of bergamot and lime oil on the inside of your wrist from your hand cream, or smoothing on leg shimmer on a mizzly night in November, but we have to find our kicks somewhere. Two lovely local suppliers are Pauline Cooke and Patricia Tennyson. I think it’s the essential oils which bring the products to a new level, but it really does feel like a pampering session when you crack them open.

3. Now you’ve probably guessed if you have looked on my Instagram, but I fecking love my art work. LSB has come to dread his rare days off,  because  he knows full well I’ll be asking him to get his drill out and affix a freshly framed print to a wall. Dylan at The Hallows Gallery is a star at breathing life into pieces which look old or tired. Last month he re-framed two little originals that we’d bought in Prague in 2009. I had dithered over whether to keep them or not because they looked pretty rubbish in their cheap IKEA frames, but he transformed them, and now they hang proudly in our bedroom, bringing me joy, as I recall lazy days sipping hot wine as we strolled the cobbled streets in the Old Town Square.

Recently I have drooled over work by local artists such as Catherine Heaney, Aly Harte, and Emma Fitzpatrick. as I think you can just sense the joy and love that they pour into every piece, and who doesn’t need some positive energy in their home right now? Let’s face it, we’re spending enough time cooped up indoors…

I’ll be back on next week with some more gift ideas which offer a shopping experience which won’t make you want to gouge out your eyes out with a Stanley knife. (Sorry, for the graphic imagery, but I just nipped down to Forestside there to pick up dinner and it was CHAOS. It’s only a Friday, in November. I don’t want to contemplate those queues on Christmas Eve, that’s all I’m saying.)


SWB on the week that was…

Folks, send me some good vibes because seriously, I have not come up for air. So you think Dominic Cumming had a bad week. Did he, I ask you, have a visiting cat who took a dump on his freshly laundered sheet and a dog who then pissed on the scrubbed mattress to mark her territory? No, all that frigger had to do was pack a box and do the humiliating walk of shame along Downing Street. (How I smiled.) Anyway, back to the poo incident.

Should your partner or off-spring be applying pressure that you source them a dog or cat for Christmas, demonstrate caution. Think carefully about the following: animals and their digestive needs are complex and specific. If only they could defecate on demand and in appropriate places. When it rains (ie, all the f**king time in November, was there EVER a more heinous month?) our animals exhibit reticence about leaving the house to do their business. Our dog will BOUND out the door if we produce her lead and rustle her coat, but if we hold open the back door and gesture that she might have go out and relieve herself,  she looks at us with huge doleful eyes. LSB bought himself a large golf umbrella to watch the children play football. Now, he dons his old trainers and takes the brolly out so the dog can pee and poop undercover. He is a good sort, auld LSB, but little thanks does he get, especially from children and pets.

On Thursday he was beavering away at his desk and entertaining notions of a having a wee jog to himself at lunchtime. Entering the bedroom he did a double take, as there, on our duvet colour, the cat had shat extensively. He had cart the duvet into the bath and shower it down before washing it. Only the night before I had laboriously changed all the bed linen, endeavouring to turn our clutter filled mess of a room into something warm and inviting  One night. One night we got to enjoy this and the cat sullied it.

It gets worse. Coming home, I went up the stairs to survey the wreckage.

‘I thought you said you’d washed AND dried it,’ I called, my voice tremulous with desperation.

‘I had,’ he replied,  following me in.

‘Oh God,’ he said.

The bed was soaked, in what could only have been a deluge of greyhound pee. Tilly has somewhat appropriated our bed during the day, and therefore took it as a slight that the cat had used it as a toilet. More cleaning ensued. A cleaning frenzy, one might say. My hands, once smooth and wrinkle free, now have the reddish hue of an eighteenth-century scullery maid. It’ll take more than Vaseline Intensive Care to sort them out.

All weekend, we have been washing. Clothes that I have worn to school and don’t want to wear again, lest Covid has woven its insidious way into the fabric. Towels from giving the dog a bath; school uniforms; my husband’s sweaty sport’s gear. I try to get my detergent from Refill Quarter but I can’t be arsed driving over so I’ve just put an order in with Smol to test drive those. I’m stressed, people. Owning pets is another f**king job. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise.

But as I type this, Tilly has come up the stairs and curled up beside me, emitting soft, greyhound sighs. Her coat is fragrant and shiny from her bath yesterday, and occasionally a little paw reaches out and brushes my leg, as if to say, ‘Sorry about the pissing, I’m just getting used to my new abode.’

If it is a job, ultimately I love it. I’m just very, very tired right now. However,  reading this wee article on Medium just made me think again how gorgeous she is.


SWB dares to dream

There’s a scene in Channel Four’s Catastrophe, where Sharon Horgan is wide eyed and terrified at 4am, her mind whirling with all the horrors that could possibly befall their unborn son. ‘The world’s a TOILET’ she declares to Rob Delaney, who is attempting to sleep beside her. There is a tragic resignation in her tone. LSB would be quick to relate to Delaney, because similarly he is is often awoken by my stirrings, as I lie, consumed with dread, because a quick look at the headlines at any time, in any country and on every f**king continent seems pretty bleak right now. Until yesterday. Because for a few hours at least, I let myself believe that if the world is still a toilet, and you had to take to cleaning it with a scrubbing brush, it would be slightly less daunting. I’m thinking today, it would less resemble the worst toilet in the world as depicted in Trainspotting, and  more like one in a student flat in Reading if all the lads in The Inbetweeners were room mates. In other words, pretty rotten, but you wouldn’t require hospitalisation after the job: rubber gloves, Domestos and a stiff G&T  afterwards would see you right.

With Trump in the White House, I felt a sickness to my very marrow. It seemed as though the Western world had moved so far from any sort of basic human decency that an all-pervasive gloom and hopelessness descended. It doesn’t take too much to push me towards existential dread, but between him and Brexit it all felt terribly wrong.

And now, there’s still a raging pandemic, still talk of a hard border (or sea border? Or just a border, who knows?) but there’s a sense of shift and a lightness in my spirit today, or there would have been had I not got carried away last night and drunk half a bottle of bubbly. Chipper I was NOT, this morning.

Speaking of night terrors, I think we need a new word to describe that feeling for when you’ve had such turbulent dreams that you wake up feeling so  unrefreshed that you need to slither back under the duvet to recover from the awful sleep you just had. A ‘recovery-sleep’ perhaps? Or a ‘cleansing doze?’ I bet the Scandinavians have a word for it- they are great ones for creating cute random expressions.

Another new word we need for Covid times is a specific way to describe when the urge to hug someone becomes too great and you almost have to glue your arms to the sides lest you break all the regulations. I miss hugs. I miss my friend Fiona who is six feet tall, and when we meet in Spain each year, she heaves me up, and I feel as light as a little pixie. I miss hugs with my friend Karen’s mum, who always smells of Issy Miyake even though she tells me it’s a knock off from M&S.  I miss the hugs with my girlfriends after a run, when we say ‘oh no we’re much too sweaty’ and then say feck it and hug anyway. A year and a half ago I met my friend Rhaiza on the promenade in Calella in Spain. I hadn’t seen her for six years, and when we hugged it was like that scene from Friends with Joey and Rachel in the restaurant and the waiter surmises that one of them must be dying.  In short, I’m a hugger, and quashing every natural impulse to embrace my friends is causing me great distress.

I miss normality. I miss spontaneous cups of tea and chocolate biscuits in my friends’ kitchen. But like the Trump era, this period of gloom shall pass. Maybe tonight I shall sleep well and wake up revived and with a sense of optimism which has eluded me for so long. Swedes, of course, have a word for it: ‘gökotta’ which roughly translated, means a willingness to rise with the larks and savour their early morning birdsong.  To be fair, I think that’s a stretch, but just a few dreams where I’m not driving down a motorway with no functioning brakes would be very, very welcome.