SWB on Boredom and angst

I’m bored. Are you bored? I am like, SO FECKING BORED. Covid. Brexit bollocks. More Covid, except more contagious and a new strain, FFS. Restrictions. Lockdown 3 (or is it 4? I’ve lost count).  Actually I am not just bored, I am bored and agitated.

Now I’m not bored because I have nothing to do-I’ve just lost the will.  I am fed up with it all. I am fed up with the Small Child following me into the loo and the Older One melting my head about the quality of entertainment that’s on offer. I’m fed up with cats demanding food as I make the morning coffee. I’m also bored with myself. Take this tale as an example. Brace yourself.

I went a massage a few weeks ago because I felt like a ton of crap.

‘How was it?’ asked LSB as I came in, dropping my bag in the hall.

‘Splendid,’ I replied.

I could have told him how the wonderful Tina of Natural Roots Wellness eased my knotty neck and stiff shoulders. But I didn’t. I could have told him how I almost floated down the stairs of the salon, out into the street and the velvety black skies and twinkly lights of Stranmillis. But I didn’t. Instead, I chose to labour the point about overpriced vegetables.

To save my newly kneaded neck from the trials of Forestside carpark, I nipped instead into a convenience store for the few items I needed. One of these was a cucumber*. To my display though, the cucumber was a startling £1.65. This was over a pound more than in Sainsbury’s, thereby 107.25% more expensive. (See, I told you to brace yourself. I even did the maths.) I had, however, already lifted the cucumber, and in these days of Covid safety measures, I felt I ought to purchase it. This irked me greatly. I’m still not sure I’m over it, to be honest. LSB, is definitely not over being regaled with the tale.

‘That was some story,’ he said, when I drew breath.

‘It almost rivalled yours about the lights on the Ormeau Road that take an age to turn,’ I retorted.

‘The ones at the junction at St John’s?’ he replied.

‘No, I thought you said they were the ones near the park, opposite Candahar Street?’* *

‘Ah yes, those lights. I hate getting stuck at them,’ he muttered darkly. ‘The dog does too, she complains at them.’

See? Do you see what 2020 has reduced us to? A pair of boring bastards. I’ve written about this before, how we see so much of each other that we run out of things to say, and thus fill our craic vacuum with banalities of this ilk.

It’s the last day of 2020, and while I’m not expecting the New Year to bring about anything drastic, I’m daring to hope for better things.

In 2021, I’ll write more, I’ll whinge less, and for LSB’s sanity I’ll not get so wound up over cucumbers.

*According to Michael Ball on Radio 2 on Sunday, cucumbers are actually a fruit, not a vegetable. Did anyone else know that?

**If you are very bored you can read how there used to be a dairy farm here and a load of cows during WW2.

SWB on the perils of wearing a mask

I know it’s Christmas Eve and there’s lorry drivers stranded in Kent and NHS staff whose arses haven’t sit a seat since March. Not to mention Santa: I mean, we’ve just checked the ‘NORAD Santa Tracker’ and he’s currently just done a mega drop off in Pretoria, so he has miles to go before he sleeps. But do you know who I feel sorry for? Poor auld Nicola Sturgeon. I mean, two minutes she took her mask off. While leaving a wake, for f**k’s sake. Stressful things, wakes can be. Emotional even; you may just need to take a big deep breath to yourself. And of course, the bastard oul’ Scottish Sun were there, ready to catch her in a moment of weakness. Letting her guard down, literally.

But I bet she is just sick to death of flipping masks. It’s not easy trying communicate when wearing a mask. It can be hard to breathe and we aren’t familiar with them yet.  I know she’s the Scottish First Minister and she has to lead by example, blah blah blah, but she is human after all. We’ve all had our issues trying to adapt to this new and exceptionally annoying normal. Having to wear a mask all the time, is frankly, a right pain in the hole. Even if you are wearing the nicest masks in the world, (ie a Lagan Dragons’s Marvellous Mask), they cause all manner of problems.

My husband and off-spring often suffer from ‘refrigerator blindness.’ Perhaps you are familiar with the condition? You watch on while they stand, bewildered, searching in vain for the cheese, and after a fruitless search, call for assistance, only for you to reach in and grab the item which is located directly in their line of vision.

But now it seems that we, and a few others in our close circle, have a new affliction, known as ‘mask deafness.’ Not a fecking word can I make out if people don’t properly enunciate under a mask. And LSB is worse. I have now grown quite accustomed to shopping in M&S, and the wee fella who stands at the door asking ‘Food or Clothes?’ But yesterday I was racing in to exchange some festive leggings that I bought the children and they refused to wear, and Himself was posting the Christmas cards and so came in a few minutes after me.

‘What the hell was your man on the door going on about, asking about Fonacab?’ he asked.

Cue puzzled expression from me. ‘Fonacab?’

‘ Yeah, he said did I want a fonacab, and I said I was just coming in to pick up a couple of steaks for the dinner. He looked at me a bit funny.’

‘I’m sure he did,’ I replied. ‘He was asking if you were shopping in food or clothes. All you had to say was ‘both’.’

‘Ah,’ said LSB. ‘That makes me more sense.’

Still, the wee fella shouldn’t have muttered. You get nowhere these days with the muttering. As you know, I’ve been teaching this term- I’m sure I’ve mentioned what a truly joyful and altogether edifying experience that has been. The wee year eights though, gosh but they love to share a story and ask  ALL THE QUESTIONS. But their voices simply do not carry under a mask. Not a bit of it. ‘SPEAK UP’ I keep asking, but all in vain. I haven’t a clue what the vast majority of them are on about. I did a lot of nodding and smiling and probably looked like a total muppet. Speaking of which, my poor friend made a right dick of herself in a coffee shop in Ballyhackamore last week. (Like, of all the places to go making a dick of yourself: you know how pretentious they can be there.) Recently there haven’t been many opportunities for frivolity, so she had been enjoying some light-hearted banter with a baristas about the ‘Spanish’ tarts she has a likening for.  Recently the tarts had just been selling out fast and on a few occasions she had to make do with a brownie. She was telling us this over Zoom on Sunday night. ‘Don’t you mean a Portuguese tart? I chirped up. Custard in a puff pastry case?’ ‘Pastel de natas,’ said another equally pedantic friend. ‘Remember I made them for Harper’s Yard?’

‘If I might just continue,’ said my friend. She’d been sitting on with her sons, having a coffee and pancakes and such likes, (all very middle class) and stepped over to look at the counter, and saw, to her delight, a whole clatter of tarts. Her favourite barista came walking over to her, saying something and my friend assumed it was tart related and made a witty comment about being partial to a pastry. He mumbled again, to which she responded, about being an enthusiastic muncher of all cake related products. At this point he raised his voice and told her to wear her mask while ‘moving about inside the premises’. She had taken precisely two steps to the counter. Well, that was the end of the fun exchange. Up she got, sharpish, gathered her wee fellas and scooted out, mortified. Very upset she was, unable to pinpoint exactly what had her so distraught. ‘Like seriously,’ she said. ‘What’s wrong with me that I can’t even have a coffee and a bun without looking like a total twat?’

We were quick to reassure her that there was nothing wrong with her at all and that this is just a very trying period. Nothing is normal, or simple, or as it should be. So I guess we should all be just a bit kinder to ourselves (and remember to speak up when wearing a mask).

Anyway, what with it being Christmas and all, hopefully none of us will have to venture too far and be doing much that requires a mask over the next couple of days. Can I just wish you all the happiest holidays that you can manage over the circumstances, and urge you to keep safe and well. I’ll no doubt be on again between now and the New Year to fill you in with what’s annoying me.

SWB on a Little Local Masterpiece

Do you know what I flipping LOVE about South Belfast? It’s having fabulous makers and doers and activists ON YOUR DOORSTEP. And it’s such a close community that you actually get to meet these people and converse and find out about what inspires them and how they turn their ideas into action.

One such person is local photographer Aaron Dickson. I met Arron through his wife, fellow park runner and blogger, Kerry. She told me about Aaron’s lockdown project and I was all over it. It’s about ordinary people in extraordinary times, chronically this little corner of the city and how lockdown has become not just a period of angst and frustration, but studied reflection. For many it has given us the chance to reconfigure our lives, reassess our values and make positive change.

Arron walked the neighbourhood, photographing residents and jotting down their musings. Caterina, a European volunteer for NOW group, has learnt to appreciate the little things and to re-evaluate priorities. Through using Zoom, Paula and Lorraine say they haven’t spoken to their family abroad so much in years. Frankie misses audiences but playing music has helped him through. His wife Ophelia misses her parents the most.  (I’m with you there Ophelia: I miss the Mothership and my dad coming up and sorting out my house, and life in general). Like Katie and Marty, ping pong got us through long afternoons in the spring time, and like Michelle, I love how our street became like a village for those months.

Best of all, was sitting with my eldest daughter last night, leafing through the pages together and chatting. She liked the picture of Whiskey the spider-catching cat and cooed over baby Muireann, born in the spring.  ‘Isn’t that the same name as the baby in that show that you and daddy watch?’ she asked. (I really wish the child would stay in bed and not blunder in when we are trying to catch an episode of Catastrophe in peace.) We talked about what we liked doing over Lockdown and about how much we missed simple dinners with the grandparents and our holiday in Spain. We looked at the different types of families and the love that emanated through all the photos. What for me was most evident was a fierce sense of pride for our city, for our neighbour hood and what we have come through.

I needed this book last night. Since going back to work in September I have felt like I’ve been plunged underwater- the stress has been immense- with little appreciation of the life changing period we have all endured. This felt like a connection with the hopes and feelings that I tried to nurture over lockdown and made me want to realign myself with them again. It’s a beautiful book, documenting what has obviously been a difficult time, but one from which we can all take something important. Thank you Aaron.

SWB tries to have a normal weekend. 2020 has other plans.

Everyone I’m just, like, speechless. I mean, WHAT THE F**K? All we’ve been hearing is BS about saving Christmas and while we CERTAINLY were n’t rushing to see my parents who are in their seventies, we were hoping for a wee bit of frivolity. And now everything’s going to be closed from Boxing Day? All I can say is that it’s as well LSB and I get on because otherwise wouldn’t these holidays be a total shit show? On Saturday I spent two hours in Riah having my highlights done. And for what? To match my pyjamas while I arse about the house? Well, I suppose hermits need to look alright too.

But if I’m honest, I have found my introverted side during all of this. I’ve become partial to my sofa of an evening and in some ways it’s a relief not to feel I have to attend countless nights out and endure the inevitable hangover after. But do you know what I miss most? It’s the little soirees. One random Friday last year my neighbour Alison (who spends a disproportionate amount of time minding my children) had 3 of us round. She served us melon with blackberry coulis she’d made herself from brambles at the bottom of the street. This was followed with bowls piled high with unctuous carbonara. According to Felicity Cloake in the Guardian, Italians rely solely on eggs for this dish, but I challenge them not to try my friend’s version: they’ll soon be reaching for the double cream and slinging it in with abandon. We drank bubbly and red wine and chowed down Lindt chocolate balls for dessert. I’m not sure I remember getting home. I remember thinking though, that even I couldn’t make the night itself, it was lovely to know that it was there, hovering at the end of week, and that I had been invited in the first place. Sometimes it’s just knowing there is a break from the quotidian in the near future. I wonder if I’ll ever take it for granted again?

Now our meet-ups are weather dependent and fraught with anxiety. But ultimately- I’m ok. I have LSB and the wee ones (even if they are total melters). But what if I was stuck in dismal old student digs in London, unable to get home because of new travel restrictions? I mean, how absolutely shite. Imagine if you had been at university for the first time and spent most of it cooped up, being all sensible so you had the chance to come home and see your folks for the festive season. And then, boom, you’re stranded. I’d have been raging.

I was one of those ones on the train home to Bangor after my 10am politics lecture in the QFT on a Friday. Halls, for me, were miserable. Minus craic. I know I was a bit odd, but in my own halls at Queen’s Elms no one had the slightest interest in hanging out with me so I headed over to another shite tower block where they were nicer and embraced me, even with all my Bangorian eccentricities. Things got better then, but I still wanted out of there by the weekend.

I just really feel for all those wee ones. It’s a scary time. I try not to think too much the state the world is in- ruminating too much upon it could do for you. Young people maybe don’t have that foresight. They don’t have small children being annoying and dogs to walk and cats requiring entertainment. (My cats actually do seem to need entertaining. LSB is investigating cats’ television to see if it will make them f**k off and leave him alone when he’s trying to work.)

I’d just be interested in knowing what universities have planned to bolster morale. Surely they ought to have some strategy, having  suggested that students go over in the first place and pay for accommodation and then do most of their classes via Zoom and have no fun to themselves. I realise that this situation is new for everyone: governments haven’t had to deal with a pandemic with a new virus in living memory and the Tories have been too preoccupied in ensuring a no-deal Brexit actually occurs (as if today’s dry run of the Dover-Calais closure wouldn’t focus minds). But there has been such arrogance, such mis-management and pure stupidity. If the people who have been entrusted to run the county couldn’t have handled this whole fiasco better, then it’s a sorry old state of affairs.

Rant over. I’m away to the sofa to get my nightly fix of Gilmore Girls, kids on one side and the dog on the other.  Wee dose of wholesome (ish) all- American small town shenanigans is just what I need right now.

 

 

SWB hits the wall

Back in the winter of 2011, I went to see a production of ‘King Lear’ in the Grand Opera House. In the scene where Cornwall gouges out poor auld Gloucester’s eyes, the ingenious prop department used a lychee as an eyeball, which the actor threw, with considerable force, at the back wall of the set. From where I was sitting, I heard the very audible SPLAT! and imagined I could see it slither down the wall. Well, readers, today, as we look down the tunnel of the last full week before Christmas, can I tell you, that I am that lychee. I have hit the wall, and I have slithered, and now I am the pulpy juicy mess at the bottom. All I ask, is that people, pupils, my children and indeed the general public at large, take note of my centreless state, and leave well alone.

I think I speak for us all when I say that it’s been an emotionally turbulent time. Trying to teach in these circumstances is a trial. I feel for the kids: they need some joy. At primary school there is plenty of it- my wee ones are having tremendous fun, coming home full of chatter about watching pantomimes streamed into their classrooms, winning ‘Dojo’ points and donning festive attire. Few things bring more delight to my children than an M&S hairband festooned with Christmas antlers.

At secondary level it is more difficult since they need a record of marks lest they have to predict grades again. No one knows what lurks ahead in 2021 and whether, for sure, exams will proceed as planned. What is certain, tangible even, is the stress that teachers and pupils are under. In these unprecedented conditions everyone is beavering away, fuelled on caffeine and chocolate and, at this stage, only the scrapings of goodwill.  The highlight of my working week came on Friday when a lovely wee girl told me about her two pet goats. I kid you not (get it? Ha!) It is those moments of connection, when a child comes up and shares a story that makes your life choices seem less skewed.

So, heading into this last week that’s what I’m holding on to. I’m going to try and stop thinking about assessments and feverishly documenting data. I want stories, I want light, and a sense of release. On odd occasions, when I’ve been utterly exhausted, some little sparks have ignited, all the more special for having been so unexpected.

With that in mind, here are a few things this week which have made me feel grateful. In Wednesday I took part in a Tenx9 over Zoom and I feel so lucky to be part of such a vibrant, global community. There I was, sat on my worn sofa in Belfast with a needy greyhound beside me, listing to a lady in Baltimore tell a story about her son taking a pee into a ‘Nun’s cap’ because he had a urine infection. It was both entertaining and informative. On Friday we took a jaunt down to Shed on the Ormeau for their long-awaited re-opening.  I almost shed a little tear myself as the owner Christina showed us to a roomy booth at the window. The wee ones were in tremendous humour and chortled away to themselves while we listened to laughter and the chink of glasses. I have missed that feeling normality so much, but  when it occurs it is all the more valuable. It’s finding joy in all the small things, which are most definitely there, but in the busyness of life have seemed out of reach. They are now in sight and I’m holding on tightly to that.