Monthly Archives:

March 2021


SWB on finding the joy

I’ve taken to listening to documentaries on BBC Sounds while I wash up the pots and pans, and occasionally LSB makes the mistake of asking about them. On St Patrick’s Night, he was pouring his first his Guinness, lamenting that it was out of a can and not a proper pint, and I started telling him about a programme I caught on Radio Wales. ‘It was about a photographer who had had his legs blown off in Afghanistan,’ I begin.

‘Well, that sounds cheery,’ he said, licking the froth off his top lip and staring into the glass forlornly.

‘Oh no, it was brilliant,’ I say, with great animation. ‘He kept on working and went to Rwanda where he met a survivor from the genocide. All her family had been massacred.’

At this, he got up and wandered over to the fridge to see if he’d put in enough cans to get through the evening.

‘But,’  I continue, ‘it was wonderful. The photographer says he’s now more joyful than he ever, was, he can stand at a bus stop in the pissing rain and feel hopeful.  The Rwandan lady has raised a family of orphaned children, and has found a way to deal with the past.’

‘Ok,’ said LSB. ‘I’ll drink to that, and never complain about Guinness in a can again.’

It’s an extreme example, I’ve used, but sometimes I can be so consumed by the shite-ness of everything that I lose the ability to be hopeful. I made the mistake of watching the news before bed last night and came up the stairs with a desperately glum face on me.

‘I’ve told you NEVER to watch the news at night,’ said LSB, putting in his earphones to dissuade me from regaling him with all the ills of the world. ‘Think of nice things,’ he suggested, shutting his eyes and doing his meditation. (He’s in to all that mindfulness malarkey now. I suppose he would be, what with being married to me and all.) He was right though, as I thought about the things that had made me feel happy lately. The girls at school again filled with both joy and relief. I felt a frisson of excitement just entertaining the thought of meeting friends in a restaurant; having a dip in the sea at Rossnowlagh, throwing open the doors of the house for a party. I want to meet up with people who live far away, drink coffee, then drink some wine, hatch ideas and plans and dare to dream. The human capacity for resilience is something which has always astounded me. The people interviewed on the radio were profoundly challenged, but they retained the ability to find joy, and actually made it their business to seek it out.

It’s hard to find joy right now, and much easier to run around with a face on you like a well-scalped arse. But life, I reckon, has been plenty worse for other people, who have somehow managed to find the tools within to flourish. And of course, it is now Friday, and everything always feels better at the weekend, when a bottle is chilling in the fridge. Even if it has just started to snow. In March.






SWB on back to school and Tilly’s ‘gotcha day’

The children have gone BACK TO SCHOOL! Oh Happy Day. Thank absolute f**k, because I was starting to go more than a wee bit funny. Do you know what was becoming awkward? Thinking of anything new to say to my husband. In Louis De Bernières book ‘Birds Without Wings’, one of the main characters is a shepherd. Wiling away the hours on the Greek hillside with just his goats for company, he comes to know all their different baas and bleats. Each one is distinct, indicating, hunger, fear or playfulness. There is another bleat though, which has a flatness to it. It is the bleat when there is nothing to say, just a random noise emitted for the craic alone, just for sake of it.  LSB is well familiar with this sort of random noise. He’ll be going around, trying to do his work, or watch TV, or nodding off to sleep, when I suddenly say ‘HELLOOOO!’

By saying ‘HELLO’, I just want to alert him to my presence, or indicate that I might need some attention. Sometimes I may feel the need for some interaction from another adult, and not just a child asking for the fiftieth time that day, what’s for lunch.

We have this habit, still, a year into lockdown, of saying to each other ‘So, what’s the craic?’ Like, in all serious, what’s the craic? The craic is zero, zilch, deader than it was the last time you asked me, I want to say, the change to is that I’ve had a pee in the downstairs toilet rather than the upstairs one, just for hell of it.

Thank God we got the dog because she provides many a conversation starter; it’s a bit like when we first had children, when we would just stare at them, mesmerised by their tiny wee hands and soft cheeks. Now we do the same with Tilly, while she sprawls on our bed, admiring her matching white socks, her silky ears and long snoot. It’s a gentle sort of a way to pass the time. We got her a year ago today, motoring out to Ballyclare with two crabbed children giving off: they weren’t a bit keen to be bundled into the car for a random drive. All the complaining ceased when we met Tilly though: she put two paws up on LSB’s shoulders, and that was it. ‘Will we bring Tilly home?’ he said to the girls, and they readily agreed.

The next day though, I had a total and utter meltdown. We listened to Boris’ announcement and I thought ‘What have we done?’ Suddenly I imagined not being able to walk her enough and having police challenge us for leaving the house. I felt stupid and irresponsible- my anxiety spiralled out of control as it is won’t to do. I wondered could I have managed to have got us all infected by Covid even on the short trip to get her.  Clean berserk I went, remembering the last time I’d got a dog and the havoc that experience had  wreaked in the house. I rang the woman from the shelter: she must have thought I was an absolute nutter. ‘Can we return Tilly?’ I said, tears tripping me. She wondered if the dog had done something dreadful. No I explained, other than a piddle in the house and a wee bit of excitement upon seeing the cat the first time (Izzy swiftly demonstrated the she was the boss in the house) she had been perfect. ‘It’s just the lockdown,’ I said. ‘ I didn’t release it was all going to go so mad. The woman was brilliant, giving me some tips on how to manage and promising that if it all went to shit she wouldn’t see me stuck. I am so, is glad we stuck it out. Given Tilly’s backstory of abuse and neglect, it is she the one who should have needed therapy, but instead it’s us who have been comforted and supported by her.

So today was a good day. A year after the first lockdown, the children went back in to school, singing and chatting on their way down the road, with wee Tilly wagging her tail alongside.  I know it’s a crazy fecking world out there, but please God, can things please be on the turn.





SWB on how lockdown life makes you a wee bit deranged

‘Forty-eight’ LSB says to me, and I look at him blankly. ‘Six times eight is forty-eight,’ he repeats, while the dog takes her sweet time sniffing around a tree in Rosetta. ‘Oh God I say,’ did I just ask you your tables?’  Like, out loud?’ He nods, and we shuffle on our way, wondering what we have become.

The home-schooling has me undone this week, and it’s only Monday. LSB and I had got out on our own (aside from the dog) to buy a pan loaf from Tesco. It was nearest thing to a date we’ve had this long while. Forgetting it was him, and the not the Older Child who normally accompanies me on the dog’s evening constitutional, I’d started on at him about the tables. I’m unravelling quicker than a pair of £2.99 leggings from H&M these days, and trust me, they don’t last long on my children.

Since I never manage more than an hour or two of the old school work with either of my offspring, for fear I might eject one or both of them out a window, I feel an irrepressible urge to be imparting facts; if you’ve overheard a woman asking a small child: ‘What’s the capital Of Hungary?’* when you’re out and about, then it’s probably me you’ve encountered. I’m constantly badgering them with spellings or sums: it seems I have no off-button, rather like Father Dougal Maguire waking up Ted while playing Blockbusters in his sleep, ‘Give us a P please Bob.’

I’ve seriously gone a bit funny this lockdown, becoming wildly animated over the banal. Caramel squares, for example. A day without one of those bad boys seems like a grave waste of 24 hours. I’ve become more partial to a traybake than your average Presbyterian.

Then last week, while buying some extremely delicious but pricey sausage rolls at Newton Coffee in the Four Winds, I discovered that they are now allowing customers to bring their own cup. Well, recycling-enthusiast that I am, you can only imagine my excitement. ‘We can get frothy coffees!’ I told LSB, in the same exuberant tone I once used for say, getting a last minute table in La Taqueria of a Saturday night or the promise of a night away, sans enfants.

Those were the days eh? ‘Coffee is the new clubbing,’ said LSB, as I emerged from the café with two large cappuccinos and a wide smile. ‘Maybe we should go full rock’n’roll and just fill in our census forms this evening,’ he said drily. ‘No fecking way,’ said I. At the moment, a bottle of wine in front of ‘Borgen’ is just about all the excitement I can handle.

*(When I was little my dad’s favourite tea time quiz questions were capital cities. That’s what passed for entertainment in the late eighties. I knew that Ulaanbaatar was the capital of Outer Mongolia when I was nine.)



SWB on when things fall apart

Do you think one can you claim ‘overuse of your house’ on the home insurance? Some chance: I can just imagine getting on the blower to check. ‘Aye right,’ Billy from Hughes in Newtownards might say: ‘I think it’s known as ‘wear and tear’ you total chancer,’ is how I think that conversation might end.

‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,’ said the inimitable WB Yeats. I believe he was referring to the collapse of civilisation after the horrors of the trenches, but he could just as well be describing the state of chassis in my house right now. Everything is broken, crumbling, collapsing into disrepair, and it is very much grinding my gears.

It’s not just me either- we stop with our neighbours while out walking the greyhound. ‘Will you at the STATE of the fence,’ says Stephen, nudging it with his toe until the panels rattle, a bit like the mad auld priest in Father Ted who yells ‘Cowboys the lot of them!’ as he wrenches Ted’s door off its hinges. He’s right though, it’s looking considerably less robust than this time last year. I fear his boisterous dog and similarly boisterous child are responsible, with the former flinging herself against it when she spies her mate Bode the Labrador, and the latter using it as a football net.

Their bannisters too are teetering on the brink since Sam, like our girls, eschew the stairs, choosing to access the first floor by climbing, lemur-like up the outside ledges before slinging his legs over the top. What is it with our children and their inability to sit in a chair or ascend the stairs without inflicting damage?

Last week the Small Child handed me a familiar looking piece of wood that she’d removed from the dog’s mouth. ‘What the hell is that?’ says I, eying the teeth marks on it. Small  Child points to one of the bar stools. She and her sister had managed to break off part of one, apparently when eating their morning snack. The dog, seizing her opportunity, had dashed in and called first dibs on her new toy. This is after I spent a fiver on a big marrow bone from ‘Posh Pets’ in Gilnahirk. (Keeping the dog entertained definitely count as an essential journey in my book. Plus, it’s worth a trip alone to meet ‘DelBoy’ the Bulldog. He’s some fellow.)

Both the washing machine and the dishwasher are exhibiting signs of exhaustion and the coffee machine met a tragic end last week, when, befuddled after a nap (yes, I’m still loving the forty winks in the afternoon) I proceeded to chuck a dessert spoonful of coffee into the water tank, before I came to, and realised that I hadn’t put in the actual coffee funnel. Now it has clogged up, and despite LSB’s efforts of reparation, switching it on produces the smell of melting plastic.

Words fail me: it’s not as though I’m an NHS worker, banjaxed after working a nineteen-hour shift on a Covid ward. I am simply rendered incapable of functioning in this tilted world. It’s hard to define oneself when worlds slip and slide into each other- a collision that isn’t without casualties. Wife, mother, teacher, writer, tender to pets: it is hard to know where one’s different selves begin, and others end, amid all this tumult.

Nora Ephron had an epiphany once, when she was at an event she’d organised and realised that little was being carried out to her satisfaction. She was mid-rant, her friend turned to her and said firmly, ‘Nora, you can’t do it all.’  Despite having heard this phrase many times, on this occasion, it resonated. She claims that she was much gentler with herself when this sunk in, because she finally recognised that doing it all was quite simply, an impossibility.

This week, as the reality of Monday morning dawns with all the subtlety of a breeze block, I’m going to keep this in mind. Some things I may do well, others average, and inevitably I’ll  fuck-up aplenty. If the house is still standing at the end it, and I’ve managed to preserve what remains of my mental health, I’m taking that as a win.