Monthly Archives:

April 2021


SWB on insomnia

I am dropping balls all over the place. I cannot, at this precise moment, even SEE the ball. The ball has been booted so far off the pitch it has landed in some dense, thicketty undergrowth, where it may lie, undetected, for a while.

When my children are being little ingrates, I tell myself to cut them some slack. ‘They’ve had a hard time,’ I say, when my gut feeling is to rage and shout and throw their Nintendo Switch into the black bin. But what, I think, about cutting ourselves some slack? No one has lived through a pandemic in generations. All of this is stressful, confusing, frightening. Even when I think I’m doing ok, I am swiftly reminded that perhaps I am not, because I forget everything. I can’t keep dates in my head: even the magnetic chart on the fridge isn’t helping, as I blunder along.

Last night we went to bed early. ‘Isn’t this marvellous,’ I said to LSB, as I carefully arranged myself, so as not to poke the greyhound in the eye with my toe. ‘In bed, at 10-25 on a Monday, with the dishes done and the counter cleared.’ (I’m telling you, doesn’t pillow talk just ROCK in our house?) ‘Brilliant,’ said he, and immediately fell asleep. THE BASTARD. How do men do that?

Well, I totally jinxed myself, didn’t I? I read a bit. I turned off the light. I took deep, meditative breaths. Nothing. I might add that I was very, very tired, but regardless, no sleep was forthcoming. I blamed the tee-shirt I was wearing so I tip-toed to the bathroom and put on a different nightdress and drank some water. Still sleep evaded me.

On the mind whirled. I sat up with a jolt and remembered that the girls were supposed to be at ballet today. Or were they? I couldn’t ask LSB because he was asleep. I tossed around a bit and made exaggerated sighs to see if I could wake him up. It didn’t work. I cursed myself for being useless: this was the third thing I’d forgotten this week. My thoughts turned to asparagus. I hadn’t bought any fresh vegetables. The one remaining pepper I had left left was fried up between the four of us. That, in my book, is not a sufficient amount, because we need all the antioxidants we can get right now.

I fell asleep and woke at four, the blueish hue of dawn filtering through the blinds and the birds revving up into a full-throttle appreciation of the day. Along came the magpies, little f**kers that they are, stomping and strutting on the roof above my head. The fat cat mewed dejectedly outside. I considered just getting up and making spaghetti Bolognese, but then remembered that I had no carrots to add to the pot. God, I’m shite at this mothering business, I thought.

I finally drifted off after five and slept til seven, but you know what? I’d have been better getting up and making the blasted Bolognese because of the wretched, anxiety ridden dreams I had. I kid you not, a Walker’s Crinkle Cut Crisp boasted fewer lines than my face this morning, before I set about filling in the cracks.

As it turned out, the girls had no ballet as it doesn’t start until May, so I got that wrong. But the problems fizzing around in my head at 2am faded into insignificance upon waking. Obviously I’m not really bothered about the ballet or the vegetables or my abilities as a mum. I’m just stressed to fuck because of the year that’s been in it. It’s made me a bit madder than normal and lacking in all perspective. But we should go easier on ourselves: this is still rocky terrain as we dare to dream of normality. Be kind to your wee discombobulated selves and I’ll try to do the same.


SWB reacts to lockdown lifting

The Older Child’s violin teacher must think highly of manners, because I keep forgetting when she’s doing her lessons by Facetime, so when he rings my mobile I invariably lift it and shriek: ‘OH FUCK!’ when she’s no where in the vicinity.  I misread his text last week and thought he was able to do his lessons in person down at the school. There was the child waiting with her wee violin case in hand, while he was ringing me from his home in Donaghadee. Civil fellow that he is, he scheduled another one for the following evening at half-six. Inevitably, I forgot. She was frolicking in a friend’s garden when he called. ‘OH FUCK!’ I said, setting off down the road at speed, clutching my phone. There he was on Facetime, seeing the hedges and footpaths of my street as I hurtled along. ‘I’ll just ring back in five,’ said he. ‘Much better idea,’ I panted. I’m really not wise: this whole year has my head more mashed than the spuds for your Sunday roast.

All over Northern Ireland parents have been heaving deep sighs of relief as their progeny return to their leisure activities. My friend was down at Cherryvale Park on Friday night and with everyone back on the pitches in the sunshine, she said it was almost carnivalesque. Most people are thrilled with this dose of normality – all, of course, except me. (‘Not like you to be a contrarian, SWB,’ I hear you say.) This last while I have formed a close attachment to my sofa. We were always on good terms, but now, our relationship has deepened into Siamese twin like territory. Asking me to postphone my opportunity to rest with a book or watch Firefly Lane, especially OF AN EVENING, and I take that as a truly awful imposition.

There were, apart from the pestilence and disruption, elements of last year which appealed to me very much. As a parent, it turns out I am inherently lazy, and what threatens to push me beyond the levels of my endurance, is having to be at a particular place at a specific time. Take today (Sunday) for example. The Small Child has football training at 12pm while her sister’s training starts at one.  So far so good, except she has a piano lesson at 12-30. Through some manoeuvring on the part of her kindly teacher, I have managed to put this back to 12-20. In the middle of this, I have a tennis lesson at one. Nothing, will ever come between me and my tennis lesson, because I spent my entire childhood thinking I was shite at all sports, and now that I can actually hit a ball over the net,  I’m not giving up.  (My instructor practically puts the ball in my lap, to be fair, but trust me, this is still progress.) If all this to-ing and fro-ing doesn’t sound like a day’s work, then I don’t know what does.

LSB sensed my trepidation about lockdown lifting, so he bought a magnetic fridge organiser. Even with our chart, which LSB has neatly divided into sections, (complete with a marker with a magnetic strip for handy fridge adhesion), I still feel stressed. ‘Let’s talk it through again,’ I said to him last night, as I tried to get the pick ups and drop offs sorted in my head. ‘Hostage handovers have been negotiated with less fanfare,’ he sighed.

Well, it was worth making the list and checking it twice because it is now 4-30 pm  and everyone has been deposited where they need to be and I even did a shop and got the bottles recycled. My back hand is improving and there’s a chicken waiting to go in the oven. Man, I am ON FIRE.  And guess what, I’m celebrating by sitting back down on the trusty sofa, tea in hand. That is what I call a result.



The Mothership is peeved

Picture the scene. It is nine-forty of an evening, and the children are in bed and been told firmly and unequivocally, that unless they have suffered a severed artery, they are not to DARE come down the stairs again. The dishwasher has been stacked, the counters are cleared and you are ensconced on the sofa. You are on Episode 8 of ‘Firefly Lane’ and are ogling Katherine Heigl’s complexion but thinking that the facial fillers are a smidge excessive. Your feet are under a blanket and in your hand is a glass of Pinot Noir. You exhale. And then the phone goes. It is the landline, so you have to emerge from your blankety cocoon to fetch it. It can only be The Mothership. The tone, at the other end, is crisp.  

‘I haven’t been looking at the blog for a while, so I have not been keeping a close eye, and that, clearly, is a mistake.’ 

It’s an ‘oh fuck, what now moment.’

 I sigh. ‘Was it the vagina comment?’ 


‘The one about being constantly surrounded by children and husbands: your inner circle, day in day out. It wasn’t my quote anyway; I stole it off the internet.’

I hear the frantic tapping at a keyboard at the other end and then much tutting. 

‘Why on earth would you repeat a thing like that? Why do you have to be so vulgar? It’s as if you are on a mission to shock! You wouldn’t have caught me, or your Auntie Bobbie, or any of my friends for that matter, coming off with the like.  But no, I haven’t read it, thankfully, and I’m actually talking about the kidney comment.’ 

‘Oh, when I said about the vaccine being for the ‘greater good?’ 

‘Exactly. I don’t think you can equate the two. I met a man on a cruise once, and he had donated his kidney to his son, or maybe it was his nephew. A much younger person anyway, and he said it was a gruelling experience, quite traumatic, altogether a worse ordeal than he had anticipated. That’s why he’d taken up the cruising; he said he wasn’t going to be denying himself anything anymore, after that.’  

‘Right,’ I say. ‘Well, the whole tone of the post was hyperbolic, like I didn’t really expect there to be coffee’. (I had kind of hoped there would be a wee van nearby though, you know one of those trendy little expresso ones that are springing up everywhere, there was one in the Stormont carpark the other day when we went with the dog.) 

‘Yes, I do realise that Helen- I am not a simpleton, but I think these days, when we are talking about matters of such gravitas, that we should exercise caution. People are very sensitive right now. You should know better. You’re very sensitive, prickly even. Don’t we all know it?” 

It’s true. I am very sensitive. LSB was wondering to himself if it was side-effect, being a grumpy bastard after the vaccine, until he recalled, with sadness, that I’m just always like that.  

But tell me this, who isn’t a bit on the raw side at the moment? You need to have some moments of levity: if you didn’t have a dark sense of humour these days, to get through life with its Kafkaesque undertones, it would all be very bleak indeed.  However, that said, please do accept my apologies if my facetiousness offends.




SWB gets her first vaccine

I was shaky of leg and heavy of head when I woke up today, but no, it wasn’t just a typical Sunday morning chez SWB- instead I had joined hundreds of others yesterday in the 40 plus bracket and got my AZ jab. I’m finding a perverse enjoyment in feeling fragile, because this is not self-inflicted roughness, say from exercising without warming up or drinking too much NZ Sauvignon in a friend’s back garden, while riding the high of being allowed to socialise again. There is, dare to say, a ‘sanctimonious’ aspect to this malaise, because it’s for a greater good, like donating a kidney to a sibling.

It is possible that I milked the whole experience as I lay in bed last night when I kept rolling on to my left arm and emitting pitiful little bleats. At one point, I felt a weight on my chest and dreamt I was underwater, trapped under a wind-surfing sail. (People who grew up on the Esplanade in Bangor are prone to such night terrors). It turned out  just to be the Fat Cat, who had plonked himself upon me, tickling my nose with his whiskers. ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, what NOW,’ said LSB as I let out a yelp. ‘It’s a bloody zoo,’ I heard him mutter, as he lifted the cat under his arm and took him downstairs for his night-time snack, while the greyhound took the opportunity to stretch out even further along the bottom of the bed.

I had no idea how the vaccination procedure would pan out, because in true SWB style, I hadn’t read up anything upon it. When I heard there could be an hour’s wait, I assumed that you sat in your vehicle. In fact, I actually thought that a medic administered you the vaccine IN through the car window, like whenever I went to have a Covid test. I disclosed this to a friend whom I visited prior to my allotted time yesterday morning, dropping in some bottles for some of his home brew. ‘Do you not have a hat?’ he asked, as I turned up bareheaded at his door. I looked at him blankly: ‘You mean I have to get out of the car and wait in the cold?’ I said, at which the word ‘snowflake’ may have crossed his lips.

‘I wonder do they have coffee?’ I pondered.

‘Of course,’ he said, nodding vigorously. ‘And after that they come round with buttered sour dough on silver trays.’

‘There’s even champagne afterwards,’ chirped up his wife. Quite a chuckle the pair of them had at my middle-class expectations of the whole affair. He grew up in Derry City during the seventies and she hails from Soviet Czechoslovakia. I am often a source of great entertainment for them. ‘It’ll be fine,’ they said, as I took my leave. ‘You’re bound to meet someone you know as you wait, you might even have some craic.’

They weren’t wrong. I had just been directed to a yellow dot inside the foyer of the arena, when a colleague from my first ever teaching job, skipped up to the dot behind me. ‘Helen McClements!’ she cried and sure enough, it was me indeed. We chatted with tremendous animation, which I imagine those in the queue around us appreciated enormously. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear the last 15 years of my life condensed into a 30 minute wait, at a sufficiently loud volume to carry between the socially distanced dots? Tremendous craic it was altogether. After the jab, I was afforded the opportunity sit and read, undisturbed for 15 whole minutes, without a small child annoying me or a cat asking to fed. I would go as far as to say that the whole experience was most edifying.

I was back in my car exactly an hour and 10 minutes after I joined the queue. I would have been speedier still, had I not had to wander round gormlessly looking for my car, since I had abandoned it and scuttled off in hurry, failing to note down where I’d parked it. It has now been thirty-two hours since the first dose and I’m almost feeling sprightly, which is frankly a bit of a shame as I thought I might have a decent excuse to stay off work tomorrow. Damn it.

Seriously though, it was extremely organised and everyone was incredibly kind and lovely and professional. Made me feel a wee bit better about life.



SWB on coping strategies

Newsflash- apparently, we’re all drinking too much over lockdown. I’m sorry, but this is the BBC actually calling this is NEWS? The real news would be if we were managing not to drink our way through this global cluster-fuck.

As I may have shared with you, I tried to give up drink this Lent, thinking that perhaps with some divine intervention I could abstain. Four days I lasted. Four days. I don’t know why I even attempted it to be honest- it was just Dry January all over again, which turned out to be well doused. Now is not the time for denial, when so much is off limits. But what I do subscribe to now, is careful policing of self and trying to be a bit more creative than just having a drink to dull the monotony/pulverised nerves/feeling of terminal gloom.

At least I’m not alone. Yesterday I had to use all my Tetris skills trying to squeeze three wine bottles into the bins at Tesco. Obviously, in the absence of the recycling centres being open, people are availing of whatever options are available, but I can conclude that Easter was celebrated in style in the Rosetta area of Belfast.

Like many others, this feeling of  wanting to drinking myself into a coma usually occurs at ‘witching hour’, around six o’clock.  Typically, I am trying to make the dinner, and children have buggered off up the stairs leaving me with three pots on the go; batting away opportunist pets who are trying to leap up on the counter for a piece of chicken; and a table full of all the shite of the day which needs cleared before we eat. Oblivious, or perhaps in a deliberate attempt to avoid helping, the girls are playing Minecraft instead of doing something edifying like reading. My reflex action is just to reach into the fridge or ferret about in the cupboards if I’ve nothing chilled. In cases like this though, I shouldn’t take it out on my liver. The sensible option is to shout for the wee feckers to come down and help,  The answer, I tell myself, is not in the bottom of a glass of sauvignon blanc, it is in creating a harmonious space to inhabit, instead of letting my rage grow and harden into a hernia.

Of course, if you absolutely can’t resist, and a bottle of Marlborough is shouting in your ear VERY loudly that it needs cracked upon and drunk, then have a glass, just stop early. Starting to hammer it into you at six and then sipping away until ten is a disaster, and yet, so easily done. I might have a glass while I cook, then one with dinner. I then say to myself, ‘FFS it’s a weeknight,’ and switch to tonic with a good squeeze of lime, which is fragrant and zesty and quenches your thirst. I know, I didn’t think it would satisfy me in the least, but it seems to.

A friend of mine, when she was pregnant, used to light a scented candle to quell her urge to drink. This, she said,  marked the beginning of her evening and her chance to relax. I can almost see you roll your eyes like Sister Michael in Derry Girls at this. But it’s not about the candle, is it? It’s the transition from a daytime of obligation to your chill out time. So it could be a bath with some Neal’s Yard Frankincense oil, or a stroll at dusk with a friend. Oxygen is underrated, and so is spending time with buddies who make your heart turn little joyful leaps. A friend shared a quote on Facebook which resonated with me. It read: ‘I am sick spending all my time with people who have either been, or came out of my vagina.’ Well, both my babies were popped out the sunroof, but regardless, you get the point I’m sure. We NEED to see other people: it’s not just pleasant, it’s a necessity.

There are other unexpected benefits to not drinking so much. LSB can testify to this after watching ‘Line of Duty’ the other night while I sipped a tonic and lime beside him. Thrilled was he, to be able to watch in peace, with only half the number of interruptions. Usually I pester him relentlessly: ‘Who’s he again?’ ‘What just happened there?’ ‘How the hell am I supposed to remember what happened in Series One? That was a lifetime ago, when the world was normal.’ Reassure me, is anyone else baffled by the show, yet compelled to watch, if only to shout out ‘There’s the garage off the Castlereagh Road! Remember we bought donuts there once?’ Or, ‘I know that woman! She works in Buttercups down the road!’ Highly excitable do I get, even when I don’t have the first notion who’s murdering who and why?.

I’m going back to work on Monday, so it is very possible that I won’t take any of own advice at all, and go a bit Father Jack. LSB may have to wrestle the gin from my hands as I attempt to adjust to working life again. So send me your tips, your encouragement, your life-hacks. I’m all ears folks.


SWB on emerging from lockdown fashion

I have a coat (and that’s it in the photo).

It is not pleasing on the eye. It was never meant to be a statement coat, but at least one I could wear in public without resembling one of the grotesques that used to feature in ‘The League of Gentlemen.’ Could anyone ever sit through a whole episode of that show by the way? I had a flatmate who used to LOVE it, but it always made me feel a queasy because they were so rotten (both inside and out). Shortly after acquiring this over-garment, (£40 down from £80 in the Benetton winter sale) I lost the belt which cinched it in around the waist, lending it some form of definition. Its troubles increased when I wore it to the dump, (or ‘local recycling centre’) and clarried white paint all down the front, which despite many attempts, I have never successfully removed. These remain in grey, washed out smudges. I am a small person, and wearing this coat, which reaches my mid-calves, creates the appearance of a Womble. Given that these days I often take a litter picker when out walking, I would be much better suited to Wimbledon Common than the Upper Ormeau.

But I love this coat, and I suspect that I am going to love it a lot more in the coming few days, when I shall wear it out, not just when walking to dog, but to friends’ gardens where we will partake in libations and revel in the joy of company, sitting together, and not just passing each other in the road or in the school carpark, trying to exchange niceties when we can see and hear fuck all under the masks.

I may take Jess Carter Morley’s advice in her weekend Guardian column and wear something that smacks of frivolity underneath the coat- I still have two skirts from Christmas which have never seen the light of day, but I suspect that April isn’t really the season for a pale pink sequinned clingy number that LSB ordered from the Savida range in Dunnes. He’s a wild one for the skirts, is LSB, but tragically he has underestimated the collateral damage that lockdown has done to my arse: it could be a while yet before I wrestle my upper thighs into anything remotely structured.

What I will do though, for any frivolity in the coming weeks, is pop on a maxi wrap dress I got from Silk Fred, with a cardigan and my Ug boots, and in case it turns Baltic again (because let’s face it, it could), I will have the white woollen hat that Santa bought my child from Oxfam and that I have since pilfered. With its multi-coloured fluffy bobble, it brings me cheer- and at the moment, sure you have to take the cheer where you can get it.

Ultimately, who cares. I am just bursting with excitement at the thought of a proper chat. Earlier today I was returning from a jog when I bumped into a crowd of friends at Ormeau Parklet. Well, the giddiness of me was nothing ordinary. There was a suggestion that I’d been on the hard liquor with my Honey Cheerios, which of course I hadn’t because now that the children are back at school, I don’t have to go to those lengths to make it to 10am. Mid chat, I walked backwards into one of the seat and fell with clatter and a deluge of expletives, much to the amusement of a good-looking young couple with their baby in one of those buggies that costs the same amount as my first car. But hey, at least when we let ourselves down a bucketful these days, we have an excuse and don’t have to shrug and say: ‘I don’t get out much.’ We don’t, we haven’t, and we need a bit of a craic. My pals may have to power-hose me off their patios- such will be my reluctance to shift. I suppose though, that’s one of the benefits of a coat which doubles as a duvet. They can just dander off to bed and leave me on the garden seat, if they don’t want to resort to force. Jeepers, they’ll be saying- there’s tankers in the Suez that are easier to shift than that one. Happy holidays y’all.