Monthly Archives:

August 2021


SWB takes her ill-temper on holiday

A holiday for me, roughly translated, just means that I can be a grumpy fucker outside Belfast too. You’ll know us, if you ever come across us on your travels, because we’re the crew looking perpetually bewildered. Always searching, rooting around in our bags, under tables, arses sticking out of the boot of our car. The pandemic has amplified the problem, because now we have masks and Covid vaccination cards to add to the mix. Most people, I am swiftly discovering, wear their masks up their arms in Galway. I keep thinking they are all stricken with a similar injury or are sporting bandages to cover up tattoos they now regret. I see the wisdom though, to stop them having to ferret about in their pockets or bags. I tempted to take up the ‘mask/arm band’ look myself to save me a lot of hassle.


This holiday I have been particularly fraught, and my packing was even worse than usual. This was so achievement, given that the children started packing mid-July. I didn’t dare get excited you see, since our first wee sojourn was cancelled at the start of the summer, when the Older One had to isolate. Crushed I was, when I saw them sadly returning their shorts and tee-shirts into the drawers. (Who am I trying to kid, they fired them onto the floor, it was I who put them in the drawers.)


So LSB neglected to bring flip flips and sunglasses and an extra pair of shorts. I got my denim skirt soaked when I blundered into the sea in Bundoran and a wave drenched me, so  had to buy a pair of shorts myself. I also forgot that my period tends to arrive on holiday. First day and I’m like, what is that? Surely not- can’t even be three weeks since the last one. But no mistaking, there it was, complete with swollen belly, cramps and constipation. And not a pad or pair of period pants in sight.


‘There’s a pharmacy across the road,’ sighed LSB. ‘Off you go.’ The pharmacy, alas, had a disappointing selection of products. ‘I’ve just started today,’ said an assistant, when I inquired if they had any plastic free tampons. They didn’t.  ‘I literally in the door, like five minutes ago,’ said the girl, so off I went, regaling her with the environmental benefits of period pants. ‘Wuka, they’re called,’ I informed her. ‘W-U-K-A.’   In through the door came the owner. ‘I’ll sort you out at the till,’ he says.  ‘Have you heard of period pants?’ I ask him. ‘They’re brilliant.’


‘I haven’t heard tell of such a thing,’ he says, shoving my purchases into a paper bag with an alarming rate.


‘There’s a woman up the road makes pads,’ comes a voice from the back of the shop, ‘she has a website.’


‘You should sell those in your shop,’ says I. ‘I would have bought them. Today.’


‘Right you are then,’ says the man. The children are beside me, dying a slow death.


Two days later, I discover a Super-Value about two hundred metres up the road. ‘Check this aisle out,’ says LSB, ‘you’ll love it’. He’s right, there’s a whole display with a rake of eco-friendly products, period stuff included. Bearna, it turns out, is the village you need when you’re after a Laundry Egg and a moon cup and plastic free inter-dental sticks.


Anyway, it was one of those periods which floors you, and you look, and feel like a sack of shite. Stricken thus, it is ill-advised to drink two glasses of NZ Sauvignon Blanc at lunchtime in Pádraicins Seafood Bar in Furbo with your bowl of mussels, especially if you don’t want to waste the rest of the beautiful afternoon because you’re fast asleep. I blame the beds in The Twelve. Way too fecking comfortable, and the perfect place to retreat when you feel rubbish.


Poor LSB- he’s waited all year for a holiday and a rest, when really, the poor fecker just needs a rest from me.








SWB on things you never knew you needed

This is one that you may want to file under ‘Middle Class Moan’.

It probably says a lot about my parenting that when I say to the children, ‘Put the socks on the chairs’ they just get on with it, no questions asked.

It’s my nerves you see- I’m what you would call a fraught sort of individual.

I am THAT teacher, the one who shouts, ‘LIFT IT, DON’T DRAG’ when the bell goes, to spare me the scrape of thirty chairs being dragged across a wooden floor. I wince just thinking about that noise.

So, chair socks- I feel it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they are indispensable to my mental well-being. Remember the time I decided to foster an assistance pup, and the girls were still so wee and there was piss and poo everywhere and it barked incessantly, and I ended up at the doctor’s two days before Christmas thinking I was having a breakdown?

Well, shortly after that a friend called in. She was a level-headed, together sort of a girl, who, as well as working as a GP part-time, did the lion’s share of bringing up two lively young boys, because her husband worked in the City Hospital ninety hours a week while also preparing for a shitload of oncology exams.

Anyway, she was over one afternoon drinking tea in my kitchen, when en masse, the children finished their juice and biscuits and leapt up off their seats to go and play. The abrasive sound of the chairs on the tiles set my nerves alight. ‘Chair socks,’ she said. ‘They’ll change your life.’

‘Do such things even exist?’ I asked, aware that my knitting skills weren’t up to the task.

‘They do,’ she said, ‘there’s not a chair in my house not wearing them.’

I mentioned them to LSB and didn’t a pack pop through the letter box two days later. Within minutes all the stools and chairs in the kitchen were adorned accordingly and my nerves were dealt a reprieve.

You don’t need me to tell you that the last year or two have been mighty stressful. If, like me, you’ve got sensitive ears, and/or your nerves are shot to f**k, then chair socks might just be one way to create a more ambient home. I’ve just had a quick peruse of the internet and there’s a stack of knitting and crocheting patterns out there for the socks, so there’s a new project for a Knit n’Natter club.

Chair socks:  that’s what I’m offering you all this evening, as the world tilts yet further and madness prevails. I’m wondering if they can be bought in bulk for schools? Now there’s a thought…



SWB starts a conversation

Ah flip everyone- I’m causing havoc this morning! Wait til you hear. So the news yesterday: the IPCC report showed that climate change is accelerating more quickly than we thought. It’s a Code Red for Humanity; we have to try harder to protect the environment. It had me all flustered, hot and bothered. And who did I take it out on? The husband of course. He’s never off the internet, ordering things because he’s working from home and a bit bored. ‘But we NEED it,’ he bleats, as yet another item gets dropped at the door, by, you’ve guessed it, an Amazon van.

Now, these vans, they crack me up, because they’re never off our street, and often to our house. So on to the Frank phone in on U105 I go and speak to the lovely Denise.

‘Vans leaving their engines running while they deliver your goods,’ I say. ‘Really bugs me. Why don’t they switch them off a moment?’ It’s not just Amazon of course, it’s all cars and vans. Turn the engines off when they’re not moving. W need cleaner air. Simple.

On we chat, about ideas how we should be refilling wine bottles and milk bottles at the supermarkets and eating less meat. But no one is listening about that anymore- it’s the Amazon vans that have caused a stir.

LSB comes down the stairs and hears a proper fall out on the radio. ‘Tell that woman she doesn’t know what she’s talking about! The vans run on electric,’ says Tom in Templepatrick.

‘What did you go on and say?’ says LSB.  ‘Amazon vans are electric, not diesel.’

‘Are you sure?’ I say, ‘They don’t sound electric to me.’

He reaches into his pocket, grabs his phone, and shows me some documentary evidence to the contrary.

‘Still not convinced,’ I say. But Frank’s phone lines have gone berserk. No one is talking about excessively packaged bananas anyone, the whole show has been taken over about Amazon, and their electric vans. I blame LSB. If he hadn’t gone and ordered a pencil case shaped like a cuddly Sloth for the Small Child, I might not have been so aggravated.


I talk to Denise at ten past ten. At five to eleven people are still ringing in about the Amazon vans.

But here’s the thing. Whether the vans are electric or not, we buy more than we need because it’s just too convenient. Amazon uses excess packaging- sure wasn’t there a cardboard shortage recently; beige gold they were calling it. They have massive data centres; huge shipping and production costs. All this doesn’t happen on fresh air- somewhere, factories are belching out black plumes of smoke because coal is being burnt to generate the electricity.

Jeff Bezos has the cheek to say, ‘Thanks very much everyone for sending me to space, you made a dream come true!’ as if his businesses don’t wreak enough havoc on the environment he takes a jaunt into space, during a global pandemic while wild fires rage. I’d say whether his vans are electric or not will be a moot point if he starts a billionaire space race. I’m starting to think he has a Bond villain’s agenda; he may be able to escape into orbit as the world burns, but for the rest of us there is no Planet B and yesterday’s report just clarified that.

So, should I have checked my facts before chatting to Denise? Probably. Did it get people talking though? It certainly did, and that’s where it all starts.




SWB is saving water, no ifs or butts…..

You know me and my obsessions everyone: sometimes it’s recycling and micro-plastics and reducing waste. At the moment I’m on a mission save water, and so today, as grey clouds loom over the city and rain falls in torrents, I thought I’d give you a watered down version of what’s going on in my head- so as not to bore you rigid.

Yesterday I met friends for lunch in District on the Ormeau Road. As I sat, eating a Portuguese tart and sipping tea, a downpour of Biblical proportions began. Rain gathered in the awning and gushed along the guttering, before streaming onto the footpath below.  I had to restrain myself from asking for a wee basin: I thought the cafe was missing an ideal opportunity to harvest the water and use it later for their plants. Obsessed I have become- I’m telling you.

In July, as the ground baked and my lawn turned brown and crispy, I became ever more conscious of dwindling water supplies, and how quickly our reserves here in Northern Ireland become depleted. I am grateful for my water butt which I made LSB buy (and install) last year. Since we have our own supply, I never feel guilty about watering my plants and I even managed to resuscitate my poor parched sweet peas, after failing to notice how dried out they had become. That’s the thing about plants- needy little feckers.

What was it David Attenborough said, ‘Live the life you want to lead, just don’t waste anything.’ If he could see our failing water system, I fear his ninety-four year old heart might splinter in two. We lose so much of our water supply to leaks as in hot weather the ground overheats and contracts, causing the water pipes to crack, wasting thousands of litres. This happens ALL THE TIME here, because the system is so elderly (Victorian, if we’re being precise) and long overdue reconstruction.

There are massive problems with the infrastructure and a lack of funding, but there are small steps we can take to protect our water supplies, thereby allowing NI Water to direct costs elsewhere into improving the system.

Obviously there are the ways to save water- not overfilling the kettle when you’re making the ninth cup of tea that day; turning off the tap when we brush our teeth, shorter showers etc. So far, so obvious.

But have you heard about the ‘fatbergs’? No, this isn’t an American comedy you’d find in the early hours on E4. Seriously, if you’re eating, come back to this post later because this is ROTTEN. You know when you’re cooking your mince and you fire the grease down the drain because you think it’s only a wee dribble? Well, imagine everyone is doing that, including restaurants and cafes.* The dribble becomes a flood, and when this hot fat hits the cold pipes it congeals. Here’s the queasy bit. Wet wipes, even the ones which claim to be flushable, stick to these, as do sanitary products which folk still insist on chucking down the loo. These create enormous ‘fatbergs’ which take huge amounts of time and expense to disperse. If NI Water weren’t dealing with this sort of nonsense, they may be able to put their money to better use.

Which brings me to my proposal, water butts for all! Wouldn’t it be amazing if NI Water could team up with a company and use recycled plastic to provide water butts for renters and home owners alike? This way everyone could have access to their own water, and wouldn’t have to use purified water from their taps to douse their dahlias and feed their fuchsias. I even use mine to rinse out the plastic containers that I pop in my blue bin.

What do you reckon? If you were offered a water butt do you think you’d use it? And how about if a big multi-national company saw fit to MAKE the water butts form their recycled bottles? Obviously, I’m thinking of Coca Cola. They do own ‘River Rock’, after all, so surely they have an interest in water supplies. I contacted them to see what sustainable steps, if any, they were taking during the dry period in July with regard to water consumption, but I’m still waiting on a response.

It’s just a thought- but on days like this when it’s lashing non-stop, I can’t help but think we shouldn’t let a precious resource flow straight down the drain. My water butt is now almost replenished after last week, so that’s me set up again for months ahead. What can I say? I like big butts and I cannot lie ….. (sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

*If you wait for the fat to cool, you can pour it straight into your brown compost caddy, on top of vegetable waste which will soak it up. I’ve taken to lining my caddy with newspaper for any excess liquid. (I take pride in sourcing articles which feature BoJo’s face for this job.)


SWB recycles her recycling argument

I’m back up on my soap-box everyone: it’s been a while since I had a rant, and today I’m going back over some well-trodden ground. But feck me, the recycling situation here is still shite, and moving at snail’s pace. I’m talking about schools, businesses, community events; places where you imagine a system would be in place, but sadly not. I’m constantly gritting my teeth when I see everything being heaved into the bin together, unseparated at source and sent merrily off; no f**ks given.


Sometimes people are just honest: I’m too busy; I’m running a business here, I don’t have time, it’s not my problem. I appreciate that businesses have had a horrendous time of late but that argument won’t wash because the same people were wheeling out this argument long before Covid arrived. Others argue that the waste will be separated anyway when it moves along to the processing plant; however if the contents are contaminated by food waste or liquids then it rendered unsuitable for the next stage, and off it goes to landfill. What a wasted opportunity.


Let’s talk schools. Most of the schools in which I’ve worked are kept scrupulously clean and tidy. As well as the pupils binning their waste, I see caretakers diligently emptying bins and going round the playgrounds with litter pickers. This is how it should be of course, who doesn’t want a fresh and clean environment for their children, especially now. But from a teaching point of view, you feel like a right muppet when you’re banging on about our responsibility to the planet and the kids are still traipsing down the canteen to buy their chips in Styrofoam boxes and eat them with plastic forks. Poor Greta Thunberg would be having the dry bokes.


Apparently, it’s the schools, NOT the Department of Education who have to pay for their own recycling. This seems entirely wrong to me: is there not enough pressure on schools that the Department should just step up and resolve this? Of course not: they’re presently far too busy, making a total shambles of the transfer test, which, even if the poor kids GET, they still aren’t even guaranteed a place, in any school, in the whole country. I digress. Not like you, SWB, I hear you say. But in short, it’s up to a few members of staff who can’t stomach the waste to go ferreting about in bins, lifting out plastic bottles and cans and saving reams of paper from being dumped. It’s not fair.


To end on a positive, and on the fact which got me started in the first place, the Co-op has launched a way to recycle your soft plastics,* i.e. stuff that can’t go in the blue bin, (bread bags, crisp packets, microwavable rice packets etc). You can gather up any of these-and deposit them special  bins they have in store. I’ve already been down to the Co-op on Rosetta and the bin is easy to spot near the cash desk.  Radio 2’s Sara Cox was on talking to Frank about it on U105 this morning, and so I rang in too, as this is right up my Strasse. ‘What’s your tuppence worth on this Helen?’ he asked, somewhat warily. He’s used to me now, is Frank. ‘Tuppence?’ says I. ‘You’ll get at least 50p’s worth out of me on this.’ And off I went.


As Sara Cox rightly said, we only have to look out our window and see the weird weather that’s afoot, and here to stay. Small steps by all of us is the way forward, but applying some pressure on councils and the Department of Education wouldn’t be amiss either.


* These are the plastics that you can scrunch up in your hand and if they ping back then they are suitable for this type of recycling.