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January 2022


SWB one the tyranny of abs

So, do you know what annoyed me last night? I came home from work and instantly migrated to the sofa, kicking off my shoes and reaching for a Guardian weekend magazine which had been mocking me from about October, as all I’d managed to do so far was skim read the ‘Experience’ section and complete three crossword clues. There’s nothing like a crossword to make me feel howlingly dense, and horrifyingly provincial. For example. I have no more notion about the names of Former Soviet states. I tried to commit them to memory, only for them to be re-named some years later. I’m similarly oblivious to English cities, counties and rivers. Case in point, Had it not been for Martin Freedman’s perfect Scouser tones, I’d never have known where ‘The Responder’ was set. Damn good show, by the way.


There I was, cup of tea in one hand and a triple chocolate tiffin from M&S (the third bun of the day, alas) in the other, and I thought to myself, things are looking up, for as Hump Days went, Wednesday was living up to its name. Then I turned to Jess Carter Morley’s column. I’ve always been a fan of Jess, and thought of her as a woman not unlike myself, with a decent enough hold on reality.


But what was she on about only toned abs, and what one should wearing to show them off. Imagine, the pure cheek of it, mentioning sculpted abs after the collective trauma of the last two years. I wasn’t pleased, and firmly believe that now is not the time to be discussing the rigidity of one’s core. I know I’ve had my nose in the trough too much of late, and too often sought the solace only found at the bottom of a glass of Malbec, but I don’t need to attention drawn to the fact, thanks very much.

She also suggested, and I’m raging about this, that abs are in and boobs are out. It is bad now, apparently to draw attention to one’s breasts, but not to one’s abs. I mean, hell no. By drawing attention to my upper region in an outfit I hope to detract a little for the catastrophe that is my stomach after two caesarean sections and an inordinate number of Magnums.


But, as LSB told me emphatically, because he was tired listening to me whinge, we have just lived through a pandemic; it has been hard to summon the energy to work out, and especially to the level one would need to tone one’s mid-drift thus. Frankly, anyone with well-defined abs right now must neither have children nor any craic at all of a weekend. As a colleague in work wryly noted, nobody stares into a coffin and says ‘nice abs’. She hastened to add, though, that if by some miracle she does boast a six pack when she’s laid out, she’d like an open casket.


But instead of lying on sofa I roused myself, and while the wee ones did their session at the Mary Peter’s Track, LSB and I took the dog for a walk. It was windy, but not cold; in fact it was unseasonably mild. As we went along, I mellowed a bit, and felt slightly less aggrieved at the world and the travails of teaching and parenting and the feeling that I ought to be thinner. I think a flat stomach will always evade me, but I don’t really care. What I do know, is that I miss being outside and the boost it gives my wilting spirit. Lately I’ve been too stressed to do my yoga or my stretches or runs, and I’ve felt ratty and out of sorts, (the family will testify to this). So maybe I should say thanks to Jess for rabbiting on about sit-ups, as it did shake me out of my stupor, and I went to bed happily with over 13 000 steps done. I’m taking that as a win.



SWB hosts a Book Club (via bloody Zoom, obviously, cos that’s where we’re still at)

Hello good people. I hope you are all well, and not overwhelmed by the prospect of Blue Monday, and thinking of spending the day in bed, a-sipping at a bottle of Blue Nun to keep with the theme.

On Wednesday evening I am delighted to have been asked to host January’s book club with the Irish Secretariat. Unsurprisingly my choice of book has an environmental theme and if you haven’t read Dara McNulty’s ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ then I can thoroughly recommend it. I can barely tell an oak from an ash or a jay from a jackdaw (ok, I’m exaggerating there) but I do wish I knew more, and this is a great place to start. What I am committed to is taking small steps to addressing the havoc generations before us have wrecked upon the planet, and I’m quite in awe of this young chap’s passion and encyclopaedic knowledge.

Should you wish to join in, pop me a DM and I’ll get you the link on Wednesday.



SWB makes rest a doing word

The French have a great word ‘coincée’ (pronounced ‘quant-sayed’) which has popped into my head often these holidays. The best way to sum it up in English, is, I think, ‘stymied at every turn’ which sums up more or less how I’ve felt, from approximately March 2020 but with particular intensity this last month. Almost every opportunity for space and frivolity has been curtailed in some way and of course I’m very good at coincé-ing myself, filling my house with children and animals, all of which compete for my attention.

I LONGED to go abroad this Christmas, but watched as each option slipped through my fingers. Making any kind of trip into a reality seemed to necessitate a fair bit of good luck and a side order of fairy dust.  I spent hours on the net, but aside from the price hike of any trip during the school holidays, there were whatever restrictions to consider, with possible ramifications for my work if our PCRS weren’t clear. I admire people who can be flexible about switching flights and changing plans; who can just let them go if it doesn’t work out. Letting go in general isn’t my strong point.

My brother lives in Ras Al Kaimah in the UAE. We haven’t seen him since 2019, and we miss him, especially my wee girls. But luckily, we didn’t venture out to see him after all, given that he ended up with Covid and in bed all of Christmas Day. However, regardless, of any of the practicalities, I’m not sure I could have made the trip anyway. My body has just refused to play ball. I have been rendered listless with lethargy; felled by fatigue; toppled by tiredness.

On Christmas Eve I felt perkier and said, with great enthusiasm to my friend, ‘let’s do a day trip to the Mournes! Just ourselves, no children! Oh, the joy. By the following evening I was thinking longingly of my pyjamas by the time the Queen’s Speech was due to air. The Mournes trip never materialised. Nor have windswept beach walks, cold-water swims or New Year runs.

My Facebook feed is awash with photos of people engaged in wholesome activities; embracing the outdoors regardless of the elements. I, meanwhile, had to ask LSB to slow down when we walked the dog along the embankment. ‘Can I just get a taxi home?’ I asked at one point, but we sat down to rest for a few minutes on a wall instead before shuffling on.

I’ve taken more lateral flows than the government is recommending given the shortages, and I’m apparently covid-less but symptom full.

And all this has made me feel cross and resentful and angry as term starts again for me tomorrow. I feel as though I’m standing below an avalanche and I’m bracing myself for the onslaught. But today, in an unusual bout of positive introspection, I took a moment to focus less on what others have got up to, and reflected a little on myself.

I didn’t do yoga everyday as planned, but I have slathered myself in cream my friend has made from flowers she has grown from seed and distilled in oil and melded into body butter.

I have cuddled under blankets watching sitcoms with the girls, warmed from the glow of the wood burner.

I washed dishes while listening to the words of Katherine May’s ‘Wintering’, and thought how she might just have it sussed.

I have bashed biscuits to make tiffin from left over selection box chocolate and dunked it in tea.

I have grilled cheese on hot toast and set it down to old friends.

And this morning, I tuned in to a poetry workshop and sat, propped up in bed like an imperious queen, asking LSB for a refill of coffee and a chocolate digestive. He brought me not one but three and a freshly brewed coffee in my new mug. This time, it’s not the word ‘coincée’ but instead the phrase ‘my cup overfloweth’ that springs to mind. Well, I’m unlikely to be thinking this tomorrow, but learning to rejoice in the moment, perhaps that’s one resolution I can try and keep in 2022. And yesterday morning, we finally made it to Murlough for a short walk. Glorious it was too.