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May 2022


SWB and the Truth about Pets

I’m not going to lie to you. We got over-excited. I got over-excited. We don’t have the time, energy, or frankly, the funds, to own three animals right now. Don’t get me wrong; I love the dog and the cats to bits. The dog infinitely more, because she’s loving and sweet and she returns our efforts with affection, unlike the cats who are as transparent as f**k, only sidling round your legs when they’re after their fifth meal of the day. The dog is genuinely grateful for any attention she receives, and curled up beside me, as she is now, it’s hard to imagine there’s any badness in the world at all.

But wait til I tell you. Last week the three of them* conspired to be total melters. We’re still recovering, to be honest. We’ll start with the cats. We don’t have a cat-flap: there’s probably no point, as the rotund cat, (who goes by the name of Bramble,) probably couldn’t get through it, given his girth. But we’re rarely out that long and we have a litter tray, lest they take short. But on Monday, the fat cat took umbrage. LSB had the temerity to mix-up his routine of a morning, and visit the gym before twelve. He nailed a few work issues from his desk at home, took himself out  for an hour and returned, feeling well-pleased with his productivity, only to find a massive dump left in the bedroom. On my V-pillow, on which I like to recline to read. Can you imagine coming home and finding that? Bramble decided that nature called and had chosen to defecate extensively, just to let his feelings be known.  Frankly, he was telling us, we should never leave the house.

On to Monday night then. I was fast asleep, as indeed one tends to be at ten past two in the morning, when the dog woke me with her plaintive crying. On went the slippers, coat thrown over the jim-jams and down the stairs we went so she could relieve herself in the moonlight. And then she disappeared. She was prone to taking off through the hedge and into the field behind us a while back, until LSB, (at considerable expense and effort) erected a fence. She has since found another hole somewhere, and away she went. Now, I’d had the foresight to put her collar on that has battery operated lights (rechargeable, I might add), so I could see the wee red lights flickering in the field beyond. Into the neighbour’s garden I went, calling her softly so as not to wake anyone. My entreaties went unheeded, and it was after six before she returned, after Himself and I had taken turns to walk the roads.

I’m telling you all this to make you thoroughly interrogate your levels of stamina before you cave to your children’s pleas and get them a pet. Much as we adore our animals, (and trust me, we do, otherwise we’d have got shot of the bastards by now), they cause no end of strife. A girl in work was talking about getting a pup today and I counselled against it. My very good friend looked at me like I’d had a stroke. ‘But you LOVE animals,’ she said. As a student, she once had to persuade me to give a vagrant back a terrier puppy which he was carting around in the front basket of his bicycle, outside Maggie May’s on Botanic Avenue. I was cradling the pup in my arms and was wondering whether to call it Pippa or Penny, when she suggested that I might ring the Mothership first and check if it was alright. The Mothership told me to put the pup back in the basket IMMEDIATELY and that was the end of it. When I was telling this girl to enjoy her current dog free existence, my old pal found it very odd indeed. But maybe the Guardian had it right when in the Saturday’s Weekend section’s article on 60 ways to make you happier, number two on the list was walking a dog. Not your own dog, I might add. A dog which you find on If you’re thinking about getting an animal, test drive it first. Enjoy the benefits of a purposeful stroll with a canine companion, without the kennel bills, the hair-strewn furniture and the nocturnal wanderings. And if you’re seriously contemplating life with a pet, you can have this one for two weeks in July as a tester. Don’t all jump at once…

*Izzy (the wee tortoiseshell cat) didn’t do anything dreadful, she just kept up her sustained campaign of climbing over us in our beds and knocking things off the dressing table until we get up and feed her. (Usually at around 6am).


SWB takes her long-awaited trip

“Did you get pick-pocketed on the Ramblas?” It’s the first thing everyone asks when you say you’re Barcelona-bound. It’s sad that the Catalan capital is now synonymous with thieves as opposed to all the other joyous things about it, but there you go. Anyway, we don’t get pickpocketed because we stayed well clear of the Ramblas, Park Güell, and the Sagrada Familia. We just can’t be arsed with all that lark. But happily, we holidayed in the district of Sarrià, which has so many of its own attractions that we didn’t need to venture any further. We didn’t get on a train, or the underground and instead, hopped on buses, jumped in a cab or dandered along, punctuating our journey with ice creams or a cerveza in the square. There was A LOT of  sipping chilled verdejo on the terrace, and this suited me just fine. And people were always coming over to chat, which made me feel like I was on back on the Ormeau, except the sky was cerulean blue and instead of the greyhound at our feet we had a portly English bulldog.

We didn’t go to Barcelona with the intention of dog-sitting, but when I rang my friend Rhaiza to suggest a visit, she offered me her flat since she had booked a trip at the same time. This worked out extremely well, as we paid for two nights in a hotel and spent the remaining three in her bijoux apartment. It was bliss, I tell you, bliss. Rhaiza showed us around on the first day and thus we acquainted ourselves with the locale and she directed us to all the best cafés and restaurants. I can be very annoying on holiday, almost as annoying as I am at home. My principal complaint is that I hate being, as I keep telling LSB, ‘on the periphery.’ I hate coming across like a tourist, blundering around looking bemused, and eating rubbish masquerading as local cuisine while the locals dine on superior cuisine in the place next door.


Another annoying thing I do on holiday is switch off. Once I’ve landed, and find myself free from the demands and drudgery of  life at home, I enter an almost somnambulant state. Once again, poor auld LSB, because it’s up to him to consult bus timetables and maps while I wonder along gormlessly in his wake. It could, of course, be weaponised incompetency, just like him and the laundry at home, when he fucks in a navy sock with the whites, and everything ends up a wishy-washy blue. But he brings the role on himself as he’s very good with navigation and timings, so I leave him to it. Anyway, you too can be good at sussing the bus system in Barcelona as like New York, it’s based on a grid system: V for vertical and H for horizonal. We were flying about the area no problem at all, and at no point, unlike a recent experience in Belfast, did I hear a fella yell, ‘BALL BAG!’ out the window at his mate.


Three brilliant things to do in Sarria

Visit the CosmoCaixa museum.

Almost Guggenheim-esque with spiral ramp by way of a staircase, this is no ordinary science museum. It boasts a replica of a sunken Amazon forest, complete with an Aquarium with comical looking stingrays, turtles  and massive pirarucu fish. Looking up, birds flapped around happily, (don’t ask me what they were, but one looked a bit like a flamingo) and a capybara was rooting about in the shrubbery. The children, of course, weren’t content until they’d bought a toy capybara in the  gift shop. ‘What’s his name?’ I enquired, expecting something of a Latino bent, like Rodrigo or Pedro. ‘Nigel’ came the reply, which makes him sound like an insurance salesman in Wolverhampton. (The other child bought a stuffed penguin, who rejoices in the name of ‘Mr Waddles’.)

Aside from the rainforest, there are exhibitions about the sun and another on climate change and the Arctic. I swiftly moved on, past the harrowing statistics about how f**ked we’re going to be if we keep burning fossil fuels. I felt terribly hypocritical because there’s me calling myself an environmentalist and sure didn’t we all take a Ryanair flight to get there in the first place. There’s my green credentials straight down the toilet.


Carreta de Aïgues

I do enjoy a mountain walk, especially if it’s flat. And this is what ROCKS about La Carreta, because it’s a ten kilometre path AROUND the mountains, so although there’s a steep, (but mercifully short) trek up to it, it’s all rather pleasant once you’ve got your breath back. Unfortunately it attracts proper sporty types;  cyclists in all their lyrca’d glory, and fell- running enthusiasts, sinewy and svelte and not even having the decency to sweat. Then when you’re back in the square, chowing down the aforementioned tapas and gelato, you see them racing past again. I’d rather not witness this sort of caper when I’m sipping a Prosecco at two in the afternoon, but what can you do.

Tibidabo Amusement Park

I’m not a fan of amusement parks in general because the rides make me vomit, but the wee ones fancied taking the funicular up to see the Big Wheel on the mountain, and thus I acquiesced. I read a review which claimed that the rides were better suited to ‘younger children’, so I thought I might be ok. I wasn’t.  Perhaps the rides themselves aren’t on the same level as say, The Oblivion in Alton Towers, but it’s the fact that they swing out OVER A CLIFF that sent my stomach churning. Anyway, LSB enjoyed the big swingy things and let out a good auld West Belfast ‘YEOOO’ as he whizzed by me. I think I’m still recovering from the Log Flume. ‘Going round again?’ asked the sprightly chap after we’d been round once. ‘NO WAY,’ I yelled, staggering out, followed by a soaked but disappointed LSB. I actually quite enjoyed the whole experience.

In short, I loved every second of the trip and am planning my next one. And staying at a pal’s house is definitely one way to save if you’re feeling the pinch. The hotels cost a fortune which leaves much less pocket money for all the lovely wine.