Monthly Archives:

June 2022


SWB contemplates the summer

I took the head staggers last summer. After two years of Covid restrictions I was suffering from many things, but primarily it was over-exposure to children. I took to the Internet, frantically googling summer camps and signed them up to seven weeks of back to back activities. Come August, I had almost bankrupted myself. The children had summer scheme fatigue after it, and said they needed a holiday after the holiday, having been trailed hither and thither every day.  I felt it was important to introduce some routine after lockdown, but looking back, I see that I did rip the arse out of it a bit. This year I’m having to reconcile myself to being more pro-active when it comes to entertaining them. 


Happily, I’ve managed to book them into a course in Avoneil Leisure Centre for the first week of July and I’m hoping that Kinedale Donkey Sanctuary will run a camp in in August. We’re also away on holiday for a couple of weeks. That still leaves a month though, and I’m not sure that benign neglect as an approach to childcare is going to cut it. Pray tell me, exactly how does one prise children from their screens without having to listen to them bleat ‘I’m bored’ every ten minutes?   


I’ve wracked my brains and below is a list of a few ideas to keep the girls happy and make me feel better about my lackadaisical approach to parenting.  


  • Create a campsite experience in the garden. Pitch a tent,  roast smores over a BBQ and sleep out. I’ll camp too, less they get frightened, but I can just cart out all the snuggly bedding from the house so it won’t just be a thin karri-mat between me and my patchy uneven lawn. I always find camping more bearable when one has access to one’s own toilet facilities.  
  • Have a toy and book swap. Other people’s stuff always seems more interesting than your own and last year a friend invited us to spend a happy afternoon rifling through bags of cast offs. We dropped a bin liner of unwanted items to Oxfam and did a spot of decluttering ourselves. This was a much more palatable experience than traipsing round Smyths while the kids ogle some plastic shite we don’t need.  
  • Spend more time at the beach. One of the joys of living in Belfast is that one can reach sandy shores in well under an hour. I stayed with a friend in Portstewart this weekend and I felt mighty replenished after only a brief spell by the water’s edge. Growing up in Bangor the sea used to not only be freezing but full of sewage too. There have been huge efforts to clean up our coastlines so if you can thole the cold, the water is a much more tempting prospect. That’s a few day’s out sorted then.

Now, here’s what NOT to do: 

  • This ‘savvy saver and mum of two’ Emma Stretton shared her suggestions for keeping the children busy in the Mirror. One of her recommendations was taking the kids to Ikea for a ‘fun day out.’ One of the reasons why I HATE an Ikea trip so much is precisely because people like Stretton take their children there just for the craic. When I’m trying to note down the dimensions of the Söderhamn sofa with one of their futtery little pencils, the last thing I need is a squawking youngster in my ear. I also think it’s a short-sighted plan: who can push a trolley through Ikea’s Marketplace without filling it with napkins and glasses and picture frames? Trust me, this is not an excursion for the fiscally challenged.  
  • Stretton also suggests baking, which I am going to strongly advise against: step away from the whisks and the bowls and the Magimix. I am still battling a banana bread belly from 2020, and while I love the smell of a Victoria sponge wafting from the oven, the washing up afterwards negates the enjoyment. The more conscientious parent may argue that baking improves literacy as their offspring read recipes, and develops mathematical skills as they measure ingredients.  I’m past caring. They can measure some water and cordial into an ice lolly mould and that’ll do them. 

So that’s my plan to prevent boredom and a keep clean kitchen. Does anyone else have any ideas?



SWB is looking for a non-chemical reaction

Wait til you hear what I was chatting about with Frank Mitchell on Monday. A new love tonic, that you take as a pill or squirt up your nose to put a bit of ‘va va voom’ back into your marriage, or fan the flames of a flagging romance. I tried explaining it to LSB. ‘Do you mean Viagra?,’ said he, but I explained that this isn’t medication for malfunctioning penises, rather for malfunctioning relationships. ‘Hopefully we’re all right then,’ he said, still looking rather wary.

It all sounds a bit like a dystopian fantasy if you ask me, but apparently some struggling couples in the US have already undergone trials to see if it can help them, so it could be available here soon too.

I’m skeptical, of course. Surely if one needs to self-medicate in order to feel kindly disposed towards their partner, then they might need more than a pill? Big pharma would have us believe otherwise. They suggest that we already take a cocktail of chemicals for a myriad of issues- be that the contraceptive pill, HRT or anti-depressants. They are purporting that within a few years ‘love potions’ will be available over the counter to put a bit of fizz back into relationships which have gone a bit stale: it’s being likened to a glass of Prosecco on date night- to inject a wee bit of oomph.

I would posit however, that there could be more traditional methods to keep a partnership alive, without having to visit your GP for a miracle cure. Long-term relationships take proper graft to keep them going, which is just a rather depressing fact. One could argue though, that anything worth having is worth chipping away at. Relationships need compassion, kindness and a hell of a lot of compromise, especially if there’s children involved.  Sometimes, you have to bite your tongue, take yourself out for a long walk or meet a friend. I don’t think a pill is going to negate the rage which sticks in your throat when the frigger leaves a wet towel and a pair of sweaty jocks on the bed.

The journalist Judith Woods argues that 21st century problems require 21st century solutions. She reckons that if you need something to get you in the mood for some Friday night nookie then what’s the harm? Now you’re going to think I’ve gone all conspiracy theorist on you, but is this not another way to anaesthetise ourselves against the trials of modern life? Think about it: childcare costs, soaring energy bills, petrol bills. We’re not automatons- it’s not easy to come home, switch off and bring your ‘A Game’ into the bedroom when you feel like a pile of reheated shite. Having said that, if I thought LSB had to  spray some oxytocin up his nostrils before he fancied getting jiggy with me I’d be affronted.

So I have a suggestion. What you need instead is a good night out. It had been a while folks, since LSB and myself had the craic and danced like we were in our twenties again. But last week, it actually happened, when one of our favourite bands The National played Botanic Gardens last Tuesday. We booked a babysitter, ditched the car, (mid-week be- damned!), and off we hopped.

For nostalgia’s sake we stopped for a drink in The Jeggy Nettle as when we met we were both living in rentals in Stranmillis. Almost all of our dates were in Zinc, as it was then, and he’d have a Guinness and I’d have red wine, so it was only right that we stop there to reminisce. It was absolutely rammed, and when I asked the server what the wine was like she said they had a terrible selection but the sauvignon was better than the Pinot Grigio. It wasn’t great. And it was warm. But it  didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were out, together, and at a gig. The National came on stage a few minutes after we arrived in Botanic. We high-five friends we hadn’t seen in ages, beetled our way to the front and sipped pints, singing along to BloodBuzz Ohio and Fake Empire. It was magic.

We don’t need love pills; we just need conversations which aren’t about transfer tests, and who’s taking the kids to gymnastics and football. We need to remind ourselves why we got together in the first place and feel that buzz again.

I think the pills are a short-term fix for a long-term problem which if one were continue to neglect, might only grow worse. So forget the chemicals and get the f**k out of the house. That’s my take away from this.




SWB is all bizz about Bangor

I wonder what your mind conjures when you think of the word ‘city’? Art galleries perhaps. A thriving town centre with quirky independent boutiques. Hip restaurants and cocktail bars. So I ask you, how many of these spring to mind when I say ‘Bangor County Down’? 

I’ve heard it touted as the North Down Riviera, and granted, from certain angles on a bright sunny day, the Marina can look impressive. The sea front could possibly look pretty too, if seen from a distance of several nautical miles, any closer and it’s suddenly less Cannes and more zombie apocalypse.  

While at school I was asked to compete in a Public Speaking Competition in the Town Hall. It was called something highly imaginative, such as ‘Why Bangor is Brilliant’. Contrarian that I was, I chose instead to complain about the lack of amenities for young people and lament the rundown state of Queen’s Parade. Twenty years on and if anything, the seafront is in an even more dilapidated state than it was back then. Yes, there may be the cute little artist pods known as Studio 24, but to me, this is equivalent of brightening up your tired living room with a few bright curtains, and maybe, at a push, a rug. Surely, this would be the very spot for the aforementioned hostelries, and would bring some much needed vitality into the town centre?

We took a drive down to Bangor a couple of weeks ago, to take advantage of both the sunshine, and the fact that a kind friend had taken the children off for the afternoon.  As we drove down Main Street, I let a gulder out of me when I looked out of the passenger side and saw a boarded up shop front where TK Maxx used to be. There’s no Eason’s anymore either, or Dunnes. ‘I bet you can’t even get a decent ice cream anymore,’ I grumbled. 

When I was wee, my mum used to take me to Papa Capaldi’s on a Friday evening, by way of a bribe for forcing me to attend the Girls’ Brigade in Trinity Presbyterian Church. (How I hated it: swapping your school pinafore for a navy tunic complete with massive navy knickers and then making an Easter basket out of an old Flora Tub. Two scoops of honeycomb ice-cream and hot fudge sauce used to help erase the memory for another week.) Anyway, Papa Capaldi’s is long gone. As is Vesuvios, a pizzeria that used to be above The Palladium where we used to go in sixth form, ordering cheeky bottles of house red to accompany streaming bowls of spaghetti carbonara. It was tremendous fun and easy on the purse, as befitted a group of teenage girls. There is a distinct lack of decent eateries now, unless one wants to sell one of their kidneys and visit The Boathouse.  A colleague took her husband for his birthday recently and nearly dropped when she was handed a bill for £250. At that price she’d expected to be up for the night as well, and then served a champagne breakfast.

Looking at the shoddy excuse for a seafront now, it’s hard to believe that I used to have lovely evenings out in Bangor.  I remember with fondness bopping about to ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’  in The Windsor and Calico Jacks. My friends and I would leave before the hoards were tipped out of the pubs at one o’clock, before walking home for a bacon butty and a cup of tea, lovingly prepared by the Mothership. I would always tell her that we’d got a taxi home, because even though it was only a mile down the road, I was strictly forbidden from returning, lest I was ‘set upon’. Sadly this hasn’t changed, and it’s still a regular occurrence.

But perhaps, (and I’m going to embrace optimism for a change,) now that Bangor has been bestowed city status, it may finally reach its potential. Surely this should finally deliver a boot up the arse to the North Down and Ards Council, who seem to squabble endlessly about the town centre and let it languish instead of making any changes. 

Thankfully there are some people who are determined to put Bangor on the map, namely Alison Gordon and Kieran Gilmore, founders of the Open House Festival, who have done just this. They have worked tirelessly to bring a world class acts to Bangor and liven up our summers. If this is what one couple with vision and perseverance can do, imagine the change  a collective of enthusiasts could bring about. In 2014 I took LSB to see the American Band The Barr Brothers play as part of ‘The Beach House Session.’ Tucked in behind The Starfish Café in a converted garage with surfboards on the walls, it was one of the most intimate gigs I’ve ever attended. ‘I can’t believe we’re in Bangor!’ I kept telling LSB as we strolled hand and hand home along the Ballyholme promenade. 

The Aspects Festival is another reason I come back to Bangor every September. This festival celebrates Irish Writing and I have been lucky enough to see Seamus Heaney when he read from his Human Chain Collection back in 2010.  I’ve also attended workshops with Bernie McGill and Patsy Horton in the North Down Heritage Centre, and last year was raging to miss a It also had a paddleboard and poetry event last year, unfortunately I missed due to not having my sea legs at the time.

Ian Sampson once suggested that if Belfast were Manhattan then Bangor would be Brooklyn, with its hipster bars, The Goat’s Toe, Salty Dog and Rabbit Rooms. I thought he’d got a bit carried with himself, but great things can happen when a place finds its niche, the people work together and have a vision for the future.

Bangor as a city may seem a little bit strange at first, but upon reflection it may just be the very boost it needs to put North Down on the map.