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December 2022


SWB on the Elf on the Shelf

I’m going to write something very controversial this St Stephen’s Day and here it is: I don’t mind the Elf on the Shelf. As you are well aware, I tend towards the curmudgeonly end of the spectrum. I don’t suffer fools, especially small pretend ones, clad in red. But the key to this malarkey, is to set the bar low, extremely low, and befriend others who do the same. Should you associate with the sort of people who wrap up their entire kitchen with Christmas paper or tin foil, then I suggest you rethink the allegiance: there’s enough packaging going straight into the bin during the festive season without this sort of nonsense. And tell me, who has time for these shenanigans anyway? Not I.


If you are a parent of small children, debating whether to get involved with Elf nonsense, then this may be the post for you. I read in the i-paper of some eejit who got on the trend and rued her decision, having spent hours planning activities, and forked out money on it too. Was she right in the head? I asked myself. Aside from buying the thing a couple of years ago (and it was, of course, LSB’s idea, which was initially met with deepest opprobrium,) all I bought this year was a packet of Haribo Star Mix from which I fished out the eggs  so the Elf could do a fry up.


Our ‘elfsploits’ usually took place after 10pm, when one of us would sigh and say ‘What’s that fecker doing tonight? Some shuffling about ensure before it would do something feeble, like read or book, or sit on our decorative llama.


My favourite activities did require a wee bit of thought, (still, after ten o’clock though) such as when I drew a rough illustration and coloured it in, writing, ‘I’ve done an elf-portrait!’ On a baltic evening mid-December, I drew a fire and dressed the elf in a coat my lovely Aunt Freda had knitted for a Barbie. ‘I’m cold!’ said the note, because our elf isn’t blessed with imagination. When Messi clinched the final for Argentina the elf boasted a blue and white striped shirt, attached with a piece of tape. ‘Vamos Messi!’ it had written. It played Happy Families one night with two teddy bears, whom it was beating soundly, sitting proudly with a whole family of moles, another of owls and foxes. The teddies didn’t fare well, but they never have been known for their intellect.

LSB thinks he trumped it though, by wrapping it in brown paper and printing out a QR code. The note read, ‘Your Mum tried to sell me on Vinted!’ After that, the only thing he did was set the Elf in a shoe. He peaked too soon. One weekend, the Elf spent the entire time in the tree, Friday through to Sunday. ‘Flip, that elf really is rubbish,’ I said to the girls. ‘She seems to like it up there,’ opined the Small Child. Sure enough, in her farewell note, the elf wrote that she loved coming to our house and hanging in the tree like a sloth. I’m telling you folks, keep it simple. And if your kids don’t like it, just say the elf didn’t like it either and won’t be back.

I hate to quote Christina Rossetti, because she truly was a miserable auld bastard, but when she wrote ‘The Bleak Mid-Winter,’ she wasn’t wrong. So a wee bit of magic for the kids with minimal effort? For twenty-five days, I can just about manage it.



SWB on Harry Kanes’s penalty

Ha! Made you look! Of course I’m not going to talk about football. I don’t have the skill-set to even comment on the sport. I’ve no more notion, other than to say that I felt for Kane and the whole squad on Saturday because they seem a decent bunch of lads and I wished them well. It’s a tricky subject, wondering whether to support the English team when you’re married to a man from the Falls Road. He’s the green and I’m the orange in this relationship, so I’m going to skip the footy and chat about oranges instead today.

This morning I looked in my fruit bowl, where two mouldy easy-peelers and an elderly lemon glared back at me, with acidic, citrussy judgement. Beside the bowl sat three bananas, completely black and waiting expectantly to fill their higher purpose of being turned into muffins, or perhaps even a loaf. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen, and instead my compost bin awaits. (Part of me blames LSB, because he bought an air-fryer which obscures my view of the fruit, making me more likely to reach for a KitKat instead.)

The sight of the languishing fruit provoked an attack of self-loathing. ‘Why am I so shit at everything?’ I wondered. So much flagellation, at seven thirty-five of a morning, all caused by a fruit bowl. As I walked the girls down to school, trying to admire the soft hues of the hills in the low winter sun, I thought about the fruit looking at me with reproach. They were showing me what I hadn’t done, but no one was telling me what I HAD done this weekend.  I won’t bore you with ALL the details, but my arse barely hit a seat. In a frenzy of organisation, I restored order to my shambolic hot-press; changed the child’s beds (a necessary task, given the cat hair) and I washed and put away a load of freshly laundered towels. They were even FOLDED. And that was only on Sunday! Day of rest my foot.

I thought how we judge ourselves by what we haven’t done, rarely by what we have. I challenge you to ask any woman, anywhere, be that in the Sainsbury’s queue, the staff room or the office, and she will lament about the state of her kitchen; the vertiginous pile of washing, or the fact that her child hasn’t eaten a vegetable since August. Despite even having the selfies to prove it, we still don’t remember the walks, the outings, the places to which we ferry the kids. Then there’s the ‘unseen’ work; the playdates we organise; the homework we check, the bedtime stories we read when downstairs there’s a dishwasher to fill, pots to scrub and bins to be take out. I’m out of puff just thinking about it.

So much of what we do is intangible; therefore it doesn’t register. What we DO see is the minging fridge, or the detritus from the crafts, or the ‘to be ironed’ pile. (Frankly, the ironing can get to f**k and be flung straight into the wardrobe. To hell with the creases.)

Let’s take a moment before the tumult of December kicks off, to appreciate what we do on an everyday basis. Let’s try not to see judgement when maybe it’s not directed at us at all (especially if the perceived judgement is coming to us from an inanimate object.) And maybe, my bananas actually fulfilled their higher purpose by becoming rich, crumbly compost after all.











SWB gets the declutter-bug

I took a notion folks, and I acted spontaneously. I saw that Order in the House had a cancellation and in I swooped and snapped it up before anyone else languishing in their own chaos could beat me to it.

They came, they saw, and they sorted my shit out. Well, most of it, since it was only a half-day session and it was a VERY messy space. But miracle of miracles, I am typing this post sitting at a desk in a room which last week make me feel queasy, littered as it was with debris and unfulfilled potential. The room in question was supposed to be my study, but instead, it had become a repository for toys, junk, or anything which required a temporary home. The cats spent more time in it than anyone else, a fact to which the scratched sofa bears testimony.

Last Christmas we spent a day clearing it out and it remained pristine for a week before all the crap migrated back in. The floor vanished first and then, not to be out-done, so did the desk. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the shambolic state of the so-called study reflected the scattered feeling in my head.

Anyway, Claire and Lisa rocked up and pitched in, upending boxes and helping me see what could go. When you see your random stuff through the dispassionate eyes of a stranger, you do question your mental clarity. It turns out that I didn’t need my P6 vocabulary book, lovingly backed in 1980s superfresco wallpaper; nor did I need two scuffed Easter straw hats, or even a navy bag with a broken handle my dad had got free from Laithwaites.

My main problem was hoarding everything, with neither system for finding it, nor storage solutions to prevent it getting damaged. It rendered the whole process of keeping piles of teaching notes pointless as I could never find what I needed.

Prior to the girls’ arrival, they directed me to Homebase in search of ‘Really Useful Boxes’, since the key to successful storage is being able to see what you have. I have a problem with boxes, in that, if I happen upon what I consider to be a good box, I am reluctant to part with it. Many of my belongings where thus shoved into said boxes, willy-nilly. The problem was that my boxes were cardboard, and without opening each one and digging in, I could never find what I needed.

Turns out I’m not the only member of the ‘love a good box brigade,’ as when I reached the storage aisle in Homebase, I met an older gent, looking on with a beatific expression. ‘These are GREAT boxes,’ he said, ‘if you’re looking a box, don’t go past these ones.’ It was clear that he already had quite a few of the boxes already, but I saw him return to the aisle several times, clearly wondering whether he could justify buying some more. I bought four, and am inclined to agree that they are excellent indeed.

Three and half hours my professional declutterers were with me, sorting and labelling, organising and colour-coding, all the while gently challenging whether I needed to hoard all the things I had accumulated. Do you need it? When is the last time you used it? Is there a more natural place for it? (I love this last one, which is really just code for, why the hell is there a bra lying on the sofa? Why is there a linen tablecloth in a House of Fraser bag in the bottom of your slide-robe?)

Immediately after they left, I carted five large bags to the recycling centre (aka ‘the dump) lest I start rootling around in them, taking items back out and undoing all the work.

I learnt that I don’t have to keep all the girl’s exercise books, even if there are lots of pages left. Keep one and throw the rest into the paper bank. Broken toys go in the bin, not the floor. Bank statements go into a filing cabinet. If a sentimental item is worth keeping, then it goes in a designated box.

Pens, so many pens, and colouring pencils. I was instructed to ask my girls to sharpen the pencils they wanted and store them neatly, and to try the felt tips and bin the dud ones. What is, of course irksome, is that I KNOW all the this. But when you pay for a service, it forces you to keep at the task, not make yourself a cup of tea and wander off after twenty minutes. I know this because this is what I do when I try to do the job myself. I have failed. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, it was expensive. Yes, I had ‘decision fatigue’ after it, and felt a bit emotionally drained. But I have a study now, all bright and clear and spacious. I can breathe now. Was it worth it? Absolutely.