Monthly Archives:

November 2023


SWB gives her diet a shake-up

One gloomy day last year I was driving home from the Ards Peninsula, when I was stricken by such a hunger that I pulled into the McDonald’s in Newtownards. At the drive-thru I was ordered hot chocolate and a cheeseburger and when I heard a familiar voice on Radio Four. It belonged to my friend, Professor Louise Mallinder, renowned for her work on Amnesty and International Law. They say that comparison is the thief of joy, and so indeed it was, as I sat there, chowing down ultra-processed meat and plastic-y cheese while listening to Louise articulate the challenges to the Good Friday Agreement posed by Brexit. (Incidentally, Louise hasn’t touched meat since childhood.) ‘That’s my friend, being clever,’ I thought. ‘And here’s me not even managing to feed myself properly.’

Note to self: you can’t have hardly any breakfast, a custard cream for break and a portion of chips from the school canteen and expect to feel replete (or even human.)

I should know better. At school I won the prize for A-Level Home Economics (HE). This was a big silver teapot, which my teacher asked if I could ‘accidentally’ knock off the mantlepiece, so they would have to find a decent cup instead. HE, you see, was not just about making tea, as the teapot implied. No, at A-level we learnt about the chemical composition of carbs, proteins and fat molecules; we learnt that lack of Vit C leads to scurvy and Vit D leads to rickets. Why did I then think that proteins were mainly the reserve of gym bunnies or body builders?

I assumed, because I eat meat, cheese, and even the odd yogurt, that I was getting enough. I was wrong. Peri-menopausal women should be boosting their intake to 120g a day AT LEAST, so that’s 40g roughly per meal.

I’ve consulted Google to make you all a handy table here so you too can consider your own intake:

2 eggs 12g
One chicken thigh 13.5g
One chicken breast 54g
Halloumi (100g, roughly half a pack) 21g
Normal pot of yogurt 4.5g
2 slices of ham 9.3g

It was Dr Jo-Anne Colgan who put me right about all of this. I visited her Rosetta Clinic for acupuncture, and in our initial consultation I told her how listless and lethargic I often felt. After three sessions and taking on board her dietary advice, I have notably  more energy, am much less creaky and DEFINITELY less cranky as a result. Jo-Anne’s specific areas of interest are matters relating to menopause and supporting busy women who are juggling work, family, friends and social life, perhaps neglecting their own needs along the way.

She advised me that ladies of a certain age need to be sprinkling flaxseed and pecans on their porridge, bulking up their veg curries with lentils and paneer, and eating a high protein yogurt with their lunches. (I can recommend pots of Arla dessert which pack a mighty 20g and are available in Sainsburys. Lidl also do a good selection.) If you’re struggling to reach your daily target you can buy a packet of whey in Holland and Barrett and whizz some into a smoothie.(I can heartily recommend Soul Food on the Ormeau Road if you fancy a veggie grill with eggs and halloumi for a high-protein fix.) Green peas and spinach have the highest proportion of protein according to this site, and I was delighted to read this because I love both and they are super quick to prepare.

So as the festive season approaches, might I suggest upping your protein to steel yourself for the busyness ahead. You probably all have a lot more wit than I do, but I often rely  heavily on the resuscitating properties of coffee and Kitkats. I never manage to lose any weight, because I still consume empty calories. It’s not a good way to live, and I’m glad I spoke to Jo-Anne and have made some changes. Hopefully I won’t feel so starved that I have to resort to a crappy McDonalds for sustenance any time soon.



SWB on the Trouble with Sitting

It’s just one of those miserable facts that sitting down, along with most other things which give us pleasure, is bad for us.  When I’m teaching, despite my best efforts, I can spend quite a bit of time behind a desk. On days when I write, (which means trying to articulate my thoughts but mostly hovering my forefinger over the delete button) I’m aware I can spend a long time on my backside. But now, to add insult to injury, I find that all this sitting will be a contributing factor to early death. Life’s a laugh a minute these days, isn’t it?

So what CAN you do to boost the step count when you want to transition from desk to sofa, bypassing a jog or the gym?

This is where you need a CHEAT SHEET, consisting of a few ideas for a quick energy-burning fix.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I find dancing helps. This can also be a mood booster – ask Alexa for your tune of choice then throw some serious shapes for three minutes. Lately I’ve enjoyed getting my groove on to Vampire by Olivia Rodrigo. This activity can be prolonged by asking a child to spouse to choose a song too. What fun and hijinks.

Move with Ash is an influencer I follow, who shows that less is more, if we incorporate more movement into our daily lives. I thought of her recently while standing in a queue in Dunnes buying leggings for my child. I hadn’t cooled down after a (short) run so took the opportunity to stretch my quads, by standing on one leg. Granted, I got a few funny looks, but I did it anyway.

If I’m feeling fraught, I quite like to be soothed and mollycoddled, especially after a day’s work. For this reason I fire up a YouTube and do a short video by Brett Larkin and Yoga with Adriene. You won’t necessarily increase your step count, but I can’t emphasise enough how good this stretching feels after a day hunched over a computer.

The French call it ‘Les cent petits pas’ which translates as ‘the hundred small steps’ and in a nutshell, means taking the stairs instead of the escalator or walking to the shops instead of jumping in the car. On Friday I went to the Ulster Museum to see the Royal Academy Of Art exhibition and I thought of this as I climbed the stairs up to the fourth floor. It was worth every step.

Should you want to go for the nuclear option, to reduce your sedentary time, might I suggest getting a dog? In the evenings, I do LOVE a good bit of sofa-time and the dog is my trusty companion in this activity. But, before that, I have to walk her. Upon coming home from work, the last thing I want to do if I’m honest is start trudging up and down the hill where we reside. But, once I’m out and taking the air, I find I don’t mind quite so much, especially with my earphones in, listening to BBC Sounds. Might I recommend some amazing shows and podcasts for your delectation:

Histories Secret Heroes with Helena Bonham-Carter,

Lifechanging with Dr Sian Williams,

People Who Knew Me with Rosamunde Pike

It’s sadly a given that we all have to fit in exercise somehow, but it needn’t be too painful with any of the above suggestions. Do share any of your strategies with me about how to keep fit when you’re time poor. (Or just can’t be arsed.)



SWB on music and nostalgia

Four tickets. Four tickets for Bruce Springsteen, secured this morning, I can’t believe it. Our friends are taking their son, and so we thought we’d bring our girls along, though ingrates as they are, they weren’t impressed. ‘Do we have to go?’ was the reaction of the Small Child. ‘I’m only coming if we can stay in a tent.’ It’s not a festival,’ I explained, just a concert, on the Boucher Road. Her face fell again, (meanwhile, LSB started googling Glastonbury.)

I stressed the importance of the gig, telling them that they might appreciate good music, as it was for me, an awareness that peaked around thirteen when I stopped listening solely to Kylie Minogue and anything related to Neighbours.

It’s been a weekend bathed in nostalgia, kicking off on Friday when we ate our Nico’s pizza watching 90’s Top of the Pops, and on came Joshua Kadison* soulfully playing ‘Jesse’ on his piano. I used to LOVE that tune, and it also made me really want a cat, specifically so I could call it Moses. I was tempted to change my hamster’s name to Moses, but tiny and fawn coloured, he was more Bambi than commanding Old Testament figure. Funny, but listening to ‘Jesse’ now, the character Liz Danes, sister of Luke in the Gilmore Girls, immediately springs to mind. ‘A carried away cratur,’ The Mothership would say.

As I zoomed around doing errands on Saturday lunchtime, I caught a snippet of ‘Storytelling’ on Radio Ulster, and the writer Tara McEvoy reminiscing on the music which influenced her most as a teen; Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, and Ash, her first ever concert, to which she went with her dad in Botanic Gardens, and made all the sweeter since they both hailed from Downpatrick.

My first concert was to see UB40 in the Kings Hall in 94, closely followed by The Beautiful South in the Ulster Hall. I recall commenting to my friend (somewhat pompously,) ‘that I felt the acoustics were better in the more intimate venue.’ My lasting impression about these gigs was of one of underwhelm though, because the audience just ‘swayed about’ and I’d been watching My So-Called Life and wanted to go to concerts where you could really let loose. Fortunately, on the odd weekend in Bangor, we could go to see local groups , sixth-formers from the boys’ grammar school, who belted out covers of REM, the Manics and Guns n’Roses.  I was the one at the front, giving it stacks as I bopped around, head-banging and loving every sweat-soaked second of it. This was release; emancipation from teenage angst of a very particular brand in Northern Ireland. Despite my leanings towards evangelical Christianity, the hell fire and brimstone preachers still put the fear of God into me, and the soundtrack on the news was one of never-ending brutality. I was a worry-wart anyway, so this was undiluted relief, giddiness and transcendence from the everyday which looking back, I deem was not only welcome but essential.

Later on last Saturday, I took a collection of my old singles into Timeslip Records on Botanic Avenue. It was time to say goodbye to ‘Everything I do’, by Bryan Adams, ‘Suddenly’ by Angry Anderson and (Dear God) ‘When You Come Back to me’ by Jason Donavan. ‘That’ll be hard to shift,’ surmised the owner. ‘I’ll give you a fiver for the lot.’ I took it, only too pleased to get rid, and pocketed it to spend at my next stop, No Alibis to buy a book. (‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson, if you’re interested.) But before I left, I took in the scent  of second-hand vinyl. Dominating the wall was a poster of Kurt Cobain, and a blow up of the ticket for the gig in the Kings Hall. Imagine, I thought, hearing ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ live, with its signature discordant riff in all its raw elemental angst.  I glimpsed a poster for ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ on the stairs on the way out and immediately regretted my decision not to see Guns n’Roses when they played Dublin in 2022. Despite the state of him, aul Axl Rose can still hold a tune. Looking round the shop, I could have been sixteen again, DM clad in my tie-dye skirt from Fresh Garbage, as my brother and his friends played ‘Master of Puppets’ by Megadeth and ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica in our front room of our house on the Esplanade in Ballyholme.

On Botanic I met my old friend Karen who is over visiting from New Zealand. She and I used to go dancing as teenagers in Bangor, upstairs in Wolsey’s and The Windsor and later on took our moves to Crete, and Santorini, and to later still to the rum-soaked town of Chorini in the Caribbean. We reclined in a snug little booth in Maggie May’s, where the grungy music continued in the background and I told her how working there in 1998 had continued my musical education, as fellow waiting staff  introduced me to their choice of genres. It was a big YES from me to the Brit Pop fan who brought his Stone Roses and Primal Scream CDs into work, and a massive NO for the Ozzie girl who championed screechy-thumpy-ear-drum perforating shite from Berlin. ‘This is art,’ she would say, with something akin to reverence, in response to my anguished pleas to turn it the hell off.

One Saturday in August we had Cool FM on in the background, and suddenly the news of the Omagh bomb broke, just after the lunch-time rush, and we had to carry on, wracked with  disbelief, because what else could we do, except keep serving the all-day fry and burgers and chips, watching as customers took their seats in stunned silence and pointed hazily at the menu.

So many memories, nostalgia and growing-pains and new beginnings all meshed together, and digested over hot chocolate and whipped cream, with marshmallows crispy from a new blow torch our server was really keen to tell us about.  This is life, in all its beauty and absurdity, but distilled in a moment, of being with a friend who returns home to find a Northern Ireland, in many ways changed, but in others,  still unstintingly familiar. But given present world affairs, how lucky we are that we can come together, dip into the same pool of recollections, and for a moment be teens again, transported elsewhere, and can ask ourselves, What’s going on?

And while on the topic of Northern Ireland, and peace and music, I can’t not mention the old Chieftan of Irish Rock himself, Feargal Sharkey and you can tune in to his recent ruminations from ‘Have I got News You’ here.