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SWB hits the Charity Shops

Last weekend I opened up my Mac and up popped a window decreeing: ‘Groundhog Day’. No shit, I thought ruefully, sure isn’t that every day? This month has been long and dark, and the logistics of working full-time, imposing some sense of order on my house and acting as PA and Chief Entertainment Officer to my offspring, is proving hard to manage. Balls are being dropped all over the show. Friends have been neglected, appointments missed, and many are the chores left unfinished.

I was in puerile form altogether last week and thought that urgent action was required. I needed a pleasant Friday evening to obliterate all thoughts of Brexit, embrace frivolity and make room for joy. Isn’t that a brilliant phrase? It could be the title for my memoir: ‘How a Sour Wee Bastard Made Room for Joy.’ I don’t think it would exactly fly off the shelves though, as folk may find the juxtaposition too hard to fathom and assume I was either a sanctimonious twat, or a more rotund and decidedly less effectual Marie Kondo.

Back to Friday night. I did some yoga (which was very joyful) and then met my friend Arlene for a tipple and a Chinese meal. In we trotted to The Northern Lights first where we met a large shaggy haired lurcher. ‘This is what I LOVE about this lace,’ I gushed. ‘You get to drink some wine AND stroke a lovely dog.’

‘You and I are VERY different,’ said my friend, who doesn’t share my enthusiasm regarding the animals, either in or out of a drinking establishment.

We caught up over a Sauvignon Blanc before making our way down towards Macau by the bridge. But en route, as we passed the Concern Charity Shop, what should I spy but something that looked suspiciously like a bed pan, set prominently in the window. We had been walking at quite an accelerated pace since I heard that Macau did wonderful deep fried aubergine and I was keen to get stuck in. ‘Hang on there,’ I said to Arlene. ‘I need to get another look. Perhaps my eyes have deceived me.’

My eyes, however, had not. It was indeed a bed pan, although labelled (incorrectly I think), as a ‘Ceramic Vintage Douche’, selling for the princely sum of £10. ‘Who?’ I stuttered. ‘Why?’

‘You need to find out,’ said Arlene, ‘I need to know the rationale behind this decision.’

‘What sort of a person,’ I mused, ‘starts into their January clear-out, finds a bed pan, and thinks, “I’ll just drop this down to the charity shop.’’

‘What next?’ said Arlene. ‘A vibrator? ‘Just one previous careful owner?’’

How we chuckled.

That made me think of my first car, a lovely Nissan Micra, red in hue and dinky, like a motorised ladybird. It had ‘one careful lady owner,’ who only ever drove it between Bangor and Donaghadee. It was pristine when I got it and remained that way for all of 10 minutes until I rammed it into my parent’s back gate and later into a bottle bank at the old Co-op on the Lisburn Road. ‘Oh, I am vexed,’ The Mothership, used to say, upon seeing the latest dent. We called it ‘The Sour Car’, for obvious reasons.

We were still talking about the bed pan as we tucked into our pork dumplings. ‘It’s quite a personal item, though isn’t it, to give in to a charity shop?’ said my pal.

I nodded vigorously. ‘I can’t imagine saying, as I ‘Marie Kondo’d my house: ‘here’s a dress I’ll never squeeze into again; a Denby cup and saucer and oh, that bed pan I have kicking about under the bed.’

‘Some weirdo might buy it though for other uses,’ she said.

‘Like what?’ I said, hastily swallowing down a mouthful of wine lest I choke.

‘Did you not read about that post which almost brought down Mumsnet?’

I shook my head, oblivious to this altogether.

‘You know, the husband who had a post-coital clean-up routine involving a beaker, which prompted his wife to post a message asking if this was normal behaviour?’

My eyes widened. I definitely hadn’t heard of this, for I’m sure I would have remembered.

‘It’s a very funny read,’ said my friend. ‘Be sure to check it out.’

We got back to the Ormeau bed pan. She suggested that I purchase it and put it to immediate use as a planter for some geraniums. ‘It could be a short story,’ she said. ‘From the point of view of a bed pan. ‘Living My Best Life’ you could call it, with before and after photos.’

So on Saturday morning, despite feeling the effects of the previous evening’s exuberance, down I trotted to ‘Concern’ see if it was still in the window. And yes, there it was, nestled under a china tea set, a box of spoons and a blue tinkly bell. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good root round a charity shop, as my return to work has put paid to such excursions. This was a worthwhile venture, however, as I picked up a spangly top, a pink woolly jumper, a Nora Ephron book and a jigsaw for the children, (complete, I’d like to add, as there ought to be a dark corner of hell for anyone who considers it acceptable to donate a puzzle minus a few pieces)

As I paid up, I asked the gentleman on the till about the bedpan. ‘There’s an item in the window labelled ‘a vintage douche’ and I just wondered if you anything about it?’ He looked at me quizzically.  ‘A what?’ he said.

‘Well it’s labelled a ‘douche’, but I think it’s just a bed pan,’ I said. He raised an eyebrow and said that he’d have to see it for himself. Out he trotted after me. ‘No idea where that came from,’ he said. ‘I only work here on a Saturday.’ Do you think it will sell?’ I asked.

‘Goodness yes, he replied. ‘People always buy this sort of thing. Anything useful goes very quickly.’

He was very pleasant, the man, and seemed quite amused by my line of inquiry. I do like Concern, although it can be pricier than other charity shops along the Ormeau. One gets more of a bargain in The Hospice Shop, as indeed I did, a few minutes later, picking up an M&S leopard print skirt or £3.25. Once, in Concern, I lifted a pair of roller boots for my Older Child. They were £8, which seemed to come as quite a shock to the elderly gent behind the till.  He said, and I quote, ‘Jesus Christ, I thought you were meant to get a bargain in here,’ and gave them to me for a fiver.

So there you are folks. What I want to know is this: would any of you good people either think to heave a bed pan into a charity shop, should one be  lurking on your premises, or would you be inclined to buy one? I’m not convinced this particular pan was worth a tenner by the way, but you may strike lucky and get an understanding chap when you go to make your purchase. It looked in need of a good scrub too, although any residual urine, could, I suppose, bring on the growth of any potential herbs or plants. You know me- always looking for the sunny side….


SWB nips to the shops

I was tearing round M&S on Sunday evening, just as they made the announcement that we had but 10 mins left to make our purchases and get the f@*k off the premises. I was picking up a fitted sheet that The Mothership had ordered for me, since she was helping the kids tidy up their cesspit of a room the other day and happened, unfortunately to peer into mine.

‘I’ve never seen the like of it,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘That bed of yours is like something a dog would sleep in.’

‘Well the cat does enjoy a good old snooze there,’I quipped.

She ignored that. The Mothership has very firm ideas about cats taking liberties, and her cat would get short shrift should it venture near a duvet.

‘I’m going to go online now,’ she said, ‘and order you a fitted sheet with extra depth because that’s what’s required for a mattress of that size.’

‘Can you get extra depth fitted sheets?’ I asked.

She was incredulous.

‘Nine years you’ve had that bed and you STILL don’t know what size of sheet to buy? What planet are you on?’

‘I just thought all fitted sheets were shite,’ I replied.

That didn’t please her one bit.

Anyway, she rang to tell me that there was a brushed cotton fitted sheet waiting at M&S Forestside for me and I was to pick it up and report back. Unfortunately, she told me this on Thursday evening after I’d been out to La Taqueria where I knocked back a Piso Sour and two fish-bowl sized glasses of Tempranillo.

‘What about the new sheet? Is it nice and warm on these cold nights?’she asked,  the next time she called.

Well I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. No one should tell me anything after 9pm of an evening, regardless of whether alcohol has been taken or not. I have huge difficulties retaining information these days.

The penny dropped anyway and down I raced at ten to six on Sunday, where a lovely girl found my order and said wasn’t I lucky to have such a lovely mother.

‘My mother wouldn’t be buying me a sheet,’ she said. ‘She’d be telling me to get my own.’

I agreed the on occasion the Mothership could be very kind, but that on others she could be an absolute melter. The girl smiled in sympathy.

Then I saw my pal Kristina waving over. ‘I have news!’ She said excitedly.

Now, normally when someone says that, you expect them to announce that there’re expecting or engaged or suchlike. But no. Kristina told me instead that she’d been sitting in Kaffe-O and got chatting to a randommer about the bedpan I mentioned on the blog in February.

I have become almost obsessed with the fact that the Concern charity shop on the Ormeau Road has had this grim looking bedpan as part of its window display for weeks now, and are charging a tenner for it.

‘Tell me more,’ I said, disregarding the fact that is was now 5.55pm and I still had the dinner to buy.

So, it turned out that Kristina had been in Kaffe O,  explaining to her son why she wouldn’t buy him a game of Connect Four from The Concern Shop because it was £1.50 dearer than a brand new one on Amazon.

(See? Didn’t I tell you that Concern was a rip-off? They don’t know what to charging.)

As she pointed this out to her child, the lady beside her chirped up and said that she too, found the prices in Concern rather steep. She said that she’d ALMOST bought the ‘vintage douche’ the week before because she had a plumber in fixing her toilet, thus rendering it out of action. However, (and this makes me want to meet this woman because she sounds like my sort of individual) she did the maths, and worked out that she could go to The Northern Lights and drink several half pints of cider, for the same price as buying a decrepit bedpan. This option enabled her to make use of their facilities, without the indignity of peeing into a receptacle and trying to dispose of the contents while a plumber looked on.

Imagine: it worked out better value to spend the afternoon in the pub, drinking cider, than to buy a second hand piss pot in a charity shop.

However, my pal was keen to highlight the absurdity of the whole conversation given that they were in Kaffe-o drinking oat-milk flat whites at the princely sum of £3.40.

But this, people, is what I flipping love about Belfast. It’s the craic. Imagine if you were sitting at a cafe in South Kensington, or at a bar in Bath. Would you be able to start chatting to a random person about whether a piss-pot was a tad overpriced or not? I doubt it. And that is why, despite the fact that the weather is shite;  most of the politicians are climate-change denying morons, and why a single accident on any of the arterial routes brings the city to a standstill, is why I wouldn’t live anywhere else.








SWB on January and Charity Shopping

It’s the third week in January, when statistics indicate we will have abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions, be dreading the credit card bill and be cursing the grey skies and present cold snap. Mind you, I’m relieved to feel the chill because, no word of a lie, three weeks ago I saw what looked suspiciously like blackberries ripening in the brambles outside Forestside.  Global warming isn’t just imminent: it’s here, upon us and scaring the s**t clean out of me.

Thus do we remain apathetic, or make some tweaks to our consumerist habits and do the world a favour? We do the latter people! No point sitting around getting depressed, no Sirree. On Friday morning I took a trot down the Ormeau and partook of a fine coffee with a friend in Root and Branch. It’s a jolly place isn’t it, if you don’t mind channelling your inner hipster and thinking ‘less is more’ with your thimble sized cup. I’m helping my pal run a pub quiz for Tour Guide NI, a fledgling business, organising local events for tourists. I’ve never been a quiz master before but I’ve been to enough to know what makes a really bad one. We’ve all sat through some abysmal quiz with an entire round devoted to soap operas (BOKE) and another one based upon obscure geographical facts that no one has any notion about and a collective gloom descends. The WORST is when the compere feels they’ve missed out their role in life as a comedian, and attempts humour instead of getting on with the rounds. Excruciating.

Now, if there’s one benefit to the new Netflix show: ‘Marie Kondo Tidies’ it’s that there’s fabulous buys to be found in charity shops, since the masses are leaping upon the band wagon and f**king out anything which doesn’t ‘spark joy’. The phenomenon has reached the Ormeau, if ‘The Hospice Shop’ and ‘Concern’ are anything to go by. I was tempted by Chanel inspired classics, 50’s inspired glamour and boho chic kimono pieces. I settled on a frock which looked every bit Desigual but from a company I’d never heard tell of. The lovely lady in The Hospice Shop told me that they find it hard to shift dresses and skirts. I just don’t understand- the stuff is gorgeous. And do you know who needs bright pretty ensembles? Teachers, that’s who. Kids love a bit of glam- who wants to sit looking at someone clad in beige or black, especially wee primary school kids who look at the same person all day. We had a geography teacher in school who was the personification of bland: her clothes were wishy washy and she was zero craic to boot. The Mothership, who used to sub-teach (ever since ditching her job to go gallivanting round Africa) and always chose her work clothes with tremendous care. I remember her looking out quirky pieces of jewellery and selecting lovely outfits since her lecturer at Stranmillis had said, ‘children like that sort of thing.’ She had a ring which looked like an eye that the wee boys in particular loved staring at it.

I recall too, that once you’ve worn a jacket into work and lugged around a few dirty old books, and had wee kids coughing and sneezing all over you; that your clothes get past their best very quickly. One therefore resents shelling out a fortune, and who wants to support fast fashion with all those dyes and micro-plastics flooding the rivers in Bangladesh. 

So to cheer up a mizzly morning, take yourself down the Ormeau. Craic was ninety in the shops and you can sate your inner shopaholic guilt free. Check out my new ensemble (minus the shoes which I wouldn’t last 10 minutes in. I’m clumsy enough without heels, even if they are beaut.) Another top tip, if you happening to be organising a PTA event or pub quiz and are looking prizes, is to have a gander at all the loot IN the charity shops, and pick them up at a bargain price. You could make up all sorts of goody bags and create some much sought after and original raffle prizes. Plus, you’d have a fun morning outing. You see? January isn’t so bad after all…


SWB on Charity Shop Chic

‘Oh Dear God,’ I hear you moan. ‘First it’s the coffee cups, then it’s the plastics, and now it’s the clothes on our backs. Give us a f@*king break., we’ve enough to feel guilty about.’

In fairness, I was the same when all this green living lark started. One minute you’re doing ‘meat-free Monday’ and the next you’re a militant vegan making your own soap and shopping only at farmers’ markets. It felt like there was always some nutter trying to make you feel shite about your life choices, and if you listened to them long enough you’d become a zealot yourself.

But as the list of ‘Things that Kill the Planet’ grows, from exhaust fumes to excessive plastic, it’s tempting to say ‘Ah feck it,’ and order an extra large McDonalds for lunch after a shopping spree in Primark.

But let’s not. Instead of feeling over-whelmed, I have tried to make small, subtle changes to my lifestyle, which make me feel slightly better about my life choices. It also helps me self-flagellate less about the size of my carbon foot-print as I fly to Spain not once, but twice this summer.

And as I mention it, looking out the window it seems indeed that summer beckons. Finally! The sun has emerged and how my heart doth soar. But. One of my first instincts when the seasons change is to liven up my look. I’ve conditioned myself to wear a lot of dark colours and I don’t want be wandering round the Ormeau looking like the angel of death on a bright day.

However, since I’ve embraced this eco-friendly business, I can’t in all consciousness go buying whatever I like without checking the label.  I’m now thinking more about how my buying habits affect the people (mainly women) slaving away in piss-poor conditions so we can buy tee-shorts for £3. So I’ve been directing my energies (or what’s left of them; is anyone else knackered at the moment?) into sourcing some ethical brands and having a good nosey round the charity shops. Let’s be honest, there’s plenty of those in the locality.

I’ve been a keen ‘charity shop shopper’ ever since I met my mate Maureen Faloona during the PGCE at Queen’s. Many’s an hour we spent merrily browsing on Botantic Avenue when we should have been brain-storming lesson plans for the leaders of tomorrow. But no, we tried on heels in Action Cancer instead.

Kindly my friend from The Newsletter sent along a photographer so I could show some of the wares in the local Hospice shop on the Ormeau Road. I’ve tried not to look too sour in the photos, although when the Mothership saw the ‘beach look’ she shook her head and said ‘Never smile like that again. What were you thinking? You look very odd.’ Cheers Mum.


SWB has a grumble- like all Normal People, right?

It’s bad to whinge, isn’t it? I mean am I a bad person? We are living up here on the hill, we can walk our dog in the meadow and we have the shops beside us where all the staff are lovely and kind and most people, (apart from one prick my husband encountered on Friday,) adhere to the social distancing rules and don’t ram their trollies up your arse while you’re checking the dates on your M&S rotisserie style chicken.

But it’s me, and I am prone to a good old moan so off I’ll go, and don’t go judging me. I’m just f**ked off at this stage. Earlier I reached over LSB for my coffee and he said ‘Ouch! You just after knee-ing me there!’

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to.’ ‘Or DID you? said the Older Child, her eyebrow raised knowingly. ‘I think perhaps you did.’

Perceptive wee article she is too because it wasn’t long after he’d cleaned the living room and said, ‘Now I don’t want to blow my own trumpet (well you may as well as I won’t be blowing it for you) but haven’t I done a great job in there? You may want to take a look.’

What is it with men? Every flipping day I do the dishes and the laundry and hang it out and take it in and cook the dinners and I don’t go around saying: ‘Oh, wasn’t that a great load of whites I just flung on there at 30 degrees?’ or ‘Check out these pots? Aren’t they positively gleaming after that good scrub with my responsibly sourced bamboo scrubber?’

I’ve started now, so I might as well tell you what else is annoying me.

I’m pissed off with people making sourdough and posting it on social media because its’s just rude when they can’t have me round and pour me a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso and serve it up to me with a hunk of manchego and homemade chilli jam. (Yes Louise, I’m talking about you, so I am.)

I’m fed up with the Zoom and Whatsapp calls that falter when the connection’s bad and you spend half your time saying ‘Oh No! You first! No, you go on sure! You first! Didn’t quite catch that!’ Then you get chatting about something interesting and in wanders the dog. ‘Oh and here’s the dog! Isn’t she lovely!’ ‘Oooh yes!’ ‘And here’s my child! And there’s your child!’ ‘Hello, Hello!’ Cue inane waving, when frankly, lovely as your children and your friend’s children may be, you want to have a proper, no holds-barred chat that is MOST definitely not for the tender age of the under eights.

I’m also fed up meeting people in the street or over the wall and saying a million time to the kids ‘2 metres! 2 metres! Keep well back there!’ which makes any class of normal conversation impossible.

I’m narked, that instead of sitting across from my mates, all tarted up and having a grand catch up over coconut margaritas in La Taqueria, that we are waving at each other across the street, wearing jogging bottoms and clutching small plastic bags of recently excreted shit, still warm from dog’s large intestines.

I’m agitated because I naively thought, that through all of this that I might get my house in order and do a spot of decluttering, but no, sure there’s no charity shops or recycling centres open so we’re still wading through mounds of shite and sure, by way of getting a dog we just brought at whole lot more truck in.

There’s no end to dog paraphernalia, I’m finding. Rugs and coats and leads and toys and food and treats. If you land yourself with a greyhound, you should know that they are prone to a chill, so we had to get a wee coat for Tilly. We ordered her pyjamas too, much to the Small Child’s delight, but they haven’t arrived yet, much to everyone’s disappointment.

And I’m really quite distraught, that Normal People is over on BBC 3. It was so heartrendingly, beautifully shot and so true- there’s a scene with Connell in episode 10 and if he doesn’t get Oscar nominated it’ll be a crime against acting. I enjoyed the book but I didn’t LOVE it- I got frustrated with the characters, I kept thinking, just fecking GET TOGETHER and be done with it. But in the series the fragility of the pair of them was so much more apparent and convincing to me. One could see how easy it was to be misunderstood, vulnerable and insecure as a young adult, perhaps with a distorted perception of self.  I worry that with all the media hype surrounding the sex scenes (and perhaps I’m underestimating teenagers here) that the point may be a bit lost on them- but to me it summed up so much of what it is to be young and confused; feeling lost and listless at university, especially as an arts student. Navigating new friendships and articulating what it was you wanted when you didn’t know yourself: that was hard, wasn’t it? (I feel, for the benefit of The Mothership here that I have to add that there was never anything in the way of bondage in my student romances, least she splutters out her tea and scalds herself.)

LSB said he was bereft when it was over, (‘Normal People’ that is, not his time at Queen’s after which ended he felt nowt but relief) and I feel the same- I haven’t seen anything that has affected me quite so much in a while. There was just such incredible tenderness in it, and at the moment, when everything is so emotionally charged-it had me in bits.

So there you are- just something else to be raging about. And it’s Sunday night, so another week of home-schooling and cramming in your own work and housework and feeling rubbish at every last bit of it. At least the dog is happy, even without her wee pyjamas, so that’s something.


SWB runs for her life

‘There’s wiser wans locked up,’ puffs a girl in front of me to her friend. I nod, wryly. It is 12.15 on Saturday afternoon, and most people are inside, where like us, they are also frustrated, as they watch the New Zealand team trounce Ireland in the rugby. At least they are dry, I think, with access to warm beverages. We, meanwhile, are getting more sodden by the second as we run under a Biblical downpour. Not yet one mile in, and with 7 to go, my spirits are sagging as much as my spare tyres.

Since making the decision to work for a living again, I have become rather rotund. Delighted I am with myself, that I had the foresight not to donate some of my maternity clothes to charity shops. With the addition of a belt, they have come in very handy the last few weeks. There are ones who float about my work, eating things like apples or maybe a mandarin for their break. I look askance at this sort of behaviour. I don’t care if it’s a posh Pink Lady from Marks and Spencer, or a Taste the Difference Clementine from Catalonia. I will be having a Lion Bar with my filter coffee after a morning of teaching, or perhaps a Toffee Crisp. Fortification is needed after seeing 90 different children in as many minutes, especially if I’ve had my pair to deal with since 6.52am.

Tragically though, the downside of seeking solace from chocolate, caffeine and the odd glass of wine (AHEM) in the evenings is that my energy levels have plummeted, and I have no inclination to exercise. And I miss it. This time last year, I would have joined my friends for a trot of a Wednesday morning; haring up the hills in Belvoir Forest and stroking the odd Labrador before stopping for a latte in 5a coffee shop. It was bliss. We covered 10k easily, and never noticed the agony in our calves because the craic was so mighty.

And this is why I said: ‘Damn it, I WILL run Dundrum’ even though for the past month I’ve whimpered ‘I’m just so tired,’ on repeat, to anyone unfortunate enough to be heading my direction. I’m a joy to be married to presently, as LSB will duly testify.

So, there I was, with 29 other Belfast Running Club members, at 10am, standing outside the Ozone waiting for the bus.  And waiting. And waiting. ‘There it is!’ we shouted, as a tiny vintage looking vehicle drew up, and on we hopped and off we chugged. Just passing Forestside we were, when it became apparent that we’d taken another club’s bus. ‘Should we just run round the embankment and go to the Errigle for lunch?’ suggested one canny member. I liked this notion: eight miles over varying terrain including 2 miles of beach is a lot for one who’s out of shape.  But back to the leisure centre we zoomed, swapped buses and set off again, this time in a superior class of a coach which included a toilet, which by that stage, we were all grateful for.

I would suggest though, establishing the whereabouts of the light switch and the availability of toilet roll, before relieving oneself. It was also an inopportune time for the driver to hit a bump on the road between Carryduff and Ballynahinch, and my head wasn’t the better for being cracked off the hand drier.

Worse was to come, when after two miles I almost jacked the run in, when I became aware of the dreaded phenomenon known as ‘chub-rub’. Wet leggings do not help this condition. I comforted myself that this doesn’t just happen to people who are nearing a size 14, and that my husband, skinny bastard that he is, had a bad dose in the summer.  Initially he blamed me and my new eco-friendly laundry cleanser, until he was told by his doctor that it was his excessive sportiness brought it on.

Still, the skies brightened and so did my mood, especially when after three miles the rain stopped and the wind was mercifully with us as we ran towards the Mournes along the beach. I was drenched; my lungs practically aflame, but with each mile came a distance between me and the stresses of the week. It does seem counter-productive, to go running when you feel knackered and grouchy, but the lift in my spirits was tangible as the endorphins surged. The members of the Murlough AC are a most encouraging bunch too, which helped somewhat. ‘Get stuck in Helen!’ roared a woman as I faltered towards the end. Another man offered his hand for a high five, but I mis-took the gesture and went in for a hug instead. I may have been hallucinating at this point. The support was immense, and the post-run spread superb. An egg sandwich was never so welcome (and let’s face it, it’s the spread we run for).

Following a dinner in the Maghera Inn that would have choked a donkey, to quote the Mothership, I was practically delivered to the door by the Executive Class Coach. Fine fettle I was in, upon returning to the house. LSB had been ferrying children back and forth from birthday parties all day. His pallor was grey and his sense of humour somewhat failed him, as I came bounding through the door, full of bonhomie and pride after my endeavours. ‘I did it!’ I shrieked. ‘I ran eight miles!’

I’ve done ‘We are Vertigo’ and I’ve just cleaned the toilet. Want some wine?’ he replied.

‘Yes please,’ I said. ‘Let me just go and put some Vaseline on my thighs first.’



SWB gets fanciful and festive

This morning my kids found a brown envelope by the fireplace. “It has our names on it!” they shrieked.  And so there was, plus a little stamp with a funny little creature, bedecked in red and green. Within they found a letter. It read:

Hello girls,

Here is an early Christmas present, from me, Santa. I hear you have been very good. Well done! Keep helping your mum and dad and tidying up. Remember to eat your vegetables, especially carrots. You will need good eyesight to see my sleigh going past on Christmas Eve.

Tally ho,

Santa Claus


Well, they were thrilled and gleeful, especially when they shook the envelope and out fell tickets to the pantomime at the Lyric. I picked them up last week when I went to see ‘What the Reindeer Saw’ (which I do recommend if you need a giggle.) The cashier smiled when she heard my idea and gave me fliers so the girls could imagine what was in store for them.

I thought further on the notion of giving experiences rather than gifts when I trotted into my hairdresser’s earlier. “You should do vouchers,” I told Nuala, donning my marketing head. (In fairness, Riah is almost always packed, so they probably don’t need me sticking my nose in). On I went anyway: “Buy a blow-dry for your buddy.”  Who wouldn’t like that; a blow dry when it’s murky and grey and you feel like a sack of shit in January? I’d love it, especially if the friend minded your kids while they were at it: the gift of gorgeousness and time.

I hadn’t intended getting my hair done at all but then I caught a glimpse of  my barnet in a shop window and saw it was in need of some TLC.

“Squeeze me in,” I pleaded. “I’m doing a story tonight at 10 by 9, and you know I can’t do my own hair.”

“You can do your own hair,” replied Emma, who’s a straight talking gal. You just don’t.”

“All the better for you” I replied, and got nicely settled with my Red magazine and a latte. And oh, the joy the occasion brought me. There was an article by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan of A Visit from the Goon Squad fame, and another from my heroine Brené Brown. What sense they spoke, and what unassuming ladies they seemed to be, considering the success of the pair of them. And had I not stepped in off the Ormeau Road for a spot of impromptu indulgence I wouldn’t have seen the magazine and been thus edified.


Emma massaged my savaged scalp (some people bite their nails, I tend to scratch holes in my head for purposes of recreation) and we had a chat. “I’ve been shopping in the charity shops, for Christmas presents,” I offered by way of explanation for what I’d been up to, prior to wandering in to the salon.  (I’d also met LSB for yoga in Hill Street and had brunch in Le Petit Ormeau, so as mornings go, it had been quite marvellous.)

Emma made noncommittal noises as she combed my hair.

“Yes,” said I. “Stocking fillers for the children. They will notice neither packaging nor price tags, so it is senseless to buy useless tat, made in China and shipped over at great cost to the environment. Let us instead buy them pre-loved toys while they are too small to notice the difference.” Emma nodded politely.


And here is my other idea, and one that I think you good people will appreciate. It involves a get-together AND recycling, two of my absolute favourite things. Yesterday I went to my friend’s house for breakfast and lined up in her hall were bags destined for Oxfam. “Give me a look through those,” I said, digging out a little red sparkly bag and a wooden toy. This prompted a thought. How about a pre-Christmas bash (and I would suggest late November to get ahead of the game) where guests bring an assortment of items that they want rid of and thus ‘donate’ as potential presents for other children. The host or hostess provides drinks and festive tit-bits on which to nibble while this glorious merry-go-round of gifts takes place. Rejected items can make their way to the school fair or St Vincent de Paul collections.


And here comes the best bit! You know by now that I have a great hatred of excessive packaging. So, people could come armed with leftover decorations, (perhaps some newspaper and yarn and bits of greenery) and some creative and environmentally friendly wrapping could take place. Doesn’t that sound like a convivial idea?


I must be honest and add that we will be purchasing some shop bought gifts for our kids. I’m not advocating that they get nothing first-hand. But I bought an assortment of toys this morning in the Hospice Shop for under a tenner. On Monday, both the Frank Mitchell phone-in and You and Yours on Radio 4 were about spending less this Christmas. I appreciate that I sound a bit whimsical and mad but any action that stops the bins overflowing with wrapping and plastic on Boxing Day can only be a good thing, right?


SWB lets rip on clutter…..again

It seems to be very much a first-world problem to be bemoaning the amount of stuff we accumulate. People speak of Marie Kondo in deferential tones; there’s hardly been a women’s magazine without a feature on how to ‘declutter your life’ and in doing so find health, wealth and happiness. As I have previously mentioned, friends of mine have bought her book and successfully parted with a third of their belongings and claim to be feeling the better for it. So I buy the book, but feck me, I’m bored. And frustrated. Poor wee Marie Kondo; I mean why were social services never involved? This is a young girl, a middle child obviously short of attention, who shunned socialising entirely to spend hours upon hours, sorting out the contents of drawers and cupboards. I mean would her parents never just have taken her to the park, arranged a play date or at the very least have sat her down in front of the telly with a packet of Tayto or a Happy Meal? (or seaweed crisps and smiley sushi or whatever constitutes a kids’ treat in Japan). There has to be some form of OCD or anxiety disorder there. At one point she is ‘almost in tears’ when she discovers a slimy residue, not only on the bottom of her shower gel but also on the base of the wire rack on which it sat. This is referred to as the ‘disgusting slime episode.’ God, that must have been horrific. My heart goes out to her.

I mean, I accept, I should hoover my house more frequently. Maybe even reacquaint myself with a mop. And I need to re-evaluate my relationship with some dresses, which, for the sake of decency should never see the light of day again. But as for apologising to my house for the clip of it, or feeling sorry for the socks that I’ve had the temerity to pair together, in a ball, well I draw the line at this point. I reckon there are enough people in this world to whom I may owe an apology, without having to start with my undergarments.


I had the good fortune to tune into Radio 4 last week and catch a snippet of John Le Carré’s biography. In it he mentioned his inspiration for the character Tessa Quayle in ‘The Constant Gardener’. This was a feisty French woman who overcame an abusive childhood and addiction to be the saviour of countless refugee and displaced children in places as diverse as Cambodia and the Congo, before her untimely death in Kosovo in the nineties. She also sounded like pure craic. As I listened, in awe at her courage and indomitable spirit, I thought, why have I never heard of this person before? And then, why the fuck are we all worshipping at the alter of Marie-bloody-Kondo, who is famous for her organisational skills and innovative folding technique? Was she standing in the French embassy in Phnom Penn, facing down officials while corralling orphans onto a plane to safety? What are we thinking?


But back up a minute, this is the world we live in. It is a consumerist society and we’re all guilty of getting our kicks from popping into the House of Fraser and doing a gleeful jig when we see the Ted Baker stuff is on sale. But since reading the ‘Joy of Tidying’ and ‘Stuffocation’ by James Wallman, I’ve definitely been a bit more circumspect with my shopping habits. I’ve bought less and I’ve given away more. A start-up toddler group has benefitted from a large pile of toys which were annoying the like clean out of me. My friends have inundated the charity shops in South Belfast with bags of clothes and books, and they’re never done firing cheques off to Oxfam and Unicef. It’s okay to take advice on how to live better and more comfortably, and these days that means reducing what we have. And if it takes reading what a certain, slightly sanctimonious lady suggests to propel us into action, then so be it.


SWB asks to Speak to the Manager

Miss Ranty Pants is back, fuelled by a jaunt into town Saturday. Now, in good old MumsNet style, I’m going to begin by asking AIBU? (‘Am I being Unreasonable,’ for the uninitiated.)

Picture the scene: I am in JUBILANT humour. I have met a friend from long time hence in Avoca and we have eaten scones the size of our heads and drunk lattes and chatted about ‘all the important things.’ I met Leeann in the queue when I went for my first Covid vax and we decided to have a coffee before our second. Isn’t serendipity a marvellous thing?

We were in and out of the SSE Arena under 20 minutes (it’s expedience personified down there) and so, gifted with this pocket of free time I gave LSB a ring.  ‘Away into ‘House of Fraser’ and buy yourself something nice,’ said he. Say what you like about my husband, but he’s not a bad auld spud.

Now, you know me by now. I champion the small businesses, the organic certified cotton, the second-hand boutiques. But the mischief was in, and I thought, feck it, I will treat myself, and stop being so sanctimonious. And, the delight indeed, when whizzing up on the escalator to the third floor, I spotted ‘Sale’ signs: festooned on walls; a-dangling from ceilings; perched atop individual rails. It was to such rails that I gravitated, because I do love a bargain. And then, didn’t I spy some silken loveliness in bright spangly colours. Four items I took into the changing room and after much deliberation, and some lamentation about the absolute STATE of my upper arms, I selected a green silk sarong and matching camisole with a fetching, (and some might say tropical) pineapple print. I also lifted another wrap top to cover the aforementioned arms.

And then, the guilt hit me. Pricey they were, and I couldn’t see anything on their labels about sustainability or eco-friendly credentials. I thought that maybe I should just go home, and ‘shop my wardrobe.’ I dithered. Then, who did I spy but a teacher from the school I was last working in. I explained my dilemma, to which she replied, ‘BUY THE OUFIT FOR GOD’S SAKE.’ She’s the kind of woman to whom one listens, so off I went to the cash desk.

And this, readers, is where it takes a very sad turn. Nothing was reduced: not a jot. Despite the sign atop the rail, it did not apply to any of the items I had lifted. The girl was very apologetic. Affronted, I left them there, and then took a dander back over to the rail. Nothing had any mention of money off at all, despite the signs indicating that they were on offer. And so, unable to contain myself, I became that person, and I asked to speak to the manager. Over she duly came, (we’ll call her Sue) and God love her, Sue looked like she could do with a nice coffee and a sit down. I explained the situation which I described as not only misleading, but duplicitous. I suggested that this was why the store was usually empty and why the High Street was in a state of chassis. (Not this Saturday. This Saturday it packed, which didn’t lend my argument much credence.) Sue revealed that the precise wording of the offer was ‘Up to 20% and only on selected lines.’ I retorted that I was a busy woman, and I hadn’t got the time to be prancing about, trying on ‘sale’ outfits which weren’t on sale at all. I may have used the phrase ‘false advertising.’

Phew, I’m done now. Needless to say, the outfits remained in the shop and I came home and found a dress I bought in Valencia in a small boutique two Easters ago. I think it cost forty euro. I thought it was very pretty, (but not so much in the picture below where I look like I should be presenting Songs of Praise from a National Trust venue.)

To return to the start of this rant, AM I BEING UNREASONABLE? Ever so irked I was. Do let me know your thoughts on the matter, and whether, after my experience, you are likely to be frequenting the store.