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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 on the new stars of Instagram

Haven’t I gone and got myself hooked on Instagram. And once again, I am plumbing the depths of banality, because I am watching video after video of CLEANING HABITS. The old me wouldn’t have understood why anyone would watch a randomer scrub their toilet. What levels of stultifying boredom would you have to reach, I’d have wondered, before you’d willingly observe someone dust their skirting boards? And yet, every day Instagram is helpfully suggesting new people for me to follow, the likes of @TidyDad and @nonstopmumma. The algorithms tell me that I need to follow any account with ‘washy-washy scrub scrub’ as their tag-line, and reels pop up with stupidly enthusiastic women (almost always women) saying: ‘come clear your plughole with me!’ You may not think this is the most tantalising of click bait but there I am, all, ‘Would you believe the shine off that stainless steel sink! Behold the gleam of that hob!!


I know we’re all suckers for a ‘before and after’ post, and I can understand how we could be excited to witness the radical transformation of say, a lovely living room, but tidying a desk? Sprucing up the ensuite? Really? Who’s going to hand over their valuable time to watch that? Well, me, as it happens. And clearly, I’m not alone, given the thousands of followers clocked up by these cleaning gurus. They are the superstars of Insta, their microphones replaced by mops and their guitars with tubes of grout-buster.


Frankly I’m amazed, but maybe it just sums up how small my world has shrunk since Covid, and how happy I am to keep it that way. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m not a natural housekeeper. I find everything a struggle, from stocking my cupboards with essentials or keeping the surfaces clear for more than ten seconds. It runs in my family. Anytime I heard the hoover when I was a child I asked, ‘Who’s coming?’ LSB is as bad. He sends me little messages when I’m at work, listing his accomplishments. ‘Dishwasher empty!’ he will declare, or ‘Towel wash on!’ I’ll reply with the clapping hands emojis, with no trace of irony since I’m delighted that he’s taking the initiative. Let’s face it, it’s no given that I’ll do it any time soon.


Perhaps these videos work because they offer clarity. I have a shocking habit of over-complicating everything, whether that be washing up or cooking, you can bet your nelly that I’ll make it more of a ball-ache than it needs to be. This tendency of mine only serves to impede progress, of course. I think in a very binary fashion, assuming that we are either good or bad at housework and that I fall into the latter category. I can’t accept that we can just develop habits and routines and try to adhere to them, at least some of the time.


The tyranny of housework has of course been exacerbated by the pets, quadrupling the work load as I rinse out food tines, lint-roller the chairs and mop and spray when one of them takes a surprise poo somewhere. Always a joy. Now I’m also running round scooping up the bowls after they eat. I wouldn’t want anyone falling into Tilly’s dish and suffering cuts and bruises.


So for a person like me, who struggles and gets distracted easily, a motivational video seems to help. If I have to watch someone hoovering their sofa in real time to simplify it for me, then maybe these videos serve a purpose. Provided of course, that I don’t just get suckered in to scrolling through Insta for two hours. That’s a whole other challenge. But the truth is, that yes, a clean house is actually possible, if I just take fifteen minutes here and there and get on with it. And do you know what else occurred to me, (and then I’ll stop chuntering on), but I always take the piss out of Marie Kondo, but when I saw those boys cleaning up the stadiums at the World Cup I was so impressed. I started reading all about Japanese rituals and how they respect their spaces and take pride in them and I thought to myself, my children have a lot to learn! And me too, I have a lot to learn. I love my house, and I love having people in to it, so maybe I should try to enjoy caring for it. Does that sound mad? Probably yes, but I’m sure you’re used to me now.


SWB on the curse of Wordle

Some things are sent to try us. Children. Pets. Wordle. Wordle started off for me as an enjoyable diversion from the woes of the day. It was Fi Glover, (of the ‘Fortunately’ podcast with Jane Garvey) got me on to it. It’s one of the highlights of her day, she says. Up she gets, pours a cup of coffee and climbs under the covers until she’s cracked it. It may seem sad that one of the best bits of her day happens before eight am, but given the state of the world, that may be the case for most of us.


However, what turned out as ‘a bit of fun’ for me, has inevitably, morphed into a  torment. Oh, the gloom which descends when I struggle to find the solution, because increasingly, these words can be strange and elusive. Don’t start me on the American spelling of humour from a few weeks ago, that nearly turned me off Wordle altogether. But it didn’t, because now I’m hooked and sadly for me, LSB is too. He’s also irritatingly good at things, and he’ll mildly trill, ‘Got the Wordle on the second go!’ while I generally take four or five. I no longer associate the word ‘great’ with any success. Surely it should be ‘mediocre’, if you’re only one step away from ‘phew’.


It is also ill-advised to attempt the Wordle of the day at seven thirty, as I did on Saturday, when I was mildly hungover and tender of tummy, since the night before, a friend and I had dined in General Merchants on the Ormeau. It has resumed its evening service after a long hiatus and I’m delighted, having always loved the cosy, candlelit warmth therein. The chef excelled himself with a creamy, caramelly, baked custard, topped with a fig and strawberry glaze. I’m still thinking about it. We had no more need for a cheese board, but ordered it anyway; a foolish move as I horsed a slab of blue cheese into me that would have felled a donkey. Anne Patchett recently decluttered her home, a task made more difficult because of her habit of anthropomorphising the things of which she wanted rid. I take this sort of madness even further, imagining the slab of blue sitting there on the platter, (looking like my veiny ankles after I’ve stood too long on a warm day), all sad and overshadowed by the brie and the fancy cheddar flavoured with stout. In order to preserve its feelings, I ate it up, resulting in twisted tormented dreams. I woke up agitated and cross, turning to the Wordle for comfort.


Well, it didn’t soothe me, not one bit. There I was, propped up upon my pillows, peering at my screen like a wretched crone, when in trots LSB. ‘It’s a hard one today,’ he says, ‘Took me four goes to get it.’ Hadn’t he only gone and solved it while he sat upon the loo, and then came in to gloat. Have you ever heard worse?  THEN, as if he hadn’t annoyed me enough, he sat there playing the ‘Heardle’ over and over until he got it too. I would never have got the Wordle had he not given me a hint, and even now, I’m not too sure what ‘epoxy’ is. Far too niche and not at all suitable for a weekend when one may have imbibed too much the night before.

He sent me a jolly little text when I was at work today, saying he got it on his first try. Given that it seems all the rage to dish out a good slap should the mood take you, he may start watching himself. If you’re not hooked already, my advice would be the avoid Wordle, and all its other variations. Just drink your coffee in peace and have one less thing to fight with your other half about.





SWB on zen and the art of a tidy house

Once, I had to endure a conversation with a colleague about the virtues of her new steam mop. Almost glowing she was, on the topic of her sparkling kitchen tiles. ‘I can’t wait to go home and get at it again!’ said she. I hoped fervently, that never in my future would I be a person who got their kicks from cleaning.  

But what is life, if not full of surprises? Last week, when I found abrush attachment for the hoover which enabled me to reach those pesky spaces between the bannisters, I felt something approaching joy. ‘Is this what happens when you turn 42?’ I pondered mournfully.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t LIKE cleaning, and especially not without my trusty marigolds, lest I chip my acrylic nails, but I like living in squalor even less. And I have to admit something else here, which I hate very much, but it seems that the Mothership is right. Again.  She’ll be insufferable to listen to when she reads this, but there we are. She counselled against getting pets and she had a point. Animals are a pain in the arse, not least because they’ve augmented my cleaning three-fold. That’s likely a modest estimate; it’s probably ten-fold. Now, I’ve to take the sticky roller duvets and clothes before they even hit the washing machine, which is rarely off. I’m never done brushing and hoovering and mopping. And all this before I get to washing out tins of dog and cat food and scraping hardened foods off their bowls. 

We’ve had to invest in carpet cleaning services and last week, finally admitted defeat and chucked a rug in the bin. You know me and my hatred of waste, so I found this very traumatic. At least it was a few years old, but I’m not going to lie to you, it hurt. 

 I know what you’re thinking, because I can hear the Mothership’s voice in my ear. ‘Don’t let the animals have the run of the house! Turf them off the beds!’ But this is coming from a woman who used to get up at three or four am, when our erstwhile cat Snowball woke up and wanted out. He would wake her every night and then take his time, stopping to lick his paws at the top of the stairs and she had to chivvy him along. However, he was, she claims to this day, an exceptional cat. 

We’re suckers for pets, in our family, and also for letting our children do whatever they like, hence the coffee table, and, let’s face it, much of the floor, is strewn with pieces of card and paper and other ephemera that they’ve snipped up and left at their backsides. (The Mothership is in my ear again.) 

And this, everyone, is just the cleaning, before I even touch on my nemesis which is endless piles of stuff, and clutter. This is why, when I caught a snippet on Frank’s Phone-In this week, when he was on with Lisa from @Orderinthehouseni, I felt that frisson of excitement again. Lisa and Claire will come to your house, armed to the oxters with storage solutions and fresh ideas, and they help you sort your shit out. What also makes me do little jumps with glee is that they’re also very knowledgeable about where to pass on your stuff in an effort to keep it in circulation and out of landfill.  The last two years have seen our homes become our workplaces, our social hubs as well as our havens, and it’s taken its toll. Some folk on furlough were able to tidy and sort and organise, but with work and home schooling I wasn’t one of them and my shambles of a house bears testimony to this. I need help. I think I need Claire and Lisa. Or a miracle.



SWB on coping strategies

Newsflash- apparently, we’re all drinking too much over lockdown. I’m sorry, but this is the BBC actually calling this is NEWS? The real news would be if we were managing not to drink our way through this global cluster-fuck.

As I may have shared with you, I tried to give up drink this Lent, thinking that perhaps with some divine intervention I could abstain. Four days I lasted. Four days. I don’t know why I even attempted it to be honest- it was just Dry January all over again, which turned out to be well doused. Now is not the time for denial, when so much is off limits. But what I do subscribe to now, is careful policing of self and trying to be a bit more creative than just having a drink to dull the monotony/pulverised nerves/feeling of terminal gloom.

At least I’m not alone. Yesterday I had to use all my Tetris skills trying to squeeze three wine bottles into the bins at Tesco. Obviously, in the absence of the recycling centres being open, people are availing of whatever options are available, but I can conclude that Easter was celebrated in style in the Rosetta area of Belfast.

Like many others, this feeling of  wanting to drinking myself into a coma usually occurs at ‘witching hour’, around six o’clock.  Typically, I am trying to make the dinner, and children have buggered off up the stairs leaving me with three pots on the go; batting away opportunist pets who are trying to leap up on the counter for a piece of chicken; and a table full of all the shite of the day which needs cleared before we eat. Oblivious, or perhaps in a deliberate attempt to avoid helping, the girls are playing Minecraft instead of doing something edifying like reading. My reflex action is just to reach into the fridge or ferret about in the cupboards if I’ve nothing chilled. In cases like this though, I shouldn’t take it out on my liver. The sensible option is to shout for the wee feckers to come down and help,  The answer, I tell myself, is not in the bottom of a glass of sauvignon blanc, it is in creating a harmonious space to inhabit, instead of letting my rage grow and harden into a hernia.

Of course, if you absolutely can’t resist, and a bottle of Marlborough is shouting in your ear VERY loudly that it needs cracked upon and drunk, then have a glass, just stop early. Starting to hammer it into you at six and then sipping away until ten is a disaster, and yet, so easily done. I might have a glass while I cook, then one with dinner. I then say to myself, ‘FFS it’s a weeknight,’ and switch to tonic with a good squeeze of lime, which is fragrant and zesty and quenches your thirst. I know, I didn’t think it would satisfy me in the least, but it seems to.

A friend of mine, when she was pregnant, used to light a scented candle to quell her urge to drink. This, she said,  marked the beginning of her evening and her chance to relax. I can almost see you roll your eyes like Sister Michael in Derry Girls at this. But it’s not about the candle, is it? It’s the transition from a daytime of obligation to your chill out time. So it could be a bath with some Neal’s Yard Frankincense oil, or a stroll at dusk with a friend. Oxygen is underrated, and so is spending time with buddies who make your heart turn little joyful leaps. A friend shared a quote on Facebook which resonated with me. It read: ‘I am sick spending all my time with people who have either been, or came out of my vagina.’ Well, both my babies were popped out the sunroof, but regardless, you get the point I’m sure. We NEED to see other people: it’s not just pleasant, it’s a necessity.

There are other unexpected benefits to not drinking so much. LSB can testify to this after watching ‘Line of Duty’ the other night while I sipped a tonic and lime beside him. Thrilled was he, to be able to watch in peace, with only half the number of interruptions. Usually I pester him relentlessly: ‘Who’s he again?’ ‘What just happened there?’ ‘How the hell am I supposed to remember what happened in Series One? That was a lifetime ago, when the world was normal.’ Reassure me, is anyone else baffled by the show, yet compelled to watch, if only to shout out ‘There’s the garage off the Castlereagh Road! Remember we bought donuts there once?’ Or, ‘I know that woman! She works in Buttercups down the road!’ Highly excitable do I get, even when I don’t have the first notion who’s murdering who and why?.

I’m going back to work on Monday, so it is very possible that I won’t take any of own advice at all, and go a bit Father Jack. LSB may have to wrestle the gin from my hands as I attempt to adjust to working life again. So send me your tips, your encouragement, your life-hacks. I’m all ears folks.

SWB on something other than lockdowns, homeschooling and the weather

If you want an honest answer, ask a child. I was musing this morning about what I should write about today and up chirped my eldest. ‘Maybe you could say something nice instead of complaining all the time?’ she said, before adding, ‘and using the f-word’. I think she’s in cahoots with the Mothership. So, what would you know but I took her advice and instead of boring you rigid with my mundane life, I’ll tell you what’s been keeping me going, all with a little nod to International Women’s Day which was on Monday.

What I’m watching- currently we are on Season 2 of ‘Borgen’- have you seen this yet? It’s a stylish Danish drama where women lead the game. While it’s palpably obvious that we can’t have it all, (and feck me, but it’s lonely at the top,) this shows women with integrity who aren’t afraid to be mavericks and challenge the system. We see life through the lens of a female Prime Minister and a top (and sickeningly young) journalist- both with personal lives which are every bit as complicated and interesting as the political arena in which they operate. It’s very hard to stop at just one episode, but what’s reining me in is that there’s only 3 seasons so I’m rationing myself. I see there’s just been a deal with Netflix so a fourth will be on its way, hurrah. The first episode in Season 2 is an absolute cracker- and made me think of Homeland. How I have missed Homeland

Poor old LSB; when I suggested a movie on Saturday he was hankering after something with random explosions and a lack of dialogue, but I took hold of the remote and chose Late Night, starring Emma Thompson at her best, most pithy self and Mindy Kaling, most famous for not only starring, but writing in the American version of The Office.  Tackling women’s issues is at the heart of this film, with Thompson playing a television presenter in her fifties who has been deemed past her prime by her network who are looking rid. This is where Kaling is wheeled in. Employed simply because they need both a female and a person of colour on the writing team, she immediately, (and predictably) kicks ass through a mixture of her audaciousness and vulnerability: Brené Brown, eat your heart out. The show thus tackles issues of ageism, gender and race: I’ve never worked in television so I’ve no idea how much of it rings true, but in a post Weinstein era, this movie is as funny as it is necessary. The best moment comes when Thompson’s character takes her younger, male replacement down on live TV, wiping the smirk off the cocky little misogynist’s face.

Who needs fiction though, you might be thinking, when you have Meghan and Harry providing drama to sustain us for the rest of lockdown (however long THAT’S going to end.) I wasn’t going to watch, but I was doing my dishes at the sink on Monday evening and thought, why not, I may as well be informed. But is informed the right word I wonder? Sure, I hadn’t a notion what was truth or falsehood by the end of it, and did wonder how anyone as obviously clever as Meghan Markle could have been so clueless about what the monarchy was like. Outdated, dysfunctional, and endemically racist, I’m not marrying into the family and I wouldn’t need Google to tell me that.  I had to laugh though when Oprah asked Harry how he found life in California and he remarked that the dogs were happy. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt a kinship with a Royal, given the attention we’ve lavished upon our pets of late. The greyhound hates storms so she’s been in our bed, her long legs pressing into my ribs. ‘As long as she’s ok, ‘ I mutter to LSB as I manoeuvre myself into a tiny ball.

What I’m reading: I’ve just finished Wintering by Katherine May and might I suggest that you put your order in at Books Paper Scissors and invest in a copy because although penned just before the pandemic, it seems to have been written for this time. It is a beautiful memoir with practical tips on how to build yourself back up again if you’re burnt out and dispirited. Can anyone relate? Much is about forging a connection with nature again, and as the title suggests, living in accordance with the seasons. I’ve long been interested in the Scandinavian way of life, (who doesn’t love a bit of hygge?) and I loved the details about how Northern Europeans survive the long winter months. What is prevalent though is that you can’t avoid the winter, literal or metaphorical, there’s no way to see off the darkness, but to see a way to live through it and be receptive to the shards of light, from wherever they come.

Did I manage an entire blog post without complaining? Not exactly, but small steps.



SWB on when things fall apart

Do you think one can you claim ‘overuse of your house’ on the home insurance? Some chance: I can just imagine getting on the blower to check. ‘Aye right,’ Billy from Hughes in Newtownards might say: ‘I think it’s known as ‘wear and tear’ you total chancer,’ is how I think that conversation might end.

‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,’ said the inimitable WB Yeats. I believe he was referring to the collapse of civilisation after the horrors of the trenches, but he could just as well be describing the state of chassis in my house right now. Everything is broken, crumbling, collapsing into disrepair, and it is very much grinding my gears.

It’s not just me either- we stop with our neighbours while out walking the greyhound. ‘Will you at the STATE of the fence,’ says Stephen, nudging it with his toe until the panels rattle, a bit like the mad auld priest in Father Ted who yells ‘Cowboys the lot of them!’ as he wrenches Ted’s door off its hinges. He’s right though, it’s looking considerably less robust than this time last year. I fear his boisterous dog and similarly boisterous child are responsible, with the former flinging herself against it when she spies her mate Bode the Labrador, and the latter using it as a football net.

Their bannisters too are teetering on the brink since Sam, like our girls, eschew the stairs, choosing to access the first floor by climbing, lemur-like up the outside ledges before slinging his legs over the top. What is it with our children and their inability to sit in a chair or ascend the stairs without inflicting damage?

Last week the Small Child handed me a familiar looking piece of wood that she’d removed from the dog’s mouth. ‘What the hell is that?’ says I, eying the teeth marks on it. Small  Child points to one of the bar stools. She and her sister had managed to break off part of one, apparently when eating their morning snack. The dog, seizing her opportunity, had dashed in and called first dibs on her new toy. This is after I spent a fiver on a big marrow bone from ‘Posh Pets’ in Gilnahirk. (Keeping the dog entertained definitely count as an essential journey in my book. Plus, it’s worth a trip alone to meet ‘DelBoy’ the Bulldog. He’s some fellow.)

Both the washing machine and the dishwasher are exhibiting signs of exhaustion and the coffee machine met a tragic end last week, when, befuddled after a nap (yes, I’m still loving the forty winks in the afternoon) I proceeded to chuck a dessert spoonful of coffee into the water tank, before I came to, and realised that I hadn’t put in the actual coffee funnel. Now it has clogged up, and despite LSB’s efforts of reparation, switching it on produces the smell of melting plastic.

Words fail me: it’s not as though I’m an NHS worker, banjaxed after working a nineteen-hour shift on a Covid ward. I am simply rendered incapable of functioning in this tilted world. It’s hard to define oneself when worlds slip and slide into each other- a collision that isn’t without casualties. Wife, mother, teacher, writer, tender to pets: it is hard to know where one’s different selves begin, and others end, amid all this tumult.

Nora Ephron had an epiphany once, when she was at an event she’d organised and realised that little was being carried out to her satisfaction. She was mid-rant, her friend turned to her and said firmly, ‘Nora, you can’t do it all.’  Despite having heard this phrase many times, on this occasion, it resonated. She claims that she was much gentler with herself when this sunk in, because she finally recognised that doing it all was quite simply, an impossibility.

This week, as the reality of Monday morning dawns with all the subtlety of a breeze block, I’m going to keep this in mind. Some things I may do well, others average, and inevitably I’ll  fuck-up aplenty. If the house is still standing at the end it, and I’ve managed to preserve what remains of my mental health, I’m taking that as a win.







SWB looks for the Sunny Side

Hear me out here folks, but we’ve almost reached half-term and although we aren’t going on any of our usual jaunts, I still feel more than a frisson of excitement. The girls each have a wicker basket which slots neatly into a dresser in the kitchen. I am making sure that come Friday afternoon, every single book and pencil and ruler are fired into the receptacles provided where they shall remain for a solid week. I do not want to hear about seven times-tables or think how to punctuate a sentence correctly. I am weary of my own voice, droning on ad infinitum, boring myself rigid.

I want to make tacos at lunchtime without checking what shite they have posted on Seesaw without showing me first. I want to watch two episodes of Gilmore Girls instead of one so they won’t be grumpy, tired little feckers in the morning. I want to take my laptop upstairs to write without a child bleating that they need to read a story on ‘Bug Club’. Next week, I am fervently hoping for more sun so I can open the door and boot them out to play before they have the chance to annoy me.

The odd thing is, and I wonder if anyone else has experienced this phenomenon, but I actually feel a sense of relief not to be going anywhere. Has Stockholm syndrome set in? I’m not even talking Covid here, although I’ll never feel the same about a sauna again. I’m just reflecting on other irksome things that happen on holiday; like having to queue for breakfast, then being shown to a mediocre table and horror of horrors, for a family with a wailing toddler to plonk down beside us. My children can be very irritating, but at least they’re past that stage. I want to drink my own, good quality coffee that LSB makes in the morning, instead of the piss they serve in hotel restaurants. Can anyone enlighten me how they actually MAKE the coffee in hotels? Is it just one great big vat with some poor scullion stirring in tablespoonfuls of Maxwell House? It’s always weak, watery and lukewarm.  And, top of my list of things to be grateful for, is not having to set an alarm, to leave the cosy hotel bed, to get into the flipping swimming pool at 8am. Yes, I know no one is holding a knife to my throat to do this, but it’s either that or venture in later to be bashed and splashed by obnoxious little bastards flailing those great foam noodles in your face.

I don’t want to have to drop my pets off the ‘pet resort’ where the proprietors demonstrate all the warmth and congeniality of my grumpy tortoiseshell when I sit on her by accident.

I’m relieved not to have to pack, as inevitably I forget things and then have send LSB beetling off to pick up toothpaste/moisturiser/hairbrushes. Who I am trying to kid? Let’s not forget the warm coat I had to buy in Limavady when I went up with only a jumper on me last October. And my worst faux pas, when I said I’d take care of the packing for a trip to Kenya in 2010 and left all of LSB’s boxers sitting on the kitchen table. He had to go looking in a   department store in Nakuro, and they only did a range of Y-fronts in bold, primary colours which weren’t particularly fetching.

I am seeing a silver lining here, and frankly, I’m as surprised about that as you are. By nature, I am keen on a gallivant, but right now, not so much. With everything closed this half-term our options are greatly limited and I’m thinking ‘Thank f**k for that’. It means not having to traipse the children to the Folk and Transport Museum for an edifying experience. It means not having to squeeze my thighs into a pair of tailored trousers for an evening out. It means having a bona-fide reason NOT to meet that person you always say you’ll hook up with for drinks when secretly, you’d rather remove your liver with a butter knife than enduring an evening while they talk about their child’s lactose intolerance. You just can’t, Boris says no, simple as that. Hallelujah- first time I’ve been grateful to that gobshite for anything.

Today, even though the frost sat three inches thick on my windscreen, I didn’t mind because I didn’t have to go anywhere. As the Older Child read ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ the sunlight streamed through the window illuminating her in a pool of golden light. On hearing how rubbish I felt last week,  a neighbour rang the bell and handed me instructions, on how to make fat balls for the birds, along with lard, birdseed and cord. There are signs of light and life, and if we just get a week of respite, then we’ll be able appreciate them, wherever we are.





For the effing millionth time, SWB on homeschool

I did an interview with The Newsletter this week on the topic of home-schooling- here is the unedited sweary version for SWB readers…

Anyone know the Crowded House ‘Four Seasons in One Day?’ Well, that’s my life at the moment, except replace four with eight, or maybe ten. I ricochet back and forth between feelings of exhaustion and ennui, gratitude and griping, busyness and boredom.

The most stressful element of my day is definitely the home-schooling. I quickly get frustrated when I see that my children’s academic progress has gone into a swift decline since lockdown began. When I look at what they are producing presently I turn into a raging harpy. ‘Have you ever HEARD of a full stop?’ ‘Yes, fifty-five take away fourteen is indeed forty-one but since that a PLUS sign so the answer is sixty nine.’ FFS. There is much sniping and sighing when I have the audacity to point out these mistakes. When I asked for my nine year old to give me a couple of adjectives last week, the little s**t replied: ‘Mean and nasty’. How very encouraging.

I dug out some of school-books from previous years, and there was the evidence that my home-schooling techniques are rubbish. A quick flick through and I saw  positive comments and gold stars- ‘Go you! Amazing! Wow!’ What is abundantly clear is that that they lack both the inclination and the ability to concentrate at their work at home.

Last lockdown LSB used to blithely say ‘Send them up to me!’ when he heard raised voices below. Since then, he has installed two large monitors on the desk where they used to sit. ‘Not much room for them here,’ he says. Since January he has a significantly larger number of meetings for which is attendance is, apparently, mandatory. Obviously, I am not remotely suspicious about any of this. Useless f**ker.

I did not choose to join a religious order because I didn’t fancy a life of servitude, but this appears to have happened anyway. I am now bringer of breakfasts, server of snacks and deliverer of the Key Stage Two Curriculum. Sometimes I try to do put the laundry on while they ‘work’ but have discovered that this is a complete waste of time.

Does anyone else feel as though their brain is being hacked in half with a blunt machete? The See-Saw app is fiddly AF, so if I’m not at their shoulder to oversee what they’re doing they merrily press ‘send’ and send their teacher a load of rubbish. Some of the work coming home is new, and while teachers patiently and with enormous effort, post explanatory videos, I still need to sit with them as they do most of the activities.

Afternoons are spent with my trying to avoid a visit to A&E as they treat our living room furniture like a jungle gym, vaulting over tables and hanging off the banisters. Last Lockdown LSB had to screw the leg back into the sofa and so far this time we have bid farewell to a kitchen chair. Sometimes I feel like a life in a convent would be preferable; at least it would be quiet.

And yet, when I am not strung out multi-tasking, I often feel a sense of relief. Latterly when I was teaching in a local grammar school, I was aware of the pressure which staff and pupils alike where struggling under. It was an absolute f**king melt. This was the result of not knowing whether exams were taking or place or not and the fact students were doing their nut about what they had missed. Tensions ran exceptionally high. Peter Weir is as qualified in the role as Educational Minister as Trump was in the role as President. Not a notion does he have, and running his own party’s agenda to boot.

So are there any upsides? Well yes, of course. When it snowed this time two weeks ago it seemed like a gift- we took the girls to the local meadow with their sleds and played for hours. I didn’t have to navigate icy roads and sit at home wondering whether the school would be open or not.

. There is always a sense of celebration when the weekend arrives. Late afternoon I escape, lighting a candle and doing some yoga. Even if it’s just a fifteen-minute practice I feel like it’s something ‘just for me.’ Also, just for me, is the can of wine which I crack open every evening at seven. These are tough times, and if you can’t savour how the flavours of elderberry and green apple marry together in a sparkling white now, then when can you?

I realize, that although life is strange and frightening, that I am lucky. Annoying as they can be, I have a family and a menagerie of pets to keep me busy and (sometimes) amused. Being on my own would be infinitely worse, so when I feel myself close to losing my temper I try to remember this. I try. People I try. But let’s face it, I often fail miserably, please tell me you do too. Solidarity is key for my sanity.





SWB on the week that was…

Folks, send me some good vibes because seriously, I have not come up for air. So you think Dominic Cumming had a bad week. Did he, I ask you, have a visiting cat who took a dump on his freshly laundered sheet and a dog who then pissed on the scrubbed mattress to mark her territory? No, all that frigger had to do was pack a box and do the humiliating walk of shame along Downing Street. (How I smiled.) Anyway, back to the poo incident.

Should your partner or off-spring be applying pressure that you source them a dog or cat for Christmas, demonstrate caution. Think carefully about the following: animals and their digestive needs are complex and specific. If only they could defecate on demand and in appropriate places. When it rains (ie, all the f**king time in November, was there EVER a more heinous month?) our animals exhibit reticence about leaving the house to do their business. Our dog will BOUND out the door if we produce her lead and rustle her coat, but if we hold open the back door and gesture that she might have go out and relieve herself,  she looks at us with huge doleful eyes. LSB bought himself a large golf umbrella to watch the children play football. Now, he dons his old trainers and takes the brolly out so the dog can pee and poop undercover. He is a good sort, auld LSB, but little thanks does he get, especially from children and pets.

On Thursday he was beavering away at his desk and entertaining notions of a having a wee jog to himself at lunchtime. Entering the bedroom he did a double take, as there, on our duvet colour, the cat had shat extensively. He had cart the duvet into the bath and shower it down before washing it. Only the night before I had laboriously changed all the bed linen, endeavouring to turn our clutter filled mess of a room into something warm and inviting  One night. One night we got to enjoy this and the cat sullied it.

It gets worse. Coming home, I went up the stairs to survey the wreckage.

‘I thought you said you’d washed AND dried it,’ I called, my voice tremulous with desperation.

‘I had,’ he replied,  following me in.

‘Oh God,’ he said.

The bed was soaked, in what could only have been a deluge of greyhound pee. Tilly has somewhat appropriated our bed during the day, and therefore took it as a slight that the cat had used it as a toilet. More cleaning ensued. A cleaning frenzy, one might say. My hands, once smooth and wrinkle free, now have the reddish hue of an eighteenth-century scullery maid. It’ll take more than Vaseline Intensive Care to sort them out.

All weekend, we have been washing. Clothes that I have worn to school and don’t want to wear again, lest Covid has woven its insidious way into the fabric. Towels from giving the dog a bath; school uniforms; my husband’s sweaty sport’s gear. I try to get my detergent from Refill Quarter but I can’t be arsed driving over so I’ve just put an order in with Smol to test drive those. I’m stressed, people. Owning pets is another f**king job. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise.

But as I type this, Tilly has come up the stairs and curled up beside me, emitting soft, greyhound sighs. Her coat is fragrant and shiny from her bath yesterday, and occasionally a little paw reaches out and brushes my leg, as if to say, ‘Sorry about the pissing, I’m just getting used to my new abode.’

If it is a job, ultimately I love it. I’m just very, very tired right now. However,  reading this wee article on Medium just made me think again how gorgeous she is.