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SWB Airs her Dirty Laundry

Poor Stacey Solomon has been subjected to an ear-bashing when she admitted to changing her bed sheets once a week. I tend to agree with the nay-sayers, because I’m more of a once-a-month girl myself. But as I said to Frank earlier when I was on chatting to him on the phone-in, I think this is plenty. It’s also a seasonal issue, because I would feel more guilty about using the tumble drier to dry all the sheets than I would about them smelling less than fragrant after a couple of weeks. During the summer I change them more often, when they can blow merrily in the breeze, and one is less at the mercy of our capricious climate.


But let’s be clear about this; changing the bed linen is a work-out. Our mattress is very deep, so deep that even the ‘Extra-Deep King Size Fitted Sheets’ sometimes struggle to fit. Many nails have been sacrificed at the altar of cleanliness in our bedroom, not to mention the risks to my dodgy back. We were so tired of the sheet untucking itself on a nightly basis that LSB got to googling solutions and made an investment. Cue the arrival of four ‘bed suspenders’; curious little black straps with clips (STOP IT EVERYONE, I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING) which secure the sheet in place. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that they’ve changed our lives.


Down in Bangor by the sea, the Mothership was also experiencing mattress issues. Her elderly mattress was banjaxed and thus began the search for a new, thinner version, which wouldn’t result in strained ligaments and visits to the chiropractor after changing day. A helpful gent in the bed emporium she visited, assured her that a thinner mattress was no worse for her back and so she procured one on Tuesday. I am eagerly awaiting her consensus.


Should you want to feel a semblance of cleanliness, but can’t be arsed with the whole palaver, then I advise you to change the pillowcases, even the duvet cover if you must. After reading KC Davis’ book, How to Keep House when You’re Drowning, I’m all about life’s shortcuts. We all have tasks we will prioritise, and for me, having clean clothes and some home-cooked dinners is much more important than the bedsheets. I also fear I’m suffering from PTSD from the constant laundering of sheets when the children were very small and sometimes peed the bed, or more ghastly still, when they came into our bed, and peed in it. The misery. The days were the trenches, I’m telling you. The absolute worse though, was when you stripped the bed and forgot about it, and had to start the whole bloody rigmarole at eleven o’clock of an evening. Any wonder mummy drinks?


My advice? Do what works for you. There are cleaning videos galore on the old Insta, and I said recently, I enjoy watching them, as they soothe me, a little bit like white noise, mere chewing gum for the eyes. But do I clean like that? Hell no. Suit yourself is my motto, and as long as I’m not lying on toast crumbs or an excess of pet hair*, then I’m happy enough to stick to my monthly schedule and not lose sleep over it, (boom boom).


*I realize that this will differ person to person. I imagine some of you have the dry bokes just reading that. I apologise.


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 says ‘New Me?’ No. Old me will do rightly.

I never cease to amaze myself. Yesterday, tired and queasy after an evening’s over-exuberance with an ill-advised mix of alcoholic minerals, I determined that a resolution was needed. New year, new me! Leaner, calmer, less likely to succumb to liver cirrhosis. But today, feeling sprightlier and buoyed by sunlight, I thought to myself, isn’t January a bloody stupid time to be embracing the new? Friends, we are far too fragile for those shenanigans. Perhaps if we lived in balmier climes, where we could leave the house without a kettleful of water to sling over the windscreen, cocooned in a heavily padded coat, we could entertain such notions. But here? Now? It’s a flat no.


I am unconvinced that now’s the time to starve ourselves, or subject our bodies to a punishing regime. Nor should continue the excesses of the season, because that way lies coronary failure. But to put the brakes on all the good stuff, all at once? I think not. One reason I am agin such antics is that presently, I have a fridge full of leftovers, of which only a small proportion is of a healthy variety. I have enough cheese to choke a donkey, and half a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t care what a coq-au-vin recipe dictates, but wine of that calibre is going straight down my throat. There’s a reason for a mediocre vin de table at £4.50 in Sainsbury’s, and I suggest it’s for a casserole.


As I type, I’m drinking coffee with a slab of panna tone. It is the last hefty slice, and I am enjoying every last festive morsel. But what does one DO with all the other leftovers? Let me help. First up, I have a white bloomer languishing on the counter which I shall concocting it into a bread-and-butter pudding, with dates instead of raisins, because I have a packet of those I intended to stuff with cheese for a New Year’s Eve nibble, but couldn’t be bothered. LSB refers to bread and butter pudding as ‘that eggy mess’ but I shall make it in ramekins and share with friends, who aren’t pass-remarkable ingrates.


I’ve a glut of tomatoes softening in the fridge, which I’ll whizz up into a soup. I can plonk mozzarella into this, which ticks two boxes for wastage.  Another alternative would be a sauce for pizza bagels which LSB lovingly makes in the morning, in his air fryer. I’ve never seen him take to a kitchen appliance the way he has to his air-fryer. He’s dying about it, as am I because I don’t have to think up lunches for the children, a job I loathed because they are fussy little buggers. The rest of the blue cheese I will freeze to make a dip in the future.


It’s clear to see that I’m not cutting out the fat and sugar this January. But I am trying to cut down on waste, so that’s a start. Other realistic goals are: spending less time scrolling on my phone; doing on-line yoga at least three times a week and keeping my study uncluttered. I think those are doable, and not nauseatingly sanctimonious. If you’re doing anything yourselves let me know- or harass me occasionally to see whether I’ve kept on task. Hold me accountable! And a very Happy New Year to you all.


SWB on the Elf on the Shelf

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


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


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


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

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

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



SWB on Harry Kanes’s penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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











SWB gets the declutter-bug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









SWB Rejects Black Friday

So last week I clicked on an advert for fancy shelves I’d been ogling for a while on my Instagram feed. My collection of books is steadily increasingly (I blame the second-hand shops on Botanic for my most recent haul) and I want to be able to store them effectively. ‘Oooh,’ says I to myself. ‘A deal! How serendipitous.’ Except it wasn’t. While the initial ad lured me in with 50% in bold font, most shelves I looked at had a mere 20% discount and were still so over-priced that I wouldn’t even entertain buying them. The books will remain in teetering piles on the floor then.

It will be the same in the shops and I guarantee you that if you’re in the town today you will see promotional material displayed willy-nilly, but on closer inspection will find that many items are hardly reduced at all.

And if they ARE discounted, you need to consider whether they are still worth buying. ‘Which?’ magazine award ‘don’t buy labels’ to items which they deem duds, and a waste of money, whether they are heavily discounted but are in fact duds or not. Black Friday Deals rely on the assumption that consumers will buy on impulse, and perhaps haven’t done their research and think that one TV or fridge freezer is as good as the next.

According to Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, ‘if you weren’t going to buy it, but do it only because it’s half price, then you’ve wasted 100% of your money.’ Now that’s hardly rocket science, yet I can see how it happens when the furore and panic that surrounds Black Friday deals mounts and so people panic shop, for fear of missing out. Don’t give in to corporate greed and allow them to suck you in!

I’ve been thinking more and more about ‘conscious gifting’, taking the time to ask friends and family what they really want. I’ve collected items for umpteen school fairs and ballot prizes over the years, so I’ve see first-hand the unwanted and unopened gift packs of toiletries that people have donated. Undoubtedly, this is the sort of generic item that will be snapped up by folk trying to get ahead with their Christmas shopping on Black Friday. A colleague who moved house recently found a huge box in the roof space, which was crammed with bath products, all still in their packaging. All that money for a quick ‘thank you very much’ before it’s fired into a cupboard to add to our never-ending clutter.

If ever there was a time, then surely it’s now, to ask the people we buy for what they’d really like. Maybe it’s their favourite lip-stick (Mac in ‘Fast Play’ if you’re asking), or fancy coffee, or maybe it’s new socks. SOCKS? I hear you say, has SWB become so Grinch-like and boring that she’s advocating we all buy each other SOCKS? Hear me out on this though. Socks are useful but I’ve never said to myself, ‘I’m away out here to treat myself to a nice pair of feet warmers.’ I like to have toasty trotters so I’m always happy to receive a few pairs.  And it’s actually become so cliché to give socks as gifts that it doesn’t happen as much anymore, making recipients of socks even more grateful.

My message is this- stop buying stuff you don’t need, or if it’s a gift, something that wouldn’t want yourself. If it’s not a ‘hell yes!’ then it shouldn’t be coming home with you. Support the small businesses where you can, our growers and grafters, our potters and painters and those who have turned their passion into livelihoods. Instead of investing our hard-earned cash into something bland and generic, let’s support the real heroes of the high street, those whose sole purpose isn’t greed but a desire to see the world in a more imaginative, colourful way.


SWB on taking it slow in November

Do you know what has only just dawned on me? The first two letters in November are ‘NO’. I’m taking this to mean that we say a big NO THANK YOU to anything which doesn’t serve us this month. Sure haven’t we all enough to be doing, working and ferrying youngsters about, all the usual stuff, as well as avoiding the news lest we’re just catapulted into Nihilistic despair. Darker are the nights and dreary are the days and all too easily your mood can go to shite as the gloom descends. SO here’s what I’m saying ‘no’ to this November so that I can exhale and let my mind and body say YES. (Not in a Meg Ryan way but sure wouldn’t that just do us the power of good? Anyone want to mind my menagerie here and let himself and me away for a night? No takers? Well, one can dare to dream.)


I digress. Firstly, it’s a big NO to doing MO-vember. Life’s sufficiently trying without Himself running round looking like a 1970’s West Belfast blanket man. We’ll make a donation to this excellent cause and be done with it. There’s not many can rock a moustache IMHO, except perhaps Bear Grylls; but he doesn’t count as he’d still look attractive boasting his handlebar moustache while drinking his own pee in the Outer Mongolian outback. What LSB CAN rock however, is the sexy stubble look, and he’s taken to visiting the Turkish barbers for a shave once a week. He looks the business and I’m all chuffed because he doesn’t get the razor out and clog up the sink with a million little bristly hairs.


It’s a NO to going out in town. Lynette Faye was on the money on this when she posted about the dire state of affairs on Twitter at the weekend. I can’t be doing with this caper, so if I go out at all it’s going to be on the good old Ormeau so I can leg it up the road when I want to. The days of fruitlessly ringing for a taxi are GONE, I tell you. Frankly, the stress of trying to get home outweighs any of the enjoyment had, so unless someone volunteers to drive, I’m either staying local or staying on my sofa. End of.


It’s a NO to festive shopping and in particular, Black Friday and ‘fear-of-missing-a-bargain’ nonsense.’ I HATE all the e-mails flooding my inbox and the panic shop that they are supposed to prompt. I’ve wasted time and money on this before and I’m not doing it again. I refuse to go down the middle-class Boden and Joules route, paying excessively for a tee-shirt because it boasts an appliqued sloth. Rarely are the bargains worth the effort. The fabulous duo at Order In The House are posting great gift ideas which support local businesses and won’t clutter up my home, so I may get on to that. But not now. And not yet. Not during my NO month.


It’s a massive YES to nourishing the soul. I’m inviting rituals into my life; I’m lighting my candles and toasting my toes at the fire. I watch an episode of Malcom in the Middle with the girls before a chapter of Judy Blume (our favourite is Superfudge, but we’re presently on ‘Are You There God It’s Me Margaret’) before bed. They need the quiet time too. I’m refusing to do anything in my free time which doesn’t lighten my mood and unburden the spirit. Too much? Perhaps. But I’m enjoying myself, and to paraphrase Father Fintan Stack in Father Ted, ‘I’m having my fun and that’s all that matters.’ With the Christmas season comes inevitable traipsing, and there are invitations to which we just can’t say no. My rationale is thus to say no now and conserve energy.


For the next six weeks I’m doing a writing workshop with the poet Anne McMaster. It’s called ‘The Dancing Light’ and is every bit as magical as it sounds. For two glorious hours a week I hang out with creative souls and we let our ideas bubble to the surface. November, we have decided, should be a time of contemplation, a pause before the frenetic hither and thither of December. I have carved out this ‘me time’ and trust me when I say it’s golden. When I log on to Zoom I feel tired and lacklustre, but within a few minutes I feel a creative surge of energy, as though Anne has taken metaphorical bellows and sparked a flame within.


Nourish your souls dear people. Make the time and relish every second- I refuse to just put the time in until Christmas. Every day is precious, let’s find ways to make each one count.


*Thanks to Anne McMaster for letting me use one of her photographs from Rosehill Farm near Garvagh. I chose this photo because it illustrated what we talked about last week. Winter may strips trees back, but a stark beauty remains.








LSB can’t believe it’s not butter

There’s always the worry, isn’t there, when one is as vocal as me the topic of recycling, that one will be caught out and held to account.

The very thing happened to me yesterday, when LSB remarked that he and the girls play a fun game of a morning, while I am upstairs, otherwise engaged doing my toilette. The game they rejoices in the name of ‘Is this butter?’, so called because of the number of times they open a tub of Lurpak, only to find concealed within some forlorn sausages (mouldy), a small pile of fusilli (mouldy) or this week’s treat, elderly baked beans, and you’ve guessed it, not only mouldy, but potentially growing another life form.*

It pains me to admit it, but I’m a wishful user-upper, a wannabe zero-waster, and perhaps just an aspirational arse. I’m forever scraping out whatever’s caked to the bottom of the pot and telling myself earnestly that it will form the basis of tomorrow’s lunch, then forgetting all about it. It really isn’t good enough, especially since I was on with Frank on Thursday morning, chatting animatedly on ways to eke out** dinners such chicken tikka-masala and spaghetti bolognese in these fiscally fraught times. And do you know what he had the cheek to tell me, live on air?

‘Helen,’ he says, interrupting my spiel, ‘you’re obviously very accomplished in the kitchen, whipping up these fancy meals of an evening!’ I swiftly disabused him of this notion, telling him that my culinary skills have dwindled to nothing of late, since time, lack of imagination and fussy eaters have leached away any enthusiasm I once had. ‘I rely heavily on bought sauces,’ I told him frostily, ‘and jazz them up a bit with a few herbs and extra garlic and ginger.’ Well, some listeners took umbrage with that too, when I said I chopped up the aromatics and fired them in the freezer for easy access of an evening, (about what exactly their issue was, I am still unsure.) I started on the ‘chop, bag and freeze’ after finding too many knobs of ginger lurking at the back of the fridge like some wizened appendages, and one can’t be having that if one is apparently opposed to waste.

But do you know what pisses me off no end? So much of household recycling falls to the woman of the house; it’s we who are micro-managing the clothing, the laundering, the shopping and subsequent sorting of the by-products. It’s the fridge blindness and overall vagueness of my husband when it comes food in general that shreds my nerves.

Case in point, say I were to lovingly prepare him a bowl of strawberries and sliced pear for a late afternoon snack while he’s writing away at his code, or whatever the f**k he does at the computer. ‘Oh, lovely!’ he’ll say, horsing it into him. But it would NEVER cross his mind to source such a snack for himself. Same with the lunch items. He’ll take the most cursory glance at the front of the fridge, then leg it down to the Super Spar on Sunnyside Street to buy sausages and chips. I falls upon me to yell, ‘THERE’S CHILLI CHICKEN CHUNKS BESIDE THE YOGURTS IN THE FRIDGE,’ as I race out to work. In his defence, he says that he’s so melted ushering me out the door making sure I have my phone, keys, wallet, laptop-bag and my coffee, (hot in my little flask); THEN switching his attentions to the children and the dog, that he’s almost passed himself by lunch time.

Anyway, what I started off to say was this: sometimes I’m rubbish at the whole shebang. It’s damn near impossible to be zero-waste in this world, but one reason I do try to recycle so much is to assuage my guilt for how un-green I am in other departments. You can’t do it all, and sometimes I don’t manage any of it. Cleaning, tidying and decluttering are my absolute nemesis. But I can still persevere. Any ideas welcome!

*The Mothership was on the blower and suggests placing leftovers in jam jars so one can clearly see the contents. Bon Maman jars are particularly good for this since they are wider and also aesthetically pleasing. One day I will strive towards this level of organisation.


**Can I have a big drum roll please for LENTILS? I routinely throw half a cup of red lentils into Bolognese and curry. They thicken up the sauce nicely and with the addition of extra veg means I can reduce the amount of meat without it being too obvious. In my pre-lentil days, anytime we made curry there was often wastage in the form of a gloopy sauce with a few sad bits of onions floating about in it. Now what we are left with is of a more dahl like consistency and its super tasty.




SWB goes back to bins

Can you imagine, what with all the awful stuff happening in the world right now, the added horror of not having your bin collected? I’d be pure raging. That’s precisely the situation facing many residents in the Lisburn City and Castlereagh Council Area. I hope the tossers at the top start prioritising what’s important and rewarding the workers who help us manage our waste, before the situation becomes truly disgusting, with bins lying for weeks without being emptied. One would imagine, what with the proposal for a twelve and half percent hike in rates, that council workers on the bottom rungs might see a share of this. Yesterday I was chatting to John Daly, who was standing in for Frank on the U105 Phone-In, about how to manage our rubbish and our recycling in the home, so that we don’t consign mountains of waste to landfill.

Here are a few of the points I made:

I saw a request on Facebook for bedding donations for Almost Home Animal Shelter. I had an old duvet, a couple of pillows and some elderly towels, so I thought, now there’s the very place! The Mothership doesn’t like to think of animals being chilly, so she had a root about the hot press and gave me some items of which she was looking rid. The Small Child also contributed her old dressing gown. A delightful volunteer arrived at my door and was delighted with the rake of stuff we had. She sent me a photo of a cosy bed yesterday, made up for a little dog called Bella, complete with colourful dressing gown. This is a brilliant way to recycle bulky items which would otherwise end up being turfed into landfill. It’s a win-win for wee creatures everywhere.

Anyone fancy a spot of can crushing? You know all about my foibles when it comes to bin-hoking and can-collecting, but this week LSB took a boot load of cans up to Bryson House in Mallusk and got £20 for his trouble. This is an excellent fund-raising idea for any sports or youth clubs. All they need are fizzy drink enthusiasts, somewhere to store the cans so they don’t get all wet and dirty, and a van to transport them up to Mallusk. Check here for details.

Many’s a time I’ve mentioned this before, but I save crisp and sweet wrappers, toothpaste tubes and coffee bags for Terracycle, through Kicks Count NI. I drop off my bags at the Conservation Volunteers on the Ravenhill Road when I’m down that way (I don’t be going down one errand, no siree!) Click on the link above to find hints, tips and local hubs for collection. It may sound overwhelming at first, but by siphoning off just a few difficult to recycle items, you will see a significant drop in your black bin waste.

You may also want to consider the following:

Trot to the Co-op with soft plastic wrapping that you can’t recycle at home. Rosetta has a wee box you can fire these into, and I save up all packaging in a bread bag. (I’m talking plastic wrappers for pasta/rice and the film off punnets of fruit and vegetables.)

Drop excess plastic bags and packaging off to charity shops; they always seem grateful to receive them.

Eliminate waste at source by bringing your Keep Cup to coffee shops or sitting in while you sip.

Give the Refill Quarter shops a blast, and try the Body Shop in town which now has a facility to bring your own containers and fill them up in the shop. I’ve taken takeaway boxes the butchers in Forestside in the past and they’ve been happy to fill them with mince for me, so I haven’t needed to take plastic bags.

Switch to reusable period wear like WUKA pants, or try a moon cup if you can stomach it. Personally this was a no-go for me after I kept getting them stuck and was almost taking myself to A&E one a couple of occasions to have the f**king thing extracted.

It’s still a source of huge irritation to me, but here in Northern Ireland we don’t have the same system for recycling everywhere, and the advice given is often confusing and misleading. For a comprehensive list of what can go in to which bins, we can access the Binovation app. This is certainly applicable to Belfast, Bangor and Ards, but I’m not sure about the rest of the six counties. My friend Mary who works for Belfast City Council, tells me that if we wash out our containers at home and provide a higher quality of material, then we will see more products made from our recycling created here in Northern Ireland. This sounds like it has the potential to boost businesses here, so maybe we could get in on some of the growth that the Tories have been banging on about at the party conference all week. ‘Green Growth’- now that doesn’t sound like rubbish to me.