SWB on Lockdown Survival

Tell me please, Dry January. Is anyone still even trying? Actually don’t answer that because I hate hearing other people’s success stories. Why I contemplated this in the first place, in this current shambolic climate, is beyond me. While one doesn’t want to descend into full-blown alcoholism, now is not is a period for self-denial, and the subsequent self-flagellation when you fail.

I am the kind of person who lurches from treat to treat. I go to bed longing for the taste of my freshly brewed coffee when I wake up, and my day is then punctuated with the thought of cake for elevenses, (to be fair closer to ‘twelve-ses’ in this house). We’ve taken, over this lockdown, to eating at the table and I like the ceremony of pouring a drink  with my dinner, marking the end of the chores and obligations and settling into the evening. Let’s face it, it’s not as though I’ll be rushing to do any of my usual activities. There’s a scarcity of other pleasures  and thus my epicurean habits are one of the few things left.

Having said that though, it’s far too easy to knock back a glass of Sauvignon the size of your head at 6pm while you ‘stir the pot’ and then drain the bottle. I have thus arrived at a compromise: to cap myself, I crack open a can of ‘We are the Uncommon’* wine. I spotted these pretty cans of loveliness in M&S, and am considering asking our local framer to do something fancy with my empties.  It just seems wrong to be chucking a can boasting a giraffe wearing bow-tie and a bowler hat into the bin. Each can contains about two flutes so it’s enough to give me a bit of lift. (As Gerry Anderson said, one drink only annoys you.)

But January did make me take stock after Christmas, and reconsider my habits. In Lockdown it’s just hard isn’t it, especially when I’m home-schooling and suddenly want to take up smoking so I can flee outside for a fag to stop me blurting out obscenities (again) as the children ferret about under the table for a f**king rubber for the nineteenth time that morning. It’s imperative that I have something to which I can look forward everyday, or I’d become even more barking than I already am.

Have you discovered ‘The Letdown’ on Netflix yet? It is an Aussie show which takes an unflinching look at modern parenthood, and while being highly amusing, it isn’t afraid to tackle some meaty issues. In the penultimate episode of Series 2, one of the characters  feels like she’s becoming a bit too reliant on the old ‘Pinot Gri’ as the Aussies like to call it. Enter Scott, a reformed drug addict, who promises her to take her through the steps at record speed. (He’ll even, for a reduced fee, ‘leave out the God stuff.’)

Perhaps you’ve already heard of the concept of a ‘rat park’, but I hadn’t. It’s based on an experiment, involving rats, oddly enough. If, your park, as Scott so succinctly describes it, is ‘shithouse and dull’ you will drink to cope with the monotony. The rats who had a fun-filled cage had no interest in a pick-me-up, while the bored rats just got off their whiskery wee faces on the morphine. So, basically, we have to find our own version of a ‘ratpark.’ Even if you’re not trying to wean yourself off the booze, I just love this concept. I for one, have decided to take back my Saturday nights (for an hour or two anyway). The children have developed fondness for ‘The Masked Singer’ which is  several lightyears beyond my level of tolerance. (I know, I’m odd. I can’t be doing with ‘The Voice’ or ‘Love Island’ or ‘I’m a Celebrity’ with all their bluster and the overacting. I HATE all that bollocks, they actually make my teeth hurt.)

Thus while my children munch their dinner in front of the TV,  I take myself upstairs and chat to someone over a can of wine. Last week I caught up with my friend in Scotland: we go back 29 years and don’t chat nearly enough. The week before that I was on the phone for almost two hours, in animated discussion with a fabulous local poet with whom I’d only had the briefest of interchanges before. Over Facebook we realised we had more than a few things in common, one of which was our dislike of shows like ‘The Masked Singer.’ ‘Seven shades of shite’ was how she described it.

I’m rabbiting on. Anyway. Ratparks- totally essential. Find your own version, be it chatting or dancing or reading or stretching.  And check out The Letdown.’ I  loved it, and as you’ll gather from this, I’m hard to please.

*I feel I have to add here that I am not being paid to promote these guys. (I wish I was, obviously as their wine is LUSH.) But it’s such a great wine and adds a frisson of fun in these dull times.

SWB on Blue Monday and MLK Day

You know when you’ve left guacamole out of the fridge and it has turned brown and looks a bit like dog faeces? Well, I reckon that if someone was to insert a camera inside my ear and plunge it deep into the limbic structure (the part which controls emotions, apparently) of my brain, it would look a bit like that.

I thought I’d feel better this lockdown because I don’t have to teach from home. I am, temporarily jobless, aside from home-schooling, home management, cooking, cleaning laundry, (always the F**KING laundry) and looking after the animals. So, like, yeah, not busy at all. But last time in March, being plunged into a new situation overnight and learning how to teach via Microsoft Teams when I have all the technical ability of an amoeba, was an excruciating experience. I’m not sure I’ve sufficiently recovered and suspect that my liver most definitely hasn’t.

So why now, when free from that arse-ache, is my head still like mush and everything still feels like a massive effort? Since a vaccination for this bastard virus is at least in sight and a return to ‘normal’ no longer feels totally outlandish, surely I should be feeling more optimistic?  But despite this, I have virtually no concentration skills and the effort it took to get to even write this post was bigger than Trump’s ego.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that today is ‘Blue Monday’, a date statisticians worked out when we would feel the most depressed during the year.  If even in non-pandemic times people are typically feeling lousy, how the heck are we went to fare this January? Christmas, and the break it afforded us, (no matter how small this year) has all but receded in the rear view mirror and we’re perhaps still recovering from its excesses, be that the extra pounds on the scales and lack of in the bank account. That, coupled with the dismal weather and the fact that we can’t book ourselves a holiday, could leave us all feeling less than chipper.

Do you know what I’ve just done though? I had a word with myself. ‘Stop being such a grouch,’ I said.  Firm, I was too, because you have to look for the sparks, the joy and the inspiration SOMEWHERE: they are not just going to come flying at you out of your coffee. So, I opened the old Instagram feed and there it was: Martin Luther King Day.* Today, the third Monday in January, is a Federal holiday in the US, to celebrate his legacy. Now, there was someone who didn’t just sit on his backside bemoaning his lot and watching Judge Judy in his y-fronts of an afternoon. ‘Use your voice,’ said MLK, ‘Even when it shakes.’ Be more MLK, I said to myself.

Thus, with King’s deep resonant voice in my ears, I’m going to use my voice on this platform to suggest three things we can take comfort from this week:

  1. With the inauguration of Biden on Wednesday, we should be seeing some real, positive changes coming from the States, namely with regard to the Paris Agreement, tensions with Iran, Covid measures and a renewed focus on equality and civil rights. I’ll sleep a bit easier knowing that the leader of the free-world doesn’t want to actively hasten our planet’s demise, aggravate a wannabe nuclear-power, ignore a pandemic and incite racial violence. Having Biden in situ in the White House just makes me feel less defeatist about the state of the world.
  2. Last week I wrote a post about people being absolutely useless and leaving their dog shit everywhere. readers then got in touch to tell me lovely things they were doing, picking up litter, visiting house-bound neighbours and supporting local charities. It was so tremendously up-lifting. There are many stellar individuals out there, doing small but purposeful things to help others. Diane picked up some shit that would otherwise have wound up tramped into some one’s living room. Susan took a bag out and collected a pile of rubbish; Rose baked a little girl a cake. See? Lovely stuff, everywhere.
  3. The days are lengthening, and this has a massive impact on me because the dark evenings make me  lethargic, my creativity dwindles and I’m ratty as f**k. That extra hour of daylight has a profound impact on my psyche. Suddenly I want to try a new recipe and get out for a jog, not because I feel I should, but because I want to. Everything in winter requires more effort. I feel I should mention here that there are plenty of pictures of me on social media looking active and chirpy, because much of the time I am. I also though, spend rather a lot of time lying in bed beside my fat cat or curled on the sofa. You just don’t get a lot of ‘likes’ on Instagram for pictures with the hashtags ‘lazy’ and ‘introspective’. So, I am looking forward to a boost in my energy levels and more equanimity. (One can always hope). Life eh? I suppose it wouldn’t be nearly so sweet if we didn’t have the sour moments too.

*If you would like to give yourself a bit of time-out this week, you should consider a session with  the girls of Still I Rise Storytelling, where they will be learning all about inclusion and diversity, no doubt with a wee nod to MLK, what with the week being in it.

SWB whines about her shitty day

Do you want to hear about my morning? Shite, so it was. Firstly, trying to get the children to do any sort of meaningful work was impossible. I’ve had bikini waxes that were more fun than doing ‘number sequencing’ with the Small Child. Then the Fat Cat was mewing at me with belligerence because he doesn’t like the fishy selection we’d bought. Raging, he was because the other cat was munching away happily. The dog needed walked so she was following us about with a big face on her and so I said ‘FINE I WILL LEAVE THE MATHS AND GO TO THE F**KING SHOP.’ The Older Child said she’d come for the dander and so we Ieft the other one with her dad and the instruction to: FINISH THAT SHEET! (Spoiler alert- they’d done f**k all when we got home. Naturally).

Now is it just me, or is there an unprecedented amount of dog poo everywhere? When we turned the corner onto the street below us we practically had to hop-scotch our way round all the shit. One pile looked like something a horse might have left. Then there was the litter.: coke bottles and sweet wrappers and then I noticed that some dirty bastard had had a McDonalds and just dropped the wrapping as they’d walked along. Now, I’ve been trying to do eco-friendly things this month and I had entertained the notion of bringing my litter picker and gloves but in my haste to get the hell out of the house I hadn’t. (Plus, I can’t find the litter picker: it’s probably languishing in the shed with the rest of our detritus). So in the absence of appropriate litter lifting equipment, I used a doggy poo bag as a glove and started lifting the rubbish. I got a few bits and put them in someone’s black bin but in doing so dropped the poo bag. So now, I risked looking like one of those ones who lets their dog defecate everywhere. I searched my pockets for other poo bags, but to no avail. I sighed, deeply.

‘Hold her,’ I said to the Older Child, passing her the dog’s lead as I tried to hoke out the poo bag. I am five feet tall and wheely bins are large and cavernous. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t reach it.

‘Please get out of the bin,’ said the Child. Looking up I saw a woman’s head in the window. She looked perplexed, as well she might have, in fairness to her.

The whinging continued: ‘Just come ON!’

I acquiesced. Happily, I then  remembered my rucksack which I had brought to carry the cat food home in. I checked and there was a whole rake of bags. ‘Phew,’ I said.

But does it seem to you that there is a different sort of a malaise about at the minute, apart from the obvious one? I’m talking about a general kind of ‘dan’t give a fuck-ness’. Either a form of nihilism has descended, or people have just stopped caring, but there is more rubbish and more dog shit and more nastiness than ever before. I can’t even look on Twitter because within a minute of scrolling someone will have declared they’ve had to leave because of the toxicity of the comments directed at them.

I never, ever want to sound didactic on here but it feels as though the goodwill we showed each other at the beginning of all this has dissipated, and now it’s just every person for themselves, in a dog eat dog world. Except where I live, it’s just a dog shit world. Small things really do matter. As any parent who’s had to pick the shit out of of their child’s trainer with a tooth pick should know.

* I would like to thank Sofia Tucker-Blanco for the image of her bull dog Jason.



SWB on the Hazards of Home Learning

Lads, totally disgracing myself here, or as The Mothership would say, I am ‘letting myself down a bucketful.’ * But, my children. Dear God, my children. Here’s what mornings are like: They get their books out (or I locate the books after they’ve feen fired under a table/sofa/bed and show them what they have to do. They start and I get told to ‘Go away,’ and off they go. I try to intervene and be helpful which is met with opprobrium. They are working on my laptop so I can’t write anything myself, so I don the marigolds and start to clean. Hearing much chortling and sounds of ‘carrying on’ I go and check their progress. They are rolling about the floor, giving the dogs treats and wrecking the place. The Maths programme on the computer is bleeping away to itself, merrily. ‘DO THE WORK,’ I say, retreating to the chaos that is the kitchen.

Next there are wails of hunger. ‘We didn’t get much for breakfast,’ say the Older Child in a mournful tone. This would be because the Older Child can’t fix her arse to a seat long enough to ingest the food in front of her. Getting her to eat Muller Fruit Corner is an achievement. (And yes, I hate the f**king plastic but it’s the only yogurt they eat and I don’t want them to have a calcium deficiency.) I dole out toast. The worktop is now cluttered and covered in crumbs.

I give up on cleaning and fetch the laptop. The little b*****ds have sneaked lychees out of the fridge and the keys and screen are a revolting, sticky mess.  Cue much shouting. I fetch work books and make them toil the old-fashioned way. Once again, I am told to ‘leave them alone’.

Then, in they trot: ‘Finished!!’ I look. It’s pile of shite. I fetch the rubber and set to.

I have now taken to supervising them. They are not getting near my laptop unless I can see there are no foodstuffs upon their person.  I mean, I’m an ACTUAL teacher. I have also done home-schooling before, like everyone else. Why is it still making me want to gouge my eye ball out with a tooth pick in frustration?

They have been playing outside in the rain too, because I am a great advocate for ‘fresh air’. I am not, however, a great advocate for muddy leggings and wet sock and knockers stashed under beds. They have gone feral. ‘SHUT THE FUCKING DOOR,’ I yelled yesterday, in true fishwife style as they raced in and out in their bogging welly boots for the zillionth time. ‘You shouldn’t use the f-word to your child’ said the Small One, primly. ‘You shouldn’t leave the fucking door open,’ I replied.

I know. It’s terrible. I’m awful. I’m just so bloody tired and stressed and everything is dirty and sticky and there doesn’t seem to be any end to it. HELP ME. Send me kind thoughts. Share me the profanities that you have not only muttered but directed at your children. Make me feel less of a rubbish mum. Please.

*I wrote this post a few years ago when I still called The Small Child ‘Father Jack’ because she was such a fierce three year old and used to run around looking for her bottle shouting ‘ MILK!’ in the sort of enraged tone Father Jack demanding ‘DRINK!”

SWB on perfecting the finer art of boredom

Last week my post about becoming a Boring Bastard went down a treat, as a number of readers identified with my new found tendency. Last night, however, as we engaged in the gloomy activity of taking down the Christmas tree, I fear I may have peaked.  ‘Let’s colour code the decorations,’ I declared, suddenly finding a use for the big plastic sweet tubs we accumulated over the season of ‘Eat your way to Type 2 Diabetes’.*

I got quite ‘Sergeant Major-y’ about it. ‘Red baubles in here, silver items in the Celebrations tub over there, anything gold in the Miniature Heroes one.’

‘What about this?’ said the Small Child, holding up a green stocking shaped ornament fashioned out of Fimo clay. I was tempted to say ‘Bin’, but gestured towards the newly formed miscellaneous tub instead. The children tired of this activity in approximately six minutes. My enthusiasm too, was short-lived. Celebrations tubs actually don’t hold many baubles, and so the plan was aborted and they were all tipped into the usual box without further preamble. Despite this, the floor downstairs is still littered with lights, tinsel, and a pile of cuddly toy elves and Santas. I’ve decided just to close the door of the living room to deal with this problem for the time being.

I bumped into a friend on Thursday and when she told me about some of the chats that she’d had with her husband of late, I felt a lot less dull.   She’d recently bought up the topic of shower sealant and gone on at length about the topic.

‘Put that in an E-mail for me, would you? he said when she paused to drink her coffee. ‘I think I’d love to read it all again, and take my time over it.’

In response to my prompting, she disclosed their top three ‘Boring Bastard’ chats. In third place was conversations about the weather, with particular regard to just how ‘mild’ it was. They got from their house near Ravenhill Road almost all the way to Carryduff chatting about this, with a brief diversion when they passed Brackenvale where she commented that they do a decent beef stew, although it’s a bit heavy on the thyme. Runner up is her husband’s preoccupation with a ‘good strong bin liner.’ He has never got over the time he sustained a nasty nick from the lid from a can of baked beans through a flimsy B&M own brand bag. Top prize though, has to go to their exchanges about leave in conditioner, versus wash out conditioner for their children’s hair. (I know, I swear to f**k) this was the girl with whom I spent many a riotous evening during our PGCE.

Obviously we can’t talk. Yesterday we went to buy a new front door. That was a riot, I can tell you. LSB has been banging on about a new front door ever since a part of our letterbox ‘fell off’ and subsequently went missing. In a fit of ‘New Year, New Me’ getting things done, he managed to get an appointment with a sales rep in the Door Store over in the Abbey Centre. (Can you imagine how thrilled I was to end up in the Abbey Centre on a Sunday afternoon?) Don’t ever go to buy a front door thinking that you’re going to be in and out in under an hour.  Turns out there’s a lot to consider, when you’re looking a new front door. There’s the height of the threshold, for starters, which was clearly never something the people who installed our original door thought too much about. Many’s the guest hasn’t appreciated the depth of the ridge and has come hurling through into our hall. It’s a wonder no one has put a claim in. There’s the colour and the type of glass you want, depending on how much light you want to come in. Then you have to decide  whether to go for average 40 inch width or fork out for 70 inches which provides more insulation? (Well do you?) Do you want the colour of the frame to match the door or would you prefer just to go for white?  Apparently that can set off the colour of the door quite nicely. FML.

And, to add to the trauma of this experience we had to cart the children along because obviously they can’t be casually dropped off to the grandparents anymore lest they are harbouring a new and decidedly more contagious strain of Covid. Luckily, one of the nice salesman had brought in a bag of all the chocolate his children didn’t like from their selection boxes so they each got two Curley Wurleys and a Chomp. While LSB discussed the finer points of doors,  (Not ‘The Doors‘, just front doors. Rock and Roll eh?) I took them over to the window and made them stare out to see if they could spot any escaped animals from Belfast Zoo. Given our esteemed zoo’s inability to keep its animals enclosed, this should have been relatively easy.

Just in case you aren’t sufficiently bored yet, and fancy reading yourself into a coma, I’m putting up daily posts on Instagram about eco-friendly suggestions for the month of January. I took a notion to do this on January 1st, at approximately 9pm, so much thought and planning went into the endeavour.  However, recycling makes me happy and there’s precious little else making me smile right now so I’ll take it where I can get it.

*Only two of these were actually ours- I actually rescued the rest from school where I feared they might just have dumped. I always like to keep a tubs such as these for pen or crayon storage, sometimes even cake. Sewing items too. (Oh God. I’ll get my coat.)

SWB on Boredom and angst

I’m bored. Are you bored? I am like, SO FECKING BORED. Covid. Brexit bollocks. More Covid, except more contagious and a new strain, FFS. Restrictions. Lockdown 3 (or is it 4? I’ve lost count).  Actually I am not just bored, I am bored and agitated.

Now I’m not bored because I have nothing to do-I’ve just lost the will.  I am fed up with it all. I am fed up with the Small Child following me into the loo and the Older One melting my head about the quality of entertainment that’s on offer. I’m fed up with cats demanding food as I make the morning coffee. I’m also bored with myself. Take this tale as an example. Brace yourself.

I went a massage a few weeks ago because I felt like a ton of crap.

‘How was it?’ asked LSB as I came in, dropping my bag in the hall.

‘Splendid,’ I replied.

I could have told him how the wonderful Tina of Natural Roots Wellness eased my knotty neck and stiff shoulders. But I didn’t. I could have told him how I almost floated down the stairs of the salon, out into the street and the velvety black skies and twinkly lights of Stranmillis. But I didn’t. Instead, I chose to labour the point about overpriced vegetables.

To save my newly kneaded neck from the trials of Forestside carpark, I nipped instead into a convenience store for the few items I needed. One of these was a cucumber*. To my display though, the cucumber was a startling £1.65. This was over a pound more than in Sainsbury’s, thereby 107.25% more expensive. (See, I told you to brace yourself. I even did the maths.) I had, however, already lifted the cucumber, and in these days of Covid safety measures, I felt I ought to purchase it. This irked me greatly. I’m still not sure I’m over it, to be honest. LSB, is definitely not over being regaled with the tale.

‘That was some story,’ he said, when I drew breath.

‘It almost rivalled yours about the lights on the Ormeau Road that take an age to turn,’ I retorted.

‘The ones at the junction at St John’s?’ he replied.

‘No, I thought you said they were the ones near the park, opposite Candahar Street?’* *

‘Ah yes, those lights. I hate getting stuck at them,’ he muttered darkly. ‘The dog does too, she complains at them.’

See? Do you see what 2020 has reduced us to? A pair of boring bastards. I’ve written about this before, how we see so much of each other that we run out of things to say, and thus fill our craic vacuum with banalities of this ilk.

It’s the last day of 2020, and while I’m not expecting the New Year to bring about anything drastic, I’m daring to hope for better things.

In 2021, I’ll write more, I’ll whinge less, and for LSB’s sanity I’ll not get so wound up over cucumbers.

*According to Michael Ball on Radio 2 on Sunday, cucumbers are actually a fruit, not a vegetable. Did anyone else know that?

**If you are very bored you can read how there used to be a dairy farm here and a load of cows during WW2.

SWB on the perils of wearing a mask

I know it’s Christmas Eve and there’s lorry drivers stranded in Kent and NHS staff whose arses haven’t sit a seat since March. Not to mention Santa: I mean, we’ve just checked the ‘NORAD Santa Tracker’ and he’s currently just done a mega drop off in Pretoria, so he has miles to go before he sleeps. But do you know who I feel sorry for? Poor auld Nicola Sturgeon. I mean, two minutes she took her mask off. While leaving a wake, for f**k’s sake. Stressful things, wakes can be. Emotional even; you may just need to take a big deep breath to yourself. And of course, the bastard oul’ Scottish Sun were there, ready to catch her in a moment of weakness. Letting her guard down, literally.

But I bet she is just sick to death of flipping masks. It’s not easy trying communicate when wearing a mask. It can be hard to breathe and we aren’t familiar with them yet.  I know she’s the Scottish First Minister and she has to lead by example, blah blah blah, but she is human after all. We’ve all had our issues trying to adapt to this new and exceptionally annoying normal. Having to wear a mask all the time, is frankly, a right pain in the hole. Even if you are wearing the nicest masks in the world, (ie a Lagan Dragons’s Marvellous Mask), they cause all manner of problems.

My husband and off-spring often suffer from ‘refrigerator blindness.’ Perhaps you are familiar with the condition? You watch on while they stand, bewildered, searching in vain for the cheese, and after a fruitless search, call for assistance, only for you to reach in and grab the item which is located directly in their line of vision.

But now it seems that we, and a few others in our close circle, have a new affliction, known as ‘mask deafness.’ Not a fecking word can I make out if people don’t properly enunciate under a mask. And LSB is worse. I have now grown quite accustomed to shopping in M&S, and the wee fella who stands at the door asking ‘Food or Clothes?’ But yesterday I was racing in to exchange some festive leggings that I bought the children and they refused to wear, and Himself was posting the Christmas cards and so came in a few minutes after me.

‘What the hell was your man on the door going on about, asking about Fonacab?’ he asked.

Cue puzzled expression from me. ‘Fonacab?’

‘ Yeah, he said did I want a fonacab, and I said I was just coming in to pick up a couple of steaks for the dinner. He looked at me a bit funny.’

‘I’m sure he did,’ I replied. ‘He was asking if you were shopping in food or clothes. All you had to say was ‘both’.’

‘Ah,’ said LSB. ‘That makes me more sense.’

Still, the wee fella shouldn’t have muttered. You get nowhere these days with the muttering. As you know, I’ve been teaching this term- I’m sure I’ve mentioned what a truly joyful and altogether edifying experience that has been. The wee year eights though, gosh but they love to share a story and ask  ALL THE QUESTIONS. But their voices simply do not carry under a mask. Not a bit of it. ‘SPEAK UP’ I keep asking, but all in vain. I haven’t a clue what the vast majority of them are on about. I did a lot of nodding and smiling and probably looked like a total muppet. Speaking of which, my poor friend made a right dick of herself in a coffee shop in Ballyhackamore last week. (Like, of all the places to go making a dick of yourself: you know how pretentious they can be there.) Recently there haven’t been many opportunities for frivolity, so she had been enjoying some light-hearted banter with a baristas about the ‘Spanish’ tarts she has a likening for.  Recently the tarts had just been selling out fast and on a few occasions she had to make do with a brownie. She was telling us this over Zoom on Sunday night. ‘Don’t you mean a Portuguese tart? I chirped up. Custard in a puff pastry case?’ ‘Pastel de natas,’ said another equally pedantic friend. ‘Remember I made them for Harper’s Yard?’

‘If I might just continue,’ said my friend. She’d been sitting on with her sons, having a coffee and pancakes and such likes, (all very middle class) and stepped over to look at the counter, and saw, to her delight, a whole clatter of tarts. Her favourite barista came walking over to her, saying something and my friend assumed it was tart related and made a witty comment about being partial to a pastry. He mumbled again, to which she responded, about being an enthusiastic muncher of all cake related products. At this point he raised his voice and told her to wear her mask while ‘moving about inside the premises’. She had taken precisely two steps to the counter. Well, that was the end of the fun exchange. Up she got, sharpish, gathered her wee fellas and scooted out, mortified. Very upset she was, unable to pinpoint exactly what had her so distraught. ‘Like seriously,’ she said. ‘What’s wrong with me that I can’t even have a coffee and a bun without looking like a total twat?’

We were quick to reassure her that there was nothing wrong with her at all and that this is just a very trying period. Nothing is normal, or simple, or as it should be. So I guess we should all be just a bit kinder to ourselves (and remember to speak up when wearing a mask).

Anyway, what with it being Christmas and all, hopefully none of us will have to venture too far and be doing much that requires a mask over the next couple of days. Can I just wish you all the happiest holidays that you can manage over the circumstances, and urge you to keep safe and well. I’ll no doubt be on again between now and the New Year to fill you in with what’s annoying me.

SWB on a Little Local Masterpiece

Do you know what I flipping LOVE about South Belfast? It’s having fabulous makers and doers and activists ON YOUR DOORSTEP. And it’s such a close community that you actually get to meet these people and converse and find out about what inspires them and how they turn their ideas into action.

One such person is local photographer Aaron Dickson. I met Arron through his wife, fellow park runner and blogger, Kerry. She told me about Aaron’s lockdown project and I was all over it. It’s about ordinary people in extraordinary times, chronically this little corner of the city and how lockdown has become not just a period of angst and frustration, but studied reflection. For many it has given us the chance to reconfigure our lives, reassess our values and make positive change.

Arron walked the neighbourhood, photographing residents and jotting down their musings. Caterina, a European volunteer for NOW group, has learnt to appreciate the little things and to re-evaluate priorities. Through using Zoom, Paula and Lorraine say they haven’t spoken to their family abroad so much in years. Frankie misses audiences but playing music has helped him through. His wife Ophelia misses her parents the most.  (I’m with you there Ophelia: I miss the Mothership and my dad coming up and sorting out my house, and life in general). Like Katie and Marty, ping pong got us through long afternoons in the spring time, and like Michelle, I love how our street became like a village for those months.

Best of all, was sitting with my eldest daughter last night, leafing through the pages together and chatting. She liked the picture of Whiskey the spider-catching cat and cooed over baby Muireann, born in the spring.  ‘Isn’t that the same name as the baby in that show that you and daddy watch?’ she asked. (I really wish the child would stay in bed and not blunder in when we are trying to catch an episode of Catastrophe in peace.) We talked about what we liked doing over Lockdown and about how much we missed simple dinners with the grandparents and our holiday in Spain. We looked at the different types of families and the love that emanated through all the photos. What for me was most evident was a fierce sense of pride for our city, for our neighbour hood and what we have come through.

I needed this book last night. Since going back to work in September I have felt like I’ve been plunged underwater- the stress has been immense- with little appreciation of the life changing period we have all endured. This felt like a connection with the hopes and feelings that I tried to nurture over lockdown and made me want to realign myself with them again. It’s a beautiful book, documenting what has obviously been a difficult time, but one from which we can all take something important. Thank you Aaron.

SWB tries to have a normal weekend. 2020 has other plans.

Everyone I’m just, like, speechless. I mean, WHAT THE F**K? All we’ve been hearing is BS about saving Christmas and while we CERTAINLY were n’t rushing to see my parents who are in their seventies, we were hoping for a wee bit of frivolity. And now everything’s going to be closed from Boxing Day? All I can say is that it’s as well LSB and I get on because otherwise wouldn’t these holidays be a total shit show? On Saturday I spent two hours in Riah having my highlights done. And for what? To match my pyjamas while I arse about the house? Well, I suppose hermits need to look alright too.

But if I’m honest, I have found my introverted side during all of this. I’ve become partial to my sofa of an evening and in some ways it’s a relief not to feel I have to attend countless nights out and endure the inevitable hangover after. But do you know what I miss most? It’s the little soirees. One random Friday last year my neighbour Alison (who spends a disproportionate amount of time minding my children) had 3 of us round. She served us melon with blackberry coulis she’d made herself from brambles at the bottom of the street. This was followed with bowls piled high with unctuous carbonara. According to Felicity Cloake in the Guardian, Italians rely solely on eggs for this dish, but I challenge them not to try my friend’s version: they’ll soon be reaching for the double cream and slinging it in with abandon. We drank bubbly and red wine and chowed down Lindt chocolate balls for dessert. I’m not sure I remember getting home. I remember thinking though, that even I couldn’t make the night itself, it was lovely to know that it was there, hovering at the end of week, and that I had been invited in the first place. Sometimes it’s just knowing there is a break from the quotidian in the near future. I wonder if I’ll ever take it for granted again?

Now our meet-ups are weather dependent and fraught with anxiety. But ultimately- I’m ok. I have LSB and the wee ones (even if they are total melters). But what if I was stuck in dismal old student digs in London, unable to get home because of new travel restrictions? I mean, how absolutely shite. Imagine if you had been at university for the first time and spent most of it cooped up, being all sensible so you had the chance to come home and see your folks for the festive season. And then, boom, you’re stranded. I’d have been raging.

I was one of those ones on the train home to Bangor after my 10am politics lecture in the QFT on a Friday. Halls, for me, were miserable. Minus craic. I know I was a bit odd, but in my own halls at Queen’s Elms no one had the slightest interest in hanging out with me so I headed over to another shite tower block where they were nicer and embraced me, even with all my Bangorian eccentricities. Things got better then, but I still wanted out of there by the weekend.

I just really feel for all those wee ones. It’s a scary time. I try not to think too much the state the world is in- ruminating too much upon it could do for you. Young people maybe don’t have that foresight. They don’t have small children being annoying and dogs to walk and cats requiring entertainment. (My cats actually do seem to need entertaining. LSB is investigating cats’ television to see if it will make them f**k off and leave him alone when he’s trying to work.)

I’d just be interested in knowing what universities have planned to bolster morale. Surely they ought to have some strategy, having  suggested that students go over in the first place and pay for accommodation and then do most of their classes via Zoom and have no fun to themselves. I realise that this situation is new for everyone: governments haven’t had to deal with a pandemic with a new virus in living memory and the Tories have been too preoccupied in ensuring a no-deal Brexit actually occurs (as if today’s dry run of the Dover-Calais closure wouldn’t focus minds). But there has been such arrogance, such mis-management and pure stupidity. If the people who have been entrusted to run the county couldn’t have handled this whole fiasco better, then it’s a sorry old state of affairs.

Rant over. I’m away to the sofa to get my nightly fix of Gilmore Girls, kids on one side and the dog on the other.  Wee dose of wholesome (ish) all- American small town shenanigans is just what I need right now.



SWB hits the wall

Back in the winter of 2011, I went to see a production of ‘King Lear’ in the Grand Opera House. In the scene where Cornwall gouges out poor auld Gloucester’s eyes, the ingenious prop department used a lychee as an eyeball, which the actor threw, with considerable force, at the back wall of the set. From where I was sitting, I heard the very audible SPLAT! and imagined I could see it slither down the wall. Well, readers, today, as we look down the tunnel of the last full week before Christmas, can I tell you, that I am that lychee. I have hit the wall, and I have slithered, and now I am the pulpy juicy mess at the bottom. All I ask, is that people, pupils, my children and indeed the general public at large, take note of my centreless state, and leave well alone.

I think I speak for us all when I say that it’s been an emotionally turbulent time. Trying to teach in these circumstances is a trial. I feel for the kids: they need some joy. At primary school there is plenty of it- my wee ones are having tremendous fun, coming home full of chatter about watching pantomimes streamed into their classrooms, winning ‘Dojo’ points and donning festive attire. Few things bring more delight to my children than an M&S hairband festooned with Christmas antlers.

At secondary level it is more difficult since they need a record of marks lest they have to predict grades again. No one knows what lurks ahead in 2021 and whether, for sure, exams will proceed as planned. What is certain, tangible even, is the stress that teachers and pupils are under. In these unprecedented conditions everyone is beavering away, fuelled on caffeine and chocolate and, at this stage, only the scrapings of goodwill.  The highlight of my working week came on Friday when a lovely wee girl told me about her two pet goats. I kid you not (get it? Ha!) It is those moments of connection, when a child comes up and shares a story that makes your life choices seem less skewed.

So, heading into this last week that’s what I’m holding on to. I’m going to try and stop thinking about assessments and feverishly documenting data. I want stories, I want light, and a sense of release. On odd occasions, when I’ve been utterly exhausted, some little sparks have ignited, all the more special for having been so unexpected.

With that in mind, here are a few things this week which have made me feel grateful. In Wednesday I took part in a Tenx9 over Zoom and I feel so lucky to be part of such a vibrant, global community. There I was, sat on my worn sofa in Belfast with a needy greyhound beside me, listing to a lady in Baltimore tell a story about her son taking a pee into a ‘Nun’s cap’ because he had a urine infection. It was both entertaining and informative. On Friday we took a jaunt down to Shed on the Ormeau for their long-awaited re-opening.  I almost shed a little tear myself as the owner Christina showed us to a roomy booth at the window. The wee ones were in tremendous humour and chortled away to themselves while we listened to laughter and the chink of glasses. I have missed that feeling normality so much, but  when it occurs it is all the more valuable. It’s finding joy in all the small things, which are most definitely there, but in the busyness of life have seemed out of reach. They are now in sight and I’m holding on tightly to that.