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 emerging from lockdown fashion

I have a coat (and that’s it in the photo).

It is not pleasing on the eye. It was never meant to be a statement coat, but at least one I could wear in public without resembling one of the grotesques that used to feature in ‘The League of Gentlemen.’ Could anyone ever sit through a whole episode of that show by the way? I had a flatmate who used to LOVE it, but it always made me feel a queasy because they were so rotten (both inside and out). Shortly after acquiring this over-garment, (£40 down from £80 in the Benetton winter sale) I lost the belt which cinched it in around the waist, lending it some form of definition. Its troubles increased when I wore it to the dump, (or ‘local recycling centre’) and clarried white paint all down the front, which despite many attempts, I have never successfully removed. These remain in grey, washed out smudges. I am a small person, and wearing this coat, which reaches my mid-calves, creates the appearance of a Womble. Given that these days I often take a litter picker when out walking, I would be much better suited to Wimbledon Common than the Upper Ormeau.

But I love this coat, and I suspect that I am going to love it a lot more in the coming few days, when I shall wear it out, not just when walking to dog, but to friends’ gardens where we will partake in libations and revel in the joy of company, sitting together, and not just passing each other in the road or in the school carpark, trying to exchange niceties when we can see and hear fuck all under the masks.

I may take Jess Carter Morley’s advice in her weekend Guardian column and wear something that smacks of frivolity underneath the coat- I still have two skirts from Christmas which have never seen the light of day, but I suspect that April isn’t really the season for a pale pink sequinned clingy number that LSB ordered from the Savida range in Dunnes. He’s a wild one for the skirts, is LSB, but tragically he has underestimated the collateral damage that lockdown has done to my arse: it could be a while yet before I wrestle my upper thighs into anything remotely structured.

What I will do though, for any frivolity in the coming weeks, is pop on a maxi wrap dress I got from Silk Fred, with a cardigan and my Ug boots, and in case it turns Baltic again (because let’s face it, it could), I will have the white woollen hat that Santa bought my child from Oxfam and that I have since pilfered. With its multi-coloured fluffy bobble, it brings me cheer- and at the moment, sure you have to take the cheer where you can get it.

Ultimately, who cares. I am just bursting with excitement at the thought of a proper chat. Earlier today I was returning from a jog when I bumped into a crowd of friends at Ormeau Parklet. Well, the giddiness of me was nothing ordinary. There was a suggestion that I’d been on the hard liquor with my Honey Cheerios, which of course I hadn’t because now that the children are back at school, I don’t have to go to those lengths to make it to 10am. Mid chat, I walked backwards into one of the seat and fell with clatter and a deluge of expletives, much to the amusement of a good-looking young couple with their baby in one of those buggies that costs the same amount as my first car. But hey, at least when we let ourselves down a bucketful these days, we have an excuse and don’t have to shrug and say: ‘I don’t get out much.’ We don’t, we haven’t, and we need a bit of a craic. My pals may have to power-hose me off their patios- such will be my reluctance to shift. I suppose though, that’s one of the benefits of a coat which doubles as a duvet. They can just dander off to bed and leave me on the garden seat, if they don’t want to resort to force. Jeepers, they’ll be saying- there’s tankers in the Suez that are easier to shift than that one. Happy holidays y’all.

SWB on finding the joy

I’ve taken to listening to documentaries on BBC Sounds while I wash up the pots and pans, and occasionally LSB makes the mistake of asking about them. On St Patrick’s Night, he was pouring his first his Guinness, lamenting that it was out of a can and not a proper pint, and I started telling him about a programme I caught on Radio Wales. ‘It was about a photographer who had had his legs blown off in Afghanistan,’ I begin.

‘Well, that sounds cheery,’ he said, licking the froth off his top lip and staring into the glass forlornly.

‘Oh no, it was brilliant,’ I say, with great animation. ‘He kept on working and went to Rwanda where he met a survivor from the genocide. All her family had been massacred.’

At this, he got up and wandered over to the fridge to see if he’d put in enough cans to get through the evening.

‘But,’  I continue, ‘it was wonderful. The photographer says he’s now more joyful than he ever, was, he can stand at a bus stop in the pissing rain and feel hopeful.  The Rwandan lady has raised a family of orphaned children, and has found a way to deal with the past.’

‘Ok,’ said LSB. ‘I’ll drink to that, and never complain about Guinness in a can again.’

It’s an extreme example, I’ve used, but sometimes I can be so consumed by the shite-ness of everything that I lose the ability to be hopeful. I made the mistake of watching the news before bed last night and came up the stairs with a desperately glum face on me.

‘I’ve told you NEVER to watch the news at night,’ said LSB, putting in his earphones to dissuade me from regaling him with all the ills of the world. ‘Think of nice things,’ he suggested, shutting his eyes and doing his meditation. (He’s in to all that mindfulness malarkey now. I suppose he would be, what with being married to me and all.) He was right though, as I thought about the things that had made me feel happy lately. The girls at school again filled with both joy and relief. I felt a frisson of excitement just entertaining the thought of meeting friends in a restaurant; having a dip in the sea at Rossnowlagh, throwing open the doors of the house for a party. I want to meet up with people who live far away, drink coffee, then drink some wine, hatch ideas and plans and dare to dream. The human capacity for resilience is something which has always astounded me. The people interviewed on the radio were profoundly challenged, but they retained the ability to find joy, and actually made it their business to seek it out.

It’s hard to find joy right now, and much easier to run around with a face on you like a well-scalped arse. But life, I reckon, has been plenty worse for other people, who have somehow managed to find the tools within to flourish. And of course, it is now Friday, and everything always feels better at the weekend, when a bottle is chilling in the fridge. Even if it has just started to snow. In March.





SWB on back to school and Tilly’s ‘gotcha day’

The children have gone BACK TO SCHOOL! Oh Happy Day. Thank absolute f**k, because I was starting to go more than a wee bit funny. Do you know what was becoming awkward? Thinking of anything new to say to my husband. In Louis De Bernières book ‘Birds Without Wings’, one of the main characters is a shepherd. Wiling away the hours on the Greek hillside with just his goats for company, he comes to know all their different baas and bleats. Each one is distinct, indicating, hunger, fear or playfulness. There is another bleat though, which has a flatness to it. It is the bleat when there is nothing to say, just a random noise emitted for the craic alone, just for sake of it.  LSB is well familiar with this sort of random noise. He’ll be going around, trying to do his work, or watch TV, or nodding off to sleep, when I suddenly say ‘HELLOOOO!’

By saying ‘HELLO’, I just want to alert him to my presence, or indicate that I might need some attention. Sometimes I may feel the need for some interaction from another adult, and not just a child asking for the fiftieth time that day, what’s for lunch.

We have this habit, still, a year into lockdown, of saying to each other ‘So, what’s the craic?’ Like, in all serious, what’s the craic? The craic is zero, zilch, deader than it was the last time you asked me, I want to say, the change to is that I’ve had a pee in the downstairs toilet rather than the upstairs one, just for hell of it.

Thank God we got the dog because she provides many a conversation starter; it’s a bit like when we first had children, when we would just stare at them, mesmerised by their tiny wee hands and soft cheeks. Now we do the same with Tilly, while she sprawls on our bed, admiring her matching white socks, her silky ears and long snoot. It’s a gentle sort of a way to pass the time. We got her a year ago today, motoring out to Ballyclare with two crabbed children giving off: they weren’t a bit keen to be bundled into the car for a random drive. All the complaining ceased when we met Tilly though: she put two paws up on LSB’s shoulders, and that was it. ‘Will we bring Tilly home?’ he said to the girls, and they readily agreed.

The next day though, I had a total and utter meltdown. We listened to Boris’ announcement and I thought ‘What have we done?’ Suddenly I imagined not being able to walk her enough and having police challenge us for leaving the house. I felt stupid and irresponsible- my anxiety spiralled out of control as it is won’t to do. I wondered could I have managed to have got us all infected by Covid even on the short trip to get her.  Clean berserk I went, remembering the last time I’d got a dog and the havoc that experience had  wreaked in the house. I rang the woman from the shelter: she must have thought I was an absolute nutter. ‘Can we return Tilly?’ I said, tears tripping me. She wondered if the dog had done something dreadful. No I explained, other than a piddle in the house and a wee bit of excitement upon seeing the cat the first time (Izzy swiftly demonstrated the she was the boss in the house) she had been perfect. ‘It’s just the lockdown,’ I said. ‘ I didn’t release it was all going to go so mad. The woman was brilliant, giving me some tips on how to manage and promising that if it all went to shit she wouldn’t see me stuck. I am so, is glad we stuck it out. Given Tilly’s backstory of abuse and neglect, it is she the one who should have needed therapy, but instead it’s us who have been comforted and supported by her.

So today was a good day. A year after the first lockdown, the children went back in to school, singing and chatting on their way down the road, with wee Tilly wagging her tail alongside.  I know it’s a crazy fecking world out there, but please God, can things please be on the turn.




SWB on how lockdown life makes you a wee bit deranged

‘Forty-eight’ LSB says to me, and I look at him blankly. ‘Six times eight is forty-eight,’ he repeats, while the dog takes her sweet time sniffing around a tree in Rosetta. ‘Oh God I say,’ did I just ask you your tables?’  Like, out loud?’ He nods, and we shuffle on our way, wondering what we have become.

The home-schooling has me undone this week, and it’s only Monday. LSB and I had got out on our own (aside from the dog) to buy a pan loaf from Tesco. It was nearest thing to a date we’ve had this long while. Forgetting it was him, and the not the Older Child who normally accompanies me on the dog’s evening constitutional, I’d started on at him about the tables. I’m unravelling quicker than a pair of £2.99 leggings from H&M these days, and trust me, they don’t last long on my children.

Since I never manage more than an hour or two of the old school work with either of my offspring, for fear I might eject one or both of them out a window, I feel an irrepressible urge to be imparting facts; if you’ve overheard a woman asking a small child: ‘What’s the capital Of Hungary?’* when you’re out and about, then it’s probably me you’ve encountered. I’m constantly badgering them with spellings or sums: it seems I have no off-button, rather like Father Dougal Maguire waking up Ted while playing Blockbusters in his sleep, ‘Give us a P please Bob.’

I’ve seriously gone a bit funny this lockdown, becoming wildly animated over the banal. Caramel squares, for example. A day without one of those bad boys seems like a grave waste of 24 hours. I’ve become more partial to a traybake than your average Presbyterian.

Then last week, while buying some extremely delicious but pricey sausage rolls at Newton Coffee in the Four Winds, I discovered that they are now allowing customers to bring their own cup. Well, recycling-enthusiast that I am, you can only imagine my excitement. ‘We can get frothy coffees!’ I told LSB, in the same exuberant tone I once used for say, getting a last minute table in La Taqueria of a Saturday night or the promise of a night away, sans enfants.

Those were the days eh? ‘Coffee is the new clubbing,’ said LSB, as I emerged from the café with two large cappuccinos and a wide smile. ‘Maybe we should go full rock’n’roll and just fill in our census forms this evening,’ he said drily. ‘No fecking way,’ said I. At the moment, a bottle of wine in front of ‘Borgen’ is just about all the excitement I can handle.

*(When I was little my dad’s favourite tea time quiz questions were capital cities. That’s what passed for entertainment in the late eighties. I knew that Ulaanbaatar was the capital of Outer Mongolia when I was nine.)


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 has her ‘Wednesday Whinge’

When the sun emerged on Sunday, I felt a rush of joy and optimism, so intense that it was tangible. After the drenching the ground got on Saturday, all seemed vibrant and fecund, the snowdrops a portent of better times ahead. I wanted to savour these intoxicating feelings of hope and renewal, after so much heaviness for so long.

Two winters ago now, LSB took me to see Liam Gallagher in Dublin. I was ambivalent about this trip: I loved Oasis, enough to endure a bus journey from the Europa Bus Station all the way to Knebworth in 1996, but just to see Liam on his own, pontificating about shite? I wasn’t sure. But now, can you imagine the luxury of being able to say, ‘I’m not sure if I can be bothered spending the night in a classy hotel on the banks of the Liffey with just my husband, dinner and cocktails and a gig thrown in, to boot. Oh, those halcyon days, when you could sleep on, undisturbed by cats wandering in and sitting on your bladder at 3:30am because they think you ought to fetch them a night time snack.

I digress. What I started to say, was that Liam Gallagher wouldn’t usually be top of the list of those doling out advice, but he was giving it stacks because the lunatics in the pit were lighting massive flares and he clearly didn’t want to be remembered as the rock and roll star whose audience burnt to death in 2019.

Well, today it’s me, not a Gallagher brother who is giving the advice, because I’m fed up with dickheads doing whatever they like, which is why, (and I’m sure I’ll have a rake of anti-vaxxers and tin-foil hat wearers on to me now) the lockdown isn’t working as it should.

I was in Sainsbury’s on Monday, and in trots a man, nice shirt and jumper and all on him, and the security chap says: ‘Would you wear a mask please?’ and he says haughtily, ‘I’d rather not,’ and ploughs on in. He had no more notion of social distancing, leaning over an old woman as she chose her carrots, and later on hovering, like a seagull outside a chip shop, at the reduced section. Now, I’ve an acerbic tongue on me, (hence the moniker SWB), and I was tempted to tell him what I made of his attitude, but I desisted as I didn’t want to face a barrage of invective.

There was another clown in M&S with no mask on her either, chatting away on her phone with great animation. She was taking her time, pawing over the ‘Dine-In’ selection, lifting up item after item and setting them back, like a one-woman infection machine.

The Mothership assures me that it’s as bad in Bangor and that it’s as well she’s ‘light on her feet’ and can skip sideways when other shoppers crowd her. So that’s the shops covered- no one doing what they’re told.

My greys are becoming increasingly visible, and a FB friend happened to remark that her hairdresser is doing ‘homers’. ‘She’s never been busier!’ she crowed. So, opinions on this please. Salons aren’t allowed to open to the public, yet some hairdressers are merrily going into several private houses a day? One can only hope that they are taking the necessary precautions, but we can’t be sure. Call me slovenly or drab or but I don’t give two shits whether my highlights are overdue: I’m 41 and I’m stressed to fuck, and if it shows in my hair, then so be it.

Even if the Executive would do a TV ad on how to effectively wear a mask, since this seems to be beyond the average person’s abilities too. Everywhere I look, people are just covering their mouths and not their noses. I totally get it, we aren’t familiar with masks so they feel uncomfortable, and thus the temptation is to fiddle. But by touching the front of the mask where the viral load has gathered, it transfers it to your fingers, which inevitably comes into contact with your face and eyes. People clearly aren’t ‘staying home’ so at least if we were more adept at wearing a mask it would be a help.

My point is this: it feels like finally we can begin to look forward to an end to lockdown. But it hasn’t happened yet. As a teacher I might be asked any day now to go back into schools and as I’m not vaccinated, I don’t feel safe to do so. The combination of some good weather, lockdown fatigue and the inconsistencies of the government’s approach have, IMHO, made us feel as though we can relax the rules. I just wonder if I’m alone in thinking that it’s too soon to get ‘carried away with ourselves’ as The Mothership would say.



SWB is back to form

I put up an Instagram post on Wednesday and people began to wonder if my account had been hacked. It was a picture of a miniature daffodil which had bloomed in my flowerbed. Oh, full of joy was I, happening upon this tentative show of spring. I proceeded to document it, embellished with happy little emojis and positive affirmations.  My mood was buoyant for I had also completed a five km run in the park without needing a defibrillator. I had bumped into a friend and oh, the delight of spontaneously meeting someone outdoors, where you can stand and chat, unlike last week- when I spied a pal in the booze section of Sainsbury’s. No sooner had we enquired after each other’s health and considered the merits of pairing a German Riesling with the M&S takeaway box to celebrate Chinese New Year, than anxious shoppers were giving us the evil eye and we had to shuffle on, in our sad, company deprived way.

So back to Ash Wednesday. Feeling uncharacteristically chirpy, I popped on the radio and embarked upon a cook-a-thon, the children outside playing happily and me, stirring away happily with three meals on the go: a bolognese,  a pot of vegetable broth and Chinese braised beef and ginger in the slow cooker. Having raided the reduced section, I had picked up a bag of carrots for 9p and a selection of mushrooms. I was thus chopping and slicing, determined to boost all our immune systems and eke out the tiny packet of organic mince I’d bought. I also decided to roast myself a tray of vegetables- aubergine, cauliflower and tomatoes, to which I added chilli oil, lemon and lots of black pepper. The rest of the family aren’t mad for this so I thought to myself, I shall do my bit, and compensate for their unwillingness to embrace a plant-based diet. Into the oven it went. Oh, very virtuous I felt.

My friend Rhaiza lived in Dubai years ago and had the most horrible time. Her partner was always working so she was was often home alone, plus it was tricky to get hold of a glass of wine and she didn’t find the people overly friendly. The person to whom she most regularly spoke was the man on the beach who offered camel rides. She was very fond of the camels, even after one of the fuckers bit her thumb and she ended up in the A&E requiring a tetanus jab and two stitches.  Rhaiza is an amazing cook, but a funny thing happened to her in Dubai, because everything she made tasted rotten. She couldn’t understand it, and concluded, eventually, that her misery seeped its way into the food; her frustration and melancholy leeching into her soups and stews. ‘I even cocked up a salad once,’ she told me at the time. ‘Like how is that even bloody possible, I ask you?’

With this reasoning in mind, the meals I prepared on Wednesday ought to have been sumptuous, given my ebullience.  Alas, it was not.  The soup was dismal and bland: I had added two packs of soup mix and hadn’t adjusted the stock accordingly, so it was basically just mushy veg swimming in liquid the colour of sewer water. I tried adding an extra spoonful of Marigold Bouillion, but it still tasted rubbish. At least it was edible though, unlike the beef stew. LSB may be taking to a veggie diet yet after almost choking on a piece of meat so tough it lodged in his gullet and I had to thump his back. Six and a half hours that beef shin simmered in the slower cooker, and it still resembled boot leather. And my vegetables. Heavens. My friend Aisling has become the most remarkable cook. Gone are the days when she adds lemongrass to Shepherd’s Pie and dished out meatballs still raw in the middle to guests.  Her roasted veg, with tiny oozing balls of mozzarella, would rival anything a Sicilian Nonna would set down to you, in a bowl of steaming linguine. They are unctuous: a thing of wonder. Although I tried to emulate her recipe, (and fuck me, but how hard can a tray of roasted veg be?) it just wasn’t nice. And it made my stomach crampy. And windy.

And that’s only the start. At considerable expense we had an old rug dry cleaned and put it back down in our front room to make it cosy and inviting. The man returned it, all fragrant and lovely. The children rolled around on it in glee- how much nicer than cold floor boards, (especially for launching themselves off the furniture onto. ) Approximately 3 hours later and the  cat, (the fat one who moved in,) thinks to himself, ‘How lovely! A new toilet!’ and takes a large shit in the middle of it. That was some job, I can tell you- sorting that mess out. After setting to with scrubber, I went to make a nice cup of tea and opened the dishwasher for a clean cup. Everything was all wet which is a sign, apparently, of the filter not working. Down came LSB  and started buggering about with it, opening up the innards and taking a look. YUCK. The filter was definitely not well of itself. On went the gloves and more cleaning ensued. All around me was shit and detritus.

And this is us, apparently off the drink for Lent by THURSDAY evening I was already bemoaning my decision and all my triggers were on red alert.

So, just to fill you in, my serenity was short-lived and gloominess has once again descended. SWB is back and sourer than ever. If you have given something up and haven’t a mission of sticking to it- no judgement here, that’s all I’m saying.

*Image shamelessly stolen from Waterford Whispers. It’s hilarious, and sadly very accurate.

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.