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.

 

 

 

SWB on Black Friday and alternative gifting

Black Friday has arrived, or so my spam filters are telling me. Except, what with me being of an environmental bent, it’s not River Island and Top Shop sending me bumpf about their top deals, it’s sustainable fashion co-operatives and ‘Koh’ cleaning products.

I got sucked into the whole Koh cleaning hype when I saw it described on  FB ads as a ‘system’. I was lacking any class of a system at the time, and thought that perhaps if I paid for one, it would change my whole approach to housework, rendering my home a more congenial space to live, instead of the stinking hell-hole it resembled. I was disabused smartish of that notion when the delivery lad rocked up. ‘It’s my eco-friendly cleaning products!’ I squeaked, as he came strolling up the drive clutching the box. LSB was bemused: he rarely sees me exhibit enthusiasm for anything in these peculiar times, let alone CLEANING items.  My excitement was short-lived. It wasn’t a system: it was a box of solution, a spray bottle and 3 cloths of varying shades. Oh, and a grout scrubber, for which I’d paid an extra £8.99, because it popped up on the screen when I reached the on-line check-out and in a fit of spontaneity, I had flung it into my virtual basket. I mean, what the absolute f**k?

(Of course, I really should have known I was on a hiding to nothing with an advertisement on Facebook, especially since it (allegedly) sold us a pup on Brexit and Trump.)

That said, what has this whole lockdown experience reduced me to, that the frisson of excitement that I once felt when I picked up a pair of half-price Camper boots, has now  shifted to purchasing all-purpose surface cleansers?

Well, apparently it has, because instead of browsing through the Oliver Bonas website for deals as December approaches, I’m banging on about some more local gift ideas to consider this Christmas.

Two brilliant local companies I am keen to champion are ‘Do Your Bit’ and ‘Earth Made’. They take such care to source eco-friendly products and document them beautifully on Instagram. Our home is far from being a plastic free zone but thanks to these good people we have upped our game a bit. Both of these guys have such passion and energy for what they do and I’m rather taken with their Beauty Kubes shampoo.

If you can’t see yourself presenting your loved ones with aluminium free deodorant come Christmas morning, the Saintfield based ‘The Edible Flower’ might be more up your strasse. This enterprising duo are selling hampers which they have lovingly filled with a selection of their divine creations such as chutneys and florentines and festive spiced Barm Brack. These sounds to me like the perfect way to spoil the foodie in your life who can’t be fobbed off with bottle of Taste the Difference Olive Oil from Sainsbury’s and a packet of 12 months matured Parma ham.

An artist who gets plenty of airtime on this blog is Stephanie Prince, indeed it was she who painted my logo for the blog. Steph has her own Etsy site now which you can peruse, and see all her whimsical creations. Better still, you could commission her to illustrate one of your favourite people and present that to them for a quirky gift. Thoughtful: tick, Personal: tick, ‘Doesn’t break the bank but suggests that you may have’: mega tick.

Now, as you all know, I love my coffee. (Coffee and alcohol, was there any other means to get through 2020?) During the first Lockdown we became somewhat reliant upon the glorious little pouches from local roasters Boden Park Coffee, which combined a smooth aromatic start to the morning with cheery service from Mr McKeating himself, who seemed to appear chirpily   at my doorstep approximately 30 seconds I placed my order.

And obviously, coffee is enormously improved with a slab of cake, and those Harper’s Yard girls just can’t be kept down and have only gone produced a cookbook featuring recipes from some of their most popular bakes, including one from The Mothership, no less. These days, when you’re not sure whether it’s a nuke from the Iranians or the fecking virus that’ll get you first, I find that having a second large slice of Guinness cake worries me a great deal less.

While on the topic of the boil-on-the-bottom that has been 2020, this is probably the only year when you see me recommend gifting someone a face mask as a stocking filler. But plug these I will, because the masks in question are fecking awesome and if we can’t pick up some milk in Tesco without wearing a  face-covering, let’s at least embrace style. My gorgeous friend Ruth and her pal Lesley have been making masks to support the Lagan Dragons.  The fabrics are so beautiful that when their shit show is finally over I want to ask Ruth to knock me up a skirts or two with without ever remnants she has left.  Masks are available at Coffee Box at Stranmillis Boat Club or DM me and I’ll organise to get you sorted with one.

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If the idea of any consumerism at all is a bit much for you this year, maybe you would consider Twinning Your Toilet (or someone else’s). This is another ideal gift for those ‘awkward to buy for’ types. You could write some twee verse on their gift tag: ‘Think of me while you’re having a pee,’ or ‘Something to view while you’re taking a poo.’ There’s a novelty factor to this charity gift that I’m quite charmed by, and as one who has sought out toilets in far out lands and remains somewhat scarred by the experience, I’m always happy to invest money in improving conditions for bowel-evacuation.

I think, on that scatological note, it’s perhaps best that I sign off here, but hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on which to ruminate, which don’t involve making Bezos a few more billions this festive season.

 

SWB keeps it Local

As you know everyone, I’m not a mad fan of all the buying frenzy which comes with Christmas. All the plastic. All the panic. All the bastard packaging. It makes me go a bit funny. But here’s the rub. My girls are 7 and 9. They still believe in Santa Claus. We are enjoying, what some folk refer to as ‘The Golden Years’, that magical time when, aged between six and twelve, your children have ceased being raucous and mental and are generally rather sweet.  No doubt, in the time to takes Boris to do a U-turn on his Lockdown strategy, they will be teenagers, mortified by everything I do and being all stroppy and nonchalant.

Like seriously, can you imagine what mine are going to like when they realise how nuts I really am? They will be bringing their pals around and I’ll be all: ‘Give me that crisp packet! I can recycle these!’ or: ‘Is that a PLASTIC BOTTLE peeking out of your rucksack? Biggest scam of the century that is, future generations will think we’d lost OUR MINDS buying water when there was bugger all wrong with what was piped into our homes.’

So, what I’m trying to say is that yes, since they are still wee and lovely, they will be getting a few items from the Smyth’s Catalogue because in a couple of years they won’t be wanting `Snax the Sloth,’ or ‘Astrid the purple unicorn ‘Squishmallow’;  they’ll be after studs for their tongues and a £600 phone.  (Incidentally, I’ll be saying an emphatic ‘No’ to both of those.)

This time next week it will be Black Friday, (f**king awful name isn’t it? Sounds far too dismal and funereal to have connotations with Christmas.) Before I got distracted by my rant, what I wanted to do was offer an alternative  wish list, and direct you to some flipping brilliant local creatives. These gift ideas, IMHO, could perk up even those of you who thought your smile may have been permanently erased after this year of absolute pish.

  1. If you like your jewellery classy but understated, then Diane Sutherland is your woman. I admit it, I’m a magpie and flipping LOVE my bling, but there is something undeniably alluring about her spare silver pieces: I’m a big fan of her nugget earrings (which are particularly lovely if you have a couple of piercings) and her bangles. She takes commissions and will discuss a piece with you if it’s something really special that you’re after. She is also a dote, and I want to befriend her just so I listen as she rolls her soft Scottish vowels. Her soothing lilt would comfort me no end on days when I feel like I’ve lost the effing will.

2. Tropic products.  I know I go on a bit about Tropic but it’s so damn good. If there is one thing that this year has taught me, it is to find pleasure in the tiny things, wherever you may find them. It may be the lingering notes of bergamot and lime oil on the inside of your wrist from your hand cream, or smoothing on leg shimmer on a mizzly night in November, but we have to find our kicks somewhere. Two lovely local suppliers are Pauline Cooke and Patricia Tennyson. I think it’s the essential oils which bring the products to a new level, but it really does feel like a pampering session when you crack them open.

3. Now you’ve probably guessed if you have looked on my Instagram, but I fecking love my art work. LSB has come to dread his rare days off,  because  he knows full well I’ll be asking him to get his drill out and affix a freshly framed print to a wall. Dylan at The Hallows Gallery is a star at breathing life into pieces which look old or tired. Last month he re-framed two little originals that we’d bought in Prague in 2009. I had dithered over whether to keep them or not because they looked pretty rubbish in their cheap IKEA frames, but he transformed them, and now they hang proudly in our bedroom, bringing me joy, as I recall lazy days sipping hot wine as we strolled the cobbled streets in the Old Town Square.

Recently I have drooled over work by local artists such as Catherine Heaney, Aly Harte, and Emma Fitzpatrick. as I think you can just sense the joy and love that they pour into every piece, and who doesn’t need some positive energy in their home right now? Let’s face it, we’re spending enough time cooped up indoors…

I’ll be back on next week with some more gift ideas which offer a shopping experience which won’t make you want to gouge out your eyes out with a Stanley knife. (Sorry, for the graphic imagery, but I just nipped down to Forestside there to pick up dinner and it was CHAOS. It’s only a Friday, in November. I don’t want to contemplate those queues on Christmas Eve, that’s all I’m saying.)

SWB on the week that was…

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh God,’ he said.

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

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

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

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