SWB on a New Look Blog

Hi SourWee Readers, you may have noticed that we have given the blog a makeover. I say ‘we ‘, but as I’m completely inept at all thing technical, it was of course LSB who got busy: he is truly living up to the acronym these days, the poor fella. Let me know what you think of it-  I wanted to make it brighter and cleaner. Not the language, obviously: it remains the same, these are tough times, and sure, what’s an expletive or two between friends?

I’m going to start sharing more of my writing on the blog, in addition to my usual rants about whatever is annoying me. Today I’m including a piece which the good people at The Porch, an online American magazine,  published  last week. It’s all about grief and our different coping mechanisms, so it may be useful to some. If you fancy a read of it follow the link here.

As you know, I much prefer behind behind the screen, as opposed to in front of it, but I’ve put on my big-girl-pants and started to make videos on IGTV. It’s all my usual fare: eco tips, book reviews and yesterday’s offering is on fashion. Honestly, there’s something  I never expected- ‘SWB on what to wear’.  Still, I don’t think Jess Carter-Morley need worry, about her day job yet.

I won’t be doing any more videos today as I’m still glad in tracksuit bottoms, with the hair scraped back and no make-up. Clip of me that I am, I have inevitably met twenty people that I know so far today; one of whom I haven’t seen in an eternity. ‘Bless her,’ he was probably thinking, ‘she hasn’t aged well.’ It’s like the vaccination centre all over again where I thought: ‘God, everyone looks a quare bit older than me here,’ but they were likely eying my wrinkly visage and thinking the same. To be honest, I kinda wished I’d partied a bit harder in my twenties- If I’d known what lay ahead of us I may as well have pulled a few more all-nighters, Anyway, thank God for dim lighting and phone filters. I’m off now to rake the garden a bit- isn’t that what all of us in the forty plus bracket are doing nowadays?



SWB on insomnia

I am dropping balls all over the place. I cannot, at this precise moment, even SEE the ball. The ball has been booted so far off the pitch it has landed in some dense, thicketty undergrowth, where it may lie, undetected, for a while.

When my children are being little ingrates, I tell myself to cut them some slack. ‘They’ve had a hard time,’ I say, when my gut feeling is to rage and shout and throw their Nintendo Switch into the black bin. But what, I think, about cutting ourselves some slack? No one has lived through a pandemic in generations. All of this is stressful, confusing, frightening. Even when I think I’m doing ok, I am swiftly reminded that perhaps I am not, because I forget everything. I can’t keep dates in my head: even the magnetic chart on the fridge isn’t helping, as I blunder along.

Last night we went to bed early. ‘Isn’t this marvellous,’ I said to LSB, as I carefully arranged myself, so as not to poke the greyhound in the eye with my toe. ‘In bed, at 10-25 on a Monday, with the dishes done and the counter cleared.’ (I’m telling you, doesn’t pillow talk just ROCK in our house?) ‘Brilliant,’ said he, and immediately fell asleep. THE BASTARD. How do men do that?

Well, I totally jinxed myself, didn’t I? I read a bit. I turned off the light. I took deep, meditative breaths. Nothing. I might add that I was very, very tired, but regardless, no sleep was forthcoming. I blamed the tee-shirt I was wearing so I tip-toed to the bathroom and put on a different nightdress and drank some water. Still sleep evaded me.

On the mind whirled. I sat up with a jolt and remembered that the girls were supposed to be at ballet today. Or were they? I couldn’t ask LSB because he was asleep. I tossed around a bit and made exaggerated sighs to see if I could wake him up. It didn’t work. I cursed myself for being useless: this was the third thing I’d forgotten this week. My thoughts turned to asparagus. I hadn’t bought any fresh vegetables. The one remaining pepper I had left left was fried up between the four of us. That, in my book, is not a sufficient amount, because we need all the antioxidants we can get right now.

I fell asleep and woke at four, the blueish hue of dawn filtering through the blinds and the birds revving up into a full-throttle appreciation of the day. Along came the magpies, little f**kers that they are, stomping and strutting on the roof above my head. The fat cat mewed dejectedly outside. I considered just getting up and making spaghetti Bolognese, but then remembered that I had no carrots to add to the pot. God, I’m shite at this mothering business, I thought.

I finally drifted off after five and slept til seven, but you know what? I’d have been better getting up and making the blasted Bolognese because of the wretched, anxiety ridden dreams I had. I kid you not, a Walker’s Crinkle Cut Crisp boasted fewer lines than my face this morning, before I set about filling in the cracks.

As it turned out, the girls had no ballet as it doesn’t start until May, so I got that wrong. But the problems fizzing around in my head at 2am faded into insignificance upon waking. Obviously I’m not really bothered about the ballet or the vegetables or my abilities as a mum. I’m just stressed to fuck because of the year that’s been in it. It’s made me a bit madder than normal and lacking in all perspective. But we should go easier on ourselves: this is still rocky terrain as we dare to dream of normality. Be kind to your wee discombobulated selves and I’ll try to do the same.


SWB reacts to lockdown lifting

The Older Child’s violin teacher must think highly of manners, because I keep forgetting when she’s doing her lessons by Facetime, so when he rings my mobile I invariably lift it and shriek: ‘OH FUCK!’ when she’s no where in the vicinity.  I misread his text last week and thought he was able to do his lessons in person down at the school. There was the child waiting with her wee violin case in hand, while he was ringing me from his home in Donaghadee. Civil fellow that he is, he scheduled another one for the following evening at half-six. Inevitably, I forgot. She was frolicking in a friend’s garden when he called. ‘OH FUCK!’ I said, setting off down the road at speed, clutching my phone. There he was on Facetime, seeing the hedges and footpaths of my street as I hurtled along. ‘I’ll just ring back in five,’ said he. ‘Much better idea,’ I panted. I’m really not wise: this whole year has my head more mashed than the spuds for your Sunday roast.

All over Northern Ireland parents have been heaving deep sighs of relief as their progeny return to their leisure activities. My friend was down at Cherryvale Park on Friday night and with everyone back on the pitches in the sunshine, she said it was almost carnivalesque. Most people are thrilled with this dose of normality – all, of course, except me. (‘Not like you to be a contrarian, SWB,’ I hear you say.) This last while I have formed a close attachment to my sofa. We were always on good terms, but now, our relationship has deepened into Siamese twin like territory. Asking me to postphone my opportunity to rest with a book or watch Firefly Lane, especially OF AN EVENING, and I take that as a truly awful imposition.

There were, apart from the pestilence and disruption, elements of last year which appealed to me very much. As a parent, it turns out I am inherently lazy, and what threatens to push me beyond the levels of my endurance, is having to be at a particular place at a specific time. Take today (Sunday) for example. The Small Child has football training at 12pm while her sister’s training starts at one.  So far so good, except she has a piano lesson at 12-30. Through some manoeuvring on the part of her kindly teacher, I have managed to put this back to 12-20. In the middle of this, I have a tennis lesson at one. Nothing, will ever come between me and my tennis lesson, because I spent my entire childhood thinking I was shite at all sports, and now that I can actually hit a ball over the net,  I’m not giving up.  (My instructor practically puts the ball in my lap, to be fair, but trust me, this is still progress.) If all this to-ing and fro-ing doesn’t sound like a day’s work, then I don’t know what does.

LSB sensed my trepidation about lockdown lifting, so he bought a magnetic fridge organiser. Even with our chart, which LSB has neatly divided into sections, (complete with a marker with a magnetic strip for handy fridge adhesion), I still feel stressed. ‘Let’s talk it through again,’ I said to him last night, as I tried to get the pick ups and drop offs sorted in my head. ‘Hostage handovers have been negotiated with less fanfare,’ he sighed.

Well, it was worth making the list and checking it twice because it is now 4-30 pm  and everyone has been deposited where they need to be and I even did a shop and got the bottles recycled. My back hand is improving and there’s a chicken waiting to go in the oven. Man, I am ON FIRE.  And guess what, I’m celebrating by sitting back down on the trusty sofa, tea in hand. That is what I call a result.



The Mothership is peeved

Picture the scene. It is nine-forty of an evening, and the children are in bed and been told firmly and unequivocally, that unless they have suffered a severed artery, they are not to DARE come down the stairs again. The dishwasher has been stacked, the counters are cleared and you are ensconced on the sofa. You are on Episode 8 of ‘Firefly Lane’ and are ogling Katherine Heigl’s complexion but thinking that the facial fillers are a smidge excessive. Your feet are under a blanket and in your hand is a glass of Pinot Noir. You exhale. And then the phone goes. It is the landline, so you have to emerge from your blankety cocoon to fetch it. It can only be The Mothership. The tone, at the other end, is crisp.  

‘I haven’t been looking at the blog for a while, so I have not been keeping a close eye, and that, clearly, is a mistake.’ 

It’s an ‘oh fuck, what now moment.’

 I sigh. ‘Was it the vagina comment?’ 


‘The one about being constantly surrounded by children and husbands: your inner circle, day in day out. It wasn’t my quote anyway; I stole it off the internet.’

I hear the frantic tapping at a keyboard at the other end and then much tutting. 

‘Why on earth would you repeat a thing like that? Why do you have to be so vulgar? It’s as if you are on a mission to shock! You wouldn’t have caught me, or your Auntie Bobbie, or any of my friends for that matter, coming off with the like.  But no, I haven’t read it, thankfully, and I’m actually talking about the kidney comment.’ 

‘Oh, when I said about the vaccine being for the ‘greater good?’ 

‘Exactly. I don’t think you can equate the two. I met a man on a cruise once, and he had donated his kidney to his son, or maybe it was his nephew. A much younger person anyway, and he said it was a gruelling experience, quite traumatic, altogether a worse ordeal than he had anticipated. That’s why he’d taken up the cruising; he said he wasn’t going to be denying himself anything anymore, after that.’  

‘Right,’ I say. ‘Well, the whole tone of the post was hyperbolic, like I didn’t really expect there to be coffee’. (I had kind of hoped there would be a wee van nearby though, you know one of those trendy little expresso ones that are springing up everywhere, there was one in the Stormont carpark the other day when we went with the dog.) 

‘Yes, I do realise that Helen- I am not a simpleton, but I think these days, when we are talking about matters of such gravitas, that we should exercise caution. People are very sensitive right now. You should know better. You’re very sensitive, prickly even. Don’t we all know it?” 

It’s true. I am very sensitive. LSB was wondering to himself if it was side-effect, being a grumpy bastard after the vaccine, until he recalled, with sadness, that I’m just always like that.  

But tell me this, who isn’t a bit on the raw side at the moment? You need to have some moments of levity: if you didn’t have a dark sense of humour these days, to get through life with its Kafkaesque undertones, it would all be very bleak indeed.  However, that said, please do accept my apologies if my facetiousness offends.




SWB gets her first vaccine

I was shaky of leg and heavy of head when I woke up today, but no, it wasn’t just a typical Sunday morning chez SWB- instead I had joined hundreds of others yesterday in the 40 plus bracket and got my AZ jab. I’m finding a perverse enjoyment in feeling fragile, because this is not self-inflicted roughness, say from exercising without warming up or drinking too much NZ Sauvignon in a friend’s back garden, while riding the high of being allowed to socialise again. There is, dare to say, a ‘sanctimonious’ aspect to this malaise, because it’s for a greater good, like donating a kidney to a sibling.

It is possible that I milked the whole experience as I lay in bed last night when I kept rolling on to my left arm and emitting pitiful little bleats. At one point, I felt a weight on my chest and dreamt I was underwater, trapped under a wind-surfing sail. (People who grew up on the Esplanade in Bangor are prone to such night terrors). It turned out  just to be the Fat Cat, who had plonked himself upon me, tickling my nose with his whiskers. ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, what NOW,’ said LSB as I let out a yelp. ‘It’s a bloody zoo,’ I heard him mutter, as he lifted the cat under his arm and took him downstairs for his night-time snack, while the greyhound took the opportunity to stretch out even further along the bottom of the bed.

I had no idea how the vaccination procedure would pan out, because in true SWB style, I hadn’t read up anything upon it. When I heard there could be an hour’s wait, I assumed that you sat in your vehicle. In fact, I actually thought that a medic administered you the vaccine IN through the car window, like whenever I went to have a Covid test. I disclosed this to a friend whom I visited prior to my allotted time yesterday morning, dropping in some bottles for some of his home brew. ‘Do you not have a hat?’ he asked, as I turned up bareheaded at his door. I looked at him blankly: ‘You mean I have to get out of the car and wait in the cold?’ I said, at which the word ‘snowflake’ may have crossed his lips.

‘I wonder do they have coffee?’ I pondered.

‘Of course,’ he said, nodding vigorously. ‘And after that they come round with buttered sour dough on silver trays.’

‘There’s even champagne afterwards,’ chirped up his wife. Quite a chuckle the pair of them had at my middle-class expectations of the whole affair. He grew up in Derry City during the seventies and she hails from Soviet Czechoslovakia. I am often a source of great entertainment for them. ‘It’ll be fine,’ they said, as I took my leave. ‘You’re bound to meet someone you know as you wait, you might even have some craic.’

They weren’t wrong. I had just been directed to a yellow dot inside the foyer of the arena, when a colleague from my first ever teaching job, skipped up to the dot behind me. ‘Helen McClements!’ she cried and sure enough, it was me indeed. We chatted with tremendous animation, which I imagine those in the queue around us appreciated enormously. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear the last 15 years of my life condensed into a 30 minute wait, at a sufficiently loud volume to carry between the socially distanced dots? Tremendous craic it was altogether. After the jab, I was afforded the opportunity sit and read, undisturbed for 15 whole minutes, without a small child annoying me or a cat asking to fed. I would go as far as to say that the whole experience was most edifying.

I was back in my car exactly an hour and 10 minutes after I joined the queue. I would have been speedier still, had I not had to wander round gormlessly looking for my car, since I had abandoned it and scuttled off in hurry, failing to note down where I’d parked it. It has now been thirty-two hours since the first dose and I’m almost feeling sprightly, which is frankly a bit of a shame as I thought I might have a decent excuse to stay off work tomorrow. Damn it.

Seriously though, it was extremely organised and everyone was incredibly kind and lovely and professional. Made me feel a wee bit better about life.



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.)