SWB on music and nostalgia

Four tickets. Four tickets for Bruce Springsteen, secured this morning, I can’t believe it. Our friends are taking their son, and so we thought we’d bring our girls along, though ingrates as they are, they weren’t impressed. ‘Do we have to go?’ was the reaction of the Small Child. ‘I’m only coming if we can stay in a tent.’ It’s not a festival,’ I explained, just a concert, on the Boucher Road. Her face fell again, (meanwhile, LSB started googling Glastonbury.)

I stressed the importance of the gig, telling them that they might appreciate good music, as it was for me, an awareness that peaked around thirteen when I stopped listening solely to Kylie Minogue and anything related to Neighbours.

It’s been a weekend bathed in nostalgia, kicking off on Friday when we ate our Nico’s pizza watching 90’s Top of the Pops, and on came Joshua Kadison* soulfully playing ‘Jesse’ on his piano. I used to LOVE that tune, and it also made me really want a cat, specifically so I could call it Moses. I was tempted to change my hamster’s name to Moses, but tiny and fawn coloured, he was more Bambi than commanding Old Testament figure. Funny, but listening to ‘Jesse’ now, the character Liz Danes, sister of Luke in the Gilmore Girls, immediately springs to mind. ‘A carried away cratur,’ The Mothership would say.

As I zoomed around doing errands on Saturday lunchtime, I caught a snippet of ‘Storytelling’ on Radio Ulster, and the writer Tara McEvoy reminiscing on the music which influenced her most as a teen; Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, and Ash, her first ever concert, to which she went with her dad in Botanic Gardens, and made all the sweeter since they both hailed from Downpatrick.

My first concert was to see UB40 in the Kings Hall in 94, closely followed by The Beautiful South in the Ulster Hall. I recall commenting to my friend (somewhat pompously,) ‘that I felt the acoustics were better in the more intimate venue.’ My lasting impression about these gigs was of one of underwhelm though, because the audience just ‘swayed about’ and I’d been watching My So-Called Life and wanted to go to concerts where you could really let loose. Fortunately, on the odd weekend in Bangor, we could go to see local groups , sixth-formers from the boys’ grammar school, who belted out covers of REM, the Manics and Guns n’Roses.  I was the one at the front, giving it stacks as I bopped around, head-banging and loving every sweat-soaked second of it. This was release; emancipation from teenage angst of a very particular brand in Northern Ireland. Despite my leanings towards evangelical Christianity, the hell fire and brimstone preachers still put the fear of God into me, and the soundtrack on the news was one of never-ending brutality. I was a worry-wart anyway, so this was undiluted relief, giddiness and transcendence from the everyday which looking back, I deem was not only welcome but essential.

Later on last Saturday, I took a collection of my old singles into Timeslip Records on Botanic Avenue. It was time to say goodbye to ‘Everything I do’, by Bryan Adams, ‘Suddenly’ by Angry Anderson and (Dear God) ‘When You Come Back to me’ by Jason Donavan. ‘That’ll be hard to shift,’ surmised the owner. ‘I’ll give you a fiver for the lot.’ I took it, only too pleased to get rid, and pocketed it to spend at my next stop, No Alibis to buy a book. (‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson, if you’re interested.) But before I left, I took in the scent  of second-hand vinyl. Dominating the wall was a poster of Kurt Cobain, and a blow up of the ticket for the gig in the Kings Hall. Imagine, I thought, hearing ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ live, with its signature discordant riff in all its raw elemental angst.  I glimpsed a poster for ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ on the stairs on the way out and immediately regretted my decision not to see Guns n’Roses when they played Dublin in 2022. Despite the state of him, aul Axl Rose can still hold a tune. Looking round the shop, I could have been sixteen again, DM clad in my tie-dye skirt from Fresh Garbage, as my brother and his friends played ‘Master of Puppets’ by Megadeth and ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica in our front room of our house on the Esplanade in Ballyholme.

On Botanic I met my old friend Karen who is over visiting from New Zealand. She and I used to go dancing as teenagers in Bangor, upstairs in Wolsey’s and The Windsor and later on took our moves to Crete, and Santorini, and to later still to the rum-soaked town of Chorini in the Caribbean. We reclined in a snug little booth in Maggie May’s, where the grungy music continued in the background and I told her how working there in 1998 had continued my musical education, as fellow waiting staff  introduced me to their choice of genres. It was a big YES from me to the Brit Pop fan who brought his Stone Roses and Primal Scream CDs into work, and a massive NO for the Ozzie girl who championed screechy-thumpy-ear-drum perforating shite from Berlin. ‘This is art,’ she would say, with something akin to reverence, in response to my anguished pleas to turn it the hell off.

One Saturday in August we had Cool FM on in the background, and suddenly the news of the Omagh bomb broke, just after the lunch-time rush, and we had to carry on, wracked with  disbelief, because what else could we do, except keep serving the all-day fry and burgers and chips, watching as customers took their seats in stunned silence and pointed hazily at the menu.

So many memories, nostalgia and growing-pains and new beginnings all meshed together, and digested over hot chocolate and whipped cream, with marshmallows crispy from a new blow torch our server was really keen to tell us about.  This is life, in all its beauty and absurdity, but distilled in a moment, of being with a friend who returns home to find a Northern Ireland, in many ways changed, but in others,  still unstintingly familiar. But given present world affairs, how lucky we are that we can come together, dip into the same pool of recollections, and for a moment be teens again, transported elsewhere, and can ask ourselves, What’s going on?

And while on the topic of Northern Ireland, and peace and music, I can’t not mention the old Chieftan of Irish Rock himself, Feargal Sharkey and you can tune in to his recent ruminations from ‘Have I got News You’ here.



SWB reflects on coffee and Clements

Could this BE any weirder? I wrote this post last week and intended to post it today, then woke up to the news of Matthew Perry’s untimely death. So much of the late nineties for me were spent watching Friends in a collection of student hovels, or sipping coffee in Clement’s, the closest thing that Belfast had to a Central Perk. And at the moment we’re re-watching Friends in the evenings – a couple of episodes to take us up to bedtime with the kids. As a show it had almost become like background noise, but this time round I’ve been remarking to LSB just how very funny it actually was. I do hope poor tortured Perry has found peace- he brought me great joy over the years.

Back to the original post then…

Since my social media has been dominated by pictures of coffee and cake, it would be remiss not to mention a significant chain which switched its espresso machine off for good recently – the Belfast institution that was Clements coffee shop.

My first experience of coffee culture was the long narrow Clements in Stranmillis. Initially, I ordered deep bowls of hot chocolate with swirls of whipped cream on top, before graduating to ‘hammerhead coffees,’ – two shots of espresso topped with filter coffee during my final year at Queen’s. My left eye would twitch for 48 hours after consumption, but that was the least of my concerns as I crammed for my French exams on Existentialism and The ‘Theatre of the Absurd.’

After a Thursday night session in the Mandela Hall, I sought out toasted bagels with cream-cheese and jam to settle a queasy stomach. Lunch was often an oversized sausage roll with a generous dollop of ketchup, and Millionaires’ Shortbread with exactly the correct ratio of caramel to biscuit were my afternoon pick-me-up of choice. I hold Clements almost singularly responsible for my tubbiness as a student.


The coffee chain brought a ‘Sex and the City’ vibe to Belfast. It was to Clements we sojourned to mull over our relationships, clasping steaming mugs of Americano. Even if our paramours were lukewarm, at least the coffees were hot and reliable. I experienced both make-ups and break-ups in Clements; somehow it was easier to introduce cordiality to proceedings with a comforting cup of Joe, their signature bright décor to boost spirits, and of course, the uplifting beats. (I recall the staff in the Botanic cafe had a particular fondness for Portishead.)

It was one of the first places where I felt at ease going alone, with a book or a Marie Claire, a half-written essay or a job application.

It’s where I sipped a celebratory latte after a lump under my arm turned out to be a harmless cyst. I shed a few grateful tears that day, but no one either side of me seemed to notice.

That was the joy of Clements- dramas unfolded on either side of a tight table for two but you minded your own business and got on with it.

And it’s where I looked at my now-husband in an entirely new light and thought, you might well be the man for me. After the third failed interview in a row, the long-suffering Stevey met me on Botanic Avenue to buy me coffee and a bun to cheer me up. He tuned into my nihilism and quoted Gloucester in King Lear: ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, / They kill us for their sport.’ He didn’t know it, but it was one of my favourite lines in the play. Readers, I married him.

I wasn’t alone in finding love in Clements. My friend met her husband there too. Being of Jordanian descent, coffee houses, as opposed to pubs, were where he felt comfortable hanging out. One evening he had retired to a comfy seat with a laptop, and it was while sipping a coffee that he caught her eye. Sixteen years and three gorgeous children later they’re still together. But this time, they can’t head down to Botanic to mark their anniversary as they had done until now.

In my twenties, Clements wasn’t just a coffee house, it was a way of life; our important moments played out against the backdrop of rainbow graphics and trendy, tattooed staff. Maybe we all wanted to imagine we were part of the cast of ‘Friends,’ but it feels like I’ve lost an old constant, even if I didn’t hang out there as much in recent times.

Thanks for the memories, Clements, and Matthew Perry, you were both there for me, and countless others.





SWB Finds Hope

ALEXA TURN OFF! That’s what I’ve been yelling at half-past the hour, every hour, because at home we listen to Radio 6 Music a lot and that’s when they broadcast the news.

I can’t hear it anymore – I get all shaky and sweaty and to my considerable shame roar obscenities in front of the children and have to then apologise and claim that everything ‘is ok.’

Everything is not ok. Everything’s shite, and every morning upon waking, I wonder what fresh hell awaits. Are bombs going to continue to rain down on Gaza? Will Hamas release hostages? Will Egypt open borders and does anyone in the Gaza Strip even have anything to eat or drink? Then selfishly, I wonder how the destabilising of the area with impact the rest of us, and I fear a terror attack; a nuclear bomb; World War Three.

I’ve been drinking quite a bit of red wine. No, it hasn’t helped.

But, also this weekend, we had a coffee morning and sale at the Quaker Meeting House. We were raising money for Shared Threads, the charity which was the brain child of my friend Kirsty King. We make pads from towels and leftover fabric and send them to India, Uganda and most recently to The Gambia. Kirsty has set up links with NGOs to ensure that every pack is delivered with education, to reduce period stigma, and help girls get to school. But we need money to buy the waterproof material for the pads and clean pants for each pack. Postage is increasingly costly too, to send off the boxes, so it all mounts up.

I didn’t know how many people would come to the sale. We asked at the Chelsea Wine Bar if they’d let us pop up a sign as they’re at the corner, but they said no. A few other places said yes though, and Robert, the producer on the Frank Phone-In, let me announce it there too. Readers, we made £1200.

My friend traipsed up from the Ards Peninsula, another came from Greenisland and brought her family. Friends brought friends. Joy in our group must have some sort of industrial vat at home and she made ALL the jam to sell. Emma sews and had a stall of lovely things, and the Small Child and two pals paid for a stall to sell their bracelets. My friend Aileen said her child was more excited about the event than she’d ever been at Christmas. They’re great wee workers and talented too- I’m hoping they keep me in my dotage.

The Quakers. They’re a fine bunch of lads. The KINDNESS of them, allowing us to use their space, racing into the kitchen to help us wash up, baking us mountains of cakes and buns. And the light. The morning was grey and bleak and rainy and I thought ‘F**king  typical.’ Then the sun appeared, beaming into the hall and lit the light within me too and I felt better.

Brian from Boden Park Roastery gave us coffee for the day and some to sell. He wouldn’t take a penny.

I popped down to Corrymeela in the City tonight, because their posts on-line all week have been the only thing that have made sense to me, and brought comfort. One member spoke up and said something to the effect that life is hard and full of mess, and all we can do is make our way through it, with as much care for those around us as we can muster. It is horribly messy right now. But there is hope, and there is goodness, and thankfully in Northern Ireland, we don’t have to look far to find it.


SWB on School Daze

It didn’t take long for September to pack its bags and clear off, did it? A flurry of packing lunches and backing books and sorting schoolbags.

Packing bags- that’s a whole new ball game now the older one is in ‘big school.’ As a teacher, I didn’t appreciate quite what the head-melt it was for first years. The child checks the bag in the evening and again in the morning – demented in case she doesn’t have the right folder. It’s a very thorough affair. ‘They won’t eat you if you forget something,’ I tell her. ‘It’s not like in my day.’ Flip me, but even in primary school some of our teachers were terrifying. You were dead meat if you forgot your books -fists slammed down on the desk and everything.

I had reason to pop into her school the other day and was immediately struck by the warmth of the place: an energy; an all-round air of conviviality; colour.

I’m sure the sun peeked it’s face out from behind a cloud occasionally, but when I think of school in Bangor, I think of greyness.

I’ll never forget my first ever art class. I’d entertained high hopes. Three whole periods on a Friday afternoon, just to draw! Our first ever task? Sketching an image of our hand. IN PENCIL. What a snore-fest. My disappointment was immense. And our homework? Drawing a picture of a lawnmower (again, in pencil, the greyness continued.) My dad had to cart the Flymo out of the garage so I could attempt the illustration. Unpleased with the result, I rubbed it out and my dad had a go himself. He was awarded a C+ for his efforts.

They didn’t really do ‘encouragement’ back then. Gymnastics club, for which I had signed up with excitement, was also a tremendous disappointment. Having never attended gymnastics before, I lacked the necessary flexibility and when we were immediately asked to perform the splits the only thing that hit the floor was my jaw in disbelief. As if! Imagine my humiliation when several other first formers slid effortlessly into position as though their legs weren’t made of flesh and bone but elastic. The teacher curled her lip and wrote me off. ‘I’d give you a 2 out of 10 for that,’ she said, and moved swiftly on. I didn’t go back.

Things picked up as I got older, but a prevailing sense of boredom is how I remember junior school.

LSB certainly didn’t fare much better, but times were tricky on the Falls Road in the nineties. God forbid you were late, didn’t matter whether you just slept in, or the police were raiding the house three doors down and your street was cordoned off. You still got the same bollocking.

In June he’d no chance of getting in before nine as half of West Belfast was headed to Clonard and the traffic was snarled up as far as the Glen Road with all the devoted.

‘Late again Garland?’

‘Novena Sir.’

‘That’s right Garland, blame it on Our Lady.’

And the uniform! Never get my husband started on the draconian laws they laid down on that issue. There was ice on the ground one day and he rocked up wearing a jumper. ‘NON-REGULATION!’ yelled some total jobsworth at the gate. ‘I’m ringing your mother!’ ‘

Go ahead,’ Stevey told him. The hapless teacher promptly rang up and woke my late mother-in-law after her nightshift in the Royal. Choice words were used and the subject was dropped.

And now, if it isn’t auld Kanye West himself wearing a St Mary’s hoodie! Rumour has it that it was taken off him as soon as he walked through the school doors…(distinguished alumni or not..)

(Apparently if you went to the school you’d get this reference)



SWB On Being ‘Ironing Bored’

We’re back to the grind, the weather is bat-shit crazy and the children are coming in wet and sodden. As the laundry mounts, how do you stay on top of it? Is it possible to keep up with domestic drudgery without losing your mind?


Ironing. That can be bitch, can’t it? But my advice is this: if an item looks like a pain to iron, then leave it in the shop. It is not deserving of a place in your wardrobe or a place in your life. Same goes for an item with ‘special washing instructions.’ Items such as this can GET IN THE BIN. A professional organiser once advised to clear your home of any objects which give you work; need your time or make your feel bad. There are things aplenty in this life to fulfil all these roles. Clothes shouldn’t be one. It’s #SecondHandSeptember so if any of the above applies to something you own, then this is an ideal time to drop off to our nearest charity shop.


Thankfully,  ironing pile in our house is greatly reduced these days, but this didn’t just happen by accident. I try to treat our recently laundered clothes with respect, i.e., I don’t adopt LSB’s approach which is to pluck the stuff off the line or out of the tumble drier and chuck them all crumpled into a basket. I’ve taken @tidydad’s advice, and started to enlist all the family’s help with laundry, sorting into piles and folding pronto before sending them off to put away. Doing laundry is lonely! Nobody should be sifting through a basket of socks, fruitlessly looking for a match. I now pull the basket out when we’re watching an episode of Modern Family and set to it.


I also don’t tend to iron much of LSB’s stuff anymore. Often he works from home and just wears a tee-short. Also, to my absolute delight, in his present job he doesn’t have to go to London and look smart while he talks to a lot of pretentious pricks. It’s taken a load off.


My mother-in-law ironed EVERYTHING. Pants. Towels. Socks. Sheets. No, no, no and HELL NO. The Mothership used to stand and iron fifteen shorts on a Sunday night for the week ahead, so my dad, my brother and I had a clean shirt everyday. I must admit that I will never reach this level of domestic prowess.


Occasionally though, I might need to iron something. Say a dress I really love, or if the kids have left their uniform in a heap and a quick fix is needed to take the bad look off it. My mantra is this, ‘never perfect, always better.’ Same goes for all the housework chores. But say, like on we ta day like this and I’m not teaching, I might say, iron a few things. This  is the ideal opportunity to embrace ‘luxury ironing.’ This is where you make a cup of tea, or pour a glass of wine should it be later in the day. Say 11am. (JOKING). Then I pop on a podcast such as The Uncanny* on Radio 4. Honestly, sometimes I get so engrossed I start looking for things to run the iron over. Who doesn’t love a spooky story with no rationale explanation?


This is how I deal with the monotony of household chores if no one is around to help. Earphones in with spoken word radio or a decent podcast so I feel my brain isn’t turning to mush. (‘Everyday’s a school day with you,’ says LSB.) But it works a treat and makes it all that bit easier. And should you be stressed out as the chores accumulate and need some sensible tips delivered by someone with a compassionate but no-nonsense air, then I recommend listening to KC Davis’s audiobook, How to Keep House while Drowning. 


The bottom line is this- whatever you have to do, make it more fun, whether you’re listening to @U105, Radio 4 or feasting on a new episode of The Bear. Happy Tuesday everyone.


*Show in The Grand Opera House coming to Belfast in November. Keep an eye out!




SWB on Modern-day Mishaps

It’s the horror of the modern age. Not nuclear armageddon or another strain of Covid. Or God forbid, a third lockdown with the kids. No, the real terror of modern life is sending a text to the wrong person. The sinking feeling when you hit send,  knowing your missive is winging its way to the wrong recipient, and there’s dang all you can do about it.

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s absent-mindedly banging a kiss on the end of a WhatsApp to a colleague, or worse still, in an email to your boss, confusing them with your loved one.

And that’s just a cringe fest and there’s no harm done.

But with our interactions with friends, the absence of a simple ‘x’ can signify that all is not well, and can be interpreted as being passive aggressive if you habitually use one. The lack of an ‘x’ can signify a peevishness, hint at a hurt, and be the verbal equivalent of  ‘I’ve had enough of this.’

Then there’s the people who aren’t kissers or huggers IRL and don’t want to become one in the digital arena after. Do you send an ‘x’ in your communications with them because you ARE a digital ‘x-er’?

It’s all very complex. But this is small fry, in comparison to sending the wrong message.

Years ago,  a friend was replying to a group chat about a night out. She sent a few dates when she wasn’t free as she was in the throes of a new romance. Anyway, the pal who was organising the shindig wrote, ‘We’ve been sidelined AGAIN, of course, because Jane’s* out with bloody Paul.’ Except she sent it to the group chat, and not to the friend she thought she was sending it to.


Jane admits now that she was totally infatuated and a tad hard to listen to, but she did marry perfect Paul and still invited her mate to the wedding, which I think was very magnanimous.

But it’s a tough one, because when you do send a message like that, you reveal what she really feel, and the person can go back and read it over and over again. I suppose the old adage, ‘If you’re not going to say something nice then don’t say it at all,’ still holds true.

Nearly everyone has a story about when things go terribly wrong. While at uni, an old friend of mine went to a gig with a girl he fancied. They were having such craic that he got a bit ahead of himself, and sent his flatmate a message telling him to vacate the premises, in anticipation of having the house to himself. Of course, he sent it to the girl instead, who told him he was a presumptuous git. He went home alone, and with a flea in his ear.

The rule is, be careful. Be very careful. Or better still, leave the blooming phone at home and give yourselves some time off. We always feel we have to be checking and scrolling and texting. Bring a book next time you go to a cafe- far less chance of any bother!

*names have been changed to protect the guilty


SWB on a September reset

‘I call September the ‘slidey’ month’ said a friend yesterday. When I inquired how so, she explained: ‘because if you don’t carve out time for yourself, you get caught up with the kids and suddenly it’s January.’


Was ever a truer phrase spoken? To me it’s a bittersweet month, tinged with sadness that the longed-for summer holidays have passed, but blended with relief that a routine for the wee buggers is re-established.


Aside from the melt of sorting the kids out for school, I think there is a collective ‘Thank f**k’ from parents,’ (and let’s face it, mostly mums) that they don’t have to scour the internet for summer schemes and annihilate the bank balance in the process.


During the holidays I feel a constant hum in my head, as though a little wasp has made its home in my earhole. I can’t properly relax as I’m constantly ‘on’- painfully aware that my children are around and might need me. Don’t you get tired of being responsible for someone else’s happiness for two months? I find it very grating.


Hence this is why yesterday, I responded with unprecedented enthusiasm when my friend Jane asked if I’d like to join the 6.30 (am!) running group. Initially I said No. No no no. Again no- I’m not a morning person, I said. But then, capricious creature that I am, I did a u-turn quicker than the Tory government under Truss.


In a moment of unusual clarity, it struck me that this is EXACTLY what I need to reset after my summer of pastries and rosé.


We need time for ourselves! said Jane, who has four children, yet always appears  buoyant and put-together. But she wouldn’t be, she told me, if she didn’t prioritise her needs, and at present, pre-breakfast is the only time she can guarantee it.


I agreed. How very life-affirming to claw back uncompromised ‘me’ time before the demands of children and animals. (Poor auld LSB- he doesn’t even get a look in here) I also need an incentive to stop drinking wine in the evenings. I love wine. I savour the first sip over dinner before shifting to the sofa, glass in hand, for an episode of Modern Family with the girls. For me, this ritual says, “I am off the clock. I am not leaving the house to take anyone anywhere. See my arse? It’s glued to the seat.’


But this is not good.  In the mornings I am sluggish, and feel defeated before the day’s even begun. Action is needed.


Lynette Fay in the Irish News agrees that September is a much better month to reset than January, which makes perfect sense to me, with its soft golden light and autumnal glow. Last New Year, I’m ashamed to admit, I spent a over a hundred quid signing up to an online group called The Six Pack Revolution, inspired by a Guardian writer’s experience. Readers, I lost no weight. I couldn’t stick to the food plan and nearly gave myself a hernia doing the exercises. ‘I’m on a diet,’ I kept bleating miserably to the girls. ‘STOP going on about it!’ they implored. So I deleted all the emails from the coach, left the Facebook group and drank some wine to celebrate. I put it down to a moment of insanity.


But this morning, wait til you hear! I set the alarm, and at six twenty-five, I met four lively ladies on the Ravenhill and we ran five km. There was barely a ripple on the Lagan and all was calm and serene. I haven’t described EVER put the words ‘Monday’ and ‘serene’ in the same sentence. I had one glass of wine with dinner last night, cleaned the kitchen and I did ten minutes of Kundalini yoga before bed. Jane’s husband tells her she’s created a ‘Movement’ and I think he may be right. If I do this a couple of times a week, I’m hoping that the benefits will trickle through to the rest of the day, and maybe, just maybe, to a much more positive mindset.




Can’t SWB just enjoy the summer?

The Mothership’s been on. As usual, the conversation began without preamble.

‘I don’t think you’re right in the head,’ (that was her her opening gambit.) You’re a busy woman, or so you keep telling me. You’d think you’d know your audience.


Some gentle probing finally unpicked what she was getting at. On Thursday I was on with Frank, giving off about supermarkets peddling their Christmas wares. In August. I mean, HEAVEN HELP US.


I’d popped into TK MAX last Sunday and had been affronted by the Halloween stock on display; but Christmas? That’s too much to thole altogether.


The Mothership had taken umbrage when I’d suggested that instead of stocking up on the tubs of Celebrations, that shoppers visit the charity shops instead, buy some pretty containers and chuck in some homemade treats.


Who has time to be standing scrubbing jars to fill with sweets that YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOURSELF? Who do you think you are, Kirsty Flipping Allsopp?


Now it was my turn to take offence, because last year I DID blend biscuits and melt chocolate and roll Bailey’s Cheesecake Truffles and they were, even if I do say so myself, MARVELLOUS.  I mentioned this on Frank because I love thrift shopping and I also think it’s a nice festive activity to do before Christmas. The children could even get involved, although I added that an essential prerequisite is that they wash their hands well, as the recipient will be less grateful if they get E-coli.


The big stores have a quare cheek on them. They maintain, that by hauling out the holiday merch that they’re helping the savvy shopper manage their budget, but they’re a bunch of scoundrels, if you ask me. It’s all a cynical ruse to plant the idea that Christmas is just around the corner and generate anxiety for their own Machiavellian ends.

Their stationary will be full of notebooks with ‘Live For The Moment’ emblazoned on the cover, while the stock in the seasonal aisle sends us into a frenzy about a holiday five months away.


They know rightly, that most people, unfortunately myself included, have zero will-power. Who can resist the lure of a chocolate pick-me-up as the dregs of the year draw to a close, and you’re fraught and frazzled and foundered. Chances are that the tubs will be torn into. It’s a win-win for the stores, as they make double the sales. Case in point, there’s always a wine deal in Sainsbury’s* at the end of November. Brilliant, I say to myself, when I spot the jaunty bunting proclaiming, ‘25% off Six Bottles or more!’. Every year, I think I’ll organise my presents and have them all ready. And every year, without fail, we drink the lot, and back we go to replenish the cupboard, LSB’s ears ringing, amid such reprimands of, ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU SANK YOUR DAD’S CHÂTEAUNEUF DE PAPE?’


So I’m not suggesting that people don’t budget to spread the cost, or get themselves organised early, or even that you go full-on Nigella in the kitchen. But there are other retailers I’d rather support, and local markets and charity shops need our money more. My advice?  Find out what creative souls are in your area, making their own soaps and candles, cultivating and potting up honey and jams. I know what I’d rather find in my Christmas box.

*other rip-off merchants are available



SWB causes chaos

So basically, I’m a bit of a twat. Let me expand.


The day before we were coming home was blustery, and the children and I were as unsettled as the weather. I was still mortified after the body boarding incident, and irked that I wasn’t stronger, even after all the ‘Building muscle for peri-menopausal women’ videos on Instagram I’d watched.


Off we headed for dinner, but a surge of new arrivals at the campsite meant that the usually well-organised system in the restaurant was in disarray. The mood, having been buoyant for the rest of the holiday, took a downward turn, and my luke-warm glass of sauvignon blanc did little to boost my spirits. (I don’t care that it’s from the local vineyard, just put the fecking bottle in the fecking fridge. And leave it there, FFS.)


But after our pizza and a carafe of more temperate red arrived, things started to improve. The children even looked up from their screens and made conversation. It had, we all agreed, been a great trip, and we were sad to be leaving France.


That’s when a French couple were shown to the table beside us with a very cute, but very boisterous collie pup. Delighted with himself he was, wee tail going a dinger as everyone smiled and looked up from their dinners as the bouncy little fellow arrived.


‘Would the couple mind,’ I asked, ‘if we stroked the pup?’ And then a brain wave struck; given how long the desserts were likely to take to arrive, perhaps my husband could take the pup on a dander and the girls could stretch their legs?


The couple were overjoyed. No bother at all! Someone had already taken their children so they could have a meal in peace! What had they done to deserve it?! We all laughed merrily and I smiled as my family were despatched.


Ten minutes, I thought. Just ten minutes to read my book, and look forward to a sundae for pudding, coconut and vanilla ice cream, doused with Malibu and slathered with fresh cream. (It’s becoming  clear why I couldn’t master the paddle boarding, as it had been a fortnight of such indulgences.)


I read a chapter, then another. By the time I began the third I was beginning to worry. No waiter either to take an order, so I wasn’t pleased. Enter a small panicked child. In tears. People were shouting at Daddy, saying he’d stolen the dog. Out I went and there was LSB,  clinging to the dog’s lead while surrounded by a fractious crowd, a camp security guard and two members of the animation team looking at him accusingly.

‘WALKING,’ LSB was shouting, trying to be heard over the din. ‘I’m WALKING LE CHIEN!’


The child of the couple had seen their dog being walked by a stranger and gone berserk. Out came the dad to settle matters, but the on-lookers still looked at us with suspicion and disdain.


LSB was shaken up by the whole affair. Initially I thought it the baying crowd which had upset him, but it transpired that the pup had bitten him. Twice. The child had tried to unclip the dog from the lead LSB was holding, and in the furore, it had nipped him on the arm and the leg. ‘Now I have to go home and get a f**king tetanus jab,’ he said, seething.


He was wrong. He needed FOUR jabs. The following Monday, at the Urgent Care at Lagan Valley Hospital, they took it all VERY seriously. He had one injection in each arm, plus seven day’s worth of antibiotics. Next month he needs another jab, and a final one in September. He had never been immunised for Tetanus before, hence this battery of precautions.


I thought I would be properly in the dog house (pardon the pun), but he was remarkably sanguine about it all, once we got home. I was on chatting to Frank Mitchell about the potential hazards of holidays, and he got the whole story. The pup was a bit of a headcase, I explained. ‘Let’s call a spade a spade,’ said Frank. ‘The pup wasn’t the headcase. Stevey wasn’t the headcase, I think we know exactly who’s to blame here.’


The moral of the story (aside from having an up-to-date tetanus booster) is not to get tipsy and garrulous and volunteer your husband to walk other people’s pets. ‘If I ever suggest the like of that again, just tell me to f**k up,’ I told Stevey. ‘Awk, I won’t say that,’ he replied, ‘I’ll just say, ‘Remember France.’

I’m not likely to forget for a while.


SWB makes a fool of herself

(not how I looked..)

It had all been going so well. Too well, perhaps. I was beginning to feel a tiny bit of smugness creeping in, as in ‘Just maybe, as both children have reached double digits, I’m learning to master family holidays. Then I had to go and ruin it.

Poor auld LSB. I’ve told him, if he wants to leave me, I will be very sad but I’ll understand. I’ve brought it upon myself with my foolishness.

It was the last full day of the trip, and a breeze whistled its way through the campsite. We were roused by the clatter of pinecones thudding down on the tin roof of the caravan, and stepping out unto the porch I set about retrieving a few pairs of pants which I’d washed and inexpertly pegged to the clothes horse.

It was an odd choice then, to decide to go paddle boarding. ‘Sure, we’ll see what it’s like at the beach,’ I said, optimistically. The man though, who rented the boards, said it was fine, once you got over the first waves at the water’s edge, it was calmer. It was our only chance if we wanted to have a go, because the waves would reach 2 metres later on in the afternoon and he was shutting up shop. Down at the shore a couple of children played on body boards and one fellow was out paddling; I reckoned we’d be fine. LSB WAS fine. Once he wrestled his way out it was surprisingly peaceful, and he even managed to stand up, and looked competent, one could almost say poised and athletic.

When it came time to swap though, I was less so, and even when I reached the calmer water my legs were so shaky, I could barely kneel on the board, never mind stand. Anxious of appearing like the twat I was; dishevelled and incapable in front of the elegant French people sunning themselves on the sand, I determined to paddle inwards. ‘Feck this,’ I thought. As I scooped ineffectually at the water a wave swelled behind me, and sent me catapulting off. Immediately after I’d hauled my hefty-self back on, another crashed into the board and away I went again. This time, It took a while for me to reappear, causing some consternation from Himself, looking nervously out sea, For someone with a dodgy back and pelvis, wrestling with waves and boards isn’t something I’d recommend.

Out LSB swam to save me, all purposeful and Mitch Buchanan-like. ‘All the upper strength work at the gym has paid off,’ he said, taking the board and retrieving the oar and untying the safety leash from my ankle. I swam back to shore, but was so battered by the elements I could barely get ,myself in, and washed up like a bloated walrus on the sand, after dropping to my hands and knees to clamber in. The French sunbathers looked on, making only minimal efforts to  camouflage their smirks. I sat there, coughing up yet more salt water and discreetly shook a load of pebbly sand from my bikini bottoms. LSB dragged the board in and plonked down beside me. ‘Where’d I be without you?’ I asked, sheepishly. ‘Halfway to Morocco, I expect,’ he replied.

(SWB pictured post paddle board)

These were only the events of Saturday morning, so tune in to the blog later in the week to read how I disgraced myself in the evening. No shortage of entertainment here (unless, of course, you’re LSB.)