Today I sent my girls off to school wearing odd socks, as a way to symbolise that it’s ok to be different, and foster understanding during Anti-bullying Week, 2018. At school during assembly and in class they talked about diversity and showing respect for others. I love that this was one campaign that didn’t demand a donation to charity, instead just prompting us to have a chat with our kids to raise awareness.

I can still remember in my first week in P1, a little girl with tight ringletty curls, cropped close to her head, asked if she could join in my game. She looked so different to any of my other pals that I was a bit spooked and said ‘No,’ before galloping off on my imaginary horse. I still feel bad about that moment, even though we went on to be friends for the rest of primary school.

Now, as parents, we have so many forums on which bullying can take place that it’s terrifying. I’m glad that my children are still small so as yet I don’t have to worry about internet sites. It used to be that a child came home from school and was ‘safe’. Now they can be in their bedrooms, receiving all manner of abuse via their phones, while their parents sit on, oblivious in the other room. I’m bricking myself just thinking about that joy which awaits…

It’s brilliant that the schools are addressing these issues so early, and encouraging us to have a conversation about it. I’ve told mine about the child in the playground I was mean to, and other occasions in life when I definitely haven’t been my best self. Sadly these occasions are many and plentiful, but at least that gives me plenty of fodder from which to choose. Life can be so frantic that our interactions with children can often be functional. ‘What do you want for dinner?’ ‘Did you eat all your lunch?’ ‘What’s your homework?’ It certainly feels like there’s been plenty of information exchanged, though very little of it was meaningful.

Today’s ‘Do One Thing’ is therefore just to have a proper chat. I actually find I talk more with my kids when we are out for a walk or in the car. Conversation seems to flow better this way.

I wore two different earrings today, though to be honest, more to see whether I could get away with it. Maybe I’ll just go back to the lovely ladies at Lines and Current and buy myself a new pair instead.

Today across Northern Ireland, there are beautiful tributes being paid to those who lost their lives  in World War One, and others who have died since in battle. I didn’t make it to Murlough Beach this morning, nor will I be up on the North Coast later, where portraits are being created in the sand and then washed away by the tide. Partially we didn’t go because we had commitments closer to home, but this weekend we had another sad anniversary and frankly were too emotionally incontinent to attend such poignant events.

When I taught in St Dominic’s Grammar on the Falls we took a class to The Somme Centre in Conlig. If you haven’t been, I urge you to visit, as it is a superb exhibition centre. However, should you have recently suffered a bereavement or be feeling low, give it a miss until you feel a bit more robust. Some parts of it were horrific. Towards the end of the exhibition, there were snippets of audio, one of which was a roll call. Of course, some of names went unanswered. That did me in completely, and I had to duck out, before I made a show of myself in front of the kids. While I taught I was renowned for making a spectacle of myself in class situations.

I was teaching Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful at the time, and bringing a lot of the poetry from WW1, by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Sassoon apparently told Owen when they both in Craiglockhart, that he would break both his legs to stop him returning to the front. He can’t have got near him with a sledge hammer because Owen returned and was one of the last casualties in France. The story goes that as the bells rang out on November 11, 1918, the postman brought the news in a telegram that he had been killed. You can read some of his poems here.

Since we are all feeling a bit fragile, we’re away to stroke some donkeys. Good for the soul, donkey stroking. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

‘What’s this?’ I hear you say. ‘Have a moan? Seriously? I thought this was supposed to be a happy blog, the chirpy alter-ego to Sour Wee B******d?’ Well quite, you have a point. Except in order to make things happen, you sometimes have to be a little bit annoying.

Change won’t come about unless you make a bit of a fuss. I’m trying to thank people more when they provide good service and say, give you money off when you bring your own cup, or if they happily let you bring your own tupper-ware for your purchases. (How the staff at the cheese counter at our local Sainsbury’s love me). However, should you notice something irksome, it’s valuable to let the company know, and hopefully they will attempt to rectify it. One of the quickest ways to do this is to Tweet about it. It’s amazing how quickly the big supermarkets get back to you when you do this.

There is a local soft play area near us which uses disposable cups for coffee, even though they have a  sizeable kitchen for washing up. This frustrates the life clean out of me. I try to remember my own drinking vessel, but I imagine the other few hundred  people crossing their doors each week may not. So I wrote them a very nice e-mail telling them what I liked about their facility, but what I thought could be improved. They replied almost immediately and said they were VERY conscious about their carbon footprint, (this was not immediately apparent, but anyway) and said yes, they would look in to it. What needs to happen now is for 20 other people to send a similar e-mail suggesting the same thing.  That would speed the process along nicely.

On a recent trip to a hotel I filled in the comment card, again remarking on what was excellent but suggesting more eco-friendly options, such as doing away with all the small plastic bottles in the bathroom and replacing them with wall-mounted dispensers in the shower instead. If all hotels did this it would dramatically reduce their use of single-use products.

When I was a teenager and in my evangelical Christian phase (I know there can be come lovely evangelical Christians, but trust me when I say I was a bit of a dick), I once wrote a letter to the ‘Sunday Express.’ I was perplexed and offended that Coronation Street had become a bit smutty, and that my grandmother, who had few pleasures in life, since she was housebound and had emphysema, could no longer enjoy her favourite soap. ‘Sex may sell,’ I concluded my missive, ‘But I’m no longer buying.’ One could say that as a 15 year old, I was old before my time. (You can read more of my rantings about mad religious people here.)

I’m not suggesting that you spend all your free time writing letters, but a quick e-mail or a tweet can be very effective, and it doesn’t take long. So if you’re out and about this weekend, see what you notice and get Tweeting! Happy Saturday everyone.

 

 

I hate being a hoarder, but sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and acknowledge your shortcomings. I hold on to clothes because some day I ‘might’ wear them again. Last year I wrote a blog post featuring some items that I was finding to hard to let go of, one of which was a raclette set, (which is a grill for melting cheese and flinging it over potatoes, so that every mouthful boosts your cholesterol by 50%.) The French eat it after a day on the slopes, I don’t know if we can justify it here in Belfast. Anyway, I still have the set. It’s upstairs, in a dusty box.

Now, should someone say to me, ‘Helen, I’d LOVE a raclette set!’ I’d say: ‘Take it! Please! Off you go.’  But they haven’t, and thus still it languishes.

Here are three places where you can direct some of your stuff if you are trying to declutter:

Bras: Here’s the link. You can just have a look at this without any any of my rigmarole, and thanks to my friend Eleanor for alerting me to this brilliant initiative.

 

 

Bicycles: go and visit Brendan from www.bikeaidafrica.org.  He will fix up your knackered old bike and have it shipped out to Madagascar. Contact him on 07788 108727. I decided that I wasn’t going to get my older daughter a brand new bike this year. They end up all rusty and lying outside and to be honest, my nerves can’t take it. I bought her one for £15 from Brendan and he was so thorough, urging me to come back should it need tweaked in any way. What a dote. You can donate any bikes or scooters or tricycles to him, and he’s situated just off Sunnyside Street, on the alley way that connects to Whitehall Gardens.

Tools and electrical goods: Opposite Brendan’s premises you will find Tools for Solidarity. They take old sewing machines, repair them and send them to third world destinations to help local businesses. My father in law bought a one from them for his wife. Anne sadly passed away last February, and Paddy later returned the machine to them. He’s like that, Paddy: he has a heart the size of Brazil. They will also take other tools and bits and pieces and distribute them to those in need.

So what I’d love to ask you good people, is do you know of any other groups who take ‘random stuff’ to use for projects?

Corks, for example. I can’t throw out corks. I have a drawerful of corks, which reminds me of my alcoholic tendencies every time I open it. While in Galway recently, I sipped a chilled Pinot Noir (yes, a chilled red, and mighty fine it was too) in The Kasbah Wine Bar. Should you  EVER visit Galway, I urge you to go. It serves fabulous wine by the glass. It was an Aladdin’s cave of delights on which to feast the eye. Did Aladdin have a cave? I can’t recall, but it sounds right. Anyway, some creative soul had created a love seat made of corks! It felt cosy and insulated upon the back. Please, don’t make me leave, I asked my friend Brenda.

The aim of this Do One Thing Campaign is to encourage people to make one small change to enhance lives for the better, be that through reducing our carbon footprint, minimising what we send to landfill, and as a result, feeling a bit better about ourselves. If you run a charity organisation and are collecting any specific objects, I’d love to hear from you. If you have any ideas or photos, please tweet them or pop them on Instagram, with the hashtag #do1thing.november.

 

This photo features the Small Child, the source of many of my stories over on my SWB page. Here she is dressed as Mog, for our school Halloween disco. ‘Mog isn’t very scary, ‘ she said, when she chose her outfit, ‘but I just really like him.’ I really like him too. When I was small, probably about 4 or 5, my mum took me to to our local Carnegie library in Bangor. I know what book I wanted, but all I could  remember was that it involved a cat and a chimney. Perhaps Mog wasn’t as popular back in 1983 and my details were scant, but I recall the librarian taking ages with me, searching for it on the computer and finally locating it. I was ever so pleased.

After university I stopped going to libraries for a while, and only started again when I joined a book group, and I realised it could save me a lot of expense. It’s no exaggeration to say that going back was a revelation. If you haven’t been to a library in a while, you forget the joy therein. I trotted down to the Cregagh Road library the other day, to return a few books the children had borrowed. I found myself drawn to the ‘Body Mind and Spirit’ shelf, and there was ‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg, which my pal Christine Watson from Training Matchmaker had recommended. I could have swallowed the book whole, and have since bought my own copy so I can highlight and underline things without worrying about it becoming dogeared and tatty. I’ve needed that book in my life for years, but just didn’t know.

And that’s the delightful thing about libraries. They lead you to unexpected delights, because you can take a chance on a book without making any costly mistakes. My kids love going, and in fact had a good rant at Ormeau parkrun one Saturday, because they were too wet and soggy to go anywhere besides the bath. ‘WE WANT TO GO TO THE LIBRARY!’ they wailed, causing a right rumpus. Well, I suppose there’s worse things to be upset about.

I chatted with Jackie Fraser from Belfast City Council on Monday, and she mentioned The 5 Steps to Well-Being, outlined in the Council’s plan to enhance lives and promote good mental health. Two of these steps are connecting with others and lifelong learning. Where better place to start than your local library?

We need libraries in our lives, and we need to convince our government to invest in this, the most essential of resources. We know that GP’s are now diagnosing loneliness as an illness, particularly with older people. Libraries provide a hub where folk can congregate, read the papers, or join a book group. In the Ormeau library I know there is free tea and coffee on a Monday. As my Do One Thing today I therefore signed a petition that I saw the novelist Patrick Gale had put on Twitter. I then e-mailed my local MP and asked her to draw attention to cuts to library funding in parliament. It would be lovely if you could take a minute and do the same. You can do so here.

Thanking you all greatly.

I couldn’t believe it when LSB chirped up over his coffee this morning, ‘Guess what the Collins’ Word of the Year is? Single-Use! This was while I was e-mailing the principal of our children’s primary school about an initiative  called Terracycle, which recycles pens and other stationary which ends up in landfill. It seems to be user-friendly and I’m investigating whether we can use it to generate funds for the PTA, because as you know, due to the draconian cuts to educational funding in NI at the moment, every effort helps. Imagine if we got most, if not all the schools in Belfast signing up to this scheme. (Not every premises would have a site, but there could be local drop off points of which several schools could avail.) Maybe this could be your Do One Thing today, having a look at this and sending the details on to a local school, or church or sport club, and promoting this idea.They also have programmes for other items which are difficult to recycle, so have a look at their site.

I have become increasingly agitated when I see plastic items being chucked out willy nilly. The state of the oceans is all over the news now, so we can’t pretend we don’t know about the damage caused by thoughtless choices.  It only takes a walk down the Ormeau, and see the discarded bottles and folk slurping from  disposable cups to set my nerves a-jangle. LSB is worried I’ll develop a twitch soon, (he reckons he has enough to endure, being married to me, without my developing another neurosis.)

Recently I was googling different ways to recycle single-use objects that often escape our attention, or we tend to ignore, such as coffee pods. I discovered that you can recycle Nespresso pods here in Belfast, which is something to consider if this is your coffee of choice. We still have a Dolce Gusto machine in the house, which I haven’t used it in about 3 years. Sometimes we have students to stay, and I had thought about putting it in their rooms for convenience, but as my friend Deidre says, this is just perpetuating the use of single-use items, and as yet there doesn’t seem to an efficient scheme in place for easy recycling. You can read about their plan (or lack thereof) here. Plus, I’m a fussy creature when it comes to my coffee, and think I can make a better brew in my cafetière, which my lovely auntie bought me in 2009 as an engagement gift.

Do you have a coffee machine that you no longer use for environmental reasons, and if so, can I ask what you did with it? I feel bad taking mine to the local dump (or local recycling centre as my friend Mary tells me) and I also have a 3 boxes of pods to use up. All thoughts are greatly appreciated!

 

 

 

‘Oh dear,’ my readers say, ‘she’s lost the plot. She’s become one of those mad American survivalists, stockpiling the supplies like a wee demented squirrel,  for when the bombs fall, or yon fella with the orange face presses the button.’

In fact, no, what I’m advocating today is to get using up all your leftovers to create some soups and stews and stock your freezer. My SWB followers will know that I’m not keen on buying folk stuff they don’t need. I do, however, like arriving at their homes with a pot of soup or tub of spaghetti bolognese when they’ve just pushed out a baby and can barely stand. Who wants to be cooking dinners when their lady bits are still in tatters? I would much rather have a lasagne, or, as my good friend Maureen Boyle arrived with, a veritable vat of chilli con carne, which I’ have since tried to replicate, but never succeeded. Thanks Maureen, for ruining all chillis that have since passed my lips.

Births and deaths. Surprisingly these have many similarities, as both, when they occur, leave you wandering round like a somnambulant, confused and disorientated. When my grandmother died in 1998, I still remember a family member bringing homemade broth. It was indeed, chicken soup for the soul. It lasted for days, and though none of us felt much like eating, we could always manage a bowl. My mother in law passed away in February, and same again, people came laden with soups and homemade bread and it was a gesture of such infinite kindness. Even if you almost expect it, death blind sides you. The bringing of food helps steady and nourish a shattered soul.

Back to pumpkins. I had three of those bad boys, now I’ve whittled it down to two. I NEVER, NEVER appreciated how much flesh was in a pumpkin. Who needs the gym? My right bicep is well defined after some hefty sawing and slicing. Last night we had roasted pumpkin and potato with a chicken dinner. ‘That’s actually quite nice,’ said LSB. ‘Who knew.’ This evening I knocked up a soup, and ever so easy it was too. I fried one onion in butter, threw in a third of a pumpkin, added chicken stock and seasoning and then, here’s the fun bit, two small grated apples. Whizz, whizz, went LSB with the stick blender, and we were all astounded wit the results. Sweet and nutty and quite surprising, if I’m honest. I potted some up for my friend who has just lost her father. ‘I never want to see another madeira cake,’ she sighed today when we met up for coffee. We got 26 of them at the wake. We took them to the local homeless shelter.’

Yesterday, when chatting to Gráinne and Jackie at the City Hall, we discussed how the making of food can be a great way to reconnect with neighbours. ‘I think it’s four months since I’ve properly spoken to my neighbour,’ mused Jackie. ‘Maybe I’ll make something and take it round.’

Gráinne once gave me a huge bag of Jerusalem Artichokes from her allotment. I had never even seen a Jerusalem Artichoke prior to this, but BBC Good Food came to the rescue, and I cooked up a storm that Friday for the yoga mums. This weekend, I’m making more soup, and hopefully a pumpkin laksa too, I have lemongrass and ginger at the ready. I’m going to sort out my utter embarrassment of a freezer, and organise myself, so I have pots of loveliness at the ready.

(No more posts about soup after this. I promise. Though I may complain a bit about pumpkin preparation. (‘Put that knife down,’ said my sister in law on Sunday.  ‘You’re f**king terrifying me’).

 

Look at me, holding a tree posture of a Monday evening! Often on a Monday I go to my friend Orla’s Irish Dancing Class on the Ormeau, but in a most serendipitous, turn of events, it wasn’t on tonight so off to yoga I trotted with my friend Martina, half of that wonder duo Harper’s Yard, (though if one counts the lovely Brian Harper I guess it’s a trio). Martina told me about this class in The Maitri as she thought it was right up my street. Natalie, the instructor, (and what a svelte wee pixie she was too, I wasn’t a bit jealous) was holding the class in aid of the charity ‘Surfers Against Sewage‘ AND she intends to do one on a monthly basis for this super cause. As you all know, the oceans are just full of shite, and happily, some surfers, with what I imagine are exceptionally strong stomachs, are doing something about it. Martina heard one of the speakers when she attended a weekend over at the Eden Project in Cornwall last month, and was well taken with his passion and dedication to the cause.

Earlier today I had lunch in the Bobbin Cafe at the City Hall with Jackie Fraser and Gráinne McMacken from Belfast City Council. They were extremely generous with their time, telling me about some brilliant initiatives happening throughout the city at the moment to improve public’s well-being. It’s humbling indeed, to hear what’s afoot out there, and I shall expand upon what I learnt in a later post. However, Gráinne recently completed a swimming challenge to find raise for a trip to India with The Hope Foundation. As part of this, she took part regularly in ‘mini clean-ups‘ of beaches which she visited, and she encourages anyone to do this, since to paraphrase her, ‘It’s amazing what you can gather in just two minutes.’

So if you too, what to do something positive to improve the lot of our seas and oceans, check out the timetable at the Maitri, and if you visit a local beach see if you can lift a few pieces of litter. Obviously, I’m going to mention trying to minimise the number of single use plastics you use too, because ultimately, there’s some poor dolphins being garrotted or baby birds trying to ingest the top of a milk cartoon that their mum thought was a bit of toughened algae, and it’s all because of our total dependence on plastics.

 

I needed yoga in my life this evening, and this class didn’t disappoint. Sometimes it just takes a few sun salutations with a pal and a group of like minded souls to put put a smile on your face at the start of a new week.

 

As a ‘Do One Thing’, this feels like a bit of a cheat because it’s something we started at Ormeau Parkrun a few months ago and now do every week. A few of us on the committee decided to go plastic free for tea and coffee, and I reckon, at a conservative guess we’ve already prevented about 3000 polystyrene cups heading to landfill. I’ve just finished washing up these and had a couple of little helpers to help dry them.  Some other parkruns, namely Stormont and Queen’s have also ditched the single use cups, and it’s working out well. Yesterday one of our runners enquired as to where to source them as he goes to set dancing classes where they are still using disposable cups. Word is slowly spreading that we can make small, positive changes with minimal effort. For under £35 I was able to purchase 120 cups plus a container to transport them, so they will pay for themselves in a matter of weeks.

 

 

 

Recently at out PTA in school we switched to the IKEA cups for our Halloween disco. This obviated the need to buy almost 600 bottles of water which the children normally have, and we are also able to serve tea and coffee to the parents. We chatted while we rinsed and dried them, and it wasn’t a lot of extra trouble. If you take part in parkrun, or regularly attend events where cups and plates are routinely binned after one use, perhaps you could moot this idea. I normally travel with a couple of these in the car so I can ask for a glass of tap water if I don’t have my water bottle, or one of the kids needs a drink. And look, if it’s good enough for the Duchess of Cambridge, it’s good enough for us.

 

 

 

Seriously, going to a lovely Narnia themed market, is this your idea of doing one positive thing in November, you may ask? Hardly a hardship! Well, lovely readers, I take your point, but I was on a mission to source some sustainable products, and as luck would have it, they were just down the road, at City Church.

 

I haven’t frequented a market in AGES. Back in the day, LSB and I were often to be found sipping coffee and munching on a sausage bap in St George’s Market of a Saturday morning, for recuperative purposes after an evening’s frivolity. Then we got married and started pro-creating, and for a while we carted the wee ones down with us, and mainlined the caffeine since we were getting about 2 hours sleep a night. However, soon we discovered parkrun, and it was actually easier to run 5km with a double buggy than face the throngs of shoppers in a tight space.

 

Recently though, The Fine and Dandy Market kept popping up on my Facebook feed, and when I noticed a company selling all things green, I thought, I need to haul my ass down to that. This morning I met the young couple from Earth Made, who suggest ways in which we can ditch the single use plastic and use some gorgeous products as well. They sell steel and bamboo straws, cleansers and cotton buds, shaving sets and lotions: all vegan and plastic free. For £8-50 I picked up a powder pink box of shampoo cubes, which smell citrussy and utterly indulgent. I appreciate that sounds pricey, but there were 24 mini blocks contained within. I better give one of these bad boys a try, I thought, before I start harassing people to buy them. Into the shower I got, and mushed it up into a paste in my palm, which worked up a mighty lather. I smooshed the rest around as a delightful alternative to shower gel. I didn’t need conditioner, and when I went to our lovely friends’ house for dinner they probably thought I’d lost the plot completely as I kept sniffing my glowing locks.

 

Another step to healthy hair is not washing it so often , stripping the bejesus out of every strand, with not a natural oil in sight. I’m convinced too, that some of those big brand shampoos likely contain nasties which make your hair look rank quite quickly, thus ensuring that it needs washed more. I’m telling you, cowboys the lot of them.

 

I also bought loo roll, because after cooking all that vegan food and supping pumpkin soup, we had fairly depleted our supplies. (TMI, the Mothership will screech). I’d heard of the brand ‘Who Gives a Crap‘ before, and in fact had heard a lady mention them recently on ‘Call you and yours’ on Radio 4. I must say, I do love Winifred Robinson. It’s a fine loo roll, and comes wrapped in paper, not plastic, and they donate half their profits to a third world charity to build toilets. What’s not to like? I bought three rolls, at a pound each, but if you buy in bulk you can get them cheaper.

 

Finally, I picked up some totally decadent hot chocolate. I’d have been happy to pay £3 for a glass of which some of the proceeds go to Flourish, a charity which helps victims of human trafficking.

 

The market would be a fabulous place to visit pre-Christmas, for gifts to buy that fecker of a friend who has everything a unique and unexpected present, and of course to encourage local artists and charitable organisations. I don’t think I ever appreciated the work that goes into creating a product; sourcing a venue and setting up a stall and spending hours every weekend trying to make a sale. It’s lovely to be able to support local traders; especially when you see the hours of work which have gone into their craft.