So, aren’t there any shops in Belfast?

Hi there, I hope you had a good week? The start of June is the time of year when all teachers hear is, ‘I’m sure you must be winding down!’ – nope

On Monday Morning ‘Marking Season’ will begin, it has all the tension of ‘Marching Season’ without the relief of the burger van. I’m marking school and public exams so it will be LOTS of fun.

For the next three weeks I will be holed up in the front room with the papers, every few days the kids open the door and throw in some meat and put fresh straw on the floor. Even JY has packed herself up in the hope someone will take her away from the impending horror.

With this self imposed purdah on the horizon I thought it would be nice to spend some time with Mother. I started to ponder where would be nice to go…….

During the week I was in her apartment (definitely not her flat), we were chatting when out of nowhere (please note, nothing Mother says is EVER, out of nowhere) she observed, ‘you know what, it’s ages since I’ve been to Forkhill’. To the best of my knowledge, neither of us have ever been to Forkhill.

Forkhill is a very small town nestling among the drumlins and peace loving people of South Armagh. It is a very long way to travel for a casual visit. Mother’s motives soon became clear. So.……..

Two weeks ago mother saw a picture of ‘Liz Weir the Storyteller’ on Facebook, she was receiving an honour from the Queen and had a ‘great outfit’ on.

Then last Saturday, didn’t Mother run into ‘Liz Weir the Storyteller’ at the Maritime Festival and compliment her on the outfit.

At which point, ‘Liz Weir the Storyteller’ mentioned that she got the lovely outfit in a Great Wee Shop in FORKHILL.

You see, Mother (and I) are currently in the business of looking for great outfits for a wedding in October. This is not The Bolter’s wedding – the outfit for that was locked in a long time ago.

Mother’s (only) sister recently announced her engagement to marry her partner of 20 years. We are actually very happy, but would have preferred if they had said, were getting married to protect our pensions and avoid inheritance tax. Instead they said (with absolutely no hint of irony) that they were sitting beside a geyser in New Zealand and it just came to them.

Added to this she did not ask Mother, her (only) (did I mention only) sister to be her Witness / Bridesmaid. A potential in-law has been approached instead.

A blind man on a galloping horse could see that this decision has created a little bit of tension, and the hunt for the perfect outfit began. The ‘Liz Weir lead’ set us on the road to Forkhill to find the perfect – tasteful, elegant, takes two stone off me, not weddingy, able to walk in, definitely nicer than the bridesmaid (possibly even nicer than the bride) outfit.

The day began with a nice breakfast at a local co-op. It a great place and the food is fantastic. The local North Belfast intelligentsia pitch up every Saturday morning to buy their sourdough, and feel smug (I can say that because I count myself among their number). If you are going to be a hardcore Co-oper there a couple of must have accessories.

The canvas tote and egg box for the fresh farm eggs. These are mine. The tote can’t be too new or you will look like a ‘try’. This is local parlance for ‘try hard’ as in ‘Oh my God, Sophie is suuuuuuuuuuuch a try’

The outfit is also very important. For men its a cargo short, an (old) band t-shirt to remember your rock and roll youth and a walking sandal. For women this look also works, but a fine knit jumper and , messy bun and a patterned skirt from White Stuff / Boden / Sea salt is also an option – this is worn with coloured hose and a sturdy shoe. Two weeks ago I was there with YC, she looked around and, accurately, observed, ‘sweet Jesus, everybody here looks like you!’

After a lovely breakfast – I had aubergine stew with goats cheese on sourdough we hit the road. On arrival in Forkhill the first thing we had to do was find somewhere to have a cup of tea. Mother is a very talented woman, but her superpower is, ‘Finding somewhere nice to have a cup of tea’. Two minutes in the village and a quick stop off at the local General Merchant / Funeral Director and she had sourced an actual castle which had opened a tearoom yesterday.

Fed and watered we headed back to Forkhill and the ‘great wee shop’.

This is Joy, she owns the shop – and she is an alchemist. We walked into the shop, and after a few quickfire questions (where she completely understood our list of requirements) she stuck her arm into a rack of dresses and pulled out the perfect outfit. Another half hour and Mother had a headpiece and bag to go with the dress.

By mid afternoon, we were back on the road not quite able to believe what had just happened. It was only the occasional glance at the backseat where the ‘great outfit’ reposed that reassured us that Joy had worked her magic. It would be fair to say that a nimbus of smugness had descended on the car.

By next week I shall have been shut in a room for several days thinking deep thoughts about Geography – good thing I have this lovely dress ring I bought today to remind me of the outside world. xx

Out of the mouths of babes….

Hello again, how was your week? After my lovely retreat I started off with great intentions to ‘digitally detox’ (i.e. not being glued to my phone) and to eat mindfully.

The latter is more practical than spiritual – The Bolter is getting married and has made it clear that ‘ a hefter for a bridesmaid is not desirable’ (she actually meant this kindly – so don’t judge – I’ve been whinging about my weight for the 20 years we have know each other. And, to be fair, i’m wearing a fur cape and at my current girth, I would look like a bewildered Yeti who had wandered into a really classy event.

I started off well but in a week where two children were doing public exams and a third was white water rafting in Croatia, it was not an ideal time to be incommunicado. Also being off line would have meant I would have missed Andrea (knitters) photograph of the mammary shaped cheese she spotted in a local shop!

The Mindful eating also took a bit of a hit. I did try to slow down, but felt really daft setting my fork down to ‘think’ after every bite. Also, after a particularly stressful Wednesday I treated myself to the culinary magic which is cooked ham cut up into a bag of smooshed up Tayto cheese and onion. Ooops.

Tomorrow in work (the bank holiday) we are being treated to a ‘Middle Management Seminar’ – I am beyond excited. I am currently wondering if it is possible to take out a ‘gagging order’ or a ‘super injunction’ on myself in order to prevent me from some career ending ‘contributing’.

As I said last last week, as a family we are very very bad at ‘not commenting’. This affliction is hardwired into our DNA – and I am very proud to have passed it on to my children.

YC has said that it is ok for me to share these pictures.

YC has a complex medical condition, part of which means she has a ‘visible difference’. So when it came time for her to go to nursery school (age 3) there had been quite a few hoops to jump through.

One of the questions I was obsessed with was, ‘what will she do if the other children are mean?’ I have no idea why I thought like this – the only negative or unkind reactions YC has ever had have been from adults. But, there was no way I was letting my child go to school unprepared. After talking to her doctors and the Changing Faces charity the recurring message was, ‘giver her the language’.

So, before she went to school YC practiced with her siblings and I answering the following questions.

What is that? – It’s my birthmark isn’t it interesting? Is it sore? – Sometimes Can I touch it? – No, that would be sore Can I catch it? – no, it’s just mine

A few days in and everything seemed to be going smoothly……. then out of nowhere, YC said, ‘a boy asked me about my face today’. We all did a terrible impression of indifference, ‘Oh, what did he say?’ ( I was already writing the letter of complaint in my head).

He said, ‘what’s that?’ I said ‘ it’s a birthmark, you wanker!!!’ (this was accompanied by a duhhhhh noise and a shoulder shrug.

Shit! – ‘What happened then?’ ‘ He cried and I got tooken away from the sand tray.’

When YC was born the ‘big’ children were 4 & 2 and from the day she was born they have advocated for her.

It is a natural reaction for people to look into a pram to see the baby. On seeing YC people were not always able to formulate an appropriate reaction in the eyes of her siblings. MC perfected a strategy, if she was unimpressed, she tapped the ‘viewer’ on the arm, meeting them with her steely gaze and saying clearly and politely, ‘you can trot along now’. It was very effective.

Trot along now!

MC’s view on most things is very clear and this extends to religion. Her thoughts on. Modern Catholicism came to the fore on the evening she received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I was the same age, ‘First Confession’ ( before the reconciliation rebrand) was very different. We were all marched over to the church and after a bewildering few minutes in a dark box with the priest on the other side of a grille we were sin free. There were 39 girls in my class, 38 of us were given one Hail Mary for our penance and the 39th got a decade of the rosary (that is hard core). It has been 40 years since that day and I am STILL wondering what the hell a seven year old did to get that penance – it must have been great.

By the time my children were at the same age things had really changed. gone were the dark boxes and the fear of eternal damnation. But, it might be fair to say that things have possibly moved too far in the ‘saggy titted tree hugger’ direction, I don’t even think sin was mentioned. The children are asked to draw a picture of a time ‘they did not please God’, then they sit out in the open beside the priest and have a chat, after absolution has been granted the picture is torn up to represent a fresh start. MC, as you can imagine found the whole thing rather patronising. She elected not do discuss an actual sin (time she did not please God) and made one up instead. Everything in MC’s life is on a strictly need to know basis.

We all trouped down to the church and at the appointed time I accompanied to the altar and stood back watching her transformation to a ‘state of grace’ taking place. We went back to our seat and I looked at my watch (deliberately) – exactly 29 seconds later, MC looked around, and there was another ‘glint’ – ‘Well, isn’t this fu****g boring’?’ (to be honest it was a bit dull)

When it comes to EC, he has a different nature from his sisters but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moments when my head has been in my hands.

Nearly twenty years ago I took a colony of Beavers (very small Scouts, not buck toothed, water loving mammals) to the local fire station. EC was among them. The lovely fireman was giving them a talk about safety and making sure to close the house up tight at night to stop smoke spreading.

At this point EC puts up his hand and informs the group, ‘Actually, my house was built in 1913 and none of the doors are a standard size so its impossible to get a good seal’ (my pompous arse apple didn’t fall far from the tree). The fireman looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders in a I know! sort of a way, without claiming any kinship) Yep, I actually denied knowing my own child.

I’m sure there is a book somewhere with a title like ’47 habits of being an uncontroversial middle class child’. None of my children will have read it, and do you know what? I’m delighted, because I think they are legends.

One for all and all for one

I’ve been to paradise…. (or, get thee to a nunnery)

Hello again! Have you spent the whole week wondering what I’m getting up to?????

Well, while you are reading this I shall be three days into a silent retreat at a local monastery. I know!!!!

When I told friends and family of this particular plan it was greeted with chortles, guffaws and even a couple of snorts (Mary O’G, I’m talking about you!!). It would be fair to say that I would generally be described as – talkative, loquacious, voluble, chattering, gabby, wordy and usually just plain loud. Some of my school reports also reflect my inability to shut up!

So why a silent retreat?

Firstly, this weekend represents a magical moment in the school year. The exam classes have just left and the internal exams, external marking and all the crap jobs that we have been putting off to the end of the year have not yet started. So its a perfect time for a bit of headspace.

Secondly, I’m seeing a ‘great woman’ at the minute (counsellor not romantic liaison). She keeps talking about ‘finding my essential self’ – which is probably not a bad idea. To try to do this in a house full of three very opinionated children, Rosa the childminder, JY and Mother on the end of the phone is a touch challenging. So I decided to ‘book in’ somewhere.

All this thinking put me in mind of the Johari Window (you know the one Donald Rumsfeld caused all the confusion with a few years ago).

It was all the rage in education a while back. Around the time we were all obsessed about which of Dr de Bono’s hats to wear (personally I don’t think you can go past a silk turban with an ostrich feather)

Lot’s of people had gone on courses and were bursting to share their wisdom with us. On one particular occasion we were gathered in the hall while a speaker in the vanguard of educational thinking showed us the Johari Window and told us we should be incorporating it into our classroom practice. Any school staff is a widely diverse bunch, but on that particular day a single thought rose into the ether like a cloud.

Mercifully the educational gurus have moved onto something else – these days I think it’s ‘brain based humanism’ and the window is firmly closed – at least as far as work is concerned.

But, I digress – I think my ‘great woman’ might even be so bold as to suggest a touch of displacement!

Years ago a singer called Charlene (not Kylie Minogue – this was her actual name) sung a pleasing ditty entitled ‘ I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me’. I’m just a wee bit concerned that after all the whale music and the navel gazing I might not like what I find!! Or, God forbid, I don’t find anything at all!! It might turn out that I’m a 46 year old Geography teacher from suburban Belfast…… and that would never do!

I’ll let you know how I get on……

In the psychiatrist’s chair….almost

Hello again,

I’ve had a lovely week. On Thursday night, Mother and I went to YC school concert. It was brilliant, and naturally, I cried. There were a wide range of performances, although I’m yet to be convinced by the ‘Irish dancing / African Drums’ fusion number. Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough?

On Friday night I was out on the town with my school pal Gill. It was one of those wonderful evenings where conversations from, five, ten and even thirty years ago just get picked up as if it was yesterday.

Me with my school pals, Gill is the one in the light blue cable jumper, Sharon is top left and Vohn bottom right. I’m the one with the very bad perm. If you look closely you will see I’m sporting a brooch on my sweatshirt – brooches were my thing in the ’80’s!! The pony tail is being secured by a length of black lace. It was a cruel decade.

Anyway….. following ‘Trumpgate’ I swore off internet dating. I studiously ignored my phone, but when another smile ‘pinged’ I couldn’t resist a skelly. It looked promising – a Scottish psychiatrist working at a local hospital. After the usual rounds of likes / dislikes / etc we got chatting properly and it all seemed to be going swimmingly. There had been a slight wrinkle when I corrected him on a point of grammar – this did not impress.

The trouble is, I wasn’t really designed for admiring ‘baskets of kittens’ while the menfolk do the thinking. I was getting the impression that SP (Scottish Psychiatrist) was used to being the cleverest boy in the room.

On Christmas night – things took a turn. We had been chatting about inconsequential stuff (including the fact that he would only give Katherine Hepburn 97/100 – that should have been my clue), when he sent the following message,

‘So how long have you been single – or in other words – when was the last time you had any sort of relationship? Short term, long term relationship, very short / fling….’

Talk about a change of pace!!!!! It was like one of those questionnaires they give you at the beginning of a new round of counselling. On a side note, I once refused to fill in one of those ‘ have you got post natal depression?’ handouts you get after having a baby. At the time I was most definitely post natally depressed – but the form wasn’t photocopied onto the page straight! That told them all they needed to know.

In order to diffuse what was becoming a rather serious conversation – I jokingly (why will I never learn) observed that The American had been jettisoned because of his voting preferences. Well……….. clearly all the clever boys defend each other.

He was fuming. Didn’t I know all the good things Trump had done? Where was I getting my (flawed) information? For the record – BBC, CNN, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic ( and to be fair – Private Eye)

PS That’s JY looking distinctly Headshrinky in her turtleneck.

This went back and forth for a while. I probably should have climbed (or fallen given my history) off my high horse, but I just couldn’t. His final message observed that he didn’t want to meet someone who was strongly opinionated and that he was blocking my number. Phew!

How was I attracting these delights?? My knitting friend ‘Lovely Sharon’ who does clever things with Apps, explained that because I had mentioned faith and religion on my profile the algorithm could be skewing the results to the right. Fair enough, I wasn’t prepared to change or deny this part of my life so I took a different tack.

I logged onto ‘Romances allied to Rome’ (or something like that) and got stuck in. The questionnaire was thorough to say the least. There are now men all over the world who know my favourite saint (St Joseph) my thoughts on contraception (that would be a yes) and my preferred form of the liturgy…….

Once again I went with honesty…. possibly a mistake.

Following my ‘revelation’ that I was the proud owner of a degree absolute, a tattoo and a gay child it turned out there weren’t too many matches. I think they may have formed a committee to resurrect Dante Alighieri in order that he can create a new ring of hell just for me.

So here I am – stuck between a rock and a hard place (or not!) – too straitlaced for mainstream sites, too radical for the Holy Joes. I am distinctly niche.

What to do?? Well, I’ve decided to try the ‘clubs and societies’ route.

I’ve signed up for Classical Greek, Philosophy and Walking with Mensans (The Bolter unkindly observed that the last one sounded like living with a chronic condition). I am genuinely interested in all of this so its not just about ‘ Mancatching’ – but you never know.

Next week – Stroke, Horse, Hot – Origins…..

And then there were sausage rolls…..

It’s been a lovely week – spring has definitely sprung! During the week MC passed an interview which takes her a big step closer to his chosen career and I was away on a fieldtrip. It was great, I got to spend two days fannying about in the Mournes measuring ‘stuff’ in rivers and the sea. It was made even better by the fact that the students we had with us were fabulous.

My romantic history was summarised very succinctly a few years ago by EC, ‘ Face it Mummy, first there was Conall (first boyfriend age 17 -20), then there was Daddy (age 20 -39) and then there were sausage rolls (age 39 to present)’

I had thought by now that I would have been married to Dick Strawbridge or Levison Wood ( I definitely have a type). However, in the interim Dick got married putting him out of contention. The last I heard (i.e. Googled) the Lovely Lev is still on the market – so if anyone has his number, do pass on my details. I think we would be perfect for each other.

Given that my social life revolves around knitting, Mass and solitary walks with Judgmental Yorkie chances for romance are thin on the ground.

JY looking wistful on the Holywood coastal path yesterday.

In addition my limited efforts in flirting in person were not hugely successful either. I did meet a lovely author one night at an event with Mother (see, out with my Mother – the glamour!) who I fancied the knickers off. However too much gin nervous gin drinking led me to discussing ‘times past’ and that put paid to that. I did order his books off Amazon and mooned over his tiny picture like I used to with ‘The Edge’ in the Jackie in the 1980’s – but eventually I wised up.

Having bored all my friends with my lamenting and keening I accepted their pleading to ‘get online’. Several had them had tried this and had a great combination of horror stories and happy endings. The one common thread was that within seconds of logging on I would be ‘inundated’ with smiles / winks and offers.

I did my research, checked my bank balance (true love doesn’t come cheap) and elected to definitely NOT pick anything which would involve a swipe!

The next stage of this epic was filling in the questionnaire. Holy God, getting my degree was less stressful.

I decided honesty was the best policy. As a result I launched myself into cyberspace as:

a) ‘Malcom Tucker meets Jean Brodie’

b) Radio 4 fan

c) Witty & Intelligent

d) Requires well read man who understands nuance and looks good in Gortex.

Now how hard should that have been? I also added hillwalking – everybody says hillwalking but in my case it is actually true. Mind you, given the number of people who write it, the hills should be littered with eligible men. The two days I spent in the Mournes this week should have been like shooting desirable, attractive fish in a barrel. Alas this was not the case and there was a definite scarcity of opportunities.


I added my picture and sat back and waited for the offers to roll in, and waited and waited and waited…..

Cue stock pictures of tumbleweed, calendar pages ripping off and swirling newspapers with appropriate seasonal references.

It seems that Radio 4 listeners who enjoy hillwalking, fibre arts and intellectual snobbery are not as readily available as the saucy tales of my friends would have suggested.

However, one day in late summer a ‘smile’ landed in my in box and my American adventure began……

Not to diminish YOUR injury…

Hello Everyone – Did you have a good week? Earlier in the week I got asked to speak at a work thing ….quite a big work thing. SO, naturally, before I even began the Powerpoint or attempted to meet any key performance indicators, I had to decide what to wear. There was only one possible option – phone The Bolter. The Bolter is my big elegant mate, we worked together for many years, until she, well, ummm, bolted! She lives in a hot country with her lovely partner (Mr Bolter) and their incredible toddler twins (The Bons)

So.… I issued my requirements, ‘ I had to not look like a Geography Teacher (awkward, because that is exactly what I am), a guest at a wedding or a try hard! Within nano seconds she came back with, your nice black tunic dress, a statement necklace, and PROPER shoes. As a result I found myself in M&S handing over a month’s wages for some ‘shaping hose’. If I am to believe the packet I will wake up like Rhea Parlman and leave the house like Nicole Kidman! Here’s hoping….

…… anyway, the hot water bottle…..

The rest of the summer passed peacefully and I spent a great holiday with The Bolter and her family. My entry into the country this time was smoother than my last attempt. The previous November I had been coming through a European airport doing, what I thought was a credible impression of a Victoria’s Secret Angel – unfortunately the guards took exception to this and pointed their big guns at me. A quick swoop around the luggage carousel and it was all fine….

I has a super time and we did a lot of ‘sitting’ – one evening we were heading off to a fancy restaurant and Mr Bolter suggested (gently) that I might like the Bolter to do my hair (even, given that later the same evening he tried to bring home two stray dogs – it was good advice). She worked her magic with her ‘Big Hair’ and I began to look a bit less frantic – needless to say I was straight on the phone and there was one waiting in Belfast on my return.

I bounded back to school in August full of vim and vigour and within three days was in constant agony as my back injury did not take kindly to the constant ‘stand up, sit down, keep moving’ of the teaching day. Within a couple of weeks I was walking like Douglas Bader (more realistically Kenneth Moore in reach for the skies – which is my only point of reference). The only thing that brought me any ease was heat. Late one Sunday afternoon in September I was attempting to fill a hot water bottle. It was one of those fancy long thin yokes with a beautiful cashmere cover. I’m still not exactly sure what happened – an air bubble, a leak…. but suddenly instead of calmly filling the bottle my face and chest was covered in boiling water.

Holy Christ it was sore – I put my hands to my face and when I could bear to remove them most of my nose landed on the kitchen floor – it was a rather Voldermorty moment. My screams brought EC and MC running and soon I was being swathed in wet towels and a taxi had been called to take me to the hospital.

As always these difficult experiences are helped by the characters you meet along the way.

Our taxi driver had the best afternoon ever! In response to MC instruction of get us to the Royal as fast as you can – he responded with vigour. It was like being in Grand Theft Auto – I believe we took Carlisle Circus on two wheels. In addition, at random moments he would throw water from his bottle over me to wet the towel. With a dramatic tuck and roll at the hospital entrance we exited the taxi and headed for help. MC went to check me in. There seemed to be a tortuous round of questions, name, age, address etc and finally what happened. In response to ‘My silly cow of a Ma has covered herself in boiling water’ the receptionist asked in a quiet voice ‘Where is your mother now?’ She pointed at my sopping, sobbing figure and all hell broke loose.

We were guided through a series of doors and the room filled with people. Very quickly the soothing gel was applied and I was swathed in a mask.

The English Patient

It seemed that I was to work my way through the entire Fiennes canon in one afternoon. I was treated by a wonderful nurse (ex army) who reassured me that he had seen much worse in battle! and then entertained us with stories of his time as a cruise ship medic. The transformation from GI Joe to Jayne Macdonald did seem a little strange – but we went with it. Some time later he came back concerned that I would feel my wounds were being diminished by his tales of war – I didn’t.

Mercifully I was soon discharged with an impressive bag of unguents to rub on.

My recovery was slow but steady and there were highlights – for example the morning I found two impressive new burns where the boiling water had tracked down the underwire of my bra and burned under by boobs. The day the face recognition on my laptop, recognised me again was actually quite emotional.

With all this time to recuperate I began to think and ponder and as we know, ‘In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’. Although in this case it was Autumn and it was a 45 year old woman – but you know what I mean……

Jooin me next week to see how that adventure panned out.