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Hubris

July 9th, 2016

Herself has returned from France. Hurrah. We missed her. She had a good time in parts but I think it was a long time for her to be away eating salad regularly.

This afternoon we decided to cycle to a new crêperie. We went out to the shed only to discover that the Princess’s bike had been nicked during the week. To be fair to us, we noticed that the shed door had been forced but we couldn’t see that anything was missing. Observant, that’s us.

We bought her a new one today anyhow and she has pronounced herself pleased.

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We have now added a new bolt to the shed door. Insert your own proverb related joke here.

We Few, We Happy Few* or a Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Bicycle

July 8th, 2016

Mr. Waffle was looking at the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035 (yes, our fireside is a forum for the wisdom of serene old age) and drew my attention to the following paragraph:

The number of girls aged 13-18 cycling to school in the State, has fallen from c.19,000 in 1986 to c.500 in 2011. Over the same period, the cycling mode share has fallen from 11.2% to 0.3%, or from approximately 1 in every 9 girls to close to 1 in every 30.

Funnily enough, 1986 was the year I finished school. I cycled in and out every day for my entire secondary school life, even when it was lashing rain and I feel it almost always was. Mr. Waffle also cycled to and from school. Now, as adults, we both cycle to work. I know there are lots of people who cycled to school who don’t cycle to work but I’m willing to bet that there’s no one cycling to work who didn’t also cycle to school.

So it was understandable that Mr. Waffle and I felt that the Princess might cycle to secondary school when the moment arose, last September. We felt some trepidation at the start of the year but it’s been fine. I must say that I hadn’t realised that she was one of only 500 in the State (although, numbers may, of course, have risen since 2011 and the trend is positive – I await the results of the 2016 census on this point with nerdy enthusiasm). I really wish that cycling infrastructure in Dublin were better and more people could feel comfortable getting out on bicycles. In particular I would love to be able to let my sons cycle alone to their primary school. But it’s just not possible. It’s pretty heart stopping even when I’m with them; I just couldn’t let them go alone.

I know this is going to make me sound like a smug cyclist (for the simple reason that I am, I suppose) but I am so glad that my parents made me cycle to school every day. It never occurred to me to stop cycling when I learnt to drive. Partly, I think because I saw my father cycling to work and around the city as an adult. He continued to do so into his 80s but he has been grounded now.

Cycling is handy and speedy in the city and it’s probably the only exercise I get with any consistency. I hope that I can make all my children lifelong cyclists too.

*I am aware that this comes from a speech before going into battle; sometimes cycling in Dublin can feel like that.

Summer Extravaganza Continues

July 5th, 2016

Many years ago, when I lived in Brussels, I shared a house with a woman from Paris and we became good friends. She came to my wedding. I went to hers. Even though the Princess was only three weeks old and it was our first time travelling with her. We went from Brussels to Normandy. It took a lot out of us. The next year, my French friend and her husband had a baby girl. We said that when the time came we would exchange daughters.

And we did. My friend’s daughter E came to stay last week. I’d really only known her from Christmas card photos and she is a sweet little girl. She’s only 12 to the Princess’s 13 and a year seems to make quite a difference. Herself seemed much more sophisticated. They went to a science course in Trinity in the morning and for most of the afternoons, we let them wander around Dublin alone together which they both seemed to rather enjoy. I think culture may have got short shrift but they both saw plenty of Penny’s. I was a bit worried the first day but when they got the bus home safely together, I was reassured.

They went off to Paris together on Friday morning. On arrival, they were promptly packed into the family car and taken to stay with friends in Normandy and only returned to Paris on Sunday. My friend moved house last week – so herself may yet help with unpacking. It’s all a bit unclear. Much drama and excitement anyhow and she seems to be enjoying herself so far.

It’s Been Busy

July 5th, 2016

Well there’s been the Brexit thing and I find myself utterly rivetted by the excitement across the water.

Then, we sold our old house. We had been renting it out but when we were no longer in negative equity, we felt it would be advisable to sell up and repay some of our current mortgage [sale closed on the day of the Brexit vote which is probably good in retrospect but utterly coincidental]. Mr. Waffle did all the heavy lifting including dealing with the estate agent and the solicitor.

We decided to sell through Felicity Fox because I liked the look of their ads (I have been looking at house for sale ads since I was a small child, I’m a connoisseuse) and because I liked the idea of supporting a woman who had gone out on her own in the rather masculine-led world of Dublin estate agents*. We had no contact with Felicity herself but it all passed off peacefully and speedily. After we sold the house, the estate agent turned up with a thank you card and a bottle of prosecco which I thought was pretty good. I am easily impressed. My solicitor said, “That’s what you get, if you go with a fancy South side estate agent.” I am not entirely sure that this is true.

The day before the sale closed, I got a call from the solicitor who is a friend of mine from college. In the course of the conversation, I realised just how much of the work my loving husband had done. The conversation went as follows.

Her: This is a bit awkward, but just checking that you know that you’re due to close on the sale of your old house tomorrow.
Me: Yes, of course.
Her: It’s just that I haven’t spoken to you or had anything in writing from you throughout the transaction [we witnessed the documents at home in front of another solicitor because I couldn’t get in to her office during the day] and I wanted to check that you weren’t buried under the patio slabs.

*No favours etc were given for this endorsement. Unfortunately.

Where is Heath Robinson When You Need Him?

July 4th, 2016

I was down in Cork at my parents’ house recently. The cistern in the upstairs bathroom has been delicate for a long time. Unless you put the handle at exactly the right angle, it continued filling indefinitely. When I went to the bathroom, I discovered that the arrangement no longer worked and to address the problem, pro tem, my brother had tied his belt around the ballcock and pulled it upwards by attaching his belt to the window catch. It worked but it was, frankly, sub-optimal.

Inevitably, I suppose, the day I was due to leave, while moving the belt to open the window, I managed to break the lid of the cistern. I apologised all round and ran out the door to get my train. I haven’t been back since and am afraid to ask whether cistern lids are a standard size or whether, even now, something special is being crafted for my parents in the armitage shanks workshop. Sigh.

Northern Ireland

June 20th, 2016

Welcome to my somewhat delayed account of our trip to Northern Ireland on the June bank holiday weekend. I know, you’ve been waiting anxiously.

I have been dying to get my little family to Co. Antrim since I had a wonderful trip there last year with some friends from a former job.

We set off late on Friday afternoon without the cat, somewhat to her chagrin.

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Traffic out of Dublin was dreadful. We decided to go for dinner once we were safely across the border. We stopped in Hillsborough where the children were suitably impressed by the phone boxes and the post boxes. It’s like going abroad, only not.

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We were staying outside Coleraine. When I mentioned this to a number of people they looked very dubious and my brother announced that “Coleraine is the dullest place in Ireland.” In fact the accommodation was fine. It was on a farm outside the town. Our host was very chatty and kept goats which the children were allowed to feed and, at her request, took the Princess on a full tour of the farm including seeing bags and bags of sheep’s wool which had been sheared during the week (very oily apparently).

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In fact the only problem with the accommodation was that the heating was set to what my friend from Bangor refers to as “Ulster Granny” levels and there was no real way to turn it off. Indeed, our host was quite keen for us to light the fire and gave us logs for that purpose. I am sure, most of the time, that is necessary but the bank holiday weekend was very warm and sunny. It would have been quite cheap as well but, despite my hopes, market nervousness about Brexit was insufficient to make any dent on the exchange rate.

The next morning we were up bright and early to go to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which we all enjoyed but it was very warm indeed. In fact, a bit too hot which, I suspect is not normally a problem for visitors to Co. Antrim.

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Then we went down to Ballintoy harbour for an ice cream. It features in Game of Thrones and I thought that the boys might be mildly interested. They were, very mildly. I hasten to add that they have not seen Game of Thrones but it seems to be seeping into the primary school culture.  Unnerving. Our host told us that our accommodation had also hosted Game of Thrones crew members. I’d say anywhere within a 90 minute drive of the Antrim coast can boast some kind of connection.

Then we went in to Bushmills for lunch and decided that we would do the touristy thing and take the train from there to the Giant’s Causeway. This was a mistake. The train is actually the world’s slowest tram. It was very slow.  And not very busy.  For reasons which became entirely obvious as we were overtaken by hikers en route.

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We got there eventually though. We emerged from the tram somewhat disorientated. We saw three locals with fishing rods and asked where the Giant’s Causeway was. They pointed in the opposite direction from where we were going. They were keen to emphasise that although it looked like you had to pay to get in via the visitor centre, access to the site was free via the underpass. I love frugal Northerners. We inspected the Giant’s Causeway. The children were a bit tired and underwhelmed. Herself and Daniel were grabbed by a Chinese woman who wanted them to be in her photo. They were surprised but willing and even now may be being inspected by this woman’s friends in China.

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There were busloads of Chinese tourists there. Although it was busier than it had been when I went there last year, it was not too dissimilar. Mr. Waffle, on the other hand had lasted visited in 1986 when he was there on his own pretty well and he found the crowds of people quite surreal.

Unfortunately, the last tram had left by the time we got back to the tram stop and we found ourselves reliant on Ulster Bus to get back to our car in Bushmills. We spent a tense enough half hour at the bus stop but, happily, a bus did come and return us safely to our car.

Mild highlight of the day was returning to our accommodation with a pack of Northern Taytos under our oxters and having a blind taste test as against Southern Taytos to see which was best. For the record, we found them indistinguishable.

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On Sunday we went in to Portstewart for Mass which was neither as full nor as long as I expected. After mass the boys went on a bouncy castle and the rest of us had a cup of tea. God, it was hot.

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While walking along the Promenade we found this product:

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There are no words.

We went to Downhill beach for a swim. This is an amazingly beautiful beach overlooked by Mussenden Temple. The scenery is utterly breathtaking. Our Northern brethern have chosen to let cars come on to the beach and park there. While I think that this is appalling and really, really wrong, a very small part of me has to concede that it is extremely handy to park your car and pull the stuff out of the boot and have it right beside you which seems to be the form locally.

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The Princess and I swam and Michael went in as far as his waist. The water was freezing but very clear and when you got out, the beach was absolutely roasting so you dried almost immediately, it was like being in the South of France. Except that the water was freezing.

For lunch we went in to Castlerock. We took ourselves to the only place that seemed to be open and it was quite rough, I thought. For the only time on the trip, I did feel quite conscious that we were Southerners and Catholic to boot. The man told us dourly to take “a wee seat in the wee bar for a wee minute” and we sat with the local, tattooed, beefy, hard chaws feeling a bit unnerved. We were seated speedily enough and our waitress was pleasant and the food alright and extremely economically priced but we were not tempted to linger.

Then we went to look at Mussenden Temple which was quite beautiful and in the hands of the resolutely middle-class and safe feeling National Trust.

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I have to tell you that the Earl Bishop of Derry was, however, completely nuts to build a library right on the North coast. Even on the spectacularly warm day we visited it was pretty damp. Apparently in its heyday there was always a fire burning in the basement to keep out the damp.

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The big house is a ruin but quite a recent one. It seems to have been pretty much intact up to the end of the second world war.

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While Daniel and Michael played in the ruins of the house, the Princess and I rushed to see Hezlett House which was a traditional cottage (price of admission covered by the ticket for the main house). It was quite interesting and we pretty much had it to ourselves. As we arrived, the guide gave us a laminated card and told us that it was a “wee self-guided tour”. He had to say it three times before we understood though. The accent can be challenging for those of us unfamiliar with it.

The next day was the bank holiday Monday in the South but the previous Monday had been the bank holiday in the North. See my cunning? I took us to the Titanic museum in Belfast and it was reasonably empty. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea but I think that the children liked it and it was certainly interesting in parts. It really tries to reset the narrative to focus on shipbuilding in Belfast rather than the ship that sank. It is only partially successful in that regard. A small tender, the SS Nomadic, the last White Star Line boat in the world is available to visit also and we found that mildly enjoyable. Toilets were something of a highlight for the more juvenile members of the party.

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And there was dressing up.

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And then, back to Dublin. I would definitely go again. It’s really beautiful in Antrim and far more accessible from Dublin than West Cork or Kerry – where the scenery is also pretty impressive. It’s also, busloads of Chinese tourists notwithstanding, generally far less touristy than the South. I think we’ll be back.

Trials and Tribulations

June 19th, 2016

Herself had her oral Irish exam before finishing school the other week. She found it trying. The teacher asked whether she had any siblings. She said that she had two brothers. The teacher asked whether they all got on. Herself said that her brothers could be annoying; the teacher asked how. And, as she said to me, “Mum, I knew when I was trying to say ‘fart gun’ in Irish, I was doomed.”

Yes, the fart gun continues to be much loved by Michael, why do you ask?


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