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Seen and Not Heard

February 15th, 2018

When I was a child, my parents would regularly say to me, “Children should be seen and not heard.” It did not seem odd to me and it was standard that children would have to be silent to allow grown-ups converse although, children could, of course, leave (I found out the hard way that swinging silently but thrillingly from the curtains in the room until eventually bringing down the pelmet was not an approved activity). It didn’t seem harsh or inhuman or anything other than completely normal. My husband was astonished when he heard this and it feeds further into his belief that I had the last Victorian childhood in Ireland. He, of course, was raised by hippies (well, relative hippies,I mean his father was a captain of industry but a very right-on one), so I was unsurprised. I checked with my bookclub and while I was not alone in hearing this expression brandished about, I was a definite minority. I feel that it was reasonably widespread but the unscientific evidence seems to be against me on this point. Gentle readers, did your parents say it to you?

Only Child

February 13th, 2018

It’s mid-term. Herself and Daniel are off in Munich on a school tour. They left at 4 yesterday morning and seem to be still alive. A tribute to their teachers.

We strongly encouraged Michael to go but he even more strongly resisted so he is home alone for the week. Boy is he loving it, my little home bird. We signed him up for a sports course between 9.30 and 4 (advertised as “for the sporty child” – “I’m not a sporty child,” he pointed out. I said that it would be fine, it is fine). I knocked off work early today and picked him up. I offered all manner of treats but he just wanted to go home and sit in front of the fire where, even now, he is sitting happily. It’s all very peaceful.

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Things are the Sons of Heaven

February 12th, 2018

My parents and my grandparents had lots of mahogany furniture. My grandmother gave my mother some of her furniture including an enormous solid bookcase and my mother spent a great deal of her own time scouring auctions from where much of our furniture was sourced (I used to sit beside her quiet as a mouse because she told me if I moved at all, items would be knocked down to me and I was terrified). This was great when my parents lived in a big house but not so fantastic when they moved to a smaller Edwardian semi-detached house which basically had to be organised and extended around the furniture. I remember one of my friends commenting when he came to my parents house first what a curiously old-fashioned house it was.

Anyway, doubtless due to my peculiar upbringing, I love dark furniture. I think mahogany is a lovely, lovely wood. And it is out of fashion so truly beautiful pieces are going for a song. I want to cry every time I see a big house auction and fantasise about bringing all these items home to my terraced Victorian house. Although, frankly, with the items we have already imported from my parents house and the sofas of doom, there isn’t a great deal of space. Furthermore, I am not at all handy and so the round mahogany table which should tilt sideways, is permanently slightly askew, let us not even speak of the piano, the wardrobe door will not close (my grandmother gave me the wardrobe and I love it but it is inconvenient to have to wedge one door shut with a child’s old sock) and one leg is collapsing and there seem to be no carpenters who are at all interested in mending these beautiful things. It is all a bit depressing. I saw in the Irish Times design supplement one Saturday (which I find curiously appealing, I know what you’re thinking, stop it) an exhortation to readers to go out and buy mahogany furniture cheap at auction and then paint it over with pretty pastel shades. I think I nearly did cry when I saw that.

Am I entirely alone in my love for cluttered living with dark furniture? A whole generation of Victorians can’t be wrong.

Independent Lives of Infinite Variety* or Weekly Round-Up

February 10th, 2018

Last Monday night, Daniel had hurling training, there was a talk in the school about Transition Year and I was hosting bookclub. Something had to give. It was Daniel’s training. He took it manfully, particularly since the weather was freezing.

On Tuesday night it was parents’ council in the school at 7, Michael in scouts at 7.30 and Mr. Waffle at soccer at 8. We made everything but one of us had to cycle home from the school at 8.30 in the evening in positively Baltic conditions.

On Wednesday morning, the Princess and I left the house at the same time. As we arrived at the top of the road in the freezing cold, she said, “I’ve forgotten my gloves but I’m not going back”. She had “mocks” this week, a venerable Irish rite of passage where you do a whole set of practice exams for a week before you do your actual State examinations in the summer. Since you have half a year of the course left to cover, results are invariably hair-raising. They are taking these with immense seriousness in the school and she was particularly anxious not be late. I was wearing gloves. It was very chilly, my fingers were frozen inside my gloves. I half-heartedly said, “You can have mine.” “No,” she said, “you have further to cycle” and she pedaled off like a demon in the other direction. I felt like a heel all day.

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On Wednesday night there were no activities. This encouraged me to spread my culinary wings. Other nights I get home at 6.30 and there is some activity which means that dinner has to be on the table and eaten by 7 which doesn’t really allow for flights of fancy. On Wednesday night we had salmon (sadly still raw when brought out of the oven), cheesy potatoes from the butcher (slightly out of date but ingredients were described as “potatoes, cheese, sauce” so a bit difficult to gauge how bad out of date might be, sauce, it turned out, included cream so that meant out of date corresponded to “completely inedible”) and green beans (do you find that these always take longer to cook than you might think?). The whole was an unmitigated disaster. Thursday saw me returning to “fun with pasta” (say what you like, pasta and pesto, hard to go wrong) and last night Mr. Waffle had to go out to his parents’ house so the children and I had take away which was undoubtedly the highlight of the culinary week although, doubtless, very bad for all of us.

How was your own culinary/activity filled week?

*Title is Hilaire Belloc, if you’re wondering

Absorbing Lessons about Work from your Parents and Applying them at Home (inadvisability thereof)

February 5th, 2018

Her (lying on the sofa): That picture over there is crooked.
Me (sitting down on the other side of the room): Well, get up and straighten it.
Her: I’m afraid you’ll have to do that, you see, I’m policy and you’re operations.

Change and Decay in All Around I See

February 4th, 2018

When I was in my 30s, a lot of my friends got married. The year that herself was born (2003), we attended 5 weddings in three different countries and it nearly killed us all.

I think, gloomily enough, this is going to be the decade of funerals, not funerals of my friends, I hasten to add, but of their parents. It’s only the start of February but I’ve already been to a removal and a funeral and a colleague’s father is gravely ill and I fear the worst. The removal was for another colleague’s father who died suddenly last weekend. The funeral was my oldest friend’s father who was also a friend of my parents.

The funeral was in Ballydehob in West Cork. I was speaking to a friend before I went and he said, “I love Ballydehob, that gorgeous little bridge.” As a Cork person, I didn’t want to seem ignorant of something a Dublin person knew about and I agreed sagely but inside I was thinking, “What gorgeous little bridge?” Then I realised he meant the really quite big bridge in Ballydehob. That’s Dubliners all over for you.

It’s about a two hour drive from Cork city and although I thought I’d left plenty of time, I arrived just as the funeral service was starting. It was one of the nicest funerals I’ve ever been at. Firstly, the church was beautiful and the service was short and straightforward and I liked the music. My friend spoke really well about her father and made everyone laugh and remember his good points. She spoke about the wonderful care he had received in hospital which is not the kind of thing we see much in the papers and I found it mildly reassuring. Unlike my friend who bore up amazingly, I was a bit tearful. I had known this man all my life and it felt like the end of an era, the utter end of a part of my childhood: I remembered him tending to my teeth (he was a dentist and probably the reason why I have never been at all afraid of dentists); making up stories for myself and my friend (he was a great storyteller – as a dedicated amateur actor, he brought great oomph to performances for even the smallest audiences) and trying in vain to persuade me to eat a boiled egg as a very small girl.

He was buried in Schull with a superb view over the harbour. He was always a great man for a view and he used to live in Oysterhaven on a hill with view and work in Cork at a time when commuting was not the commonplace feature of our lives that it is today. My parents thought he was crazy with his insane 30 minute commute (length of my father’s commute – 3 minutes by bicycle, my mother’s – 10 minutes on foot) but it was worth it to him. It’s nice to think he is buried with a view.

He was 87 and had not been in great health so his death was not a complete surprise. I was very glad that we had seen him en famille over the summer holidays. I felt really sad for my friend as well. She’s an only child and, I know, “how they will manage my funeral” is probably not a good reason to have more than one child but it is a hard time to be alone. She was amazing. I was struck by what a gift she has for friendship, perhaps because she was an only child (swings, roundabouts). She has a lot of lifelong friends, me included, and although the groups of friends don’t necessarily know each other particularly well, we’ve know each other and our stories through her over a lifetime. I had such a nice time at the hotel catching up with all these friends which I know sounds a bit weird (I am doubtless destined to become one of these old people who really enjoys a good funeral) but it was lovely. I ended up sitting beside her next door neighbour from when my friend was a child. I was always slightly wary of the neighbour because, like my friend, she is a year older than me and, when you’re seven, that’s a lot of sophistication. We had so much fun reminiscing about when we were children and the things we got up to with my friend. Her family were farmers and she told me that, very sadly, they lost the farm during the recession (apparently it was all over the news, how miserable), meanwhile the friend on the other side was telling me how her partner also had recession property difficulties and it struck me that our generation really bore a lot of the pain of Ireland’s recent boom/bust cycle: many of us were forced to emigrate in the 80s and 90s and almost all of us were also absolutely crucified on the property market between 2000 and 2008. However, I suppose we’re all still standing.

At least the longest January in living memory is finally over and things will surely improve. I am trying to teach my children “Anois teacht an Earraigh” in celebration (as they are learning no Irish poetry in school – insert middle aged tutting sound here) but they are resisting ferociously. They don’t seem to regard it as celebratory either. And how are your own start of spring celebrations going?

Christmas Round-Up

January 7th, 2018

So Christmas day passed off peacefully enough. Herself was displeased with her offering from Santa “Why does Santa hate me?” but otherwise all was well. We went out to the cousins for drinks with extended family but it was just ourselves at home for dinner which I really liked. I am not the world’s greatest natural hostess and I find it pleasantly undemanding when it is only family for dinner.

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Our crib shepherd lost a head at a crucial moment and so missed most of the big day. He was taken out by a large book on Dr. Who which hit him inadvertently. It was suggested that he might be renamed St. Denis for this year only (his head is now safely superglued back on his shoulders).

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On the 26th we went on the traditional orienteering expedition in the Dublin mountains with the cousins. For the first time ever, as far as I can remember, it did not rain.

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That evening, herself went as emergency babysitter to the three year old child of friends who live around the corner. It went very well and she sees a lucrative new income stream opening up.

On the 27th we went to Cork where a vast array of exciting presents awaited. We stayed in our friends’ place in East Cork and went up and down to Cork city for various excitements including ice skating.

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We did the Ballycotton cliff walk which was spectacularly muddy. We ran into another family; the mother was American and was walking along with a child in a sling and the father was Irish and admiring the view. They also had a two year old splashing through an enormous puddle. Her mother kept begging her not to run through the puddle; advice which the child ignored with unfortunate but not entirely unexpected consequences. I felt very sorry for the child and her mother. I did think her father was quite useless. Herself has urged me not to be so judgy but I said, “I bet your grandfather was better than that in the 1970s.” When we checked at her insistence, however, he indicated that he too would probably have looked at the view. I refuse to believe that. Like his granddaughter, he is not judgy (other than about politicians, oh my goodness, lots of judgements there) and I feel he just wanted to exonerate the father from blame. I digress. Thanks to our new boots and greater height and motor skills than the average two year old, we remained dry.

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That evening, my sister and her partner took the boys to the new Star Wars film and dinner in Milano’s. Herself, Mr. Waffle and I went for a more sophisticated dinner option together which she quite enjoyed (she tires of Milano’s but her brothers never will).

We finished our Christmas holiday jigsaw. Almost unbearable excitement, I know. The house in East Cork has no television or wifi which I really enjoy. The children, slightly less so, though not as much less as you might imagine.

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We were back up to Cork the next day where my brother and sister made a very elaborate family dinner for ten where the Yorkshire puddings were a highlight for Daniel and Michael. My brother bench pressed herself; this is the kind of quality entertainment that is available at family dinners. My father told us about his first meeting with my grandfather, his father-in-law to be. My mother went off somewhere with my grandmother and he and my grandfather were left to cope alone. My grandfather asked him whether he would like a drink. He would. At the time, my grandfather was going blind and after rooting around the cupboard, he emerged with a bottle of whiskey and poured out a measure for my father. He didn’t take any himself. My father who was a keen whiskey drinker was pretty sure that the contents weren’t whiskey but pretended to drink filled with fear that it might be some terrible poison – my grandfather was a farmer and farmers are or certainly were, inclined to fill random bottles with agricultural supplies. When my mother and my grandmother came home, investigation proved that the non-whiskey drink was actually Lourdes water. Also on herself asking him about living in American in the 1920s (long story, he did), he recollected turning off all the lights in the house commemorating some anniversary of the lightbulb. It must have been quite the shock coming back to Cork with its oil lamps in the 1930s. He also was quite adamant that it snowed while they were in America, given that they were living in Orange County, South Pasadena (apparently the South was important), that seems a little unlikely but he is adamant.

That night, we had games night – Michael got a number of games for Christmas and he was keen to try them out. It was actually quite good fun though slightly hideous in prospect.

On new year’s eve we went for our first walk on the beach since arriving. It started to lash rain/sleet and we ran to the hotel hoping that it might give us lunch but, sadly, no. Mr. Waffle and herself braved the rain and got the car and we went to the Kilkenny shop in Shanagarry instead. We met a good friend of mine from Dublin there with her family which was quite random and proves that Ireland is tiny etc. She and her family were reliving her husband’s childhood family holidays in Waterford and their exploring had taken them into East Cork.

Then back to Dublin. We bought a “Best of Queen” CD and a 5 set CD of hits from the 80s to listen to on the journey (mock, if you will). I can confirm that Queen had more lasting hits than all of the 80s put together. About half way back I started to feel unwell (unrelated to the hits of the 80s). By the time we got home, I was very unwell. I spent the remainder of the evening getting sick and could only lend half an ear to the various woes involving the cat (neighbours had wrong keys, had gone out and bought cat food and sent their teenager over the garden wall to put out cat food for the cat every day, frankly, above and beyond the call of duty). About 11.45 in a brief break from my time in the bathroom, I headed downstairs to wish Mr. Waffle a happy new year. He was just heading off to rescue herself from a new year’s eve party. All in all, we have had better starts to the new year. I finally stopped throwing up about 3 am. I firmly blame the grilled brie in the restaurant where we had lunch for my brief but violent illness. The next day, feeling delicate, I was sitting reading the paper while the boys played their new videogame (Overwatch, very popular), “I am a one-man apocalypse,” hissed the character on screen. Herself lent across the sofa and said to me, “It’s the brie speaking.” Oh yes indeed.

Mr. Waffle’s sister, husband and baby came to Dublin from London for a couple of days at the start of the month. We had them round for an extended family lunch before I trudged dismally back to work last Thursday. We had the tree yesterday for Women’s Christmas but it came down today and the children are back to school tomorrow. Alas alack.

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In other news, over the Christmas holidays, Daniel and Michael lost a tooth each. Seriously, when do children stop losing teeth? I think herself still has some to go and she’ll be 15 in April.

How was your own Christmas?


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