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Any Port in a Storm

October 2nd, 2018

I was in the Spar last week looking for a bottle of Sherry for a recipe. I went to the counter where the spirits are kept. The young man behind the counter was in his early 20s.

Me: Hi, do you have any sherry?
Him: What?
Me: Sherry, do you have any sherry?
Hm [Long pause]: I don’t even know what that is.
Me: Look behind you, the Harvey’s Bristol cream, that’s sherry.
Him: Oh really?

I bet his granny knew what sherry was.

Weekend Round-Up

September 30th, 2018

Saturday saw the usual drama/football dropping off with a side trip for Mr. Waffle to visit his father in hospital. My sister came over on Saturday afternoon to give the boys their birthday presents which were very well received indeed. She also advised me on my kitchen renovations (only starting in November almost certainly will not be finished by Christmas despite the builder’s blithe assurances to the contrary). She found a dead mouse on the utility room floor (the cat is in overdrive) and instead of closing the door and waiting for Mr. Waffle to return, she took it out to the garden on the dustpan to dispose of it. “Where did you put it?” I asked nervously. “The compost heap,” she said. I was outraged and made her go out and rescue the corpse with a tongs. Then she took it to the lane. I was keen that she throw it over the wall on to the building site from whence, I am convinced, it came but she was unsure that she would be able to get it over the wall and felt unable to run the risk that it might not clear the wall and would rain back down on us, so laid it in the lane underneath some foliage.

After that excitement, she went into town to see an Irish language play. Her partner’s mother was the playwright – he comes from a very literary family. They came to our house afterwards for a cup of tea. I have to say, the playwright is a lovely woman and I felt a bit guilty that we hadn’t attended ourselves but she did not seem at all offended. A low point came as I handed round the plate of biscuits and Daniel said, “No, she can’t have those, they’re the book club biscuits!” It is true that I am up to host book club on Monday and I had indeed bought the biscuits for this purpose and previously forbidden Daniel for eating them on those very grounds but this was not the moment to bring it up.

After they left we went next door where they were having their annual end of summer party. Among the neighbours is a man whose father, I had heard, delivered the little old lady across the road. In fact, chatting to him about this, it turned out it was his grandfather – an awkward moment I have to concede. He is a bit older than me but, it turns out, not that much older than me. I had thought all the families were local to the area but in fact she was born in Carlow where his grandfather lived and worked and he was from Tullamore and it was complete coincidence that they turned up living across the road from each other. I also found out that Mrs. Second Next Door is a sister of Mrs. Directly Across the Road. Yes indeed, Ireland is tiny. Getting back to the man whose grandfather delivered the little old lady who lives across the road, he told me that his wife wasn’t there as she was at home minding their daughter. Ever mindful of my own daughter’s pecuniary needs, I offered her up as babysitter for a future occasion should there be a need, once she returned from France. At this he looked a little sheepish. It turned out that their daughter, who does look very young, is only 18 months younger than ours but that her parents are very protective. He pointed out that she is the only child of older parents and, there we have it, another awkward moment. The next person I spoke to was another neighbour, a lovely man, whom I had met in a slightly heated work context earlier in the month. Between one thing and another, I ended up leaving early to mind the [sleeping and entirely indifferent] boys next door with something of the mien of a coursing hare.

On Sunday we had a specially lengthy mass. I love those. There was a great quote from Frédéric Ozanam:

The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking the ground under our feet. Our duty as Christians is to throw ourselves between these two camps in order to accomplish by love, what justice alone cannot do.

I have to say that I thought that it was a contemporary source but no, it dates from the first half of the 19th century. Ozanam (I learn from this morning’s leaflet at mass) was a lawyer but a reluctant one which may explain why he was unimpressed by what justice alone could achieve.

All afternoon we had Daniel and Michael’s friends from school playing elaborate board games – like a birthday party only much less effort. We had our regular scheduled talk with herself this evening. She seems to be getting on like a house on fire in France. I hope that she’s not putting on a brave face but I think not. She got my latest letter and hasn’t read it all yet and I don’t get the sense that she’s saving it up. I think that’s a good sign though slightly disconcerting.

I face into a week of book club hosting, football training for Dan, parents’ council AGM, return of Mr. Waffle’s weekly soccer club and kitchen appliance inspection (you have to BOOK to see kitchen appliances now). I’m feeling a sense of anticipatory exhaustion.

I plan to spend the evening re-reading Terry Pratchett to fortify myself. How was your own weekend?

13

September 29th, 2018

Daniel and Michael were 13 on Thursday, 27 September. My parents were 51 years married. It was the feast day of St. Vincent and almost of St. Michael. It was all go, I can tell you.

13 years, quite a while.

end May - Gangi 059

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Reading

September 26th, 2018

“Forest Dark” by Nicole Kraus

I loathed this book. The author writes beautifully and she uses this gift to write meaningless, plotless drivel. This book is supremely self-indulgent. It’s possible you might like it better if you’re into Kafka, I’m not. It is, incidentally, mildly interesting about the relationship between American Jews and the the State of Israel. The last line is quite clever. Literally, the last line. Does not repay nearly 300 pages of pain. In summary, I would not recommend this book.

“We’ll Always have Paris” by Emma Beddington

I was a big fan of the blog which preceded this book. The author is very funny. The book is also extremely sad. V good if you have had a lot of French people in your life and are a big francophile. Shows where this kind of thing will lead.

“What Happened” by Hilary Clinton

Meh, it was grand and, in fairness, very readable. I am not entirely sure I am any the wiser really as to why Donald Trump ended up as President of America.

“Greengates” by R.C. Sheriff

Another Persephone book. I found this one very, very sad. A retired couple try to get a new lease of life by moving out to suburbs and even though after many mild vicissitudes the outcome is a happy one, it doesn’t feel very likely to last.

“Histories” by Sam Guglani

Should poets be allowed to write novels? This is another medical book written by a doctor who is also a poet. It’s good but a bit far in on the beautiful writing, no plot end of the spectrum for my liking.

“Autumn” by Ali Smith

I really did not enjoy this. I have no desire to explore the other seasons. It had some good ideas but just did not do it for me.

“Janesville” by Amy Goldstein

I thought that this was interesting. It’s the story of one American manufacturing town and what happened when manufacturing got in to trouble. Well written and insightful.

“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne

This is a good long book and I found it a bit hard to get into at the start and some of the characters annoying and unbelievable. But once I accepted that it was almost more a fable than a novel, I really enjoyed it and was sorry to finish it.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

I did not enjoy the last Jennifer Egan book I read – “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – but I liked this one. It’s largely set in New York during World War II and it is very atmospheric. Maybe a bit too much research on diving (which is a big feature in this book) but overall I really enjoyed it.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

I know that this was a huge literary success but I found it quite tiresome. It’s an imagined version of what happened to Abraham Lincoln’s son after he died but before he went onward; the word “imagined” may be superfluous here. I’ve never read “Cré na Cille” but I imagine it was somewhat similar but better if you are a good enough Irish speaker. I was underwhelmed by the Bardo.

“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

This is a beautifully written and evocative story. It imagines how the mad woman in Mr. Rochester’s attic in “Jane Eyre” ended up there. I loved it but I found it very, very sad. A short book but you’d want to be in the whole of your health to read it.

“Anatomy of a Scandal” by Sarah Vaughan

This is a page turner/court room drama. It does what it says on the tin but I wouldn’t be rushing back for more.

“Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s” by Joseph Brady

If you told me even ten years ago that I would find a 400 page book about the development of the Dublin suburbs fascinating, I would have laughed at you. But, here we are, I was fascinated. Mostly of interest to those living in Dublin, though.

“La Belle Sauvage” by Philip Pullman

I enjoyed this latest fantasy offering for younger readers and it sent me scurrying back to read the original “Northern Lights” trilogy where, sadly, my recollection was confirmed: book 1 is good, book 2 is alright and book 3 is dire. I might try book 2 of this series when it comes out all the same.

“99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret” by Craig Brown

I saw this recommended on the internet. I think you would have to be a lot more interested in Princess Margaret than I am to really enjoy it but it was alright given the limitations of the source material.

“Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of her Time” by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield

This was interesting but a bit worthy. It’s the true story of a woman born in the 18th century who passed herself off as a man and had a long career as an army doctor. She was originally from Cork and a niece of the painter James Barry, so a certain amount of local interest for me.

“The Almost Nearly Perfect People”
by Michael Booth

This is about the Nordics written by an English man married to a Dane. It’s funny and insightful but sometimes it sheds more light on the author and England that it does on the Nordics (class obsessed anyone?). That said, great holiday read, particularly if you are holidaying in Denmark.

“Why Can’t Everything Just Stay the Same?” by Stepfanie Preissner

An autobiographical collection of writings strung into a book – some parts more successfully than others – but an easy read with some very funny writing.

“The Secret Barrister”

This book was published anonymously. I found it very hard going. I had little enough interest in Irish criminal law when I studied it in college and I don’t know why I thought I might be interested in English criminal law and the cuts to legal aid (I mean, I do sympathise but not much). They have an odd system of magistrates which gives them 35,000 judges or equivalents according to the author (can that be right, really?). By way of contrast, we have 165 judges in Ireland. They do seem to have a lot more offences in England (I’m glad we never seem to have got ASBO equivalents). I think there are probably lots of reasons why this should be the case but when I asked Mr. Waffle what he thought the reason might be, he said tartly, “That’s the difference between having a constitution and the Daily Mail.” I know they have an unwritten constitution and all that but there may be something to that. It felt like being back in college so I would have to say, great textbook but poor bed time read.

“Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains” by Catriona McPherson

I really enjoyed this. It’s about a lady detective in the 1930s (Dandy, short for Dandelion) who goes sleuthing in her ladylike way when she tires of life in the manor. Great literature it is not but I will tell you that my heart soared when I discovered that there are already 15 in the series and, I suspect, more to come. I have a couple on order from the library where they are, understandably, popular with the punters.

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney

I came to this with a very strong prejudice against it. The Irish Times loves Sally Rooney and her work and is always pushing her. Annoying. Furthermore, one of the things the Irish Times likes about her is that her novels are about class and Trinity College. Also annoying. However, she is becoming a cultural phenomenon and the Princess had bought and read this book, so it was in the house and I read it too.

Despite myself, I thought this was an excellent book. Generally, I have a very low tolerance threshold for books that are beautifully written but have no plot but I found myself able to overcome that here. I mean lots of things happened but there was no real narrative arc or conclusion; it was more a slice of life. But what a thought provoking and truly excellent piece of writing. It was really good. For example, here is one line: People in Dublin often mention the west of Ireland in this strange tone of voice, as if it’s a foreign country, but one they consider themselves very knowledgeable about. This very neatly sums up something I have always felt myself about Dublin people and Cork or anywhere outside Dublin really; like they own it. The book is full of lines like that that made me stop in my tracks. Very, very good, damn it.

On a side note, I must say that thematically it is profoundly and in almost every way a deeply unsuitable read for a 15 year old. Sigh. She didn’t like it as much as I did either.

Another Downward Point Plotted on the Graph of Aging

September 25th, 2018

I have started to fall asleep in front of the television in the evening after the children go to bed. Really, is that not the ultimate sign of passing the gateway through to late middle age. Sigh.

The World in Microcosm

September 24th, 2018

Me (padding down to the hot press in the utility room in my bare feet): The sock crisis is real.
Michael: It has been real for the last three months; you only care now that it’s hitting the elite of our society.

More Weekend

September 23rd, 2018

So we went to our play last night. Despite the rather grim subject matter which was a little close to home (siblings caring for a parent with dementia) it was funny and the acting was very good. I would possibly call it my best Dublin fringe experience ever – this is quite a low bar. If you get a chance, The Cat’s Mother is recommended.

Michael was back to hockey this morning and Daniel and I went along to 11.30 mass together. He did the Prayers of the Faithful with the other children in the choir – it went chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, growl. Although he’s not the oldest, he is the oldest boy and he’s the only one whose voice has broken. He seems relaxed as does the choir mistress who says that his new baritone goes well with the other children. Both boys’ voices have broken over the summer; I don’t really notice much but apparently a number of their classmates have commented.

As a special treat for Mr. Waffle we went to the transport museum this afternoon. I had completely forgotten that we’d been before years ago but I found a reference on the blog. I would be less harsh on this occasion. Maybe it’s a better outing with older children but still not tremendous now.

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We had a cup of tea and then went for a walk on the pier in Howth which was nice in a low key kind of way.

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We got our weekly call from herself while we were walking on the pier. It was a bit unsatisfactory as reception wasn’t great. She seems to be having a good time and settling in well as far as we can tell. I do miss her. It’s probably as well we are restricted to one call a week (“It’s supposed to be immersion, Mum.”) as otherwise I would probably be on 4 times a day.


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