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Culturally Ambitious: First World Problems Explained

September 10th, 2016

This time of year is a complete nightmare for the culturally aware. When we come back from holidays in August, there is Heritage Week, then in early September there is the Fringe Theatre Festival, then Culture Night, then the Dublin Theatre Festival, (History Festival is a new thing which, in my view unwisely, has pitched itself between mid-September and October) then Open House, Dublin. We always get something out of going to these kinds of events but I wish that they were not all so hot on each other’s heels and coinciding with a time of year when we are already up to our oxters with back to school and everything else.

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Happily, Heritage Week has now passed. Due to my efforts (on holidays, in France: culture never sleeps) we were booked in to see an event in the National History Museum about a traveller across Africa and had even lined up some friends of the children to attend also. As it happened, I had to go to Cork that weekend and Mr. Waffle was home with the children. I sent him a series of messages reminding him about it. Through sheer force of will and from a distance of 250kms, I persuaded and cajoled four very reluctant people into going to that session. When we were on holidays, one day, herself said, “What do you want to do Mum; we might as well know as we usually end up doing that.” She may have meant it as an insult but I definitely took it as a compliment.

Anyway, when I asked for an update after the heritage week event, this is the message I got: “The museum thing was actually a success.” The “actually” was perhaps harsh. Apparently it was fascinating and I was sorry to miss it myself. So, on the back of that slender success, I am about to turn my attention to theatre festival booking. Wish me luck.

France – Part 2

September 8th, 2016

Monday, 8 August

After a thrilling trip to Leclerc (this is not even slightly sarcastic, I do love a French supermarket) we took ourselves off to visit our first castle of the holidays. It was a place called Trévarez and it was a really odd spot. The owner spent a fortune building it and it had all possible mod cons including en suite bathrooms which must have been uncommon enough in the 1890s. I thought it was pretty ugly and overblown from the outside but I presume the owner liked it so it was unfortunate that he died very shortly after it was completed. It fell into disrepair but has now moved into public ownership and is being restored. It’s much more attractive inside than out and enjoys lovely sweeping views.

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There was an opportunity to insert yourself into a picture of an imagined Trévarez in its heyday using an iPad which we all rather enjoyed:

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Tuesday, 9 August

We took the children zip wiring again in the morning in the suburbs of Quimper. I crept off to a local antiques shop which was full of lovely, reasonably priced items. Regrettably, they were all quite large; although I did spend some time wondering whether I could fit a marble topped bedside table beside Michael in the boot, wiser counsels prevailed.

In the afternoon, I took the children to the art gallery because I felt that some culture was appropriate. They were resigned rather than mutinous. We did not, in fact, see the Mona Lisa, despite appearances to the contrary.

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We had a wander around the town, to our great excitement, saw our water jug (shaped like a novelty duck and purchased in Normandy last year) in a bric a brac shop, had some pancakes and, after some difficulty, rescuing our car from a car park which took neither cards nor notes, headed home to recover from our exertions.

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Wednesday, August 10

I have failed to mention to you that the song “Les Lacs du Connemara” had become our theme song for this holiday. I am not quite sure why. Possibly because herself had spent time in Paris with my friend who as a teenager had had an Irish exchange. This girl had been homesick and, in an effort to cheer her up, the family had played “Les Lacs du Connemara”. This was entirely unsuccessful as this famous French song is unknown in Ireland. Frankly, it appears that Michel Sardou was pretty ignorant about Ireland also and the lyrics are stage-Irish shameful. To start with, why would Maureen, a girl allegedly from Connemara get married in Limerick, secondly why would the wedding invitees come from Co. Galway to Co. Connemara when Connemara is in Co. Galway and there is no Co. Connemara. I could go on for quite a bit. Anyway, we all know it now. I can’t help feeling that the children could make a fortune performing for French people of a certain age.

So on Wednesday, Daniel and I went out for a spin on the bikes in the house and had a look at the municipal goats. The city of Quimper has a flood plain. The vegetation is kept at bay by ecologically sound municipal goats. No I am not making this up; is it any wonder I love the French?

In the afternoon, we went to an aquarium with a birds of prey show on the side. This was inspired by our hugely successful trip to Clare where we saw an amazing show with birds of prey. The aquarium was ok but the birds of prey was not a success. It was too hot and too crowded. As we were nearby, we went to the Pointe du Raz afterwards; famous for being pretty and westerly both of which it delivered on, to be fair. Only mild enthusiasm from the troops who had been there before and were underwhelmed by both its prettiness and its westerliness.

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Thursday, 11 August

Building on our daring previous success, Mr. Waffle and I left the children at home again and went in to the Musée Départmentale unaccompanied. Over the holiday, Mr. Waffle had been reading this book which he found in the house -“Le Cheval D’Orgueil“; it’s “Peig” for Bretons. Originally published in Breton it is the autobiography of Pierre-Jakez Hélias who had a traditional Breton upbringing. Mr. Waffle had been giving me edited highlights which, I suspect, is how it is best enjoyed. Anyhow, one of the items in the museum was Hélias’s traditional Breton garb and it was surprisingly moving to see it, given how much I knew about him at that point.

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I might note that our time torturing our children with information about basic Breton and its relation to Irish was not wasted as, only yesterday, herself ran into the principal in the school corridors and he asked her where she had been on holidays and when she said Brittany and he asked whether she knew any Breton and about its relationship to Irish she was, despite herself, ready.

That afternoon we went to what I confidently described to the children as a water park. It turned out to be a park filled with trampolines, pedalo opportunities and slides but not, in fact, a water park. This led to some mild disappointment as it was quite warm and water would have been welcome.

That night we again left our children in the hands of the rapacious babysitter and went for dinner in Quimper. Dinner was truly delicious. Our hostess was delighted when she discovered we were Irish having lived for many years in Barna. Her uncle was a Breton nationalist (interesting bunch the Breton nationalists) who moved to Ireland and married an Irish woman and she told us a bit about him. Interesting man. We returned home to find the children still alive but they indicated that the babysitter had engaged less with them than on the previous occasion. Clearly, she didn’t feel the same need to entertain them for the lower rate which, frankly, was fine.

Friday, 12 August

I went in to Quimper alone to look for a faience sculpture. I did not succeed. These Breton heads are pricy. I thought it might be a nice souvenir as I think we won’t be gracing Brittany with our presence again for a while as we have been there five times in the last six years and I am beginning to think that there isn’t a monument in Finistère that we haven’t seen several times.

That afternoon we went for a mild walk in the woods.

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That evening we had dinner out en famille and a last trip to the ever-popular fairground. I went into the fun house which I deeply regretted. I emerged feeling ill and grubby. The children loved it though.

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Saturday, 13 August

We had a last trip to the beach and then afterwards we went to the Phare d’Eckmühl. This was one of those outings where I was glad to have overcome significant opposition. The inside of the lighthouse is beautiful as are the views from the top. Also, who goes to Brittany without visiting at least one lighthouse?

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Sunday, 14 August

We did not go to the cathedral for mass. Sadly, mass was just as long as in the cathedral. Most of Sunday was spent cleaning the house within an inch of its life. Mr. Waffle and I went up to Locronan where we admired the tourist filled streets and I bought a 750grm jar of salted butter caramel spread. It could be a while before we get back to Brittany and I want to make sure my needs are met.

Monday, 15 August

With some difficulty we packed up all our belongings.

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The Feast of the Assumption continues to be celebrated in France with enthusiasm which meant we had the greatest difficulty in getting lunch on the road to the ferry but, happily, Dinan met our needs. And then it was on to the ferry and safely home.

La Rentrée – France Part – 1

September 4th, 2016

Hello cruel world. We’re back from our French holiday and, as you can see from the title, my pretensions remain intact. Reentry to the world of school and work has been a bit exhausting and I will relay this in tedious detail in due course but first up the annual blow-by-blow account of our summer holiday.

Sunday 31 July

The drive to the ferry was uneventful. We stopped for the, now traditional, meal of chips and Yorkshire pudding. Mmm, I know.

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Due to late booking, one of our cabins on the ferry was three star rather than two star. It had a window and a mini-bar. That’s all it takes. The children, who had never encountered a mini-bar before, were very taken with it.

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Monday 1 August

During the 5 hour drive from Cherbourg to Quimper in Brittany, we had ample opportunity to regret the new seating arrangements in the back. As Herself has grown taller, it’s not practicable to put her in the seat in the boot, so Michael was there and she and Daniel shared the back seat. This did not work well. A new, larger car is now on our list of desired purchases.

Tuesday, 2 August

We swapped houses with a retired French couple. Their house was large and modern about 15 minutes by car from the centre of Quimper. It was set in about an acre; it was beautifully maintained and what they thought of our garden, I shudder to think. As ever in Brittany, the garden had a lot of hydrangeas and also a perfectly maintained vegetable garden with an ample stock of, inter alia, courgettes. I have to tell you that if I never saw another courgette, I wouldn’t care.

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That Tuesday, our first full day in France, dawned damp. To their great chagrin, we dragged the children into Quimper in the afternoon and made them look at the cathedral and the Breton dancing outside.

Happily, our hosts had a subscription to Ouest France and every morning it arrived in the letterbox giving details of local events which would fill our children’s hearts with joy. It also gave death notices. I do love a good death notice (is this odd?). Bretons live long great-grandchildren filled lives.

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Wednesday, 3 August

In an effort to divide and conquer the Princess and I went into Quimper in the morning while Mr. Waffle and the boys stayed at the house. This was moderately successful and she and I enjoyed lunch and wandering the quaint streets of the old town etc. We lunched overlooking the river and I commented to Herself that there were a lot of fish in the river (there were) and wasn’t it odd that that white one seemed to be tying to swim upstream unsuccessfully when all the others were going downstream. “That’s a plastic bag trapped under a rock, Mum.” Truly, middle age is full of indignities.

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That evening in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with our children, we went to the funfair outside the town. It worked.
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That afternoon, I had opened a cupboard in the French people’s house to find a towel and this is what met my startled gaze. I hope and pray that they never opened our hot press. I suspect not as we returned to find it in the state we left it while the toolbox had been meticulously reorganised (they fixed a number of minor snags around our house for their own obscure reasons – whatever the reasons, it was a very welcome development). Are everyone’s presses like this?

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Hands up, if you iron your sheets.

Thursday, 4 August

Mr. Waffle and I made a daring expedition to the Musée des Beaux Arts leaving the children alone in the house. Aside from the mild feelings of guilt, it was excellent all round. The local gallery had a lovely regional collection in its own right and was also hosting an exhibition of self-portraits from the Musée D’Orsay. Insert here some hand wringing about the quality of galleries and museums in Ireland in small regional towns which compares poorly with the equivalent offering in France. The children relaxed at home.

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That afternoon we inspected a babysitter who was going to mind our precious children while we went out to dinner. She was only 16 so she brought her father to inspect us. We gave them some courgettes and she told us that her rate was a very reasonable €8 an hour and we struck a deal for the following evening.

That evening Herself made us mussels for dinner with crêpes for dessert. We had splashed out on a crêpe frying pan and associated wooden utensils and we were keen for her to test them out. Frankly, money well spent.

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Friday 5 August

This was our first day to visit the beach. We went to Bénodet which is an appealing little town. The beach is always a bit challenging because Daniel and Mr. Waffle don’t like it, Michael is mildly in favour and the Princess and I love it. So, it’s all about compromise and brief dips rather than lengthy stays.

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To help Daniel, in particular, recover from the trauma of going to the beach, we went to a campsite/outdoor entertainment spot where they offered a zipwire and sundry ancillary attractions including a long groundsheet covered in water and soap along which the children sped on their stomachs. More entertaining than it sounds.

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That night, leaving the children in the care of Manon, the French teenager, we took ourselves off to Pont Aven for dinner in a lovely restaurant where we have been before. We were celebrating our wedding anniversary and the sale of the old house and being on holidays.

When we got home, all was well and we went to pay the 16 year old babysitter €32 for the four hours she had held the fort. There had been a misunderstanding, she intended a price of €8 per hour per child which is standard in France. I have had a lot of babysitters in France and this is not standard. People, that was €24 an hour so €96 for the night making it the most expensive babysitting we have ever had; this for a teenager who lives at home with her parents in a regional French town. And it’s not like the children are hard to mind at this stage; they read their books, they put themselves to bed. I was fit to be tied. We handed it over AND I gave her a lift home AND more courgettes. Between dinner and the prohibitive babysitting, it was undoubtedly the most expensive evening we have ever had.

Saturday, 6 August

I woke up, still outraged. Brave Mr. Waffle rang the rapacious babysitter and said that we didn’t need her to come the following week as it was just too dear. She said that she had done some further research on rates and realised that a sliding scale would be more appropriate so that she would only charge €60 for each night so next week we would only need to pay her €20. With some reluctance, we agreed. Even writing about it now, I still feel stung. And she seemed like such a nice girl.

After dealing with the babysitter, Mr. Waffle further displayed his nobility by going to the beach again. Afterwards, we went to Île Tudy which, despite its name, is not an island but a peninsula and an appealing place to watch the world go by.

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That night we had our greatest success of the holiday. Ouest France had informed its readership that there were to be fireworks in town at 10 that night. Despite the fact that it was late, we decided to go. The fireworks started 45 minutes late and the Princess’s watch fell into river so things were not exactly auspicious at 10.45 but once the fireworks started, the children were completely entranced. They absolutely loved it and I think they will remember it forever. And then we wandered back to the car through the old town and it was all quite lovely.

Sunday, 7 August

We went to mass in the cathedral. It lasted 75 minutes and used up most of the world’s incense reserves. And it was in French. It would be useless to deny that the troops were restive. In the afternoon we took them to a medieval fair (thanks Ouest France) in Pont Croix which is a beautiful little town. I can’t deny that I had hopes. However, the medieval fair took place in a field outside the town which, I have to tell you was not precisely what I was expecting. They’re raising funds to build a medieval village but so far all they have is half a house and a couple of tents.

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And it was raining. Michael said, “I told you so.”

Actually, it wasn’t too bad in the end. There was calligraphy, medieval games (as exciting as you might imagine but, any port in a storm) and a goose hissing at a donkey. At times like this, you take your thrills where you can.

See picture of Michael enjoying the throw wood at wood game:
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We went into the town for pancakes afterwards, it is still very beautiful and strangely empty. There was a brocante and we bought some tat. All quite pleasing.

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Tune in soon for week 2.

Properly Regarded as an Economy

August 7th, 2016

I asked the Princess to make me mint biscuits and she kindly consented. “We need peppermint essence,” she said. It was not available in our local shops. “We could make it,” I said. We looked it up on the internet. All we needed was mint (of which we had a superabundance) and vodka (of which we had none).

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We rang Mr. Waffle who was at the library with the boys and asked him to get some vodka for us. He came back with a €20 bottle. In a moment of rashness, we used it all. We now have a litre of peppermint essence in preparation.

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All I can say is, I’m looking forward to these biscuits. It you know me and you need peppermint essence, contact me, I can do you a great deal.

At A Time When It Was Neither Profitable Nor Popular

August 6th, 2016

I’ve been blogging for a long time. However, the only people I have ever met through blogging have been a couple of people who blogged on the platform I started on. It was called 20six and it has long since disappeared off the internet forever [actually, is that even possible?] but it was my first blogging community and it still has a place in my heart.

So, it was lovely when Heather, one of those 20sixers, contacted me to say that she and her husband would be in Ireland and could we meet again. I followed her blog for years. Sadly she has stopped blogging which is such a pity as she was a talented writer; moving, interesting and hilarious by turns. I say this here because when I met her, it was so exciting to talk about her life and what other bloggers were doing that I forgot entirely to say please go back to writing. Twitter is all very well in its way but it’s just not the same. I’ll say it when I see her next; she and her husband enjoyed the best weather of the summer in Ireland so I feel that we might be able to persuade them to come back.

To the Lighthouse

August 5th, 2016

A couple of years ago, we took the children on a walk out to Poolbeg lighthouse. It was a bit far and they were tired and cranky. They’ve remembered it as a low point ever since. As the pigeon house towers which are a bit of a Dublin landmark and can be seen from all over the city dominate the walk, they were regularly reminded of it and each time they saw the towers, they said, never again.

One Sunday lunch time, we found ourselves wondering what to do on a sunny afternoon. Various suggestions were put forward – Botanic Gardens, play on the x-box – but none was finding favour with the group. I found my eye drawn to Daniel’s t-shirt, a present from his grandfather featuring a notable Dublin landmark. “NO!” he said, clutching his chest. Like a Mexican wave of fear, the children around the table started shouting “NO” while their father looked on bewildered and their mother became hysterical with laughter.

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Mr. Waffle and I overcame all resistance and took them off to the Lighthouse. They were amazed how short the walk seemed; they were a lot smaller last time. It was even, they conceded, not the worst outing ever.

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Mass Takeover

August 4th, 2016

All of the regular readers at mass have been taken out by the summer holidays and we have total control of the second reading and the prayers of the faithful. We became so confident that we even had the cousins (who were staying) do some of the prayers of the faithful with our lot. Our hegemony is coming to an end as we go off on our own summer holidays and I was talking to the sacristan about logistics and handing over the baton. As we were chatting, I asked her whether she would be going away herself. “I’ll probably get a couple of days surfing alright,” said she. The surfing sacristan; we are amazingly with it in our parish.


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