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Impressive

April 19th, 2018

Daniel’s geography teacher fills the children’s hearts with fear. Even the Princess has a grudging respect for him.

Daniel said to me the other day that they were doing longshore drift. “And,” said he, “there’s a thing called a groyne wall which protects against it. We talked about it all through class and nobody laughed.”

That is real power.

The Tooth Fairy

April 18th, 2018

Did you know that your children will continue to loose teeth well into their teens? Well, they will. While I have no recollection of the tooth fairy playing any role in my life growing up, the same is not true of my children who have enjoyed regular payments over the years. However, as time marches on and the tooth fairy gets older and tireder, payments have not been as reliable as they once were which led to this unfortunate scene at dinner the other night.

Michael: Ok, who’s the tooth fairy?
Me: Um, the magical, mystical tooth fairy, who knows? Why do you ask?
Michael: Because this is getting to beyond a joke, this tooth (he points to the hole near his front teeth on the lower right which I feel sure somehow has been pointed out before) has been under my pillow for about a fortnight.
Me: You the tooth fairy has many calls on his/her time.
Him: Will I just take the money from your purse?
Me: Somehow that takes away the magic.

Poor Banished Children of Eve

April 17th, 2018

Michael (on the way to Sunday mass): Why do I have to go to mass every Sunday when people in my class only go at Christmas and Easter.

Me: Well, families are different. Anyway, imagine if you were me growing up: I stayed with my Nana, Aunt and Uncle and cousins for a couple of weeks every summer and we had to say the Rosary every night. It was so stressful, I used to always lose count of the Hail Marys and Nana had to prod me to stop.

Michael: What’s the Rosary?

St Patrick’s Day Round Up

April 16th, 2018

Look, better late than never. We’ve been away for Patrick’s Day for the last number of years. This has been a source of considerable ire to Michael who hates going away in any event and also, was keen to see the Dublin parade.

So, this year, we stayed at home. We went to mass and had all the good Patrick’s Day numbers including “Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig” and “Hail Glorious St Patrick”. Herself got to encourage the congregation to join in and make up a little Irish spiel on the spot which she did quite competently. I was very proud. Michael and I then got the bus in to town to see the parade. His siblings had no interest whatsoever. It was bitterly cold. Michael and I found ourselves in the middle of a huddle of French people. “Where,” they asked, “are all the Irish people?” I could not say but I could confirm that they were not at the parade anyhow. I actually found it quite enjoyable but Michael was completely frozen and we didn’t stay until the end. The poor children in bands and floats were absolutely perished. One little boy was weeping from the cold in his lightweight band uniform and the other band members were trying to cheer him up/warm him up with no real success. Honestly, March just isn’t the month for this. On the plus side, one of the young French people standing near me was able to show me how to get autocorrect to work in French on my apple phone (it’s all in the keyboard function, I mean, who would have guessed that?). This may represent peak middle age for me: asking some random young person to fix my phone.

I took myself off to Cork that afternoon to see my aging father, he was moderately pleased to see me but quite, quite deaf. As I listened to the booming tones of the world service coming through the walls from his bedroom to mine at 2 in the morning, I was pardonably bitter, the more so because it was a programme which I had already heard and had not enjoyed particularly the first time. You will be pleased to hear that his hearing has been more or less restored in the interim and I look forward to a slightly less noisy trip to Cork this weekend coming.

I think next year we might go away for Patrick’s weekend again. Don’t tell Michael.

C’était au Temps où Bruxelles Bruxellait

April 15th, 2018

We went to Brussels for a couple of days over Easter. This summer, it will be ten years since we left. It seems scarcely credible. We were curious as to whether the children would remember anything. Spoiler alert: they did not.

Day 1

I found us a loft in a bohemian part of town through airbnb. A lot of people were away over Easter and friends had kindly offered to let us stay in their house but Mr. Waffle said that we couldn’t possibly impose in that way. It’s possible I could have but he just couldn’t. It was pretty cool and absolutely enormous but, dear God, does sound travel in a loft where the bedroom walls do not reach to the ceilings.

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We decided to go to Rue des Bouchers for dinner. It’s an extremely touristy restaurant strip near the Grand Place where we had never eaten before and probably won’t again. Not the most amazing food experience. We went around the Grand Place in the bucketing rain. The children were a bit underwhelmed. And though, in some ways, it was a very authentic Belgian experience, I can’t say I was absolutely delighted either.

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By contrast the Galeries de la Reine which, as 19th century shopping arcades go, is quite a good one was viewed with mild enthusiasm. It was, at least, dry. We saw a 157sqm flat to rent in the Galeries for €1,600 pm which would get you a shoebox in the middle of nowhere in Dublin and reflected on the overheated state of the Dublin property market.

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Day 2

We went for lunch with old friends of ours. I am sure they welcomed us like a hole in the head as they had just driven back to England the night before to collect their son from boarding school and they were off to Italy on holidays the next day and, unkindest cut, she had just had bad news from the Belgian authorities about citizenship and I think Brexit is likely to be awkward for them. However, we were delighted to see them and everything seemed unchanged except for the five enormous children we now have between us. Their son who attended our wedding as a three month old is now about 6 foot 6. It was very hard to stop saying, “You’ve got so tall” on a loop.

We then went into town and had some chips, looked at the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, had a restorative drink in the Metropole (I used to go there with my father when I lived in Brussels in the early 90s and it is gratifyingly unchanged). The boys and I went home while Mr. Waffle and herself explored the excitements of the Rue Neuve (shops). It continued to rain.

Day 3

Herself did a very elaborate Easter egg hunt for her brothers in the apartment which they quite enjoyed even though Michael is not an Easter egg fan. Mr. Waffle and I went for breakfast in the pain quotidien in the Sablon and then we went home and dragged everyone to Easter Sunday mass in the Sablon (quite long, included an organ concert and Gregorian chant, children’s patience was tried high). Afterwards we went for lunch at the bottom of the Sablon – the Sablon must be one of the most expensive places to eat in Brussels but just at the end is the much cheaper flea market zone and we had lunch there which was both satisfactory and economical. I had the classic Brussels spag bol which always includes carrots. I was not disappointed. Then we explored the famous (for a certain value of famous) flea market at Place Jeu de Balle (herself fascinated, boys almost horizontal from boredom). We took the outside lift back up to the Palais de Justice which towers in a menacing manner over this working class part of Brussels and, indeed, was designed to do so. Mr. Waffle tells me that a local insult is “architecte”.

In an effort to entertain the boys we went next to the dinosaur museum. This is largely unchanged since we left 10 years ago and I spent much time there when we lived in Brussels so it was a real trip down memory lane for me. The children did not remember it at all but pronounced it moderately satisfactory which was really all I could hope for.

Day 4

We went to visit our old haunts, our old flat, the parks we used to go to. It lashed rain but we did get a chance to do some before and after photos. My favourite is this one from Rue de la Glacière which was around the corner from our house. We must have walked up and down it 1000s of times. The street is called after the ice factory which is still there (now supplying ice for sea food displays and the like rather than ice boxes as must have been the case in the 19th century). Just inside the door, there is an old cart which had previously been used to haul ice around and had been sitting there for about 100 years. The children always enjoyed climbing up and sitting in it. I was pleased to see that in the 10 years since we had last seen it, there had been no significant change. The children, on the other hand, have changed quite a bit.

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The children and Mr. Waffle went to explore our favourite playground (Parc Renier Chalon, thanks for asking) and the Princess’s old school. On the way there, they met the optician who had supplied Daniel’s first pair of glasses. He is now in his 90s and very sprightly. They had a grand old chat and he revisited with Daniel the proper way to clean your glasses. Then we all went to lunch in a nearby bistro which Mr. Waffle and I were very fond of when we lived in Brussels. It was perhaps a bit elaborate for our needs but I was glad to see it has remained unchanged.

That afternoon we went to the toy museum. When the children were small, we went there all the time. Although they did not remember it, it was completely unchanged. We knocked an entertaining enough couple of hours out of it recreating scenes from the children’s youth. Even Michael was moved to concede that it was quite good.

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After this I went in to the Grand Place, did some mild shopping in the environs and settled myself in front of the fire in the Rose Blanche, a cafe on the corner of the Grand Place where we used to go a bit when we lived in Brussels. In due course, herself and Mr. Waffle joined me but the boys stayed in the flat, unimpressed by the lure of the city centre.

Day 5

The Princess and I went to the pain quotidien for breakfast and then took ourselves to the Musée des Beaux Arts. The hours and hours I spent with her there when she was a baby – it was less bad than you might imagine because it was always very quiet. I was a bit worried because now everywhere seems to be inundated with tourists but, happily, the gallery was as gloriously empty as it had ever been. Herself is a great art gallery companion, she seems to be genuinely interested in the pictures and we passed a very happy couple of hours. I know sometimes, you can photograph something to make it look like it’s empty when it’s really not but these pictures do convey the genuine echoing emptiness we encountered. If you are going to Brussels, I cannot recommend the galleries highly enough.

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While the Princess and I were enjoying our art extravaganza, the boys and Mr. Waffle went to look at the Botanique gardens adjacent to our apartment. Alright but, of course, damp, was the verdict.

We went for lunch in an Italian near the apartment which was a great success but the children were all disappointed that they did not meet a Madam Pipi. When we lived in Brussels, the toilets in many establishments were guarded by fierce older ladies wearing aprons and sitting in front of a saucer. They kept the toilets clean and you had to pay them on the way in and if you didn’t understand the rules and failed to pay them, the consequences were truly terrifying. However, they seem to have all died out while we were away and while it makes going to the bathroom in Brussels a great deal less unnerving, it feels like the end of an era.

In the afternoon we went to mini-Europe which was more entertaining than we expected but probably a visit once a decade is sufficient.

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All in all, it was nice to go back although, very damp. It was strange but, I suppose not entirely surprising, that the children remembered none of our regular haunts. I wonder how long I would need to be back in Brussels for to forget I had ever gone away; not very long, I suspect.

15

April 14th, 2018

Herself was 15 last Thursday.

She continues to become ever more independent. She is completely on top of all Dublin public transport options. Her leap card (automatically topped up via her father’s account) is her most treasured possession. She is a city girl and knows the city centre inside out.

She dyed her hair blue last summer but it mostly disappeared when we cut it short in the autumn but you can still see the occasional green streak.

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She still reads a great deal. Lots of poetry these days. She seems to be doing fine with her school work although, as she approaches the year end examinations, she seems to be studying rather less than she did, say, last year. My message that examinations don’t matter may have landed a little too well. We will see.

She is doing a fair amount of singing as well. She’s doing a solo at a concert at the start of May and she has some role in doing something pre-recorded for the world meeting of families (the Pope is coming in the summer – we will be on holidays, Pope or no Pope).

She and her brothers are getting on a bit better, though there is still some bitter rivalry with her brother Daniel. Herself and Michael run on parallel grooves so it seems to be less of an issue.

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Her spoken French continues to be pretty good and she quite likes French. She’s a much sharper (in the sense of making more pointed remarks) and somewhat more sophisticated person when she speaks French rather than English. Why should this be? Does French lend itself to this? Is it merely my own perception?

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I knew, if I persisted, she would grow to love Irish. I was not wrong. Despite herself, she does like Irish and she has got very, very good at it.

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Her room is less of a fastness than it used to be and I am reasonably regularly allowed in, it’s not as exciting as it was when I used to be barred from it, of course.

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She is on every committee going. She knows about event organising, agendas, ice breakers, digital marketing, policy papers, consultations, campaigns, you name it. She is always agitating to go on protest marches about an extensive range of issues. I mentioned that something at work was discussed under “AOB” and she knew exactly what that meant, whether that’s a good thing for a 15 year old to know or not is a moot point. She is an excellent public speaker (these facts may not be unrelated). By way of example on her birthday, in the morning she was sent off as a school rep to a disability rights conference (where a disability rights activist sang happy birthday to her from the podium and she got to take home lots of balloons) and in the afternoon she was part of a group giving young people’s input into a “Creative Ireland” festival. There’s a lot of this kind of thing.

She seems to have lots of friends and is in regular contact with everyone via her phone. I sometimes think that the “always on” nature of this is a bit demanding and she could do with a bit of a break.

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I was pleased (and surprised) when she and some friends, of their own volition, went to the Gallery when they were in town. I am not sure that this is a regular occurrence but, you know, it is warm, dry and free so, definitely not to be sniffed at.

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I find her considerate and obliging, although it is a little unnerving that she can very often read my mind. This makes her extremely sensitive to my tea needs which I like but also inclined to say, “I know you are judging.” The teenagers are all into gender fluidity now and it’s far from gender fluidity I was reared so I am inclined to say the wrong thing when I meet her friends who are they/them. But I am trying and they acknowledge this although herself has considerably higher standards for me than they/them. Standards which, sadly, I am failing to meet but only because she can read my mind and she knows that I am thinking they/them can’t be used in the singular. I am trying to change because she has made me understand belatedly that people are more important than grammar.

She is a vegatarian now. As my sister said, “I am surprised that you got away with her not being a vegetarian for as long as you did.” We’re having tofu for dinner tonight. How much do I love my first-born child? Very much indeed is the answer. Favourite vegetarian dinners in the comments please. On the plus side, she does now eat vegetables which is a definite bonus.

She is champing at the bit, dying to be an adult. I wish we could persuade her to wait a little bit longer but, I suppose, that’s not the way that it works.

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End of an Era

March 14th, 2018

Michael has jacked in scouts. It was time for his renewal sub and he decided he had had enough. He really enjoyed the opportunity to be an indoor scout but, increasingly, they were forcing him outside to use his map reading and knotting expertise in the wild and he decided that this was not for him. Also the scout hall was freezing all winter and he was tired of being perished. Alas.


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