We’re back. Did you miss me? No, well, we’re back all the same. Much as I love all my relatives, it is fabulous to be back in our own house. Also, Belgium is not damp. It is, I hasten to add, raining, but my clothes are not all damp in the way that they tend to be in Ireland where damp is endemic and the hot press a way of life.
So, we spent a week in Cork. As always, we went to Fota where Mr. Waffle and I were entranced by the llamas, kangaroos, monkeys and (I think) prairie dogs lolloping about and the children fell in love with the ducks all over again. Just because it’s a cliché, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The weather was pretty good all in all, we had a paddling pool in the garden which the children loved and on the most rain sodden day we went to the Glucksman gallery which they also loved. Video installations are the way of the future.
For a couple of days they had their Uncle Dan in Cork as well which they loved because they are as feckless as he is and they recognised a kindred spirit. I was touched to see how sweet and patient my brother was with them: tossing them in the air, reading to them, playing football with them, outlining to a restive audience the rudiments of rugby, waving at them gamely when they went in to his room at 6.00 in the morning to tell him that daylight had broken and it was time to rise and shine. Not actually rising though. However, the star of the show was their Nana who spent hours playing with them, cooking for them and chatting to them. Their Granddad also contributed his mite by waving at them from behind his paper from time to time as appropriate and announcing when they seemed likely to do anything particularly dangerous. My parents house is great for this and Michael, in particular, got great entertainment from the hacksaw on the landing.
On Sunday we set off from Cork to Kerry with tearful farewells on our part (Nana, Nana, NANA) to the loving Cork grandparents and, I suspect, mild sighs of relief from them, though they looked suitably downcast. I imagine that the minute we left, they rushed in to have a quiet cup of tea and savour the silence. We left on a high as we had all gone to mass that morning and the children were as good as gold. Especially welcome since my aunt had done a reading and I wouldn’t have liked her to be shouted down. My aunt lives next door to my parents and is the least materialistic person I have ever met as well as an early riser. This was a phenomenal combination for a mother of three small children and most mornings saw us going through the back garden and tapping anxiously on her window so that we could go in, play her piano, test the durability of her china and wooden ornaments and demand that we too get porridge for breakfast.
The journey to Kerry was distressingly eventful. We were diverted from Macroom to Millstreet due to roadworks. We were stopped for about half an hour by an accident just before Sneem (isn’t that the most delightful name for a town?) and once we got to the other side, we promptly rolled over a stone and got a puncture. Subsequently we discovered that Sneem was the subject of much bad feeling among the holiday group as one of their number, a Canadian too, a visitor to this country, had been kicked out of a café there for breastfeeding her 5 month old daughter. I must say I have never ever had such an experience and nor has anyone I know. I suppose it must happen but not surely with a very discreet mother and a small baby and in modern Ireland to boot? Well, apparently, yes, poor J who was on her own with baby A was tossed on to a street with the words “this is Ireland, you can’t do that kind of thing here”. You will be happy to know that, even as I type, a number of irate letters are winging their way to the Irish Times headed “smirched in Sneem”. But honestly, who’d have thought?
I digress. We got to Caherdaniel in the end where we were greeted by another set of loving and excited grandparents, fresh to the fray. The parents-in-law described life in Caherdaniel as resembling a Feydeau farce with a vast rotating cast (though, to my knowledge, no infidelity). They had rented a large house as had their friends, the Canadians and the cousins. The previous week, the cast had featured, the Canadians’ son-in-law the theatre director and his daughter from an earlier relationship who had left for Las Vegas (fancy) to talk about a show, the Canadians’ daughter’s school friend from Ireland (I should perhaps mention that Mr. Canada is a diplomat who has spent time everywhere and is now finishing off his career as ambassador in a glamorous posting which comes with a house with eight bathrooms which we have been invited to sample and we may yet) and her husband (who was the year behind Mr. Waffle in college and remembered him but of whom Mr. Waffle does not have even the faintest recollection, and yet he can describe to you in detail the flags of 189 different countries, mysterious) and three children. More or less simultaneously with us arrived the Princess’s only first cousin and attendant parents, Mr. Waffle’s cousin J’s new girlfriend and Mr. Waffle’s cousin S who is working in Australia for a year and who is quite possibly a saint having travelled for 24 hours and after a brief respite in Dublin, driven to Kerry and spent many more hours entertaining a crowd of adoring four year olds. In situ for the duration were Mr. Waffle’s parents, the Canadians (friends of the parents from their Dublin posting), their daughter, her four year old and 5 month old daughters, Mr. Waffle’s uncle and aunt, their three children and their daughter’s 4 year old son. Are you still with me?
The Princess had great fun with the other children. In particular the Canadian four year old who was a quite extraordinarily entertaining and charming child (not obviously as extraordinarily entertaining etc. as my child but close and, on the plus side, she seemed to be quite happy to keep her clothes on much of the time unlike my hardy nudist daughter). I did think as I watched them gathering shells on the beach together with enormous concentration, how lovely it must be for the parents-in-law to have their granddaughter and their old friends’ granddaughter playing together. I am a sucker for this kind of thing. Her second cousin is a boy and he was better for jumping on beds but not as good at the shell gathering which he scorned in favour of shrimping with his mother and nana.
And the sun shone. This was nothing short of miraculous as there were floods everywhere else in the country. Obviously, the sun didn’t shine all day every day but we went swimming a number of times and, given half a chance, the boys would have launched themselves across the bay to Cork. How they loved the water. The Princess and her father went down to the pub one night with various cousins and aunts and uncles and while he sat and talked in a manly way she had crisps and bonded with her cousins which is a quintessentially Irish holiday experience and one that reminded me nostalgically of my own youth spent in similar hostelries in West Cork. On the Wednesday night, the ambassador brought his guitar round and there was a big dinner which necessarily involved cross-questioning the misfortunate new girlfriend (please see dramatis personae above) and her boyfriend, Mr. Waffle’s cousin. As I extracted much information from both by my use of the direct question (I am the only Irish person alive capable of asking a direct question and I find it hugely effective in getting information from my shocked compatriots), my mother-in-law kept saying “please forgive her, she’s from Cork”, she once tried this on a wheel clamper in Dublin and it didn’t cut the mustard there either. Nevertheless, the wider clan was captivated and the girlfriend bore up spectacularly well though I did think she quailed slightly when Mrs. Canada senior asked what they got up to after dinner on their first date.
The Ambassador is a really good guitar player. Normally when I see a guitar in the hall, my heart sinks, but “The Boxer” was not played once. There were some lovely Canadian folk songs including one which the Princess wants me to find about a boy who sinks another ship for the captain of his ship in exchange for gold silver and the captain’s daughter but, alas, drowns before he can claim his bounty. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the tune or the words which is a little problematic but I do think that it shows how attracted she is to cheerful tales. Incidentally, have I mentioned that my daughter can recognise sarcasm at 20 paces; I feel that this is one useful skill for life with which I have equipped her.
On Saturday we went to Limerick where we stayed in the grandly named Clarion Suites but I have to give it a plug because it was so nifty and I found it. Two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a sitting room. I am a genius. Having tried and failed to arrange to meet our only friends in Limerick we ran into them on the street and went out to dinner with their one very well behaved child and our three hyper ones. We exchanged fragments of conversation over dinner – Oh I see, you were in Washington when we called, five in the morning eh, fancy that? – No, no bugs except, of course, Daniel was sick in the car, I think I’ve got most of the large pieces of sausage he regurgitated out of the car seat – not sleeping through the night, no, oh you neither, great, um, no, sorry about that – your family have moved back to CAVAN? And so on. Slightly more satisfactory than it sounds but tiring. Limerick was as depressing as I remembered and not at all celtic tigery unlike Cork which is absolutely booming and looks fantastic but not overcrowded and overdeveloped like Dublin. Apparently the celtic tiger never crossed the Shannon; Limerick sits squarely on the Shannon and, frankly, it looks like it’s doing a good job barring the entrance. Maybe if I hadn’t seen it in driving rain, I would have felt more warmly towards it.
On Sunday we began the marathon journey home stopping at Bunratty Castle, no, stop your sniggering, we did not go to the medieval banquet, we had lunch. We got to the airport, unloaded our two bags, three car seats, buggy, assorted miscellaneous junk and three children from the car in driving rain and went to stand in the enormous queue for an hour to check in our luggage, then queued for security (fold up the buggy, take off all shoes, taste the milk in the bottles), then queued to get on the plane, in due course queued to get into Belgium, queued for our luggage, carried into arrivals two bags, three car seats etc. etc. as Charleroi airport continues to be trolley free by choice. Discovered we had just missed the bus for Brussels and would have to wait an hour. Spent the time stopping our hyper boys from pushing each other under a bus. Queued to get on the bus, got to Brussels, waited for two taxis, got home at 8.45. Will never travel from Charleroi again.
We’re flying to Dublin on Saturday and then on to Chicago a couple of days later. Reassure me. Please.