Yes, I know it’s Wednesday, but I’ve been busy.
Last Thursday, I went to Leiden to visit my sister who is working there for a couple of months. I left the children with my kind husband and snuck off. My sister met me at the airport and we took the train to Leiden. Within 5 minutes of arriving we had hired a bike for me as my sister deemed it impossible for me to survive without. I have never seen as many bikes as I did in Leiden. The potent combination of students and a small Dutch city made for bicycle heaven: everyone of all ages cycling in their normal clothes [no fluorescent jackets], young kids in front and behind on all the parents’ bikes, excellent cycle lanes, very flat [though windy]. Behold the bike parking at Leiden centraal. My sister says that they always know the tourists because they’re snapping the bike racks so I didn’t myself; I regret that now.
So we cycled back to her house and then back into town where we went on the obligatory boat tour. After cycling, boating seems to be the preferred way to get about in Leiden and later when we cycled through the suburbs, we saw boats tied up at the end of almost every garden. Leiden has more canals than any city in the Netherlands except Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a lot bigger than Leiden. Leiden is essentially entirely canal.
We went to the cinema that evening, expecting confidently that X-Men, First Class would be in English subtitled in Dutch. Well, it was subtitled in Dutch but you would be surprised how much of that film is in Russian, French and German. Listening to Kevin Bacon speaking Russian while trying to interpet Dutch subtitles is a surprising and unsatisfactory experience.
The next day we saw all the shops I hadn’t seen since we lived in Brussels: Hema, mon amour; Dille & Kamille; stop laughing at me. Then we went to the Mauritshuis in the Hague which I have wanted to visit for years. It’s really well worth a visit. It’s a small museum with a lot of very famous pictures so you wander from room to room saying, “Oh look, look, look!” This may be mildly tedious for other visitors.
On Friday evening we went to dinner to Mr. Waffle’s friend the Dutch Mama [confusingly, she’s Irish, it’s her husband and children who are Dutch] and her family whom my side of the family have now appropriated as our friend [this is what you get for being hospitable, this was my sister’s third dinner at their house]. We had a really lovely evening. We spent much time discussing the Dutch psyche. The Dutch Mama feels that they are all very anxious that everyone should stay part of the group and to be ahead is just as bad as to be behind. I suppose this might be very useful, if your country might sink, should anyone step out of line. I always feel that the Dutch are smug; my views possibly influenced by having lived with a very annoying Dutch girl for a while about 20 years ago. But, I must say, after my trip to lovely Leiden, I do feel that they have quite a bit to be smug about.
On Saturday we cycled to the North Sea. The beach was heaving with people and I ventured in for a swim which was pleasant though industrial [plane overhead, tanker in the distance]. And then we cycled back. And then I thought that maybe I was starting to fall out of love with my bike a little bit. My sister is fit as a fiddle from her Leiden cycling regime and I found myself panting along in her wake on the 14 km round trip to the beach. All in all, I wasn’t entirely sad to say goodbye to the bicycle that evening. Sorry to say goodbye to my sister though.
So, on Sunday, I was back in Ireland and feeling that Mr. Waffle had done Trojan duty, I took the children to see Kung Fu Panda II [not as good a Kung Fu Panda I, you will be unsurprised to hear]. For the duration, Michael sat on my lap, weeping and trembling with terror. On the way out from the cinema to the car park, there is a games arcade where, weakly, I allow the children to play whenever we go to the cinema. I don’t give them any money though as I am too mean. Michael ran straight for a zombie game where he hoisted a gun on his shoulder and pretended to shoot disgusting zombies who exploded all over the screen. He was delighted with himself. He said that the exploding zombies were not scary. “And Shen, the peacock is?” “Oh yes!” The power of narrative, I suppose.
On Monday, which was a bank holiday, we woke to glorious sunshine and I told the children to throw on their shorts and sandals, packed a picnic and we all drove to Trim castle. I really plugged the castle to the children. And they were quite excited when they got there. Except the weather had turned overcast and they were freezing. We had to wait 15 minutes for the guided tour.
Once we got in, I knew we were doomed. Firstly, there was no way in or out except with the tour guide; secondly, the tour guide was slightly gloomy; thirdly, the tour was scheduled to last 45 minutes; fourthly, the tour was aimed squarely at adults and there was really very little to see except stones and spiral staircases and finally, and not insignificantly, the castle was slightly colder inside than out. The children dragged themselves around whining [quietly, mercifully] and we prayed for the tour to end which it did, eventually. Then we ran out and had our picnic in the car. Not content with this failure, we went in search of St. Patrick’s where the “Rough Guide” promised us an echo and an interesting tomb. Even had these things been available, they might not have been sufficient to hold the troops’ interest. In the event the church was closed. We had a look around the graveyard where we considered the grave of Sir Hercules Langrishe who died in the late 90s. We wondered how he got on in the local primary school. Hercules is such a difficult name to carry off. [Apparently, it’s a family name. Mr. Waffle tells me that the first baronet was a pal of James Burke and an open letter to him (on Catholic emancipation) is mildly important though long.]
Michael got bored and started walking around with his eyes closed and walked into a pole giving himself a very nasty bruise on his cheek. We went home. All in all, not a triumph.