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Musings for Middle Brows

20 June, 2018 at 8:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I was listening to the podcast of “In Our Time” and they were doing Persepolis. It was really interesting. Though, seriously, how is Persepolis in our time?

I’m reminded of how years ago I was at a pub quiz and the room was there was a group of school inspectors at the next table they left early and my friend said, “They must’ve heard that there was a good play on the radio”. Oh how we laughed. The boot is on the other foot now, of course as I constantly bore my family witless about podcasts I am listening to. I read during the week that Irish people are among the world’s most enthusiastic podcast listeners, so I am clearly aligned to my fellow citizens.

I learnt about Darius and apparently it’s not pronounced like you might think. I was so interested in Darius and Persepolis that I went all out and had a look on the internet for more information. The first search return was the Darius takeaway. How the mighty have fallen.

Before this I knew nothing about Persepolis. I had read the book by Marjane Satrapi and that was pretty much it. My father is fond of saying “Is it not passing brave to be a king/ and ride in triumph through Persepolis.”* Turns out that it definitely is.

*The internet tells me that this is from “Tamburlaine” by Christopher Marlowe. What exactly was the curriculum they were drawing on when teaching Cork schoolboys in the 30s?

Choices

1 June, 2018 at 10:53 pm by belgianwaffle

I chose to work and not stay at home with my children. When herself was a baby, I stayed at home, not from choice but because I was looking for a job. I was out of the work force for nearly two years. Those were two tough years. I was living abroad which doesn’t help when you have a small baby. I was a nervous first time mother and I had two friends who were parents and weren’t working and no family in the country. I was really lonely most of the time and really tired all of the time. Babies are demanding and, in my experience, not great company. I can remember counting the hours until Mr. Waffle got home and I still remember the misery of Armistice day which is a holiday in Belgium but not for those who work in the European institutions (they have Europe Day on May 9 instead). So basically, a full day, in November when everything is closed and there is nothing for you and your baby to do except count the hours until Daddy gets home. It’s not a coincidence that I started my blog during this time and it played a big role in saving my sanity. Look, it was basically fine, we had enough money, we were living in a nice part of the world, I was able to fly home to Cork and stay with my family reasonably regularly; but it was hard.

I found a job before the boys were born. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world in terms of content but its relatively low demand level was a blessing and my colleagues and I were running the Brussels outpost of UK organisations; we were young (at 36, I was the oldest person in the building); we were left to our own devices and we had a lot of fun. I am still in contact with people I knew there and think of my experience very fondly. When I went out on maternity leave with twins, I think they thought that I would never come back. They were so wrong, I’d learnt my lesson.

When we came back to Ireland, the children were 5 and 3. We actually needed my salary as Mr. Waffle was starting up on his own and had no money – possibly the only time since we met when I earned more money than him. We had a complex tapestry of childcare arrangements and it held up alright. When my salary was cut (thank you economic crisis), we had to send the boys to school earlier than we would have liked (they were 3 years and 11 months) because we couldn’t afford the creche fees and the child minder but it was ok. Then when Mr. Waffle started earning a bit more money, I was able to work a 4.5 day week pattern and take four weeks parental leave in the summer. I’m trying to remember when I started doing that, maybe summer 2011. So I had a reasonable balance, I felt. But I wonder whether for the children, it was ever enough. They have all said to me that they really, really wanted to be collected by me every day not just once a week. At some point, we reached a stage where I could have stopped working and we wouldn’t have been financially ship wrecked. We seriously thought about it. But we didn’t. I’m out of parental leave but I am still working a 4.5 day week which is better than many people manage. And I am excited about my new job and, I suppose, the children need me less than ever. But yet, Michael was sick recently and we left him home alone. He wasn’t very sick and Mr. Waffle was able to drop in on him during the morning. As I left for work, Michael said to me, “Sorry to be an inconvenience.” I have to say, I felt absolutely heartbroken. As Mr. Waffle is self-employed, he does almost all of the appointments and events during the day so I don’t even cover that kind of stuff very often. He tells me, as he returns wearily from another trip to the dentist or whatever, that I’m not missing much, but I do feel that I am.

On the other hand, my own mother worked when I was a child. We had a live in childminder and my memory is that sometimes I was collected from school by my mother, but this was reasonably rare and we regarded it as a treat. Mostly I was on the bus (in primary) or on the bike (in secondary). Often, it seemed my return home would be the signal for my mother to depart (sometimes to play golf, I feel). She was an academic and so had more flexible hours than I have. I don’t ever remember being unhappy with the arrangement but then I don’t ever remember my mother feeling even slightly guilty about it either. I wonder whether these things are related. I enjoyed an excellent relationship with my mother and spoke to her pretty much every day of my life until her dementia got too bad to make that possible a couple of years ago. So, you know, I don’t feel that I missed out or that our relationship suffered.

Anyhow, I still think about it a lot. I think I was put off by staying at home with a small baby which is not for me but I did love staying at home with the children when they were slightly older and those summers off seem halcyon in retrospect (though the children do remind me of the time I was so angry with them all that I pretended to drive off in the car and leave them – so maybe not entirely halcyon, can I say that I only turned over the engine and didn’t leave the driveway? Is it still bad?). Am I doing the right thing? I just don’t know, I am trying to do my best for everyone but I do wonder whether I am succeeding.

Incidentally, time Mr. Waffle has spent wondering whether he should give up work to spend more time at home with his children? None.

To Dust We Will All Return

30 May, 2018 at 7:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle’s aunt died a couple of weeks ago; she had been ill for a while and it fell into the category of merciful release, I think. We brought the children to the removal and I was surprised that Daniel was quite upset. Of course, I should have realised that she was the first person my children know who has died. I had also forgotten that it would be the first time that they would see a dead body and I think Daniel, in particular, got quite a shock. With my constant funeral going, at this stage, I feel barely a week passes without my seeing an embalmed and jaundiced corpse so, I perhaps underestimated the likely impact.

The funeral was small but Mr. Waffle’s cousin read a nice eulogy and over the lunch afterwards, Mr. Waffle was rather pleased to meet an old schoolmate of his aunt’s who was able to tell him what she was like when she was young. His aunt, who was somewhat eccentric, had planned her own funeral (many years ago, memorably, she rang Mr. Waffle while he was shopping with the children in Tesco to discuss her choice of coffin) and, to be fair, it seems a pretty good idea as the service really was very nice. She was very Catholic indeed so, if you are of that persuasion, do say a prayer for her.

Weekends Rounded Up

26 May, 2018 at 3:36 pm by belgianwaffle

The bank holiday weekend is a while ago now but I know you are keenly awaiting an update from me. Oh yes you are. Saturday was unremarkable but on Sunday, which was a beautiful, beautiful day, my poor sons spent the day in the art house cinema judging the young audience award for three films (one Finnish, one Italian and one French-Senegalese co-production – all a bit worthy, I think). Herself had plans with friends so Mr. Waffle and I daringly went out for a walk for the day in the Wicklow hills. The weather was really beautiful and we got a little bit burnt but it was delightful. The thrill. If 15 year old me knew that I was describing a walk as a thrill, she would be utterly appalled.

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On Monday, we went out to visit Mr. Waffle’s parents leaving herself at home to study for the Junior certificate (state exams at 15 – a taste of the fear that is to come in 3 years when she sits her final school exams). Later that afternoon, Mr. Waffle and I went up to Glasnevin cemetery to investigate the newly reopened Daniel O’Connell round tower. It’s only just reopened and currently only open from 1-3, given that it was 4.45 that was quite annoying.

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However, we had a soothing middle aged walk around the cemetery and the botanic gardens followed by a cup of tea so not too bad. They have tea rooms in the cemetery but I feel there is something a little disturbing about that so tea elsewhere. We had a pleasant evening in the garden where the boys managed to lose 4 tennis balls to various neighbouring gardens and one landed in the middle of the dinner table (to clarify, outside). I am a martyr to my sons’ entertainment.

The weekend before last, Mr. Waffle and I again went off together and visited Charleville House – we offered to bring the children with us but it was an offer that they were resolute in declining. It’s a big house in Co. Wicklow that is owned by a property developer and opened up to the public at various times of the year for tax break reasons. I wasn’t hoping for great things but it was actually very enjoyable. Firstly, we had the place to ourselves which is always good. We explored the grounds in a mild way. I have reached the age where I find grounds delightful. Four rooms in the house are open to visitors: the hall, the dining room, the music room and a drawing room. There is a really lovely collection of art and furniture. We had the ministrations of two guides entirely to ourselves and could ask questions and look at things for as long as we liked (honestly, the tax break must be terrific because there is no way that this enterprise is turning a profit based on the visitor to guide ratio). I particularly liked a John Lavery picture of the neighbouring Viscountess who was an interesting character in her own right. Highly recommended. I couldn’t face asking to take pictures indoors but here are some pictures of the grounds. Well worth a visit.

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Also, I bought, second hand fire irons. I have been spending my evenings since floating in a cloud of brasso fumes. Idiotically, failed to notice on purchase that bargain basement price may have been due to the fact that there was no shovel. Alas. Photo of work in progress.

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Also that weekend, I has my first spice bag. I think that this is a Dublin only delicacy. It’s chips and chicken strips in batter mixed with spices and chillies. I found it quite spicy myself but I was glad to have sampled the cultural phenomenon. Daniel made a spice bag in home economics on Monday so it is clearly part of the mainstream here. Are people outside Dublin aware of this particular thing or is it, like the deep fried Mars Bar, a delicacy only available in a particular jurisdiction?

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On Sunday I made the boys and Mr. Waffle go for a cycle along the sea front which was moderately successful. As an incentive measure, we had chips from Beshoff’s at the end of our cycle ride and before heading back. Take away chips on Friday and Sunday: truly exceptional parenting.

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Last weekend I went to a work dinner in Kerry on Friday night, took the train to Cork on Saturday morning and came back to Dublin on Saturday night. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it. Although, I must say, the view from my hotel bedroom in Killarney was lovely.

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I did get to go for a lovely lunch with my sister in this convent in Cork which has been repurposed as the Nano* Nagle centre and the UCC school of architecture.

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On Sunday, I forced everyone to walk from Bray to Greystones along the coast. Suffice it to say that it was not a success and all the children were quite cross with me, though no one was quite as cross as Michael who pointed out that it was yet another failed outing on my part and then asked when was I ever going to stop. A low point was finding out that the Dart wasn’t running and we were going to have to get a bus back from Greystones to where our car was parked in Bray. In my defence, I would say that the rain held off for much of the walk.

Actual enthusiastic little faces filled with joy:
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*Real name Hanora. My own granny was called Hanora but I can really see why it’s gone out of fashion and nickname versions were so popular. Granny was always known as Nina. If your name is Hanora, I’m sorry. Not as bad as Tanora (popular fizzy drink in Cork, not normally a girl’s name but I saw one year in the Holly Bough that a grief stricken Cork exile had gone for that for his daughter).

Everything’s A Competition

30 April, 2018 at 10:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Former colleague: Can you get out for drinks on Friday night?
Me: No, sorry, I’m going to French karaoke at the Alliance with Mr. Waffle and the kids.
Him: You win being middle-class.

It was quite good actually. We sang a song (La Mer– it sounded exactly like it does in the video at the link) and if herself hadn’t been ill with a cold and Michael hadn’t spent the evening with his fingers in his ears and his head on the table, I think we could have ranked it among our successes.

Over-scheduled

29 April, 2018 at 9:44 pm by belgianwaffle

The weekends are killing me at the moment. Last weekend, I went to Cork on Friday night, ran around like mad (sadly not getting to the new Nano Nagle centre cafe for lunch as closed for some Presentation Sisters bash – the bitterness, even the gift shop was closed – no comfort at all to hear that they are never normally closed), came back Saturday night, on Sunday morning I was on baptism duty in the church (completely untraumatic unlike the previous time when some people turned up who had not come to the preparatory meeting the previous Wednesday and I had to run them through the whole thing at speed; it took a lot out of me but our parish priest was unphased). On Sunday afternoon, I went to a friend’s mother’s removal, then went for a quick drink with all of my bookclub (who were also at the removal) then briefly went up to visit my parents-in-law who lived nearby and then decided to visit an old friend of my mother’s of whom I am very fond who also lives nearby. It was nearly 8 by the time I got home from my extended tour of the far side of the city.

This weekend, my sister called to visit Friday evening, on Saturday morning from 10-12 I took Michael and herself to bag packing in Tesco for a school charity. In the afternoon, Daniel had a GAA match (GAA matches all the time at the moment as they try to make up for time lost during the snow) herself went in to town to see an exhibition with her friends (in fairness, not an activity that called for parental support) and Michael and I cycled in to his drama class. On Sunday we cycled down to mass at 10 so that Daniel could get to his GAA match afterwards at 12.15. In the intervening time Mr. Waffle participated in the local community spring clean while herself and myself considered the dubious charms of an animal festival in the city (special cinema screening for dogs at 12.15 – really! A lot of big dogs on view and also various farmyard animals. Hilarious to watch untrained dogs undertaking Crufts like course set up by the DSPCA). Herself then went to a friend’s party in the afternoon and the rest of us went across the city to visit Mr. Waffle’s parents once he and Daniel returned from the match. We had a walk on the pier which was sunny but chilly.

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Then it was after 7 and we decided to stop off in town and have pizza for dinner for which exciting activity herself joined us though pointing out that she had already enjoyed pizza that afternoon at the party. Alas.

Every single weekend seems to be exhaustingly full of activity. I feel we may need some re-organising of our lives.

The Telephone is not a Toy

23 April, 2018 at 10:27 pm by belgianwaffle

My father often says, “The telephone is not a toy”. This is what they used to say when he was growing up, apparently. The passage of time has certainly worked to make him wrong on that one. When I was in primary school, my parents had a complex arrangement for dropping fish to my grandmother on Fridays. It often failed and my father would say to me, as we drove to school, “What did we forget, Anne?” “We forgot the fish, Daddy.” My grandmother would then telephone my mother and say these words only, “Helen, you forgot the fish.” She was not one for unnecessary chatting on the telephone and, in this regard, my father is very much her son.

My father is amazingly old. He was 93 on March 25. What is really quite extraordinary is that he is the same as he has always been. In all the time I have known him, he has been himself in, it seems to me, exactly the same way.

I have a picture of him with my aunt and grandparents as a very small boy. I am fascinated by this. It was taken when they lived in America, and I can’t help feeling that this is a very South Pasadena picture rather than an equivalent from Cork in 1929 (exciting times in America though). They all look so informal and relaxed.

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Due to my brother’s (frankly insane) labours in clearing out the attic, I have this one of him and my aunt after his return to Cork.

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There he is with a beautiful baby in 1969.

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There he is with the beautiful baby in what was at the time a frightfully modern carrying device (could it have been called a papoose? Really?). My parents had taken me to a meeting of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. It is hard to know what benefit I derived from that particular meeting but at least I know from whence comes my propensity to bring my children to historical sites in which they have no interest.*

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There we are in the front garden, while I was still the favourite child when neither of my sibling usurpers were born or thought of.**

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My father used to enjoy sailing and mountaineering before his children were born and given that these were different times, he continued to do so happily after our arrival, leaving us in the care of our saintly mother for up to a month every summer while he was off in the Pyrenees or sailing off to French ports. He has beautiful albums of black and white pictures he developed himself showing French ports in the 50s and 60s.

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We used to sometimes visit him at work and he would give us frogs from the vegetable tray in the fridge to play with.** I feel bad about the poor old frogs now.

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I am so grateful that my father is the same man he always was – frail, yes, it’s been a while since he’s been up a mountain or even on a bike (although he happily cycled into his 80s), but in essence absolutely the same – well read, knowledgeable, funny, infuriating, conservative, stubborn and entertaining. As my mother’s dementia gets worse and worse, I miss her very much and I appreciate all the more how lucky I am to have my father so mentally well. I do wish, though, that he would, occasionally, be willing to chat on the telephone. I suppose he is unlikely to change the habits of a lifetime at this point.

*Please admire the verbal gymnastics which stopped this sentence from ending in a preposition while, admittedly, making it somewhat more difficult to understand.
**You can’t have everything.


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