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Busy Week

16 October, 2017 at 1:19 am by belgianwaffle

This week nearly killed me. We did a lot of stuff and I’m not counting school/the day job. It will have to stop or we will all keel over.

Monday
GAA for Dan; cubs for Michael (he is going to both cubs and scouts during transition to scouts); and bookclub for me.

Tuesday
Herself attended a “Zeminar” in the RDS. Neither myself nor Mr. Waffle could take her due to work commitments so she had to go herself on the bus which we weren’t crazy about but she managed fine. She visited stands from three Irish political parties at the conference. For Irish people, see whether you can guess which they are:
Party 1: Extremely earnest young man explained all their policies in excruciating detail.
Party 2: “You have no information about your policies up,” she said to them, “all you have is stuff about Game of Thrones”. “Ah,” they say, “you don’t want to be putting people off with the old policies.” “But,” she protested, “you are a political party, people expect you to have policies.”
Party 3: “We can help you to get ahead. We can introduce you to the Taoiseach.”

When she came home she went to the school open night so that she could impress possible incoming students and their parents with her prowess with a bunsen burner.

Michael went to scouts.

Mr. Waffle went to football.

I got sodden cycling in to work and resolved to get new rain gear at the weekend.

Wednesday
Herself was back at the Zeminar and afterwards she went to Bray on the Dart to see a play in a friend’s school. Daniel had training after school and I had to drive to Bray (very far away, people) to collect herself at 9.30

Thursday

Herself had games club followed by a debating tournament after school and had to be collected at 8 (bitter defeat, thanks for asking). Daniel and Michael had their booster vaccinations and sore arms. On the plus side this meant Daniel didn’t go to scheduled GAA training.

Friday
The boys had games club. All three children were supposed to have French but T, our faithful tutor, was sick. Poor T, but it was a relief to have something cancelled. Mr. Waffle and I went out to see Class in the New Theatre as part of the Theatre festival (herself babysat, part of a quid pro-quo for the 90 minute drive I had to bring her safely home on Wednesday night). I thought it was only alright but I was a definite minority. It’s about working class parents meeting a middle class teacher as part of a parent-teacher meeting. Class in two ways, you see.

Saturday

Daniel had a GAA match in the morning. I had a migraine. Unsurprising, frankly. Michael had drama in the afternoon. I dropped him in and bought myself a new waterproof coat while he was being dramatic. By early evening I had recovered sufficiently from my migraine to play “Capture the Flag” in a local park. I wanted to know how it worked before having 8 boys round for Daniel and Michael’s birthday and learning on the hoof (no date set, thanks for asking).

Sunday
Mr. Waffle and Michael went to mass at 10 and hockey at 11. I marched the other pair up the road, running late for 11 o’clock mass. We were half way up the road when herself said, “What time is it?” “It’s already 11, we’re going to be late” I said trotting along. “But mass doesn’t start until half past.” Good point. They had choir and she did the second reading. It was a reading from St. Paul. Even after 2,000 years, his personality still comes across very clearly. Favourite line which I think will become a running joke in this family: “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships.” [Emphasis added]. The first holy communion class were there for the prayers of the faithful and so, the prayer for the dead, always a bit of a tricky one, was doomed. The child did not realise that she had to pause to allow the priest to list the names of the dead and so she ploughed on with her prayer and he ploughed on with his list until he realised there could be only one winner and let her continue. He read the list afterwards but he was clearly ground down by going mano a mano with the 8 year old at the lectern and when it came to a complex name he said, “It’s Áine Ní..M..no I can’t pronounce it, it’s something like that.” He’s not a native English speaker and it was all too much for him.

Mr. Waffle’s parents, who are very prompt, came for lunch and were sitting in their car outside the door when Mr. Waffle and Michael came back from hockey and the rest of us came back from mass. After they went home, I took the boys to see “We come from Far Far Away” which was a play for children about refugees. It was quite good actually but the boys were a bit too old for it and didn’t really enjoy it. Also, we had to sit cross legged in a yurt for the duration which is not very comfortable it you are a grown up. Or maybe that’s just me.

After this we went to Milano’s in Temple Bar for dinner as, for a birthday treat, their father had bought them tickets for the live show of “Impractical Jokers“; they are very fond of the deeply unsuitable TV show. We managed to lose the tickets between dinner and the car and had to tramp around looking for them (in vain) and then go home and reprint them which made punctual Mr. Waffle extremely tense. They arrived at 8.05 for an 8 pm start and, in fact, the warm up act still had ages to go. It was even more deeply unsuitable than the TV show but the boys loved it.

Meanwhile herself and myself were at home. A couple of her friends came round and I was able to give all of them the happy, happy news that the Department of Education had decided to close every school in the country due to the oncoming hurricane. Not a standard Irish weather feature. Then, with growing horror the realisation dawned on me that there might be an impact for grown-ups also and that my office might have to close for the day. I spent the remainder of Sunday evening consulting with colleagues, looking at weather warnings and reading runes while we collectively tried to decide whether the office should close or not tomorrow and how best to get the word out to everyone. You will, I am sure be rivetted to hear that the office is, in fact, closed tomorrow or, at this stage (it is late) today. Mr. Waffle has have brought in the bins and I have parked the car as far away from trees as possible on our tree-lined street. I have my new, guaranteed waterproof coat. My work for the week is done.* How was your own week?

*Actually, it was Open House this weekend and we usually go to see something but this year we didn’t; I’m not even sure I’m sorry.

Weekends – Rounded Up

8 October, 2017 at 7:22 pm by belgianwaffle

It’s been a while since I had a weekend round-up, what have I got for you?

The boys have joined a panel which involves seeing lots of films for children in foreign languages. They are enjoying it. We arrived a day early for the first session. For reasons I cannot now remember, it was supremely awkward to get in on time and it was all my fault (that latter part is true, I misread the date) so I took them all for pizza to assuage the pain. It worked. I shudder to think how much money I have spent in Milano’s over the years.

We went to Merrion Square which on that day, as part of Heritage Week, was full of tents with archaeologists talking about digs. Mild interest from the boys in the digging up of dead bodies which seems to have been a feature of laying the Luas lines.

We went to see “Dunkirk”. I did not enjoy it. It was much too loud. I can feel that I am really going to enjoy settling in to later middle age but, seriously, even the boys thought it was too loud.

We went to see Hentown in the Tenement Museum. It was an “immersive, site-specific” experience and it was pretty good – the kids found it reasonably enjoyable too. The best part though was the local kids from the flats who joined in the outdoor element of the play. The actors wove them into the narrative even though it must have been a bit challenging as a gang of four or five youngish boys shouted out their lines with them.

I went to see “Foil Arms and Hog” in the Abbey. I booked the tickets on a bit of a whim as they are supposed to be funny. I hadn’t realised but it was the opening night of the Fringe Theatre Festival. Before it started I had to suffer through two middle aged men in jeans and crumpled shirts telling us all about how having a fringe festival comedy on stage was going to improve the permeability of the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre where I have seen my fair share of dreadful productions in the past but at least there was always assigned seating – not on this occasion). I was with my sister who pointed out that we were the oldest people in the audience which included the Taoiseach (at only 38, our prime minister is younger than both of us). It was alright, not hilarious, but fine. I would definitely have enjoyed it more though if the rest of the audience had not been paralytic with laughter. I felt I was missing something. God, not only is the Taoiseach ten years younger than me, he’s also more cutting edge and he was in young Fine Gael in college.

We went in to town for culture night.

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Herself met her friends at the theatre which is owned by one of her friend’s fathers and I noted that it was doing readings from a play by my sister’s boyfriend’s uncle. We almost have loads of arty friends, just at a couple of degrees of separation. We did the obligatory culture night things: we went for pizza, we went to the sweet shop in Temple Bar.

As part of the, entirely optional, cultural part of the evening we went to the Gallery of Photography [great exhibition based on their Flickr account – thery’re part of the National Library] and we briefly partook of the big sing – a karaoke type activity which Daniel and I quite liked but wasn’t for everyone. Most importantly, we got to stay out at night; always very exciting.

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Mr. Waffle’s sister, her husband and her new baby came to Dublin for a week. This was their first trip to Ireland since the baby was born in London. There was much excitement in the extended family and we all got to see the baby for the first time. We had everyone to our house for lunch on Sunday. Here are some tips on how not to prepare for an extended family lunch: do not have your sons go to a film which ends at 1 and from which they require to be picked up just as your guests are arriving (on the plus side it’s part of their new film panel thing and they loved it), under no circumstances let your daughter go to stay with a friend in Wicklow whose father is a Church of Ireland clergyman. I said blithely that of course she could go to the service on Sunday morning showing my cheery ecumenicism, unfortunately, I am not ecumenical enough and I had no idea that the harvest service is one of the lengthiest of the year and it was 2 o’clock on Sunday before I was able to go and pick her up from the train. She had the full clergyman’s daughter experience of going to the farm of some poor parishioner to help with feeding animals as her (parishioner’s) husband was ill and she needed the help. Herself said that unfenced geese are a menace to human safety. She also had to, along with her friend, accompany an unwell parishioner back to the rector’s house for a reviving cup of tea in the course of the lengthy service. It was still going on when she got back. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, despite the hostess constantly departing to collect children, lunch for 15 passed off peacefully, mostly due to the fact that everyone got to inspect the new baby, who was as good as gold, and Mr. Waffle did all the cooking. I have asked herself to, in future, choose her friends from the 1 million people who live in Dublin.

What else did we do?

I supervised Michael and a number of other scouts bag packing to raise money in Tesco. They were more impressed than I expected when I told them that herself had met Baden-Powell’s great, great nephew in Wicklow (if you hang around in C of I rectories, this is the kind of thing that happens).

We walked on the pier in Dun Laoghaire.

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We visited Trim Castle.

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It’s where Braveheart was filmed. They are still very proud of that. The guide, who was about my age, was interesting about how attitudes have changed in Ireland. He went to school in Trim and no one ever spoke to him about the castle or it’s history. It was an Anglo-Norman castle from 1176 and not part of our history. Now, of course, they are falling down with school tours and I’d say there isn’t a primary school child in Trim who isn’t sick of colouring in pictures of the Castle.

That’s a lot of activity, isn’t it? I have, however, just collected Michael from a friend’s house. Friend’s mother and I stayed chatting for a while at the door as I thanked her for having him. “No problem,” said she, “there was another friend here anyway. Actually, we were a bit chaotic today as we were minding a puppy and my brother-in-law was here as well as my sister who is in labour in the kitchen at the moment. We’re actually heading in to the hospital now.” In fairness, that’s a busy weekend.

Paris – Part Five (This is the End)

20 September, 2017 at 9:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Friday, 18 August

More rain.

Mr. Waffle and I went out early for breakfast. And then we went for lunch to a fish restaurant in Montparnasse. We left the children to their own devices. Likely to be electronic devices, but we shut our eyes to this.

After lunch Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went to an exhibition featuring dragons. Herself drew the line at going and was probably right as perhaps not quite what she would have liked. It turns out that our sons know an extraordinary amount about dragon lore and given that they are, you know, mythical animals, it’s surprising how consistent their information was with that in the exhibition. It turns out they do learn something in those fantasy games. As my mother says, “Knowledge is never wasted.” Though I am not sure that this was what she had in mind.

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On the way home, we passed a group of boys playing football on a concrete pitch near our house and Daniel asked if he could join them. Off he went and I sat nearby watching the whitest boy in Ireland playing with 9 black kids from one of the more exciting Parisian suburbs. But Daniel was delighted with himself and they were very nice to him. I chatted with a 5 year old who was watching his elders and told me who everyone was and where they lived (large block of flats across the road) and also that he, the five year old, had just got a new cousin. I told him that Daniel had a new cousin too. “But my new cousin is in London,” said he. “So is Daniel’s!” I exclaimed and we sat there and marvelled at the delightful coincidence.

In one of the papers there was an article about the new French equality Minister who had fought her way up from one of the rough suburbs to Ministerial glory. “Which rough suburb?” you cry. Ah, Malakoff, of course. Maybe it was rougher when she was young but I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

Saturday 19 August

Herself and myself went back into town. We had breakfast together. We also went to HEMA. I love HEMA but this was not an optimal HEMA and I feel she still hasn’t appreciated its true wonderfulness. It’s a Dutch shop which is also in Brussels. I still have loads of stuff that I bought there years ago which has stood the test of time despite it’s cheap and cheerful ethos.

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She spotted some cute bollards.

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She’d been keen to go to the Monoprix for a while and we finally went. Fantastic, I have taken to the Monoprix with the zeal of the convert. We even got the boys’ school tracksuits (plain navy, no logo on pain of death, impossible to find). Then we went to Mariage Frères and I bought some very expensive Earl Grey and confirmed what I had heard from another expensive tea merchant that Lapsang Suchong is now no longer available. The woman behind the counter was a bit cagey about why EU regulations banned it but I feel I now have a complete explanation for Brexit and post-2019, I guess we all know where we can go for our illicit Lapsang.

We went to Place des Vosges for lunch.

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Food was a bit indifferent but the setting was delightful.

After lunch we went to get the metro home. When we got there, the metro station was closed and two policemen with semi-automatic rifles were standing at the entrance while Parisians hung around impatiently. I suddenly felt a bit nervous and I said, “Let’s get a taxi.” It was a bit depressing and I suppose it was nothing really but I was definitely unnerved. Our taxi driver home was full of personality he had views on big pharma (against), tourists in August (for, numbers back to normal this year as I knew to my cost), terrorism (against), Mélenchon (strongly for) and cyclists (against). It was a long journey.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle asked whether I wanted to go out on the electric bicycle to the Monoprix. An irresistible combination of thrills. Sadly, I am not even being sarcastic here.

Later in the evening, Dan went out to play football with his new friends and the rest of us went to the local pub for an aperitif.

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The credit card company called me to say that my card had been compromised. Alas. It was compromised in an unlikely way. About €50 spent in a suburban Parisian DIY shop. Not a credit card fraudster who thought big. I went back to the house with herself and later was able to send her out for the others saying in a timeless fashion, “Tell your father and brothers to come home from the pub.”

That evening we searched for a film we could all watch. We made them watch “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It was a surprise success everyone was amused; it stood the test of time really well though I still think Andie McDowell is dreadfully miscast and there are some ethically dubious choices which I felt it was hard enough to explain. However, I covered up by saying things like, “Is that Mr. Bean?”

Sunday, 20 August

We went to mass in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The priest said we were all so lucky to be in this beautiful church but since most of it was shrouded by sheets and scaffolding, it was a little hard to agree. He said a good long mass including singing the gospel which is not something I’ve ever come across before. Clearly not catholic enough.

We had lunch nearby and then had an exhaustive search for an open pâtisserie. In the course of our search, a very kind woman, who led us to the only open pâtisserie in Paris asked Mr. Waffle whether he was Belgian, because of his accent. I love the Belgians, but that’s not what you want to hear. We went for afternoon tea, with the cake, at my friend’s house. She and her family had just come back from a holiday in America the previous day but they were ready and, apparently willing, to have us round. She and I shared a number of flats together in Brussels years ago and we are now exchanging our daughters on a regular basis. She lives in the 16th which is leafy and beautiful, though pretty quiet in August.

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I was dying to see her flat and I was not disappointed. It is just beautiful. Parquet everywhere, big beautifully decorated rooms in an old residential building. Her children 13,11 and 9 got on reasonably well with mine.

Spot the Irish limbs:

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We had tea and then we went to the park where the children played and the adults caught up on all our news. It was lovely.

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We went home and had a last Parisian dinner in the pub around the corner.

Monday 21 August

I dreamt I was working for Macron. I knew at that point, it was definitely time to get away.

Packing up was quite painless. Although also, I discovered subsequently, pretty ineffective as the French people had to post back to Dublin a pair of sandals and two dresses I left behind.

Daniel and I went down to the park and had a ferocious game of table tennis. I have no idea when he improved so much. Last time we played, he could hardly get it over the net. Then we hopped into the taxi and arrived in CDG two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart. We queued up at the check-in. “Where are you going?” asked the woman. “Dublin,” we said. “You are much too early, you will have to wait and [the unkindest cut] you are delaying the people travelling to Cork.”

At the airport which was quiet, it was definitely starting to feel like home. We saw: a man going to Cork whom Mr. Waffle knew but couldn’t quite place; a man I had met at a work meeting; and sitting opposite us on the plane Mr. Waffle’s French teacher from school. Once we got to Dublin, the French people were in departures waving frantically at us. We waved back, passing them like ships in the night. I met a former colleague in the bathroom. Note for people from larger countries, this is what being Irish is like, all the time.

We arrived home and collapsed exhausted. Herself piped up, “OK if I go to a party this evening?” And that was it for another year.

Paris – Part Four

19 September, 2017 at 6:47 pm by belgianwaffle

Tuesday, August 15

The 15 August represents the pinnacle of, absolute max, August shutdown. We were braced for it. Notwithstanding this, the Sainte Chapelle was open. We booked online (slowly, we were learning; inevitably no queue, booking unnecessary) and turned up early in the morning as the French people’s cleaner was coming at 9 (15 August or no). We went in to the lower chapel which was busy, but not impossibly so.

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Then we went upstairs and even Michael said, “This is impressive.” It definitely was.

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Weirdly it’s inside the complex of the French courts so we had to be let out by soldiers with guns. I can’t really feel that this arrangement is entirely satisfactory from a French judicial point of view. Afterwards we went to the Conciergerie (tickets also booked in advance, also no queue). It was interesting and the exhibition space was really well laid out. We saw where the flood waters had risen to in 1910.

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Some of us perhaps more fascinated than others.

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We were all pretty much on top of the French revolution and the Terror when we came out. A triumph as this is a pretty complex period of history, I think you will agree. We bought Michael a horse and knight in the bookshop.

We went for lunch in town – some places were open – rejoice. It was pleasant, Michael got some mileage from playing with his Dark Rider. We all enjoyed our lunch in a mild way and then we went for a stroll to have a cup of tea elsewhere. As we were enjoying our cup of tea, I said to Michael, “Where is Dark Rider?” Alas he had been left in our lunch venue. Michael and I ran through the streets of Paris to rescue him. When we got there, the man behind the bar said that no, they had found no Dark Rider. Then I saw the waiter who had served us. “Was Dark Rider in a paper bag?” he asked. He was. The waiter went through the bin and rescued him. See what I mean about the nice Parisians left in Paris in August? There was great rejoicing among our small party on the return of Dark Rider.

The children and I returned alone on the metro to our distant suburb leaving Mr. Waffle to wander about on his own reminiscing on his student days. The whole thing was fine and, as my sophisticated children hoped from metro to metro, I couldn’t help feeling very smug and remembering how stressful it was travelling with small children and thinking how much more satisfactory it was to travel with older children.

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Wednesday, August 16

Since we were staying for a fortnight in Paris, we were resigned to a trip to Eurodisney [incidentally autocorrect is suggesting that I change the word “Eurodisney” to “neurosis”, just saying]. Herself, however, had been with school as part of a school tour in April and was not very enthused. I, extremely nobly, offered to take the two boys and spare Mr. Waffle from this ordeal. In return, he booked the tickets online over his phone (in itself, a mammoth undertaking) and went into Montparnasse with us to print them out, the local printing place which had served us well earlier in the holiday clearly decided that the staff had suffered enough and it had closed up for the fermeture annuelle.

The boys and I took the RER out to Marne La Vallée and arrived about midday. It was quite warm and we were a bit confused by the Eurodisney layout. We got in reasonably speedily and took ourselves to a Jedi training session which I found distinctly underwhelming but the boys quite enjoyed.

I totally failed to understand the fastpass system (kind of a way to jump queues) and got us tickets for Buzz Lightyear. We finally got on our first ride at 3.10 after 70 minutes queuing. It was the Indiana Jones ride and it lasted about 5 minutes. I found it deeply unpleasant but the lads quite liked it even though Michael’s head bounced about which he, understandably, did not enjoy.

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We went to get another Fastpass ticket before going to the Buzz Lightyear experience. Alas, there were no more fastpass tickets to be had. The park was too full and all of the dispensers were closed. Given that we got our first ticket at midday and our next was only available after 3.20, this wasn’t great. We had some sustaining chips to help us deal with the pain. Did we queue for these? Yes we did.

Then, to my horror, I realised that I had only got two fastpass tickets. I needn’t have worried, the boys were fine on their own. While they were jumping the queue and enjoying the ride (only ok, they said), I was enjoying my own queuing experience outside the bathroom.

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The visitors in the park were mostly English, Dutch and German. I didn’t see any French visitors at all. The only French people were the staff struggling to show American levels of enthusiasm while being French. It was, frankly, an unequal battle. They were pathetically grateful to us for speaking French (pathetic in the sense that normally French people are not grateful at all and regard it as only right and proper that everyone speaks French). On one of the stalls the woman wearily addressed me in English (understandable, I look English, I do not look like a chic French person or even, lower bar, a chic Dutch or German person). I replied in French and she smiled warmly at me and apologised saying in a lowered tone, “Sorry, I thought you were English”. I only spoke to her in monosyllables afterwards to preserve the flattering illusion.

It was pricy. It was about €8 for a couple of ice pops and I felt considerable sympathy for English tourists paying out given that sterling was in freefall.

We then queued for 100 minutes, as timed on my phone, to get on to the Big Thunder ride. Partly we queued in shade but often in blazing sunshine. A real taste of the American west. The ride lasted about 10 minutes which is a long time in ride life and, I must say, it was really enjoyable. Not so enjoyable that we were prepared to queue again but pretty good.

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We had pizza for dinner; quite vile but the boys liked it. Did we queue for it? Yes, we did. Then we began to wend our way towards the exit. I said they could each buy a thing in the shops. Daniel found a glass and I queued up to pay. I found a queue with only one person in front of me (the thrill). 15 minutes later I was still there and the assistant had rung up €294 worth of Disney merchandise for this woman and it showed no sign of ending. I joined another, longer, queue and even though it was delayed by the woman in front of me deciding she did not, after all, want Simba, if he was that price and the cashier’s supervisor having to be called, I was still finished before the one person at the other queue was. I saw some poor fool take up a place behind her. He’s probably still there. Seriously, she must have spent well over €1,000 on Disney tat. Extraordinary.

The boys were delighted with the trip. Even though we spent most of the day queuing, they seem to have really loved it. In the evening, it was much more pleasant than in the middle of the day although still heaving with people. I might even have stayed a bit longer and used the movie lot ticket (bought but never used, alas) but the boys were exhausted and wanted to go home.

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We got slightly lost on the way to the train station on the way out. Harder to do than you might think. No, really. But soon we were speeding back to Paris. When we got off the RER, we had to go almost from one end of the metro line to the other. To pass the time on the metro home, we started playing various guessing games. So successful were these that it was not until Michael yelped, “We’ve missed our stop!” that I realised we had gone four stops too far. We hopped off. I was kicking myself as it was nearly 11 at night at this stage and I was wondering what time the metro stopped. Spoiler, some time after 11. We got safely home eventually and Mr. Waffle and herself were dutifully waiting up for us to ask about our day and to mock my inability to get off the metro at the right stop (her only, he was too grateful/tactful).

The bank told us Mr. Waffle’s credit card had been compromised. I blame Eurodisney.

Thursday, August 17

It was lashing, of course.

Earlier in the week we had booked in to a funfair museum for Thursday morning. Bitterly did I regret it as I dragged my exhausted sons from their beds. We took the tram – it was in Bercy and we ended up having to traipse through an old railway and for the first time saw rubbish in Paris.

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But once we got to the museum itself, all was delightful.

The museum had been recommended by my Parisian friend. The children were dubious. Happily, it was, hands down, the best thing we did in Paris. The guide was superb. The children were allowed to play on the old merry-go-rounds and use the old games.

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I would seriously recommend it to anyone with children planning a trip to Paris. We all loved it. Michael won the first horse race and was delighted with himself. Then Daniel won one.

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We all got to go on a carousel made of bicycles which was powered by the people on it and was surprisingly speedy and great fun.

Herself and Daniel made friends with an American girl and boy about their own ages and they went around together. The Princess discovered that her American friend was not allowed to have her own mobile phone and her life was a misery. On the other hand, her friend was going to start learning to drive from the following February when she turned 15 and herself nearly expired from envy when she heard this. Michael meanwhile was bonding with the tour guide, who pronounced him the best visitor she had ever had, and a lovely older couple from California. A part of me died when I heard him asking them what they thought of Donald Trump. I rushed up and said, “Michael, Irish people like to talk about politics a lot but I think for Americans and French people, it’s considered quite rude.” The woman said kindly, “It doesn’t matter and explained to Michael that she thought that any Americans he met in Paris were unlikely to be Trump supporters.” She turned to me and said sadly, “Of course, we came on holidays to get away from that but it’s the first question everybody asks us.” I did feel bad.

We went for lunch nearby. Apparently Mitterand was outraged that the Ministry of Finance was housed in the Louvre and turfed them out to Bercy. I am sure that they were outraged in their turn. I find it hard to imagine any individual in this State having the power to dislodge the Department of Finance from Government buildings but that’s the French presidential system for you, real, concentrated power, ability to move Finance officials to the middle of nowhere. The whole thing looked up in the air for a while when there was a concern that the Minister mightn’t be able to get to the Assembly in time for votes but then some smart person suggested that he could get a barge.

That evening Mr. Waffle suggested we should cycle to what is known in family lore as his “hellhole suburb” and on the map as Arceuil. This is where he lived when he was a student in Paris. It was within easy electric bike reach. Although his house, once found, did overlook a railway line, never really a plus, I didn’t think it was that bad. Not as nice as the student residence I enjoyed in Modena when I was doing my Erasmus year, but you can’t have everything.

Still not at the end. Are you exhausted yet?

Paris – Part Three

18 September, 2017 at 8:27 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, August 12

Herself and myself went for a wander around town. We went to the Galeries Lafayette. We went to Printemps. We went to H&M. We had a cup of tea on the quays and went to the bouquinistes where we had a great time poking around for hours and bought many pictures. She’s hung hers up but mine are still stacked up on the mantelpiece.

I’d left my phone back at the house so I was slightly worried that the others would be wondering what had become of us. I need not have worried. They seemed to think that we were well able to look after ourselves.

Sunday, August 13

We contemplated going to mass in Notre Dame but we were just too scared that we might have to queue to get in so we went to Saint Eustache in Les Halles instead. It’s an odd church. It is described as gothic and it is kind of gothic but it’s the first gothic church I have seen with Corinthian columns. Stand out sight was undoubtedly Louis XIV’s Minister for Finance’s monument. He was so successful at raising taxes for Louis XIV that his funeral had to be held at night so there wouldn’t be riots. The locals appeared to have noticed that he lived pretty high on the hog himself.

We went for lunch in Les Halles and then wandered down to the Pompidou centre which could be seen from the outside without queuing. While we had a cup of tea, Daniel befriended a young French child with a ball and he and Michael played happily in the square with him.

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I decided we would round out our day by taking in the view from the Arc de Triomphe. Not a super spectacular view but, presumably, less in demand for that very reason. No, that is not the case. It turns out that there is a grand big queue to get up the Arc de Triomphe as well. We wandered around the bottom instead. To be honest it’s not really quite the same.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle suggested that he and I could go out for a cycle on the French people’s bikes. He offered me the electric bike. I loved it. I always thought that I would get an electric bike for my 50th birthday but now I know that I can’t as if I did I would get no exercise whatsoever. I sailed around the suburbs taking any inclines in my stride. It was just delightful. Mr. Waffle took us to the Cité Universitaire which was nearby (on my super electric bike anyway). I’d never heard of it before but basically all sorts of countries built residences there for their students studying in Paris. Lots of countries represented with a bit of an emphasis on former French colonies. The whole area was green and pleasant with lots of paths for me to test the full power of my electric bicycle.

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I was so pleased with my bicycle ride that I insisted on prolonging it to inspect Leon the lamp post which is, you know, fine but still a lamp post. As the lamp post in Narnia, it burns day and night but you really can’t see that very well in day time.

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Monday, August 14

To their great relief, Mr. Waffle and I left the children at home alone and went into town together for a wander. We had a nice breakfast and then went to the Orangerie where put off by the queues for the gallery we sat, instead, under the shade of the trees on those nice green municipal chairs and looked out over the Place de la Concorde [fountains to wash away the blood and all that] and chatted.

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It was peaceful, it was sunny. We reminisced on the last time we had been in Paris together which was when I was pregnant with the boys and, daringly, we left herself with our lovely Polish cleaner for the weekend. It all went very well and when we came home, she could recite a number of Polish nursery rhymes (we were assured they were nursery rhymes, we weren’t really in a position to know).

It was as well that we had had an enjoyable morning. That afternoon we went to Aquaboulevard. Herself had been there before when she was in Paris and recommended it. It turns out that it is much more enjoyable during term time than on Monday 14 August when everyone left in Paris is on holidays (the 15th being a bank holiday and everyone “making the bridge”. If you are unfamiliar with this French term, you haven’t lived.) We pre-booked our tickets. As requested by management the gentlemen of the party bought speedo type togs, as shorts are not allowed. We were ready. In a daring move, we took the tram (public transport abroad other than metros is..exciting). When we arrived, the man at the door asked to see the boys’ swimsuits. They were wearing them so opened their trousers and showed him. We moved on. “Hey,” he said to Mr. Waffle, what about yours?” Hilariously, he too had to show his swimsuit which he was wearing. An auspicious beginning. When we reached the top of the stairs, the man guarding the entrance yelled down to his colleague “Have you checked the English people’s togs?” We ignored the error on nationality. Clearly they had been stung previously by hordes of English people descending in their Hawaiian shorts.

The pool itself was heaving. It was barely possible to stand in it, let alone swim in any direction. There were long, long queues for each of the slides. The pools were generally up to my shoulders so too deep for the children to stand in in comfort. Every time I lost sight of one of them (extremely easy to do in the mass of humanity wedged together in the pools notwithstanding the fact that they were several shades whiter than the whitest French people), I was terrified that they had drowned. There was a big sandy outdoor area and an outdoor pool as well as the indoor ones and it was a bit warm outside – this was one of the warmest days we were there which was why we had selected it for our pool day; clearly half of Paris had the same idea. It was pretty hideous. Alas.

We returned home and to cheer myself up after our swimming trips, I took another cycle on the electric bike around the mean streets of the suburbs. I amused myself by looking at the price of houses in Paris. Unsurprising: Paris is dear. Even Malakoff is dear; well over a million euros for a medium sized 3 bedroom house.

That night, I discovered that the Princess was obeying the letter if not the spirit of the ban on electronic devices in the bedroom. I noticed that the light in the basement (storage spot for spare pasta, pulses, water, milk and various other essentials) was on and, when I turned it off, there was a shriek of indignation from the bottom of the stairs. Herself was on the phone to her friend. At regular intervals for the remainder of the holiday, I would see her haring down the stairs to talk to some friend or other. The washing machine was there as well and Mr. Waffle frequently ran into her while rescuing the laundry.

Paris – Part Two

17 September, 2017 at 1:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, August 9

I got a message from my sister about an incident in west Paris to which I forgot to reply. By the end of the day she was worried we were all dead and buried.

We were not. We were wet and, to varying degrees, bored. It lashed again. We went to the Musée des Arts et Metiers which I dimly remembered visiting years ago. I remembered that I liked Foucault’s pendulum. Our guidebook (treacherous Routard) recommended it for children.

Things began positively enough. The reception staff were charming (all of the people left in Paris in August seem to be delightful, I cannot imagine why, as working when almost everyone else is on holidays is, surely, very distressing). The lady who gave us our tickets asked where we were from and when we said Ireland she said that of course we must be as we were wearing green. Coincidentally, we were, and I couldn’t be bothered disabusing her from the notion that all Irish people wear green abroad for identifying purposes. “What’s your favourite episode of Father Ted?” she asked. After some consideration, Michael suggested that it was the one where Mrs. Doyle fell in love with the milkman. “I love Fr. Ted, “ she said and, pointing at her fellow ticket desk operative, she added, “I’ve got him into it too.”

We started off by visiting the pendulum. It’s housed in an old church and there are also various interesting old airplanes and cars. That’s the most exciting bit. Don’t start there. The museum is really a hymn to the cog and, if engineering is not your thing, possibly best avoided. I was mildly impressed by the recreation of Lavoisier’s laboratory but the children were not. Many of the interactive displays which, in and of themselves were not exactly fascinating, were broken which didn’t help.

Here are some of my children enjoying their visit.

IMG_2498The highpoint was meeting a charming French toddler whose parents were also looking for something to do in rainy Paris in August. Frankly, not a success. The Metro station was pretty cool though.

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Thursday, August 10

We awoke to further torrential rain and, leaks everywhere. We were veterans at managing the various buckets required at this point and worked like a well oiled machine to catch drips. It reminded me of primary school when the pre-fabs leaked.

We decided to go to the Louvre. To avoid queuing, Mr. Waffle booked tickets online. Sadly, we couldn’t find a printer in the French people’s house and he had to comb the mean streets of Paris in August to find someone willing to print out the tickets.

The pre-booked tickets did the job. Although there were millions of people and we did have to queue for ages for the toilets we sailed into the gallery itself. We did a highlights only tour:

– the Mona Lisa

IMG_2524-the winged victory of Samothrace (for some reason, no picture, maybe she was submerged beneath the hordes)

– the Venus de Milo

IMG_2537I always feel that art is wasted a bit on galleries like the Louvre. If the National Gallery in Dublin had David’s “The Oath of the Horatii”, Vigée-Lebrun’s self-portrait with her daughter or Ingre’s “Grande Odalisque” all of which we noted in passing, you can bet they would get a lot more avid attention from the visitors than they do in the Louvre.

There was active interest in looking at the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian stuff and these rooms were a bit quieter.

IMG_2531We were exhausted at this stage and found ourselves near an exit so I suggested we might go out and come back in for our coats. Mr. Waffle was dubious but he was right. Once out, they weren’t letting people back in whether it was a suspicious parcel or overcrowding, we weren’t getting in for a while. Happily the rain had stopped.

I said that I would take them all to Café Marly, my treat. It’s a lovely café with a view over the pyramid of the Louvre and quite eye-wateringly expensive. I have been there before only in circumstances where all parties paid for their own fun. It enjoys a special place in our relationship also as it is there that I discovered from Mr. Waffle and the French waiter that I had been pronouncing mille feuille wrongly for years (ah, happy memories, it is particularly hard to pronounce, Cork people have got around this by saying milly filly, my variant on this was entirely unintelligible to the waiter and Mr. Waffle had to leap in and help me out with his smooth knowledge of the pronunciation of French vowels – particularly challenging).

Here are some of my children enjoying the exquisite setting of the Café Mary.

IMG_2549Our bill for three slices of cake and a drink for everyone in the audience was €76. Even the waiter was slightly appalled. Frankly, for €7.50 for a pot of tea I would have hoped for more than one cup in the pot. I hoped in vain.

Herself and myself went back into the Louvre for the coats. “Let’s look at one thing before we go,” I said, “whatever we see will be amazing.” We found ourselves wandering among priceless Gobelin tapestries but, it takes a certain kind of person to be amazed at tapestries and we were not that kind of person. We did some damage in the gift shop though.

IMG_2550We then went to join Mr. Waffle and the boys in the Tuileries funfair which was a great success and not shockingly expensive given its location. Mr. Waffle tells me that the Canard (French satirical magazine) is much preoccupied by the tendering process and how one person has a stranglehold but, to be honest, it’s not really much dearer than any other of these things.

We enjoyed it. The view from the Ferris wheel was great and there was no queue for anything. A big plus for any attraction in Paris in August we were rapidly discovering.

IMG_2556IMG_2561The sun was out for most of our trip to the fairground and once it started to rain, we decided to pack up and head home. As we were tramping along the Rue de Rivoli we passed the English language bookshop and picked up a copy of a book that day published by a family member. The glamour, the excitement.

Friday, August 11

Having consulted with the children, they said they would like to go to the aquarium. We went. It was grand as aquariums go.

IMG_2613IMG_2643IMG_2607We were adjacent to the Eiffel Tower so we decided to go up without booking tickets in advance. Can I emphasise how unutterably stupid this was? At least it wasn’t raining or too warm. We waited 2 hours to get through security. We waited a further good hour at the foot of the Eiffel Tower to get the lift up as we decided that we couldn’t face walking up. We had ample opportunity to regret this decision. We eventually got up to the second floor but the top was closed, due to numbers, I think. Although it re-opened while we were on the second floor there was zero appetite from my queue weary family to queue further for tickets to the top. We went back down by the stairs and Mr. Waffle bought me an overpriced cup of tea and we sat and looked at the view on the first floor while the children explored which was mildly pleasant but, overall, frankly, not a success.

IMG_2670IMG_2707By this time it was late and we were all starving. We decided to go to Leon which is a Belgian chain specialising in mussels and chips. Using the amazing free roaming (heartfelt thanks, European Commission, heartfelt thanks) we looked up the handiest branch and I rang them to book a table. “No need,” they said cheerily, “there are always tables available”.

We marched to Pont d’Alma, which is further than you might think from the Eiffel Tower (everywhere looks close when you are up high), only to discover that the RER was closed and a replacement bus service was laid on. We gloomily took the replacement bus service and eventually arrived at our mussels and chips destination after 9 to find a queue out the door. We were down hearted. No need to book, indeed. Mr. Waffle went off to inspect some neighbouring brasseries and the children and I dolefully joined the queue. It moved fast and in 5 minutes we were sitting at a table with menus in our hands. When we needed Belgium to feed us, it did not let us down. Quite honestly, it was, I think, the most successful dining out experience of the holiday.

Still more to come. Oh yes.

Paris – Part One

2 September, 2017 at 9:04 pm by belgianwaffle

Monday August 7

In view of the positively apocalyptic warnings about airport waiting times, we followed Aer Lingus’s advice and arrived at the airport two and a half hours early. It was not necessary. In fact, everything was extremely smooth and we could easily have been at the gate within half an hour of our arrival at the airport. When we arrived in France, we took a taxi our destination in the southern suburbs of Paris. Mr. Waffle had been going to make us and our luggage take the RER and then change to the metro but happily this would have cost nearly €50 and the taxi set fare was €55 so he relented.

As we drove at great speed into our suburb I noticed a sign saying it was twinned with Ballymun (one of Dublin’s more exciting suburbs) and my heart sank, however, Mr. Waffle who has better eyesight than me reassured me that it was Ballymoney in Northern Ireland which, I am sure has its own problems, but I did find that reassuring. The house was down an alarming lane. I was a bit alarmed. When we got in it was very bohemian but not bad with a small yard.

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Mr. Waffle’s phone pinged as we arrived. They had found my wallet on the airplane (thank you Aer Lingus). On the plus side, it was found before I knew it was lost. On the minus side, it was a €55 one hour taxi ride away. A problem for the following day we decided. The more pressing problem was where everyone would sleep. Michael has the smallest room at home and last summer he was promised that this holiday he would get his choice of bedrooms. Despite the French people saying there were four bedrooms, there appeared to be only three. For quite a while the prospect loomed that Daniel and herself would have to share. It’s hard to say which of them was more horrified. Happily it turned out that the couch in the television room could be turned into a bed and Daniel holed up there.

The house was two small artisan houses knocked together and it had more staircases than would be normal in a small house and the layout was a bit baffling.

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The lighting was confusing – we feel they may have done the wiring themselves. Each room boasted a lamp which was turned on in its own unusual and slightly perplexing fashion. In true bohemian fashion most of the rooms did not have doors. Call me bourgeois all you like but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a bathroom with a door. There were three bathrooms. Two did have doors, to be fair but I feel that they could have gone the whole hog and put in a door to the third one and to the bedrooms as well. There, I’ve said it.

They had a jukebox and an anxious note that we were not to use it as to do so would cause the electrical difficulties. We all internalised this message so when we heard noise coming from the jukebox each of us said anxiously to Mr. Waffle, in turn, “You’re not supposed to use the jukebox.” It turns out that the speaker for the stereo was right beside the jukebox. He had read the instructions. Of course he had.

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We looked for places to put our clothes but every cupboard was filled to the brim with books and all sorts of things. We eventually found some room but not very much. It was a very full house though, I have to say, rather charming and filled with interesting things. I think they may have found our house in Dublin a bit bland. On the other hand, we have cupboard space.

Tuesday, August 8

When we woke up it was lashing. The glass extension roof in the kitchen leaked in three places.

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The window in the roof over the sofa leaked also in particularly wet weather. It was particularly wet weather.

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In fairness, I assume the French people were not expecting torrential rain in Paris in August.

Notwithstanding the awful weather, Mr. Waffle went out to inspect Malakoff (name of our suburb, named after something in the Crimean War, I think). It’s most famous sight is Paris’s only remaining gas lamp. The lamp is called Léon and it has its own society (Les Amis de Léon) who drop by to check that all is well every morning. I was inclined to scoff at Léon the lamppost, philistine that I am.

If all France voted like Malakoff, France would be communist. The commune has always been pretty left wing. The French people had a book on the Colonies de Vacances owned by the commune. These are basically houses in the nicer parts of France where the commune would ship poorer children from the commune (I think that was traditionally most of them) to enjoy summer holidays. This is one of the things I really love about France; the acknowledgement of the huge importance of holidays for everyone.

Anyway, my rainy day task was to get myself across Paris to pick up my wallet from the airport. It took forever. I had to change in the Montparnasse-Bienvenüe Metro station and I was charmed by a huge advertisement about couples who had met on Erasmus programmes and married. The poster featured couples who were half French (obviously) and half-something else (including Irish) and their beautiful young children. I thought it was lovely and if only the British had done similar kinds of things maybe more people would have seen the advantages of the EU. However, I did not then know that every day for the next fortnight pretty much I would be changing metros in Montparnasse-Bienvenüe and I have to say the advertisement began to pall over time. Also, I am willing to bet that the Franco-Hiberno couple’s daughter is not actually called Aoiffe.

When I got to CDG, I could have kicked myself. I had left my passport back in Malakoff. I persuaded the official guarding the entrance that all my papers were in my lost wallet. At the desk that had my wallet, I asked them to pull out my photo id from my wallet and confirm it was me. They did, it was. I took my wallet and ran. All the money was gone (maybe €100), sadly but cards in situ (thanks slightly less Aer Lingus).

I went for a wander round the Île Saint Louis on the way back. The rain had stopped and it was pleasantly cool.

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I noticed that faithful to the fermeture annuelle programme even Berthillon on the Île Saint Louis, possibly the world’s most touristy ice cream shop, was closed for August.

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In fairness, they were in good company. Here’s a little montage I put together. A homage to the French love of holidays.

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Mr. Waffle and the children came in to join me and we had dinner in a pizza place on the Île Saint Louis and saw a barge called Titantic [no hubris, thanks, we’re French]

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I was keen to do further sightseeing but both herself and Michael were feeling a bit unwell so it seemed a bit inopportune. We cut our losses and headed back to the suburbs.

More to follow. Hold your breath out there.


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