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Easter Round Up

19 April, 2017 at 8:06 pm by belgianwaffle

I took the boys to Cork for a couple of days before Easter. They spent a lot of time in front of the television although we did fit in the obligatory trip to Charles Fort in Kinsale. The needs of my elderly relatives are ever-expanding; my poor sister was out of commission [hold out for another post on this] and my brother was holding the fort with a ratio of 1:3 able bodied to infirm so I was there to try to even up the numbers. The boys absolutely loved it but I did feel a bit guilty as well as flattened from dealing with doctors and pharmacists and hospitals and the public health system and home help and finding the kind of chorizo my father likes. It gave me a whole new appreciation for my sister and brother; and I already appreciated them, really. So, not super relaxing.

We came back to Dublin on the Saturday before Easter as Daniel was scheduled to sing in the choir for the Easter vigil. It’s very beautiful. First the church is in darkness and then everyone in the church lights a candle. As we walked up to mass, Daniel reminisced fondly about how one of his fellow choristers managed to set his own eyebrows on fire the previous year. The service was indeed beautiful and particularly the music but it was very, very long. We eventually stumbled out at 10.50.

Before going home, the choristers all picked up an Easter egg. We were chatting to A, one of Daniel’s fellow choristers whose family is from India. A had already been on a three day retreat and was bracing himself for the Indian mass (Syro-Malabar for the intellectuals following along in the smart seats) the following day. Michael was horrified. Mr. Waffle almost asked A what religion he was. Then he remembered, oh no, of course, he is catholic, just much, much more devout than us. Our local church has an Indian and an African mass as well as other masses and it is unfortunate that in our patterns of worship we are (inadvertently, I assure you) replicating South African era apartheid conditions. Except for brave souls like young A and his family who cover several masses with unfailing devotion.

My parents-in-law came to us for lunch on Easter Sunday and we spoke to herself in France. She was holed up in the French exchange’s aunt’s château in Le Havre (location, location, location) along with 39 of the extended family and other exchanges including, a boy from Canada, a boy from Germany and two children from South Korea. I have still not got to the bottom of who in the extended French family is learning Korean. Games were facilitated by herself translating from French for the Canadian and the German (who spoke English) and the German translating for the South Koreans who spoke German but not much French or English. I confess myself utterly baffled by the set up. The Princess was very impressed by the four storey over basement château where she got lost several times and where the room for shoes was as big as her bedroom (which, you know, is a largish double). She also ate her own weight in chocolate and worked it all off on the trampoline.

On Monday, Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went into town for some organised fun. Some of this was pretty good. There was was graffiti:

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and art:

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and science:

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Then we went for lunch in town and all was well. We should have gone home then. Instead we went to Dublin Castle where Daniel saw a theatre thing he didn’t much care for and Michael wandered off to try the pottery making:

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Sadly, they then saw the printmaking and Michael, in particular, wanted to do it. The result was super and the people were really nice but, oh Lord, 40 minutes in a queue when everyone was getting tired and crabby was not a happy time.

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And then we had to cycle home which no one was particularly enthused about at that point. My mother’s motto is “Always leave when you’re enjoying yourself most”. My father always characterised this as rather puritanical but I think she has a point.

And then, yesterday, herself came home. We were very pleased to have her back. Her brothers are coping.

How was your own Easter?

Crossing the Border

22 March, 2017 at 10:27 pm by belgianwaffle

The forecast for Saturday was much better than the forecast for Friday. So that you can avoid the suspense which we enjoyed, I’ll tell you now, it lied.

We went halfway up Slieve Donard. The mountain, I am sure, looms impressively most of the time but on Saturday morning it was pretty much invisible in the fog/cloud cover. We went up by the mountain stream which was actually lovely and pretty dry under the trees considering how hard it was raining. I forgot my phone so we only have our memories and the much less satisfactory photos I took on my daughter’s phone. It was nice, you’ll have to trust me here. Michael continued to complain of a headache and pointed out that I was making him climb a mountain with possible concussion. Think of that as the bass note on which the musical arrangement of the weekend was built. We spent some time as we climbed talking about “The Famous Five”. “I was always Anne,” I sighed “because my name was Anne and my friend wanted to be George and she was older.” “You could have been one of the boys,” herself pointed out. “It never occurred to me,” I said. She was shocked to the core of her being. We distributed the characters to each family member based on his/her characteristics. In the new dispensation, I got to be Timmy the dog. I am not sure that this is an improvement on Anne, to be honest.

Herself beguiled the walk by plying us with questions on what would happen if one stateless person killed another stateless person on a lilo that drifted into international waters. I am not really sure but I do feel that she has a future in setting examination papers. I was vividly and unhappily reminded of my summer examinations in 1988. At the end of the woods, we gave up and turned back. It was just miserable. In fairness to them the children were remarkably cheerful. We had started out with a promise that we would go to Maud’s for lunch and the library across the road after and that seemed to keep them going. Magic Maud’s did the trick again and the library had different stock from our local one and although Michael couldn’t read properly because the words were blurry (concussion, allegedly), they were all quite pleased. I walked back to the house to get my phone as I was utterly bereft without it. Don’t judge. Mr. Waffle said that he had parked us poised for take off and we would not be passing the house. For a place with, essentially, only two streets, it is surprisingly easy to get trapped forever in the one ways of Newcastle, so rather than risk driving, I strolled back. It wasn’t very far and I got to check out the local shops (traditional) and pass Schloss Lidl which has mild entertainment value.

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Happily, at the house, there was a man loading the tank with oil. He had a very strong northern accent and, being from the opposite end of the country, I had no idea what he was asking me but I nodded enthusiastically and it must have worked because that evening the heat was restored.

Fortified and slightly dried out, we drove out to Silent Valley. Mr. Waffle navigated and the sun almost came out and there were beautiful views. “Look, look,” I said to the children. “I have one question,” said Michael gloomily, “Why did we let Timmy the dog drive the car?” Woof.

Silent Valley is where they built the reservoir for Belfast in the 20s and it is a bit creepy in its manicured beauty. It stopped raining for a good while which made a welcome change.

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After this, we explored what the children had been looking forward to all day. The women in the tourist office had told us about a “magic road”. It’s one of those roads where it feels like you are going uphill but you are in fact going downhill. It is true. The road looked uphill and it definitely felt like we were sliding uphill but, obviously, we weren’t. We were fascinated. It’s a slip road, just after Spelga Dam leading to a closed gate if you are ever in the area, well worth a look. Not unknown either, there was a car there experimenting when we arrived and a minibus patiently waited for us to finish our experimentation and bring down the only tourists we saw during our trip.

After that highlight, it was back to our newly toasty house. Had it been fine the next day, I might have been tempted to stay a bit longer but it was lashing again on Sunday so we decided to head back to Dublin. It was Mr. Waffle’s birthday and we gave him some token offerings and then headed off to Dublin. On the way, as it was his birthday, we gave him a chance to inspect one of the old border crossings.

Observe the difference in tarmac types and the change in hard shoulder markings.

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That’s it at the moment but, of course, the newspapers are full of how Brexit may bring back a hard border. We all stood and stared at it for a bit, except for Michael who thought we were nuts and stayed in the car. A woman was parked across the road and got out of her car and came across to us. It turned out she was a photographer for a Swedish paper and they were doing an article on Brexit and Northern Ireland. She asked if she could take some photos of the kids looking at the tarmac – seemed less than fascinating but we said fine. We could be big in Sweden in the next couple of weeks.

We were back in Dublin by lunchtime and poor Mr. Waffle sloped off to the office for the remainder of his birthday. Alas. Overall though, despite an inauspicious beginning another successful trip to Northern Ireland. If you haven’t been there, you should go it is delightful. Yes really.

Consistently Underrated*

20 March, 2017 at 11:30 pm by belgianwaffle

As part of my ongoing love affair with Northern Ireland I booked us into an Airbnb in Newcastle, Co. Down for St. Patrick’s weekend. This was a matter of much bitterness as Michael was due to have his end of term drama show that weekend; Daniel wanted to go to Gamercon; I had promised Michael that we would go to the parade in Dublin this year (I had, but I had forgotten, I am but human); herself had to appear weird to her schoolmates by not being able to go to the parade like everyone else and going to Northern Ireland instead; and Mr. Waffle had to fly out to a meeting on the Monday morning. So not the advance enthusiasm that I had been hoping for.

The drive up on Thursday night was tetchy – I had been hoping to get out of the office early but a variety of bank holiday weekend deadlines conspired to make me stay until 5.30. Google maps told me it was only 99kms to Newcastle from Dublin. Unbeknownst to me, Google maps changes from kilometres to miles automatically when you are travelling to a destination that operates in miles. Let me tell you, 99 miles is quite a bit further than 99kms. Also I had booked us in to a pizza restaurant in Newcastle for 8 and, although they were very accommodating, Mr. Waffle did not relish ringing them to tell them we would be late. Our Airbnb hostess was very obliging though (first experience of booking – would definitely recommend it, surprisingly pain free) and said she would turn up with the keys whenever we arrived which she did.

The house was absolutely fine – not beautiful but central, good value and lots of room for the five of us. The temperature was set to what my friend from the North calls “Ulster Granny” and that’s the way I like it. We awoke on St. Patrick’s Day to driving rain. We walked into mass in the town. The catholic church is quite spectacularly ugly. “They have a place like that in Liverpool,” said Mr. Waffle, “they call it Paddy’s Wigwam.” I sniggered and herself said I was the victim of internalised racism so there you go. Mass was extraordinary. They had Irish dancers (not a feature of mass in general), the flag of the local GAA club was laid on the altar and the first and second readings were both in Irish as well as a good sprinkling of the hymns. Utterly baffling to a majority of the local population, I imagine, as they don’t generally study Irish in school and there is only so much night classes can do (Conradh na Gaeilge were having a collection outside the church, presumably for more of the same). It was strange. The kind of gear that is very standard for St. Patrick’s day in the South like green, white and orange ribbons in girls’ hair is, of course, utterly different in the North. I seem to remember sporting ribbons of this nature myself in Cork in the 70s – my mother was a big fan of the large ribbon – but it meant nothing more than St. Patrick’s Day. Flags in the North are, of course, a completely different matter.

We went to the playground after mass and looked at the mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea.

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There was a great claw sculpture which provided some harmless entertainment.

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Michael fell off the climbing frame in the playground onto his head and was deeply unhappy and, possibly, concussed. We went for tea. In what can only be called a stroke of genius on my part, I asked a local with two small children where he would recommend for this. He recommended “Café Maud’s”. The outside was, frankly, unprepossessing but within lay everything that a family with three damp children (one possibly concussed) might require. It was the business. Suitably fortified, we went to the tourist office. I had already rung them earlier in the morning to check whether they were open. When I went in, one of the women behind the desk said to the other, “I think this must be the lady who called me this morning.” I confirmed that I was. I don’t think that they are overwhelmed with tourists – I didn’t hear a single non-local accent while we were there except for the Turkish owner of the pizzeria (I asked him about parades in Newcastle and he was baffled but the locals sitting beside us scooted up to us and saying “I couldn’t help overhearing your question..” gave us the lowdown) and the Polish waitress in Maud’s – and I suppose that might be why they are particularly nice to them. The women in the tourist office got out the range of brochures and started talking about various options including Irish dancing. “Mmm,” said I, “I had some of that already at mass this morning.” The older lady behind the counter said, “I was there too, wasn’t it the oddest thing?” Mr. Waffle who had been at the far end of the premises drifted up to hear us exchanging very satisfactory animadversions on the morning’s service. “How,” he hissed, “did you end up talking about mass? Did you bring it up?”

Given that it was still lashing, we decided to take the advice of the women in the tourist office and go in to Downpatrick for the parade. We stopped off on the way to have a look at Dundrum castle which we had to ourselves and which is far, far more impressive than you might think from looking at my photos.

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We decided to take advantage of the municipal park and ride in Downpatrick. Frankly, this was a bit unnecessary but, never mind, we got to marvel anew at the infrastructure in the North. Not only did they supply a park and ride for a small town but there were half a dozen portaloos in the car park. I can only commend Northern Ireland’s dedication to clean and plentiful public toilets and note that her citizens must get a rude awakening when they travel south of the border.

On the way into the town we passed a very depressed and damp bouncy castle which the kids were quite keen to try out but we resisted. I have seldom seen something less appealing.

Mine eyes have seen the abomination of desolation:
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We had lunch in the town. We went to the St. Patrick’s exhibition which the children found mildly entertaining. There was this rather sad sign in the shop:

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It appeared to be completely ignored by the local teenagers who were all wrapped in tricolours.

We actually managed to miss the parade as the children went to a free F1 experience which was undoubtedly the highlight of their day.

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Herself got to experience again Northern Ireland’s contribution to the ice cream world of which she is very fond. Yes, indeed, it was time for the Pear Picking Porky (as you can probably tell, she enjoyed posing for this photo, ahem):

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Then it was off to the county museum (formerly prison) for organised fun which Daniel actually really enjoyed – storytelling and performances – and the others thought was not bad. It was a small little museum but for a local small town offering, really pretty good, I thought. They had a display of postcards for the day that was in it:
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There was an elderly gentleman with a carousel and he, Michael and herself had a lengthy conversation on Roman emperors. It was odd but they all seemed to enjoy it. We went to the gift shop and the boys bought a wooden sword and shield and a game involving knocking over cardboard cut-outs with rubber bands. The man in the shop gave us 20% off and threw in a free book on early Christianity in Co. Down. Again, I think they are unused to tourists.

The boys and I went to visit St. Patrick’s grave up at the cathedral. He shares a grave with Bridget and Columbanus and I noticed that the Knights of Columbanus has left a wreath in case their lad might have felt left out.

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Herself poses with hexagonal Penfold postbox – very rare – a range of signposts and Downpatrick Cathedral. Yes, this is how we get our kicks, your point?

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Sadly, when we got back to our Airbnb, the heating had gone down, cue much frantic texting and an early night. On the definite plus side, herself and Daniel made dinner while their aged parents and possibly concussed brother relaxed in the, definitely chilly, front room.

People, this is only day 1, we stayed until Sunday. Stay tuned.

*An American economist said Northern Ireland was underrated on his blog recently. I thought it was true.

Mid-term Round-up

11 March, 2017 at 5:07 pm by belgianwaffle

This is a bit belated but, you know, better late than never and so on.

Herself went on a school tour. Day 1 saw them assembling at Dublin airport at 4 in the morning; flying to Beauvais with Ryanair at 6; getting on a bus to Flanders and doing a tour of first world war sites ending with the last post at the Menin Gate at 7 that evening. The next day they got on the bus to Paris and then spent that day and the following day exploring all (and I mean all) that the French capital had to offer including Kentucky Fried Chicken. The last day was spent in Eurodisney. I had an animated discussion with her before she left on the importance of bringing a coat to Flanders in February; something she deemed unnecessary. It was, therefore, with some chagrin that I noted from a photo on the school’s twitter account (my source of all information and a fifth columnist as far as my daughter is concerned), that one of the happy group photographed outside the Eiffel tower was not wearing a coat. “It was fine,” said my frozen daughter, “my friend N was able to lend me a coat.” “Clearly she has a better mother,” I said. “It’s not a competition, Mum,” she said. “Everything’s a competition,” I replied. It’s a good job her father’s a hippy who seemed pretty relaxed about the whole coat thing. “She’ll know next time,” he said. I suppose that this approach has its merits.

While herself was off gallivanting, the boys and I went to Cork for a couple of days. We had our statutory trip to Charles Fort (I have a family heritage card and everyone must suffer) and the Bulman which passed off peacefully except for a terrifying half hour in which we thought Michael had lost one of the gloves he has had since we lived in Belgium (the world’s most nostalgic child was not pleased). Happily, it turned up in Dublin.

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Michael, contemplating the prospect of the lost glove:
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During the week Mr. Waffle and I also took the boys out to Dalkey castle (in Dublin). The castle do a really terrific tour with actors. We were the only people there so we got full value although, alas, I feel the boys are getting a bit old for it.

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Though, arguably, you are never too old for stocks.
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We also went to the (still newish) library in Dun Laoghaire – we were going to walk on the pier but it was lashing and this was plan B. The library is a beautiful, very big building with spectacular views over the harbour and loads of comfortable seats. Disappointingly though, it doesn’t seem to have more stock than our local (much less architecturally impressive) library. It has the same volume of books, just much, much more spread out. As Mr. Waffle said, it’s like a very expensive shoe shop. As he trekked around the shelves, Michael suggested that it might have been designed by people who were good at buildings but hadn’t spent all that much time browsing in libraries. It does have a very interesting local studies collection on the top floor and it was also sporting a very poorly advertised, small, though interesting, exhibition on visitors’ views on Ireland over the last couple of hundred years. So, using some of the space usefully, it must be conceded.

Mr. Waffle was home with the boys a bit and took them to IKEA to source a desk and bed for Michael. I emailed Mr. Waffle to ask how he was getting on. He replied:

We’re just finishing our lunch before we plunge into the Mælstrøm (designed to match the Ångst).

In fairness, he’s hilarious.

The Garden of Ireland

20 February, 2017 at 8:05 pm by belgianwaffle

It wasn’t possible to have a week in Kerry with the extended family last year so many months ago, we thought that we might try for a more modest overnight break near Dublin. The logistics of organising a date for this nearly sent Mr. Waffle to an early grave. We tried several dates but it was very difficult to get everyone together for just one night. Ironically, a week in Kerry was easier as people could dip in and out on different dates. However, we finally picked a night and it was last Friday. After some humming and hawing, I took a half day on Friday to facilitate our speedy arrival at our destination. This did not work well as by the time we had collected the boys from school, snacked and packed it was somehow 4.30 before we got on the road and the traffic was absolutely catastrophic. It took us about two hours to get to our, not very distant, Wicklow destination.

Also, in our leisurely packing for one night only we successfully forgot the following items:
– Coats for herself and Michael
– Change of top for me
– Toothpaste
– Calpol
– My walking boots

None of these was disastrous but the list is just to give you an idea of the slick operation you are dealing with here.

Things picked up when we actually arrived – sadly we failed to co-ordinate sufficiently with my sister-in-law in London and her husband and they weren’t able to come, but everyone else was in situ. London in-laws are having a baby in June and we inspected the premises to ensure that were they to come with their baby (insert much excitement here) another time, it would work for them.

We were very pleased with the place (no favours were given etc.). Mr. Waffle and I stayed there years ago and found it lovely and very good value. We were not disappointed on re-visiting with the wider family group including children. We stayed in Ballyknocken. The owner is a celebrity TV chef and I told the children this and they were utterly indifferent proving that another generation of Irish people is growing up who are keeping to the traditional values of ignoring any and all celebrity firepower. Our hostess, in fairness, was lovely. She greeted and chatted. She was terrific with the children who were put at a separate table from the adults and did their own ordering and had their own sophisticated conversation. The children themselves are reaching an age where they are quite self-sufficient and really need minimum effort. Very pleasing, I have to tell you.

Before dinner they played tip the can in the dark and slightly damp grounds with the aid of a head torch (reader, I married into a family where not one but two men came with head torches) and had a terrific time. Meanwhile the adults chatted in the drawing room in front of the fire and enjoyed, according to their tastes, tea, wine and sherry.

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Dinner was excellent though there was a lot of it which, I suppose, is a good complaint. The children all slept well and, in the morning, experienced the joy of a good buffet breakfast. My brother-in-law and his wife went for an early morning run up a nearby mountain (head torches are the least of it really) and we all met at the breakfast table. Breakfast was amazingly good. Better than dinner I thought and, again, the staff were lovely.

Michael was rather gloomy as he had a bit of a cold and spent some time in the morning moping about our bedroom looking at the drizzle.

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I took him for a walk around the grounds and he cheered up when we found a trampoline behind the rather mossy tennis court where his brother and cousin were kicking a football over and back across the net.

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Sadly, my niece and, designated driver, her mother, had to speed back to Dublin as she (niece) is performing in a play and needed to be back for rehearsals. The rest of us went to Avondale, home of Charles Stewart Parnell. It was a bit damp and, as herself pointed out mournfully, the house and attached tea rooms were closed, but we had a mild walk and the children played in the playground. They were a bit doleful but perked up when we said we would take them to a pub for a healthy lunch consisting almost entirely of chips.

On the way back to the car, a woman with 5 children was experiencing difficulties. She had, I would say, a 1 year old, 3 two year olds and a six year old and all four of the younger ones wanted to be picked up and the poor six year old was lugging all the kit required for an expedition with four small children in a large Tesco bag for life. The woman was getting a bit tetchy, as well she might. I decided to offer to help although, in my own experience, this can be unwelcome, sometimes you just want people to ignore you and leave you to struggle in peace. However, she gratefully accepted my assistance and I took over the (actually quite heavy) bag from the six year old. “I assume that you are on some kind of outing and they are not all yours,” I said laughing. “Oh no, they are,” she said and seeing my raised eyebrows added, “Triplets; I should have known better than to take them all out on my own.” The mind absolutely boggles but I can tell you one thing, that six year old is a saint.

On to lunch in the pub which was very satisfactory and home by 4 in the afternoon. Frankly, a triumph. I think we might even try again when the weather improves.

Cork

3 November, 2016 at 11:08 pm by belgianwaffle

I took the children to Cork for the bank holiday weekend. We did the usual things: bonding with relatives, lots of TV, a trip to Charles Fort and the Bulman, the traditional photo by the “caution children” sign:

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The trip down was rendered exciting by a largish piece of plastic from the underside of the car coming off on the motorway (happily it came off near the edge of the road – no damage done to anyone). Our car has been with us since 2005 and, perhaps, this is a sign that we need a change before the NCT later this month.

Herself spent a couple of hours with my 87 year old aunt Marie Kondoing her house. They found my aunt’s birth certificate. She was born in California but returned to Cork aged about 2 and has found it perfectly acceptable ever since and has never, to my knowledge, pined for sunnier climes. I suppose she got it out of her system early. They kept the birth certificate.

Later, when I came to see how they were getting on I heard her great niece addressing my aunt kindly but firmly, “Are you sure you want to keep the Meister Eckhart? Does it spark joy?” My aunt was unsure. I think Meister Eckhart was saved in the end but a vast number of other books (including a substantial collection of theological books which it turned out did not spark joy) and random items were not deemed worthy of keeping. The pair were delighted with themselves: four black bags of stuff for giving away and three full of rubbish. Then, my brother put his foot down and said that the rubbish bags couldn’t go in the bin as it was too full and would have to go after the next collection (my parents and my aunt live next door to each other and there is a complex bin sharing treaty in operation between the two households). They are stored temporarily in my aunt’s front room but I fear they may never leave. In my heart of hearts, I knew that nobody was ever going to bring the four bags for giving away to the charity shop so I hauled them into the car and brought them back to Dublin to give away. They’re gone now, I hope some of the Dublin locals enjoy reading about theology. I drew the line at bringing the bags of rubbish back to Dublin but even now, I am feeling mild regret as there is a real danger that they will never make it to the bin at all.

As though her work in her great aunt’s house was insufficient to meet her needs, herself begged to be allowed to make a pilgrimage to my parents’ attic. I permitted this, but only on the condition that she did not try to tidy it. You will be delighted to hear that “Star Trek Annual 1976” is even now upstairs in Dublin. She also found some material in a big trunk. She loves to sew and make costumes and was graciously permitted to help herself. When it came time to go back to Dublin, she and her brothers kindly packed the car for me. Once we were beyond Mitchelstown, she said, “Is it too late to go back to Cork?” “Yes,” I said. “Good,” she said, “because I brought more material than you might like.” When we unpacked the car, there were bolts and bolts of material. That night, when she dressed up for Halloween, I noted that the lace covering from my first communion dress, was getting another outing for the first time in 40 years.

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Halloween passed off peacefully enough. The children went out on their own for the first time. They liked it. More particularly as they came home laden down with sweets. Not a solitary monkey nut this year.

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In other Halloween news, the cat was puzzled, and not entirely pleased by the Halloween decorations:

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Up Down

18 October, 2016 at 6:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle and I had planned to go to Helsinki for a long weekend in September but, for a variety of reasons, it didn’t come off. Mostly because Mr. Waffle had put his back out again and couldn’t fly and partly because we were both very busy at work. My sister, however, was still booked to come and mind the children. So we decided to go on a more local break to Co. Down in Northern Ireland (yes, my love affair with Northern Ireland continues, thank you for asking).

On Saturday morning we drove up to Warrenpoint where it lashed rain. Due to Mr. Waffle’s bad back he spent all of the journey there lying horizontally in the front seat. I began to wonder was this the best idea we’d ever had. We had lunch in Warrenpoint which was fine but slow. Mr. Waffle had to keep getting up to walk around due to back pain so that was…unsettling.

View of the sea from Warrenpoint:

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I am told that it is beautiful on a sunny day but your powers of imagination would want to be at full wattage to see that the day we were there.

The linguistic regime in the North is complicated. This was on the public toilets:

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My friend from Belfast tells me that the only reason instructions were put on the toilets was so that the council could put it up in Irish as well as English. Who knows?

We went on to our guest house via the scenic route with the mountains of Mourne on the left and sparkling sea views on the right, or so the guidebook told us. In fact, we could see neither due to driving rain and heavy cloud and, as Mr. Waffle was horizontal, he would only have been able to enjoy any views with the aid of a periscope. Things picked up when we rolled into our destination.

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We went for a walk on the private beach before dinner but it was only moderately successful. The beach was lovely but damp and the mountains were invisible.

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Our host was a very nice man but felt like he came from another era entirely. I asked Mr. Waffle who had spoken to him on the phone whether he was Irish. “No, English,” he said. In fact when we met him, we found that he had grown up in the house but been sent to school in England. He sounded much more upper class English than anyone I have ever met or heard and I have heard the Queen of England on the TV. It was quite bizarre. He was the only local I met who didn’t say “wee” all the time. Possibly, beaten out of him when he was a wee lad. His partner was a very nice Scottish woman who was a great grand-niece of Alice Keppel and therefore somewhat distantly related to the English royal family and even she sounded much less upper-class English than he did (though not exactly Scottish, I concede – spent some time with her exploring what is the difference between a marquis and a marquess and how each is pronounced; am not very much the wiser on either count). He clearly represented the last hold out of big house unionism. He was inclined to regard the island of Ireland as a whole and had an encyclopedic knowledge of hunts and polo grounds across the country. “I had a friend who used to play polo, but his horse kept getting injured and he jacked it in,” I said. “Well,” said he, “that’s why most people have three or four horses.” Only in certain circles, I would suggest. He had his own polo grounds and about 30 horses which provides a full explanation, I imagine, of why he was taking in paying guests.

We had a lovely bedroom with a beautiful view across the grounds.

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That night we went out for dinner to the Mourne seafood bar which was not entirely successful. Firstly, Mr. Waffle had to keep getting up and walking around because of his bad back and secondly, the food was only alright.

We went to bed in our beautiful bedroom, somewhat daunted but ready to face another day. The next day was Sunday. Despite our host’s advice we went into Downpatrick. The Protestant cathedral is delighful and has private boxes [not very common any more] and the graves of St. Patrick, St. Bridget and [possibly, I cannot quite remember], St. Columbanus.

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The old part of the town is lovely with elegant Georgian streets. We went to the St. Patrick’s museum/experience which wasn’t bad but was perhaps a bit elaborate for our needs. But the gift shop did give us a further chance to enjoy Northern Ireland’s exciting linguistic regime.

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The previous day we had passed the Schomberg Ulster-Scots centre in Kilkeel. You know where you stand when your centre is called after one of William of Orange’s generals. Northern Ireland, where, like the Balkans, they make more history than they can consume locally. Joke adapted from Saki, I think, who told it better.

Earlier that morning we had been to mass in a less appealing part of the town. The church had shutters which was something I have never seen before. The priest saying mass was on a mission from the South [hardly necessary one would have thought] and we didn’t take to him; by the look of the long suffering parish priest who was hosting him, he hadn’t taken to him either. It was quite a long mass and involved small children and modern hymns with actions [my progress towards old reactionary continues apace and I did not enjoy it]. At the end of mass we had blessing of the cars which sounds positively heathen to me. I was telling our hosts about it later and Mr. Waffle asked whether I was mocking my religion in front of non co-religionists and I felt a bit guilty but it did seem quite uncatholic to me and more the kind of thing our evangelical friends would go for. Anyhow, our host said he hadn’t been to a service since he buried his grandmother [neither today nor yesterday, I would say] and, trying to make conversation with the vicar afterwards, remarked that the vicar must be looking forward to having his children home for Christmas to which the vicar replied, “I prefer visiting the sick, really.” That finished our host which is a pity as he has a church at his gates. All 19th century mod cons.

One of the chief things I was really keen to do while in this part of the North was visit Mount Stewart. Between mass and St. Patrick we spent longer in Downpatrick than we should have and we were a bit short of time for our trip to Mount Stewart. We took the ferry up from Portaferry which was lovely but a bit time consuming.

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The main reason I wanted to go to Mount Stewart was that I read a really fascinating biography on Castlereagh (which I am thinking of re-reading after my visit) and I wanted to see where he was from. It did not disappoint. The gardens were lovely even though you would not think that autumn would be their best time; the house was fascinating and the guides very knowledgeable. There is a superb collection of portraits in the house including a lovely small picture of Hazel Lavery. I had not known that Sir John and Lady Lavery had been friends of the family but they were and frequently stayed in Mount Stewart.

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What is amazing is how almost entirely tourist free the whole area is; there were lots of locals out for the day but I could count on one hand the number of people from outside the area who were there and most of those were from the South so not very far outside.

We would have liked to stay longer but poor Mr. Waffle had a conference call at 6 and was beginning to get restive. We went back to our guest house and Mr. Waffle’s papers like the wind. Mr. Waffle’s phone had failed to charge and, with some reluctance, I gave him mine to make the call. I charged his a bit and went off for a solitary walk on the private beach. Mr. Waffle’s phone gave up as I tried to photograph the beautiful sunset over the Mourne mountains (visible at last). I was bitter and, as I pointed out to him, there was a rainbow too.

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These photos are good but you should have seen it later as the sunset turned the sky pink. I will always have my memories as I, slightly huffily, informed my husband.

Dinner that evening in Dundrum in the Buck’s head was more successful than the previous evening’s offering and my mood gradually softened under the influence of the food and on the restoration to me of my beloved phone. Yes, I worry about me too, thanks for caring.

The next morning we visited Castle Ward which is quite weird. The husband and wife who built it couldn’t agree on an architectural style and it is Georgian on one side:

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and gothic revival on the other:

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Sadly, it was closed on the Monday and we couldn’t get in, but I understand that the interior architectural mixture of styles reflects the external diversity. Definitely one to revisit. The set for Winterfell from “Game of Thrones” was in the grounds but not super-interesting unless, I suppose you are a big GoT fan.

We then visited a very impressive De Courcy castle with lovely views in Dundrum. This we had entirely to ourselves.

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Then, Newcastle (which ought to be twinned with Catania for looming mountains, if for nothing else) for lunch and back home to our loving family.

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I intend to go back to Co. Down for another look although, I think, Fermanagh may be the next Northern county on my list. There’s a whole world up there.


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