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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.

My Birthday – Extended Disco Remix

10 March, 2017 at 11:10 pm by belgianwaffle

It’s my birthday today. Last weekend my sister took me to London overnight and she flew me business class, oh yes. I realised that it’s been nearly two years since I flew anywhere. I haven’t missed it, I have to tell you although, business class certainly beats steerage. We went out for dinner (my saintly sister-in-law and London guide responded nobly to an email saying, ‘recommend dinner venues and afraid I won’t have time to see you guys’ – she also got me a Persephone book for my birthday) and we talked and talked. We went to the National Gallery which is superb. When I did art history (diploma, spare time, pre-marriage and children), one of my lecturers said that going to the National Gallery in London is like being at an amazing party and each time you go into a new room seeing a raft of familiar friends. This is so true.

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I took the day off work today. I am feeling quite elderly although yesterday I got this comforting text from my friend R:

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[Note smuggled in reference to reading Elena Ferrante in Italian. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, my parents paid good money for these pretensions and I am going to use them.]

On the other hand, one of my bookclub members is getting married and when she and her fiancé went to the church to discuss logistics with the sacristan, he said, “You’re the mother of the bride aren’t you?” The worst thing was that he kept apologising for the remainder of the discussion.  On the plus side, she can have as many flowers as she wants. It hadn’t struck me before but, of course, I too am in mother of the bride territory. Slightly horrifying.

I got loads of cards, including two handmade ones from my sons. I was pleased. I got a cheque from my loving parents which is always welcome. The post also brought herself good news on an exam. People texted (sample from my brother: “Hey Anne happy birthday… Hope you have a brilliant day…. Am in France at the moment will call when I get back. Any requests for presents….A Chamonix stick of rock will hardly cut it I suppose”), emailed and called. Mr. Waffle got me more Persephone books and a print out of my blog which I really wanted in case the internet ever died. Are you mocking me?

That, right there, is the reason I haven’t got a PhD:
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Note cunning juxtaposition with New Yorker book of cartoons. Unintentional.

Mr. Waffle and I spent the day together. We went for a walk in the Wicklow Hills which was damp but not unpleasantly so.

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We went out to dinner to a surprise location and we arrived home about 15 minutes ago to find all the children still up so I thought I would update my blog.

Yet another very satisfactory birthday. Every birthday, about now, I realise that Mr. Waffle’s birthday is on March 19 and I have nothing planned. It can cast a pall on the end of any successful day, I can tell you. Poor Mr. Waffle.

Wasting my Sweetness on the Desert Air

8 March, 2017 at 7:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Myself and the Princess drove along the lane behind our house and when we got to the end we found someone had parked a van so that we couldn’t get out. I was very annoyed. I penned a strongly worded note as follows: “Please do not park here as your van is blocking vehicular access to the lane.” I then very slowly and carefully and to a symphony of beeping (our new car beeps if it gets near walls) reversed down the length of the lane which is quite long and narrow. “I wonder if he will move?” said the Princess conversationally. “I certainly hope so,” I said indignantly. “I don’t know,” she said, “when I cycled in to school this morning, it was there and somebody had taped a note all over the window saying ‘Don’t park here you f**king eejit’ and I notice that it’s gone now so the van owner must have returned, taken it off and not moved the van.” I take it my note was unlikely to be effective then.

In the Midst of Life we are in Death

1 March, 2017 at 5:41 pm by belgianwaffle

In early December, my first cousin, T, was killed in a traffic accident. He was the eldest of all the cousins and six years older than me. I hadn’t seen him in years and we were never close but I got a real shock when I heard the news.

I went to the funeral in the small country town he was from with my brother and sister. T had no children and was unmarried. My uncle is unwell and, his mother, my 80 year old aunt, and brothers and sisters were T’s chief mourners. My cousin, his brother, was the undertaker – when I saw him, for the first time in several years, he reminded me that he was always my favourite cousin, which remains true – he is a really kind, gentle man. It was all really sad. T’s funeral was in the church where my own mother was baptised and married. In 1967 when she and my father got married, my cousin was a winsome page boy in the same church.

It had been many years since I had met all of my cousins, I was abroad, we fell out of contact. One of them was unrecognisable; the last time I had seen him, he had a shock of red hair, now he was bald. The rest of us were all the same, only older. My own parents weren’t there as they are not well and I was struck by how much I missed them. All of us reverted to childhood a bit as our generation were all together with parents again although the “grown ups” are now all elderly. It was very strange and almost like time travelling. One really lovely thing was meeting my cousins’ children, most of whom I hadn’t met before. I followed up at Christmas and brought my own children to meet their second cousins and that was great. I have hopes of seeing them in Dublin at some point – a bed to offer in Dublin is surely a draw for cousins from outside the big smoke. I have almost committed to go to an extended family reunion at the end of April in Kerry (although, I think, Mr. Waffle is balking slightly at the prospect).

We went to the graveyard. T was buried in the same grave as my beloved grandmother. She absolutely adored T; he was the first grandchild and the apple of her eye. All of the cousins were reminiscing about her funeral when glasses of whiskey were lined up on the wall of the graveyard for mourners to drink. In 1984, the drink driving laws weren’t what they are today. My other uncle was buried there in 2008 the day we were moving home from Belgium and I didn’t go to the funeral. I strongly feel my aunt, his wife, has not forgiven me. My sister says I am imagining it but I’m not so sure. My other cousin (another niece) flew back from New York for the funeral and it was mentioned. Again. How nice it is to fall into old family discussions, ahem.

My cousins recalled how absolutely terrible I had been at cards as a child. My mother taught us all to play cards but my brother and sister were more talented than me (I would point out that I an an absolute genius at cards compared to my loving husband; it’s not that I’m bad it’s just that that Limerick school was very sharp indeed). When somebody made a bid which they had the cards to get easily, my mother would say, “You’d make that from the top of Knockfierna”. My cousins pointed out Knockfierna to me from the graveyard.

We went for dinner afterwards and I had a long and interesting chat with my cousin the dairy farmer – it’s a whole different world and really fascinating. All of us pooled our knowledge of the family. My grandfather who, by all accounts was quite the driven, hard, self-made man, died when I was 6 months old. “Did you know he had a glass eye?” asked my cousin. “No,” I said, “but did you know that his family spoke Irish?”

It was sad but it was wonderful to meet all these people from my childhood who I had really lost contact with and see their lives and their families and start to build up those old connections. To cap off a quite surreal experience, I spent an hour waiting in a rural station for a train back to Dublin. There was a man who was clearly mentally unwell and shuttled between the two women in the waiting room shouting abuse at us as we pretended to be absorbed in our phones. We were glad when a couple of other people showed up for the Dublin train. And that, somewhat bleakly, was that.

Further Intimations of Mortality

25 January, 2017 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

I meet a group of former colleagues for lunch regularly. The median age of the group is 40ish and I am the oldest, at 47, and the youngest is 36. We met recently and I got there a bit late. As I arrived, one of them asked, “How old are you?” “Why do you ask?” I said. “We were speculating because you were late,” they replied. I told them. “Oh really, that old we thought you were younger, except for G, she guessed you were approaching 50.” I turned reproachfully to poor G, who said, defensively, “I only said that you were looking very well for someone in her late 40s.” I understand that there are three ages: young, middle aged and “you’re looking great”. Have I really entered the last phase?


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