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Gloom of the Exile or Slightly Self-Indulgent Reflections

31 May, 2018 at 7:50 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was growing up in Cork, I always wanted to leave. It seemed too small, too cramped, too confined. It was full of people I knew, people my parents and siblings knew and you could not go anywhere without being observed. Everyone cared about your business. Also, I grew up during a time when all Irish university graduates were expected to emigrate at least temporarily, often permanently. My own parents both emigrated and returned to Ireland eventually. In my 20s, time spent living in Italy and Belgium, confirmed me in my belief that the best fun was to be had away from Cork. When I moved back to Ireland in my late 20s, I moved to Dublin. I liked Dublin very much, I still do. Among its many virtues is that it’s within striking distance of Cork. Also, Dubliners are not picky, everyone is assimilated. In Cork, my mother who came from a neighbouring county and whose own parents were actually from Co Cork, has been living in Cork for more than 50 years and she is still considered a blow in.

When we moved back from Brussels, we did consider moving to Cork. Mr Waffle (a Dubliner) proposed it. I considered it but a number of factors militated against that choice. Firstly, I had a job in Dublin but no job in Cork. I suppose Mr. Waffle could have started on his own with no money in Cork as easily as he did in Dublin but somehow the prospect of no money at all was unalluring. I remind myself of these things when I miss Cork.

But yet, when my oldest friend, another Corkonian, said to me recently, “I always feel sad when I leave Cork.” I knew exactly what she meant. Of course, this is the loveliest time of year in Cork and so it is at its most missable. I was cycling around the city on one of my weekends at home recently and aside from enjoying the far superior cycling infrastructure which Cork offers, I was struck again by how attractive the city is. While Dublin turns its back on the river, choking the quays with heavy traffic in both directions, Cork is practically all river and while there is plenty of traffic, there’s a lot of the city where you can enjoy the river.

UntitledI feel that I know Cork in a way that I will never know Dublin.

I know the schools and I have feelings about them. When I was an apprentice solicitor, myself and a friend from school were having a cup of tea and a bunch of Scoil Mhuire girls came in and she hissed at me, “Look at them, they’re in their school uniforms and we’re trainee solicitors and they’re still better dressed and better made-up than us.” I know where I would have sent the boys to school – they would have gone to the primary school where my cousin was the principal; they would have gone to the secondary school that their uncle and grandfather went to. I would have considered a range of options for herself in relation to all of which I would have had very firm views; I wouldn’t have sent her to my old school and probably not to Scoil Mhuire either. In Dublin, meh, who knows really? They have Dominicans and Loreto nuns, we had Presentation and Mercy.

I know College (other people called it UCC or the College but as my parents both worked there we were more intimate with it); until I was 11, I lived on campus and I have spent my life walking in and out of there. I spent endless hours playing bad tennis in the lower grounds and lost innumerable balls forever in the river over the fence.

I would have wanted to buy one of the houses up in Sunday’s Well where the gardens slope down to the river; maybe we couldn’t have afforded that but maybe we could have bought a house in town, on the North Mall, a persistently underrated street by the river in the centre of town. I know where to look and what each location is like with a degree of intimacy and certainty that I will never know in Dublin.

My father’s family were all from Cork. I know the place where my grandfather was shot at by pro-Treaty forces (or the State as we now think of it) during the civil war (they missed); I know the house where he died in the 1930s. I cycle past it regularly. Between us, my father and I have been cycling along the Western Road for nearly 100 years (at 93, I concede he has done a lot of the heavy lifting on that). I know Murphy’s brewery where my great grandfather and great uncle worked as clerks. I know the South Infirmary where another great-grandfather worked as a caretaker and my father put in time as a junior doctor. I know the house that my great uncle Dan built in the suburbs (containing Archangel pine imported from Russia) when he won a (small) lottery. I know the Lough where he skated when it froze over in the 20s (skates still in my parents’ attic awaiting the next great freeze along with Uncle Dan’s gas mask from the Emergency, just in case we need it). I know that my grandmother ran a newsagent which also sold cigars called “The Cuban House” up on MacCurtain Street (and I think someone very unlikely like the Duke of Westminster had the ground rent on that one, you don’t get to be unbelievably rich without having interests everywhere, I suppose). I know the two hotels that were designed by architect cousins (a little undistinguished perhaps – maybe I am bitter because when my mother asked one of them about her extension, he said it was “OK, if you want a bowling alley” – it was long and narrow and he was ultimately right about how dark the middle room would be). I know the stained glass window that my grandfather played in an exhibition hurling match to fund.

UntitledI know who the merchant princes are, the solicitors on the Mall, their families, their connections. I remember the lovely rather glamourous lady who was one of the Roches of Roches Stores a friend of my parents who had painted nails and smoked a cigarette in a cigarette holder and who on one, never to be forgotten, Christmas Day gave me a present of a Sindy doll – my third that day. My mother wanted to give one or even two back to the shop but I staunchly resisted and hung on to them all.

Look, I knew everyone, I knew where I belonged, I knew the city like I knew myself. I often think now I threw that all over for Dublin, for Brussels and for anonymity and adventure. It was a bargain that was well worthwhile in my 20s and 30s but now that I am in my late 40s, I am feeling something perilously close to regret. I think it is probable that Mr. Waffle and I have had more success at work than we would have had in Cork and probably more interesting work too. On the other hand, work isn’t everything and Dublin swallows up money in a way that Cork is less inclined to. My children are all Dublin children. Even if I moved to Cork in the morning, their identity, their loyalties, their sense of home and who they are would all be bound up with Dublin. On the other hand, Mr. Waffle would always have been a blow-in until the day he died and all of my Cork credentials would not have dislodged that. But I would have been near my own family and I can’t help feeling that the pace of our lives might be a little less frenetic.

With the benefit of distance and middle age I feel a permanent small sadness that I do not live where I am from.

We Live in a Small Country

4 March, 2018 at 8:26 pm by belgianwaffle

When the Princess was in Neuschwanstein during her Bavarian odyssey recently, she met a woman from Cork. “I asked her where exactly in Cork she was from because I knew you would want to know,” she said. Apparently, they had a grand old chat following on this auspicious beginning.

Then during the recent snowmaggedon we were all watching the six o’clock news and they eventually went to Cork, to Carrigaline, for a vox pop on the snow. As a woman started talking about the state of the snow the Princess yelled at the telly, “That’s her, that’s the woman from Cork that I met in Neuschwanstein.” I can’t help feeling that this kind of thing is much less part of the lives of people who live in larger countries.

Things are the Sons of Heaven

12 February, 2018 at 7:16 pm by belgianwaffle

My parents and my grandparents had lots of mahogany furniture. My grandmother gave my mother some of her furniture including an enormous solid bookcase and my mother spent a great deal of her own time scouring auctions from where much of our furniture was sourced (I used to sit beside her quiet as a mouse because she told me if I moved at all, items would be knocked down to me and I was terrified). This was great when my parents lived in a big house but not so fantastic when they moved to a smaller Edwardian semi-detached house which basically had to be organised and extended around the furniture. I remember one of my friends commenting when he came to my parents house first what a curiously old-fashioned house it was.

Anyway, doubtless due to my peculiar upbringing, I love dark furniture. I think mahogany is a lovely, lovely wood. And it is out of fashion so truly beautiful pieces are going for a song. I want to cry every time I see a big house auction and fantasise about bringing all these items home to my terraced Victorian house. Although, frankly, with the items we have already imported from my parents house and the sofas of doom, there isn’t a great deal of space. Furthermore, I am not at all handy and so the round mahogany table which should tilt sideways, is permanently slightly askew, let us not even speak of the piano, the wardrobe door will not close (my grandmother gave me the wardrobe and I love it but it is inconvenient to have to wedge one door shut with a child’s old sock) and one leg is collapsing and there seem to be no carpenters who are at all interested in mending these beautiful things. It is all a bit depressing. I saw in the Irish Times design supplement one Saturday (which I find curiously appealing, I know what you’re thinking, stop it) an exhortation to readers to go out and buy mahogany furniture cheap at auction and then paint it over with pretty pastel shades. I think I nearly did cry when I saw that.

Am I entirely alone in my love for cluttered living with dark furniture? A whole generation of Victorians can’t be wrong.

Change and Decay in All Around I See

4 February, 2018 at 6:57 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was in my 30s, a lot of my friends got married. The year that herself was born (2003), we attended 5 weddings in three different countries and it nearly killed us all.

I think, gloomily enough, this is going to be the decade of funerals, not funerals of my friends, I hasten to add, but of their parents. It’s only the start of February but I’ve already been to a removal and a funeral and a colleague’s father is gravely ill and I fear the worst. The removal was for another colleague’s father who died suddenly last weekend. The funeral was my oldest friend’s father who was also a friend of my parents.

The funeral was in Ballydehob in West Cork. I was speaking to a friend before I went and he said, “I love Ballydehob, that gorgeous little bridge.” As a Cork person, I didn’t want to seem ignorant of something a Dublin person knew about and I agreed sagely but inside I was thinking, “What gorgeous little bridge?” Then I realised he meant the really quite big bridge in Ballydehob. That’s Dubliners all over for you.

It’s about a two hour drive from Cork city and although I thought I’d left plenty of time, I arrived just as the funeral service was starting. It was one of the nicest funerals I’ve ever been at. Firstly, the church was beautiful and the service was short and straightforward and I liked the music. My friend spoke really well about her father and made everyone laugh and remember his good points. She spoke about the wonderful care he had received in hospital which is not the kind of thing we see much in the papers and I found it mildly reassuring. Unlike my friend who bore up amazingly, I was a bit tearful. I had known this man all my life and it felt like the end of an era, the utter end of a part of my childhood: I remembered him tending to my teeth (he was a dentist and probably the reason why I have never been at all afraid of dentists); making up stories for myself and my friend (he was a great storyteller – as a dedicated amateur actor, he brought great oomph to performances for even the smallest audiences) and trying in vain to persuade me to eat a boiled egg as a very small girl.

He was buried in Schull with a superb view over the harbour. He was always a great man for a view and he used to live in Oysterhaven on a hill with view and work in Cork at a time when commuting was not the commonplace feature of our lives that it is today. My parents thought he was crazy with his insane 30 minute commute (length of my father’s commute – 3 minutes by bicycle, my mother’s – 10 minutes on foot) but it was worth it to him. It’s nice to think he is buried with a view.

He was 87 and had not been in great health so his death was not a complete surprise. I was very glad that we had seen him en famille over the summer holidays. I felt really sad for my friend as well. She’s an only child and, I know, “how they will manage my funeral” is probably not a good reason to have more than one child but it is a hard time to be alone. She was amazing. I was struck by what a gift she has for friendship, perhaps because she was an only child (swings, roundabouts). She has a lot of lifelong friends, me included, and although the groups of friends don’t necessarily know each other particularly well, we’ve know each other and our stories through her over a lifetime. I had such a nice time at the hotel catching up with all these friends which I know sounds a bit weird (I am doubtless destined to become one of these old people who really enjoys a good funeral) but it was lovely. I ended up sitting beside her next door neighbour from when my friend was a child. I was always slightly wary of the neighbour because, like my friend, she is a year older than me and, when you’re seven, that’s a lot of sophistication. We had so much fun reminiscing about when we were children and the things we got up to with my friend. Her family were farmers and she told me that, very sadly, they lost the farm during the recession (apparently it was all over the news, how miserable), meanwhile the friend on the other side was telling me how her partner also had recession property difficulties and it struck me that our generation really bore a lot of the pain of Ireland’s recent boom/bust cycle: many of us were forced to emigrate in the 80s and 90s and almost all of us were also absolutely crucified on the property market between 2000 and 2008. However, I suppose we’re all still standing.

At least the longest January in living memory is finally over and things will surely improve. I am trying to teach my children “Anois teacht an Earraigh” in celebration (as they are learning no Irish poetry in school – insert middle aged tutting sound here) but they are resisting ferociously. They don’t seem to regard it as celebratory either. And how are your own start of spring celebrations going?

Updated to add: February has not proved to be the break from relentless gloom that I had hoped. I heard that a former lovely, lovely colleague died of cancer. My colleague’s father who had been ill, died on Valentine’s Day. I went down to Tipperary for the funeral the Saturday after. My friend R’s (one half of the couple who got married in November) brother died the same week. He had been ill for some time and it wasn’t a complete surprise but it was very sad. I went over to the house on Friday night because I couldn’t make both funeral’s on Saturday and felt I had to go to Tipperary to represent the office. I got into my car at 7 on Friday evening and, as I did so, the neighbours rapped on the window to ask was I going over to R’s brother’s house as they had been there earlier. I did think it was ominous and I drove across town at speed but when I got there there was still a good crowd. The dead man had been great fun (one of his obituaries described him as Falstaffian) and they were throwing one last party. I stayed until about 10 o’clock. Already when I arrived a number of people were chatting across the open coffin with glasses of wine in their hands. It was actually very nice. The family had dug up loads of old photos and press cuttings (he was a public man) and it was lovely to look at them. At one point the room where the body was became very silent. I said to R, “Are they saying a decade of the rosary?” We both felt a bit surprised as the dead man was not at all religious; it turned out they were singing traditional songs as he had been a big man for trad and various traditional music luminaries (utterly unknown to me, philistine that I am) were in the house. I felt a heel not to be going to the funeral on the following day but I sent Mr. Waffle as our family representative.

Notwithstanding that all these funerals are lovely occasions, I could do with a bit of a break, to be honest. I’m hoping for a “no funeral March”.

Updated to add: Just this morning, March 3, a friend texted me that her mother died last night of an aggressive form of cancer which was diagnosed just after Christmas. People, I have had it.

Christmas Round-Up

7 January, 2018 at 9:43 pm by belgianwaffle

So Christmas day passed off peacefully enough. Herself was displeased with her offering from Santa “Why does Santa hate me?” but otherwise all was well. We went out to the cousins for drinks with extended family but it was just ourselves at home for dinner which I really liked. I am not the world’s greatest natural hostess and I find it pleasantly undemanding when it is only family for dinner.

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Our crib shepherd lost a head at a crucial moment and so missed most of the big day. He was taken out by a large book on Dr. Who which hit him inadvertently. It was suggested that he might be renamed St. Denis for this year only (his head is now safely superglued back on his shoulders).

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On the 26th we went on the traditional orienteering expedition in the Dublin mountains with the cousins. For the first time ever, as far as I can remember, it did not rain.

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That evening, herself went as emergency babysitter to the three year old child of friends who live around the corner. It went very well and she sees a lucrative new income stream opening up.

On the 27th we went to Cork where a vast array of exciting presents awaited. We stayed in our friends’ place in East Cork and went up and down to Cork city for various excitements including ice skating.

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We did the Ballycotton cliff walk which was spectacularly muddy. We ran into another family; the mother was American and was walking along with a child in a sling and the father was Irish and admiring the view. They also had a two year old splashing through an enormous puddle. Her mother kept begging her not to run through the puddle; advice which the child ignored with unfortunate but not entirely unexpected consequences. I felt very sorry for the child and her mother. I did think her father was quite useless. Herself has urged me not to be so judgy but I said, “I bet your grandfather was better than that in the 1970s.” When we checked at her insistence, however, he indicated that he too would probably have looked at the view. I refuse to believe that. Like his granddaughter, he is not judgy (other than about politicians, oh my goodness, lots of judgements there) and I feel he just wanted to exonerate the father from blame. I digress. Thanks to our new boots and greater height and motor skills than the average two year old, we remained dry.

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That evening, my sister and her partner took the boys to the new Star Wars film and dinner in Milano’s. Herself, Mr. Waffle and I went for a more sophisticated dinner option together which she quite enjoyed (she tires of Milano’s but her brothers never will).

We finished our Christmas holiday jigsaw. Almost unbearable excitement, I know. The house in East Cork has no television or wifi which I really enjoy. The children, slightly less so, though not as much less as you might imagine.

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We were back up to Cork the next day where my brother and sister made a very elaborate family dinner for ten where the Yorkshire puddings were a highlight for Daniel and Michael. My brother bench pressed herself; this is the kind of quality entertainment that is available at family dinners. My father told us about his first meeting with my grandfather, his father-in-law to be. My mother went off somewhere with my grandmother and he and my grandfather were left to cope alone. My grandfather asked him whether he would like a drink. He would. At the time, my grandfather was going blind and after rooting around the cupboard, he emerged with a bottle of whiskey and poured out a measure for my father. He didn’t take any himself. My father who was a keen whiskey drinker was pretty sure that the contents weren’t whiskey but pretended to drink filled with fear that it might be some terrible poison – my grandfather was a farmer and farmers are or certainly were, inclined to fill random bottles with agricultural supplies. When my mother and my grandmother came home, investigation proved that the non-whiskey drink was actually Lourdes water. Also on herself asking him about living in American in the 1920s (long story, he did), he recollected turning off all the lights in the house commemorating some anniversary of the lightbulb. It must have been quite the shock coming back to Cork with its oil lamps in the 1930s. He also was quite adamant that it snowed while they were in America, given that they were living in Orange County, South Pasadena (apparently the South was important), that seems a little unlikely but he is adamant.

That night, we had games night – Michael got a number of games for Christmas and he was keen to try them out. It was actually quite good fun though slightly hideous in prospect.

On new year’s eve we went for our first walk on the beach since arriving. It started to lash rain/sleet and we ran to the hotel hoping that it might give us lunch but, sadly, no. Mr. Waffle and herself braved the rain and got the car and we went to the Kilkenny shop in Shanagarry instead. We met a good friend of mine from Dublin there with her family which was quite random and proves that Ireland is tiny etc. She and her family were reliving her husband’s childhood family holidays in Waterford and their exploring had taken them into East Cork.

Then back to Dublin. We bought a “Best of Queen” CD and a 5 set CD of hits from the 80s to listen to on the journey (mock, if you will). I can confirm that Queen had more lasting hits than all of the 80s put together. About half way back I started to feel unwell (unrelated to the hits of the 80s). By the time we got home, I was very unwell. I spent the remainder of the evening getting sick and could only lend half an ear to the various woes involving the cat (neighbours had wrong keys, had gone out and bought cat food and sent their teenager over the garden wall to put out cat food for the cat every day, frankly, above and beyond the call of duty). About 11.45 in a brief break from my time in the bathroom, I headed downstairs to wish Mr. Waffle a happy new year. He was just heading off to rescue herself from a new year’s eve party. All in all, we have had better starts to the new year. I finally stopped throwing up about 3 am. I firmly blame the grilled brie in the restaurant where we had lunch for my brief but violent illness. The next day, feeling delicate, I was sitting reading the paper while the boys played their new videogame (Overwatch, very popular), “I am a one-man apocalypse,” hissed the character on screen. Herself lent across the sofa and said to me, “It’s the brie speaking.” Oh yes indeed.

Mr. Waffle’s sister, husband and baby came to Dublin from London for a couple of days at the start of the month. We had them round for an extended family lunch before I trudged dismally back to work last Thursday. We had the tree yesterday for Women’s Christmas but it came down today and the children are back to school tomorrow. Alas alack.

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In other news, over the Christmas holidays, Daniel and Michael lost a tooth each. Seriously, when do children stop losing teeth? I think herself still has some to go and she’ll be 15 in April.

How was your own Christmas?

Wedding Bells

18 November, 2017 at 10:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Yesterday we drove down to East Cork where two of my oldest friends got married. We stayed in the Castlemartyr resort and, as always when there is a hotel with a character-filled older bit and an underwhelming modern extension, we ended up in the extension. It was nice all the same though and boasted the largest bed I have ever slept in. We left the children largely to their own devices for about 10 of the 30 or so hours we were gone but we did have a childminder stay overnight. I can confirm they are all still alive.

So, the happy couple are 60ish and have been together for 31 years and I have known them for 27. Most older people who get married have smaller weddings but they had a massive one (as they are a gay couple, they have been waiting for a while); there were about 250 people and aside from M and R’s nephews and nieces we were all pretty middle aged which I rather liked. It was funny to see the nephews and nieces, some of whom I haven’t seen since they were children, all turned into young adults.

I first met M when he was the youngest partner in the law firm where I did my apprenticeship. He was interested in the arts and far more entertaining than any of the other partners (a low enough bar, I concede). When we both left that law firm we stayed in contact. He’s been buying me lunch for more than a quarter of a century now. He and R make a great couple and they’re one of the few couples where I am equally friendly with both partners. Over the years, they have been wonderful to me and, as I acquired husband and children, to them also. M sang at my wedding, they have bought me food and given me food (M is a great jam maker), put me up innumerable times (we still stay in their house in East Cork), given me lifts (I travelled to Cork with M every Christmas for years, they’ve brought herself up and down to Cork) advice and kindness. They are the only people who ever visit us unannounced and I love to see them, every time. I must say as I looked at the enormous crowd of delighted friends and family at their wedding, I thought that they have truly reaped what they have sown.

50 Years

8 November, 2017 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

My parents were 50 years married on September 27. My father is 92 and mentally very well; he is exactly the same man I have always known, he hasn’t grown old and vague, he hasn’t failed to keep up with things, he still reads two papers cover to cover every day. He is certainly physically more frail but he is, in his conversation, in his views, in his pretty encyclopaediac knowledge of everything from literature to engineering, entirely the same man I have always know. Sadly, the same is not true of my mother who has been ill for a number of years with Parkinson’s disease and related dementia. Although she has good days and bad days, it is getting steadily worse. A friend of mine says that it is like seeing someone get further and further away which I think is a pretty good description. So we didn’t really do anything to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I sent my father a card. It’s hard for all of us, for my father, of course, and for my brother and sister in Cork who between them visit my mother every day and, whisk her home at the weekend, if she shows any sign of being well which, increasingly, she does not.

My parents had a very happy marriage. I only saw my mother annoyed with my father twice, once when he trimmed her hair (with great reluctance on his part, rightly it turned out) and she had to go to the hairdresser and basically get it all chopped off to fix his work and once when she had finished packing for the family camping holiday in France and he wanted to get his wash bag from the bottom of the boot and she had to unpack loads of stuff. I don’t ever remember him being annoyed with her. My mother’s best friend from college, a lovely woman with whom I am still very friendly, said that my parents had the best marriage of anyone she ever knew. They were certainly very happy. Each of them thought the other was amazing. They were both right.

My mother was 31 when she got married and in 1967 that was very old and, I think, my grandparents had given up hope that their career woman daughter would ever marry anyone. My father was 42 and his family had definitely written off his chances (a guy I knew in college said that it was assumed in Cork that my father had abandoned his confirmed bachelorhood because my mother was heiress to a huge fortune; sadly, I can confirm, there was no fortune). My parents met in March, got engaged in June and were married in September. My father broke the news to my long-suffering grandmother as he was dropping her into the Imperial on the South Mall for her regular Saturday afternoon tea with my aunt Cecilia. As she stepped out of the car he said, “And by the way, I’m getting married.” He then took off on a four week sailing holiday leaving my grandmother who had never even met my mother to cope with this information as best she might.

I wish my mother were well and I miss her every single day but I know I am very lucky to have grown up in a family where my parents were so happy together so swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

Parents


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