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Changing By Degrees

3 August, 2018 at 10:57 pm by belgianwaffle

When we were in Cork, Mr. Waffle and I found ourselves in the Stone Corridor in UCC admiring the ogham stones. There was an office with a plaque there; it said “Head of Student Experience”. “What do you think that is?” I asked Mr. Waffle. “I think it’s what we used to call the Dean of Discipline when I was in college.”

More Cork

31 July, 2018 at 8:36 pm by belgianwaffle

Thursday, July 19

Despite only having finished her course the previous Friday, the Princess and her companions were having a reunion in Dublin less than a week later. She was very keen to go which I thought was ludicrous but her kind indulgent father said that we should let her go so we drove her up to the train station in Cork with 6 minutes to spare before her train left. Note to file, Clonakilty to Cork may be 45 minutes by car; outside Clonakilty to the train station is quite a bit longer.

My brother who, when he is not being annoying, can be rather saintly took the boys off to Milano’s for lunch and Mr. Waffle and I had a really lovely lunch in the Farm Gate which I would very much recommend.

We spent the day in Cork bonding with relatives each of whom asked me in turn why on earth I had chosen to go to Clonakilty on my holidays. We picked herself up from the train at 8.30 (a train which she leapt unto 3 minutes before it left Dublin – it was a day of close shaves) and took ourselves back to base. She opined that her 5 hours on the train for 3 hours with her friends had been totally worth it. So that was something.

Friday July 20

For his own obscure reasons, my brother was cycling from Cork to Skibbereen. He stopped off on his trek and we all had lunch together in Deasy’s outside Clonakilty which is quite fancy and, therefore, didn’t have chips. Some trauma ensued as some of the cohort thought that the nice view and gourmet menu did not make good that deficiency.

Then we went to Kinsale to meet a friend of Mr. Waffle’s who had just bought a house there. We had take away fish and chips at her place for dinner so the natural order of things was restored. We also had a an opportunity to take our traditional “Caution Children” picture so that was obviously good.

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On the way back to Clonakilty, to the intense chagrin of Michael who stayed in the car timing how long I was taking, we stopped off and had a look at Timoleague Friary which is very, very beautiful It was sunset (about 10.30 so Michael’s chagrin was understandable, I suppose) and it looked quite spectacular.

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The setting was pretty spectacular also.

No filter, honest.
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Saturday 21 July

I went to the Red Strand for a swim leaving my non-beach loving family to entertain themselves as well as they could in my absence. Their loss, frankly.

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We went in to Rosscarbery where I spent many bored summers as a teenager (a friend’s parents had a house there) and, to be honest, there is still little enough to do. However we did have dinner/afternoon snack in a very nice pub. One of us had prudently bought a jumper and two of us were cold so she made the ultimate sacrifice.

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I was a bit grumpy and herself asked what I would like. “Why?” I said suspiciously. “Because who ever is the grumpiest runs this family.” This was a startling insight and I realised as I turned it over in my mind, entirely true.

My brother sent us a photo of Lough Hyne which I include because, you know, why not? It does highlight one of the problems of Clonakilty. It is West Cork but not west enough. It’s a bit of a trek to Lough Hyne from Clonakilty (not impossible, 40 minutes in the car) but almost all the good places are a bit of a trek.

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I went up to Cork for the evening because, since my brother was away, I thought I might be able to help my sister out a bit with the elderly relatives. I am not sure how much of a help I was really, particularly as she ended up having to feed me as well but we did enjoy a nice walk.

Sunday 22 July

We packed up and set off for home. Already Mr. Waffle and I were somewhat preoccupied by the thought of the working week ahead (something that does not happen at the end of week one of a three week holiday, I can tell you) and it was a long enough drive back. We stopped off at Blackrock Castle in Cork for lunch because I thought that it would not take us much out of our way (it did) and it would have pizza (it did not, they took it off the menu before Christmas, alas, alack).

On balance, West Cork again next year I think, but further west.

Clonakilty, God Help Us

30 July, 2018 at 8:38 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Cork last summer for a week. You may remember that excluded from the list of potential places to stay was Clonakilty on the grounds that it was too near Cork and why would you bother. This was good advice I gave last year and I would have done well to have heeded it. But earlier this year, a family from Clonakilty contacted us and asked would we do a house swap and I thought, why not? I know why not. Why did I think that? Anyway we agreed dates and then they wanted to push it to earlier and, like fools, we agreed.

Furthermore, poor old Clonakilty has a gloomy reputation. It was home to a big workhouse during the famine and really the last desperate staging post of dying people hence when you say Clonakilty, people will often say to you, “Clonakilty, God help us” which is a tag line that I think the town has probably been keen to lose since 1847 or thereabouts (I’d say they’d like to have Macroom’s line instead “the town that never raised a fool”).


Sunday 15 July

Herself returned to us from her three week course on Friday and it was such a thrill to have her back. She was very reasonable about packing up to leave again two days after returning. It was a long old drive. We stopped for lunch in Cashel and got in to Clonakilty late afternoon. The house was in the middle of nowhere and it was slightly damp like many, many houses in Ireland but if it was going to be damp after a month in the heatwave, I shudder to think what it was like in the winter. On the plus side they had a wheel attached to a tree in the garden.

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And a piano that was in tune in the house.

We took ourselves into the town which, to be fair, is attractive enough, and went to the tourist office looking for attractions. There was much Michael Collins stuff and also the railway village. In addition to the price of your admission, you get to go on a tourist train around the town. “Would you like to go on Choo Choo?” the tourist office lady asked our mildly affronted 15 year old.

My sister drove down to Clonakilty that evening and saw Jack L in concert. He was good but he needs to find a younger fan base, it’s not often I feel like one of the youngest people in the room.

Monday 16 July

We recovered from our drive and stayed around the town. We bought a card game called “Now That’s What I Call Music” which I cannot recommend highly enough. Did you remember that “Don’t Give Up” was a collaboration between Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel? If yes, this is the game for you. I drove each of my partners wild by singing the 80s songs mentioned but, never, never knowing the artist. We bought a good jigsaw because that’s what holidays are for.

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We bought some books for the children.

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Tuesday 17 July

We went to the model railway village. It was not entirely successful. Our children were the oldest children there by a good ten years. But they were patient. We exhausted its charms quickly. Probably this functioning phone box was a highlight. We decided not to go for the choo choo train around the town experience. This was particularly good for herself as later she ran in to someone she knew in the town and bad and all as this was, it would have been considerably worse if she’d been in the tourist train.

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Continuing our run of poor luck we chose a deeply unpleasant pub to have our lunch in. Go us.

After lunch, we took ourselves to the Michael Collins museum in Emmet Square. This was a success. It was housed in a lovely Georgian house in the square where Michael Collins lived for a bit (not in this house it transpired). And the displays were interesting and it was all quite well done.

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We peaked a bit too soon on the jigsaw.

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I bought a great bowl with a drawing of an octopus by these people. We have named him and I love it. I loved it so much that I later went back and bought a jug and a casserole and it is dishwasher and oven proof. No favours etc. were received for these kind words. Sadly.

Wednesday 18 July

Despite really hard work on my part over the years, Daniel loathes the beach and Michael and Mr. Waffle are, at best, neutral. But it was the best summer since 1976 and I insisted on going to the beach. We went to Inchydoney which is a lovely beach and the Princess and I both swam. Here is how her brothers enjoyed it.

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The Princess continued to diligently read her very hard book on Aids. I made good progress with “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret”. Don’t judge.

Once we left the beach, both boys cheered up and we had a nice lunch in the nearby hotel. We went to the Michael Collins homestead which is a bit basic but, you know, grand.

Then we went to see the Drombeg Stone circle which I thought was pretty impressive. Beautiful site overlooking the sea.

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My Dad was telling me that he had had it described to him by the archaeologist who found it. Apparently he married a publican’s daughter from Clonakilty and the stone circle was well known locally but archaeologists had never been near it (they have their work cut out, West Cork is just one big wedge shaped gallery grave) and he wrote about it and publicised it. It was felt that he would be the next professor of archaeology at UCC but then he died young. See, if you’re from Cork these are the extra exciting details available to add to your guide book information.

Then we went on to Glandore for a cup of tea. Glandore is basically a couple of houses and a view. But what a view.

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And then one of the pubs has been gentrified and it offered seats outside with shade and cushions and blankets and a delightful desert menu which we partook of liberally. It was absolutely delightful.

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Stay tuned for the second half of our Cork adventures.

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.


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