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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

Antibiotics – One Lifetime

3 November, 2017 at 7:21 pm by belgianwaffle

When my father was a medical student in Cork in the 1940s he saw the first antibiotics brought to Cork and he was suitably impressed by their miraculous qualities. He didn’t stop giving the odd lecture to students himself until he was 75 and by then he was able to tell his students that he had seen the whole arc of antibiotics from their first use to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant super bugs. To be frank, things haven’t improved in the 17 years since. In 2008, my uncle died of MRSA acquired when in hospital for another (successful) procedure. My father kept our family religiously away from antibiotics and no matter how ill we were, we never had them. I used to bitterly watch my classmates popping them like smarties. It looks like our sacrifice may have, however, been insufficient and the days of antibiotics are numbered. Isn’t that a rather depressing thought? Is everything going backwards at the moment?

Small World

2 November, 2017 at 10:13 pm by belgianwaffle

Now that I have embraced middle age I listen a lot to radio 4. The fact that I tend to do it on headphones from a podcast does not, sadly make me down with the young people when what I am listening to is Desert Island Discs.

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago, they had on the Scottish composer James McMillan. Unlike almost every other Irish person you will ever meet, I am not particularly interested in music. It is a shameful thing and one that causes me some difficulty when I try to select my own desert island discs, but there it is. The only composers I really know are the ones who are regularly answers on University Challenge – you start to recognise the style and Benjamin Britten is usually a pretty safe bet for one of the answers, as they are quite patriotic. Normally when I listen to Desert Island Discs, I am fascinated by the people but rather bored by the music which, happily “for copyright reasons” is shorter on the podcast but, for some reason, this time, I loved the music. McMillan chose a piece by Thomas Tallis (occasional UC answer and, also, the name of one of the cats living upstairs in Brussels, the other one was Byrd, of course he was – so not a completely unknown quantity) which was arranged for 40 (!) voice parts, it was so beautiful that it made me cry (low enough bar actually, I cry easily, but still). And then McMillan turned out to be a devout Catholic and quite sane which, sadly, seems to be an increasingly rare combination. It was a really beautiful programme.

For his last disc, McMillan chose a contemporary composer. I was pretty sure that I knew no contemporary composers so I was ready to fast forward. As he described how this composer’s music divided people and that he once had a French orchestra in revolt when he tried to get them to play it, I was pretty sure that I was likely to be on the side of the French orchestra. His choice turned out to be an Irish composer called Gerard Barry. Ladies and gentlemen, where is that composer from? Yes, he is from Cork. Who about 20 years ago shared a house with his partner? Yes, me, that’s who. I have to say we have lost touch over the years and it is a long time since I have met the eminent composer and longer still since I have had dinner in his house. Still, though, what are the odds? I suppose quite short, given that he is from Cork. I have to say, I listened to the piece and notwithstanding my tenuous link to greatness, I probably would side with the French orchestra.

Despicable Me

14 October, 2017 at 5:21 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister took me to Kildare Village recently where we had breakfast in the only Pain Quotidien cafe in the country (more’s the pity) and then wandered around. Kildare Village is an outlet shopping centre. It is antiseptic but strangely appealing to me. It goes against all my principles but I want to go back. Alas.

In more worthy activities, we also visited Spike Island which is Europe’s premier tourist attraction. I have to say, notwithstanding its success in the tourist awards and the fact that it is in Cork, if you had to choose between it and the Colosseum, I think the latter would win out.

Spike Island is, obviously, an island and it’s always nice to have a little boat trip.

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The guides when we got there were superb – knowledgeable and entertaining and, although, I thought that we would find over 3 hours on a very small island a bit dull, it wasn’t. We didn’t even see everything. I would definitely go back again.

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It was one of the Treaty Ports handed over by the British in 1938 and a small building near the pier was the last structure built by the British in what is now the Republic. The island is full of intriguing snippets of history like that. There’s an exhibition featuring a number of things including this picture of the flags on display in East Beach, Cobh, Co. Cork on 11 July 1938 to celebrate the passing of the port to Ireland. Ahem.

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I hadn’t realised that when World War II broke out, Churchill wanted the Treaty ports back but DeValera wouldn’t let them go back. Frankly, Churchill was not at all as popular in this jurisdiction as across the water.

Religious Tolerance

13 October, 2017 at 5:16 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was in Cork last, my father told me about a man called Pulvertaft (great name) who ran a plumbing manufacturing business. Like many of the business owners at the time, Mr. Pulvertaft was a Protestant, a Methodist, in fact. In the Marian Year of 1954 (ever wondered why so many 63 year old Catholic women are called Marian; wonder no longer) the (Catholic) workforce approached the Methodist owner to ask whether they might, in view of the Marian celebrations, erect a statue of the Virgin Mary on the factory floor. He said that they could and, if they stopped effing and blinding the whole time, he’d even pay for it.

Island Living – Part Two: The Adventure Continues

27 August, 2017 at 9:55 pm by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, 2 August

Mr. Waffle and the children got the ferry to the mainland, I came back from Cork and we all met in Baltimore where we had a delightful breakfast. I brought them all UCC tat – hats and t-shirts which went down surprisingly well but Mr. Waffle, who was not fortunate enough to go to college in Cork, now has about 5 t-shirts and feels that this may be enough.

I forced everyone to go pony trekking near Ballydehob which was reasonably successful. Mr. Waffle had never been on a horse before in his life and I had hoped there would be some amusement to be got from this but, although, he mounted quite nervously all passed off peacefully.

My oldest friend (we first met as babies – our parents were friends) has a house in Ballydehob and we met her and her partner for lunch and then they took us to the fete which was a huge success. The children loved smashing crockery, throwing wellies and bouncing on the bouncy castle. Then we went round for tea to my friend’s father and step-mother who live in a beautiful house and they were very kind to us and had a lovely afternoon tea. Daniel particularly enjoyed the scones and, I think, ate 7, helped to this feat by my friend’s father, who was sitting beside him, keeping him generously supplied.

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On our way back, in memory of my youth, we went to Field’s (famous bakery) in Skibbereen. It has become a Super Valu. I’m unsure how I feel about that.

Then back to Baltimore where we inspected the castle which was well worth a visit and covered in great detail the Sack of Baltimore where in the 1600s about 100 villagers were captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery. Undoubtedly the single most exciting thing ever to happen in Baltimore.

We were a happy bunch boarding the ferry home. Then the ferry was very late due to an inspection. The crossing was really rough. At first the children enjoyed standing at the front of the boat bouncing up and down and getting soaked by the waves but this palled and by the time we got to the island, they were all miserable, sodden and sick as dogs. Poor Daniel actually was sick just as we pulled into the placid waters of the north harbour. Alas for the seven scones.

We did see a beautiful rainbow which in some way made up for the pain.

IMG_2254Also, we finished our jigsaw so, all in all, pretty satisfactory.IMG_2261

Thursday, August 3

The children dug their heels in and refused to leave the house. I eventually persuaded Michael to come out and inspect the library which was housed in a tiny pre-fab but had a surprisingly excellent stock. Also, I was able to leave back the library books we had brought down from Dublin and the books we took out in Cape Clear could be returned to Dublin. Is this not a superb service? I love the library.

Mr. Waffle and I went to see the lake which was a bit eerie. My father said that years ago when he had been on the island he planned to go there for a swim but when he got up to his knees, he just didn’t fancy it and waded out again. Just as well, I suppose as it is now festooned with signs warning against bathing there.

IMG_2271We strolled up to the castle then. We arrived in the late afternoon and it looked wild and remote and extraordinarily romantic. It was clearly built on the end of the peninsula and over the centuries the cliff crumbled away and now it is inaccessible on a small lonely island.IMG_2284

IMG_2286You have to hand it to the O’Driscolls, they know how to site a castle.

High on my successful touristy activities, I went to the craft shop and bought some local pottery. We also followed up on cross-questioning about school with the local teenager managing the shop (there’s a primary school on the island and for secondary, since the boarding school closed down, they go over to the mainland and stay in digs for the week and then come back for the weekend).Friday, August 4Herself was feeling a bit under the weather so she decided not to come out with us on a boat tour. We hoped to see whales and dolphins and all kinds of exotic birds. Alas, it was not to be, we saw seals alright but they are not exotic if you live in Dublin. We also saw arctic terns, shags and cormorants which we identified with varying levels of enthusiasm with the aid of binoculars and a bird book we had liberated from my parents’ house in Cork.IMG_2304

Michael spent much of the trip in this attitude. A downside, perhaps to our visit to the library the previous day.

IMG_2298The poor boatman was gutted. He made tea on his primus stove and we had tea and biscuits on the small boat rocked by the sea while he lamented the lack of more exciting birds and aquatic life. He knew my Irish teacher. Of course he did. He astonished me by telling me that he was not an O’Driscoll but his mother was. He was a native Irish speaker and it was nice for the boys to speak a bit of Irish. At least, I was pleased, not so sure about them.

 

By the time we got home, herself was feeling a bit better so I forced her out to the library (underwhelmed) and to the castle (genuinely, though reluctantly, impressed).

 

While we were gone, the boys made friends with the next door neighbours and later we all met up at the north harbour where we had ice cream. “Did you close the front door when you were leaving the house?” I asked the boys hopefully. They didn’t know. Happily crime levels on the island appear to be low. Then, high on my success with herself, I made the boys walk up to the castle as well. They were impressed also. Frankly, this castle represents the high water mark of impressing my children with anything historical.

 

It was a beautiful evening and I decided to go for a swim in the south harbour. With some difficulty I made my way in over the rocks. It was one of the coldest swims I have ever had in my life but the surroundings were utterly beautiful and aside from Mr. Waffle, sitting on a nearby rock to make sure I didn’t drown, there wasn’t a person to be seen for miles. Mr. Waffle may have been put off going in by my description of the bone-numbing cold.

 

We finally got to Se├ín Rua’s on pizza evening that night. It was a series of triumphs.

Saturday, 5 AugustIMG_2381

Our landlady gave us a lift to the ferry. When we got across we decided to go for breakfast in the cafe in Baltimore but it turns out it’s a lot busier mid-morning on a Saturday than early on a Wednesday (which was when we had been there last) and as we were driving back to Dublin that day, maybe not a great start. As we were late anyway, I went to the craft shop and bumped in to the creator of my island pottery which was pleasing. I bought another plate. Don’t knock it, I’m keeping the rural economy afloat.

We scurried off to the car park to find that our car had been boxed in. This was a bit alarming as the driver was unlikely to be in the town and much more likely to have gone off for the day to one of the many islands readily accessible from Baltimore harbour. We spent ages backing and filling. Many people offered advice; I went around the local businesses to see whether anyone knew the the owner; to no avail. Then this wonderful local came out from a nearby building. He began by roundly and colourfully denouncing the car which had boxed us in. This was an excellent start. Then he suggested a new approach and, with millimetres to spare, it worked. We were free.

I had decided that we would stop in Cashel on the way home. We were going to have lunch in the Cashel Palace but, alas, it was closed for refurbishment. There followed some distressing wandering around the town but we got lunch eventually. Fortified, we headed towards the Rock of Cashel. I haven’t been there for years (in fact I think the last time I was there was when Mr. Waffle and I stopped off to stay in the Cashel Palace on the way back to Dublin after our wedding in 2001) and on previous occasions, it was always pretty much empty. Not this time; it was heaving. Highlight was my heritage card getting us in free. It was really much too busy to enjoy. Daniel and myself found some of the talks interesting. The OPW guides are always superb, in fairness. However, you could barely move for tourists. Picture below gives an entirely erroneous impression of the tourist density.

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We went back to the town, fortified ourselves with sheep ice cream (fine, but, you know, not sure it’s really worth the farmer’s effort – we met the farmer’s father and he gave us the full journey from udder to cone) and hightailed it back to Dublin.

Tune in for our next installment which will be from the City of Lights.


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