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18 October, 2016 at 6:51 pm by belgianwaffle

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

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

View of the sea from Warrenpoint:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and gothic revival on the other:

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

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

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

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

Shocking

16 October, 2016 at 6:20 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself: I got a shock from the light in the utility room.
Me (vaguely): Oh dear.
Mr. Waffle: I’ve never heard of such thing.
Me: Oh yes, that used to happen to me all the time in the house where I grew up.
Him (sceptically): I don’t believe it.
Her (mournfully): Mum believes me but she’s hopeless at sympathising and Dad just doesn’t believe me.
Him (completely unconvincingly): No, I do.
Me: Don’t switch on the light with wet hands and you should be fine.

A couple of nights later there was a loud yelp from the utility room. We all rushed in. “I got a shock!” said Mr. Waffle in outrage. “Told you!” said herself. “You’ll live,”said I. Anxious readers will be pleased to know that Mr. Waffle is looking into getting an electrician in. Tell me, has anyone else had a light switch shock? Surely, yes.

A Different Lens

15 October, 2016 at 6:13 pm by belgianwaffle

Some barrister friends of Mr. Waffle’s went to see the new Bridget Jones film. “What did they think?” I asked. “They thought it was alright but they’re astounded that Colin Firth still hasn’t taken silk.”

Properly Regarded as an Economy

7 August, 2016 at 10:36 pm by belgianwaffle

I asked the Princess to make me mint biscuits and she kindly consented. “We need peppermint essence,” she said. It was not available in our local shops. “We could make it,” I said. We looked it up on the internet. All we needed was mint (of which we had a superabundance) and vodka (of which we had none).

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We rang Mr. Waffle who was at the library with the boys and asked him to get some vodka for us. He came back with a €20 bottle. In a moment of rashness, we used it all. We now have a litre of peppermint essence in preparation.

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All I can say is, I’m looking forward to these biscuits. It you know me and you need peppermint essence, contact me, I can do you a great deal.

Happy Anniversary

1 August, 2016 at 10:21 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on Thursday, July 28. As we got married before having children and when Mr. Waffle was in a different line of work, that was, then, a relatively quiet time of year. Now the children are on holidays; it is one of Mr. Waffle’s busiest times of the year and we go on our family holiday immediately after.

This year has been particularly difficult as for the last number of years, I have been able to take unpaid leave over the summer but it wasn’t possible this year. We kept our childminder on for the afternoons and signed the children up to a couple of courses and Mr. Waffle took up the slack. It was all a bit stressful. Unfortunately, herself was ill for almost all her course and the week before the boys were due to go on their course I got this plaintive email from my husband.

To: Me
From: Mr. Waffle
Subject: Re: All well at home?

To my horror got a call from the sports camp I thought the boys were doing a course next week but apparently it’s this week. Will have to see if they’re willing to go for the last three days and if [childminder] can do afternoons. Also means we have no course for anybody next week…

In other words, it’s a busy time and we almost, but not quite, forget our anniversary every year. We tend to remember a day or two before when it is too late to do anything but scramble for a not entirely adequate present. For example, the internet tells me that crystal is the appropriate offering for a 15th wedding anniversary; I got Mr. Waffle a book and he got me flowers [very welcome flowers, I hasten to add].

Happily, this year, our firstborn surprised us and when we came home from work, the table looked like this:

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She made us risotto for dinner with help from Daniel and Victoria sponge for desert and it was amazing.

Also, I still love my husband, which is great. He sends me funny emails. Samples below:

From: Mr. Waffle
To: Me
Subject: Signs and portents

My laptop is being weird and currently refuses to open any files or programs.

Also five slugs in utility room / by back door.

I think I’ll call it a day.

From: Mr. Waffle
To: Me
Subject: What is the best Irish term for Brexit?

Sasamach? Bréalú?

I understand someone else came up with these terms but I am always glad to be consulted on matters of national importance.

A couple of weeks ago, the cat brought another pigeon into the house. This time it was not dead. Mr. Waffle grabbed the pigeon from the cat; trapped the cat in the utility room and chased the pigeon around the kitchen (I asked Herself about it – “It was terrible, the pigeon fell in my soup”. Terrible on so many levels). Eventually he was able to usher the pigeon out of the kitchen into the hall while the cat continued to scream blue murder in the utility room. Mr. Waffle said that the pigeon was somewhat dazed but it picked itself up and waddled along the hall and out the front door, somewhat to the bemusement of passers by.

On Saturday evening he rescued the cat from up a tree where she was chased by three small yappy dogs who have moved in across the road. We are not loving them. Mr. Waffle, however, is fantastic.

The other evening I was trying to print off the childminder’s payslip and the printer wouldn’t work. Michael sidled up to me; “Sorry,” he said, “but I think I broke the printer.” “How do you think you broke the printer?” I asked. “I dropped 10 cents down the paper feeder,” he said. I shook it and I turned it up and down but to no avail. “I’m not cross,” I said, “but how did you drop 10 cents into the printer?” Apparently he had been practising coin flips and it had just escaped away from him. After the last unfortunate demise of a printer, my clever husband had taken out a guarantee. €12 well spent. We now have another new printer. I think love is in the details.

Think of us having another delightful anniversary dinner in France. After all, 15 years is definitely worth celebrating.

It’s Been Busy

5 July, 2016 at 6:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Well there’s been the Brexit thing and I find myself utterly rivetted by the excitement across the water.

Then, we sold our old house. We had been renting it out but when we were no longer in negative equity, we felt it would be advisable to sell up and repay some of our current mortgage [sale closed on the day of the Brexit vote which is probably good in retrospect but utterly coincidental]. Mr. Waffle did all the heavy lifting including dealing with the estate agent and the solicitor.

We decided to sell through Felicity Fox because I liked the look of their ads (I have been looking at house for sale ads since I was a small child, I’m a connoisseuse) and because I liked the idea of supporting a woman who had gone out on her own in the rather masculine-led world of Dublin estate agents*. We had no contact with Felicity herself but it all passed off peacefully and speedily. After we sold the house, the estate agent turned up with a thank you card and a bottle of prosecco which I thought was pretty good. I am easily impressed. My solicitor said, “That’s what you get, if you go with a fancy South side estate agent.” I am not entirely sure that this is true.

The day before the sale closed, I got a call from the solicitor who is a friend of mine from college. In the course of the conversation, I realised just how much of the work my loving husband had done. The conversation went as follows.

Her: This is a bit awkward, but just checking that you know that you’re due to close on the sale of your old house tomorrow.
Me: Yes, of course.
Her: It’s just that I haven’t spoken to you or had anything in writing from you throughout the transaction [we witnessed the documents at home in front of another solicitor because I couldn’t get in to her office during the day] and I wanted to check that you weren’t buried under the patio slabs.

*No favours etc were given for this endorsement. Unfortunately.

Returned Safely to These Shores

18 June, 2016 at 6:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself was returned to us last Wednesday after a wonderful week in London. Her aunt and uncle were very kind and she had all manner of treats and excitement including a trip to the ballet to see Swan Lake which she absolutely loved.

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Although the weather was a bit mixed.

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She was due to arrive back on Wednesday at 5 but her flight was delayed unbeknownst to me. I was stuck a bit late at work and rang Mr. Waffle to see whether our heroine had returned. “No,” he said, “and I am at the airport, so who is going to be home at 6.30 to relieve the childminder?” I flew home like the wind calling the childminder to tell her that I was going to be late. No answer. I rang the land line at home. Daniel answered.

Me: Hi sweetie, can I speak to K (childminder)?
Him: Yes, but do you want to know my news?
Me: Yes, of course, but can I speak to K first?
Him: It is interesting news.
Me: OK, sweetie, tell me your news first.
Him: When we came home from school the hall was full of blood and feathers.
Me: Oh God.
Him (with relish): Yes, and we found a dead pigeon in the corner of the drawing room.
Me (yelping): Oh God.
Him: Yes, and it’s still there.
Me: What??
Him: Yes, K has a phobia of birds (really, really is this a thing?). Michael and I locked the cat into the utility room. I hoovered up the feathers in the hall and Michael mopped up the blood. K showed us how to turn on the hoover from the kitchen. But we were too scared to deal with the body.
Me: OK, I’ll deal with it when I get home.

Return to the house. I readied myself with a shoe-box and a plastic bag. I went into the drawing room to see feathers, blood:

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and a corpse in the corner:

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I ran out again. Maybe not my finest hour [Daniel took the photo above]. Then the phone rang. It was Mr. Waffle. Herself had returned and they were wondering could they get a lift from the airport. Absolutely. I sped out, leaving the boys at home on corpse watch.

I picked Mr. Waffle and herself up outside the airport.

Me (to daughter): Welcome home my darling, did you miss us?
Herself: Um, no but I did have an amazing time.
Me (to husband): I have slightly unwelcome pigeon news.

On his return, he disposed of the corpse. What a man. Glad to have our firstborn back and despite herself, I think she might be a little glad too. And she brought us all presents.

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Is it true, Hodge, does nothing taste as good as thin feels?


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