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27 November, 2017 at 9:22 pm by belgianwaffle

We had a good old chat about harassment at my all female bookclub recently. We all brought out the usual horror stories for each other’s delectation – things which would appal us now but which we put up with, almost unthinkingly, when we were in our 20s (although I do remember complaining to my friend D about one particular colleague and her advising me to say, “If you touch me again, you pull back a bloody stump”, so I suppose, I wasn’t quite putting up unthinkingly and, no, I didn’t say anything, just stayed out of his way).

As we moved towards the close of the conversation, I said, “It’s really much better now, I think.” My sapient friend, D (she of the “bloody stump” suggestion), observed, “No, it’s not, it just doesn’t happen to us any more because we’re too old and too senior.” Now that is a depressing thought.

Reading etc.

11 November, 2017 at 8:20 pm by belgianwaffle

“Catholic Mass For Dummies” by John Trigilio, Kenneth Brighenti, Monsignor James Cafone

I was lent this by a friend. A bit dull but I can tell you it’s a miracle the Orthodox and Syno Malabar rite people manage to keep anyone at all. They require extra hours of devotion.

“Outlander”Diana Gabaldon

This is a very popular series of books about a woman who finds herself transported from the 1940s to the 1740s. I thought it was only alright and wouldn’t be rushing back to read the rest of the series. And I quite like time travel but the balance of historical romance to time travel wasn’t quite right for me.

“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

A brilliant writer tells a poignant story (more like a series of short stories really) where this difficult woman with a heart of gold (Olive Kitteridge) features. It’s very good at getting inside someone’s head.

“Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” by Ruth Gilligan

This is a rather gloomy story about Lithuanian Jews who pitched up in Ireland and their lives and a modern day Dublin girl thinking of converting to Judaism for her English Jewish boyfriend. Didn’t really do it for me; too gloomy.

“The Village” by Marghanita Laski

I enjoyed this paean to the socialist utopia set in a village where class structures are crumbling after the end of World War II.

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

Another beautifully written book by Elizabeth Strout.

“Open” by Andre Agassi

God, who knew it was so absolutely grim being a professional tennis player? And does your father have to be insane? Interesting insights here.

“Every Good Deed”
by Dorothy Whipple

A book of short stories by the ever-reliable Dorothy Whipple. Great read.

“The Humans” by Matt Haig

I quite enjoyed this book which uses an alien’s perspective to look at human relationships.

“The Possession of Mr Cave” by Matt Haig

I liked “The Humans” so much that I tried more of Mr. Haig. This is, I think, a better book but hair-raising in its description of descent into insanity.

“The Last Family in England” by Matt Haig

A slightly less successful offering by Matt Haig. Maybe better, if you are a big Labrador dog fan.

“The Radleys” by Matt Haig

A family of vampires on the dry- it starts off really well but it spirals out of control a bit at the end.

“Eligible”by Curtis Sittenfeld

A re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” by a wonderful contemporary author. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in ages.

“The Forever Court” by Dave Rudden

I am, as you know, not at all above children’s literature and I really enjoyed part one of this children’s series. For my money, this volume is not quite as good but enjoyable enough all the same and very well written.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

A bookseller in Dubray books recommended this for Michael and he absolutely loved it as did Daniel. I didn’t think it was bad but I did not go for it to the same extent as they did. It’s a science fiction novel starring a very tough 6 year old.

“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

This is a story about a woman training a hawk after her father died. It got amazing reviews and I see how it is a wonderfully written book on the theme of loss but I just didn’t particularly enjoy it. Maybe I needed something cheerier.

“The Luckiest Girl in the School” by Angela Brazil
“The Jolliest School of all” by Angela Brazil

I needed something to read. They were free on the Kindle. I don’t think these school stories have really stood the test of time but maybe it is just too late for me to appreciate them.

“Lola Offline” by Nicola Doherty

Great read for teenagers on the perils of social media and finding new friends, Daniel really enjoyed it and was not at all put off by the pink cover.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J. K. Rowling

A bit meh to be honest but I am now committed to reading all of the Harry Potter related works by Rowling. Why? “I dunno” as Ron Weasley would say.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

This is an absolutely beautiful book written by a brain surgeon who died of cancer in his thirties. Surprisingly uplifting given the theme.

“Le Crime du Comte Neville” by Amélie Nothomb

A recent offering by the extremely prolific Belgian. Extended meditation on the Belgian aristocracy with suicide. More entertaining than it sounds.

“Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh

Series of fascinating almost painfully honest essays by a cranky neurosurgeon. Very enjoyable.

“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

A book about the damage authors can do to families and families can do to themselves. I’m a big fan of this kind of family saga and this is very well done.

“The Dry”
by Jane Harper

A detective story set in Australia. Very popular, but not for me.

“The Chalk Artist” by Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman is a good writer. Her theme here is electronic games are bad and she doesn’t quite carry it off successfully. Only alright, I thought.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”
by Gail Honeyman

This is a book about the mental health impact of abuse. It is a great deal funnier and more positive than that makes it sound but it’s also quite creepy and disturbing. It’s probably a bit more optimistic than the reality. Well worth a read.

101 Small Pleasures

10 November, 2017 at 11:02 pm by belgianwaffle

A hot water bottle on a cold night;
Drinking tea from a china cup;
Seeing things which you planted grow;
Cycling over the Liffey on a fine day;
Making a cat purr;
Finishing a tube of a cosmetic;
Listening to a podcast;
Finding lost keys;
A thank you letter;
Freewheeling on a bike;

Finishing a worthy book;
Finding a new good book;
Rereading a favourite book;
An empty inbox;
Being up when everyone else is asleep;
Being asleep when everyone else is up;
Finding out a new thing;
Turning to the next month on a calendar;
Taking a good photograph;
Finishing Saturday’s paper on Saturday;

Looking at old family pictures;
Giving away old clothes;
Staying in bed for an extra half an hour;
Sleeping through the night undisturbed;
Reading in bed;
A stretch in the evenings;
Spring in the air;
The smell of freshly mown grass;
Being at home alone;
Successfully ushering a fly out the window;

Getting a seat near the fire;
Getting into dry clothes when you have been wet;
Holding hands with the children;
Making the children laugh;
An evening in when all your recent evenings have been out;
An evening out when all your recent evenings have been in;
Walking on a crisp winter’s day;
Seeing snow on the mountains from the centre of Dublin;
Snow falling;
Snow sticking;

Snowdrops in January;
Daffodils in March;
Tulips in April;
Cherry blossom in May;
The colours of leaves in autumn;
The smell of lilies;
Flowers from the garden in the house;
Lit candles;
Brass polishing;
Shining silver;
Polished floorboards;

Fresh bread and butter;
Making jam;
Eating biscuits you have made;
Pulling a working pen from the jar first time;
Finding the scissors where it is supposed to be;
A tidy desk;
A comment on your blog;
Ticking off items on a list;

The smell of clean clothes that have dried on the line;
Folded clothes;
Clean sheets;
Listening to the sound of wet car wheels on wet tarmac while lying in bed;
Finding exact change;
Getting a postcard;
Writing on heavy writing paper with a fountain pen;
Being well after you have been ill;
Waking up without a headache when you have gone to bed with one;

Finding something good on the television;
Compost (seriously, isn’t it miraculous?);
Watching a family film with the family;
The smell of coffee;
The smell of warm bread;
The smell of turf on the fire;
Winter sunshine;
A breeze from a window in summer;
Someone shutting the door from which a draft had been emanating;
Playing cards with the children;

Walking to school with the children;
Timing the walk to school so that all of the traffic lights are green;
A hard frost with frost on the roofs and crunchy, frosty grass underfoot;
Arriving at the bus stop, just as the bus does;
Being near water: lakes, rivers, canals and the sea;
Reading snippets from the paper to my husband;
Finishing work for the day;
Being greeted by family like a superhero on getting home from work;
The turning of the seasons;
Straightening a crooked picture frame on the wall;

Brushing my hair;
Playing with magnets;
Popping bubble wrap;
Coming to the dishwasher and finding someone else has emptied it;
A Friday evening and a Saturday in every week;
Successfully supergluing something back together;
Wearing a favourite piece of jewellery;
Observing the effect of polish on shoes;
Knowing your neighbours;
Getting in just before the rain starts;

Finishing things.

Mild Success

6 November, 2017 at 6:15 pm by belgianwaffle

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks on trains and I am very susceptible to advertising. “Murder on the Orient Express” has been plugged pretty relentlessly on the big screen in Heuston station. It was, therefore, perhaps inevitable then that we should go en famille on Sunday.

There was some negotiation on the timing of this. This weekend herself was out with a friend Friday morning, out with other friends Friday afternoon, at a party next door Friday night – about 70 teenagers, I applaud my neighbours – over to a friend in Kildare for a sleepover on Saturday and back Sunday lunchtime; Daniel had a play off for second place in his division of the league, they won could well be looking at promotion to division 9, and choir on Sunday morning; Michael had drama on Saturday afternoon and hockey on Sunday morning, so finding an agreed time at all was difficult. I decided we would push on even when I saw a stinker of a review in the Irish Times. We cycled in and out very successfully (back in the dark as well) and the film itself was actually ideal Sunday afternoon family fare. None of the children had read the book so the dénouement was a surprise to them. The cinematography was truly beautiful (my sister says that this is always the kiss of death for a film) and it was all enjoyable in a mild way. Herself got great entertainment from Kenneth Branagh’s Belgian accent (poor, he pronounced the f in ouefs apparently, I didn’t notice) and it was all good stuff and it prepared us psychologically for the much-regretted end of mid-term.

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.


1 November, 2017 at 9:50 pm by belgianwaffle

So, as you will recall, November is National Blog Posting Month where I post on my blog every day for a month. I see from my archives that I started this in November 2006. I am not going to stop now but I note that, sadly, the American organisers seem to have thrown in the towel and I am now an unofficial, guerilla, NaBloPoMo participant. Internet, I have a long list of things I am going to tell you. This is just as well because, if memory serves one year by November 30, I was telling you how my online shopping went. This year will be different. Possibly.

Tune in tomorrow for more.


23 March, 2017 at 10:12 pm by belgianwaffle

Pomegranate Soup” by Marsha Mehran

This was a bit twee for me but I can see why it was a success. It’s about three Iranian sisters who flee the revolution and set up a café in the west of Ireland. The Iranian author was briefly married to an Irish man and died very tragically in the west of Ireland which gives the basically feel good story added poignancy.

“The Glorious Heresies” by Lisa McInerney

This work of literary fiction is set in Cork and has been very well reviewed. The author uses language very inventively and definitely has talent. Unfortunately, I hate this kind of thing. It’s all very gloomy – it doesn’t end well for anyone. It’s set in the most hopeless, despairing of environments and it feels like there’s no hope at all, ever. Also the language fizzes and sometimes, I don’t like fizzing language. I can see why it did well but not one for me.

The Yellow Dog” by Georges Simenon

My father gave this to me, he said that I might like it as it was set in Concarneau in Brittany where I have been on holidays a bit in recent years. In fact, the Concarneau of 90 odd years ago is pretty different from the very touristy town we have today. However, I mildly enjoyed the story which was reminiscent of Agatha Christie type detective offerings and might try another Simenon. Happily, if I like them, there are plenty of them.

Casting off” and “All Change” both by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The last of the Cazelet books about an upper middle class English extended family between the late 1930s and the 1950s. Gutted to have finished them. What a fantastic series of books. I might give it a couple of years and go back and read the lot again.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A bit twee – an epistolatory novel about how a group of people in Guernsey got through the occupation during the second world war. It did make me want to visit Guernsey though.

The Trespasser” by Tana French

I think Tana French is incapable of writing a bad novel but I thought this one was not quite as good as her other detective novels. The sense of place which is so wonderfully brought out in her other novels isn’t quite as clear in this one and it’s just a bit less good. Still very, very good though.

Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance

This apparently explains Trump’s America. The author grew up poor in the rust belt and became middle class; he works like a translator, explaining his former life to the middle classes. Although he does refer to some research, it is basically a well-written autobiographical book. I am not convinced that I understand Trump’s America any better but my view that it is particularly unpleasant to be poor in the US is confirmed.

The Hungry Grass” by Richard Power

Originally released in 1969 – the year I was born – this book takes an inside look at the clergy in rural Ireland and the changes that are coming from the point of view of a cranky priest. It didn’t do it for me. I did learn the expression “the hungry grass” though, apparently it’s a spot where someone who died in the famine was buried/died and if you walk over it you will always be hungry.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark” by Dave Rudden

Daniel and Michael have been at me to read this. They’ve seen the author live twice in the library and they loved this book. I’m not above reading children’s books at all but I was a bit put off by the cover and description. I am delighted the boys persisted. What an excellent book. Great plot but also a really wonderful, inventive, clever writer. He writes beautifully. I will definitely read the next installment (due out shortly) and I would love to see the author write a book for grown-ups.

Postcards from the Edge” by Carrie Fisher

I thought that this was a slightly fictionalised account of Carrie Fisher’s relationship with her mother but it’s not. It’s funny in places but basically episodic and inconclusive. I suppose it does give an insight into what it was like to be famous in Hollywood in the 80s if that’s your thing. Not mine.

The Closed Door and Other Stories” by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple is great, short stories are great. Win, win, really although a certain amount of female misery seems to be par for the course for Ms. Whipple.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Drama, intrigue and romance with a happy ending from the woman who gave the world “A Little Princess” what’s not to love? Not as good as “A Little Princess” though.

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