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Rockin’ the Suburbs

15 February, 2015 at 7:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Last week, I was having a cup of tea with a colleague and she mentioned that she was going to see Ben Folds perform at the American ambassador’s residence. Who was he? Did I have any idea?* “Oh yes,” I gushed, “I love Ben Folds!” I was slightly overstating my enthusiasm, I mean I had bought an album and I’d been to a concert but that was before my children were born. And then, I’m not really a music person (insert gasp of outrage here).

Anyhow, my colleague was adamant that I should go and went to the trouble of asking her contact in the embassy to send me a ticket. It seemed churlish to point out that the night of the concert, last Friday, really didn’t suit me. Mr. Waffle was away and I was busy at work. I arranged for a babysitter to come to the house at 5.45, intending to peel off early from work and be at home at 5.30 to see off childminder and ready at 5.45 to welcome babysitter.

Regrettably at 5.45, I was sitting in a meeting, squirming in my seat. Meanwhile the babysitter had arrived at home and finding the house in darkness (childminder and children late home from school, not part of my calculations), texted Mr. Waffle (at that point in Heathrow) and me. Mr. Waffle texted me and generally, I was feeling a bit under pressure. My boss of bosses, who is a kindly soul with young children asked whether I needed to leave. Gratefully, I said that I did and he said we could talk on Saturday which, frankly, didn’t fill either of us with joy, but was very welcome at that moment.

As I was going down to the garage, the babysitter called. She and the childminder were exchanging posts. I spoke to the childminder, “Would he pick up the timetable for his hours for mid-term on the hall table?” He would. I got home, kissed the children, ordered Domino’s pizza and ran out the door again.

So, frankly, Mr. Folds would really have to deliver the goods to make it all worthwhile. And it was so worthwhile. The Ambassador’s residence is lovely. The President and his wife turned up from their house across the road, adding to the sense of occasion. There were only about 100 of us there. It was recorded live for the radio (listen here, if you fancy) and the session was delightful. Not just the live part but the impromptu tunes in the commercial breaks and the numbers that Ben Folds did afterwards for the audience. I was enchanted. I don’t know when I have enjoyed a musical occasion more. I had to leave immediately after the performance as I was collecting Mr. Waffle from the airport so, just pausing to cram some of the ambassador’s delicious canapés in my mouth (insert your own Ferrero Rocher joke here), I ran out the door. I gave up an opportunity to chat to the great man, but Mr. Waffle was suitably grateful. And I got a signed poster which I am half thinking of framing and putting up on the wall like a teenager.

Untitled

*Obviously Ben Folds, not the American ambassador. Don’t be pedantic. Although that is what I love about you.

Reading

13 February, 2015 at 11:00 pm by belgianwaffle

“We are all Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler

Nicely written with clever interesting ideas. Better if you don’t know the twist, which I didn’t.

The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes

Something of a return to form for Marian Keyes. Finally a heroine over 40. A bit dull in places but made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher

A slight, funny epistolary novel. Our hero is a university lecturer who spends much time issuing letters of recommendation.

“The Likeness” by Tana French

This is the second book of Tana French’s I have read and it is just as good as the first which is really saying something. She writes beautiful, atmospheric, plot-driven detective stories.

“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

This is a bit depressing, if you have elderly or sick relatives. Atul Gawande is a doctor who thinks a lot. He is very interesting and always writes beautifully. Bits of this book originally appeared elsewhere and it doesn’t hang together as well as it might but overall it is very good.

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

It turns out that checklists are really useful in complex situations. A convincing and very entertainly written book on this point.

“‘Tis Earlier it’s Getting” by Colm O’Regan

The Christmas book of Irish Mammies. That’s probably all you needed to know. Quite hard to sustain the humour over an entire book. Easy reading though and very funny in places.

“Unravelling Oliver” by Liz Nugent

I enjoyed this story of a murderer’s motivations and backstory. The writing is only alright and there are plenty of cliches but I found the plot really moved along and held my attention.

“Divergent”by Veronica Roth

I had great hopes for this book. I am a fan of young adult fiction set in dystopian worlds. It was a New York Times bestseller that had been made into a film. What could go wrong? Alas, a great deal. Although the premise was clever. The book was boring. It combined violence and teenage romance (something done very successfully in the Hunger Games Trilogy) with an absence of any significant plot developments. I won’t be trying any further installments.

“The Thrill of it All” by Joseph O’Connor

I am not a big fan of Joseph O’Connor’s fiction (his “Irish male” non-fiction books, I enjoyed). I didn’t enjoy this story of a washed up rock star much either. Maybe I should stop reading his fiction. A friend of mine, rather cruelly described him as “an almost great writer” and that’s it. There are really wonderful passages but the whole fails to deliver and there are some, frankly, dire bits also.

“Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett

Slightly dull Pratchett which I may have read before but of which I retain no recollection whatsoever. On balance, probably not a win.

Christ’s Entry into Brussels” by Dimitri Verhulst

This book, presumably inspired by the painting and Belgium’s labyrinthine administrative structures appealed to Mr. Waffle and he recommended it to me. There is something exquisitely Belgian about it. It brings back the weird, surrealism with which Belgium is far more amply supplied than any other country I have visited. Still and all, a bit slight and perhaps of less interest to those without a Belgian connection.

To Improve Our Service to You

10 January, 2015 at 9:35 pm by belgianwaffle

One night I went to book a train ticket online. I went to the iarnrod eireann website. I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa which I hate with the passion of a thousand suns. Our internet security (Kaspersky) would not let me insert the relevant details in secure mode or otherwise. The train people promised terrible consequences if I gave up or left the page. At one in the morning, I gave up and left the page. Added bonus the link page you are to go to, if you are having trouble is a 404.

The next day, Mr. Waffle told me how to disable Kaspersky. I went online. I disabled the internet security. On the iarnrod eireann site I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and inserted my password. Twice. Wrong password even though I had it written down in front of me (internet security experts everywhere gasp in horror). I reset my password. It asked for the first four numbers of my bank account, the street or district where I lived when I was 10 (somewhat vague that no? Comes with the ominous advice that you had better remember your answer as it may be used as a security question in the future). I have done something wrong. I am locked out.

Ring verified by visa helpline and trouble a poor English woman who I am sure would rather be doing other things at 9.30 in the evening. Wouldn’t we all? I give my name, my bank account number and part of my online banking pin. She resets my card and tells me to continue my purchase. I go back to Iarnrod Eireann, I type in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password, my full name, I book my seat, I insert my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and reset my password and, finally, it worked.

It’s all about the positive customer experience, isn’t it?

Books of 2014

7 January, 2015 at 7:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Leaving aside books written by those nearly related to me, these are my top 5 books of 2014, in order of preference:

“In the Woods” by Tana French
“Dear Life” by Alice Munro
“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail
“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe
“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

2014 was a really great year for me – I read loads of books I enjoyed very much and the choice of a top five was unusually hard. More detailed reviews below, lifted from old posts and slightly updated, if you care.

“In the Woods” by Tana French

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It’s a detective story and a page turner but also very well written; quite lyrical in places without ever being dull. The author has written quite a few books and I plan to read them all. I’ve read another one since and it is just as good as the first and would have made this list only I was very tight for space.

“Dear Life” by Alice Munro

I really enjoyed this collection. I had read some of her work in the past and found it tough going but I found this collection drew me back again and again and I was putting aside other things to read it. I am not sure whether her style has changed or whether I like her better now that I am older. These short stories are all sad. They are slices of life and although things happen, that is not really the point. She is superb at drawing characters; not necessarily very nice or appealing characters but convincing ones. She writes beautifully. Well worth a read.

“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail

My kind sister-in-law gave me a present of this in the Persephone Bookss edition and I was charmed. It is a lovely novel about a young married couple in their first home. The couple are singularly ineffectual, always running out of money and live in fear of their maid whom they call “the murderess”. All their crises, however, are minor ones and happily resolved.

I discovered on reading the introduction that Angela Thirkell, whose books I like very much, was the older and much loathed sister of Denis Mackail. Apparently she was by far the stronger personality of the two. I can see that as there is a sweetness in “Greenery Street” which is entirely absent in Thirkell’s work.

“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe

This is a very entertaining read but might possibly be even more entertaining, if you were intimate with literary London in the 1980s. Unacquainted as I am with London literary figures, it still made me laugh. Also, Alan Bennett is a lovely man.

“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

The conceit of this novel, which was a best seller in Germany, is that Hitler wakes up in modern day Germany. Everyone things that he is a Hitler impersonator and he becomes a media darling. It has some very clever and amusing pieces like when Hitler tries to set up an email account (“Adolf Hitler” – No that’s gone – “Reichstag” -That’s gone too – and so on) and when he visits the neo-nazi offices. Quite daring overall, as well as funny, and interesting.

Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

22 December, 2014 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Do you remember that I mentioned my obsession with brass polishing? And that I was nervous about tackling the fender? Well, the month of December has seen me turn my attention to this particular labour of love.

I would like you to know that shining a brass fender is a deeply rewarding activity. Also I would have made a fantastic scullery maid.

2014-12-09 11.11.49

Culture

13 December, 2014 at 7:07 pm by belgianwaffle

We all went to see “Minuscule” as part of the French film festival and it was delightful. Highlight was small child speaking clearly and crossly in a gap between adults laughing hysterically, “C’est pas rigolo!”

Last night the Princess and I went to see Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” in the Abbey. It was our Christmas outing and while nothing will probably ever match the thrill of her first theatre outing (“Little Women” in the Gate in 2011 or so the internet says) this was pretty good. Our expectations were on the low side which is always helpful. The set was amazing and as we walked into the theatre she clutched my arm in delight at the sight of the stage. The costumes were also superb. The whole thing was played hugely for laughs and almost like a pantomime in places but really entertaining for both of us. Brilliantly done and we loved it. There were no other children in the audience that I could see which was a pity because, it was very suitable and really funny. It was her first trip to the Abbey (“our national theatre” as the portentous voice before the play told us) and it was great but she was lucky as it is not always thus. In fairness to the Abbey, since the revamp there doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house. We were in the front row and, although we were, inevitably, slightly looking up the characters skirts, visibility was really good. Tickets were as cheap as any I have had, €13 each. When you consider that it costs €11 to go to the cinema, I think this was really good value for a lovely experience. You should go, if you live in Dublin, and bring your children aged 11+.

Domestic Administration or Would You Care to Watch Some Paint Dry?

26 November, 2014 at 10:15 pm by belgianwaffle

Achieved this evening:

  • Updated excel spreadsheet and printed off childminder’s payslip.
  • Filed away bills and bank statements and notice of derisory dividend arising from unwise share purchase of many years ago.
  • Signed up to electricity supplier’s online billing on the basis that I would get €20 off my shopping.  The voucher does not appear to have materialised.  Signed up to electricity supplier’s rewards scheme.  Apparently, I will get money off my electricity bill just by shopping in my usual supermarket. On both occasions I needed to give them my name, account number, meter number, date of birth and two different passwords, lest anyone hack my account and pay my bill for me or take away my exciting rewards.
  • Tried and failed to work out what is covered as set out in my healthcare cover renewal letter and filed it away lest it become clearer at a later point.
  • Did online shopping for delivery on Friday.  Noted that I have shopped in my usual supermarket and no electricity money off voucher appeared to be forthcoming.
  • Agonised about the use of full stops in a bulleted list.
  • Realised it was NaBloPoMo and posted this.

And how was your own exciting Wednesday evening?


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