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Archive for January, 2005

Belgian Disharmony

30 January, 2005 at 2:20 pm by belgianwaffle

Have I mentioned that it is the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the Belgian state? To celebrate this, let me tell you a little anecdote which gives a flavour of life among the linguistically fractious Belgians. During the week I met my friend the orchestra director for lunch. She used to do policing in Albania but she turned to orchestra directing when work there dried up – now there’s a woman with a second string to her bow (no pun intended, she plays the French horn, since you ask).

Anyhow, her orchestra has been doing a bit of work for the conservatoire – helping them out with their conducting exams. The session is run like a real rehearsal and the student conducts, stops, offers advice and suggestions and conducts some more. The conservatoire used to use the Belgian National Orchestra for this important work but they found my friend’s orchestra more satisfactory. Picture the following scene, if you will. Nervous student conducts BNO. Pauses and makes comments on playing. Trumpeter raises his hand and asks coldly “Can you repeat that in Flemish please?” You can see why the poor students might be put off.

Sick again, eh?

30 January, 2005 at 2:04 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself has a cough. We were all up all night. She is very sorry for herself and keeps saying “poor me, poor mite, cough, cough”. She has also observed “Mummy sick, Daddy sick”. Yes, we’re all coughing. This morning while I had my shower, Mr. Waffle minded her. I came out to find him curled up in a ball on the floor beside the playpen wherein the Princess sat poking him and saying imperiously “plasticene”. We’re all tired too.Nothing daunted, the Princess and I went off to mass (“church ‘n Jesus ‘n Mary ‘n Joseph”). On our way there, we passed the synagogue. There is always a policeman with a machine gun across the road from the synagogue but today, the place was crawling with police and plain clothes types with things stuck in their ears. I asked a policewoman who was fiddling with the strap on her submachine gun what was going on. Apparently there was a special service for the 60th anniversary of the holocaust. Is it not a bit depressing that 60 years after the holocaust the Jewish community in Belgium needs half the Brussels police force out to protect them when going to the synagogue?

And while we’re on the subject, I note that the Irish President said something spectacularly stupid when speaking of the holocaust (which is not all like her). I quote from that organ of record, the Irish Examiner “Speaking on RTɒs Morning Ireland programme on Thursday, ahead of attending the Auschwitz remembrance ceremony in Poland, Mrs McAleese said “They [the Nazis] gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational and outrageous hatred, for example, of Catholics.” ”

Oh good grief. She has at least had the good sense to abjectly apologise.

poggleon 31 January 2005 at 11:46

I must add that, in my view extremely rarely for a politician, she did sound genuinely contrite.

Three cheers for the Dutch

29 January, 2005 at 11:52 am by belgianwaffle

I got this email from the Dutch mama which I found most comforting.

“Read james’ article. What a plonker! I wonder where these guys get off.
Can anyone tell me when (in history) and where (geographically I mean) children are continuously cared for at home with their parents.

In some countries and at some time periods children have worked alongside their parents, but otherwise I don’t know of any situation where children are at home with their parents all day – maybe kids on welfare. Is that what he’s seriously recommending?

Chances are Princess doesn’t mind the creche. Chances are that she’d rather be with you, but hey. Chances are the handsome Prince would rather if he didn’t have to be toilet-trained. Chances are the handsome Prince would rather not to have to eat his dinner. Chances are I’d rather stay in bed in the mornings and eat ice cream.

You know that if she spends every moment of every day with you, even if she thinks she’d like it, it would be bad for her. And no doubt staying in bed and eating ice cream would be bad for me. (though I’d be willing to give it a good try).

Your man hasn’t a notion what he’s on about.”

Am very tempted to email the text in its entirety to the Observer.


on 29 January 2005 at 13:14

Just love her.belgianwaffle

on 30 January 2005 at 14:28

Yes, Norah, Bobble, she is the bee’s knees. She spends her spare time doing her PhD, no really. And eating ice cream, it appears.jackdalton

on 30 January 2005 at 19:19

I’m all in favour of ice cream. Phd’s on the other hand can be a waste of time.

Poetry please

25 January, 2005 at 9:40 pm by belgianwaffle

In the home of Mr. Waffle’s ancestors at the weekend, I came across his school annual. They put out one every year and aside from the entertainment provided by the photos of people you know as grown-ups looking gawky and adolescent, there are also the articles written by bright boys with notions. How about this?

The Progress of the Literary Society 1984-88

The Literary Society, then just the more loosely bound “Second Year Poetry Club” was officially founded on the Ides of March 1984 by A and B. From then on, the writing of virtually anything was encouraged by the club’s presidents, the best of which – ranging from poems about rugby victories to the ominous spread of “shadowy mists” – were pinned extravagantly on the class notice board. […] our ideas were swiftly adopted, with subscriptions and pseudonyms pouring in, and subgroups such as the Anti Literary club and the Anti Anti Literary Club breeding exponentially. […] trends followed included brief flirtations with premeditative surrealism, quasi inertia, l’ecrit noir, pseudo-carnalism, Romantic perceptions of morality… [S]upport [for the club]…was too harnessed on the fickle winds of fancy to achieve any degree of constancy…

You think I’m making this up, don’t you? If you’re good, next week, I’ll give you a quote from “A Sarcophagic Sonnet” which is also reproduced in the text.


on 30 January 2005 at 14:28

I’ll need more enthusiasm from everyone before transcribing 14 verses.


on 31 January 2005 at 15:55

Oh, Sarcophagic Sonnet is a good one! Not quite a sonnet though now that I come to think of it (but I’m not one to come between a man and a good alliterative title) Please do reproduce it.
on 01 February 2005 at 15:54

Just a quote will do …. with a title like that, you have to waffley ….


on 05 February 2005 at 14:57

Oh all right then


24 January, 2005 at 4:36 pm by belgianwaffle

See his article in yesterday’s Observer. It’s all dreadfully depressing. The fact that my child roars when dropped off to the creche and has spent her weekend saying “no creche” makes me fear he may be right.Mr. Waffle has comforted me by reminding me that I’m a mother and therefore whatever I do must be wrong. Funnily enough, that hasn’t proved as comforting as you might imagine.

stroppycowon 24 January 2005 at 20:43

Wait until she is older and bitterly complains when you go and pick her up from after school club at a time she deems too early. I get a barrage of quality sulking everyday !
Mr waffle is correct. A mother’s place is in the wrong especially in the eyes of journalists.


on 25 January 2005 at 14:58

You know that the crying is for YOUR benefit. I’m sure she settles in quickly after you leave. She’ll be fine!

belgianwaffleon 25 January 2005 at 21:07

These comments, on the other hand, are very comforting…

Booker, what Booker?

21 January, 2005 at 10:59 pm by belgianwaffle

What with one thing and another, I got a lot of reading done.

“The Five People you meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom is a dreadful book. Avoid.

“Case Histories” by Kate Atkinson is very good but has far too many characters for the feeble minded. Hard to follow (is Shirley related to Michelle and who the hell is Caroline and what is Olivia to Sylvia etc.).

“Making Babies” by Anne Enright is not half as good as “Le Bébé” by Marie Darrieussecq. As you might guess, both books cover largely the same territory.

That is all.

They are always sick

21 January, 2005 at 10:46 pm by belgianwaffle

Just back from an, ehem, exotic destination where I went for work earlier this week. I had planned to blog like mad in my quiet evenings but found I couldn’t attach my laptop to the internet thingy in the wall of my hotel (no sniggering please) so my evenings were entirely blog free. I’m sure you missed me. Not as much as my poor husband though. I had no sooner set foot on the plane than herself came down with a mystery ailment which involved much unhappiness for everyone (I will spare you the details). Anyway, by the time I got home, she was entirely recovered but I don’t think he has yet and I’m pretty sure that the rug never will.

Off to Ireland for a long weekend now, so normal service will only resume next week.


16 January, 2005 at 2:32 pm by belgianwaffle

Those of you who have been concentrating will know that my sister lives in the US. Her important job involves her flying to Mexico next week, business class whereas mine involves me flying economy to a ludicrously less glamourous location, but this is just a bitter digression.

We were chatting yesterday and she told me that her (American) bridge partner and his (American) girlfriend went out for a drive last week and they stopped to take pictures of a beautiful sunset with the girlfriend’s Christmas present, a snazzy new digital camera. Silhouetted against the sunset, romantically (we have to take their word for this) was an oil refinery.  As they were going to drive off, they were stopped by the police who asked for their driving licences. They opened the window and handed them over. Then they were asked for the car keys. They handed them over and the police wandered back to their car with these items. The bridge partner was a bit distressed by this as his car has electronic windows and they were open and it is cold in the North of the US in winter, I understand. But he didn’t like to protest. And as his car windows were open he was able to hear the following dialogue:

Policeman to radio: Will we take them in for questioning at this time?

Radio: Cackle, cackle

Policeman to radio: Ok, not at this time.

The policemen returned to the car, gave them back their keys and drivers’ licences and wiped their photographs. Then they said “your details have been passed on to the Department of Homeland Security and you may be called in for questioning in relation to this incident any time over the next 12 months but you are now free to go”.

I’m only glad my sister wasn’t there, she’d probably be deported by now.

And does all this not chime rather depressingly with the extract below from December’s LRB?“The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben does not want his fingerprints taken and, unlike like most European critics of the evil empire, he has been willing to forego an academic visit to the United States in order to prevent it happening. What is at stake, he explains, is the ‘new “normal” bio-political relationship between citizens and the state’. Fingerprinting makes ‘the most private and incommunicable aspect of subjectivity .. the body’’s biological life’ part of the system of state control. […] For Agamben, fingerprinting is not just a matter of civil liberties: it is symptomatic of an alarming shift in political geography. We have moved from Athens to Auschwitz: the West’s political model is now the concentration camp rather than the city state; we are no longer citizens but detainees, distinguishable from the inmates of Guantanamo not by any difference in legal status, but only by the fact that we have not yet had the misfortune to be incarcerated – or unexpectedly executed by a missile from an unmanned aircraft  [this] political development  is not, according to Agamben, peculiar to the United States under the Bush presidency. It is part of a wider change in governance in which the rule of law is routinely displaced by the state of exception, or emergency, and people are increasingly subject to extra-judicial state violence.


on 17 January 2005 at 11:54
Comment Modified) Mr Agamben is, depressingly, absolutely right ….
See UK ID cards: The Chief Constable for the Manchester area, who is pro, said in justification of his support for the scheme something along the lines of: ” for instance, just look at this weekend when there is a street festival – I have no idea who is in the city.”
Well, forgive me for wondering why the f**k it’s his business to know where I am at any time at all?



on 19 January 2005 at 02:08

Cross my heart we aren’t all psycho freaks – just the ones in power at the moment.


on 21 January 2005 at 22:38

Pog, it’s all very depressing.
Beth, I know, especially the bloggers clearly..


on 21 January 2005 at 22:40

Bobble, kind of funny all the same about them not being able to get your digital print…

May I help you Madam?

15 January, 2005 at 11:09 am by belgianwaffle

Belgium is not a consumer paradise. The shops are closed on Sundays. They do not open late.  And I like that.  I find Sunday shopping/24 hour shopping and all these things a bit depressing.

However, I have my limits.  The Belgians do not believe in customer service and I do not like that.  The motto of the Belgian shop assistant is “the customer is never right”.  The flagship service in this regard is provided by the Innovation department stores (this service extends to their website which I cannot find using google – yes, I was going to put in a link for you, but they stymied me, they are so thorough).  All of the employees in Inno, as it has rebranded itself for hip young things, are ladies over 60.  All of them have a gimlet eyed stare.  All of them have lots to chat to their co-workers about.  They see their role as threefold 1) to depress pretentions in customers 2) to dash any hopes that customers might have that they might eventually be able to pay for goods and leave 3) to discuss the appalling decline in modern manners.

While the Inno group leads the way in customer service, other smaller outlets contribute their mite also. Consider, if you will, these two vignettes from the past week.

I went to a jeweller on the swanky Avenue Louise to get a watch repaired.  As I waited to be served the couple in front of me asked the gimlet eyed, elderly and bejewelled shop assistant whether she stocked silver bracelets.

She gave them the gimlet eye and said firmly “No, we don’t stock silver jewellery.  You will find that no high quality jewellers do.  It oxidises too easily.  Good day to you.”  They departed, quashed.

She turned to me.  I asked whether they repaired watches. “Yes” she said “but what kind of watch, it may not be worth your while paying for repairs to a cheap watch” and she snorted audibly as she looked me over.  I handed over the watch.  She looked at it in some surprise “that is a good watch, yes, I suppose it is worth repairing…”

And this from just yesterday, when Mr. Waffle went out to get a vid from our local video rental shop. The shop has this stupid rule that you must queue up to return your video; you can’t just put it in a pile or in a box or something, oh no you must hand it to a shop assistant.

Mr. Waffle witnessed the following:

Woman comes running into shop and heads to top of the queue and puts two videos on the counter. Severe assistant says to her that she must go to the back of the queue. Woman says “look I’m just returning and I’m very badly parked” and runs out of the shop while the shop assistant shouts after her “that’s it, you’re barred”. Mr. Waffle is baffled.

Mr. Waffle is still in the queue and another woman tries to return a video by leaving it on the counter. Shop assistant tells her she has to go to the back of the queue. Woman protests feebly, she’s badly parked etc. (a common complaint in Belgium). Shop assistant says ferociously “either you go to the back of the queue or I’m rescinding your membership; I’ve already expelled two people today”.  Good grief.

Friar Tuck

on 15 January 2005 at 22:46

BTW, is this what you were you looking for Inno?

Auntie M


on 16 January 2005 at 09:37

Sounds like the “customer service” in France, except that cutting the line would probably be expected and allowed if the store owner knew the person.


on 16 January 2005 at 10:56

My friend Kim would probably have said something along the lines of “now that you mention it, it is a good watch and it is used to service with a smile, I think I’ll take it to a higher quality jellewer where the staff don’t feel they have to belittle the customer”.
on 16 January 2005 at 13:39

FT, quite, can’t get anything when I try to click on your link – further proof, if proof were needed of the nature of Inno.
Hi Annie, sounds fab…
Stroppy, your friend Kim sounds VERY brave, most impressed.

Friar Tuck

on 16 January 2005 at 22:05

Actually, there was a problem with my html. I’m better with a quill pen and inkpot, you know. The URL was www.inno.be. Worked for me, but maybe they’ve designed it to work only for people who do not actually live near one of their stores.


on 17 January 2005 at 11:51

I think you should save stroppy’s comment for future use …..


on 21 January 2005 at 22:39

FT, I would check, but I know it would disappear on me.
Pog, yes, it’s good that, isn’t it?

Early photo

13 January, 2005 at 9:21 pm by belgianwaffle

The tasteful layout provided by twentysix doesn’t draw attention to new photos quite as vigorously as Mr. Waffle would like – no flashing lights, no rotating 3D letters. So here’s a tasteful pointer: there is a new photo over there.



on 14 January 2005 at 11:50

Now, as her mother, I am sure you think Princess is utterly gorgeous…
well you’re right: she is.  


on 15 January 2005 at 00:10

What a doll! 


on 15 January 2005 at 10:54

Jack, under where it says new photos. Are you back or just visiting?
Cookie, you are a kind cookie.
Beth, thank you!  


on 15 January 2005 at 18:01

I knew that!!! It was a joke, see? Just visiting – life is gone mad 🙂
And just visiting Jardin Botanique et environ too, as it happens…. 


on 17 January 2005 at 11:52

Purty ….  


on 21 January 2005 at 22:39

Thank you, your pogness.


13 January, 2005 at 9:01 pm by belgianwaffle

Wow, this working business can wear you out.  Not the actual working bit which is delightful (please note that honeymoon phase continues unabated) but the getting there and getting home and the dropping off at the creche (NOOO, MAMA, nooo, waah, waah) and the picking up (humph, Mama eh?) and the putting to bed and the collapsing afterwards. I am away from Monday to Thursday next week and poor Mr. Waffle will have to do it all on his own. Oh dear.

But to cheerier matters. The Princess’s assault on language is gathering force. She now speaks in complete sentences, but her syntax is horribly mangled. “Princess, the piano, play?” “Princess, the toast!” “All gone, the yoghurt”, “Hop hop all fall down”. I blame her father.  And the French. He says that her sentence structure is Latin. It’s difficult to know who to blame for that.

Friar Tuck

on 13 January 2005 at 23:23

I’m with Norah. All evidence points to Princess being related to Yoda, the Jedi Knight.


on 14 January 2005 at 13:13

Farque …. a polyglot, she is.
And I blame the Pope. But then, I blame him for quite a lot.


on 15 January 2005 at 10:53

Aah, I knew I’d heard this language before somewhere, Norah, you’re a genius. FT, you have spotted Norah’s genius. Pog, don’t we all? You should talk to FT about his views on this matter…

Friar Tuck

on 15 January 2005 at 18:28

What makes you think that my views on that matter are very different from Pog’s?
Besides, I think the Vatican may have bugged my Internet connection. I’ve got to be careful what I say.


on 16 January 2005 at 13:36

FT, that’s what I meant..


on 17 January 2005 at 11:30

See? The Pope is a bugger. I knew it.


on 21 January 2005 at 22:38

Har di har pog.


10 January, 2005 at 9:09 pm by belgianwaffle

I got an email from my friend C saying how nice it was to see me over Christmas etc (she’s very polite, I like that in a friend) and she added, tactfully, that I looked very well and, as I never change, I must have a picture in the attic although it’s a pity I hadn’t put it up in my early 20s rather than my early 30s. I am still mulling on the full import of this.

Meanwhile, a colleague of Mr. Waffle’s whom I met at this party yesterday said to him “I had no idea that your wife was so much younger than you”.  “She’s not” he said shortly.  Ha.



on 11 January 2005 at 02:12

Picture in the attic? Ok, you lost me again.

Friar Tuck

on 11 January 2005 at 05:39

But everyone knows that men become more fascinating as they age, while women become, well, older. Take me, for instance.
So maybe less smugness is in order, hmm?

Friar Tuck

on 11 January 2005 at 05:46

Beth, it’s a reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray



on 11 January 2005 at 15:40

Isn’t that fun?! All my husbands students think he ‘robbed the cradle.’ They’re surprised when they find out I’m only 9 months younger than he is!


on 11 January 2005 at 22:59

I can’t believe he denied it.


on 11 January 2005 at 23:05

Hm. Yes. Mixed messages. Either way, it sounds like you look good, so I don’t think there’s cause for worry…. 🙂


on 12 January 2005 at 18:07

Thanks Bobble.
Beth, I am honoured to have a BOB finalist comment. Have been working my little fingers to bone voting for you. FT, is correct re attic pic.
FT,less smugness from whom?
Well, Kathy, mine is a year younger than me, so even better. Ha ha.
Ahem, yes Stroppy, I know.
Mike, you are kind and good.

No flirting for me

9 January, 2005 at 9:10 pm by belgianwaffle

This afternoon we went to a party hosted by a Dutch-Italian couple who were in college with Mr. Waffle. It was full to the brim with kiddies and we had a lovely time (imagine, there was a time when I believed that this would never be possible). It’s the kind of party your parents used to bring you to when you were little.  It features a large dead pig which the host imports annually from Italy in a special case designed for this purpose. It’s all very thrilling.

However, I had two conversations with Italian men which confirmed my worst fears:

Conversation 1

Me:  Hi, I shook hands with you at mass the other week and I don’t think you recognised me.

Him: Ah, it was you, no, I didn’t but now of course I know you are ….(very long pause) oh yes, you are, (rummages about in the back of brain)…um..

Finally to the enormous relief of both of us, he produces my name.

Conversation 2

Me:  Hello Marco, how are you?

Him: (slightly nervous smile, big kiss on each cheek) how wonderful to see you, it’s been ages.

Me: You don’t remember my name.

Him: (smiling winningly) But I remember YOU.

Me: But my name?

Him: (nervously) But I remember your status.

Me: I beg your pardon? You mean you know my husband?

Him: (winning smile again) Exactly, you are married to Mr. Waffle, no?

I tell you, there was a time in my life when Italian men used to remember me. I’m feeling my age here.

Friar Tuck

on 09 January 2005 at 23:41

And another thing… You’re married, have a small child and wonder why Italian men have stopped paying attention to you?! You didn’t learn much about Italian men, with all due respect.


on 10 January 2005 at 00:29

Italian men – my mother warned me about them. She still wanted me to marry one however…Alas, my countrymen are too short for me. And like Porchetta too much.


on 10 January 2005 at 01:41

If that’s your worst fear, ‘waf, you’re doing ok 🙂



on 10 January 2005 at 19:49

I wish I could say that…”there was a time when Italian men remembered me.” I just have to be happy that MY man remembers me! LOL


on 10 January 2005 at 21:04

FT, funny. Bobble, you are tall? Lucky, lucky you. JD, hello, where have you been? Kathy, well, all you had to do was spend some time in Italy in your late teens or early 20s, I wouldn’t get carried away here, but ta..


on 10 January 2005 at 22:11

Sadly not – I am average height 1.66cm – but my male friends from Rome and southwards were invariably the same height as me. Damn.


on 11 January 2005 at 22:57

I thought it was *bad* when Italian men remember you? As in “oh yess, I remembera you, darling, hehehe”, “Oh godddd”, etc.


on 12 January 2005 at 18:08

Mike, well, I guess it depends.
Well, you’re taller than me Bobble, I am a miserable 164.

Retail Therapy

9 January, 2005 at 4:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle sent me off to the sales yesterday to disport myself amid winter bargains. I returned home with one item only.  And it wasn’t even reduced to clear. Yes indeed, I am the proud owner of the last potty in Mothercare.  Oh thus are the mighty humbled, I can tell you.

Friar Tuck

on 09 January 2005 at 19:49

Content yourself with the thought of what a nice gift it will make for Chicago sis one day. Besides, a little humility never hurt anyone.


on 09 January 2005 at 21:01

Stroppy, you’re scaring me. When exactly will shopping for potties start to be retail therapy?
FT, humility, what’s that, what’s it for?

Friar Tuck

on 09 January 2005 at 23:32

You’ve confirmed my worst fears. I’d better get the candles and holy water.


7 January, 2005 at 12:43 pm by belgianwaffle

My new year’s resolutions (with apologies to Heather):

1. I will give up swearing. After serious consideration, I have decided to eliminate darn and damn as well as other heavyweight expressions.  Mr. Waffle queries what I will use instead. I said with dignity that “how unfortunate” should meet my needs. “Oh” he said “as in, ‘move your stupid, how unfortunate car out of my way, you how unfortunate moron'”.  Ok, my technique may need some refinement.  Today is January 7 and you are correct in your assumption that my record to date has not been 100%, however, the Princess is endeavouring to keep me on the straight and narrow by repeating incessantly anything I say in a moment of crisis.

2. I will establish a book club.  No really.  Yes, of course you can join, I’ll be desperate for people.

The London Review of Books

Has gone mad.  All this week’s personals are in German.  Funny though.

Illegal Activity

I ignored the signal of a traffic policeman.  Not deliberately.  I didn’t see him.  That’s what I said in my defence before Christmas.  They didn’t buy it (but it was true, I swear – is this swearing?) and a fine for, wait for it, 310 euro was awaiting me on my return.  And my new employer still hasn’t paid me so it’s just as well I’m at home sick really and can’t get out to spend money.


The Princess is obsessed with colours.  But she has no understanding of what they might be.  She will hold up a yellow jumper and say “pink”. No, we will tell her, it’s yellow.  She will digest this and hold up a  pink jumper and say “red”.  And so on.  And she is obsessed. She keeps asking “colour?”. We are quite keen to let the matter drop because, frankly, it’s only depressing all of us, but she won’t let it go. I suppose that she will get the hang of it eventually.

The Economist

Has decided to have a seasonal joke. See below the entire text from a pre-Christmas article. Title is from Jonathan Swift who suggested in a savagely satirical article of this title that the Irish should eat their babies to keep themselves fed (am I not clever to know this?).  But the thing is, I’m not sure that what worked for Dr. Swift really works for the Economist.  I know that they are laughing at themselves and everything, but it really does sound like the kind of thing they would suggest.  Skip down to the bit under “make mine a monoglot” for details of the modest proposal.

A modest proposal

Dec 16th 2004
From The Economist print edition

How to solve the biggest issue in modern politics

FORGET Iraq and budget deficits. The most serious political problem on both sides of the Atlantic is none of these. It is a difficulty that has dogged the ruling classes for millennia. It is the servant problem.

In Britain David Blunkett, the home secretary, has resigned over an embarrassment (or one of many embarrassments, in a story involving his ex-girlfriend, her husband, two pregnancies and some DNA) concerning a visa for a Filipina nanny employed by his mistress (see article). His office speeded it through for reasons unconnected to the national shortage of unskilled labour. Mr Blunkett resigned ahead of a report by Sir Alan Budd, an economist who is investigating the matter at the government’s request.

In America Bernard Kerik, the president’s nominee for the Department of Homeland Security, withdrew last week because he had carelessly employed a Mexican nanny whose Play-Doh skills were in better order than her paperwork (see article). Mr Kerik also remembered that he hadn’t paid her taxes. The nominee has one or two other “issues” (an arrest warrant in 1998, and allegations of dodgy business dealings and extra-marital affairs). But employing an illegal nanny would probably have been enough to undo him, as it has several other cabinet and judicial appointees in recent years.

There is an easy answer to the servant problem—obvious to economists, if not to the less clear-sighted. Perhaps Sir Alan, a dismal scientist of impeccable rationality, will be thoughtful enough to point it out in his report.

Parents are not the only people who have difficulty getting visas for workers. All employers face restrictive immigration policies which raise labour costs. Some may respond by trying to fiddle the immigration system, but most deal with the matter by exporting jobs. In the age of the global economy, the solution to the servant problem is simple: rather than importing the nanny, offshore the children.

Make mine a monoglot

Many working parents would hardly notice the difference, and there would be clear advantages beyond lower child-care costs. Freeing up rich-country real estate currently clogged with cots and playpens would lower rents; liberating time currently wasted in story-telling and tummy-tickling would raise productivity. For parents who wished to be present at bed-time, video-conference facilities could be arranged.

Luddites and sentimentalists will whinge about the disadvantages of raising a brood in, say, Beijing. Language, for instance: what if one found oneself in possession of a posse of mini-Mandarin speakers? Yet in the age of global culture, few sensible modern parents are susceptible to such small-mindedness. If they were, they wouldn’t so commonly leave their offspring in the care of monoglot Mexicans or Poles.

Unthinking conservatism may spawn resistance to this eminently sensible idea. But politicians, the people most often embarrassed by the servant problem, should be keen to popularise it—not just for themselves, but also in the national interest. Offshoring could help solve several problems afflicting rich-world economies, including that of ageing populations: after all, you get more bairns for your buck in Bangalore. And why stop at toddlers? Difficult teenagers, the offspring most liable to vex political parents, could be conveniently removed: imagine how much easier George Bush’s life would have been had his twins been confined to, say, Pyongyang.�


on 08 January 2005 at 13:27

Mildly funny, FT, thanks for the welcome back, hope Christmas was sunny in the US. Will begin work on St. Anthony shortly and revert.


6 January, 2005 at 9:41 pm by belgianwaffle

the 2 best wise men poems on Romy’s site and I thought it would be nice to have a link for the day that’s in it. You will be pleased to know that my little daughter, showing consistency in all her dealings, took the wise men out of the crib and trying to wrest their tiny parcels from them said “Princess, present? OPEN”.


on 07 January 2005 at 11:43

aw bless ….


on 07 January 2005 at 12:13

Bobble, can’t help feeling that the Princess would really appreciate that. She is distinctly glum that no further presents are forthcoming. Thank you Madam Pog.


on 07 January 2005 at 12:43

La Befana brings stones or coal if you have been bad – which I am sure the Princess hasn’t.


on 07 January 2005 at 12:53

Coal? Excellent, a win for everyone. Filth for the Princess and home heating for us.


on 07 January 2005 at 16:06

She is an equal opportunities giver and no mistake. I much prefer the thought of a witch on a broomstick bringing gifts than Santa.However, Northern Italian mites expect presents from both of them though these days – my Mum would of hit us with the broom if we’d had told her that.


on 07 January 2005 at 21:42

Bobble, agree the broomstick is excellent. Approve also of your mother’s no nonsense action with broom.


6 January, 2005 at 5:31 pm by belgianwaffle

Well, we’re all sick now. Mr. Waffle is snuffling with the rest of us. It’s pathetic. Let us relive the Christmas idyll for a comforting warming glow.

17 December saw us heading for home. Our departure from Brussels coincided with heavy rain and the conclusion of what we locals call the “Eurotop”. This involves 25 heads of state having their own escort to the airport with outriders and a large part of town being sealed off from the common populace with portable barbed wire (a Belgian speciality).  These people are always wittering on about “bringing Europe closer to the citizen” but I have to tell you, they certainly don’t mean any citizens who might be near them.  So with the rain and the Eurotop, the traffic was murder and we only got to the airport just in time and the taxi ride cost 70 euros which is about twice the normal amount.  A certain amount of unhappiness was felt.

However, once safely back in Ireland all was very rosy. The Princess was delighted to be reunited with her royal grandparents and practised her new enlarged vocabulary on them (“Present for Princess?”). Our Christmas bash with Gaza M and Bosnia R in their house passed off splendidly. We caught up with loads of people including a couple we used to know in Brussels.  He is Irish and she is French and they have a small baby. For the first time, she is spending Christmas away from Brittany. His family have decided to make the experience unforgettable for her by, in the case of his brother, decamping to New Zealand, in the case of his sister, remaining in distant Sligo and in the case of his mother, leaving for California but not before giving them a large goose for Christmas dinner. Ms. Bretagne regarded the goose with great dubiety and pointed out that as there were only going to be four people for Christmas dinner, one of whom was not yet on solids, it was perhaps a little large. Let us hope that all passed off well, but I feel that even as I write, goose still forms a large part of the family diet.

We met a good friend of Mr. Waffle’s who is just about to start work as Professor of Very Hard Law in an English University. She announced that she had just developed a terrible addiction, she had read her first Georgette Heyer and was hooked. The fabulousness of that. She and I spent a comfortable 45 minutes talking about the queen of the regency romance (and I am NOT talking Barbara Cartland here, so stop smirking) while Mr. Waffle looked on in dazed awe.

And Mr. Waffle’s father and particularly his mother babysat like troopers despite the later’s broken wrist.  She took the Princess round to the neighbours.  Her highness treated retired judges and famous authors’ parents (such are the kind of neighbours you get in south County Dublin) with the same loving attention as she did her grandparents, rushing into their houses and saying “Present for Princess? OPEN!” So successful was the babysitting that Mr. Waffle’s father got carried away and offered to babysit overnight.  I thanked him but said no because she still wakes up during the night. He said not to worry about that because although he is a very sound sleeper himself, Mr. Waffle’s mother would certainly be able to get up.  Hmm.

Then on to Cork where the Princess was greeted by another set of devoted slaves and the Princess’s parents by a digital camera.  Yay. More babysitting.  More gallivanting.  Down to the sea to inspect the heart surgeon’s new house.   Lucky old heart surgeon.  But she is sick as a dog, poor thing. Being pregnant doesn’t entirely agree with her.  Nevertheless, lovely view below:

Delighted to see my Chicago sister for the first time in a year.  She looked very glam.  Told her so.  What, I asked, is the secret of your glamness? Wow, that girl’s routine is a killer. She asked me when I had last set my eyebrows. Eh? Apparently it only takes 5 minutes but doesn’t she realise that this time could be spent sleeping? I feel combining glamour and motherhood could be a challenge. Anyway she snuck her way into the Princess’s affections by holding her upside down whenever she saw her and the Princess is now obsessed with her Cork aunty.  When we left Cork, I explained that her aunty was going back to America on an aeroplane.  The next day when we flew back to Brussels, she paced the corridor of the plane looking for her aunty and doubtless spreading disease.

Look, I know this is dull, but having a good time makes for dull material.  Let me tell you about 3 o’clock this morning when Mr. Waffle was trying to sing the Princess back to sleep with a number called “savez-vous planter les choux?”.  The trick is that you must try to plant the cabbage with a different part of the body at every verse (that’s the French for you, don’t blame me). It took her a long time to get to sleep.  This morning I said to my loving husband “what a dreadful night”.  “Humph” he said “at least you weren’t planting cabbages with your ears at 3.30 this morning”.  I suppose we must take comfort where we can.


on 07 January 2005 at 12:11

And you Americans rule the world? My God what would you be able to do if you had portable barbed wire as well? GASP.


on 07 January 2005 at 12:49

*mind boggles* Good stuff there W.


on 07 January 2005 at 21:43

Bobble, you are kind.

Illness again

5 January, 2005 at 2:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Sick as dogs.  Me and the Princess.  We returned from Ireland on Monday (more details to follow when I am in the whole of my health) with rotten colds – and what a fun trip that was.  Today we both got dressed which was a big improvement on yesterday.  On Monday night I said to my loving husband “isn’t it great that I’m sick too, that way I can stay home and mind her”. Please don’t point out the obvious flaw in this reasoning.  I’ve spotted it myself since.  Pending our return to good health and more entries, I attach a copy of the Christmas greeting sent by the Glam Potter which is so fab that everyone deserves to see it.


on 05 January 2005 at 14:37

*passes large box of hankies*


on 05 January 2005 at 19:55

one sick husband is worse than 2 sick kids!



on 05 January 2005 at 21:11

Well ok, sorry you are sick and all, but a teensy little bit of me feels maybe you deserve it as the price you pay for all the vacation you have. I know, I’m just jealous.
on 06 January 2005 at 09:49

lovely to see you back – guten besserung….or something like that


on 06 January 2005 at 15:21

Bobble,pog, Hjb, thanks for the sympathy. Princess FT, I will be able to investigate this theory as Mr. Waffle has now joined us in snuffling misery. Beth, you’re right, you are just jealous, though I have an inkling how you feel, I got a Christmas round robbin thingy from a Scottish friend who’s married to a Frenchman and living in Paris saying that they would never move away until the rest of the world gave ten weeks paid holidays a year. Wantonly provocative.

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