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The oddness of Belgium

25 February, 2007 at 11:36 pm by belgianwaffle

On the way to school the other morning, the Princess and I saw four fire engines screaming their way to a warehouse near us.  They disgorged about 20 firemen who were suited up with masks and packs on their backs.  They leapt from the fire engines and sprinted into the warehouse.  This urgency was somewhat undermined by each of the firemen in turn pausing at the threshold of the building to shake hands with the site foreman before running on to the smoke filled interior.  Do you know that in their workplaces, Belgians kiss their colleagues at the start of the day?  Fancy moving to Belgium, land of old fashioned courtesy in work places.  Unless the work place is a department store in which case, the staff are paid extra to ignore you.

Recent culinary disasters or this is all very dull stuff but why should I suffer alone?

19 February, 2007 at 11:24 pm by belgianwaffle

A while ago, I had some cold cauliflower which I decided to use up by turning into cauliflower cheese. I was undaunted by two significant facts which in retrospect should have daunted me: Mr. Waffle and the Princess do not like cauliflower cheese and I had never made it before. I turned to Mr. Conran for help (one of the many cookery books Mr. Waffle brought to our marriage). The quantities were for a head of cauliflower and it all seemed surprisingly complex. This is where I made my first mistake. I decided I couldn’t be dividing everything by four so I cooked the rest of the cauliflower. Then, Mr. Conran’s recipe had tricky bits in it like “make a mornay sauce” but add extra butter. So with a greasy thumb, I flicked between the cauliflower cheese and the mornay sauce recipe. And then it transpired that the mornay sauce recipe was a variant of another recipe on a different page; you know the kind of thing “as x sauce but with ingredient a instead of b and five times more c”. So I created a lifetime’s supply of cheese sauce using recipes from three different pages of the book. It tasted quite nice too but that didn’t encourage the Princess or Mr. Waffle to indulge and a head of cauliflower cheese lies waiting in small packets in the freezer to be fed to my sons over the rest of their lives until they leave home when they will be taking the remainder with them to university.

Regular readers will, I am sure, recall that I bought wild boar in the supermarket months ago. Last week, I decided to cook it. I used Mr. Waffle’s “La cuisine pour tous” which is a terse French cookbook originally published in 1932. It assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader. None of your sissy modern day explanations for Ms. Mathiot although she does give excellent instructions on how to manage the hired help and how to lay a family dinner table. The recipe for the marinade gave quantities for some of the ingredients in dl. I was not sure how much a dl was and neither was Mr. Waffle and none of our cookbooks gave instructions on this point and we were too lazy to turn on the computer (foolish, foolish people). We decided how much a dl was (by looking into our hearts and comparing the results) and using the handy calpol measuring spoon we carefully spooned in what we believed to be the correct quantity of vinegar. The beast was marinaded and on Friday night served up to my misfortunate family. Actually, the boar itself wasn’t too bad. A bit gamey but not tough. Regrettably the sauce didn’t taste of cloves or peppers or sherry or red wine (3/4 of a litre) or anything really, other than vinegar. I am reassessing our guess on dl quantities. Mr. Waffle and I gamely (ha, ha) ate some but the Princess, very sensibly, refused to have any truck with it. However, later in the evening on our way to the cinema, Mr. Waffle turned to me and said “I’m not quite sure how to put this but, do you think we could stop for a toasted sandwich?”. Who was I to quibble. And to round off the evening, the film was quite, quite dreadful. May I recommend that you avoid Code 46? Having seen Samantha Morton in this, Minority Report and Morvern Callar, I have decided that I have suffered enough and I am going to foreswear any film in which she features in future. Happy Feet, anyone?

And finally, in other news, the royal grandparents are in situ for the week, minding the Princess for mid-term. They are not yet exhausted from their labours but we aim to send them back to Dublin shrivelled husks. Mind you, the Princess refused to go out with them this morning because she wanted to stay home admiring herself in her Snow White carnival outfit. They took Michael out instead (Daniel was napping) and he nearly expired from happiness at having two grown-ups all to himself. She did let them take her out this afternoon though. I am sorry, obviously, that I didn’t mention to her grandparents that she has got into the habit of putting on as many underpants as she can at a time. Not as sorry though as her grandmother who had to take her to the toilet in the local cafe and help her out of 14 pairs of underpants.

Poetry by numbers

16 February, 2007 at 2:05 pm by belgianwaffle

I am from an island. I am from changing skies. I am from sunshine with scattered showers. I am from empty beaches and umbrellas. I am from damp and mildew. I am from sunburn and blisters on the ‘one hot day of the Summer’. I am from north channel and south channel. I am from hot presses, immersion switches and occasional cold baths. I am from green grass and yellow gorse. I am from the Lough and the Cuban House and the Western Road and the dairy farm.

I am from Barry’s Tea and Hadji Bey’s turkish delight. I am from home grown potatoes and poached eggs. I am from meat and two vegetables. I am from illicit oranges. I am from creme caramel and smoked salmon and chips. I am from Taytos and swizzle sticks.

I am from fancy dress, choirs, ballet classes, elocution and amateur dramatics. I am from school outings to the park. I am from apple trees. I am from swings. I am from headless daffodils. I am from tree bark rubbings. I am from paddling pools and garden hoses. I am from tennis and back garden football and frantic outdoor table tennis. I am from clubs in the attic, chasing in the hall and hide outs under the steps. I am from dust motes dancing in sunlight. I am from big rooms, long corridors, empty landings and 5 flights of stairs.

I am from books. I am from John D. McDonald and Father Brown. I am from Georgette Heyer and Nero Wolfe. I am from Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. I am from Hilaire Belloc and Samuel Pepys. I am from Pickwick Papers and the Diary of a Country Parson. I am from Neville Shute and Isaac Asimov. I am from Pushkin and Gogol. I am from P.G Wodehouse and Gibbon.

I am from fervent catholicism. I am from First Communions and Mass and Confirmations. I am from crowded churches with speakers outside. I am from Palatines and Puritans. I am from moving statues. I am from closing down factories, strikes and jobless growth. I am from oil crises and government crises. I am from emigration and unemployment.

I am from leg warmers and Adidas Roms. I am from gaberdeens and blazers, knee socks and hitched up school skirts. I am from wet hair and wet wool. I am from cycling to school and a three penny bus fare. I am from bunsen burners, language labs, nuns and all weather hockey pitches.

I am from drugs and reactions. I am from brilliance and indolence. I am from procrastination and kindness. I am from eloquence and silence. I am from long fingers and dark under eye shadows. I am from crankiness and patience. I am from love, helpless laughter and forgetfulness.

From Charlotte who did a much better job.

What are you from?

Fanning the flames of ancient hatreds etc.

12 February, 2007 at 9:56 pm by belgianwaffle

There is a ditty that is familiar to me from my youth, the chorus of which goes as follows:

Some say the Devil is dead
Devil is dead
Devil is dead
Some say the Devil is dead
And buried in Killarney.
More say he rose again
More say he rose again
More say he rose again
And joined the British Army.

I have refrained from teaching this song to my daughter as I have a charming colleague whose father is in the British army and he sounds delightful too and, anyway, doesn’t everyone love the British army now?

It was therefore with some surprise that I heard the Princess intoning as we went around the supermarket last weekend:

Some say the Devil is dead
Devil is dead
Devil is dead
Some say the Devil is dead
And buried in Clarissa.
I say he rose again
I say he rose again
I say he rose again
And joined the British Army.

“Where did you hear that song”, I asked. “Aunty Helen taught it to me on the telephone” she replied proudly.

To summarise

12 February, 2007 at 12:42 am by belgianwaffle

Daniel has been vomitting on and off all week.  On our worst night we got to change his bedclothes three times.  We went into town yesterday (we are your worst nightmare, a double buggy, two parents and a three year old and, yeah, we probably could have gone in during the week) and took ourselves to the Metropole to revive our flagging spirits – I recommend it, it has the cleanest toilets in Brussels.  So, as we sat in splendour here it was inevitable, really, that Daniel would throw up all over the rug.  With admirable calm, we stripped him down to his nappy (which he then insisted on removing but it was hastily restored) reclad him, apologised to the waiter and took ourselves and our kit to the adjoining table.  On the good news front for Daniel, he has started to walk, though, understandably, not very steadily or very fast.  This is unfortunate for him.  Michael has gathered that there is praise to be had for walking so he either out runs Daniel into waiting parental arms or, as Daniel is balancing delicately having just stood up with great effort, Michael barges past him and knocks him over.  It is not easy being a twin.

Daniel and the Princess are cautious children.  I know that this is unusual and I am grateful.  Michael is not cautious, I suppose that this is normal.  It is scaring the bejaysus out of me.  Yesterday I found him trying to surf on the coffee table.  Earlier in the day I heard a tap tap noise and I sent the Princess to investigate “it’s just Michael standing on the chair and rocking back and forth”.  When I sit him on the counter in the kitchen, he is dangling off it by his fingertips in moments.  His sister has sat on that countertop for over three years and when she wants to get down, she still asks me to lift her.   I let him sit at the computer keyboard. He used this opportunity to climb up on the desk and on to the bookshelves.  I’m a shadow of my former self.  On Friday he went to the creche on his own because Daniel was vomitting.  Mr. Waffle stayed home with Daniel and I took Michael in.  He was a bit clingy at first but was lured away from me by a pink buggy and when I went he had barely a backward glance for me as he wheeled his treasure round the premises.  When I collected him he had spent 7 hours in the creche, the longest period he and Daniel have ever spent apart.  I asked how it had gone.  Absolutely fine except when he woke up from his nap and looked around for Daniel.  I have to say, Michael was pleased to see me, but then he always is, in the gratifying manner of young children.  He ran around the room picking up little things for me and handing them over saying solemly “ank u” a noise I believe to be thank you.  Daniel, safely at home with his father, didn’t seem to have noticed Michael’s absence at all.  Perhaps he was doing some work on his walking.

They’re both starting to talk more.  I encourage them to kiss each other and when they do we all clap hands and say “Bravo”.  The other day, I was distracted and Daniel kissed Michael and I failed to react.  “BWABO!” said Daniel indignantly clapping his hands.  He can still say “that” and “the bath”.  They can both say “Hi” as well as “Mama”, “Papa” and “bye”.  It’s maybe not enough to get by in a foreign country but they’re getting there.

An old friend of mine came to visit at the weekend.  He came with a friend of his whom I know slightly.  His friend asked whether I was working with 3 small children.  “Yes” I said proudly. “So am I” added Mr. Waffle indignantly.  I think we have a mountain to climb on this feminism thing.  My friend is gay and so is his friend though they are not partners.  I don’t know why but the Princess was inspired to investigate the whole issue of gay marriage during their visit.

Her: Mummy, can men get married?

Me: Yes.

Her: To each other?

Me: Yes, certainly in Belgium.

Her: Are T and N married.

Me: Um, no, I don’t think so.

T and N: NO!

T (kindly): And if we were, you would certainly have made the cut for the wedding.

The Princess would like to be a flower girl.

She also wants to know who made God.  Any tips?

Grandparents

7 February, 2007 at 7:04 pm by belgianwaffle

I was really interested in what people said about their grandparents, so I took their comments out of the comments bit and put them in here.  The past really is another country.   If anyone has more stories, I would really love to hear them.
undercovercookie Says:
My grandmother (Gladys) met my grandfather (Dick) when he ran errands as an office boy and she was an office junior. She liked him because he was cheeky. She made friends with his sister (Bet) and when she was orphaned (in her mid teens) Bet’s family took her in to live with them.

Dick and Gladys used to go cycling together before they were married. We still have old black and white pictures of them out cycling.

Funny how that echoes Landlord and me. I moved under his roof due to life crcumstances, we also eventually became a couple and we also cycle around the countryside together.

angelfeet Says:
I shouldn’t really exist, as my maternal Nana was run over by a horse-and-cart in her twenties and was told she would never have children, She didn’t go overboard in reproducing compared to some of her generation, but she did have 2 children in the end.

How she came to have the accident in the first place I’m not sure. It obviously didn’t hinder her agility to sprint up the road in terror to the shelter when the air-raid sirens went, leaving my mother, who was 13ish at the time, to scoop up her 7 year-old brother and try and catch up with her. Eventually neighbours recognised the pattern and leant a hand in getting them all safely to the shelter.

ollka Says:
My father’s parents met in the USSR. Grandpa was an assistant at the Marxism Studies department and met my grandma when she came to their library to pick up some books for a report. He helped her choose the books, and then helped her again when she showed up again, and then one day said he would pick out the books for her only if she let him deliver them to her home. And she needed those books so badly that she agreed. Then there was some dumping of other young men and women and they got married:)

Katherine Says
My grandfather was a jesuit from Spain of italian heritage. He moved to the Dominican Republic to do some work as a Jesuit and met my grandmother who was born in St. Barts and had gone to the Dominican Republic to study medicine. She was 23, he was 31. He left the Jesuits and started chasing my grandma. She finally gave in and they had 7 children, among them my father. They had to fight lots of people who did not understand them. It was an interracial couple at the time where it was not the norm. Anyway, my maternal grandparents met through work. My grandfather was an amzing painter and my grandma taught languages. They met at the university both were of french background.

Jando Says

My paternal grandparents met at Oxford. In those days, (1930s) men and women weren’t allowed to go out with each other unescorted and my Nana and Grandpa met because they were chaperones to their two friends. My Nana died in 2001 and my Grandpa in 2003. At my Grandpa’s funeral I met the woman whom my Nana was chaperoning in Oxford – she had married her date who had died in the late 90s and the four of them had remained friends for all those years. If it wasn’t for her, my grandparents may not have met and I might not be here – I did feel terribly sad for her to be the remaining one of the four left.

I’m not sure how my maternal grandparents met – I know they were part of Harrogate high society and there was a 20 year age-gap between them. When my mother was born, her father was already 60. I never knew my maternal grandmother – she died before my parents married in 1966 and my maternal grandfather died in 1974 so I only have very hazy memories of him, it is weird to think he was born in 1885 though. I will ask my aunts how they met – thanks for the question, Waffle. Jando (aka Li’l o).

pog Says:
Never met any of mine. My mother’s mother was Dutch – and died when Mum was only 12, leaving her to bring up several younger siblings. Her Dad was from County Mayo and, apparently, was a mean old bugger who brought in a succession of ‘aunties’ over the years. Dad’s side – no idea. His ‘mother’ turned out to be his grandma, the woman he’s been calling auntie all his life up to the age of 20 was his Mum, and we have no idea who his Dad was (hence the above arrangements). I don’t think he ever forgave them for lying to him all that time. I certainly never met his Mum.
It’s lovely to see my niece and nephews with their grandparents, though.

geepeemum Says:
I never knew my paternal grendparents as my grandfather died when my father was very young. his mother developed a psychotic depression adn was institutionalised for a year (my father lived with his much older sister) before they discovered that sdhe actually had a brain tumour. It was removed and she came home but she was left with fits. one time she apparently burned all the flesh off her arm whilst ironing and had a fit. When my dad started dating my mum he invited her home but forgot to mention any of this – he left her alone with his mother who had a huge fit, completely terrifying my mother who had no idea this was a daily occurrence. His mother died before they got married. He had 2 older sisters and a younger sister who was adopted out by an aunty due to his mother’s indisposition. He’s never met her since or heard from her.

My maternal grandfather grew up as the son of off-licence owners in South Wales. My maternal grandmother was the daughter of a coalmining union leader ( she’s now the biggest Tory ever!) and left home at 15 to become a nanny for the local GP. She said she told him off for being cruel when he called his childre Suzanne and Benjamin as they were such awful names – 40 years later 2 of her 15 grandchildren were called by these names! They met just before the war and got married the year after war broke out. My grandfather was a bomber and survived the war. they had 5 children and moved to England where my grandfather was some sort of manager in a London company. He died in 1993 aged 75. my grandmother is 86 now and currently in Australia meeting her newest great-grandchild (2 months old).

And finally, Lesley offers the following rather depressing statistic:

“The chances are that only one out of your 8 great-grandchildren will remember your name”.

Gargle

5 February, 2007 at 11:45 pm by belgianwaffle

About once a year I suffer from dreadful sore throats. I wrote about the last one here. It wasn’t as bad this year as only one side of my neck swelled up like a puffer fish and swallowing was a little easier but it lasted 9 agonising days. I blame the fact that by the time I was old enough to get my tonsils out the operation had fallen out of favour with the medical fraternity.

It seems that in recent times, I get my spectacular sore throat when my parents-in-law are there to witness my agony. I think I have often said that I am very fond of my mother-in-law and one particularly appealing aspect of her personality is that she never gives advice. Even when you ask for advice, she is cautious about giving it. There is little so delightful to the parents of young children. She’s a psychologist; she knows it’s much better if we work it out for ourselves.  However, in relation to my sore throat she threw her usual caution to the wind and suggested that I gargle with Disprin. I looked at her with deep disapproval. If she had any idea about the razor blades being strung and twanged across my throat she would not be suggesting gargling. I remembered that she had done this the previous year as well and had even gone so far as to send my father-in-law to a pharmacie de garde (special open on Sunday pharmacy) to pick some up for me. I responded politely and vaguely, clutching my neck protectively.

On Friday afternoon, I discovered, to my horror, that I was out of paracetemol.  Not to worry, there at the bottom of the medicine box was the previous year’s packet of disprin, still pristine in its packaging.  Watched by a deeply amused Princess, I decided I might as well give the gargling a go.  The pain, the agony, the indignity. I hopped around the place yelping (quietly – no voice).  I am not sick much and have never, mercifully, sustained any serious injury but I would rank the pain I have experienced and can remember as follows:

1. The flu

2. Impaling my arm on a railing and, subsequently, getting it stitched.

3. Breastfeeding for months through blood and tears.

4. Gargling with disprin and bouncing about the barbed wire apparently embedded in the angry, pulpy mass that had previously functioned as my throat. 

5.  Nasty itchy all over rash for months.

6.  Annual migraine (painful but brief – one day in darkened room with wet cloth clamped to forehead)

7.  Early pregnancy nausea.

8.  Immediate post-childbirth aches.

9.  Late pregnancy aches.

10. And least painful by some degree, in fact, to be honest not painful at all, giving birth with an epidural.

You realise what the point of this is, I assume.  Oh yes indeed, it worked.  It didn’t make me better but it did abate the pain sufficiently to allow me to eat something which was most welcome and I continued to gargle every four hours (the pain) until today when my sore throat assumed normal winter cold dimensions and I am more or less back to normal.

In other news, it is my brother’s birthday today.  To celebrate, he went jogging in Phoenix Park where he lost his car keys.  It’s chilly, what with it being early February and all that and I imagine he was scantily clad for his jog and he certainly hadn’t brought with him his phone or his wallet or his house keys or a change of clothes or any of the other useful things that were sitting patiently in his car.  Some kind pensioner took pity on him and drove to the nearest garage where they refused to cut a key for him as he hadn’t thought to bring the car chassis number on his jog either.  The pensioner set out to drive him home but half way there my brother decided that his housemate was unlikely to be at home and able to let him in so the kindly pensioner finished his taxi service for the day depositing my feckless young brother by his car.  He rang the AA (presumably with the help of the kindly pensioner) and they towed the car home for him where, thanks to a kindly cosmos, his housemate was, in fact, in.  Happy birthday, feckless younger brother, the present is in the post.

Random links

2 February, 2007 at 12:00 pm by belgianwaffle

– Updated to add – People, there is fantastic stuff on grandparents down in the comments section.  Please can I have some more to make it seem that my blog is exciting and interesting. Please.

Still sick as a dog. How can that be? I dragged myself into work yesterday partly because there was a meeting I had to attend and partly because the three kiddies were going to be at home. I was sustained by my colleagues who rushed to the supermarket to buy lemons and honey (imagine) and were deeply sympathetic. Of course their sympathy was only a drop in the ocean of self pity in which I was floating. I take my hat off to full time mothers with no escape like poor Minkleberry.

Have you all seen this unfortunate newscaster from a UK TV station?

I saw a lovely post by another Anne on her grandparents. It made me realise, sadly, I don’t know enough about my grandparents’ relationships. My paternal grandfather died when he was 36 and my maternal grandfather died shortly after I was born. But what Anne says about life for her grandparents was true even for my mother growing up. I have broadband but for years they had no electricity and running water (I gather that this was something of a sore point between my grandparents – he was a bit of a property magnate in an early 20th century Irish small farmer kind of way and he owned a number of properties one of which they had happily lived in for a number of years and which boasted not only a location in town but the twin attractions of, you guessed it, electricity and running water, however, nothing would do him but to go out to the country and run a farm). My mother went to mass in a pony and cart. I know they had a car as well, but I think it must have been later. I know this because my mother told me that she backed it into the pillar of the gate to my grandfather’s lasting chagrin – he is departed but his ire over this incident lives on in my mother’s regretful recollection. They had a constant stream of maids and farm hands working in and around the house. My grandfather used to go to some small distant farm and bring back new maids. Country maids were always best, you couldn’t trust those city girls. It all sounds slightly feudal. Do you know about your grandparents’ youth? Share.


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