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Equal pay for equal work

30 March, 2007 at 1:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Today is equal pay day in Belgium. Here is the mildly amusing poster (it’s not that I’m emotional, it’s that I’m underpaid is a rough translation of the slogan) and here is a long pdf document from last year that the Belgians have translated into English as well. That latter perhaps only for the enthusiasts. Peggy even has a video.

When Ireland joined the EU in 1973 it sought a derogation from the equal pay legislation on the grounds that it would beggar us. But we didn’t get it. Is it any wonder I love Europe? In the 1960s and early 70s women working in the public sector and many parts of the private sector including the banks faced a “marriage bar”. If they were married, they had to give up their jobs.

I suppose in that context it’s no surprise that more than 30 years after the forced introduction of equal pay legislation, the gender pay gap continues. In an EU document (found via this blog, it is so typical of the EU that it’s easier to find its documents via a random blog than via its own multifarious and exciting websites for the various directorate generals – “corporate strategy, what’s that, we’re all individuals here” and people think they’re just faceless bureaucrats, you know) there is a table showing the gender pay gap over 25 European countries in 2002. The average gap is 25%. 25% people! Your sister, your daughter, your mother: their work is worth 25% less than a man’s. See how your country performs on page 22.

More funny children stories tomorrow.


29 March, 2007 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

The holiday sub-committee formally reconvened tonight having reached no decision at its last meeting. Time is pressing and, if resolution is not speedily achieved, it is likely that the issue will have to go to plenary. This will present its own unique difficulties as two of the plenary members can only say “ball” and “mama” and interpreting their votes will be a fraught process.

While the fundamental issues before the sub-committee remain unchanged, new information is regularly becoming available which feeds into the decision making process going forward. In the matter of summer holidays, it was originally proposed that Mr. Waffle would take six weeks of leave: one month of parental leave and two weeks of holidays. Unfortunately, work commitments in July mean that he may no longer be able to do this. The Princess finishes school for two months at the end of June and the boys’ creche is closed for August. The sub-committee has formally agreed that the Princess can be accommodated in a series of courses for the four weeks of July though no such courses have as yet been identified and agreed by all parties. Pending resolution of the over-arching holiday arrangement package, this issue has been parked. It is, however, likely that the task of organising this will be delegated to Mr. Waffle who has shown particular expertise in this area on previous occasions.

The information on the July holiday period has presented particular difficulties for the sub-committee and it is a matter of considerable regret to the sub-committee that the business of Mr. Waffle’s employer cannot be subjugated to the Waffles’ needs in relation to their extensive summer holidays. The sub-committee actively considered a motion of censure but, under pressure from Mr. Waffle, the motion was ultimately withdrawn. Nevertheless, the sub-committee asked that it be minuted that this is a particularly vexed issue as the original proposal was satisfactory to all parties: namely that Mr. Waffle and the three junior Waffles would travel to Kerry to meet formally with the babysitting team (or team grandparents as they are known in committee jargon), one of the current Ambassadors to the Holy See and the latter’s spouse, children and grandchildren. The Holy See team are close friends of team grandparents and their children the youthful companions of Mr. Waffle. They will not be the Holy See team forever and when they go back to the distant land from whence they came, joint holidays in Kerry will be more challenging. The sub-committee, therefore, spent some time discussing this issue. All parties were extremely disappointed that no solution could be reached and this led to what were arguably circular and certainly futile discussions. A suggested compromise of travelling to West Cork for a fortnight in late July/early August to at least stay with team grandparents is under active consideration. At this point the chair deeming that the sub-committee had progressed as far as was possible on this issue and called for a break for a cup of tea.

Subsequently, the sub-committee reconvened and moved straight to item 3 on the agenda “American Holiday”. The arguments for and against were again rehearsed by members of the sub-committee. They might be summarised as follows:

The climate of Chicago is one of extremes – members of the plenary are likely to deal poorly with extreme temperatures;

The Chicago welcoming committee is primed and its premises are in order. Members of the sub-committee are enthusiastic at the prospect of inspecting the Chicago branch’s newly acquired premises and the surrounding area;

A nine hour flight may stretch the participants to breaking point;

More particularly as it will be followed by jet lag and, eventually, a nine hour flight back and further jet lag; members of the sub-committee expressed particular concern as to whether members of the plenary would be amenable to this kind of activity;

The issue of cost and convenience also arose: should the group choose to fly from Ireland, then they will fly free to Chicago courtesy of the branch office which is willing to put its airmiles at the disposal of head office. The sub-committee has two reservations in relation to this – should the group take such a generous gift from the branch when these costs should, more properly, be borne by head office and would it not be more convenient to fly from Brussels in view of the particular needs of members of the plenary. As against this the sub-committee noted that the 3,000 euro which would be saved by availing of the Chicago branch’s offer is not a negligible consideration in these times of increased budgetary constraints and predicted economic slowdown.

At this point barracking from the bedroom caused the meeting to break up in disorder.

Executive Summary

Internet, please tell me, are we mad to think of taking three small children to Chicago in August? What will we do when we get there? Does anyone have any advice?

Eighteen months as described by Mr. Waffle

27 March, 2007 at 9:29 pm by belgianwaffle

The boys are eighteen months old today – a year and a half since our lives changed forever. Eighteen months of being outnumbered and not sleeping, but also eighteen months of being the centre of their little worlds.

They say you shouldn’t compare, but it’s impossible not to. We feel guilty that they get so little attention compared to the Princess. At eighteen months she could speak a hundred words in two languages. The boys at the same age can only make a few noises, you have to be very perceptive (and indulgent) to recognise them as words. For the record, Daniel can say “de ba” when he wants to go and have his bath. Michael can say “bye bye” (sort of). And that’s pretty well it. [Comment from me: This is so untrue. Daniel can say “ba” for ball as well and “bye bye” and “ta da” and “Mummy” and “Daddy”. It is true for Michael though.]

They are alike, and completely different at the same time. Overall they’re two very charming sunny little boys. Michael smiles more readily and so he’s an immediate hit with strangers. Daniel is more grave and is slower to smile, but it’s worth waiting for.

Physically, it’s quite easy to distinguish them. Michael is tiny: he was born small (2.2 kg or 5 pounds) and is still at the smallest end of his age group. Daniel is frankly massive. The odd thing is that Daniel is the fussy eater, while Michael will try anything. Daniel loves his bottle of milk but beyond that he’s less keen on food. Because Daniel is bigger, he’s also less steady on his feet: he was slower to walk than Michael and is still not as confident.

Michael is also unusual for one of our children in that he has hair. The Princess was bald until she was about two (we used to think that she was the most beautiful little girl, but looking at the photos it’s impossible not to think of former Irish rugby star Keith Wood in a dress).

In temperament, Daniel is more placid and Michael more nervy. Daniel is also cautious by nature (like the Princess) and is easily upset, even by misfortunes that happen to others. Michael, in contrast, is a complete daredevil – see the photo of him climbing up to the stereo. Yet he’s more clingy – he’s the one who needs a comfort blanket (or doudou) to get to sleep, and who often demands to be held. They still wake frequently in the night (last night was dire). We deal with this by giving them bottles (we know it’s against all the parenting advice, but we don’t dare stop!) Usually Daniel will take his bottle and just go back to sleep, but Michael will often demand to be held. So because he gets so little attention, poor Daniel seems more interested in books. Very often he ends up sitting in a corner looking at books while we deal with the demands for attention from the other two.

We hope they’ll forgive us. [Comment by me: Though it is typical of their lives to date that the only photograph adorning this post is one of their sister].


25 March, 2007 at 9:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel and Michael are very different from other children their age in one significant respect: they share. Not necessarily willingly, but they understand the concept and each will surrender choice toys (staplers, sharp nails etc.) to the other upon request. They often spend time holding a cherished object and then handing it over, waiting a moment or two, screaming to get it back and then handing it over again. In the car on the way to the creche the other morning, Mr. Waffle, foolishly, brought just one bottle. Daniel glugged away happily but, after a while Michael indicated he wanted the bottle. Mr. Waffle while driving deftly transferred the bottle to Michael. He expected Daniel to start wailing but he didn’t. When he next looked back, he realised that Michael after taking a refreshing slug, had passed the milk back to Daniel.

“I’m going to live forever, baby, remember my name.”

25 March, 2007 at 12:21 am by belgianwaffle

Although I am no stranger to celebrity (did you know that I have been on Bulgarian television and euronews ?), it is with a certain amount of pride that I tell you that I am going to be two radio programmes this weekend. Before we started, the presenter of one said to me “I gather you have a blog, can we talk about that?”. My almost overwhelming desire for increased readership (my ego, my ego) fought a severe, though ultimately unavailing battle, with my desire to maintain some anonymity. Anyone who finds me on the radio, gets the usual prize, yes, yes, a reply to your comment.

My appearance on Bulgarian television merits, I feel a full description. Many years ago, when it was still a distant and exotic country and not somewhere three quarters of the Irish populace had bought summer houses, I travelled to Bulgaria for work. When I left home, it was snowing and many flights had been grounded but I fortunately (ha, ha) got a flight for the first leg of my journey to Germany. When I got there, it was to find that Lufthansa had dug in its heels and was refusing to go anywhere in this kind of weather but, it did offer me the alternative of travelling with the plucky Bulgarian flag carrier (the name of which temporarily eludes me). As the meeting I was speaking at was the following day, I felt I had to travel with them though I noticed that most of the other passengers, including many of the Bulgarians were refusing to do so and demanding the Lufthansa flight for which they had paid. Funnily enough, this did not inspire confidence.
Anyhow, I travelled on to Sofia uneventfully but arrived very late. Whereas I had been due to arrive at 6.00 in the evening it was closer to midnight and very cold and snowy when I got in. Inevitably, my luggage was lost. I had packed in my luggage details of the hotel where I was staying. I was a lot younger then. It was before mobile phones were as prevalent as they are now. I looked around the depressing airport (if you’ve ever been to Charleroi airport, it was like that but without the glamour) and the couple of slightly sinister smoking male figures hanging round and felt nervous. All the shops and desks were closed and the person scheduled to meet me at 6 had, obviously, long since trotted home to bed. When one of the sinister figures sidled up to me and asked “you need hotel?”, I think the answer was clear to both of us.

The sinister figure said he needed my passport to book the hotel so I handed it over and hopped into his cab. Mercifully, sometimes being foolish and naive doesn’t lead to disaster as all was as he described and he dropped me safely at the Hilton or some such bastion of American imperialism. I got my passport back too, though, for all I know, not before it was copied a number of times.

After all this trauma, I phoned various people from the hotel to share my anguish. This was my first experience of a satellite phone. Did you know that they were ferociously expensive yokes? I didn’t until I came to pay the bill and the cost of non chargeable to my employer phone calls considerably exceeded my room charge.

The next day, the day of my presentation, was Sunday. To summarise: I had no luggage, no idea where I was supposed to be staying, the vaguest idea of where the conference might be, no presentation (also in my luggage), no washbag, no knowledge of Bulgarian and no possibility of ringing the office to solve some, at least, of these problems (Sunday, remember?). Nothing daunted, your heroine began to wander round Sofia in the snow looking for a half remembered hotel location. I ended up in a government ministry building. A caretaker there whose job seemed to come with a bedsit, from which he operated, took pity on me, brought me in, looked at my travel stained, grubby and damp (from falling in the snow twice) clothes and called someone. In due course, his neighbour, a doctor who spoke English came in. Not only could she speak English but she knew about my conference and where it was. And because she was a saint, she brought me there on a tram.

When the conference organiser saw me, she started blessing herself in reverse (orthodox, you will recall) which I found unnerving for a number of reasons, and thanking God for my lucky escape from all the dangers which might have beset me late at night in Sofia. She also told me I was on next, so on I went, presentationless, unmade up and uncombed, dressed in quite filthy clothes. Wasn’t it great that Bulgarian telly was there?

Random musings on politics

22 March, 2007 at 11:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Enoch Powell said that “All political careers end in failure”. I love that quote. My own observations suggest that many political careers end up with relatives. Politics in Ireland is hereditary. Parliament seats pass from father to son and uncle to niece. And it’s clearly not the only place. Just thinking about poor old Chelsea Clinton. Imagine the pressure, if both her parents are some day ex-presidents of the US. What possible career could she have that would match up to that? Look what it did to George Bush having only one parent as president. And did you know that the Polish president and Prime Minister are twins? No, truly. You can play a game here to try and tell them apart.

Finally, great news, our house is vomit free and we are all back in our respective places of detention.

Oh God

19 March, 2007 at 4:40 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel is still sick. Michael isn’t better at all and has started vomiting and clinging again. We had to collect the Princess early from school because she was vomiting. And it’s perishing outside and snowing.

Happy Birthday

19 March, 2007 at 11:37 am by belgianwaffle

Today is my loving husband’s birthday. I think that this is the first birthday he has had with quite so much vomit. As a special birthday surprise, I let him go to work while I stayed home with the childminder to help out with the sick children. The older you get the less fun your presents become.

I wanted to write about how wonderful my spouse is but I seem to have writer’s block. The knowledge that, any second now, someone will start to scream may be putting me off. Also, having a perfect husband isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know. When other people complain about their husbands, I can’t join in, well, not unless I want to be really annoying. Ok, he probably isn’t perfect but I don’t think I know of anyone else whose husband is so much of a partner. When we’re drowning in baby vomit, we’re splashing in it together. When we’re up 14 times in the night we’re up 7 times each. When we have to take a day off work to mind a sick child, we take in turns. He washes, I sweep, he cooks, I clean, he folds, I put away, he sews, I hoover. I have never felt we were anything other than completely equal partners in the work of parenting and running a home. Even when I am annoyed with him, for gentle reader, difficult as it is to believe, this happens, and I mutter under my breath, I never mutter, “it’s not fair, I do everything” for at no level is that true. And it’s such an unexpected bonus because before I married him, I hadn’t tested his baby friendliness or his housekeeping skills in any depth. I knew that he was kind and good and loving and funny and clever and that he had an over-developed sense of duty and what was right. Little did I know that that last which could be so tiresome (oh trust me here) would be one of the best things in the long run.

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

More vomit

18 March, 2007 at 11:57 pm by belgianwaffle

Yesterday morning Michael was as sick as I’ve ever seen one of my children.  He lay in my arms sobbing softly.  He had stopped vomiting but he was very warm, even after his paracetemol.  We had had a dreadful night and I was on the verge of going to the paediatric service of the local hospital when he had a few mouthfuls of food and a nap and started to recover.  By this afternoon he was fine and out on his tricycle.  Unfortunately, this afternoon Daniel started vomiting.  So I predict, one day and night of vomiting and one day and night of feverish moaning and then a complete recovery.  Poor old Daniel though, instead of being lovingly rocked by his mother and father in rotation, he will be minded by the childminder who will have no back up and the other pair to deal with as well.  Who’d be a middle child?

How to infuriate an eco-warrior

17 March, 2007 at 3:27 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: So Chinese then.

Him: Yup.  Do you want to get it or will I?  Against going is the fact that it’s cold outside, in favour, if you go out, you definitely won’t have to wipe up baby sick while you’re out.

Me: I’ll go, I’ll take the car.

Him: The car?? The Chinese is only round the corner.

Me: Yes, but I read that fossil fuels may be exhausted in 20 to 30 years so we’d better use the car while we still can.

Foiled again

16 March, 2007 at 11:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Today was a trying day. Getting everyone out the door this morning was horrendous. Michael did not make matters easier by pouring water all over himself and then, once snug and dry again, getting sick. We decided, callously, because that’s the kind of parents we are, that it was only a little vomit and his cough made him do it. So Mr. Waffle whisked him and his brother to the creche while the Princess and I made our excuses for lateness to Madame Valerie.

I worked from home this morning and finished up at lunch time contemplating two hours of freedom until I had to collect the Princess. That was when Mr. Waffle rang saying that the creche had rung him saying poor Michael was sick. Mr. Waffle was going to collect Michael and bring him home. In the reduced time available, I cast aside all other tasks to write an amazingly witty and entertaining post on the comic relief apprentice show. Please don’t ask, I can’t bear it. Just as I was putting the final touches to my magnum opus my husband and sick son came in the door. The former had to hot foot it back to the office so he left me holding the latter, a wan sad little boy who promptly threw up on his mother and continued to do so at 10 minute intervals for the next hour and a half. During this period, Mr. Gates had been biding his time and, seeing that I was otherwise occupied, he automatically shut down my computer and restarted it with updates uploaded. Something he had wanted me to do all morning but which, to my subsequent regret, I had resisted. Oh, and also, the lovely German Gin tells me that she cannot read this site or comment on it. Anyone else having difficulty? Gah.

I found some old motilium (note for the childless with strong stomachs – anti nausea medicine) in the medicine cupboard. Its expiry date was April 2007 and it said keep refrigerated. I rang my parents for guidance and my father said crossly that they were at a funeral (Irish people almost always are*) but he relented when he heard why I’d called and said that they should be fine and the only reason it said “keep cool” was that suppositories (oh yes) can lose their shape otherwise.

So deftly, I changed Michael and inserted a suppository before he even had time to complain. He is my third child you know, I ooze competence. He wasn’t sick for two hours which allowed me to collect the Princess with relative ease though poor little fellow, he was slumped in the buggy looking green and he was clearly thinking “this would never have happened, if I were her first child”.

At 6.30 Mr. Waffle and Daniel came home and poor Michael was very down. It was, alas, abundantly clear that Mr. Waffle and I were going to have to abandon our planned dinner together. Poor Mr. Waffle, his birthday is on Monday and this was by way of advance celebration. Also poor Mr. Waffle because he always buys me wonderful presents for my birthday on March 10 and then, a week or so later, he gets another pair of socks, some cufflinks and a tie. So, here I am facing into a night of frantic sheet stripping instead of dining in one of Belgium’s many Michelin starred restaurants. It’s enough to make anyone want to be a parent, I’m sure.

*Irish people go to all sorts of funerals other people wouldn’t bother with, friends’ parents and grandparents, distant relatives, you name it. My husband always says that this was one of the problems the Guildford four, or maybe the Birmingham six, had. Apparently, they were all going to the funeral of an old school friend they hadn’t seen in years and the English jury just couldn’t believe that this was true. Why would you go to the funeral of a person you hadn’t seen in years? Irish people are odd this way. I read an interview with the Irish state pathologist (who is Scottish) and she said in amazement “Irish people don’t think it’s a good week unless they’ve been to a funeral”. My father is still bitter about the holiday in West Cork when it rained every day for three weeks except one and on that one day we were all at the funeral of a second cousin of my maternal grandmother’s.

Bitter, bitter, bitter is the lemon to the fritter

15 March, 2007 at 10:51 pm by belgianwaffle

On Tuesday night, I endangered my marriage by sitting up in bed with the light on until 1.30 am loudly turning pages while Mr. Waffle huffed and tossed and turned. All this to finish “Wives and Daughters” by Mrs. Gaskell. So there I am febrilely turning pages; Cynthia is married and dispatched and all that stands between Molly and Roger is six months in Africa. I realise that only three pages of the tome remain. Odd. Mrs. Gaskell is not one to finish abruptly. This is the kind of novel where there should be a couple of chapters on Molly and Roger’s children sitting on the Squire’s knee. We should hear what happens Cynthia and the Gibsons. When I reached the end it was to discover that the novel was unfinished. Words are totally inadequate to express my indignation but I tried when speaking to the friend who recommended it to me.

Me: “Wives and Daughters” is an unfinished novel.

Him: Mmmm.

Me (ominously): Why didn’t you tell me?

Him: But everyone knows that. It’s what everyone says about it “it’s her

best novel and it’s unfinished”.

Me: Not me or anyone I’ve spoken to.

Him: Can I help it that you don’t come from a literary household?

Me: Speechless indignation. Esprit d’escalier suggests that I should have responded “in our literary household we are not given to reading Victorian potboilers and the talk is all of Samuel Johnson”.

Him: But it makes it almost modern, doesn’t it, that abrupt ending?

Me: But I didn’t want to read a modern novel, I was reading a Victorian novel and to find after 648 pages that it is UNFINISHED is deeply unsatisfactory.

Him: Yes, I suppose, it was the most ill-timed heart attacks in the history of literature. But it could have been worse, imagine, if it had been Graham Greene.

Me: Eh?

Him: Apparently he used to finish his work mid sentence and pick up and finish it off in the morning.

In other reading unhappiness, at bedtime the other night, we decided to read to the Princess from a book of fairytales that a friend of mine gave her for Christmas. It’s a book for slightly older children but it is beautifully presented and illustrated and the Princess is getting interested in stories with more text and fewer pictures. I read through the table of contents and, of course, she picked the story in the middle entitled “The Girl with no Hands“. I had never heard it before but let me tell you one thing, they’re called the Brothers Grimm for a reason. This story has as its centrepiece a girl whose father chops off her hands. Great bedtime reading. I found it quite disturbing but both the Princess and her father when I showed it to him later were unmoved as it all finishes happily in the end.

To recover from it all, I’m reading Mavis Cheek, who, despite her dreadful name, is fantastic; faber’s only chick-lit author, what more could a girl ask for?

In praise of the European Union

12 March, 2007 at 9:22 pm by belgianwaffle

I was 20 in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down. I remember with great distinctness a time when the only Eastern Europeans you heard of were, faintly glamourous, refugees from despotic regimes. And there weren’t many of them. I had never met anyone from Eastern Europe. It was an impossibly alien place. When I was 15, I went to Berlin on a German exchange. I stared at the wall in fascination. When we drove through miles and miles of dreary East German countryside to get to the Black Forest in prosperous West Germany for holidays, I was spellbound (it is, of course, just my luck that instead of staying in exciting Berlin, I spent my time with my German exchange walking in Bavaria; they announced the impending trip to me as a great treat on the day of my arrival, sigh). And those countries were lumped together. They didn’t really have individual characteristics. They were just a big homogenous lump of grey soviet dictatorships with poor, poorly dressed people with badly dyed hair. I remember a Finnish colleague telling me that in Estonia they could watch Finnish TV (Estonian is very closely related to Finnish – aren’t you lucky to have me to explain these things to you?) and the state said that the cookery programmes where they said “take three eggs” were just propaganda because nobody has three eggs.

And now, it is so different. These countries are all distinct to me. My friend and neighbour is Czech. I have realised that Czech women are very pretty but this is, most unfairly for Czech women, not true for the men. If you are Czech and a woman, your surname must end in ova or they will laugh at you. This is why Sharon Stone is known as Sharon Stoneova there and Jane Austen as Jane Austenova. I cannot say why I find this hilarious. I have discovered that Slovak is a different language from Czech, I could probably find Bratislava on a map; I have worked with people from there and, if I play my cards right, I may even get to visit. I have worked with lots of Poles. My lovely cleaner is Polish and taught the Princess to sing songs in Polish. The industrious Polish plumber has become a standing joke. I heard an English comedian describe the Poles as “coming to this country and doing our jobs; not taking our jobs, doing our jobs”. I know about the poor East of the country and the more prosperous West. I can name the main regions and pronounce Łódź. I think Ryanair fly there from Cork. Two Estonian women come and clean my parents’ house for a couple of hours a fortnight. The Latvians are particularly unfond of the Russians, which is unfortunate for the significant Russian minority living there. Riga has become the stag party capital of Europe. Thank you Latvia for taking from Dublin that singularly unappealing honour. I have seen Lithuanian politicians in action and they seem to be a strong minded bunch. Romanian is a romance language; Bulgarian is not. Thank you Bulgaria for bringing cyrillic to the EU thereby adding a third alphabet to the existing pair. I have been horribly lost in Sofia and know that next time I go back, I should go straight to Plovdiv. Slovenia markets itself as the sunny side of the Alps and got through the war in the Balkans scot free. The Slovenians are rather glamourous and they are richer than all the other Eastern European countries. I once had to strip off with a Slovenian colleague to go to a sauna while on a work trip. These things form a bond. The Hungarians speak a fiendishly difficult language, one which Irish people are trying to get to grips with as they buy up large parts of Budapest. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop now.

You used to be able to spot the Eastern Europeans in Brussels for their meetings; those clothes, that hair. I’m not saying that all is sweetness and light now but you can’t tell them on the streets of Brussels. They have all acquired this standard eurocrat gloss. As you walk around the streets of the capital of Europe, you see many people dressed in a sort of standard eurocrat costume; for the most part beautifully turned out and expensively dressed (I say for the most part as the European institutions also seem to harbour the odd hippy – touching) and they could be from anywhere, but in a good way. Yesterday, the Princess and I had breakfast in the Pain Quotidien on the Sablon and sitting opposite us were three women; one teenager with hair extensions and a languid manner sporting very trendy clothes with brand names unknown to me, one older sophisticated grandmother and one woman about my age. They looked like the usual clientele, BCBG types having Sunday brunch (the Princess and I like to go there so that people can oooh and aah at our crumpled, grubby, cheap clothes), in fact the only thing that marked them out as different, and not so very different was that they were speaking in some Eastern European tongue (if pushed, I would go for Hungarian, it seemed so hard). So, on this basis alone, I do not generally mock the European Union. It’s not responsible for the collapse of communism but, it is certainly responsible for bringing those countries into the European mainstream and ensuring that they have the funds necessary to promote the kind of growth that supports bored teenagers in the Pain Quotidien.

I believe in the European Union. I believe it has value as an idea and it produces much useful work. However, I would be the first to concede that the writing style of a Union which has 23 official languages can be a little, ahem, special. Also a little cliched (who am I to criticise?). Below is some information on a European strategy. I have deleted the details of the actual strategy and I believe it could be used for almost any of the fine documents which regularly emanate from the Union. Take this and put it in your drawer. If you ever need to write a European strategy, your problems are solved by this one size fits all solution. A small prize, as yet undetermined (perhaps a reply to your comment, for a change) will be given to anyone who guesses correctly the actual field to which this text applies:

Our strategy consists of a number of elements which aim at stimulating the definition and implementation of national strategies that, based on a detailed evaluation of the national situation, establish quantitative objectives for reducing the incidence of X. We will focus on the most common risks and the most vulnerable Y. We also want to improve and simplify existing legislation as well as to enhance its implementation in practice through non-binding instruments such as, guidelines to help companies to implement legislation, exchange of good practices, awareness raising campaigns and better information and training. It also focuses on mainstreaming of Z in other policy areas and finding new synergies and improved identification and evaluation of potential new risks. It requires the commitment of all parties, national authorities, social partners, etc, and the European Agency for Z.

The European Union is 50 on March 25. Happy Birthday to it.

O frabjous day

10 March, 2007 at 11:35 am by belgianwaffle

Today is my birthday.

To celebrate, I took yesterday off work. On Thursday my lovely, lovely colleagues surprised me with cake, flowers and chocolates. This is as a direct result of my insistence on constantly reminding the people around me of the date of my birthday. How can people be expected to remember, if you don’t remind them? And, if you’ve forgotten, it’s never too late to send a card.

Mind you, this conversation was was not entirely what I hoped for:

Me: It’s my birthday, happy birthday to me. Gosh I’m so old now. Who would have thought youthful little me would ever reach this great age. Goodness gracious me, go on, go on guess how old I am.

Foolish work colleague: 40?

Indignant me: 38!

And, after a particularly busy period, things are going swimmingly at work in general at the moment.

The Princess greeted me with this the other day:

The excitement. However, since she is left handed and firmly believes that the world should be ordered to suit her, this is what I got on my birthday card:

Lovely all the same.

As it is my birthday, I reserve the right to put in here whatever random things take my fancy. This, as you will be fully aware, is not the kind of operation we usually run here at waffle blogs incorporated. Please see below, Cinderella of the ancien régime:

The Princess is very taken with “Barbie of Swan Lake” these days. What can I say; it was recommended to us by friends. We will cut them in future. It stars Frasier as the baddy and Janice from “Friends” as his daughter. You would think that at least one of these people had enough money to be saved from the indignity of doing voiceovers in “Barbie of Swan Lake”. So taken is the Princess with this that Mr. Waffle has bought her the music by Mr. Tchaikovsky. She is unclear as to why Mr. Tchaikovsky is so derivative and composes music identical to that made famous by Barbie but she likes his stuff. You may see her dancing/flapping to the music here.
In conclusion, you might like to know, 38 is a lot of candles and this isn’t the half of it:

Fanning the flames of ancient hatreds etc. (Part II)

9 March, 2007 at 3:58 pm by belgianwaffle

On the Princess’s CD of French songs for children (never did I think I would know so many French songs for children) there are a range of classic numbers including the one about selling liver “oh ma foi, c’est la dernière fois que je vends du foie dans la ville de Foix”. The hilarity here is that, in French, foi, fois, foie and Foix are all pronounced identically, oh how we laugh. There’s the one about the woman whose husband was so small that the cat mistook him for a mouse. It appears to have been an arranged marriage.

“Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre” is another popular number. It is sung to the tune of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” but the words work better and it is, apparently, the original. The song is about General John Churchill (yes, same Churchills), First Duke of Marlborough who enjoyed regular victories against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-14 (no, please, stop me, if I’m boring you); this account of the battle of Oudenarde will give you an idea of why Malborough was so deeply unpopular with the French. Apparently the battle of Malplaquet was what actually inspired the songwriter to get writing but that seems to have gone less well for the Duke; I digress, to summarise, he was not well liked by the French forces.

So this song runs to 18 verses (yes, that’s right, 18) and we often listen to it on long drives; it drowns out the howling. I have trawled the internet for an English translation for you but could only find it in the original and German for some odd reason. It’s all quite tame compared to the Irish offerings. It recounts how Marlborough’s wife is waiting for news of him and hears he’s dead “mort et enterré”. The funeral is described as being very proper with officer pall bearers, a rossignol (which I think is a swallow) singing and rosemary (why?) planted round the grave. It doesn’t seem to me that offensive to the Duke, particularly when you reflect that he actually died of old age in his bed at 72 (look, it was a lot older then that it is now) but it must have seemed so to them, I gather Napoleon liked to hum it.

Because it’s there

4 March, 2007 at 10:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael explores.

Please feel free to sympathise

4 March, 2007 at 10:51 pm by belgianwaffle

I recently failed to get selected for a post in Ireland. Yes, I know my job here is perfect but, supposing that we wanted to move back to Dublin, wouldn’t it be nice if I could get paid?

My family in Ireland, in the manner of families, delved into the details with more enthusiasm than I might have wished successfully bringing out the peeved adolescent in me: “How many candidates were there?” “Dunno, can you leave me alone please?”

I rang home the other day and got my brother. I heard him calling my mother “It’s John McKenna on the phone”.

“Who’s John McKenna?” I asked when she picked up. “Nobody,” she said hastily “just your brother being foolish”. In the background I heard him say “No, no tell her he’s that golfer who never makes the cut”.

And to think that the poor Princess has two younger brothers.

Black Swan Green – A book review and why not, I ask you?

2 March, 2007 at 3:18 pm by belgianwaffle

The publishing exec has kindly donated the above tome to the Waffle book collection. Having been away from home for three nights and four days, I have demolished it speedily. I found it slow going at first but it grew on me. It is a depressing reflection that the coming of age novel is now written by people the exact same age as me. I’m not sure how many more 80s stories I can take.

Mr. Mitchell, unwilling to waste some of the characters previously encountered in other works brings back Belgian Eva from “Cloud Atlas”. It is always nice to see a Flemish native cast as exotic and exciting. Those of us who live among them regard them differently, I think; more stoic, industious and dependable. And furthermore,if she were a real posh Fleming then French would be her native tongue even though she lived in deepest darkest Flanders, which she did. I know precisely where this fictional character lived because years ago, the publishing exec made us take a detour there on our way home from Bruges. Never say these editors don’t support their authors. I see there is a reference to number9dream as well. Is he going to be like that William Boyd and keep introducing the same characters in all his books? Not a bad thing, but I just wanted to show off, I haven’t been reading the London Review of Books for years for nothing, you know.

The book reminded me a bit of “The Rotters’ Club”, particularly the relationship between the siblings although my memory is that Lois and Ben enjoyed a somewhat happier rapport before Lois’s catastrophe (see the way I’m not ruining it for you, in case you haven’t read it) and horrible cousin Hugo reminds me of vile Paul. I bet Hugo will end up a New Labour MP as well.

It was also somewhat Mary George of Allnorthoverish in its descriptions but, if you ask me that Lavinia Greenlaw is a bit too poetic, so I’m not entirely sure that this is a compliment. There’s only so many poetic descriptions I want in my prose, thank you.

It wasn’t as good as “Cat’s Eye” or as horrific but it was an entertaining read. Not quite as entertaining as “Starter for Ten” also a pub exec present and now a major motion picture but, I thought, a much more thoughtful and evocative book. For me, far better than “Cloud Atlas” despite all the latter’s much vaunted cleverness. I really warmed to the main character and I loved his deeply unlikely triumph at the end of the book. While “Cloud Atlas” was very innovative in structure and all the more annoying for it; this is comfortably familiar perhaps even, ooh dare I say it, oh go on, a little derivative, but in a good way. What’s not to like? Recommended.

Oh, and apparently yesterday was world book day so they’ve brought out abbreviated versions of the classics to encourage more reading. “War and Peace” now weighs in at a slimline 900 pages instead of 1,500. Who precisely is the target audience for this? I suspect that a reluctant reader won’t embrace 900 pages more enthusiastically than 1,500 and, for heaven’s sake, if you’ve covered 900 pages, surely another 600 aren’t going to hurt. Mind you, they said they’ve made it shorter by cutting out a lot of the war and, if my memory is any way accurate, I can’t feel that that would hurt the narrative much.

Reality Television

2 March, 2007 at 3:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Whispering male voice with peculiarly patronising tone: Mr. Waffle is home alone until Thursday while his wife is off for a work trip (or an illicit break of the working mother as it is better known). He has faithfully promised her that he will not be cross with the children while she is away even if they cry all the time and conspire to make him late for work.

Whispering male voice continues: Mr. Waffle returns from work and is left alone with his three small children. [Camera pans around scenes of chaos; the boys cry and the Princess is bold]. We see Mr. Waffle remaining calm and firmly putting her in the “coin colere”. The annoying whisperer observes: The boys continue to cry; will Mr. Waffle remain true to his promise or will he snap? Daniel gets sick. Michael crawls away while Mr. Waffle mops up. The Princess wees in the confines of the “coin colere” because, as she explains, she couldn’t go to the toilet because she was in the “coin colere”. Michael calls merrily from the bathroom “I’ve climbed on to the cistern and I’m trying to get my head into the toilet bowl from here”.

In fact, my loving husband, tells me it wasn’t as bad as I might have imagined when I left first thing on Monday morning but he said that Wednesday was a particularly low point. In the morning, he dropped her highness to school with the boys in the buggy. Then he walked home and loaded them into the car and took them to the creche and climbed up to the third floor with the boys crawling ahead. At lunchtime he picked her highness up from school and deposited her at the glam potter’s house and went back to work. In the evening he collected her and then the boys. A fatal error. He should have collected the boys first. The boys were cranky, the Princess was cranky. He had to get shoes on all of them and carry/chivvy them down three flights of stairs and get them into the car. Hideous. But now I’m back from no internet land and I will mind my loving family and post all the material I wrote while I was away.

Finally, I see that I belong to the most discriminated against group in the British workplace. And who will be paying the pensions, eh?

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