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Big neighbours

29 April, 2007 at 10:43 pm by belgianwaffle

If you’re a small country with a big neighbour, then you know all about them and they don’t necessarily know anything much about you. This reflection was prompted by an article on “Blair’s babes” in last Sunday’s Observer.

The English paper had a little background on women in Parliament in Britain. This is what it said about Constance Markiewicz:

“Women were first allowed to be candidates in 1918. The only one elected, Countess Constance Markievicz, was unable to take her seat because she was in prison suspected of conspiring with Germany during the First World War.”

It is true that Countess Markievicz spent a lot of her time in and out of prison. She belonged to an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family and was, famously, a very active supporter of Irish independence. She was elected as a Sinn Fein candidate in the 1918 general election and like all the other Sinn Fein candidates elected she didn’t take her seat in Westminister (it is important that this Sinn Fein party not be confused with the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland today, I can’t face going into the detail but it just is). According to Wikipedia she joined her colleagues assembled in Dublin as the first incarnation of Dáil Éireann, so I’m guessing she wasn’t in jail as our correspondent from the Observer says. Though I am also indebted to Wikipedia for the information that she spent some time in jail in 1918 for “anti-conscription activities”; is this the same as conspiring with Germany? Well, what with the “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” mantra, I suppose that there was some possibility for confusion among the ranks of English journalists, even today. But is this annoying? Oh yes, it is.

I imagine all those Canadians with maple leaves sewn on to their back packs have the same problem. And, of course, the Belgians with the French. I was out with some Belgian friends the other day and they said that a survey has shown that most Belgians could name three candidates for the forthcoming French presidential elections but none for the Belgian elections this June.

On the plus side, it is fun to see all the very nice middle class English people we know here squirm with post-colonial guilt when we refer to the crimes of their ancestors. I don’t know what the Canadians and Belgians have by way of compensation; public health care and chocolate respectively?

In other news, the computer has been broken for a couple of days and the Princess had her birthday party today.  I was bereft and am flattened.  Details to follow. Hold your breath.

Thinking Blogger

23 April, 2007 at 9:59 pm by belgianwaffle

A couple of weeks ago, Kristen nominated me for a thinking blogger award. Since then, I suspect, the kind and generous Kristen has been thinking something along the lines of the following: “the ingrate, she didn’t even acknowledge it in her blog”. But I’ve been thinking about who (or should that be whom, you know, I think it should) I should nominate. Before we get to the votes of the Belgo-Irish jury, here are the rules:

The rules for accepting this award are:

1) If you get tagged, write a post with links to five (5) blogs that make you think (or you know, not, if you’d prefer).

2) Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact location of the MeMe.

3) Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award with a link to the post that you wrote.

And we’re off:

1. Gin and teutonic. I have been reading this blog for a long time in various incarnations. It is funny. It is clever. It is the original thinking expat blog.

2. Diary of a Playgroup Dropout. Beth is lovely. The whole internet thinks so, so I’m probably not introducing you to anybody new here. To me she epitomises all the good things about the US. All that get up and go and clever and polite too. Like all of us, I suspect, Beth is concerned about children who are less well off. Unlike most of the rest of us, she has decided to try to do something about it. Her blog has a section devoted to trying to help less well off children. It is here. It’s not about money, though, if you are time poor and cash rich, it can be. It’s about doing something for unfortunate children and that can be making cards for children sick in hospital or whatever the richness of the internet suggests to her as the monthly challenge. Brilliant.

3. Geepeemama. I have a lot in common with the geepeemama except that she thinks about things more. Well, this is a thinking blogger award.

4. Brother Lawrence The man who proves that monks are human too, though, frankly, the jury may be out on some of the others. Did you know that he is a real monk?

5. Only five? Well how about the sarcastic journalist then? There’s something about the way she writes which combines humour and an occasional dose of misery which reminds me how we are all compromised by our choices. This makes her sound very grim but she isn’t at all, she’s hilarious and, um, thoughtful.


23 April, 2007 at 9:04 pm by belgianwaffle

Yesterday afternoon, I was roasting at the citadel in Namur.  Late last night I checked into my hotel in a very damp and cool foreign location.  Air travel is extraordinary.  I had a good dose of working mother’s guilt as the boys waved good bye to me on Sunday evening and the Princess sobbed “why do you have to go away so often?”  For the first time, Mr. Waffle was also away so we had to deploy our babysitting team to look after the children and get them to bed this evening.  It seems to have gone fine but it is odd to think that our little family was in three different countries today.

Party tragedy

22 April, 2007 at 12:19 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess was supposed to have her birthday party today but her errant mother sent out the invitations very late and nobody except her two brothers could come. Excuses included the following:

Most heartfelt: Oh no, we’ve been invited to another party and no, that isn’t nice, because it’s Italian which means that the only child bit is the birthday cake and E will spend her time saying “why are there no party bags and games?” and running away from Nonna who is a bit feeble minded and only speaks Italian.

Most feeble: Well, I have a friend coming and I will be out with her and my husband doesn’t like going out with both children (aged 3 and 6) on his own; he finds it a bit overwhelming.

Most irritating: We would love to come but we will all be in Monte Carlo at the tennis.

Poor Princess, the celebration has been delayed to April 29 when everyone has promised faithfully to come.

Grandma Lucille’s Monster Cookies or maybe closer to Berlin than Boston, after all

21 April, 2007 at 10:45 pm by belgianwaffle

Beth published this recipe a while ago and since then I have printed it down and thought about it a surprising amount. The name seemed so authentic and the recipe seemed so American, I felt that they must be the original cookies that Americans dream of, that they were, if you will the “cookies d’antan” (free pretention available here) and I wanted them. The biscuit aisle in the supermarket held no allure for me, I wanted Grandma Lucille’s monster cookies.

I emailed Beth. What is Karo? Corn syrup came the speedy reply. I was no wiser. What is corn syrup? Amazingly, Mr. Waffle found a bottle of Karo in the weird foreign products aisle of the supermarket nestling between cans of Spanish squid and British marmite. Incidentally, the recipe calls for a teaspoonful, so if anyone has suggestions of what to do with a pint of Karo, less a teaspoon, I would be grateful.

Most of the remaining measurements were in cups. I don’t know how much a cup is. I have generally used English recipe books before and, aside from Nigella Lawson, the quantities are always tiny. Nigel Slater is the kind of cook who would confidently suggest that a baked potato topped with cheese would make a nourishing meal for a starving family of four. I say this, so that you can understand where I am coming from.

So I got together my ingredients. A cup is 250 mls, it transpires. Dear God, that is a lot. There was more peanut butter in this recipe than was in the jar we bought in the supermarket. As I started measuring out my quick cooking oatmeal (4 and a half cups and, my sister told me that I had to use regular porridge and ready brek would not do) I realised that, if I continued at this rate our entire stock of porridge would be used up and our children would have to go hungry for the week. So I settled at three cups. A stick of margarine. How much is a bloody stick? Further call to sister in Chicago. 110 grams, in case you ever need to know.

My feeble European mixer (free with supermarket points) whined alarmingly as I tried to beat my thick paste thoroughly. As it began to squeal in pain, I decided enough was enough. I looked at my baking tray and I looked at the enormous mass of cookie dough. I put some out on the tray. I got another tray and another. I filled my whole oven with cookies. 15 minutes later I had 3 large cookie cakes; they spread and two tablespoons of baking powder is a lot. I wish my sister had told me before I started that the standard batch in American cookies is 4 dozen. 48 cookies, people. However, I confirm that despite a lack of peanut butter, mixing and porridge they are indeed the ‘cookies d’antan’. Should you wish to create your own cookies, may I direct you here.


20 April, 2007 at 2:05 pm by belgianwaffle

We never take the Princess to McDonald’s because that’s the kind of cruel, heartless parents we are. This time last year, she went for a birthday party but I don’t think it ever occurred to her that it might be available for other occasions. Anyhow, our childminder took her and her brothers there for lunch last week along with her own two children. Joy was unconfined.

Me: Do you like McDonald’s better than the “tea for two”?

Her: Oh yes, Mama.

Me: Do you like McDonald’s better than the “Atelier”?

Her: Yes Mama.

Me: Do you like it better than the pain quotidien?

Her: Yes Mama.

Me: Is it your favourite restaurant in the whole world?

Her: Is McDonald’s a restaurant Mama?


18 April, 2007 at 12:10 am by belgianwaffle

Her: So when you die, you can’t move your arms any more?

Me: No.

Her: Or open your eyes?

Me: Nope.

Her: Or move at all?

Me: No, not at all.

Her: So, when you go to heaven, Jesus has to do everything for you.

“Yorkshire Pudding – Food of the gods”

16 April, 2007 at 9:01 pm by belgianwaffle

This is what the Princess says when we have Yorkshire pudding for dinner. It is her favourite food, ranking ahead, even, of smarties. This is necessary background for what follows.

Little American girl in cafe: I’m 5 and I’m from Tennessee.
Princess: I’m 4 and I’m from
Little American girl: I’m going to live in
Princess: But I’m really Irish.
Little American girl (slightly baffled but riposting gamely): I was born in
New York.
Princess (delightedly): Where Yorkshire pudding is from!

Restless by William Boyd – Tom Bedlam by George Hagen

13 April, 2007 at 2:05 pm by belgianwaffle

I picked up “Restless” by William Boyd the other day. I loved “Any Human Heart” and I was looking forward to this. It’s not bad but it’s not good either. It’s a spy thriller which is not a genre that I am very keen on but it kept me turning pages. The story is told by two female narrators; a mother who was a spy in the second world war and her daughter who is finding out about it in the 1970s. I found his female voice for the daughter particularly unconvincing and rather jarring although I was pleased to see that whenever he had her jaunting off, he carefully placed her child in the hands of a friend who appears to have been introduced to the story solely to provide babysitting services. The ending is very good but, overall, could try harder.

For my birthday, I got “Tom Bedlam” by George Hagen from the publishing exec. It thrills me to the core to have clutched in my little paw a book with the words “uncorrected proof not for sale or quotation” emblazoned on the cover. I really loved his first book, “The Laments”. It reminded me quite a bit of John Irving but whereas I find he can be a bit cloying, I thought Mr. Hagen much less so. Like John Irving then, but less annoying though he is also a fan of the alarming accident to move the plot along.

His second book is very different from his first. It is Dickensian. It is set in Victorian London and, by gum, it teams with characters. I suspect it is deliberately Dickensian and I wonder whether the Limkin family are intended as some kind of nod to Dickens’s own family with Oscar the parliamentary reporter as Dickens (this sentence should read “Look at me, am I not clever? Yes, yes, you’re right, I’m a genius”). I am not sure that this works for Mr. Hagen. Dickens does Dickens better and the comparison doesn’t do Mr. Hagen any favours. I feared the worst.

The early sexual fumblings of our hero reminded me unpleasantly of Henry’s sexual awakening in “A Star called Henry” which is a dreadful Roddy Doyle book. I would say his worst but I haven’t been foolish enough to read its sequels. Unpropitious but, in fact, I really enjoyed it in the end. It requires an enormous suspension of disbelief as the characters’ lives cross and re-cross in deeply unlikely ways, but I found that quite entertaining. I was sorry to finish it, particularly since the ending was a bit weak compared to the rest of the book. Nevertheless, great stuff overall and am eagerly awaiting his next offering.

The Princess is four today

12 April, 2007 at 11:25 pm by belgianwaffle

Four years ago, she was a week overdue. I remember going to my obstetrician and saying that I couldn’t stand it any more and could I please be induced. Ha ha. I can only laugh at my ignorance. If I had my time over again, I would stick with the indigestion and the back pain for another while. My ankles weren’t even swollen, for God’s sake. I spent the next two days wandering around the maternity hospital on an oxytocin drip looking enviously at the mothers clutching their new born infants while the obstetrician complimented me on my “concrete cervix” (which was to come in so useful in my next pregnancy). Mr. Waffle met a colleague who whispered “don’t tell your wife this but my wife has just had an emergency caesarian after two days in labour”. Eventually I was wheeled into the delivery room and the Princess was dutifully delivered at 1.26 in the morning on April 12. A girl! Within minutes of birth, she was nearly drowned by her father who had, with extreme reluctance, agreed to bathe her. She slipped out of his trembling hands and was promptly submerged in water which made her furious and terrified him.

Despite this clear evidence of ineptitude, the hospital staff went away and left us with her. We looked around anxiously. Surely this couldn’t be right. We had no idea how to mind a baby. Why did they think we were in hospital? We were brought back to the bedroom. We changed her nappy. She screamed and screamed. “What will we do?” I asked panic stricken. “Call a nurse!” said Mr. Waffle. The nurse came and asked in appalled tones “why is this child naked?” and wrapped her up. You see, in our anxiety to change her properly, my husband and I had removed all her clothes and were together fumbling with our first tricky nappy. Mr. Waffle went home leaving me with a sleeping baby. He telephoned his mother and mine both of whom were sitting up anxiously waiting for news. Meanwhile, little though I realised it, I was enjoying the best night’s sleep I would have for many years. She really did sleep quite well that first night (hurrah for the epidural). The next morning the hospital staff came and chided me for lying in bed when I should have been showering. But hang on a minute, who was going to mind the baby while I showered? I had to leave her alone in her cot. I flew into the shower and, somewhat dizzily, washed and put on my new hospital pyjamas (a present from the best dressed diplomat who thinks of everything). She was still there when I got back. Then I had to wash her.

I will never forget the horror of those first baths: laying out all the required items, checking the water temperature, ineffectually attempting to sooth the Princess, taking her temperature, dabbing at the umbilical cord, poking at her with cotton buds. All this in a room as hot as Hades with many other new mothers, a number of bossy midwives and only a limited number of baby baths. On the first morning of her life, the Princess settled in to what would be a long term pattern. She howled. While she was actually in the bath, she was happy enough but she was deeply unappreciative of my fumbling efforts to dry her, dress her, weigh her and stick a thermometer up her bottom while filling in all the details on the chart provided by the sadistic hospital authorities. The weigh in became a daily test as she continued to lose weight. I stayed in hospital for seven days waiting for her to gain a couple of grammes. I have detailed elsewhere my obsessive and, in retrospect, daft efforts with breastfeeding. It was was very, very hot that Easter and the whole world seemed to be out in summer clothes while I was in hospital with the angry, tired and hungry Princess. I was not enjoying myself and neither was she. We had loads of visitors and presents and that was fun. I spent hours on the telephone and that was fun. What was not fun was looking after my baby. We did not bond. We were both tearful. I worried about her constantly, though she was a perfectly healthy baby aside from being slow to put on weight. Despite my obstetrician’s advice to “relax and enjoy your baby”, I did not.

It was wonderful to get out of hospital and challenging to secure the Princess in her car seat. At home, there were more presents and flowers and a photographic print from my loving husband but I was just so tired and nervous, that I didn’t appreciate them. I remember Fluid Pudding saying that she found the arrival of her first child difficult because before she had been selfish. When I read those words, I smacked myself on the forehead. I was selfish but I just didn’t realise it. I expected to be able to make a cup of tea and read the paper whenever I wanted. I expected to be able to go out or stay in without as much as by your leave. My life was my own and I could do as I pleased and, though, intellectually, I knew that would change, I hadn’t really taken in how drastic the change would be. Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to sleep, I could barely find time for a shower, I spent all my time carrying a baby. Looking back, I am sometimes amazed by how overwhelmed I was; she was only one baby. But she was a difficult baby. She cried in the car. She cried a lot. Maybe she was hungry. Maybe she was just contrary. But there was only one of her. By the time the boys were born, I was used to the curtailment of my freedoms, I knew of the pleasures to come, I was much more experienced and I found looking after them much easier.

In those early weeks there were a couple of things that saved my sanity. We went to the French Mama’s wedding in Normandy when the Princess was three weeks old. How we packed, how we prepared. How proud we were when we were able to change her and feed her in a motorway lay by. Feeding was no joke as it involved cooled boiled water and sterilisation on the move as well as a failed attempt at breastfeeding. We stayed in a lovely chateau. The weather was beautiful, the food was great and the wedding was entertaining. The hotel staff were very kind, microwaving bottles in the middle of the night as necessary. The mayor let us use his office to feed the Princess after the wedding and she slept a lot. It was like getting our lives back. Briefly.

My mother came to stay with us. Did I mention that the arrival of our first baby coincided with the collapse of our then washing machine? My mother spent a lot of her trip mopping up water. I can’t understand why we weren’t a bit more assertive with the landlady, but we weren’t, we just kept mopping. My mother also cooked and rocked and soothed everyone’s jangled nerves. A couple of bouquets of flowers arrived a week or two after I got home from random people whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. That was surprisingly lovely.

It was hard, though, and I think the hardest part was the realisation that weekends away and dinners out and all the things that we had taken for granted were going to have to be shelved, possibly indefinitely. This proved to be a slightly pessimistic assessment but it certainly felt that way at the time.

But just when it seemed that the howling and the misery would never end, she started to smile and then she sat up and she crawled and she stood and she played and she talked and she walked. How we love her. She is so funny and loving and stubborn and clever. I cannot tell you how proud I am of how brave and independent she is. I love recording the things she says and does so I won’t ever forget how amazed we were by her cleverness, how frustrated by her stubborness and how overcome by her charm. By way of conclusion (finally, why am I becoming more and more long winded?) I offer two examples from the recent past.

Last week the Princess did a course on “incredible india” (something her aunt has some issues with), this week she did a sports thing. I do feel guilty that her holidays are so often taken up with courses because her father and I are at work but I admire how she just trots off to another new bunch of people and a new set of rules and gets on with it. She is so small, yet so composed. I suppose she has to be, she hasn’t got any choice. Last night she was telling us all about her sports course and how they sang a song about the fire brigade. I thought she had finished this story when she asked me “What am I thinking about? Something very important”. “Your birthday tomorrow” I hazarded. She looked at me pityingly “That is very important Mummy but, ahem, hello, even more important, a house on fire”. I suppose you had to be there but her “ahem, hello” was delivered in masterful imitation of an outraged American teenager. We all laughed.

The other day, I dropped a full litre of milk on the kitchen floor and she put her head round the door and said “Uh oh, Mummy, ‘all the sweet buttermilk watered the plain’”. In celebration of her fourth birthday, I give you my brilliant, funny, wonderful little girl’s rendition of Kitty of Coleraine.


11 April, 2007 at 3:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Can I wash your face please? Will you look at me? Am I talking to myself here?

Her: Apparently so.

Actually, not the Hague

10 April, 2007 at 8:59 pm by belgianwaffle

Getting there

We went to visit friends in the Hague for Easter. The Princess grasped immediately the nature of the Netherlands which is essentially a vast conurbation. As we crossed over the border, she said “we are in the Otherlands we must be in the Hague”. Unfortunately, there was a good forty minutes drive after that and neither her father nor I could convince her that constantly asking “are we in the Hague?” as we tried to negotiate the tricky final miles wasn’t going to help anyone. As we drove along with our three ratty children, Mr. Waffle said wistfully “I don’t suppose you’re ever going to let me go to Baarle-Hertog”. “Why would I want to go to Baarle-Hertog?”. “It’s a part of Belgium entirely surrounded by the Netherlands.”. “Fascinating, you’re absolutely right”.

Settling In

We arrived safely at our hosts’ house and disgorged ourselves and the enormous quantities of luggage we had brought with us for three nights away from home. We settled in to eat them out of house and home and work creatively on making a mess. Fortunately they have two children of their own, so they were somewhat prepared for the onslaught. In fact, the trip was a great success. The children got on really well together and it was lovely to see them playing together when they weren’t hitting each other. In particular, the Princess got on with C who is the elder of our friends’ two children. C, is a very gentle, charming and sweet little boy who is nearly 5. The Princess loved him. Despite her exterior toughness, I feel the Princess is quite timid and I have never seen her warm to someone, the way she did to C. They spent hours playing together. I heard her diligently trying to teach him some French: “We say ‘Winnie l’Ourson’ for Winnie the Pooh; I know the French for poo is ‘caca’ but we don’t say ‘Winnie le caca’” which is just as well for the marketing people, I suppose. C’s sister E is only just 3 and the Princess enjoyed a more combatitive relationship with her. E is much more forceful and I don’t think that the Princess liked that half so well though they did play together a bit because whatever the Princess considered E’s faults might be, she was, at least, far superior to the Princess’s little brothers. What the Princess particularly enjoyed was teaming up with C and excluding the others, particularly her brothers, if at all possible.

The Linguistic Regime

The Dutch Mama is, despite her name, from Cork as well. As the weekend went on, I could hear both of us reinforcing each other and speaking with more amd more pronounced Cork accents. The Dutch Papa is Dutch. Very Dutch, he’s 2 metres and 3 centimetres tall (nearly 7 feet) and one of my favourite things was seeing him bending all the way down to talk to Michael who was staring up at him with considerable interest (I suppose everyone is tall to Michael, though). The Dutch Papa used to live in Japan; he must have been a sensation there. The Dutch Mama speaks English to her children and I speak English to mine. Both the Princess and C were able to chat away happily to each other in English. They were not at all thrown when one or other of them spoke French or Dutch to another parent. However, E didn’t speak much English to us at the start and she didn’t get very far with Dutch; though the grown-ups and the boys were prepared to give it a go, the Princess certainly wasn’t. It was amazing by the end of the weekend how much more willing she was to chat away in English (to clarify, she had always been able to chat in English but just choose not to, I mean why would you bother, everyone speaks Dutch – you have to see her point, she’s only 3). At one point she said something to me and I didn’t understand “you know, I don’t understand a lot of Dutch, sweetheart”. She looked at me coldly “that wasn’t Dutch, it was Polish”. And, it was true, she’s minded by a Polish woman and speaks quite good Polish as well, clever girl.


Our friends do not, in fact, live in the Hague, they live in the Roman town of Voorburg which is, essentially, a nice leafy suburb of the Hague. Great was the Princess’s delight when she found that I had made a mistake. All weekend long we heard about foolish Mama’s ineptitude. We took a stroll around the suburbs and into the lovely old town, taking in the market. It almost reminded me of holidays before children (what, oh what did we find to worry about on those holidays?) except for the insistent demands for sweet purchases.

We went on a rural walk to look at windmills. Well, as the Dutch Mama pointed out, it was rural, if you could close your ears to the sounds of the motorway and look away from the tower blocks. My God, there are a lot of people there. It’s just as well 90% of them cycle everywhere because otherwise the country would be one big car park. Michael has become entranced by ducks. While the windmills left him cold, he very much enjoyed chasing ducks. “Ack, ack” he said pointing his little finger and trotting off in their direction. The Netherlands is full of open water. The Dutch Papa explained that it would cost too much to fence in all the open water in the Netherlands, so they taught people to swim; the whole law of tort seems to not have taken off there. They’re very pragmatic, the Dutch. Nevertheless, since Michael can’t actually swim, unlike the ducks he had set his heart on, this did present some problems. I was rather taken with the windmills which are inhabited and one of which had a duvet stuck out the middle window to air but I couldn’t really focus on them as I was trying to haul Michael away from water hazards.

We went to the beach; you’re never too far from the beach in the Netherlands. The children loved it, though Michael was scared of the sea. Daniel loved the sea and got his trousers wet chasing waves. The Princess focussed on denuding the Dutch coast of shells. The beach was busy. I couldn’t help comparing it to an Irish beach at this time of year where you would have a half dozen walkers. This beach was full of Dutch people disporting themselves with their dogs. “You asked me what I disliked about the Dutch” said the Dutch Mama “16 million people and they have 16 million dogs”. It really felt like it. The beach was very developed with lots of cafes and stalls. Nice, fine but so different. Obviously, it also had lots of bicycle racks. We went for tea and a bun. Michael took the Princess’s bucket of shells and turned it upside down. The Princess was furious. To my really intense mortification she said “Michael, you bastard, I’m going to pour tea all over you”. All the polite Dutch people looked at their feet. I wanted desperately to explain that really, this was not the kind of language she uses all the time and not me either but, of course, the problem is, she does travel in the car with me. In the past couple of weeks, she has taken to getting out of the bath and wrapping herself in a towel crouching on the floor and pretending to be a green cushion. The cushion says “shag it, shag it, shag it, you bastard”. I have tried ignoring and reprimanding “it’s the feathers in the cushion, Mama, not me” but she knows I don’t like it and she can use it against me. Must try harder either that or we walk everywhere in future.

On Easter Sunday, we all went to mass. I was a bit surprised that the Dutch contingent were coming. “We’re cultural catholics” explained the Dutch Mama. This is a far superior term to “lapsed”, I like it. Outside the church, there were, of course, hundreds of bicycles, all the more impressive when you consider that the average age of the congregation was 65. This was probably why we ended up sloping off early as our children’s were the only raised voices. In fact, C and E were very good and kept quiet by the promise of a further jelly from the supply that their mother had brought. The Princess also enjoyed the Dutch jelllies. She, however, approached matters differently by turning what was intended as a bribe into an opportunity for blackmail “I won’t be quiet, unless I get another jelly”. “My children never thought of that” muttered the Dutch Mama. I am so proud.


The children painted Easter eggs; the Princess discovered that she does not like hard boiled egss, however nicely they may be painted. They all hunted for chocolate eggs in the garden which was much more successful though Michael appears not to like chocolate. Can this be normal? They spent hours playing baffling games together. I fell down the steep stairs which are a feature of Dutch houses but no one else did. As I went bump, bump, bump down a flight of stairs, people came running from all sides. I sustained minor injuries other than to my dignity. The Princess was very thrown. As I sat in a heap on the floor she called “Mummy, mummy”. I thought she wanted something but no, she came wanted to check that I was alright and came running out to give me a kiss. Last night when I put her to bed, she was still exploring matters “You fell down the stairs Mummy”. “Yup”. “But normally, grown-ups don’t fall”. The whole thing was particularly embittering as I had just started to get my stairs legs and the pains in my thighs from climbing three flights were beginning to abate. Three stories over basement brings its own difficulties, I suppose.

The Princess rejected her own bed in favour of sleeping top to tail with C in his and E’s room and the three big children got to bath together which they enjoyed very much and gave us an opportunity to snap photos in our ongoing mission to ensure that no second of our children’s lives will remain unrecorded. After the bath, the Princess announced to C that she would have breasts when she grew up but he would not. She would also be able to have children but he would not. “I can be the Daddy” he countered but they both seemed to believe that she had the better deal. You would think that an inspection of the Dutch Mama who is currently seven months pregnant and not able to walk very far (though she still cycles to work – they’re Dutch) would convince them otherwise but no.

The Dutch

I was chatting to the Dutch Mama about the Dutch and what they are like and in many ways, we think they are like they see themselves. She says that living in the Netherlands has almost turned her into a monarchist. The Dutch queen is so nice. She described watching her going to some god forsaken part of the Netherlands where the locals appeared to have made a sculpture from sewage pipes to greet her. It was bucketing rain. One of the little girls from the band out to play for the queen had started to cry. She arrived and, said the Dutch Mama, you would genuinely think to look at her that there was absolutely nowhere she would rather be, she set everything to rights and also gave the crying little girl a hug. They’re tall, they’re pragmatic, they’re frugal, they’re hospitable, they believe in community. The Dutch Mama says that she reckons marrying a Dutch man has added ten years to her life. Before she met him she took less exercise, she smoked, she weighed more. And she reckons that her kids watch less TV than their Irish counterparts and that they are better served in creches and schools. I looked at her and asked “what quintessentially Dutch emotion are you experiencing at this moment?”. “Smugness” she replied instantly. Having the perfect society does have its downsides.

The return

Prised a howling Princess away from Voorburg and bundled everyone back to Brussels. The Princess and Daniel slept but Michael burbled quite cheerfully to us all the way back. The boys were surprised and delighted to see their home again but the Princess continues to pine for the delights of the Otherlands. Indeed, this very night the last thing she asked me before I turned out the light was when we would be going back to C and E’s house.


6 April, 2007 at 10:31 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess was little Miss Splendid this morning.  Little Miss Splendid is even better than little Miss Good.  I know, incredible.  We left the house at 8.15.  It was so early that we were able to go for breakfast before her course.

As we sat in the cafe, the coffee machine was going.  The Princess put her hands over her ears.

Her: That coffee machine is so noisy.

Me: Mmm, I know.

Her: And we don’t even like coffee, though grandad does.

Me: Yes he does.

Her: But not as much as he likes beer.

Me: No, probably not.

Her: He likes to go to the pub to drink beer a lot, doesn’t he?

And now, while Mr. Waffle gets in the shopping, I am supposed to be at home packing for our Easter weekend in the Hague where the Dutch Mama and her brood are patiently awaiting our arrival.  Must get to it.  Happy Easter.

A home question

5 April, 2007 at 8:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle has an Italian colleague who has given us loads of beautiful hand me down clothes for the boys.   They arrive in big bags in pristine condition, perfectly ironed.  We got another delivery during the week.

Mr. Waffle: Why are they so much nicer than all of the clothes we buy them?

Me: Because they’re really, really expensive and beautifully made.

Him: It’s as though she’s handing me a bag with €500 in it.

Me: Well, not really, I mean she’s not planning to have any more children so it’s nice for her to give them away to someone who appreciates them.  I’d like to do that.

Him: Well then why is our basement full of clothes our children have outgrown?

Persona non grata

4 April, 2007 at 2:32 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess is doing a lot of drawing and writing at the moment. Mostly, she just writes Mama backwards and other random letters (a lot of ls and os). She has drawn a number of pictures of the family and continues to produce abstract works at impressive speed. All of these efforts are “for your office, Mama”. I can barely close my briefcase and my handbag due to the number of folded artworks nestling inside. I tend to cull some of the offerings and select only the very best to adorn my office walls. It was for that reason that I came home the other day to find a furious Princess holding out a number of second tier works of art in indignation. “Mama, somebody put these in the bin!” she said. “Was it you?” she asked furiously. Oh dear. How was I to know that she would go searching in the bin for proof of my iniquity?

Where there is disharmony

3 April, 2007 at 11:52 pm by belgianwaffle

I went to a concert this evening in the Conservatoire. I know, it’s just glamour, glamour, glamour. It looks like it needs a lick of paint.

It is one of the Belgian institutions that is supported by both the French and the Flemish community (and maybe even the German speakers too, for all I know). This is deeply unfortunate because, before they can agree to pick up a paintbrush, all the parameters of the action have to be explored and agreed by both communities. I may be mixing up my communities and my regions here, it is all fiendishly complex: I think that there are two regions (Flanders and Wallonia) and three communities (French speaking, Flemish speaking and German speaking) but it’s all a bit of a mystery really. I have already written about the effect on the nation’s young orchestra conductors. Tonight I heard that the in the conservatoire, the bottom of the tympani (or drums as I used to call them before I heard the conservatoire types talking) are funded by the Flemish and the tops by the French. Something has to give.

Meanwhile, on the radio on the way home, I hear that one of the catholic cardinals has put the cat among the pigeons by saying that he disapproves of gay marriage, abortion and condoms. Um, this is a surprise?


2 April, 2007 at 8:38 pm by belgianwaffle

From the front page of the Sunday before last’s Observer:

“Washington and London accuse Iran of widespread interference in Iraq”

Multi-tasking for men

1 April, 2007 at 9:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Me (while writing letter): What are you up to?

Mr. Waffle (typing on computer): Hmm, what’s that?

Me (patiently): What are you doing on the computer?

Him (vaguely): Computer, what?

Me: Are you booking something, buying something?

Him (stopping typing and waving hands in front of face): I’m afraid Y chromosone has caused a general protection fault causing this programme to terminate. Would you like to send an error report to the creator?

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