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Archive for June, 2007

The problem with film festivals

29 June, 2007 at 9:08 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Fancy going to a flick tonight.

Him: OK

Me: There’s the film festival at Flagey; how about “Reprise”?

Him: What’s it about?

Me: “Since their childhood, Eric and Phillip wanted to become writers. Their ambition grew through their adoration of the remarkable Norwegian writer Sten Egil Dahl. And one day, each one of them decides to send a story to an editor. Only Phillip’s story is accepted and published. But the sudden media attention he gets and his psychotic obsession of his girlfriend Kari push him beyond the bearable limits.  He ends up in a psychiatric clinic”

Him: Very Nordic.

Me:  Mmm.  There’s more – “The narrative style of Joachim Trier .. reminds one of Christoffer Boe (Reconstruction), without the science fiction. It gives a vibrant atmosphere to the movie, with flashbacks succeeding one another really quickly. You won’t end up on the wrong trail, because the clear emotional story, the catchy soundtrack, the adequate graphics and the intelligent montage, make Reprise one of the most remarkable first long feature of last year”.

Him: Adequate graphics eh?

Me: Silence

How I wish I lived my life by the boy scouts’ motto

28 June, 2007 at 11:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Conversation at 9.30 yesterday evening:

Him: Tomorrow’s the last day at school and it has just occurred to me that we should probably buy presents for the teachers.

Me: Curse, curse, swear.

Him: Mmm.

Me: OK, we can cannabilise the present I got for my aunt, into three different presents and I’ll get her something else.

Him: And the other people in the garderie and so on?

Me: Snarl.

This morning

Me (in the boulangerie): And I’ll have three little packets of chocolates as well please.

Woman in shop: That will be 30 euros.

Me: 30 EUROS! Do you take cards?

Woman in shop: No.

Trek to bank tugging trailing Princess. Come back, buy world’s most expensive chocolates, turn up to school with sack of goodies.

Princess’s teachers: Oh presents how kind – much kissing. Presents are opened.

Teacher A: Oh, a book of, um, war photographs, how nice.

What can I say, my aunt is arty I thought a book of Robert Capa pics would be appealing.

Teacher B: Gosh, more war photographs, um, how interesting.

Teacher C: And some fridge magnets.

My aunt is also a bit hard to buy for, alright.

And so now I have no present for my aunt. In other news, the Princess may have lice again and we went to see Shrek yesterday, these items are not related but I thought I would include the former for completeness. She did not like Shrek. She sat on my lap, a ball of terror repeating “I want to go home” at regular intervals. She was particularly distressed by the irreverent portrayal of the Disney Princesses. Alas.

Feral cows or he who laughs last laughs longest

27 June, 2007 at 10:06 pm by belgianwaffle

My mother is afraid of cows. This is more of a problem than you might think since her father was a dairy farmer. When she was in primary school, she used to sit on the gate post until some kind passing soul would take her down and walk up the drive with her keeping her safe from marauding cows. I sometimes think that this might be part of the reason why she so enjoyed boarding school when she went. She was safe from the cows. She always said that she worked harder than us in school because she had more of an incentive “I knew, if I didn’t mind my lesson, I wouldn’t go to college and I would have to marry a farmer”. Her objection, you understand, was not to farmers per se but the farms that came with them. When we were small, I can remember going on a picnic and cows turning up in the field. My mother fled leaving her defenceless family to the mercy of the bovine invaders. I remember my father treacherously carrying me up to pat a cow on the nose saying “nice moo-cow”.

All this is by way of background. In the Irish Times a while ago, there was an article on feral cows. Apparently some unfortunate woman was set upon by her herd and killed. The article pointed out that bulls get a bad press but cows can be every bit as dangerous (cetainly trying to recast the villains there – a bit like John Waters and domestic violence). I spoke about it to my mother.

Her: I’m not a bit surprised that woman was attacked. She went out at twilight with a dog.

Me: At twilight?

Her: Cows are at their most dangerous at twilight.

Me (suppressing a snigger): Mooing at the moon and all that.

Her: Well, with all this factory farming, they’re not used to people any more. Mind you, they were always dangerous.

Me: Er, were they?

Her: I remember my mother going across the fields to visit Houlihans and encountering a herd of cows on the way back who chased her up the tree.

Me: No, really, what happened?

Her: She stayed there until your grandfather thought she’d been gone a long time and went out to look for her and drove off the cows.

Ramblers beware, you heard it here first.

Trendy

25 June, 2007 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Why you should not let your four year old pick out her own clothes.

Unlikely

25 June, 2007 at 10:37 pm by belgianwaffle

Headline from Saturday’s Irish Times: “German and Polish relations hit new low over treaty”. Really? A passing acquaintance with 20th century history would suggest that this is improbable.

Mother knows best

24 June, 2007 at 8:28 pm by belgianwaffle

5.00 am Princess wakes howling in agony saying her tummy is very sore.

5.10 am I ring my parents for advice (why should I suffer alone?) and push on a screaming Princess’s abdomen in line with instruction from Cork. “Does it hurt particularly when you press for a while and let go suddenly?” Well, it’s a bit hard to tell when she is screaming all the time.

5.15 am My instinct tells me that something is wrong and my parents say, if I’m concerned go to a doctor. I pack her into the car, leaving loving husband to mind the boys and zoom off to accident and emergency in the local hospital. Princess sobs pitifully in the back of the car.

5.20am Arrive at hospital. Carry Princess around the building looking for night entrance. Explain to her that they are very unlikely to cut her open (though in the back of my mind I am worried she has appendicitis) and she miraculously calms down and perks up.

5.25am Hand over her medical details to friendly man on the desk.

5.26am Princess lies down on examining chair in a nice kiddie friendly room and chats animatedly to the charming nurse. Otherwise A&E is deserted. I marvel at its cleanliness and the efficiency of the Belgian health system. The nurse takes the Princess’s temperature. 37.8.

5.34am A weary doctor, clearly roused from her slumbers, comes and does a thorough examination on the Princess and pronounces her perfectly healthy. The Princess continues to chat happily, I die of mortification.

5.50am Back home, rang father to give him an update – look, he suffers from insomnia, it’s good for him to have something to listen to other than radio 4.

6.00am Back to sleep to prepare for the rigours of a day which includes a visit to the farm and the aquarium. Motherly instinct, eh?

Love is, perhaps, a little short sighted

22 June, 2007 at 5:38 pm by belgianwaffle

Her: You look beautiful, Mummy.
Me: Thank you sweetheart.
Her (anxiously): Are you going out to a work dinner?
Me (looking at my grubby work clothes which I, stupidly, wore to feed the children and put them to bed): No, sweetheart, look at me, I’m filthy.
Her: I still think you’re beautiful, especially when you smile.
Me: What a nice thing to say.
Her: I have to set Daddy a good example.

It reminds me of when I was a little girl and I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. I remember particularly once when my mother was going to a garden party; it was the early 1970s and she was wearing a maxi dress with lots of different colours, though I think large pink flowers predominated and a big floppy white hat on her long blonde hair. I can remember not wanting her to go so that I could keep looking at her all afternoon.

Membership has its privileges

20 June, 2007 at 8:30 pm by belgianwaffle

On two occasions recently while Mr. Waffle and I have been putting the boys to bed, the Princess has tidied up.  Not just her mess but the mess in general.  Without being asked at all.  And she knows exactly where everything goes.  Imagine coming back from bathing and saying good night to the boys and finding that instead of having to get down on hands and knees and put everything away, it’s all been done.  How fabulous and how kind.  “Thank you, thank you” we said.  “Yes, amn’t I good” she said bursting with pride “and I’m so good, you don’t even have to say thank you to me!”

Adoption

18 June, 2007 at 11:33 pm by belgianwaffle

Everything I know about adoption, I learnt from Kateri. This knowledge, has made me, if possible, even more outraged by the case of Tristan Dowse. Tristan was adopted in Indonesia by an Irish-Azerbaijani couple when he was 2 months old. At that time they thought they couldn’t have children of their own. In fact, they had a daughter just before Tristan’s first birthday. By the time he was nearly two, Tristan’s parents decided that the whole adoption thing wasn’t working out and dumped him in an orphanage in Indonesia and never saw him again.

The case was covered extensively in the Irish media at the time but, reading the details in the high court judgement, if anything, makes the whole thing seem more grim, depressing and inexplicable. The only rays of sunshine are an eventual happy ending for Tristan and the fact that the Irish public services appear to have covered themselves in glory.

Discipline

15 June, 2007 at 1:37 pm by belgianwaffle

The mothertalk people want us to talk about discipline: I am as putty in their hands. In fact, I have been meaning to write about this for a while. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, I said to the internet, “my daughter is stroppy, what will I do with her?

I got some kind advice from people inside the computer but the best advice I got was from my mother and mother-in-law both of whom have the advantage of knowing her better than most. My mother said simply “you don’t praise her enough, praise her more”. I protested indignantly that I praised her plenty and am I supposed to praise her when she whacks her brother on the head? But I thought about it and now when she is bold, rather than criticising her, I try to think about some good thing she has done recently and talk about that instead. I am amazed how effective it is. I never thought that she would fall for such a transparent ploy.

My mother-in-law who is a psychologist (or mind reader as she puts it, humourously, yet somehow unnervingly) sent me a page of advice and I have found it so hugely helpful that I am going to share it with the internet. Here it is:

“I have read your plea for ideas .. I have no solutions re a young lady with such an iron will- but

have you thought of keeping a kind of diary to see if there is a pattern – certain times of the day when she gets stroppy or circumstances. It might create some “distance” for you.

“They” say try to give attention when she is being good and try to ignore (as much as you can stand) when she is being less good! Sometimes children twig the best way to get ANY KIND OF ATTENTION even being given out to – shouting etc which they seem to feel is better than nothing. I don’t think this applies to yourselves but it might be worth looking at.

In general rewards are seen in “psychology land” as being better than punishment. One reason being that parents run out of punishments and have to think up bigger and better ones! The TV might work – if used as a reward rather than its loss being a punishment – can she “earn” a treat she can choose – perhaps from among choices – see the star chart idea below.

The naughty step is not seen as the best by some child psychologists – it’s seen as isolating and cold. I think it may help the child to understand the behaviours that the parent doesn’t want but that learning should be reasonably quick.

Another thought – many children do not really know what the parents want – i.e. what is bad/good behaviour – sometimes because parents are inconsistent ( because they are particularly tired, irritable etc) It would be worthwhile perhaps checking over one of your girly post school café visits – what does she think is bad behaviour?

Personally I think you are doing a fantastic job – keeping everything afloat in a busy life – and there is wonderful warmth and fun in your interactions with the children and this can only be good.

Princess is perhaps a special case – I have witnessed her “iron will” as you put it so well – eg her insistence of bringing those wretched stones to the airport- we ignored the sounds in the back of the car as she transferred them to her bag – and left the problem for yourself and you know what happened then!

So – think of keeping a diary – both of you – it will give you a sense of control eg are there patterns that you could manage differently e.g when she is tired or you are tired?

Explore what she understands to be “bad “behaviour – are things clear in her mind.

You could use star charts (daily) for example sad/happy faces where she fills in the happy/sad details ie the mouth – turned up or down – perhaps a few tears!

Try to reward good behaviour and ignore bad – if you can manage this – ie don’t unwittingly “reward” stroppy behaviour by giving her your undivided attention when she is being trying. A diary might give you some idea of if you are falling into that trap!

I think I’ll have a cup of tea now! Looking forward so much to meeting up with you in July- the house is roomy and if the weather behaves there will be lots of distraction for the children – I am determined that you get lots of time for yourselves while we bond/rebond with the three.”

You see how nice she is about our parenting techniques, I thought I would leave that in so that you can see how wonderful we are. Also, see the bit about babysitting, I thought that I’d leave that in because I want to hold her to it.

A lot of this advice seems like common sense but, yet, it hadn’t occurred to us. I suspect the fact that it was tailored for us by someone who knows us all, made us more willing to follow it as well.

What my mother-in-law said about running out of punishments really rang true for us. The coin colere had completely lost its menace and the Princess would often say “I like the coin colere” which drove us mad with frustration. I always felt that I didn’t want to bribe her to do things but now I think I was absolutely insane. Bribery and rewards are the way of the future. They work for me. We started the happy face on the calendar on May 25 and her behaviour has improved immensely. I didn’t think that she would go for something so obvious: a smily face and after five smily faces a treat. But she did. The other morning she even said to me “the faces on the calendar is a good game, isn’t it Mummy?” And it’s not even like the treats are particularly spectacular, just things we would have given her anyway – a biscuit, some television, a little book. I’m astounded. Mind you, our calendar looks like this:

What my mother would call burning the candle at both ends (she has a special tone of voice for that)

15 June, 2007 at 1:06 pm by belgianwaffle

In the past three weeks we have been to Spain, I have travelled for work, twice, I have had three delegations in Brussels and I was at work dinners on Monday and Tuesday night.  On Monday I had a migraine (I should have cancelled, why didn’t I cancel?) but I took two paracetemol and struggled on.  Stupid.  More particularly since I had the rather alarming experience of not being able to talk.  I knew what I wanted to say (“pass the salt”) but couldn’t say it (“pash, the thank you”), it was a little alarming and it made me uncharacteristically silent and probably not the best dining companion for my colleagues.

On Wednesday, Mr. Waffle was travelling for work, so I picked up the boys and herself and brought them all home, fed them dinner which they refused to eat, tucked them into bed (the Princess holding out to 9.00 much to my chagrin), cleared up dinner, swept, put away toys and clothes put on the dishwasher, put on the washing machine, put on the dryer (I know, I’m pushing the climate change doomsday clock all by myself here) and at 10.30 sat down to have a nice cup of tea.  Watched some dreadful television and went to bed at 11.30 to polish off the Sunday papers savouring the unusual pleasure of being able to read in bed (I am the owl in our relationship).  Overdid the reading in bed and only turned out the lights at 12.20 and gave the boys their first bottle at 12.40.   Then all was silent and the house slept.

At 5.30 yesterday morning, I heard the patter of little footsteps.  The Princess was wandering round the house hysterically looking for her father.   “He’s away” I said.  “I want Daddy,” she said at the top of her voice.  She was red in the face with tears streaming down her cheeks.  Given the combative relationship she and her father usually enjoy in the morning, I can’t imagine why she felt he would welcome this were he, in fact, home but I suppose she was hysterical from lack of sleep.  She would not go back to bed and the boys were now roaring for my attention.  When I got into their bedroom, they were standing up in their cots chatting loudly to each other across the room (mostly they chat in animal noises – moo, ack ack, I know, baa, neigh).  I tried to persuade them back to bed but it was a forlorn hope.  There we were, all up to face the day at 5.45.  The children, their evil demands granted, were in great form and played quite happily together.  I wept bitter exhausted tears in the shower listening to their happy squeals from my bed next door which, as one, they had determined was the best place to burn off their excess early morning energy.  I comforted myself with the recollection that the childminder would be coming at 8.00 and, at least, I didn’t have to get the boys dressed and heft them to the crèche.  Well, I did until she rang at 6.30 to say that she was sick (for the first time ever) and wouldn’t be able to make it.

So, we all got dressed and prepared to leave.  Just thought I would mention that when I drew the curtains in the Princess’s room they fell down, and when we came to the lift some idiot had left the door open downstairs so I had to walk down 2 flights of stairs with a boy on each hip – 22.5 kilos altogether, since you ask – and their various accessories clamped in my jaws; it was that kind of morning.  As well as being the lark in our relationship, Mr. Waffle is also the ant to my extravagant, heedless grasshopper.  This is why it is necessary for him to say to me, every Wednesday when I have a half day from work “will you buy some bread this afternoon?”  Since he was away, I had not bought bread the previous day and the Princess needed sandwiches. I packed the boys into the buggy and we all went to the bakery on the way to school.  It began to dawn on me that though we had been up since 5.30 in the morning we were still going to be late for school which must be something of a record.  The Princess was so tired on the way that she bumped into a lamp post and a post box and I had to carry her (15kgs) weeping for much of the journey while pushing the double buggy with my other hand.  I delivered her to the relative safety of the classroom, took the boys home and strapped them into the car to go to the crèche.  Although we have a childminder three days a week we pay for the crèche five days a week as back up, just in case – alas, we have no relatives in Belgium.  Possibly not alas for them.  I allowed myself a moment’s smugness somewhat undercut by reflection on the Princess’s very just observation that someone would have to collect her from school, if the childminder was not there.  I contemplated leaving her in the after school “garderie” but knew that she would be horrified so, dutifully, rang around babysitters until I found one available to collect her.

Finally got into the office at 9.45, bright eyed and bushy tailed and more than ready to do a full and productive day’s work.  Ahem.  Is it any wonder that I decided that I’d better take today off.

Some things

13 June, 2007 at 8:50 pm by belgianwaffle

We buy 30 litres of milk a week.

The Princess continues her fascination with the largeness of our Dutch friend and why food needs to be dead before we eat it. She brought these together neatly the other night.

Her: Why is the quail dead before we eat it?

Me: Because it tastes nicer cooked and it would be hard to eat it, if we had to chase it round the room first.

Her: It would be easier to catch if it were bigger. It would be good to have a quail the size of the Dutch Papa running around the room

Me: Actually, it might not be.

At school they had some eggs and watched them hatch into chickens and turn into hens. They did lots of work on the chicken life cycle and pulled it all together in a bound folder she brought home. “Look” she said “my dossier de l’oeuf”. Ah, the romance languages.

Competitive spirit or an explanation for the decline in Irish vocations

8 June, 2007 at 10:28 pm by belgianwaffle

Email from a friend who works in an international organisation:

“When I was a lickle boy, one would often be asked “are you going to be a priest when you grow up?”, and even from a very young age my reply was that there was only one cardinal in Ireland, and anyway an Irishman could never become Pope, so there was no point in my becoming a priest. Which would tend to suggest that, with such an attitude to nationality-related promotional vacancies, I was predestined to become a[n]….official (notwithstanding the fact that the fact that Ireland would incredibly produce not one but two secretaries-General).”

Very small prize, if you identify the international organisation.

A Spain of two halves

6 June, 2007 at 9:41 pm by belgianwaffle

Before Mr. Waffle and I had children, we used to holiday in Spain a lot.  These holidays were very luxurious as befitted a dual income couple with no children: paradores, Michelin starred restaurants, all sorts of good things.   We even went to Spain for our honeymoon and we stayed here and it was very wonderful indeed.  We had never visited anywhere further south than Seville and it had all been perfect in every way.


Since we have had children, almost all of our holidays have been with our families.  Their matchless babysitting skills have made our holidays possible.  So, this trip to Spain alone with three children, two of whom were sick you will recall, was a bit of an adventure for us.

 

The plane trip was 2 hours and 35 minutes which was an unbearable length of time and made us both think glumly about our proposed summer odyssey to America.  The boys were sick and listless and, actually, that was quite good because it meant that they were calm.  They needed every morsel of calm to put up with their sister moaning, kicking, patting and pinching.  She was a pain but, all good things come to an end and we arrived.

 

We stayed here for the first two nights.  We would have stayed longer but it was fully booked.  It was very nice and reminded me of our glorious Spanish holidays of the past.  There were, however, a number of difficulties.  I have never been to the Costa del Sol before and, frankly, it is kind of rotten.  It is a prime example of what can go wrong without the application of proper planning laws.  Yes, the scenery is beautiful and the weather was very pleasant (not too hot, not too cold, just right) but the buildings are mostly horrible.  Big apartment blocks stretching forever and turning the coast into a huge ugly conurbation.  Mostly, it appears these were owned by Irish people of whom there are very many in the South of Spain.  There was also the odd British soul but they were overwhelmed by the volume of celtic tigers.

 

Nevertheless, I heartily recommend the parador in Nerja.  I could only salivate enviously at the retired Scottish woman (who clearly goes there every year – I could tell by the way she was embracing the cleaning staff and chatting genially in Spanish) who told me that they were having a nice long stay this year – 4 weeks.  She looked at harassed me with my three children and said kindly that she had five herself including a set of twins and that I would look back on these as the best years of my life because, at least, I knew where they were.  Ominous.

 

We had a ground floor bedroom with a little terrace in front.  It led across a lawn to the swimming pool and then on to the lift to the beach.  All lovely really.  But the boys were sick and miserable.  The Princess made friends with two charming English children next door and we shamelessly outsourced her care to their grandmother and parents.  When I asked her afterwards what the best part of the holiday was, she said “climbing trees with Ben and Annie”.  We have a Costa del Sol bunny called Annie in honour of their friendship. The Princess loved the pool and so did the boys, especially Michael.  In retrospect it may not have helped their illness to let them go swimming every day but it was hard to resist their demands when the swimming pool was visible shimmering invitingly every time we went out the door of our bedroom.  The boys were alright during the day and we kept thinking that they were better but at night they were unhappy.   As were the rest of us as we were all sleeping in the same room and trying to persuade the Princess to be silent and not wake her sick brothers was impossible.  Thursday night was a low point.  We had hoped to put the children to bed and sample some of the delicious food available in the parador on our terrace.  Fat chance.  We finally got them to go to sleep at 10.30 by which time we were far too tired to do anything ourselves other than go to bed, ready for the boys to wake up at midnight and half hourly intervals thereafter. On Friday morning, after our miserable night, we called a doctor.  While the Princess was minded by her new friends, the doctor came and said that the boys had tonsillitis.  Unglamourous.  He was very pleasant about being called out for a minor infection (but really temperatures of 40 plus for three days, how could we guess) and prescribed some amoxycillin because that is what doctors seem to do to be on the safe side.  They’d already had some when I was pregnant and they seemed to enjoy the nasty chalky taste.  They are supposed to get it every eight hours for a week and we are doing our best to comply but I fear that we are busy creating an antibiotic resistant strain of tonsillitis.

 

On from Nerja to La Herradura where our friends have an apartment and where the great birthday dinner was to be celebrated.  The hotel in La Herradura was much less glamourous than in Nerja but it did have a much larger room.  We were also somewhat comforted by the doctor’s diagnosis so, though the boys were not happier, we were.  We went to visit our friends in their flat and it was all very pleasant and the boys were reasonably well behaved though Michael was slightly howly and with his conjunctivitis and sickly pallor, he looked a bit alarming.  Daniel was actually sicker, but he doesn’t complain as much.  As our friends M&R have no children, it occurs to me that they may not have regarded our children’s behaviour in quite as kindly a light as we did but there you go, someone has to pay their pensions.

 

The following day, I decided that we should use the pool in M and R’s apartment complex because I am shameless.  I turned up with the Princess and Michael (Daniel was too sick and Mr. Waffle stayed back at the hotel with him) and disturbed our friends sending them scurrying about to do our bidding (hold Michael; find the Princess a float..).  Once our extensive needs were met they retired from the lists in exhaustion. As they are childless, it hadn’t occurred to them that a pool where the water, at its shallowest point, was above my waist, probably wasn’t ideal for the under 5s.  I was tempted to turn tail but the Princess and Michael were very keen to get in so I hopped in with them, putting the Princess on a long tube like float found by R and keeping Michael in my arms.   No sooner were we in, of course, than the Princess announced that she wanted to do a poo.  So we all climbed out again and went to the toilet.  I had to put Michael down to wipe her bottom and, of course, he slipped and fell on the wet floor leading to profound unhappiness.  Have you ever tried to wipe a four year old’s bottom while holding on to a squealing one year old?  It is marvellous.  Back to the water. The Princess got on very well with the float but Michael squirmed in my arms trying to get further in.  I put him sitting on the edge of the pool for a moment and seizing his advantage he began running around the edge as he had seen the big children doing.  There wasn’t time to get the Princess out so I ran after him, wading about in the pool.  It was terrifying.  Fortunately, he decided to jump in while I was there to catch him (something he also picked up from the big children).  He is, however, too little to know how to jump so he just threw himself in on his tummy.  Oh how he enjoyed it, oh how disappointed he was that Mummy wasn’t going to let him do it again.  And how vocal his disappointment.  His loving sister was really very sweet to him trying to cheer him up.  “Here” she said “have my float”.  And promptly sank.  I yanked her from the bottom of the pool, spluttering and horrified (all three of us) while hanging on to Michael on my hip.  I don’t think she really believed that she couldn’t swim.  With a child in each arm, I hauled us out of the pool.   The Princess sat wrapped in her towel in deep shock.  “I could have drownded” she said to me reproachfully.  She sat in silence a little longer, pondering this limitation of her powers.  “But I wouldn’t have drownded” she said.  “No, of course not, because Mummy was there” I said.  “No” she said, “because I was holding my nose like this [untrue] and kicking my legs [possibly true but unlikely]”.  She smiled and leapt up, reassured of her powers.  She didn’t show much appetite to go back in the pool though.

 

One thing we have learnt from this holiday is that hotels with small children are a disaster.  We have had very positive experiences in Italy in the past but that was different as the local hotel owner was, like everyone else in the small Sicilian town where he’s from, a good friend of my sister-in-law’s father (the piccolo cugino’s grandfather, try to keep up) and cooked odd things for us at all kinds of times and did laundry and generally exerted himself above and beyond the call of duty.  Though the staff, in the parador in particular, were very helpful, it wasn’t quite the same.

 

Meals presented us with fundamental problems.  Lunch in Andalusia is served from 2 and dinner from 9, at the earliest.  The boys eat at 12 and 6 and it was impossible to persuade them that the new times might suit.  We picnicked a lot in the hotel room, stocking the minibar with tortilla and ham.  While Spanish ham is second to none, if I never see a ham and cheese sandwich again, I won’t care.  Michael, I have to say, illness or no, ate ham for every meal with a very good grace. “Jamon, jamon!” said his sister.  “Am” said Michael appreciatively.  He nearly keeled over from excitement when we went into a bar with hams hanging from the ceiling “am, am” he cried pointing as far as the eye could see.  This is the first Spanish holiday from which I will return home quite a bit lighter than when I started.

 

Then there was socialising which went much better.  Mr. Waffle’s mother was an au pair in Paris in her teens (stay with me here) and she made friends with a Spanish au pair.  Over the years they stayed in touch and when the Spanish woman’s daughter needed to learn English, she came to Dublin and met her mother’s old friend and then she met an Irish man, married him and carried him back to Andalusia.  We see them and their two children every Christmas and they are delightful, which would explain why they drove for an hour and a half to meet us for lunch in La Herradura.  I think it all went swimmingly or so the photos appear to indicate.  Alas, I had to retire to the hotel with two howling and unhappy boys – more ham and tortilla.  The hiberno-hispanic family came equipped with presents for our girl and boys.  Of course, we hadn’t thought to bring anything.  Alas.  And their presents were such a hit.  The Princess loves this book. Their two little girls are 8 and 5 and they are extraordinarily pretty children.  The older girl has also got the sweetest disposition and spent ages trying to cheer up the boys, in vain.  The younger girl may well be very sweet also but I have to say in her robust attitude she reminded me much more of my own daughter who is many things but only sweet when it suits her.

 

The Spaniards were very kind to us.  “Guapa” they said to the Princess.  “Guapa” she agreed.  As always, our daughter was a stickler for accuracy.  In Andalusia, the final Spanish s leads a fugitive existence.  “Adio” would say the Spaniards.  “Adios” she would correct. “Gracia” they would say.  “Gracias” she would snap.

There were good things about the trip.  The Princess had a wonderful time.  When we split forces and one of us went with her, we had fun on the beach, in the pool, occasionally even eating.  But the boys were deeply miserable.  Even on Sunday, when they were nearly better, Michael howled for a good hour as we tried to find somewhere to give us a ham sandwich in Almunecar at 12.  Saintly Daniel fell asleep in despair.

By far the best bit of our time away was Sunday evening.  There were nearly 80 people over for M and R’s joint 50th, almost all of whom, incidentally, appear to have invested in high quality apartments in Spain.  Miraculously, the children were sufficiently recovered to leave them with a babysitter and to mind them marvellous M dug out a cousin’s teenage daughter from La Herradura who spoke perfect Spanish and perfect English (what it is to have relatives everywhere, he’s like Charlie Haughey).

M and R will never get married because even if Ireland allows some kind of civil partnership in the future, R, who is profoundly conservative in some ways, would deeply disapprove.  So this was like their wedding, in a way.  There were toasts.  There was a very elaborate Spanish menu (food! no ham for me, thanks), there was flamenco dancing, there were speeches, there were table plans.  Need I say more?

I thought I would know no one but I have known M and R for nearly 20 years and I discovered that over this time, I’ve got to know a lot of their friends and relations, they like to mix people.  I first met M when I was a lowly apprentice solicitor and he was a partner.  He made me get him a lunchtime sandwich once which was a low in our friendship and something he has been paying for ever since.  I was only comforted by the brightest solicitor in the practice telling me that when he was an apprentice he spent his time collecting his master’s dry cleaning.  Still M had to pay and, I think I can say he has done so.  Over the past 17 years, he has bought me lunch innumerable times when I was poor and needy and even when I was not (they had got into the habit), he and R have had me to stay many, many times.  They allowed me and Mr. Waffle to live in their lovely house in Dublin while they went to work in exotic locations [once I asked R for a reference, because not only are they charming, they are important too and he said “Dear Anne, I would give you a reference for anything except gardening”, so we were bad tenants to boot].  We got married while we were living there.  M sang at our wedding.   A lot of people still think that their house is our house because of all the parties we threw there.  Even when M and R returned to their house, they still encourage us to hold a joint Christmas party there every year when we came home from exotic Belgium.  For years, on Christmas Eve, M would drive me from Dublin where we both worked to our families in Cork.  We had such fun.  Gallingly, he always stopped in Mitchelstown to see an old friend from college and his wife: three hours into the drive and only an hour to Cork (I was glad though when I saw his Mitchelstown friends at the party – see there is a point to these things sent to try us). When I go back to Dublin without the children now, I always stay with them and not just because their house is convenient and still feels like home.  They are the easiest people to be with, entertaining, undemanding, kind, exceptionally generous and interesting.

And they had a great party full of interesting people: the French man working in Gaza whose parents run a B&B in their chateau; the former UN worker from Bosnia who stands a good chance of being elected to Parliament in Australia later this year; loads of lawyers of varying degrees of eminence and on and on and on.  I was delighted to meet M’s nephew and niece who are half Spanish, from nearby Grenada, and whom I had met 10 years previously on a Christmas Eve trip to Cork.  Then they were 3 and 6 but now they were 13 and 16.  I did that very annoying thing exclaiming and exclaiming how big they’d got and they were patient with me.  I was very nearly tongue tied on seeing his niece who was a pretty child but is the most beautiful 16 year old I’ve ever seen in my life.  Quite extraordinary.  M’s 92 year old father was also there.  He made a great speech and later when I was chatting to him confided to me that he was, however, getting on, he had given up shooting when he missed a pheasant earlier this year.  Impressive but a little unnerving, my parents live in Cork too, you know.

The following day, Monday, our trip home was mercifully without incident.  The boys were surprised and delighted to see their home again and ran around checking that all the furniture was still there.  Even the Princess was pleased to be back.  I wouldn’t have missed the party for the world but it was very nice to be home.  This made it even more galling that today, Wednesday, I had to travel for work.  It has perhaps not been a spectacularly good day.  My flight was delayed by 4 hours and I missed my meeting.  On the plus side, since Michael gave me his conjunctivitis, I looked to my colleagues as though I had been weeping all day at the pain of arriving late.  I also think I feel the onset of tonsillitis.  Alas.

If you are still reading, you are a hero.  Thank you.


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