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Archive for December, 2007

Change of career or the efficacy of penal sanctions

28 December, 2007 at 4:42 pm by belgianwaffle

Her: When I grow up I want to be a fishmonger?

Me: Why sweetheart?

Her: I want to know about fish.

Later.

Her: When I grow up, I want to be a thief. Pause. I don’t want to go to prison though.  Further pause.  Mummy, you said children don’t go to prison, didn’t you?

Technical Skills

24 December, 2007 at 12:29 am by belgianwaffle

Princess:  Mummy, Mummy come quickly Michael is playing with electricity.

I arrive in to find Michael has plugged in the television and turned it on.  He is sitting mutinously on the couch, clutching the remote and challenging me to remove it from him on pain of hysterics.

Please note that his older sister still does not know how to turn on the television.

Bilan

23 December, 2007 at 12:26 am by belgianwaffle

We had a parent-teacher meeting for the Princess the week before last which I found very comforting.  Her teacher showed an admirable level of knowledge about our little girl which, considering that there are 26 kids in the class is, I think, no mean feat.  She showed us how the Princess was progressing on acquiring the range of skills that children are supposed to know by the end of the year and it was all very welcome and illuminating.  That child is so like me (she is a fidget – when I eat dinner in Cork, my father places all the condiments out of my reach so that I will not irritate him by unconsciously playing with them –  and a daydreamer) and her father (she is too cautious to do many of the exercises in gym and she is stubborn as a mule). For me, what was best was that she said that the Princess was very like 70% of children and just didn’t make friends in a way that we would understand the term.  I can see that this is true from her interactions with other children but I’m relieved to hear that its completely normal.

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

21 December, 2007 at 5:35 pm by belgianwaffle

Our flight from Brussels to Dublin was delayed by two miserable hours, one of which was spent in the airport and one on the tarmac at Brussels Airport.  While at Brussels airport, a kind man with the most extraordinary socks admired our children.  He looked vaguely familiar and I asked had we met but he said he thought not.  We chatted on, he was pleasant to the children.  He looked v. familiar.  Did he live in Brussels? No.  Some further discussion revealed that he was “in the grocery trade”.  And then I recognised Supermarket colossus Senator Fergal Quinn and I tell you what, come the next senate elections, he’s going to get my vote – he was both pleasant and unassuming.  No, I have no idea what his politics are, it just shows, it’s still worth kissing babies in politics.  We met lots of other people we know and lots of them knew him as well so in the end we had  a big group of people chatting together around our fratchety children.  Alas, though everyone said how lovely they were (tactful people), nobody had any occasion to remark that they were well-behaved because we were not.  The plane offered us the traditional helping of MEPs (Prionsias de Rossa and Avril Doyle both looking a bit grumpy) and, of course, Commissioner McCreevy sitting up the front looking a bit self conscious, I thought.

Anyway, they were obviously all a bit peckish as the flight was two hours delayed with the deeply unwelcome result that those in the middle of the plane had a choice of crisps or shortbread for lunch.  We arrived in Dublin airport crabby and hungry and the purchase of two sandwiches for the scandalous price of 9 euros only abated one of these problems.  I am not a fan of Dublin airport but I will say for them that the presence of Santa dispensing sweets in the arrivals hall certainly built up a bit of good will.  We knew he was the real Santa because he knew we were going to see Grandma and Granddad.  Imagine.

However, all that was yesterday and today has been a much better and more peaceful day.  And we don’t have to travel again until Monday when we get the train to Cork.

Happy Winter Solstice.

Francoise

21 December, 2007 at 5:22 pm by belgianwaffle

Following an admirable tradition thought up by the Dutch Mama, soft toys in our house are called after their donors.  The Princess won a giraffe at the fair and we asked the stall holder his name so that we could pass it on to the giraffe (suitably feminised as the giraffe was definitely a girl).

“Francoise” said our girl “what a strange name”. Her father and I protested that it was a classic French name.  “Like Manon”.  She shook her head.  “Or Sophie.” “No, but”, she volunteered hopefully, “we have two Imanes in our class”.

Paean to the office

20 December, 2007 at 5:04 pm by belgianwaffle

I don’t write much about work here but I think this little vignette gives a flavour of what it’s like:

Polish colleague: Did you enjoy N [his boss]’s party?

Me: Yes, she throws an excellent party. What time did you leave at?

Him [sheepishly]: Actually, I didn’t. N had to put me to bed.

Me: Goodness.

Him: Thank God I’m gay, otherwise it would have been really embarrassing.

The office has been one great love in of parties and presents over the past week.  A male colleague had to flee the office saying “the estrogen in here is overpowering”.

Have I mentioned before that I enjoy my job? And not just for the end of year partying, but possibly also for the reasons outlined by Alice here:

“It’s hard to admit that sometimes you’re happier when you can be away from your kids for a while. Working mothers still feel guilty that their careers are important to them. There are certain antiquated notions to which we cling: Children are the light of our lives; women would rather nurture than achieve; when children grow up and leave us we wither away.”

I tried not to but I have to say it; you know I love my children, don’t you?

The Widow’s Mite

19 December, 2007 at 5:03 pm by belgianwaffle

At mass on Sunday, there was a table with markers and paper set aside for small children. The Princess bounded up. There was another little girl ensconced colouring a little Kitty picture slowly and deliberately. “These” she said covering them with an arm “are my markers”. Although there were lots of other markers, it soon became abundantly clear why she had brought her own as none of the church supplied ones worked at all well. The Princess was distraught. Had I a biro? I had not.

There was another small girl drawing at the table with a solitary pen her grandmother had given her. She said to me “would your little girl like to borrow my pen?”. I nearly hugged her. Great rejoicing ensued and the two children bonded and shared the pen and at the sign of peace wandered round the church together and cordially shook hands with everyone in the congregation.

There’s a moral there somewhere.

A Christmas Miracle

19 December, 2007 at 5:00 pm by belgianwaffle

Last Friday night, after her brothers had gone to bed, Mr. Waffle and I took the Princess out to experience the Christmas Market and ancillary attractions. She absolutely loved it and so did we. She was as good as gold. We didn’t get home until 11.00. I said to her “I am a little bit worried that you will be tired tomorrow and very difficult”. “So am I” she said. And so she was. We went to the Brico (DIY shop) and she screamed blue murder. We were mortified. She didn’t really catch up on Sunday either. On Monday when I got home from work, the childminder said the Princess had gone for a nap at 5.30. When Mr. Waffle came home, I persuaded him that we should leave her: she had eaten and she was really tired. “OK” he said “but what happens, if she wakes up at 2.00 in the morning?”. “She won’t and, if she does, I will get up with her”. At 2.00 in the morning, there was a knock on the bedroom door “I want to get up”. My noble, noble, saintly husband got up with her, gave her corn flakes and, most miraculously, persuaded her to go back to bed. The following morning, all was sweetness and light.

Frantic

19 December, 2007 at 2:11 am by belgianwaffle

You may have noticed the absence of posts last week, then again, possibly not. Well, I was frantic anyway.  I contributed to this by having two medical appointments during the week.  They were made months ago and I cursed my lack of foresight.  Last week was when I began to panic about having done no Christmas shopping; mind you this feeling rapidly abated when I actually went round the shops to buy things and found them quite empty and the Belgian shop assistants said to me things like “getting your shopping out of the way early? Very sensible”.  Sometimes it is a complete joy to live in Belgium.

Tuesday was possibly my worst day.  We had our office Christmas lunch.  It was prepared in the kitchen downstairs by two of my colleagues and it was superb.  I know because I watched them frying the foie gras while I patiently sous cheffed (sp?) and stuffed miniature pickled bell peppers with cream and goat’s cheese and did up the blinis.  Unfortunately, I had to leave at 3.45 which was exactly when the rest of my colleagues were preparing to sit down to their four course lunch (from which they rose at 11.00 and proceeded to dance in the kitchen, I understand).  I was off to the ophthalmologist who said that Daniel’s lazy eye isn’t much better and, if it isn’t better in March, he’ll have to have surgery.  She also said that she couldn’t examine the Princess properly because she needed to put in drops.  She could not put in drops because the Princess had a temperature and, as you know (how, how would I know, why do doctors at home assume that you are completely ignorant and doctors in Belgium assume you’re in third med?), the drops cause a spike in temperature.  I only found out she had a temperature when the school rang me at work to ask whether they could give her some paracetemol.  Her teacher said “I know she must be sick because she is a child who never complains normally”.  This runs directly counter to my own experience, but however.

Arrived home ravenous (having missed lunch) and ate a large plate of pasta with my family before Mr. Waffle and I packed the children off to bed. It was only then I remembered that I was actually scheduled to go out to dinner with the book club. Undaunted, I went.

I was sitting beside a new bookclub member at dinner.  This was unfortunate as it turned out that an old bookclub member, C, sitting opposite to me had spent 5 of her formative years in the little town where new member had grown up.  This led to much reminiscing which they would try to curtail from time to time but they got carried away, particularly new member who is new to Belgium also and was delighted to find an old companion.  I am a little tired of Newport. I did hear two rather lovely stories though.

C’s mother is Belgian.  A friend of  C’s took her to tea at her (the friend’s) house and announced proudly to C that there would be a foreign lady there.  C went, agog with excitement, only to find her own mother ensconced.  There was also the time that C’s mother was taken to meet the headmaster’s wife because “she was foreign too” and though C’s mother and the headmaster’s wife did become good friends, C is not sure that this was because all foreigners must have something in common, including Belgians and Russians.  I also quite enjoyed the new member asking C (who is always v. elegant) “were you the little girl with the stripy knickers?”.  “They were my petit bateau underpants” said C to me in some embarrassment – presumably imported from exotic Belgium to Newport.

Also, in non-Newport news, the conversation veered round to childbirth.  C says that this happens every time the bookclub (all female) meets.  I hadn’t been aware of it myself but C has an interesting theory that this is a major life event for women and one that is never really talked about much because men rule the world.  This theory was comprehensively rubbished by two men when she produced it in the presence of my husband and the Glam Potter’s but I am quite attracted by it.  Anyway, I digress.

Most of those around the table had given birth in great comfort in Belgium, the land where the epidural was invented and something like 97% of all births are assisted by this rather wonderful anaesthetic.  The new member has recently arrived from Britain where using pain relief is regarded as unholy.  We were complacently agreeing that giving birth in Belgium was an excellent experience and new member said brightly “why, is it all midwife led?” to uproarious laughter.  She then told us her giving birth story which is, I think, one of the best I have heard.  She was pregnant with her second child and travelling to hospital in the back of her husband’s car.  It had a very noisy engine (this is important).  She had her baby in the back of the car, checked that the baby was breathing, that the cord wasn’t round her neck etc. and picked her up and cradled her in her arms.  Then, she cleared her throat and said loudly to her husband, who was still driving “I’ve had the baby”.  To which he replied “WHAT? I didn’t hear a thing”.

Extract from email conversation with Dutch Mama

17 December, 2007 at 9:51 pm by belgianwaffle

From: Belgianwaffle
To: DutchMama
 

Am under severe pressure on Santa. “How does Santa’s sleigh fly?” “By magic” “You told me that there is no magic in real life”. Help.

 

From: DutchMama
To: Belgianwaffle

I’m just vague about most things and that seems to work.

 

“I don’t know, what do you think”.

 

“Hmm, that’s a good question, maybe we should ask him that in the letter. What are you going to ask him for this year?”

 

(Did you really tell her there was no magic in real life? Gee, I foresee problems for you with transubstantiation.)

 

Happy Anniversary

16 December, 2007 at 8:20 pm by belgianwaffle

“My first blog post was on December 10, 2003 at 4.06 pm which makes this blog four years old today. Despite my husband’s comment that the computer is ruining our marriage (mostly during NaBloPoMo), I think that it may have saved my life. Especially when I had no job. I was thinking the other day that, if I were to die in the morning (which I have no intention of doing, I just have a morbid turn of mind*) at least it would give my children something to remember me by and a chance to get to know me in a way. That and the complete photographic archive of our every moment which I have gathered together over the past four and a half years.

When I started, my friend C asked me who are those weirdos who make the comments and I was rightly outraged on your behalf (and on mine, obviously, because it’s not like I don’t have an alarming interest in the lives of people I have never met myself, not that I am implying that that is what you do etc.). The commenters are fantastic. Hearing what other people have to say is one of the best parts about blogging. I am most grateful to people who take the time and effort to comment (not grateful enough to respond mostly, you might very fairly observe, but I have a marriage to sustain) and, if I never got a comment, I’d probably jack it all in like every diary I’ve ever started.

Of course, no anniversary post would be complete without a reference to Fluid Pudding who started me off on this lark in the first place by being, in 2003, the only person to put on the internet a funny description of giving birth. Encouraged by the august Angela, I started blogging at 20six and it was a great platform thanks to the wonderful Jojo who made it into a community. Once she left, it really wasn’t worth staying and with the final defection of GPmama, I just don’t go there any more. But I made lots of virtual friends, people like Minks, Norah, Bobble and Pog (who was a social whirlwind in her own right). I still think fondly of some of the people who used to blog on 20six and disappeared – snuffed out like candles (that would be Jack, Locotes and Silveretta). But somewhere, in the back of my mind, like Bishop Berkeley (who was Bishop of Cloyne, you know, in Cork), I didn’t really believe that they existed. Which is why it is so particularly extraordinary that last night, Heather slept in the spare bed. Yes, this is the first time I’ve met someone from the internet but I might try it again. Have resolutely decided not to blog about what a wonderful person she is because I know from reading post BlogHer posts that this is very dull. But she is wonderful.

Where will it all end?

*Anyone else out there planned his/her own funeral?”

See that post? That is exactly what I wrote on Saturday, December 8 all ready and prepared to post for Monday except I accidentally posted it on Saturday. The fact that Heather only arrived on Sunday night made that a shade embarrassing. Especially when the only person in the whole world who read my blog that Saturday afternoon was Heather (she was browsing my archives to pick up appropriate presents for my children). I have not been so mortified for ages. Apparently, what was next was death by humiliation. My loving husband, normally so kind and sympathetic, was unable to stop laughing for long enough to say anything useful.

I rang my mother for comfort but kind of forgot that meeting someone off the internet might be a bit alarming for her. She was most anxious and asked whether I didn’t think that Heather might have set up her blog four and a half years ago simply as a way of inveigling herself into my life. I attempted to talk her down by telling her all I knew about Heather but in the way of blogs, I knew lots about her inner life but not so much about her outer life (like profession, surname, that kind of thing). In the end, Heather was the only one who would sympathise with me.

I wouldn’t change a word of the post above except to say that I was quite nervous about meeting Heather because I thought the children might behave atrociously. Mercifully, they were as good as gold. I’m not sure whether this was because she charmed them or because they were fascinated by her, either way was good for me. They were a little hazy about her role in our lives.

Me: Daddy and I are going out on Friday night after the boys go to bed. Guess who with?

Princess: [Various likely candidates].

Me: No, no, no. Someone who lives in this building.

Her: Our upstairs neighbours?

Me: No, someone who’s related to us.

Her: Is Heather related to us?

Finally, for those of you kind enough to enquire, the party was actually fine. We had about 20 people in the end and mostly their voices were audible over the bass from the stereo downstairs where a much more successful party was taking place. First to arrive were Nicholas and his wife. They arrived a little earlier than expected to find their hosts sitting in chaos having a cup of tea before starting to get ready. I left Mr. Waffle chatting to them and cleaned the bathroom. Cursorily. Then I came back and announced that I would go “and make myself beautiful”. “Impossible!” said Nicholas. It’s not what he meant but it was what he said to some hilarity.

Actually, you know the way I said Heather was the only person who read my blog on a Saturday afternoon. That actually wasn’t true. Nicholas and his wife read it too. “Where’s Heather?” they said. This humiliation will never end, will it?

Doomed, we’re doomed

8 December, 2007 at 2:58 pm by belgianwaffle

We have decided to have a party tonight.  At short notice.  Why?  Everyone we know either a) has a life and can’t come or b) has children and can’t get a babysitter.  Unfortunately, just enough people have said they will come that we can’t call the whole thing off.  My favourite rejection email reads as follows: “Darling, If I could I would… but alas, I am in St Petersburg until Sunday afternoon.  Oh, one minute Romania and now the other end of Europe… my mind thinks I am in Romania however, although some words are similar being Slav influenced even if Latin as a root, it’s baffling my fur wearing, seal bashing friends here.”  Charming refusal or not, it’s a pity he’s in Russia though probably not for him.  Do you think we could play charades?  Only saving grace is that we spent a fortune on drink this morning which should get us over the worst.

And in other bad news stories:  I left my keys in the office yesterday and spent the best part of two hours that I has set aside for fun (I dunno, maybe cleaning the house and having a cup of tea afterwards), toing and froing to the office.  Also, trainee and I were wearing the same outfit yesterday (black skirt, bright green jumper and boots), we looked like convent school girls.   As though that weren’t bad enough, she looked much better too and not just because she is a slip of a thing 10 years younger than me but because her clothes were, dammit, nicer.  How can this be as I know for a fact that my salary exceeds R’s quite considerably?  Is it possible that money can’t buy you style?  Alas. And a previous social engagement precludes her attendance at the party too.  Sigh.

Perspective

6 December, 2007 at 12:06 am by belgianwaffle

I read Mariella Frostrup’s column in the Observer on Sundays wherein she offers advice on various problems.  This week’s problem is as follows:

“The dilemma: A friend of mine, going through a tough divorce from a man she’s been with for almost 20 years, wants me to be godmother to her son, who is four. She wants to have both her children (her daughter is almost six) baptised as Roman Catholics so they can secure places in the best local schools, which happen to be RC. She is an atheist and the kids’ father was baptised Catholic, but hasn’t practised for years. He sees the kids only every six weeks or so, as he lives abroad with the woman he left my friend for and has a demanding job. I am a Catholic and although I don’t practise as much as I should, it is something I believe in and, having been blessed with a great godmother, I take the role seriously. My friend says there are no other decent schools in the area and I’d hate to ruin the children’s chances, as I am very fond of them, but I don’t feel it’s right to promise to be godmother when I am pretty sure they are only being baptised to manipulate the system. I am worried about how to tell her this, so any advice would be much appreciated.”

Now, normally, I tend to more or less agree with Mariella’s advice.  This problem strikes me as a genuine one and, if I were the person asked to be godmother, I would find it a little difficult to know what to do.  So with one thing and another, I was interested to see what Mariella’s opinion might be.  I was surprised by her tone and her vehemence.  Now, tell me, am I allowing my “faith to justify a nasty streak of judgemental arrogance” or is Mariella being unfair to the catholics?  Her answer is below, I would be very interested to know what you think – particularly the atheists.

“Where have you claimed this extraordinarily elevated strip of moral high ground from? Am I missing something? Your friend has paid you a great compliment, is offering her children to the church despite her own misgivings, and you are thinking of turning her down? I’m struggling to understand your motivation. To tell you the truth, I’m struggling to understand why she has chosen you as a godparent. Are you the only Catholic she has ever met, aside from her estranged husband?

I may not be the best judge of Christian values, having a few reservations about the side effects of organised religion. Your condition – a disproportionate sense of your own moral superiority – is one of the most prevalent. Your letter confirms one of my worst fears: that some people allow their faith to justify a nasty streak of judgmental arrogance. Whether it’s Bin Laden on western civilisation or you on your friend’s religious conviction, neither is particularly palatable. It’s hard to comprehend how this family lacks the qualifications to join the congregation. You are in no position to comment on the children’s father’s commitment to Catholicism when you admit to failings of your own. Need I remind you of the oft-quoted, seldom-embraced ‘Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone’? You’re busy hurling boulders at your pals while failing to live up to your own duties. Can you really be sure your good intentions justify your conviction that you are the superior believer? If every non-practising Catholic were struck off the register, you’d instantly halve the Vatican’s cache of souls. Isn’t your God the one who welcomes into his arms all sinners? Perhaps because he’s doing it you think you don’t need to.

As a Catholic you are no doubt aware that those poor little innocents aren’t welcome in the Kingdom unless baptised. This means that even in the worst-case scenario, where their morally promiscuous mother is merely paying lip service to Catholic teachings in order to get her kids an education, you still emerge a winner. You will have managed not only to play a part in their eventual reunion with their heavenly father, but increased the flock by two souls. Your attitude makes me wonder about your credentials to be a godparent. Your job is to ensure this four-year-old is instructed in the faith, not to question his mother’s motivation. Your moral outrage over the fact that she harbours ulterior motives deserves some scrutiny.

Bribery has always gone hand in hand with conversion and education is one of the biggest carrots on offer, whether it’s in the UK’s inner cities or an African village. If your friend is only going through with her children’s baptisms to cynically secure school places, she certainly won’t be the first or the last. She’s not unique in being enticed by gifts on earth to consider the bigger picture of securing a place in heaven. If all Christianity had ever offered was the promise of a semi in a pearly gated community in the afterlife, its converts would be sorely depleted.

Thankfully, people turn to religion for many reasons besides the arrogant presumption that being a Christian is better than being anything else. You should be delighted to have been asked, eager to embrace the opportunity to introduce your godson to the church you subscribe to, and determined to do all you can to help your friend through these difficult times. Were you capable of all or any of these, then perhaps your smug sense of moral superiority might have a little more justification.”

Learnt at my mother’s knee

5 December, 2007 at 11:54 pm by belgianwaffle

A friend of mine said recently that she wasn’t surprised that adults who were mistreated by their parents tend to mistreat their children. She pointed out that at moments of stress we are all inclined to reach for what we heard or experienced ourselves from our own parents. This is certainly true for me.

There are favourite phrases my mother used with me that I find myself using very regularly, a sample:

Me: How many people are there in this family?
Small voice: 5
Me: Not just one?
Small voice: No, 5

Or “All I want is for everyone to be happy”. Or “This place looks like a bomb hit it” Or “You would drive a horse from his oats”. Or “You would try the patience of a saint”. Or “Sometimes in life, you can’t have everything you want.”  Or “Do you think we are made of money?” Or “Don’t mind me, I’ll just sit here in the dark while you enjoy yourselves”

Alright, that last one I made up, but you get the picture.

Big Plans

4 December, 2007 at 11:57 pm by belgianwaffle

Her: When I grow up, I want to be a Madame Pipi [guardian of the toilets in Belgian bars and cinemas, you must cross her palm with silver before being allowed to proceed to the inner sanctum]
Us: Why?
Her: Because then I would get money.
Us: Good reason.

Later

Her: What’s a philosopher?
Me: Someone who wonders about the meaning of life.
Her: I want to be a philosopher when I grow up.
Him: Excellent combination with a Madame Pipi post.

Later still

Me: Is she asleep?
Him: No, she’s still bouncing around. She wants me to come back to her with the answer to a question.
Me: And what is your starter for ten?
Him: ‘Why does life exist?’

Christmas Spirit or the first weekend of Advent

3 December, 2007 at 11:50 pm by belgianwaffle

I know that Saturday was only December 1 but I thought we’d get a Christmas tree as we are going to Ireland on the 20th. While, in theory, I really admire the Belgians for not making Christmas a two month orgy, I was, nevertheless, slightly peeved when having promised herself that we would decorate one while the boys napped, there were no Christmas trees to be had.

30 days of non-stop blogging and a nasty head cold had taken their toll on me and I retired to bed for a nap after lunch and slept until, eeek, 3.23. Catastrophe. Despite rousing the boys and chivying the Princess we only managed to get out the door at 4.23 meaning that we arrived at the Grand Place at 4.55 which, I can tell you was a herculean effort involving much sprinting and mincing the ankles of innocent tourists with our buggy. Alas, too late. Saint Nicolas and his donkey, his brass band, his little black helpers (I know, I know) and his supply of free sweets had gone leaving only a mound of sweet wrappers to mark his passing. The Princess bawled. I nearly cried myself. To add insult to injury, another Saint Nicolas was in the Grand Place surrounded by an anxious band of kiddies and their parents. Unfortunately, he and his helpers were there to do a photo shoot and didn’t want children in the way so this was, possibly, the only Santa on earth who shooed children away. My poor little mites held out their hands longingly to touch the great man’s cloak and were brushed away by angry men saying “Stand back, stand back”. If I could have found out what they were advertising I would tell you so that you could boycott it.

We pushed off to look at the live crib and they were interested in the sheep. Mr. Waffle then had the genius idea of taking them to the merry-go-round which saved our bacon and largely wiped out the memory of mean Santa.

Saint Nicolas normally comes on the night of December 5 in Belgium, however, he is a busy man and he comes to different houses at different times. He came to us on Saturday night. The Princess reverently placed a carrot for his donkey inside the door on a plastic lid. She lined up her shoes and the boys’. She agonised that Saint Nicolas might not know where to put the presents in the absence of a Christmas tree but we reassured her. We put out a special tablecloth and left out for Saint Nicolas two speculoos biscuits and a bottle of Christmas beer (this is Belgium, of course Saint Nicolas drinks beer). I put the Princess to bed and read her her story – “The Night before Christmas”. “Put it on the table for Saint Nicolas to read, big people like to have something to read while they’re eating”

Saint Nicolas and his donkey came and polished off their treats. The Princess got a bicycle. Oh the excitement. It was fantastic. The boys were slightly less entranced with their wooden toys and felt that, if he were any good, Saint Nicolas would have brought them bicycles too. Some squabbling ensued only partially resolved by distribution of the chocolate, mandarins and marzipan pigs left in the children’s shoes (the hygiene implications of this are mildly alarming but since Michael yesterday bent down and tasted the water in a puddle we probably have more serious concerns, like Weil’s disease).

The day was young, we’d all been up since 6.30. This gave us ample time to make 9.00 mass, almost on time though the Princess cycled and I walked with the boys. They were really keen to walk so I let them, a decision I had ample opportunity to regret as I marshalled them towards the church in the driving rain over a period of 20 long minutes.

We had intended to go to Antwerp Zoo to meet the Dutch Mama and her family (it being a half way point between Brussels and the Hague) but the cold driving rain had really put me off even though the children were very hyped up. We took them home and put them in front of Barney while we telephoned back and forth to the Hague to decide what we would do. I think it was in Dooce that I read that it’s not Barney that’s sinister but those stage struck children who play with him. This is true. My daughter is turning into them. She’s a great little mimic (she does an excellent English accent based on her friend L’s diction which she just puts on all the time except when I want to record it for youtube ‘before cars everyone had hosses’ ‘horses ‘yes hosses”) and it’s slightly terrifying. I digress. The Dutch Mama’s husband is some kind of nuclear engineer and when the nuclear disaster comes it is he who will be limiting the damage. It is therefore comforting that he is a precise and thorough man but I still had some difficulty believing his claim that though it was raining in Brussels and the Hague “the rain in Antwerp stopped three minutes ago”. In the end, we went. We had no alternative plan and we feared being rent limb from limb by the children, if they didn’t get to the zoo.

I’ve never been to the zoo in Antwerp before. It’s next door to the station and, therefore, right in the centre of town, overlooked by apartment buildings. It is very odd but strangely endearing. It has an out of town arm (Plankendael) which I have never liked (memorably we once paid 42 euros to get into Plankendael and wallow in the mud and a further 16 to make our own sandwiches) but is strangely popular with other people. I did like the Zoo though. Since it was mostly pouring rain, we largely had the place to ourselves. The children were delighted to meet again and so were their parents. While the parents were somewhat unenthused by the icy driving rain, the children didn’t seem to mind. And we had the burger restaurant to ourselves except for a couple of pigeons (again, those niggling hygiene concerns). I know zoos aren’t really very nice for the animals but as we stood there huddling together (the adults, the children were haring around delighted with themselves) in the rain looking in at the monkeys in their nice warm dry climate controlled glass boxes, it was hard not to feel a tiny bit envious. I’d still go back like a flash though.

The Dutch Mama and I have a thriving system of clothing exchange for children and I had brought her a big bag of things (mostly hers now going back to her to kit out her extremely cute new baby – quite possibly the best child in the world – she spent her time at the zoo smiling or sleeping, mind you, she was in her buggy with its waterproof cladding). Having brought them all the way to Antwerp, I was determined to hand them over. Once Michael slipped on his bottom in the mud in the zoo our time there was up. We decided to cut our losses and head for home. We entered into a complex arrangement whereby Mr. Waffle would hand the bag of clothes over to Mr. Dutch Mama at the zoo gates. He did so while I stayed with my children in the car and the hardy Dutch children continued their exploration of the zoo with their Mama. I would like to say now that I appreciate that a paper bag full of clothes and weighing a ton was probably not the best container for a wet wet wet day. I am hoping that a) the bag didn’t dissolve and b) the Dutch contingent will some day forgive me.


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