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Archive for February, 2008

On the mend

29 February, 2008 at 10:48 am by belgianwaffle

I’m sure you will be relieved to hear of my improvement as you must be as sick of this as I am. I did spend a considerable part of last night sitting up on the sofa coughing with a tissue poked up my nose but all my other symptoms have abated. Hurrah.  Poor Princess is, however, feeling very unwell. In what must be a new low, Peter Pan went on this morning at 8.55.

This is what happens, if you let your child watch too many Disney, DVDs, please note American accent.

OK, not flu

28 February, 2008 at 10:29 am by belgianwaffle

The doctor came round this morning and examined myself and the Princess.  Mr.  Waffle didn’t feel we were sick enough to justify this indulgence but this being Belgium, there is a team of doctors out there whose job is to come to your house and they don’t care how sick or well you are as long as you pay their very moderate fees.

He said that I might have flu but they hadn’t seen much flu this year so he was reluctant to diagnose, though it was odd that I had suffered four days of high temperature.  He said I should be better soon.  I see no sign yet.  Still, I wasn’t expecting to, I just need a cert for work once I’ve been off for three days.  It would be much cheaper and handier for everyone, if they’d just trust me. Moan, groan, grizzle, whinge.

The Princess really is sick now though and he seemed quite impressed by her illness.  Shall we say a full novena that the boys don’t succumb?

I know it’s not the flu

27 February, 2008 at 10:17 am by belgianwaffle

Because the one time I had the flu, I could barely struggle out of bed.  But I have got a nasty cold.

Yesterday, I spent all day in bed, being poked in the eyeball from time to time by a very bored Princess.  Our cleaner kindly agreed to stay all day and keep an eye on herself but I think she (the Princess and probably also the cleaner) has now decided that there is such a thing as too much television.  She went off to school today with a spring in her step.

Our cleaner is a very nice woman from the Eastern part of Poland and she disapproves profoundly of my decision to work.  Yesterday, she said to the Princess – isn’t it nice to have Mama at home instead of her going off to work?  The Princess was gobsmacked; here she was having the most boring day of her life and she was supposed to like it.  I was mildly gratified.

And in other whinging about the help news (is there anything more irritating, than someone who does that?) our childminder does not, like me, believe in always telling children the truth.  I like to think that it builds up their soft skills. The other day, Daniel, expressed a desire to see the childminder’s daughter C.  It was 6 o’clock in the evening, the childminder was just leaving, she said “you want to come with me, you want to see C?”.  Daniel’s little face lit up.  Why would she torture him this way?  As I say, building up their soft skills.

Finally, the Princess has a half day at school today, I rang L’s mother who lives around the corner to ask her, if she could take the Princess this afternoon, in view of my enfeebled state.  She croaked on the other end of the phone – no, I have the flu and so has my husband and my two year old.  Given that she was just starting to feel ill when she was around here on Friday afternoon, perhaps it is the flu after all.
Back to bed, while I still can.

Sick as a dog

26 February, 2008 at 9:45 am by belgianwaffle

I have a rotten cold: achy limbs, runny nose, hacking cough, temperature, dizziness and general misery.

I spent last night alternatively roasting and shivering.  The Princess arrived in to our bed at 1.00 in the morning with the same symptoms.  I said we would stay home together today.  Is she now sick? Nope.  She seems to be the picture of health and is sitting up watching “Mary Poppins” while I am about to haul myself back to bed.

Confusion

24 February, 2008 at 11:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael (combing his hair and looking at himself in the mirror): Michael est belle.

Mr. Waffle: Michael est beau.

Michael (crossly): Michael est BELLE.

Mr. Waffle: Ta soeur est belle, tu es beau.

Michael (furious): MICHAEL EST BELLE.

Mr. Waffle: Michael est belle.

Reading

22 February, 2008 at 2:37 pm by belgianwaffle

Last November, during the NaBloPoMo odyssey somebody recommended Robertson Davies to me. I can’t remember who it was but I am very grateful.

I have just finished “The Deptford Trilogy” and it was excellent. Mr. Davies writes beautiful, spare, precise prose and it is a constant joy to read.

I learnt a lot about Canadians. I had always thought of them as like Americans only saner and with better healthcare and gun control. I also thought of them as French speaking Catholics; I mean, I knew there were a lot of English speakers there too but Quebec had unduly coloured my view of the country. Now I know that there are whole swathes of Canada that come from the same dour Scottish strain that is visible in Northern Ireland and it has given me a very different feel for the country and one that is much more nuanced.

The amazing thing, to me, is that I had never heard of Robertson Davies, even though one of his books was shortlisted for the Booker prize. Even though a Canadian friend said, that he was regarded as the father of Canadian literature. And I am not alone, very few of my friends had heard of him. Shame!

I have also just finished “An Accidental Diplomat” by Eamon Delaney. This is not a great work of literature though it was a bestseller. It’s possible that most of the copies were bought by officials in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. It gives an account of the author’s time as a junior diplomat in the Department in the late 80s to mid 90s and names many names. Apparently, there was a feeling in Foreign Affairs that the real problem with the book was that it did not contain an index. I started it years ago and gave up in annoyance. I came back to it, however, and found it gently humourous (very like a blog, not so much like a book – dreadfully poorly edited too, loads of typos and repetition) and I feel more indulgent to the author who this time round seems like a very young man from a very long time ago rather than an irritating cocky know it all only the same age as me. That’s middle age for you, I suppose.

And finally, I have also finished Seamus Deane’s “Reading in the Dark”. I thought as I started it – I am never reading a book by a poet again.  Opened at random at page 132, may I offer you the following:  “the rain dripping from us in clock-steady drops”; “small artilleries of thunder rattled in the distance”; “the Sacred Heart lamp burning in its chained vessel above the altar:crimson, scarlet, crimson, steady, flickering, steady”.   I am not saying that the language isn’t beautiful but it’s a bit rich and indigestible for an entire novel.  In the end, though, I was seduced by the book, it has a good plot and some wonderful set-pieces: ghost stories and, in particular, the maths class chapter which is masterful.

Finally, finally, I was away and I bought Mr. Waffle back a present of this book “Affluenza“; I’d seen it well reviewed and I thought that the premise was interesting, namely, that we’re all bitten by a bug which makes us spend money unnecessarily.  Mr. Waffle looked at the offering.  “But you hate Oliver James“, he said.  “It’s written by that Oliver James, the man from the Observer?” I asked in horror.  “Yup, and,” he said, flipping over the back of the book, “he’s 8.99 better off thanks to you.”  Blah.

Cinema as Art

21 February, 2008 at 9:04 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to the cinema last Saturday night (No Country for Old Men – not bad, thanks) and we sat near a trendy woman with a red leather jacket. To be precise we sat one seat away from her. On the far side of Mr. Waffle another couple ensconced themselves leaving one seat empty. The woman with the red leather jacket leaned across and said to me that we should move closer to her as otherwise there would be two single seats. I knew she was right but I was annoyed. She was smug dammit.

At the start of the film, I hauled out my packet of Maltesers from my handbag. I know some people don’t like you eating in the cinema, but, you know, they sell them in the foyer, so it can’t be a huge surprise that other people buy them. It may not be right, but there you have it and at least I wasn’t eating crisps. Leather jacket sighed audibly. I had baleful thoughts. I sucked through my packet of maltesers and crunched the last one. Leather jacket sighed and her partner leaned across and asked me to stop crunching. The worst part of it was that I could kind of see their point but I still hated them for making it. Cranky, moi?

Whinging Poms or knocking the neighbours

20 February, 2008 at 9:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Most of my friends in Brussels are English and they are, well I would say this, but really they are, lovely people.  Charming, entertaining, interested, interesting, funny.

I spend some time in England for work and, again, I really like the people I meet.  In general, I find English people are obliging and helpful and, other than the odd taxi driver, I’ve found them reasonable and sensible.  I also read a lot of blogs by English people and, again, I find them entertaining and agreeable.

Are you feeling a big but coming?  Well here it is.  The tone of public discourse in the UK as set by the press, the radio and the television is relentlessly negative and whiny.  I listen a lot to Radio 4 (the programme ‘You and Yours’ being a non-stop whine fest) and I read the British papers from time to time – perhaps not so much the television but I do watch the BBC news occasionally.   I am Irish, I may not be in the best position to criticise the British or, more particularly, the English; I have some prejudices though possibly not the ones you imagine.  Do you think that is going to stop me? Hah.  Do not tell me that I should ignore the English media; they’re whiny but they’re good.

I think that it is very laudable that the British have high standards for their politicians.  I think that they are over the top in their criticisms of financial impropriety.  My God, if they had to face what we have in Ireland, they would all keel over.   The media is in a state of permanent moan about the NHS but it really is a very good system compared to that available in Ireland at least and though I am enamoured of the Belgian system, it’s not free at the point of delivery.  Free.  Imagine, nothing to pay.  You can go into the doctor and get treated for nothing.  That is fantastic.  Are people pleased?  Does the media pat Britain on the back? Not a bit of it, the doctors are dreadful, they just confirm what you’ve discovered yourself on google, it’s all a ghastly mess.  And Britain has relatively low taxes to boot.  Amazing.  Occasionally, a columnist in the papers will say, when I was in hospital my treatment was fantastic but moan, moan, blah, blah collapse of the NHS.  It is as though, the British have decided en masse that the only way to improve anything is to moan about it constantly.  It is tedious and it appears to be ineffective as another moan is that things are getting worse all the time.  Would they stop.  Perhaps it is ineffective because the government, in thrall to public opinion and the media, keeps tinkering with major areas like health and education before having had a chance to see whether the last tinkering was at all effective.

I appreciate that good news doesn’t sell papers but, it seems to me that the difference in the Irish papers is there is more outrage than whinging.  I mean the health service actually is a national disgrace in Ireland.  In England, lots of people, apparently, can’t get free dental care; I don’t hear so much about people dying on trolleys in hallways because there are no beds for them.

And yes, I’m sure I don’t know all the ins and outs of it and I can’t really talk because I’ve never lived in England and I’ve mixed up England and Britain but there it is.  You know they say that the French think they are wonderful and have the best of everything and that they are better than anyone else and the British think that everything they have is dreadful and poorly run and hideous but they are still better than everyone else?  Well, I think that might be true.  It would explain a lot wouldn’t it?

I await your outrage and indignation with interest.

Too many cooks or, possibly, this is what it sounds like when doves cry

20 February, 2008 at 10:54 am by belgianwaffle

Late on Sunday afternoon we went out for a short walk and it was not a success. The Princess lost interest in walking; Michael and Daniel demanded to be carried and so did she. We had to carry them and cajole her back home and by the time we got there, the four senior members of the party were annoyed to various degrees. Michael having had his demand met; to be carried home reclining in his mother’s arms not on her hip was pretty sunny.

When we got home, it was about 6.40. “If we are going to have roast chicken, we will not eat until 8”, I announced gloomily. Mr. Waffle was keen that we should have Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding with roast chicken is an abomination but he was adamant as it is one of the few things the boys will eat at the moment. 8 was too late for dinner, we decided. “I’ll make the chicken and mushroom thing” I said. To my horror, Mr. Waffle remained adamant on the Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding with rice, mushroom and chicken in a cream sauce is an unspeakable abomination. I stomped off to the kitchen and chopped up an onion and some garlic. I hunted high and low for the mushrooms which I knew we had bought the day before. I stomped in to where Mr. Waffle was reading to the children and asked where the mushrooms were. “Ah, gosh, yes, I used them all yesterday in the beef stogonoff”. I stomped back to the kitchen and threw the onion and garlic in the bin in a marked manner and started preparing parmesan chicken which does not require mushrooms or onion or garlic (very nifty recipe actually). Mr. Waffle came into the kitchen, he wanted to make the Yorkshire pudding batter. “Fine” I said and flounced off conscious that it would have only taken me two minutes to get the chicken into the oven where it could start its half hour bake (should I explain that the kitchen isn’t really big enough for two and somebody has to stop the children from killing each other). He did his evil work with the batter, I subsequently polished off the chicken and put it into the oven.

It became apparent that the Yorkshire pudding and the chicken would not coincide. “We can have the Yorkshire pudding as a starter”, I said bitterly. I then realised that, really, I would have to make gravy as Yorkshire pudding without gravy is etc. etc. I went into the kitchen and looked longingly at the chopped onion I had fired into the bin in a rage and chopped another and set to on the gravy. As I was adding stock to my butter flour mixture (I believe people who can really cook call it a roux m’lord) and anxiously whisking the very hot mixture seeking to avoid lumps (something I have never actually done in any circumstances, however ideal), Mr. Waffle came into the kitchen to pour the Yorkshire pudding mixture into the oven. I glared, he retreated nervously, I stomped off.

The Yorkshire pudding was ready 15 tense minutes later. The children tucked in delightedly to their lumpy gravy and pudding feast. I grudgingly had one. Mr. Waffle, damn him, is a dab hand at the Yorkshire pudding and it was really very tasty. This from a man who had never even tasted Yorkshire pudding before he met me. As you can imagine, this did not make things any better. Inevitably, my chicken and rice offering was spurned with contumely by my children. Mr. Waffle ate enthusiastically, nervously heaping praise on the cranky chef.

Later as we were giving the boys their bath, my loving husband said to me that I was still cross. Normally, though lots of things make me cross, I haven’t got the energy to stay cross for long and like my father and my brother I am inclined to get over things quickly and forget my rages. But I had a brief insight into what it is like to be my mother or my sister both of whom are very even tempered but once roused are very difficult to calm. I knew I was being unreasonable and I wanted to stop being cross but I just couldn’t let go. I think I may have been talked down later after a soothing cup of tea.

And while we are talking about family disharmony, do you think there was some unhappiness preceeding the insertion of this announcement in the birth announcements in this weekend’s Irish Times:

Stevenson – Kilsheimer (Washington D.C.) – My grandmother in her eagerness to announce my arrival (Irish Times, Saturday January 19, 2008) unfortunately gave me the wrong names. I am called Miles Andrew.

Partied out

19 February, 2008 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

On Sunday, most uncharacteristically, the Princess had a nap.  Eventually, with great regret, we had to wake her as otherwise she would certainly not have gone to bed that night.

Me:  Wake up, sweetheart.

Her:   Ummph, urgh.

Me:  I have great news, while you were asleep I was out and I met L’s mummy and you are invited to L’s birthday party. There’s going to be a magician.

Her (blearily): Now?  Is the party now?

Me (with some trepidation): No, sweetheart, it’s next weekend.

Her (falling back on the pillow): Thank God.

How different, how very different from the home life of our own dear Queen

15 February, 2008 at 2:59 pm by belgianwaffle

I was born in Cork and grew up there. I went to school with Cork children. My mother was considered mildly exotic because she came from Limerick (adjoining county about 40 miles away). We had a girl in our class in primary school whose mother came from Dubin and this was considered so exotic that there was an article about her mother in the Evening Echo. As I remember it, the headline was something like “Dublin Woman moves to Cork”; it’s not as though her mother was famous or had done anything very thrilling once she got to Cork. I suppose I’m saying that Cork in the 70s and 80s was a pretty homogenous place.

Obviously, going to school in Belgium, the Princess was never going to be in a class full of her compatriots but what amazes me is the range of nationalities in her class alone: Poles, Belgians, Pakistanis, North Africans, South Americans and one Irish girl. This morning she explained to me that she had a cooked lunch in school yesterday (itself a matter calling for some investigation as she had left the house with a sandwich, but we will leave that to one side) but not the same as the “musulmans” because they don’t eat meat. I explained to her that the English word was Muslims and they do eat meat but it has to be prepared in a particular way. It is amazing to me that she knows more about other religions and other cultures at four than I did at fourteen. I can’t help feeling that there is quite a lot to be said for globalisation all the same.

Misunderstanding

14 February, 2008 at 8:34 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess likes me to make up stories about Dora and Boots. Although these stories feature Dora and Boots, Abuela, Mami, Papi, Diego and, when I think of it, Map and Backpack, they are essentially stories about a little girl in Brussels and the adventures she has. After telling a number of these this afternoon, I was creatively exhausted.

Her: Tell me another Dora story.

Me: Last one then. Dora was sitting on the sofa with her Mummy and the doorbell rang, it was her cousin Diego. Dora was so excited. Diego had a lamb with him [Diego works in animal rescue, so I thought he should arrive with an animal – insert here the kick Dora gets from feeding the lamb with her little brothers’ bottles]. Then Mami invites Diego to stay to dinner but suggests he brings the lamb home first because she doesn’t want it leaping all over her furniture.

Her: But do they have the lamb for dinner?

Me (a little shocked but, you know, we’re carnivores, I suppose, as it happens, we’re having lamb chops for dinner): Well, maybe not that day maybe a couple of weeks later for Easter.

Her: But MAMA WHY, why not now?

Me: Well, you know it would have to be killed and prepared and cooked and Mami didn’t have time to do that before dinner.

Her (aghast): I meant when would they eat with the lamb.

Parochial

13 February, 2008 at 3:26 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Why does the Irish Times Magazine assume that it can refer to Blackrock and everyone will know it’s a Dublin suburb?

Friend in Dublin: Well you did.

Me: There is a Cork suburb called Blackrock.

FiD: Is there?

Me: And this week they referred to Ranelagh with no indication as to where it was.

FiD: But you know where Ranelagh is, you lived there for years.

Me: That’s not the point. And when they referred to Oughterard in the same article, they put Co. Galway next to it in brackets. Is it utterly inconceivable to them that there might be people out there who know where Oughterard is but don’t know that Ranelagh is a Dublin suburb?

FiD (unanswerably): Not Irish Times readers.

As my loving husband says, if it annoys me so much, why do I read it? Doubtless to have my prejudices confirmed, how can they not be by a publication which, for years, put Northern Ireland under home news and Cork news under regional news, regional news, humph.

This weekend, there was an essay on David Marcus in the Review section. It said, inter alia, “But even the first issue of Irish Writing could stand on its own as a tribute to his taste, his instinct for the zeitgeist – remarkable in a young man from the provincial city of Cork – his guts, his determination and ultimately, his brass neck”. “[R]emarkable in a young man from the provincial city of Cork“? I nearly choked on my rice krispies. The discovery that the patronising man who wrote the essay is actually from Cork, quite frankly, made matters worse not better.

The article also says that “many readers may never have heard of him”. I was surprised by that. I would have thought he was pretty well known in Ireland. I know he was thought to be an outstanding editor. I have to say, I’ve only read one of his books (“A land not theirs” about growing up Jewish in Cork) and I didn’t think that it was very good but I certainly didn’t think it was obscure.

I learned also that Marcus’s uncle was Gerald Goldberg a well known and respected Cork solicitor. Many years ago, I met an exceptionally irritating woman in Brussels who told me that Mr. Goldberg was never elevated to the High Court bench because he was Jewish. In fact, at the time he was practising (and possibly still at the time of his death), only barristers were eligible for appointment to the high court and traditionally, minority religions (including judaism) have been somewhat over-represented on the bench in Ireland as they tend to be solidly middle class which, funnily enough, is where most judges come from. I never did manage to get a word in edge ways with her and tell her this, so this is a much delayed and pointless riposte.

There is no Jewish community in Cork now (they all seem to have gone to Dublin to get married) and that is sad. A lot of Lithuanian Jews came to Cork in the late 19th and early 20th century and some of them, including David Marcus who is an exact contemporary, were at my father’s school and he had a lot of friends with exotic and different names; Berkhans and Solomons and Goldbergs. Maybe with this new wave of immigration from Eastern Europe, we’ll get some of them back.

Finally, a classic from the birth announcements:

Brontë Philomena. Born…at the Whittingon Hospital in London to besotted parents David and Lisa.

I have a certain sympathy for “besotted parents” – I haven’t got a heart of stone, you know – but Brontë Philomena? No, really, no.

There’s more where this came from

11 February, 2008 at 11:26 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle likes French rock.  To many, it’s inexplicable.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Johnny Halliday cover “Good Golly, Miss Molly” in French.  For an added bonus, here’s herself dancing to it.

Spring is in the Air (a dull summary of our weekend activities for the benefit of loving relatives who have already heard it on the phone)

11 February, 2008 at 9:50 pm by belgianwaffle

The weather was beautiful this weekend.  On Saturday we went to the park; the Princess was on her bike (which is excellent and has really extended our range of destinations on foot) and the boys in the buggy.  Michael objected loudly to this and for the length of our street sobbed and said “bicycle, bicycle”.  Daniel tired of this and whacked Michael on the head, a move which I outwardly condemned while, inwardly, having every sympathy with him.  One of the training wheels loosened on the royal bike and Mr. Waffle was sent sprinting home to get the spanner while the children and I continued carefully.  No sooner had the offending nut been tightened than the chain came off.  Please bear in mind that as all the repair work was continuing Michael was howling determinedly.  By the time we arrived in the park, fine weather or no, we were all a little tense.  Everyone had a lovely time in the park, though, and they were very good when we went to our friends’ house for cake (the Princess even used cutlery) and on the trek home.

On Sunday, we went to Mass where the children were all miraculously well behaved.  Te Princess went to a Sunday school type class – hooray – and emerged commenting that she had no idea that Jesus wanted her to be a good girl and why hadn’t we told her; I feel that this is a very promising development.   Afterwards, we went for a walk around the Etangs d’Ixelles picking up various things in the market.  It felt like being on holidays (a feature of my childhood holidays in France being Mass on a Sunday and market afterwards) and I wondered why we don’t do this kind of thing more often.  Possibly because it is not always wonderfully fine and sunny on Sunday mornings in Brussels.

That afternoon we went to a showing of “The Little Mole” which the children loved.  It was the boys’ first trip to the cinema and they were enchanted.  A bit like an old silent film, the showing was accompanied by two musicians with a range of instruments (explained and identified to the audience) which the kids were allowed to inspect afterwards.  It was described on the poster as 6 short films by Zdeněk Miler which, as Mr. Waffle pointed out, made it sound a lot more intellectual than it actually was.  I did spend some of my time wondering whether it was communist propoganda. The little Mole stole a watermelon from a pile that a man was selling to children; then the Mole cut it up and gave it away to his friends.  The watermelon seller does not come up smelling of roses.  In another of the films, with the help of all the animals of the jungle (except for the mean lion), the Mole digs a well.  Perhaps all cartoons for small children emphasise the value of co-operation and it is only later that we urge them to compete and assure them that they will stand or fall on their own efforts alone.

All in all, it was the first weekend in some time where that hasn’t left me desperate to get into work on Monday morning. Could we be turning a corner?

English Catholics

8 February, 2008 at 2:47 pm by belgianwaffle

The English are a funny bunch and particularly funny in their attitudes to catholics. I found an article in the Independent which struck me as bizarre. I have commented on bits of it because it’s my blog and I can. You can read the whole thing here, should you so wish. It is, inevitably, inspired by Tony Blair’s conversion which has flummoxed the nation.

“In 2006, it was revealed that Father Seed had regularly been celebrating Mass at 10 Downing Street for cradle-Catholic Cherie Blair and the couple’s four Catholic-educated children. Did Tony attend too? Father Seed looks surprised that I even need to ask: “Of course.””

Well, yes, because I would have thought that it would be rude not to, particularly if it was a family mass. For me, it would be odd, if he hadn’t gone along. You know when he married Cherie, he promised to bring any children up Catholic. That’s what we’re like, us Catholics, we think of everything. And isn’t the expression “cradle catholic” hilarious and faintly derogatory? Almost implying she became a catholic before she knew any better and had she been older and wiser she certainly wouldn’t have done it, not like Tony. I’m forced to point out that, by rights, their children should be “cradle-catholics” as well and not just catholic educated. Where will it all end? Rome will invade.

“Father Seed, though, is a friar, a member of a religious order that is part of the Franciscan family. So, while the Jesuits were founded as a quasi-military religious order to reconvert Europe after the Reformation, the Franciscans have an older, less aggressive mandate: to support those in need. That is how the man sitting opposite me sees his work: helping people through a spiritual crisis. Whether or not they end up converting is immaterial. “We are all Christians. And that’s that. Therefore the pilgrimage we make is a movement of Christ, and if it is an authentic movement, we should be joyful about people becoming Catholic or Anglican or Methodist.””

Of course, for us, the Jesuits are the intellectuals of the Church, though conceding their role in the counter-reformation, for me the Jesuits say smart, smart, smart not agressive, agressive, agressive. You know, we send money to the missions, you know we actually are supposed to want to convert everyone, even the nice Franciscans.

“So he started going to say Mass in their flat above Number 11 Downing Street. Father Seed is eager to portray this special treatment not as a privilege, but as a kind of torture. “Mrs Blair” – he never uses their first names – “absolutely hated it. She hated not being able to go to Mass with everyone else.”

I absolutely believe this. Part of the nice thing about going to Mass is that sense of Catholic community and though I never appreciated it when I was younger, I do now. Mass at home is nice from time to time for a special occasion. All the time, and they must have felt slightly cut off.

“For some in the press,” he continues, “it seems that Mr Blair’s reception came in the end as a shock. Though there was no reason why it should. I suppose it is the phenomenon that Catholicism is seen as seriously naughty.”

It is an odd choice of words. Catholicism is more traditionally seen as rather upright, moral and – at least in matters sexual – not in the least bit “naughty”. Only when you are married, straight, in the missionary position, not using a condom and want to conceive a baby is about as naughty as it gets.

Have to say that I am with the journalist here but I get what the priest says as well. To the English, Catholicism seems to be all about exotic foreigners, smells and bells, ceremonies and rites and not children running up and down the aisle inadequately restrained by mortified parents.

“I was asked to preach in the Tower of London,” Father Seed counters, “on the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. I think I was the first Catholic priest to get in – and get out.” He has a nervous laugh. “And there is something about that; that Catholics were once about to blow up Parliament. There is still something mysterious and naughty about us. It is to our advantage. Catholics in this country are, in reality, a fairly conformist group, but we are still seen as nonconformist. Had Mr Blair become a Methodist, for example, I don’t think there would have been the same reaction.”

I think that this must all relate back to the whole issue of loyalty to Rome; although it is extraordinary that this should still be an issue as it is many centuries since Rome has been a temporal power, though I can see how it could have been an issue, say around the time of the gunpowder plot. Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians” is very good on the 1870 Vatican Council and the impact the declaration of the doctrine of papal infallibility had on the English [if memory serves something like – they’ve gone too far this time]. Would like to quote “Eminent Victorians” to add glamour to the text but cannot find it. Am nevertheless pleased that I have, in the sentence before last given the impression that I have read several books on the 1870 Council which, unfortunately, we all know, is far from the truth.*

“The question of Blair’s timing, though, remains interesting. By leaving it until he had left office, there was a sense that Tony Blair was either embarrassed by his decision, or regarded it as improper for a Catholic to be prime minister. Hardly evidence that Catholics are conformist? “I don’t think it is that,” Father Seed corrects. “There are some good reasons why he did it when he did it, but they are more private. But the time was right. If it had happened while he was in office, it would have caused him more difficulty, that blurring of the public and the private. The same would be true if it had been immediately after he left office. By waiting, it was very dignified, very correct, very quiet. No announcement.” Was he there at the private ceremony? “I can’t say,” he replies. I take it as a yes.”

The timing is interesting though, isn’t it? Was Britain not ready for a Catholic Prime Minister or was it just a matter of personal conscience for Tony Blair. It seems a little unfair to speculate but my feeling is that a practising Catholic would have a lot more difficulty in winning the affection and the votes of the English than an Anglican who went to services a couple of times a year. It is the exact opposite to America where you must parade your religion or risk electoral suicide. Do you think that there might be a middle ground?

* Found the whole of “Eminent Victorians” on line here.

Have a look at this quote:

“He [some minor bit character, never mind] was now engaged in fluttering like a moth round the Council, and in writing long letters to Mr. Gladstone, impressing upon him the gravity of the situation, and urging him to bring his influence to bear. If the Dogma [of papal infallibility] were carried, he declared, no man who accepted it could remain a loyal subject, and Catholics would everywhere become “irredeemable enemies of civil and religious liberty.” In these circumstances, was it not plainly incumbent upon the English Government, involved as it was with the powerful Roman Catholic forces in Ireland, to intervene? … There was a semi-official agent of the English Government in Rome, Mr. Odo Russell, and round him Manning set to work to spin his spider’s web of delicate and clinging diplomacy. Preliminary politenesses were followed by long walks upon the Pincio, and the gradual interchange of more and more important and confidential communications. Soon poor Mr. Russell was little better than a fly buzzing in gossamer. And Manning was careful to see that he buzzed on the right note. In his despatches to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon, Mr. Russell explained in detail the true nature of the Council, that it was merely a meeting of a few Roman Catholic prelates to discuss some internal matters of Church discipline, that it had no political significance whatever, that the question of Infallibility, about which there had been so much random talk, was a purely theological question, and that, whatever decision might be come to upon the subject, the position of Roman Catholics throughout the world would remain unchanged. Whether the effect of these affirmations upon Lord Clarendon was as great as Manning supposed, is somewhat doubtful; but it is at any rate certain that Mr. Gladstone failed to carry the Cabinet with him; and when at last a proposal was definitely made that the English Government should invite the Powers of Europe to intervene at the Vatican, it was rejected.”

Some random things from the internet

7 February, 2008 at 1:01 am by belgianwaffle

I am indebted to Nicholas for the information that Terry Pratchett is unwell.  Alas, I am very sad but Mr. Pratchett appears not to have lost his sense of humour.

Pensionbook, courtesy of the lovely Bobble.

Superb coverage of the Martin Lukes trial in the FT: http://www.ft.com/comment/columnists/martinlukes

Enough Already

7 February, 2008 at 12:38 am by belgianwaffle

Her : Je n’ai pas déjà fini.

Him : Pas encore.

Her : Je ne peux pas dire ‘pas déjà’ ?

Him (diplomatically): Pas encore est mieux.

Her : Je ne peux pas encore dire ‘pas déjà’?

Travel Agents, first against the wall when the revolution 3.0 comes

4 February, 2008 at 8:57 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle and I went to a travel agent for the first time in many years recently. We wanted to check availability of ski holidays for this year and our internet research was proving a little difficult.

The woman tittered (oh yes she did) when she heard that we were thinking about booking something for this year. The first week we suggested was all booked up. “It’s too late, forget it”, she said gloomily [don’t they get a commission, for God’s sake?]. We persisted. She sighed audibly. “How about the week of March 22?” I said. She raised what was left of her eyebrows and tapped her long manicured fingers on the desk, “Ah March 22, you might get something it’s so late, but there will be no snow”.

“Could you try it all the same?”

“Oh but it’s EASTER” she said contemptuously having peered at her calendar, “there will be nothing”.
Maybe some snow after all then. There was one one star apartment left which, she said, she would very much advise against taking, particularly with a family.

We left in a huff. She smiled merrily. Another victory for Belgian customer service.  If we can’t find anything, the Princess will murder us.  She and I have been looking at children skiing on youtube and she fancies the notion of herself whizzing down the slopes.

The Weekend of the Rat

4 February, 2008 at 12:27 am by belgianwaffle

Thank you all for your kind comments on my children’s singing. Just as well you did because my mother has still not inspected the winsome mites on Youtube. True, she is a little dubious about the computer and all its works. True, also, she had them sing live to her on the telephone but that is not the same thing at all. Her defence is that she has had a busy weekend, what with the rugby and everything. This is, clearly, no defence at all; she should have struck to berating the computer which, in my parents’ house, is known as the monster in the study. She has, however, started the book I gave her for her birthday. My sister-in-law recommended it to me and lent me her copy; a decision, I suspect, she now regrets as I still have it in my grubby little mitts. Lest there be any confusion, I hasten to clarify that my mother got a span new copy. A copy she has been reading with interest. It is set in the 1930s and is a series of funny tales (I think “gently humourous” is the kind of expression the blurb writers would go for) about the fictional diarist’s life in the English countryside with her husband and two daughters. “It really,” said my mother “gives you a feel for a period, it reminds me of Di Lampedusa“. As I told her, I suspect that this is the first time this comparison has been made.

This morning the joys of communal living were manifest from 6.00. Normally we wake our building when the children start screaming at 7.30. However, the students on the top floor were going away and spent their time from 6.00 huffing and puffing up and down with ski gear. It appeared that the best way to get poles down was to fling them into the stairwell and let them bounce to the ground floor while laughing manically the while. Maybe it just sounded that way.

We took ourselves to a museum to let the boys run around and work up an appetite for a nap. Is there anything more appealing than a large museum with few visitors, endless corridors and enormous rooms filled with odd items? Usually this museum is empty but today, we coincided with a series of activities to celebrate the Year of the Rat and a distressing number of people were milling about in the foyer. Happily, they all appeared to want to sign up for calligraphy demonstrations and we were allowed to inspect the exhibition of miniature Chinese houses in peace. We also admired Cinderella’s carriage in splendid isolation. All in all, it was a very satisfactory morning, the only crisis was caused by one of the bottles we had brought for the boys leaking all over the bag it was in and my husband’s jumper. Daniel pointed to the wet floor and said sagely “Michael spill actimel“. (Actimel is the work of Satan, the kids all love it because of its knacky little bottle and then they can’t get their mouths round it and spill it down their fronts. Every time I give them a bottle, the two lads say “very careful”. I digress.) On leaving, the foyer was still heaving and, in a very Belgian way, the lady in the cloakroom was refusing coats (see proof they’ve never had this many people before). “It’s full, I’ve already said it’s full, go away, do you expect me to hang your coats on the wall?” she said angrily to a crowd of innocent punters who, having purchased their tickets, were not going to be let into the museum until they had divested themselves of their coats, something Madame in the cloakroom was steadfastly refusing to allow them to do. All that was missing to make it a classic Belgian scene was for someone to start complaining about the linguistic regime.

Tomorrow is the start of mid-term. Herself has been signed up for a week long course of sport to which she is looking forward with all the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner. It’s a bit difficult to get to and the hours are different from school, leading to some logistical difficulties. When the boys were in the bath this evening I explained at tremendous length to my husband that, if I had to leave work early to collect herself I would prefer it to be Thursday because I have a lot on tomorrow and then I’ll have to leave a bit early on Tuesday, because it’s pancake Tuesday and we’ll be making pancakes and then I’ll be a bit frantic but, if on the other hand, I collect her on Thursday, I can get a good run on things on Monday, leave calmly on Tuesday and, by Thursday, all should be well for me to knock off a little early and collect herself, but, on the other hand, if I did have to collect her tomorrow, then he should let me know because I would take the car to work. He said, “what, sorry, I wasn’t listening, do you want to get her tomorrow or Thursday?” “Thursday”, I said, a shade coldly.

In our continuing efforts to illustrate to our sons that they both have a mother and a father and that they have not each been assigned to a particular parent, I took Daniel rather than Michael out of the bath again. My impudence was greeted with an outburst of angry weeping from Michael. I explained firmly that I am Daniel’s Mama too. “NO! Daddy, Daniel’s Mama!” he said. I think we have a mountain to climb here.

And finally, did you see that Carla and Sarko got married over the weekend? Maybe they should have waited until the Year of the Rat started. Don’t be like that, it’s supposed to be auspicious for marriages.

Happy Birthday

1 February, 2008 at 3:29 pm by belgianwaffle

Today is my mother’s birthday. Yesterday, I gathered my children together to get them to sing happy birthday winsomely.

They gathered. I attempted to record them but the camera was out of battery and it kept shutting down despite their winsomeness. Mr. Waffle hunted for more batteries. While he did so, the Princess went to get some plastic cake which would add lustre to the singing display. Daniel wanted the cake. The Princess would not give it to him because he was only a baby. We encouraged her to share nevertheless. She lost her temper and said she would not sing unless she alone held the cake as was only right because only she could hold it properly. She began to cry joining her brother in disharmonious weeping. Michael was beside me for the duration hoping to get his gums around the new batteries that were being slotted into the camera “Can I? Can I?”. We removed the cake from the arrangement, the batteries were safely stowed in the camera and the Princess led her brothers in song. And yes, I know, it’s a bit dark.

Happy birthday, Mummy.


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