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I’ve been keeping a secret

30 April, 2008 at 4:04 pm by belgianwaffle

No, for the umpteenth time, I am not pregnant.

The Christmas before last I said to my husband that we had to decide whether we were going to move back to Ireland or stay in Belgium because, if we were going to stay in Belgium, we had to buy a house. A three bedroomed, second floor flat is not ideal for bringing up three small children. We decided that we would move to Dublin in September 2008. Now, obviously, it didn’t make much sense to tell anyone about this decision in December 2006, so I have been not telling employers, employees and children for a long time. It’s exhausting.

Last week, Mr. Waffle told his employers. On Friday we told the Princess that we are moving back (some of you may consider that this is a radical solution to our difficulties with L). On Monday we told our childminder and our babysitter. And today I formally told my employer and colleagues and now I am telling you.

Mr. Waffle and the Princess are in Dublin this week. In an excess of efficiency they have visited her new school (an Irish language school – please don’t ask). After hearing her father and the headmaster converse in Irish for ten minutes, she ran from the room telling her grandmother that this was “pointless and useless”. I can tell it’s going to go well. What do you think? She’s also got her school uniform, this is more pleasing. It has a tie. There will be photos.
I am very sad to be leaving this great job and my lovely colleagues. I am very sad to be leaving Belgium and my friends here. On balance though, I think we are doing the right thing. We are very fortunate in both having lovely families with whom we get on very well. We want to see more of them and so do our children. I want my children to be Irish not Belgian (though I see that the Princess is testing this enthusiasm by already adopting the nastiest of Dublin accents, she said to me on the phone this afternoon “Oi don’t want to talk to you, Oi don’t loike the phone”). One of the best things about going back was how our friends in Dubin reacted; they all seem to be genuinely delighted. Despite all its shortcomings (and oh they are many), I do like Dublin and I know I will enjoy living there.

For obvious reasons, the move has been very much in my mind since Christmas but I didn’t want to blog about it ar eagla na heagla (see how I’m taking to this Irish thing?) but I have been taking notes and now I’m putting them here. Because I can.

8 January

Ask my mother what she did with all our furniture when we moved from a large detatched Georgian House to a much smaller semi-detatched Edwardian one. Answer: Moved it all and got rid of none. My mother points out that result has been 20 odd years tripping over pieces of furniture and an attic which strikes terror into her heart. On the plus side, she says I can now have the Nelson sideboard, if I want it. Point out that I have more than enough furniture of my own for my tiny house.

9 January

Prepare first spreadsheet.

January 10

Asked the garage whether they would sell us a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side. They were reluctant. They said that it would be expensive and we would have to wait a year. In inimitable Belgian fashion, 6 (yes 6) people behind the reception desk ignored me for some considerable time but finally, to their evident regret, had to relent and pay me some attention.

January 11

Consider for the umpteenth time the amount of our stuff. My mother often says to my sister (to the latter’s intense irritation): Helen, you have too much of this world’s goods. She’s not the only one. Wonder what size is the attic in our house in Dublin. Curse myself for never even having looked in the attic when we bought the house. My sister says to me, “Mummy is delighted that you are coming home”. I am touched until she adds, “she says that maybe finally you will take all of your stuff out of her house”. My father-in-law is also anxious that we should remove all our stuff from his garage (barbecue and large outdoor heater – a wedding gift from the time when they were a sign that you were trendy rather than a sign that you are an eco-terrorist). My mother-in-law has, however, volunteered to mind our antique sewing machine until we have a house large enough to accommodate it. I suspect that my father-in-law is unaware of her kind offer.

14 January

After much humming and hawing decide to travel to Ireland for interview I am most unlikely to get on the basis that, if I did get it and the job came up in September my family would be able to eat every day rather than just every second day. This problem would mostly affect me and Mr. Waffle as the children prefer not to eat anyway.

18 January

Mr. Waffle hands in notice to the creche. The boys will be finishing there at the end of July. I will be a little sad to end our relations with our excellent creche.

21 January

Flight is delayed and arrive, Cinderella like, at friends’ house in Dublin at midnight. My friends are up awaiting my arrival with tea sympathy and advice. I love their house. It is a home from home as I used to live there. In fact, due to the many parties my husband and I held there, many people still think it is ours. Alas, it is not. I have stayed in the spare room many times and always enjoyed an excellent night’s sleep. On this occasion, I do not. Some vagary of their security system means that the overhead light flashes on every two hours and wakes me in considerable alarm. It is distressingly like being with small children.

Interview is, as expected entirely brutal. At the end, I ask about how many people they expect to appoint and they tell me that they give comprehensive feedback. I say I will look forward to that to general laughter from the board. I’d like to think that they were laughing with me but, I doubt it. [Didn’t get the job].

23 January

Princess and I go round to Glam Potter’s house and I reveal to her sum total of our likely income in Ireland for first two years. She is appalled. How will you survive? I am not comforted.

17 March

Having refused to think about or organise anything for the move in two months in the hope that, oh I don’t know, it would organise itself, I am jolted into action by a series of questions from my mother and brother who are visiting over the weekend. The heart surgeon rings from America and asks a series of hard questions as well. I am now worrying actively.

The Dutch Mama asked whom I had told about my plans to return. I explained that we was waiting until the end of April to tell our children, our employers and our employees about our plans and that I was slightly dreading this event. I was comforted her reply:


Sure it will be brilliant.

Employer: I’M LEAVING! (implicit, for something better, didn’t I always say you don’t pay me enough)

Employees: I’M LEAVING! (implicit, for something better, look at what an exciting international life I have)

Children: Guess what? Brilliant news. Mammy has got a great new job in Ireland, and we’re going to live in a house with a garden, and you can have a swing of your very own, and we’ll be able to see granny every single weekend. Won’t it be just great! And we’ll come back on lots of visits too. And we can invite your friends to come and play on your swing. And we’ve found you a lovely school.(I’d leave out the gaelscoil detail for now if I were you).

Life will be way easier for you in Ireland, and lots of fun.

25 April

Mr. Waffle has told work he’s leaving. I’ve told my boss informally and will hand in my notice next week. Tonight we decided to tell herself. At first, she was very excited but then as the implications sank in, she became distinctly apprehensive. “Why can’t we move to a house with a garden in Brussels; Brussels is my home”. This is true, she has never lived anywhere else and we have never given her any reason to believe that we would move somewhere else. That was, perhaps, foolish in retrospect. “Where will I go to school?” “In Dublin.” “What language will they speak in school?” If I had realised that I was going to be asked this quite so early in proceedings, I would have prepared a different answer from “Irish”*. She started to cry. She was scared, she wouldn’t understand and all her friends were here. This was the first time I really, really realised that we are definitely going and I felt like crying myself. I love Brussels. However, we perked her up as best we could and stressed the advantages which are many – well, otherwise, why wouldn’t we stay here? I am afraid for her. Mr. Waffle says, I can’t have it both ways, saying that she’ll be uprooted from all her friends one minute and agonising that she has no friends the next. Actually, he’s wrong, I can.

* There is a reason why we are sending her to an Irish language school and it’s largely and embarrassingly to do with the fact that Ireland isn’t quite the classless society it once was.

What are the odds?

29 April, 2008 at 3:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Friend pointing to old school photo with about 200 children: Guess which one is me?

Group of us: Baffled.

Her: I had lots of hair.

Me: Everyone had lots of hair, look, even that boy has lots of hair.

Her: That’s not a boy, that’s me.


29 April, 2008 at 12:55 am by belgianwaffle

On Sunday morning we went to Mr. Waffle’s god-daughter’s first communion.  She is half-Italian, half-Scottish but her first communion was all Italian.  It is very odd to be in Italy in Belgium.  We were all dressed up in our best clothes (suits ties, dresses, high heels, new shoes) but you always feel under-dressed beside well-dressed Italians.  The service was lovely and I did think it would be nice to go to mass in a church like this where there was a real sense of community.  I was also quite impressed by the robes the communicants wore (sort of like junior monks in white or as her mother put it, klu klux klan).  In Ireland, little girls dress up like miniature brides (as I did with great delight in my day) in expensive white dresses and I feel that it undermines the spirituality of the occasion and also leads to quite extraordinary expense (see how middle aged I am?).   We went back to the first communicant’s house for brunch after mass and I was most impressed to see that not only had her Italian grandparents come from Rome along with her aunt and uncle and three cousins aged 3,2 and 9 months but also her Scottish grandparents from Lewis which is a long way from Brussels and also pretty darn Protestant.  And it was the middle of the lambing season too (the communicant’s grandfather having spent a satisfactory career in Glasgow as a dentist retired with his wife to the island where he was brought up and bought a sheep farm – impressed?).  In our ex-pat Brussels world, we don’t often go to family celebrations as families are so scattered and there was something really lovely about this occasion.  Also, the sun shone.

In the afternoon we went to my friend A’s house.  He is a consultant by day and training to be a chef by night and was having a “mad hatter’s tea party”.  We arrived to a house filled with canapés and afternoon tea delights.  We had obeyed my friend’s instructions and turned up in costume: the king and queen of hearts, Alice and no prizes for guessing who got to be stereotyped as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  It was all very pleasant having scones with jam and clotted cream in the sun while the children negotiated the dizzyingly dangerous excitements of a bachelor pad (spiral stairs with open banisters! kitchen appliances at just the right height for little fingers! building materials in a side passage! balcony with parapet at knee height!).

I feel our social life has reached new heights.


28 April, 2008 at 8:28 am by belgianwaffle

“When a Crocodile eats the Sun” by Peter Godwin

I read this for bookclub – it wouldn’t be my first choice of reading material, I prefer fiction myself. It’s the author’s description of his concerns about his elderly ill parents and being middle aged and squeezed by concerns about your own family and your parents and trying to balance everyone’s interests. It has the added interest that his parents live in Zimbabwe and with their decline he is also charting the decline of his home and the devastation of a country. There’s a twist as well, though this is pretty well signalled by the pictures and the blurb.

What I found interesting was that this was the typical middle-aged, I’m worried about my parents line with a whole new twist. His mother needs an artificial hip and he’s trying to smuggle one into the country. She needs a blood donation but she doesn’t have one because of the high risk that she’ll contract AIDS. She knows what she’s talking about as she worked as a doctor in Zimbabwe for 40 years.

It made me look at my passion fruit from Zimbabwe in a new light and it has made me a lot more interested in the recent elections. It made me think about AIDS. You often see articles that say something along the lines of “AIDS is a tradgedy, of course, but more lives are lost to malaria” and I would wonder why AIDS is so much more of a disaster but he spelt it out for me: it kills people like me and him, people in the middle of their lives, looking after children and parents. Other diseases target the weak; malaria kills children and the elderly, AIDS kills the strong; it leaves the children and the old people to fend together as best they can and it rips apart societies. Life expectancy today in Zimbabwe is 33. Charlotte has an excellent piece on AIDS and a South Africa charity that she is supporting, if you’d like to have a look.

“Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present” by Lisa Appignanesi

This is the best book I’ve read this year. I am not normally a big fan of large factual books but this is a fascinating book.

I’ve become interested in madness since reading Siri Hustvedt’s “What I Loved” and it was the mention of the Salpetriere asylum in the review I read of this book that made me think that I would like to read it. Have you noticed that a lot of female bloggers are mad too? No, seriously, famously Dooce but others too refer to their prescriptions and bouts of depression – it seems to be generally depression I don’t see so much reference to manic depression or monomania in blogs. So with one thing and another, I’ve become interested in madness.

This book postulates that unlike other diseases, madness is shaped by the times. You know, measles is measles is measles but hysteria is neurasthenia is post-natal depression is puerperal madness or whatever you’re having yourself.

I started off and became a bit indignant as the author was making a lot of assertions and references none of which were backed up by notes. I appreciate that there is a balance between trying to write something that reads fluidly and having infinite notes but the balance seemed to be very off. I flicked to the back of the book and there were the notes, by page. A uniquely annoying way to do footnotes, in my view, bad enough that they’re at the back of the book but you don’t know where they come on the page. Do you keep flicking to the end, to see whether you’ve missed something or do you ignore the notes altogether? Also, it’s very difficult to find the information on the illustrations. Very irritating. But overall pretty mild quibbles and something they will maybe tidy up for the paperback edition.

Also, initially, the author does a lot of work to show why her title “Mad, Bad and Sad” is a good one practically saying, this is an example of someone bad and so on, she doesn’t need to and it jars but it stops quite soon. She occasionally also has an unhappy turn of phrase. These are my criticisms – I thought I’d get them out of the way early.

This is a new field to me and I don’t really have the tools to assess how good a job the author does in detail but in general, it’s an amazing sweep over the history of madness and how it manifests itself right up to the digital age.

I’m a little curious as to who she thinks is her audience. I know nothing about the topic but she brings me along safely, so I wonder would it be a bit basic for someone who knows more than me? Then, she will say, “Jung, of course, would repeat the process with Tony Wolff, another Jewish woman, one this time who would remain his lifelong mistress and intellectual partner”. See the way, she said, yes you know this to the better informed reader and went on to tell me anyway who it was – there’s a certain amount of that going on.

The book relies on a lot of case studies and, boy, are they interesting. Well worth the price of admission. Did you know that Virginia Woolf’s father’s first wife was Thackeray’s daughter Minnie and, I quote “the very child whose birth had precipiated the older writer’s wife into puerperal madness”? Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa and her step-sister “poor, mad Laura, abnormal from birth and long incarcerated” (Minnie’s daughter) were abused by Virginia’s stepbrother, “her mother’s son by a former marriage and fourteen years older than [Virginia]”. Frankly, is it any wonder she went mad?

There are some interesting observations about the 20th century belief that madness or, at the very least misery, is essential to creativity.

The author also shows the various swings in fashion from treating mental illness with physical cures or talking therapies and how cures go in and out of fashion.

One of the best things for me was how she showed that things we accept as natural, particularly in relation to mothers and babies are really just constructed ideas from the middle of the last century.

Overall, fascinating and brilliant and I fear I haven’t at all done it justice here. I never thought I would say that I was sad to finish a 500 page work of non-fiction but I was. Very.

Penny Dreadful

I feel that I am the kind of person who should like graphic novels. I like science fiction, I am open to cartoons. I bought “Watchmen” because of the reviews printed on the back. It is one of Time Magazine’s 100 best books since 1923. I did not like it. At all. Anyone have a recommendation of something along these lines that might appeal?

“Vernon God Little” by DBC Pierre

Not for me but it does pick up in the last 100 pages. A number of reviews compare it to “The Catcher in the Rye”. I didn’t like that much either. The language is clever and inventive but a bit too clever and inventive for me, I found it a tough read as the plot was all but obscured by the language and the narrator’s obsession with underwear.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I hadn’t read this in 20 years, I’d say. I was amazed how brilliant it was, I had remembered all of the plot but none of the writing. It is an extraordinary book. Mind you, it’s a bit dense, I’m not sure I could take more than a novella. I note that there is a magazine called the The Conradian in which all of the editors of the Penguin edition have been involved. I once read that Martin Amis has fans not readers. I strongly suspect Conrad is the same. A little over-extensively annotated for my taste but the cover commissioned for this new penguin edition is superb.

When I lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant

Lots of interesting ideas presented in very dull prose. This book won the Orange Prize for fiction and, if you ask me, it was unworthy. Though I found Amos Oz immensely hard going, his book “A Tale of Love and Darkness” is so much more layered and nuanced than this one that having read it, it was hard to take this book very seriously. The prose in this book is at best bland and, at times, confusing and the plot is pretty pedestrian but there are some really interesting ideas about Israel, Palestine and Britain and some superb quotes, my favourite being words to the effect (can’t actually find the quote as such): there was a time when everyone who wasn’t carrying a violin case when he came off the boat in Palestine was assumed to be a pianist.

“Airman by Eoin Colfer

Clever but not as good as the Artemis Fowl books.  What do you mean you don’t read children’s books?

Mean, yet funny

27 April, 2008 at 2:37 pm by belgianwaffle

I read a lot of book reviews. Mostly they summarise the plot and say whether the reviewer liked it. In the LRB they also give you a lot of unnecessary information about the reviewer’s life and work.

Last weekend, Christine Dwyer Hickey wrote the most entertaining review I have read in years. A bit harsh perhaps. Unfortunately, the Irish Times is too mean to let you access it freely over the internet but perhaps I can give you some extracts so that you can get a flavour of Ms. Dwyer Hickey’s tone.

The book she reviewed is by a woman called Lorna Martin and it is called “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: A Memoir”. I’d say Ms. Martin is a lot closer to the edge after reading this.

“… Let’s start by getting this much straight – Lorna Martin was never on the verge of anything that even comes close to a nervous breakdown […] What she did go through was a rough patch in her personal life […] She did, however, find hwerself crying a lot, often in public. The reason for all this crying? Well, a man, of course. (For this, for this did the sufragettes chain themselves to the railings.)[…]

[She went into therapy] We are not told if these professionals thought to ask if this public sobbing, or should I say public house sobbing (as this is where it usually occurred) had anything to do with alcohol or some other factor; hormones perhaps, or even a tendency to whinge when overcome with emotion. Anyway, if sobbing over a man when half-cut in a public bar constitutes clinical depression, well…

Before very long, it’s pretty clear Martin really has nothing to moan about. Her past is dipped into, the bottom of its barrel duly scraped and still nothing emerges that a good kick up the you-know-what wouldn’t cure. […] The second trauma occurred when Martin was 15 and her sister, Louise, had surgery to have a brain tumour removed. I had to read this section more than once because I couldn’t believe that Martin managed somehow to make this tragedy her own. It was as if, by comparison, her sister’s suffering meant little, her parents’ anguish even less. Martin had felt neglected, while Louise, in intensive care, had hogged all the limelight. Twenty years on she announces at a family dinner that she has forgiven them all ‘for abandoning her during this difficult time, when she was still but a child in need of love and attention’.

Throughout this memoir, Martin frequently refers to her need to be liked. yet by writing this book she has rendered herself almost impossible to like.[…]

Had this memoir been well written or in any way witty, some, if not all, of this might have been overlooked. Unfortunately, the prose style brings little pleasure in the reading and the recurrence of such eyesores as “GRRRR!” and “Arrrrrgggghhh!” is unforgiveable. Then there’s the subject. NOt a paragraph goes by that is not fully engrossed with Lorna Martin. And that’s a subject that is neither funny nor remotely interesting.”

So there. I’m probably not going to give it a go then. I’m keen to get hold of some of Christine Dwyer Hickey’s short stories though.

And from this week’s births (I know you’re holding your breath out there):

ORDINARY IRISH NAME – X and Y are pleased to announce the births of Henry Stuart and Sloane Charlotte, born at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital etc. etc.

Sloane Charlotte? To think that I once thought Chelsea was an odd name. How many other parts of London are begging to be incorporated into an innocent infant’s name?

Low cut or, gosh, the personal really is political

25 April, 2008 at 10:43 pm by belgianwaffle

The other day, I was wearing what I thought was a perfectly respectable top to go to work. Daniel stuck his hand down the front of it and, poking at a breast, said, “what’s that?” “It’s my breast,” I said. “This is Daniel breast” he said hoisting up his pyjama top.

I suppose Angela Merkel must have felt the same way after her recent trip to Norway where she stunned the world by wearing this. I am indebted to the Irish Times for the information that Ms. Merkel was “surprised but not unflattered that, considering important themes like energy, security aand the Afghanistan mission, the world had nothin better to report on than the ‘new arrangement of the Chancellor’s inventory'”.

Still in recovery

24 April, 2008 at 8:43 pm by belgianwaffle

We had the Princess’s birthday party on Sunday. It was brutal. Unlike everything else in my experience, children’s birthday parties are always worse than one fears. A week beforehand we sat down with the Princess and asked her who from her class she wanted to invite. She named 8 children, two of whom we had never heard of. Mr. Waffle designed invitations and sent them out into the world (via the classroom assistant) with an RSVP note. We got 4 replies, 3 yes and 1 no. Four children didn’t reply at all which I think is appalling. It also makes me sad because, clearly, the Princess’s party wasn’t first on their priority lists.

So, all the kiddies arrived between 3.30 and 4.00. My attempt to play pass the parcel was stymied partly by the trickle of new arrivals which necessitated greeting and present opening and partly by the Princess’s best friend from school, L. Mr. Waffle does not like L. How L treats the Princess on any given day determines whether our evening will be pleasant or unpleasant. I like L’s mother and she lives round the corner from us. I often take L for an afternoon or the Princess goes to her house. L does blow hot and cold but I haven’t really seen much harm in her. On Sunday, I fundamentally revised my view. She did not like the Princess getting attention from the other children from school. She insisted that they sit out pass the parcel with her. Since L’s mother had not yet left, my opportunities for discipline were limited. When a little boy from the Princess’s class (who seems like a lovely child) tried to talk to the Princess or play with her, L intervened and took him away. She gathered the two other children from school round her and excluded my daughter. I could see that the Princess was upset but I think she doesn’t have the emotional sophistication to understand why or to see what’s happening with any clarity. It was abundantly clear to me that L was only nice to her when she (L) was cross with the other children. All of the other children at the party were basically nice, pleasant little people and, it is unfortunate, that my daughter had to be “friends” with the annoying one.

We had hired a children’s entertainer to, well, entertain. I deeply disapprove of this. We always had wonderful parties when I was little with treasure hunts and all manner of excitements organised by my mother. On the other hand, we had a big garden; the Waffle etablissement is a second floor appartment. Like all the things of which one disapproves, it’s never so bad when you’re doing it yourself. She was due to arrive at 4.15. There was a brief moment when I thought that she might not come and I think that this may be the closest I have ever come to a panic attack. Don’t mock the afflicted.

She came, she was dressed as a witch. She was worth every penny of her exorbitant fee. L announced that she was not a real witch. When the witch asked whether the children liked colouring, L said she did not and encouraged her coterie to do likewise. When the witch left, L craned her head out the window to see the witch getting into a car and changing and announced this to all the children there and pointed out that the Princess did not have a real witch at her party. I wanted to smack her but I just ignored her. Later my daughter told me that the witch really liked her because she (the witch) had asked the Princess to help with the spells. It did not even cross her mind that the witch might be nice to her because it was her birthday, let alone because her parents had forked out a considerable sum. I can’t help feeling that the poor Princess has the emotional IQ of a gnat and, of all people, she is least likely to appreciate the implications of being friends with a little manipulator.

Despite my concerns, I think she did, on balance, enjoy her party and, I suppose, that is something.


19 April, 2008 at 3:37 pm by belgianwaffle

My oldest friend is 40 tomorrow and I wanted to give her a present of a subscription to the New Yorker and, because of the kind of person I am, I am only doing it now.  And because of the stupid, insular kind of publication the New Yorker is they will not allow you to put more than a certain number of characters for the address on their stupid subscription form.  Since my friend lives in Asia where they happen to require more characters in the address than the stupid, idiot New Yorker form will allow, my tasteful gift is not now going to be with her tomorrow is it?

Perhaps a subscription to something else?  What?  Please, please help me.

I thought I might just say stupid again as it will make me feel better.

Vive la Francophonie

18 April, 2008 at 8:50 pm by belgianwaffle

See here.

How could they?

17 April, 2008 at 8:21 pm by belgianwaffle

The return of Berlusconi has given the media a field day looking out his most inappropriate quotes from old files and happily awaiting new ones.

His most annoying comment of recent times is on the new Zapatero government in Spain which has a majority of female ministers.  According to this source, Mr Berlusconi suggested it is “too pink.”   He went on to say “he [Mr Zapatero] has asked for it, he will have problems leading them,” adding that “[i]n Italy there is a prevalence of men in politics and therefore it is not so easy to find women who are ready for the government.”

Magdalena Alvarez, Spain’s infrastructure minister, described the remark as offensive and said that “[m]any of us women would refuse to work for a government that had Mr Berlusconi as prime minister.”   Berlusconi tried to make amends by saying that he “greatly appreciated the colour pink in that government” and that “[i]t’s possible that the female members take a series of measures stemming from the everyday life, from the concrete reality of being a mother, a wife and perhaps also a working woman.”  “Perhaps also”?   I found this link on further comparisons between Messrs. Berlusconi and Zapatero; again, unflattering to the former.

When I came in to work, earlier this week, a female colleague drew my attention to this picture of the new Spanish Minister for Defence reviewing troops in Madrid.  She is the first woman to hold the post and also seven months pregnant.   It perked us both up.  Viva Zapatero.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, I fear that all is not what it might be in the arena of gender stereotyping.  I had the following conversation with the Princess this evening.

Me: How was your school trip to the farm today?

Her: Great, I rubbed a sheep, a donkey and a bull [Really?]. Can I have horse riding lessons?  I didn’t rub a pig.  There were no pigs.   There was a dog though but we weren’t allowed to rub it in case it bit us.  We had Peter Pan on the bus in French and all the songs were in French [spirited rendition of same].

Me [a little overwhelmed by the flow of eloquence]: Was the farmer there?

Her: No, just our teachers.  There was another woman who showed us things.

Me:  That was probably the farmer.

Her: But it was a woman.

Me: But women can be farmers.

Her: But she had a baby.

Me: Even women with babies can be farmers.

Her: Sceptical expression.

Imagine women with babies can even be Spanish ministers for defence.

Mr. Waffle’s quotes of the week

16 April, 2008 at 10:22 pm by belgianwaffle

The meeting of the logistics committee was suspended for an ad hoc emergency session of the vomit committee.
On having to abandon our discussion on what was happening during the following week to deal with Daniel getting sick.

Sure, as long as it’s fair trade recycled non-bleach eco-cotton.
On being told by his eco-terrorist wife that she would like one of these.

I have to struggle against terrible prejudice.
On being told by the Princess’s teacher that for her majesty’s birthday, his wife should make a smallish cake for the class. He makes the cakes here.

Ah excellent, competency based child-rearing; this will stand her in good stead, if the current interview fad lasts – tell me, what did you do to achieve the result described.

On being told about an interesting article (via this entertaining blog) which says that we should be specific in the praise we give our children, e.g. not you played really well but that was a great pass you made in the second half that led to a goal.

All the fingers of one hand

14 April, 2008 at 9:20 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess was 5 on Saturday. Let joy be unconfined. Other than among her brothers where a certain amount of jealousy was evident. She got many lovely presents and parcels from far flung places and, believe me, I know how much of a pain it is sending parcels. For the first time, she examined each present and played with it in turn before opening the next.

One of her presents was from me.  It was a dress from Uganda.  She loves it.  I love it.  The only problem is that it is freezing in Brussels and it is cold wearing her summer dress round the house.  But we don’t care.  Her father is a little concerned though.   She knows that a nice lady in Africa made it for her – we got to examine the stamps on the parcel and the shopping bag from a local supermarket.  Very thrilling.

You are doubtless distracted by this exotic African element in the birthday frenzy.  I bought the dress from Lizzie who was brought to my attention by the lovely Heather. Lizzie is starting a business with her housekeeper, Eva, who is also an excellent seamstress.  Lizzie is rich (well, you know, relatively) and looking after marketing abroad and Eva is poor and looking after working and getting the profits.
I sent off the Princess’s measurements and Lizzie organised the dress in no time (also producing a baby in the interim, speedy work).  When the parcel came, there was a handwritten note from Eva saying thanks for the order and God Bless.  People, is this better than buying from child labour in China?  You know, I’m half inclined to think that it is.

Total cost is 28stg – 25 for the dress and 3 for p&p (to Belgium anyway) and, frankly, with sterling in freefall at the moment – what’s not to like?  It’s an ill wind and all that.

The dress is lovely: proof here.  If we get a summer, she will wear it constantly.  I think we might buy another one.

It’s the first time that she has ever had something made for her.   She is charmed by the idea. When I was little, my mother used to make a lot of my clothes.  She once, memorably, said to my father as she looked at him coming out of mass with us in our beautiful wool coats with velvet collars, that he looked like the groom following the children from the big house.  He still brings it up occasionally.  I digress.

So here it is, big plug for Lizzie and her business (there’s that link again) which absolutely deserves to prosper.


11 April, 2008 at 12:51 pm by belgianwaffle


The boys are talking a lot. Daniel will say “Mama say ‘mountain’, Daddy say ‘montagne’. Michael is not as able at distinguishing languages. They both, however, mix up English and French and, as yet, show no real ability to unmix them. Although, funnily enough, in the creche which is entirely francophone, I am told that they only speak French. Over the past couple of weeks I have been collecting some linguistic infelicities:

Bicycle like Michael aussi;

Petit boy;

Moi, je comb the hair;

Moi, je geddit;

Belle, reading son book;

Mange avec spoon et fork;

C’est my!

Help you me;

Where un autre spoon?

[Describing those chasing the little gingerbread man] mechant fox, vache, horsey;

Moi, je puttai it;

un, deux, trois, jump;

moi, je go a la creche;

Moi, j’ai not stuck;

La baguette est broken;

Can I have ça ?

Moi, je goé à la supermarket;

Turnez OFF the light!

C’est MY de l’eau!

Poor Daniel is not enjoying the creche at the moment and, every time we sit into the car he says “pas creche” or, in English “creche, no thank you” (see, my efforts on please and thank you are not wasted). He also likes to point out everyone who is wearing glasses: “glasses, like me” he says.

Michael appears to be ambidextrous. He can take a spoon in each hand and eat perfectly competently from each in turn. He doesn’t often choose to do this as, in his quest to drive his father over the edge, he has, largely, abandoned eating solid food. We are told that, at the creche they go to eat separately and, when they return, each looks for the other to give a quick kiss before going about his business.

Odd little habits

They both totter when they first wake up. I love to see them walking jerkily but determinedly along the corridor to see what excitement is available at the breakfast table.

Daniel yells as loudly as his mother; that’s pretty loud.

They are both extremely keen that we should all sit in the same chairs when we sit at the table and woe betide any parent or child who sits in the wrong chair.

It’s harder than you might think to string this information together coherently. Did you notice?


10 April, 2008 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

I am cross with Disney. Everywhere I go, I am pelted with Princess tat. I can’t walk more than a few steps in the supermarket without seeing Princess biscuits, dresses, t-shirts, underwear, games, books, toys, cakes. You name it, the Princesses have sponsored it.

I would like to buy the DVD of Snow White for my daughter. Yes, hand over cash for a Disney item but I cannot because all of their DVDs (except rubbish like Tinkerbell II the voyage to pixie land) are released on a strict rota about once every ten years for reasons I don’t quite understand but, by gum, it is annoying. I see that Snow White is not scheduled for release at the moment but I can ask them to email me when it is. Probably it will be available in 10 years time when the Princess will be 14. Is there something wrong with our money?


9 April, 2008 at 3:03 pm by belgianwaffle

So, you know Dooce (and, as I once memorably read somewhere, if you don’t, you’re my mother, so please call me, I want to talk to you). Well, I read Dooce and once I got a reply to an email from her and I kept it in my inbox for ages even though I normally delete email so fast that I find myself rooting around in deleted items for flight confirmations. I’ve never been a fan of anyone before (no interest in musicians, no particular interest in authors, only their output, little interest in the private lives of actors or other random famous people), but I am now. It is disconcerting.

Anyhow, a while ago, she said that she had seen herself as one of the five top bloggers in the Observer and she was pleased. I deduced that, what with living in Salt Lake City and that, she did not have a copy of the Observer in her sweaty little paw as I did. So, I decided to send her my copy of the Observer magazine in an attempt to win her heart. This is the kind of thing fans do.

Mr. Waffle and I went to the post office together (the family that posts together stays together or something like that). We had the following conversation.

Mr. Waffle: What’s this?

Me (embarrassed): It’s the Observer for Dooce [insert explanation re bloggers article] – she said she was interested.

Him : That’s nice, she emailed and asked if you’d post it and you’re sending it to her.

Me (failing to explain that I’ve only ever had the one email and, in fact, this is an entirely unsolicited and, perhaps, slightly creepy act of goodwill); Mmm.

Post office lady weighing the envelope: That will be 9 euros.

Me and him (yelping): 9 Euros!

Post office lady (apologetically): It’s a non-standard size.

Him: Could we sellotape over the edge?

Her: Well, you used to be able to do that but now they don’t accept that, it’s the European norm.

Me: Could we buy a standard size envelope here?

Her (apologetically) : No, the envelopes we have on sale are not standard European size.[I am not making this up].

My lovely husband: Feck it, we’ll send it anyway, go on, I’ll pay for it.

All I can say is, I hope that when I find out her address and we go to visit her in Salt Lake City, she will put us all up. Do you think that she’s scared?

News from Dublin

8 April, 2008 at 10:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Ireland is awash with festivals, particularly in the Summer. There was a not particularly funny, spoof article about this in the Irish Times recently. I did like this one though:

“And last but not least, we can’t go without mentioning…


(in the picturesque town that’s a gateway to a world just waiting to be discovered)

One of the country’s longest-running festivals celebrates its 25th anniversary with a mouthwatering line up. This festival has it all or, if it’s adventure you’re after, something for everyone. If it’s festival-going that you want, look no farther than this. Something for all the family. Why not get away from it all? Book early to avoid disappointment. You can’t take a horse to water but you can enjoy the Festival of Cliche.”

Meanwhile, in the births column:

PERFECTLY ORDINARY SURNAME – A beautiful baby boy born on March 4, 2008…. to delighted parents Kathryn and Barry. Dashel Zice treasured grandson for Sean and Mary etc. etc.

Dashel Zice?


7 April, 2008 at 10:40 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, March 29

A lengthy, yet largely uneventful, train ride took us to the Alps. The children were a bit hyper but the nice Flemish man opposite said that they were lovely, normal children and I instantly recanted every bad thought I have ever had about the Flemish. The mother of a small baby looked at us viciously when Daniel pointed to a cow and said “moo” in a voice that woud raise the dead and woke her baby but otherwise all was well. The boys slept on the way up to Val Thorens on the bus and we arrived in time for the children to do some mild sledding in the afternoon sunshine.

Sunday, March 30

At 5.40 (summer time) I was lying awake in my bed trying to work out how we would get the children to creche/ski lessons at 9.00 and ourselves to our own lessons (uphill) at 9.15. This is what it is like to be my husband. I did not enjoy it. We left the house at 8.30 and made our way gingerly down the spiral staircase (why?) from the locker room clutching three sets of skis, two sets of poles, assorted material for the creche (change of clothes, outdoor gear, suncream, goggles etc. etc.) and two children. We left the Princess to walk down herself. This turned out to be a mistake as, wearing ski boots for the first time she fell down on her head. On the plus side, this gave her a chance to test the efficacy of her new helmet (very good but does not protect legs or cheeks).

We saw off our various offspring and took ourselves to our lesson in unpleasantly snowy conditions. Most of the lifts were closed. Pablo took us flying down a number of red slopes in poor visibility and I thought “I do not like this one little bit”. The Princess, when collected, reported that she had spent the morning skiing on one ski and that she had lost her group and started to cry. They all called out “We’re beside you”, so I guess she didn’t get separated very far. The boys, unfortunately, saw through the creche for what it was and were outraged at its appearance in the Alps. Nobody would nap. I went out with the boys to play. They were cold and cranky and had taken agin snow. I brought them home and took the Princess out. I fell over in the ice outside our building. This was the highlight of her day. She had never seen anything funnier. I had hurt my knee. She would have sympathised only she couldn’t stop laughing. Then she made me slide down the hill on her sled with her.

I spent the night in mild pain (my knee) and bitterness (the exhorbitant cost of it all, the fact that it was going to be miserable).

Monday, March 31

I spent the morning limping around the resort. I went to inspect the Princess’s lesson. Her instructor, Jean Clement ,informed me that her goggles were useless “c’est pour la piscine ca!” and, after some vain discussion (never argue with a French ski instructor) I limped off to get her goggles (22 euros) and handed them over. I watched her bending over to eat snow and skiing on one leg for a while and limped on. After much anguish at the potential cost, I decided to go to see the doctor in the resort. This, you will be pleased to hear, represented excellent value. For 30 euros I got a cheery prognosis and a prescription for a knee support and pain relief (he was a bit dubious about the dafalgan I had in my bag – doubtless they use it in Belgium – yes, they do, will I ever forget my outrage when I discovered that what I had been given after delivering my baby was not super de duper prescription stuff but a mild analgesic delivered over the counter – I digress). He confidently predicted that I would be back skiing by Wednesday and pointed out that the weather that day was not nice for skiing. I pointed out that, unlike him, I was not spending a season in Val Thorens. I tried to convey this to the creche people also when they looked astounded and disapproving when I asked whether they had let the boys play in the snow, but they were more supercilious than the doctor so I left it.

That afternoon we took the children to an indoor bouncy castle extravaganza. They loved it. I limped off to get my knee support (which I am wearing even now). I intend to wear it every skiing holiday for the rest of my life as it cost me 96 euros. Ouch. It’s great though.

There were hardly any other Irish people at the resort, oddly, though the Princess did have some one from Miami in her class (why?) and she is keen to visit. We said we’ll see. The place was, however, teeming with young Dutch and English people. True to form, the Dutch had all brought their own food from the Netherlands which they were cheerfully loading in to the lift in crates. When I went to the supermarket later, I saw their point.

In the supermarket, I saw that the English young man in front of me with the slipping down trousers and visible underwear had a basket containing only a bottle of bacardi, a packet of pringles and a frozen pizza, I uttered a silent but, alas, as it later transpired, unanswered, prayer that he might not be in our building. Our building was full of young people going at the apres ski hammer and tongs. Mr. Waffle particularly enjoyed being serenaded by English rugby songs at 4 in the morning. Personally, my favourite was the young man banging on the door two floors below at 3 am screaming “Robbie, wake up, I can’t believe he can’t hear me, wake up!”. After about 20 minutes of this, while Robbie slept on unaffected, my whole family was awake. I ventured outside to explain to Robbie’s friend that Robbie had either passed out or was, incredible as this might seem at this ungodly hour, still out. Fortunately, Robbie’s friend had left by then so I was not forced to take him on in my pyjamas.

Tuesday, April 1

Mr. Waffle and I had a delightful morning skiing gently together in glorious sunshine having abandoned any hope of ever getting to our lessons in time. Perked up by this, I met the Princess for lunch while Mr. Waffle took the boys home to nap. This was moderately successful except for the part where she sat under the table and, from this vantage point, threw snow balls at select other punters (all handsome and indulgent young men, I see trouble ahead).

When, eventually, we had finished lunch, I took her up to see her do her thing on the beginners’ slope but she refused to go down alone and I had to carry her between my knees which, mercifully, turned out to be a lot easier than you might expect. However, the skiing held no real attraction for her as there was a giant inflatable chicken nearby. We had to take off our skis and trudge up to inspect it. We then stayed there for some considerable time and the Princess circled the chicken while eating snow. I wouldn’t call it a phenomenally successful session.
Later, we got our her sled and went down to the supermarket. Her iron will supported her while travelling her approved route which involved toiling up a blue slope in the hot sun. Unfortunately, it let her down as we went around the supermarket and she was a disgrace and her post-shopping present was not therefore forthcoming and she sat down and refused to budge and I waited and read my book and still she wouldn’t budge. I found myself using my mother’s old phrases “what kind of mother would I be, if I let you behave badly and didn’t tell you what was right?” and “who is going to tell you how to behave unless your mother does?”. To the latter she said crossly, and unanswerably, “our childminder”. Mr. Waffle and the boys had to come and rescue us, I was very glad that we were going out later and, if you find yourself looking for somewhere to eat in Val Thorens, may I heartily recommend L’epicurien? I was glad dinner was nice as babysitting weighed in at a hefty 20 euros an hour.

Wednesday, April 2

Mornings continue fraught. Daniel wept convulsively as we dropped the boys at the creche; Michael was cheery. The weather was miserable and we skied round blinking in the snow. Not our best moment. Mr. Waffle took the Princess off for lunch and I put the boys to bed and read my book. Inadvertently, Mr. Waffle took the Princess to ski down her first blue run; I don’t think either of them enjoyed it much. On the plus side, they spent a happy hour going up and down the cable car. More bouncy castles later in the afternoon. Sigh.
Thursday, April 3

Another beautiful day for Mr. Waffle and me above the clouds. The Princess was cranky and the boys howled at the creche, so I think that the rest of the family may not have had quite such a wonderful morning. The Princess announced that Jean Clement had made her continue to do an exercise until she did not fall over. She did not like that. French kiddie ski instructors are ruthless, not soft and cuddly. To compensate, we went to visit the bouncy castles in the afternoon, the girl behind the desk observed sagely that we should have bought a pass.

Friday, April 4

I asked Jean Clement how the Princess was getting on. “Impeccable” pause “mais elle fait ce qu’elle veut, eh?” I can only imagine what the clash of the Titans was like. Nevertheless, at the end of the morning she was awarded her Ourson badge (only a Flocon and 3 etoiles to go before she can do anything). Notwithstanding this when I took her up on a chair lift (probably the highlight of her week) and encouraged her to ski down a very gentle slope she refused to budge and I had to carry her the whole way down. I think we need a little more work here.
In the morning, however, her father and I enjoyed a lovely morning’s skiing which, in my experience, always happens on the last day. The weather was beautiful, we went down a number of red slopes (but no blacks at all) with cavalier ease – please let me be smug, I have spent my fair share of time on my bottom waving my skis in the air. The only thing that happened to mar our enjoyment was sharing a cable car with a remarkably irritating English teenager who spoke as follows:

Annoying Girl: No offence but they’re holding us up.

Inarticulate side kick: Mmm.

AG: No offence but we haven’t fallen at all, except that one time getting off the lift when we fell on that man and that was his fault really.

ISK: Silence.

AG: No offence but we need to be skiing harder and faster.

ISK (admiringly): You only skied the hardest black in the whole resort yesterday.

AG: I know and, no offence but that woman in the group really annoyed me.

ISK: Silence.

AG: I mean, she was annoyed when I knocked her over yesterday, she said I could have broken her leg and, no offence but, she was skiing again today, so I couldn’t have, could I?

What was particularly galling was that somehow or other our friend had managed to get her skis wedged in the door of the lift when getting in which did not give us a very good impression of her prowess, this poor impression was reinforced when we actually saw her on them.

“I think,” said Mr. Waffle “that that was a Sloane Ranger.”

“Really, but she didn’t sound at all like our English friends in Brussels and I thought they were all middle class”

“No, but, I think you really need to have more money than anyone we know to have children who mangle their vowels in that very peculiar manner”.

That afternoon, partly to avoid the girl on the bouncy castle desk, we went to the pool which was surprisingly pleasant, despite our children’s insistence on donning every flotation device in the pool.

Saturday, April 5

Up at 7.30, out at 10.30 after cleaning up, bus at 11. Both boys sick on the bus and bottle of milk spilt. We arrived in Moutiers at 12.00 and wandered around the quaint streets of the old town until 16.23. Actually, it was quite nice but we were in no mood to appreciate it with three tired cranky children and two cranky parents (including one with a spanking new migraine, yay) all finding it a little toasty in their ski gear on a sunny April day in the valley. Furthermore we spent most of our time combing the town for nappies as we had reprehensibly and entirely inexplicably run out and so had Val Thorens. We found some, you will be pleased to hear.

The train journey was long. We shared a carriage with some nice Belgians but none of our six children slept which was a source of some regret to the four adults. The train was delayed and got in at 11. By then Michael was asleep but herself and Daniel were still gamely awake. We queued for taxis in the biting cold and finally got home about 11.30 and bundled our protesting children into bed and collapsed ourselves.

Would I do it again? Yes. Would I make any changes? Many. Was it fun? Much more so than you might think from the description above.

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