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You must be joking

30 May, 2008 at 12:43 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was little, my father refused to explain jokes to me and this was a source of enormous irritation. I still remember one which I puzzled over for years.

Boy: What’s a feebly father?

Father: There’s no such thing.

Boy: There is, I read it in a book.

Father: What does it say?

Boy: He had a feebly growing down on his chin.

The Princess is now interested in jokes but she hasn’t the faintest clue how they work. Determined not to torture her as her grandfather did me, we tried to explain.

Me: Knock knock.

Mr. Waffle: Who’s there?

Me (thinking furiously): Ummm.

Him: Mr. Amnesia?

Me: Giggle.

Her: Why is that funny?

Me: No, no, it’s not, wait a minute what’s black and white and red all over?

Her (crossly): I don’t know.

Him: That’s more of a riddle really.

Me: Hissing noise.

Her (more crossly): I don’t know.

Me: A newspaper. See, it’s black and white and you read it all over, so it’s read all over.

Her: I see, I see. Let me try.

Us (enthusiastically): Ok.

Her: What’s yellow and doesn’t have any pages?

Us: Umm.

Her (laughing): A cushion.

I am beginning to see real merit in my father’s approach.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

29 May, 2008 at 8:36 pm by belgianwaffle

Brussels is a seething mass of lobbyists for more kinds of interests than you ever realised existed and I have mostly ceased to be surprised by their number and variety. Nevertheless, when I got an invitation to an event organised by EAACA (the European Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Association) even I raised a jaded eyebrow.  People, there is a whole world out there.

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees

28 May, 2008 at 10:57 pm by belgianwaffle

I am indebted to Messrs. Snopes for this information which was put out in 1943.

“There’s no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from western properties:

1. If you can get them, pick young married women. They have these advantages, according to the reports of western companies: they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they’re less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it; maybe a sick husband or one who’s in the army; they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It’s always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that “husky” girls; those who are just a little on the heavy side; are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.

5. In breaking in women who haven’t previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employe in garage or office a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be nervous and they’re happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and consequently is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way that men do. Never ridicule a woman breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator uniforms that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too strongly as a means of keeping women happy, according to western properties.

Yes, I know, hilarious. But perhaps a little unnerving too. We have come a long way. And, then again, we haven’t.

In one of my first jobs, I had a very brilliant slightly older male colleague. He had married relatively young and, in his late 20s had two small children. He was destined for greatness. I remember one of my older female colleagues saying fondly “all the senior men see themselves in him; they were just like him”. In fact, she didn’t need to say all the senior men because all the senior people were men. Would he have done just as well, had he been a woman? Well, I’m not so sure.

He would, of course, still have been brilliant and that is always a help. However, a husband probably wouldn’t have given up his job to mind small children the way his wife did, so, if he’d been a woman, he would have been less able to put in the hours. Would a brilliant woman like him have had senior management role models? No. Would senior management have seen themselves in a woman in her late 20s with two young children? Of course not, which is not to say that she wouldn’t have been encouraged and so on but there is an advantage there for the man. I know myself that I am more inclined to look with interest at junior colleagues who are like I was. Of course I do, it’s only natural. And that bringing yourself to attention is useful. It will only get you so far, but it is a good start.

There is, even now, an assumption that of two careers, the woman’s will almost always be the one sacrificed to childcare and the wear and tear of everyday life and all efforts will be focussed on getting the husband up the ladder. I’m not saying it’s a conscious assumption but I believe it is still something that pollutes the air: a whiff of sulphur. Nor am I saying that it is something from which I am immune. A very good friend of mine has a much better career than her husband and I find it surprising, though she is both brilliant and ambitious and why shouldn’t she? But you know who else finds it surprising and a little unnerving? She does. And there’s one of our problems; 65 years after this memo was written, although the language has changed, some of the underlying assumptions remain the same.

While we’re on the subject; see also this slightly depressing little video that the European Commission has put out on the gender pay gap.

Anatomy of an unsuccessful evening

27 May, 2008 at 11:01 pm by belgianwaffle

3 – Number of people who cried before dinner: the Princess because I wouldn’t give her a bowl of cornflakes, Michael because I wouldn’t let him have his party bag from the creche and me because the Princess cannoned in to me while I was sitting on the floor and knocked my head into the cast iron radiator (big bump).

3 – Number of people who actually ate any dinner: me, Mr. Waffle and the Princess (reluctantly), dinner boycotted by the boys (determinedly).

1 – Number of people who sat down triumphantly to a bowl of cornflakes at 8 o’clock.

2 – Number of people who howled hungrily and refused to get into the bath.

1 – Number of people who stayed up on the computer until one in the morning.

1 – Number of people awoken from slumbers in the middle of the night by errant spouse blinding him with bathroom light.

No, apparently there is no end to the guilt

26 May, 2008 at 10:32 pm by belgianwaffle

Me (while watching “Barbie of Swan Lake”): When we go back to Ireland, I’m going to make you watch all of your DVDs in French so that you don’t forget it.

Her (predictably as she is determined to forget every word of French she knows the second we set foot on Irish soil): No, you’re not.

Me: Why not?

Her: Because I won’t watch any DVDs in Ireland.

Me (knowingly): Oh won’t you, indeed, and what will you do?

Her (simply): I will play in my back garden.

Is there no end to the guilt?

25 May, 2008 at 3:41 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is sick today.  Nothing serious just a bit of a cold and a temperature but he stayed at home this morning with his father while the Princess, Daniel and I went to mass.

As we were walking along the Princess commented on how fortunate it was that it wasn’t a creche day and Michael could stay at home. The fact that this was precisely what I was thinking myself in no way mitigated my discomfort.

Vomit – a game of action and adventure for all the family

23 May, 2008 at 6:17 pm by belgianwaffle

A game for two or more players. N.B. This game is not suitable for those with carpetted bedroom floors.

Step 1 – Take vomitting child from its bed. Clean child and put in parental bed. Strip child’s bed. Clean floor and any fixtures and fittings sprayed with vomit. One extra point, if you wake sibling while doing so.

Step 2 – Get into bed with sick child. Lie awake tensely listening for sounds that might indicate child is about to be sick. Points will be awarded if you grab sleeping sick child and hold him anxiously over the side of the bed when all he was doing was clearing his throat.

Step 3 – Drift off to sleep to be awoken by the miserable screech of a child who has vomitted all over himself and the bedclothes. Hold him over the edge of the bed and let him vomit copiously on the floor. Extra point if you accede, against your better judgement, to his request for a glass of water which he then vomits up.

Step 4 – Repeat step 3 until you have stripped your bed three times. Then shout jackpot and, if you’re really lucky, sleep uninterrupted for the two hours remaining until dawn breaks.

Step 5 – Repeat with other children over the following nights.

A post reflecting my own recent experience (mercifully past) and inspired by geepeemama‘s woes.


22 May, 2008 at 8:59 pm by belgianwaffle

“How we are hungry” by Dave Eggers
I didn’t like “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” but this was recommended to me and, as I would like to start reading more short stories, I decided to give it a go. I didn’t like most of these stories; they are more clever than they are compelling. For me, they were mostly what I would call “prose pieces” rather than short stories as the story element was singularly missing in a great number of them. All that said, there was one which I thought was excellent (Notes for a Story of a Man Who Will Not Die Alone) and several which I quite enjoyed. I’m not sure they make up for offerings like “The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water”.

Jane and Prudence” by Barbara Pym

I was looking forward to this. The Glam Potter is very keen. Jilly Cooper, with whom I seem to share an alarming number of favourite authors, is very keen. She said:

“Over the years, as Barbara Pym replaced Nancy Mitford, Georgette Heyer, even Jane Austen, as my most loved author, I devoured all her books, but Jane and Prudence remains my favourite. Even an umpteenth reading this weekend was punctuated by gasps of joy, laughter, sympathy and wonder that this lovely book should remain so fresh, funny and true to life”

It was good. I would certainly read another. It was clever. But I didn’t love it. It certainly wouldn’t replace Nancy Mitford, Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen for me.

This Charming Man” by Marian Keyes

On the back of this book it says “trust Marian”. I’m not sure you should. The book is packaged as chick lit. All of Marian Keyes’s books have a dark streak in them but this one has far more dark than light. It’s a story of domestic violence told by four different characters. Marnie’s story, in particular, is very creepy in parts. Lola, on the whole, provides the light relief. It is really, really good. The characters are all in their mid 30s and for me that works better than her last book (which I didn’t like very much) where the characters are all in their mid-twenties. I found quite a bit of this story dark, unnerving and disturbing. But interesting. The charming man is a politician and she has a bit of fun with her Irish politicians and political parties – not sure how well this will play in foreign parts but mildly humourous for the locals. Overall, quite excellent but I think she needs to consider changing her book covers.

Also, she has given me a really useful new term: “eco-swot”.

“Slam” by Nick Hornby

I like Nick Hornby, I like teenage fiction. What’s not to like? Well, quite a lot, it transpires. I think that Nick Hornby is an excellent writer and this book is very well written. But it drags. It’s narrated by a nice teenager who gets his girlfriend pregnant and it’s just not very interesting. The plot is all over the place and that’s pretty much it for plot. And it really doesn’t seem to have a particularly coherent structure or to be aiming towards a particular end. It feels like one of those UK government public service advertisements warning about the risks of teenage pregnancy. Thumbs down, I fear.

From the organ of record

20 May, 2008 at 9:25 pm by belgianwaffle

Fintan O’Toole writing about a deceased colleague in the Irish Times on Saturday tells us that her “journalism eschewed the gnostic pretence at Olympian insight into events which [etc. etc]..”. Gosh, Fintan, we’re overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, in the book reviews, Alan O’Riordan announces that the “success of Ferris’s [Joshua Ferris’s “Then We Came to the End” ] debut has made third-person narrative this season’s must-have device…”

Well, all I can say is that I hope all authors and aspiring authors are listening.

Virtuous in-laws

19 May, 2008 at 10:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Due to careless parenting and poor planning we are only now searching for childcare for the boys in Dublin in September. After phoning about we identified some creches which might be suitable. Mr. Waffle’s parents kindly agreed to go and inspect them as we won’t be back in Dublin until late Summer. This blog post is how I reward them, truly, I am an unworthy daughter-in-law.

As guidance, we gave them the following:

“Kind of things to look for:

Carer to child ratio

Are the carers nice? Are they sitting on the floor with the children?

Do the children seem happy?

Is there an outdoor play area?

Is there plenty of room indoors?

Assume no TV – if TV, particularly on display will be horrified.

Is it clean?

Our current creche does not meet all of these criteria but, you know, we’re shooting for the stars here.”

I had assumed, in a very sexist way, that my mother-in-law would do the inspecting but in fact she and my father-in-law went together. My father-in-law has not been a captain of industry for many years (now retired) without knowing that you must be able to measure performance. When reporting back to us the other evening (orally, written report follows below) he said that he had two satisfactory responses to the question of how to ensure the children were happy. We were quite startled but he was obviously keen to hold these people to SMART targets on behalf of his little grandsons. And I have proof. Highlights from the report follow:


(Member of the Advisory body for the sector?) eg NCNA? –yes.

How long established? This crèche seems to be up and running for at least 6/7 years. It has an overall capacity of about 45+ children, and is certainly looking to replace kids who will leave the Montessori group this summer.

We spoke with the manager … a young [exotic nationality] lady who has risen up through the ranks since joining in 2001.

The happiness factor: When asked to comment on how the crèche delivers on this key ingredient for the children the manager was adamant that staff quality and commitment is the number 1 factor. The kids we saw certainly seemed to bear this out as we saw them interact in play with their teachers, moving from room to room with supervision…

Staff/children ratios: this varies in a regulated fashion across babies (about 1:3), toddlers (1:5/6) up to Montessori (around 1:10). Staff seemed very conscious of these ratios from all angles (financial, delivering proper care and of course the regulatory dimension (see “other comments” below)

Carers: with one exception, the staff come from outside Ireland (e.g. the Montessori teacher is Czech). We were assured that they all had child-care qualifications from their home countries, which are recognised here.

Outdoor/Indoor facilities: the crèche is in a modern block [lots more useful and informative details but maybe not so fascinating for you gentle reader]. The street outside seems fine with no obvious druggies, winos, weirdos about, unless you count [prominent Irish person] who lives a block away.

TV/other : they do use kiddy DVDs but sparingly. such a use would be on wind-down day (Friday) in the afternoon, when the kids have had a long week at the crèche and can benefit from a little (1 hour limit) audio-visual entertainment

Feeding arrangements (parent-supplied, in-house, catering?):
inhouse cooking-we have copy of a typical week’s lunch menu and it covers main meals such as chicken (several guises) tuna, spag bol, etc. the manager [who you will recall is from a far-off land] defined this as “typical Irish food”. Feeding times are beakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack.

Standard routines for toddlers?

Very much Montessori driven, with skills and general learning in the am, and more group play happenings when the children are a little more tired in the afternoon.

Cleanliness/tidiness : Fine :we looked across rooms, loos, changing areas, external play area, etc

Other comments / miscellaneous musings:

  • Manager seemed cheerful, capable, hands-on and committed to her work
  • D&M would start on September 1 as toddlers and progress within weeks (after their birthdays) to the Montessori section, in line with Dept of Ed guidelines (sound of hollow laughter off)
  • The crèche looks for kids of this level to be toilet-trained, but will help with this if they are not

See, captains of industry are thorough. Do you like all the additional pertinent questions they thought of? Admit it, you would love to have my parents-in-law inspect your child’s creche. I can see a really lucrative sideline developing for them in this field.

Perhaps we need some further work on theology, for everyone

19 May, 2008 at 12:01 am by belgianwaffle

Princess: Mummy, I am partly a real Princess.
Me: Yes?
Her: Yes. Will I tell you why?
Me: I am agog.
Her: Jesus is a Prince.
Me: Well, Prince of Heaven, I suppose – my kingdom is not of this world and all that.
Her (thoughtfully, ignoring maternal rambling): And Joseph must have been a king.
Me: Well, actually, you know, God is Jesus’s father.
[Some confusion as to whether Jesus and God are or are not the same person – something that it is, of course, a mystery. Do not attempt to explain theological mysteries to a 5 year old, if you are a bit unclear on them yourself; you will find that St. Patrick and his shamrock are not as useful as you had always supposed.]
Her: Well, anyway, when Jesus/God grew up, he was a king.
Me: Umm…yeah, I suppose.
Her: And you know that we call God “Our Father”.
Me: Yes [on safer ground].
Her: So my father is a king, therefore, I am a Princess.

Mr. Waffle’s quotes of the week

15 May, 2008 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

It’s like paying an alcoholic in the pub.
Handing over the Princess’s pocket money to her in the supermarket.

Belgium is where northern and southern Europe meet: half of it is food is fuel, yes? half of it is food is a way of life.
On observing his wife’s shock on the discovery that you can buy bread from bread dispensing machines in Flanders.

Probably only morally handicapped.
Commenting on the Emirates diplomatic car (with driver) which always parks in the handicapped slot in the supermarket car park.

Let us pray for all sects whose miracles occur about this time.
Commenting on the Irish Times’s series on the changing face of faith in Ireland (shall we say that the Irish Times wouldn’t, traditionally, have been a great fan of monolithic catholic Ireland which has recently been interred with romantic Ireland).

I’ve said it before

14 May, 2008 at 9:13 pm by belgianwaffle

“Long hours spent in full day-care can contribute to anti-social behaviour in children” so says the Irish Times reporting on a sociology conference in Galway.  Some further quotes:

“No child should spend more than four hours a day in such care…”

“Some 25 of 27 chilcare managers interviewed said that they would not leave their child in full day-care”

“We won’t know the full effects of this [children remaining in day care] for some time…”

Does this make the working mothers of Ireland feel good?  I don’t think so.  In my experience, working fathers, however virtuous, appear to be largely immune from guilt so we’ll give them a skip for the meanwhile.

I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I believe that what is best for very young children is to be at home with a parent who is happy to be at home.  Unfortunately, people are different and not everybody finds being at home with small children fun and fantastic.  Some people find it really difficult.  And here’s the funny part, you don’t know which category you will fall into until you have children yourself.

I believe that if a mother or father wants to stay at home with young children, the state should do all it can to facilitate that as it is best for both parents and children.  I have gone to work leaving the children at home in the care of their father.  The comfort in sailing out the door without having to get anyone ready for the day, leaving them with someone who loves them and having no wailing as I depart is great.  It’s great for me and it’s great for them.  It’s possibly not so great for him because by the time I came home in the late afternoon he was climbing the walls and the childrnen were a hair’s breadth from being marched upstairs and given away to any neighbours who would take them (no charge!).

So let us assume that you are a parent who wants to go to work, that you find staying at home with children lonely and difficult.  Let’s even imagine that you might be unhappy and cranky because you are at home with your children.  Let’s even imagine that you might have to be restrained in a strait jacket, if you stayed at home, because it is hard work and it’s not for everyone whatever people might say.  There are lots of us and we love our children, no really.  There are also lots of people who need two salaries to support their families.

So, what are your options?  Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that your spouse does not want to stay at home with the children either.

A)   You can work part-time.  This is, of course, career death.  Yeah, I know it shouldn’t be and all that but it is.  And, of course, you’re out the door at 6 o’clock like a hare out of a trap.  But it’s a compromise most women and some men with young children make.

B)   Even, if you work part-time, you need someone to look after your children while you are at work.  Some people can resort to grand-parents, good for them (although, possibly less good for the grand-parents, I suppose it depends on how often they are called into service..), most people cannot.  So let us move on to

C)   You can hire a nanny.  Do you know how unnerving it is to leave your child with one person?  Well, I’m sure the press can fill you in.

D)   You can put your child in childcare.  I genuinely believe that going to a social environment like a creche, part-time from about 2 is really beneficial.  No, I haven’t done any research but I see myself how my children enjoy interacting with the other kids.  Under 2, I think it is a safe, happy environment but I don’t think that it is as good for the child as staying at home with a happy parent where the carer to child ratio is 1:1 or 1:2 and, you know, the carer is one of the people who loves the child most in the world.  I’m pragmatic, but I’m not stupid.

There are disadvantages attached to all of these options.  I think you must weigh the parents’ health, happiness and well-being in the mix as well as the children’s.  Children do not live in a vacuum, they are affected by what happens around them.  The best we can aim for, in an imperfect world, is reasonable happiness for most of the family, most of the time.  I hope that we achieve this in my family.  Yes, there are mornings when I drive the boys to the creche and they say “pas creche, pas creche” but then there are evenings when they are playing with such enthusiasm and delight that they don’t want to come home.  Yes, the Princess loves the days that I collect her from school rather than the childminder but there are days when she loves going to play with the childminder’s children in their garden (relations are cold at the moment though).

I hate the scaremongering about people’s choices in the press.  We all try to make the best choices for our families in the situations in which we find ourselves.  If your child is in childcare from 6.45 until 6.00 in the evening, that may not be ideal for your family but it is the best you can manage taking everything into consideration.  And you know what?  Your child will be absolutely fine because he is in a loving family where everyone is doing his best.

In Belgium, mercifully, no one agonises about childcare.  A generation of Belgians have already been through the creche.  Childhood is a much less romanticised business.  One morning I saw one of the other mothers saying severely to her child “stop crying, you are spending the day playing, I am going to work”.  A little harsh, you might say but no nonsense.  And another thing – those grown-up Belgians who went through the creche system, they seem to be just fine.  They are not, in fact, psychopaths mowing down their colleagues with machine guns (they tend to kiss each other when they come in to work in the morning).  And also, a number of the women who work in my boys’ creche have their children in full time care in the creche.  So there.  Furthermore, my mother worked full-time when I was very small and part-time when I was older and I had a very happy childhood and, as you know, have grown-up to be perfect.

To summarise, people try to do their best for their children and their families.  They do not need to be harassed about the choices they have made.  I believe that, if you love your children and try to do what is best for your family in your circumstances, it will all turn out fine, pretty much regardless of what choices you make.  You will recall that “Happy families are all alike”.


12 May, 2008 at 11:35 pm by belgianwaffle

In Belgium, in May, there are a lot of holidays and the weather generally improves – it’s great that way. So this was another holiday weekend. I am exhausted from the extensive programme of entertainment we have undertaken.

On Saturday afternoon we went and got ourselves badged up for the Parcours D’Artistes. All the artists in Saint Gilles, and there are lots, display their works in their homes and open them up to the public over three weekends. The children were all a bit stroppy so we actually didn’t get into any artists’ homes and took ourselves to a tiny playground boasting one slide and some sand. It’s main advantage being that it was across the road from where we had had an only moderately successful coffee break (wailing for crisps, crankiness, etc.)

The park was a success despite its modest attractions because it contained 3 10 year old Brazilian boys. After some initial confusion when they thought that we were Polish (Gin Dobre – there are not so many Belgians in this part of town, as they explained) and we thought that they were Portuguese (there are a lot of Portuguese in this part of town) we communicated successfully in French.

The boys were absolutely lovely to our three children and played with them and chatted to them. I can’t help wondering whether this is a Latin thing – I just can’t imagine three Irish ten year old boys doing the same thing. I was very impressed by the boy who had only arrived in November and already had pretty good French. At first, I had assumed that he had lived here all his life and wasappalled at his level of French and very disapproving of the the local schools.  Now I think that they must be fantastic.

On Sunday morning, we went to a children’s farm where we have often been before. After 5 years, my husband has finally corrected my pronunciation of this place’s name: he tells me that I have been confusing it with a brand of rice. Sigh. Anyhow, for the Brussels weekend of fun they had games and bouncy castles all of which were only accessible by token obtained from a stall with a long queue. It made us very nostalgic for the cash economy.

In the afternoon, the Princess and I did a preliminary scout around artists’ houses while the boys slept. By far the most attractive exhibit as far as she was concerned was a Disney castle. In fact, I think that may, just possibly, not have been part of the exhibition at all. We stayed in this particular place so long (I looked at the photos, sculptures and paintings for cover) that one of the resident artists came in and offered us a drink. We also spent a long time investigating a very elaborate chair which was part of a theatre set. The Princess played with it while the indulgent artist looked on. Saint Gilles is awash with artists and they are a very tolerant bunch.

In an attempt to get full artistic value for the day we then went to a series of performances for children which were in various states of development. Mr. Waffle and I liked the last of these the best by far (cabaret singing duo) but the Princess was adamant that she liked the second the best putting it ahead of the cabaret, the puppet theatre and the clown (slightly weird clown but still a clown). The second piece featured a crucifix with two dolls attached to it stuck into a bed of nails and a woman trying to hang herself in a wardrobe. Mr. Waffle and I found the performance perplexing. Who was the target audience? It was a little disturbing for the under 5s, it seemed to us. I was unsurprised to see the two cast members wandering around afterwards with a baby looking bohemian (not a bad thing just a very expected thing). I am curious as to what they do for money as I really don’t think that that performance can be pulling in a great deal of cash for them.

Then today we went for a walk and a picnic in the forest. Broadly successful though Mr. Waffle got a little tense during the picnic when the children kept falling off the log we had decided to sit on and would only eat ketchup sandwiches. Onward and upwards to miniature trains in the afternoon. This was surprisingly pleasant as, once we had gone around on a train, the grown-ups were allowed to sit in the shade while the children gathered daisies and watched the trains go by.

Back to work tomorrow, thank God, we’re all flattened. No more bank holidays until the start of June. More on that when I’m feeling stronger.

Chi Chi Chorizo

11 May, 2008 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

This is what the children shout when they travel alone in the lift in our building. Why is that?

The boys also say “big stop” while chasing each other round the house with a magic wand (Daniel) and a piece of the supporting architecture of the Fisher Price garage (Michael). They appear to be holding these items as though they were guns. Obviously, they haven’t got toy guns. Are we or are we not fully paid up members of the middle classes? Though I have fond memories of my own toy gun with caps for extra loud bangs. I digress.

In the creche they told me that Michael made a little girl cry by trying to knife her in the back (with a plastic knife) saying “je vais te tuer”. Wouldn’t you cry? “Je vais te tuer” is a very popular expression with the boys at the moment. Where did they get it? I know that the knifing in the back comes from Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, they are very taken with that and constantly re-enact it with one of them chasing the other round the house with whatever implement comes to hand. I keep telling them that Gaston is a baddy but they don’t seem to care. Sigh.

They are, however, all talk and no action as can be seen from their interaction with a dangerous cat earlier today (well, given that it was dark in there you might not be able to see the cat’s utter indifference but you can certainly hear the boys’ terror when it turns its head to see what the noise is).

The advantages of knowing your neighbours or yet more reasons not to leave

9 May, 2008 at 2:30 pm by belgianwaffle

The remote control for the garage has been broken for ages.  It’s a pain to get it fixed and we just haven’t had the time, so, for months now, when we approach the garage, we have the following dialogue.

Me: The garage door is…
Them (in unison): broken.
Me: So Mama is going to get out of the car and go and open it from the inside.  What do I not want while I’m gone?
Them (in unison): Waah, waah.

When our Italian neighbours came round at the weekend we were talking about this and S said that he had a colleague who fixed all the remotes and things in his office and he would ask, if the colleague could fix it.  We gratefully accepted his offer and, last night, back he came with the remote control fixed.  Fantastic.  We asked whether the colleague would like anything – bottle of wine… and S said not to worry as he had already given him a bottle of Italian wine.  Tell me blog readers what would be a nice thing to get for lovely, lovely neighbours who are rich and have everything?  Also, remember that she is an art historian and their apartment is beautifully decorated.  Am struggling here.  Do you think that they would like a picture from the Princess of us happily using the repaired remote control?

Surely not cupboard love

8 May, 2008 at 9:00 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess was in Ireland with her father last week. When she left on Monday morning, she was sad to leave me. By the time she arrived in her grandparents’ house at lunch time, she was so excited to be there that she couldn’t spare the time to speak to me on the phone. This continued for the duration of her stay. I was amazed on Thursday, when she came back, how delighted we were to see each other. Really thrilled, big hugs, much affection.

This week, I am away for work and she has consented to speak to me on the telephone which is a great relief. This morning she said “Mummy, I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight” and I was was very touched (our girl can be a tough cookie). The first thing she asked, though, when she got on the phone, was “have you got my crunchie?”

Update – She is consistent too.  The first thing she said when I arrived in the door last night was “have you got my crunchie?”  “That’s no way to greet your mother or indeed anyone,” I replied.  She paused smiled broadly, gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear “have you got my crunchie, please, Mummy”.

More reasons to regret leaving my job

7 May, 2008 at 8:42 pm by belgianwaffle

Today we had a team bonding session in a beautiful outdoor adventure place.  It was sunny.  I know these things are supposed to be ghastly but I really enjoyed it.  I spent the afternoon on a lake in a small dinghy with my boss.  He had never sailed before.   I haven’t sailed in years and years and thought I had forgotten everything I knew.  It turned out I remembered a bit and I got increasingly rude to my lovely boss.  Conversations tended to go a bit like this:

Me: OK, are you going to turn?

Him: I don’t know what I’m doing.

Me: Neither do I really but we’re catching some wind now.  Stay straight.

Him (leaning back and pulling the tiller to him): OK.

Me: JESUS, I said keep the tiller straight, you are going to **** capsize us.

Him (apologetically): Sorry, I keep forgetting I’m holding it.

Me: Further choice words followed by, um, sorry, I was very rude there, I’m an eldest child.

Despite (or quite possibly because of) my shouting, we managed to capsize five times.  This is hardly a tribute to our vessel’s captain (that, I think, would be me, the bossy one).  As he hauled himself cheerfully out of the water for the fifth time and yanked me in by the life jacket he said happily “we were going really fast there!”

Oh how I will miss this job.

How fiction can change your life

6 May, 2008 at 8:30 pm by belgianwaffle

In that Zoe Heller book “Notes on a Scandal” she has her middle class family wandering round the supermarket with the husband shouting to the wife “Darling, do we need more balsamic vinegar?’”. At the weekend, this alone stopped me from shouting to my husband across a couple of aisles : “Did you get the champagne?”


5 May, 2008 at 8:17 pm by belgianwaffle

On Saturday we went to Planckendael again – it’s like a safari park but less glamourous.  I have had it with Planckendael.  The Princess said that she would rather go to the supermarket and conducted herself accordingly throughout the trip.  We paid 50 euros to get in (and the boys were free) and they spent their time looking at frogs in the river and playing in the elaborate playgrounds. “Will we go and see the giraffes?”  “No!”  The Princess mortified me by going into meltdown at the entrance to the cafeteria where she wanted to stay watching television.  She lay on the ground, blocking the door and screeching.  This loud screaming in public is a very recent development and I am desperate to stop it.  We then climbed up a rope yoke which the Princess loved but the boys were scared and had to be carried.  It is hard to walk up a rope surrounded by netting carrying a small boy.  We got down eventually, the Princess did not get down.  There were words.  We lost her at one point and I was terrified.  There were further words.  We instructed her that, in future, if she ever got lost and could not find someone who worked in the establishment, she was to ask a Mummy to help her.  Yes, yes, picture the scene, there you are having a nice time with your family in Flemish and a weeping lost little girl attaches herself to your group – fabulous eh?

On Sunday, we had our upstairs neighbours and some friends around for coffee.  Our upstairs neighbours are lovely Italians.  There are only two of them and every time I go into their flat which is the same dimensions as ours but oh so different, I am convulsed with envy.  They have white furniture (no children, obviously).  She is finishing a PhD in art history and has acquired all kinds of lovely furniture at auctions and flea markets over the years.  It looks lovely in our 19th century building, unlike, say, my self constructed coffee table from Habitat.  Anyhow, over coffee yesterday the talk was all of our return to Dublin (with the occasional digression into how the recent NATO war training exercise went, from my friend C – she who combines defence work and orchestra management in her portfolio of activity – good news, we won).  They were all curious about what our house in Dublin is like and I, with my fondness for histrionics, put my head in my hands and said “hideous, absolutely hideous”.  I had, alas, completely forgotten that the Princess was there and she looked up at me, shocked and tearful and said “But Mummy, you said that our house was lovely.”  Much furious and, I fear, ineffective backpedalling followed.  I could kick myself.

The house isn’t really hideous, it’s just small and in need of some work.  I was talking to the heart surgeon about it last night and she put her finger on the problem: just as all our friends are settling in the houses they are going to be living in for the rest of their lives, we are moving backwards.  That is exactly the problem.  All our friends are moving in to nice big houses and we are going back to a starter home.  It’s not hideous, it’s relatively hideous.  I hope that in 3 or 4 years we’ll be able to move somewhere nicer but, for the moment, we will have to make the best of it.

Meanwhile, the heart surgeon is back at work after a mere three months (she does live in America so this is extraordinary luxury by their standards) and working weekends and nights and so on (as is her doctor husband) with a 3 year old, a two year old and a three month old.  She is expressing four times a day.  She’s also decided to renovate her kitchen.  I can’t quite imagine how tired she must be.  She told me, in tones of great glee, that, as she had a couple of tough procedures today, her husband was going to mind the baby last night and she was decamping to the third floor for a full night’s sleep.

More champagne and canapes, please or not quite the spirit of ’68

1 May, 2008 at 7:58 pm by belgianwaffle

From Charlotte who had it from all kinds of other places*: a chance to show just how spectacularly privileged I am. With all these opportunities, you’d think I might be the lynch pin of the nation by now, but no. Maybe my father was right, maybe we were brought up too soft.

Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.

1. Father went to college.

2.Father finished college.

3.Mother went to college.

4.Mother finished college.

She gave up her PhD when the safety lab exploded taking all her notes with it..

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.

Well, define class, but I suppose we were more or less all the same.

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home

My father’s great line: “books will be the ruination of this house”. So true. He kept trying to give them away to Oxfam and I kept stealing them from his giving away piles.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent.

The plagues in the Old Testament were popular favourites. When my brother was seven my mother read him all the Narnia books chapter by chapter, always stopping at an exciting point in the hope that he might pick one up himself, but no. My father hates reading aloud and never read us anything as far as I know.

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.

11.Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.

Swimming (following an unfortunate incident at my cousin Jane’s birthday party: we were taken to her friend’s house with a swimming pool – in Cork, in the 1970s, really, the mind boggles – and all the others could swim but I had to stay paddling in the shallow end with my arm bands, I was not happy), ballet (white tights, white jumpers and black shoes for years), elocution (you think Cork people sound like this naturally?), recorder (not a success) and I think that’s it.  Oh no, I forgot Irish dancing.

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.

I’m not sure that anyone in the media has my unfortunate dress sense but I know what they mean. And yes.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.

Though my parents paid the bill and it was only for emergencies once I started college.

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs

Because my parents worked in the university, my fees were free. Even, if this had not been the case, they would have stumped up for them anyway. I think that, if you can afford it, this is a wonderful thing to give your children. I had a fantastic time at college and it is only now I realise how lucky I was not to have to get a job to make ends meet or to finish with a mountain of debt. I don’t think it made me less mature or less responsible than my contemporaries and it certainly made me happy. Mind you, fees are a lot cheaper in Ireland than in the US – in fact for the past 10 or 15 years it’s been free.

16. Went to a private high school

I remember saying to an English friend ‘there are no private schools in Ireland’. What, she said, your husband, your brother, your father didn’t go to private school? Which left me back pedalling slightly but it really was very unusual when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s. There were a couple of fee paying boarding schools in odd rural locations around the country and some private schools in Dublin but, in Cork, I think there were only two fee paying schools, both schools for boys (one for the old money families and one for the clever nouveau boys).

17. Went to summer camp

I went to the Gaeltacht – does that count?

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18

Had grinds in Irish (from my hilarious cousin) and physics from one of my mother’s old college classmates who taught in my brother’s school (Cork is like that). He was quite, quite brilliant. At Easter I got a D in my mock Leaving Cert Physics and 2 months later I, very briefly, understood the entire Physics syllabus and got an A. My friend M who is very interested in science (and went on to do a PhD in Chemistry and now does hard things in research laboratories making her a joyful, positive statistic for the kind of people who measure R&D performance in Ireland) was extremely bitter about this undeserved glory. She actually had to work for her A. Our physics teacher was absolutely useless and we all got grinds, except M who, as discussed, actually had to work for her A. I am sure it stood her in better stead in the long run.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels

Until I was 9 we spent four weeks every summer at the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen a heady hour’s drive from our home. It often rained but we didn’t care. Every evening, the children ate early and I had melon to start, chicken and chips and melon for dessert. The kitchen used to do us packed lunches and we would go off to the beach for the day with our wind-break (always an exciting engineering project for my father) and our picnic basket. When I was 9, my mother decided that four weeks of hotel food every year would kill my father and we started going on camping holidays in France.

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.

I got loads of hand-me-downs from cousins but most of my clothes came from my friend who was a year older than me and an only child (clothes therefore in much better nick than those from my cousins which were often threadbare). My mother also made us a lot of clothes. I don’t remember being bought many clothes (I feel that children’s clothes were much more expensive then than they are now). My father once brought me a beautiful dress from the Corte Ingles (they seem to have something similar still in stock) when I was quite little and I loved it very much, I can still remember what it was like. I really hated my mother’s favourite, the black velvet dress with the lace collar (stop sniggering at the back) and I used to chew the lace collar in the hope that it would come off but it never did.

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them

Hah, you jest. It was a labour of love to persuade my father to let me learn to drive in his car. He only wanted to let me loose on it when I could fully explain the workings of the combustion engine. That brief period when I could have met his criteria (see question 18 above) was taken up with studying for my leaving cert but eventually my mother wore him down and he did let me learn. We bought our own cars though. My first car was second hand from my aunt and then sold to my sister.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.

Yes, most noticeably a very Victorian offering which my father loathes. It is a picture called “The Return of the Victor”. It shows a bullfighter kissing the hand of a coy senorita while her friends look on enviously. I am inexplicably fond of it.

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

My father bought my parents’ house before I was born. He had saved up for a yacht and spent the money on our house. He went out and bought it without consulting my mother. I think she was…surprised.

25. You had your own room as a child

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18

Alas, no. I used to spend all my time on the telephone in the hall.

27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course

28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.

No. We didn’t get a colour television until I was 13 and we had a measly portable until I left home. We never paid for cable so we only had RTE 1 and 2 (if you have to ask..). My sister once got my father all the way to the multi-channel shop and he said to the man behind the counter ‘is it any good?’ and the man said ‘Nah, there’s never anything on’. We gave up after that. Now, of course, they have millions of channels.

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.

My father served on an international committee for years and they all became good friends and he and the German delegate had daughters the same age (14) and they decided we could do a language exchange. S was diabetic so her father was a bit concerned about letting her off and entrusted her to my father’s particular charge which, I think, he found unnerving. Just as well, then, that when I came down with jaundice, which she also got, she was safely back in Berlin. After she came to us, I went to her family in Berlin. I don’t remember much about the flight though I was really looking forward to it (when I asked my father what a plane was like, he said, like a bus but with less leg room – accurate though considerably undermining the glamour), there was even a free meal (this was the early 1980s). I was, of course, very excited about going to Berlin – the wall (who would have thought that it was to go so soon), the big city glamour etc. etc. I arrived and two days after my arrival we were all packed in to the family car and driven across East Germany (actually very boring) all the way to a tiny hamlet in Bavaria (Benedictbeuern). I just looked it up and it’s so small that it doesn’t even have a home page. We went walking in the woods. Her handsome older brother did not come. I did not have the opportunity to experience gracious European apartment living in a big, romantic, glamourous city or, at least, not for very long. Still, I did get to fly to Berlin and back.

31. Went on a cruise with your family.

Really, people do that?

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.

Apparently, they do.

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.

We spent half our time in the Cork city museum. Surely that counts. If you pushed buttons the sites of the war of independence lit up and early Christian settlements (different maps).

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

Well, not in actual figures, no but my father used to go around the house turning off lights and radiators when we weren’t using and asking us balefully whether we knew electricity cost money. He was also keen on shutting doors to keep the heat in. He was green before his time.

*The original authors of this exercise are Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, and Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

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