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Nice neighbourhood as our American friends would say

28 July, 2008 at 11:02 pm by belgianwaffle

On Friday morning, I said goodbye to an old friend who married another old friend.  They moved from London to a house a short walk from ours seven months ago.  Rejoice.  Now we’re leaving.  Alas.
On Friday night, I said goodbye to my friend down the road.  We met because we kept seeing each other pushing twin buggies : she has a five year old son and two year old twin girls.  She is Canadian though her mother is English.   I think her mother felt that it was fate that we should be friends so made a point of chatting to me every time she came to Brussels.  Her mother was right.

On Sunday, we said goodbye to our ex-upstairs neighbour who now lives in a very large and beautiful art nouveau house around the corner from the old friends in which he kindly let our children play chasing.  His own six month old was safely in Prague with her mother which makes the invitation to us all the more virtuous.  Imagine bringing children into your life when your own are not there.

We were promptly back at our house at 11.30 to sell our car to a nice Indian family.  There two girls (6 and 6 months) were exquisitely behaved and at least two of my children ran into the room naked (it’s hot, I let them play with running water in the sink, lethal combination) before I hustled them out (Princess’s interesting excuse: you said that you didn’t want me running around half naked in front of the people who were going to buy the car so I took off all my clothes).

Down to the end of the road, to play in the paddling pool in a school friend’s back garden.  Screaming, excitement.  Buns too.

Upstairs to tea in current neighbours’ flat.  I feel mildly depressed every time I see their flat because it is so beautifully decorated and immaculately tidy but otherwise identical to ours.  Despite their perfect flat they are immensely child friendly and our children adore them.  How much do I love Italians, let me count the ways?  She is an academic and off for the Summer; she took the Princess for two hours this morning while I negotiated with the bank and went to get back our documents from the Indian family.  Turns out that they didn’t want our car after all (associated with too much nudity?).  Mild bitterness.  Would anybody like a peugeot 306sw, only 72,000 kms?  Just asking.

Tomorrow, we leave for France, where we are staying in a  nice chateau to break the journey (6 hours total journey time but we are puny).  On Wednesday evening we will sleep on the ferry and on Thursday morning we will find ourselves in Ireland where I fully expect it to be raining.

Happy Anniversary

28 July, 2008 at 9:54 am by belgianwaffle

I don’t like memes normally as they don’t allow me to spray the detritus of my mind directly on to the page in the way you know and love.   However, a while ago, Charlotte had one that appealed.

Relationship Meme

1. Where/how did you meet?

We met in Brussels at a birthday dinner for the best dressed diplomat a friend of mine who has featured here before. He was just tagging along. I arrived early due to a never to be repeated series of errors (I am always late for everything) and he arrived early (because he is always early). We talked about Flemish modern dance. It turns out that I completely exhausted his knowledge of Flemish modern dance in that initial conversation.

2. How long have you known each other?

Since November 1998.

3. How long after you met did you start dating?

About two weeks, I’d say. When we met at dinner I was ill so I had to leave early (much to my chagrin) but I casually threw out a general invitation to go to the cinema. He rang me at work (having found out my number by gratifyingly diligent scouting) to say he couldn’t go on the general invitation night but would I like to go another night. Delighted. Not so pleased when we arrived at the cinema and a bunch of my Italian friends filed in behind us, notably undermining the romance.

4. How long did you date before getting engaged?

About 2 years.

5. How long was your engagement?

5 months

6. How long have you been married?

7 years.

7. What is your anniversary?

July 28.  Today, yes, today.  Happy anniversary lovely husband.  However, I always wanted to get married in May when there were cherry blossoms. It  turns out that this is not uncommon and we would still be unmarried today, if we were waiting for a church and hotel in May.  If the Princess gets married, she has agreed to do it in May. Can only hope that this agreement will be more lasting than that to clean up her bedroom.

8. How many people came to your wedding reception?

About 100. We really wanted to have lots of our friends and not so many cousins who we only saw once a year.

9. What kind of cake did you serve?

That was another thing. I couldn’t see the point of a cake and though my mother was really keen, I just didn’t think it was worth shelling out for. In retrospect, I cannot imagine why I became so hung up on this point, particularly since my parents were doing the shelling. All the same, nobody noticed that we didn’t have a cake. It did lead to one embarrassing moment though. My uncle and aunt didn’t feel up to driving home from the wedding at night so they brought my cousin as a chauffeur and, of course, we invited her. When my brother brought her up and introduced her to the table of old family friends and siblings, they all chorused “we thought this was the ‘no cake, no cousins’ wedding”

10. Where was your wedding?

We were married in the chapel across the road from where my parents live, so I was able to walk across – it was a beautiful day.

11. What did you serve for the meal?

Lamb maybe, I can’t really remember, I asked my poor mother to do a lot of the choosing. I do remember feeling extremely grateful that when we arrived at the hotel and my new husband was hot and hungry, they immediately produced a ham sandwich at my request leading to a much chirpier spouse.

12. How many people were in your bridal party?

Not quite sure what a bridal party is. My poor long suffering sister was my bridesmaid and Mr. Waffle’s friend was his best man. Mr. Waffle’s brother played the organ and my friend M. sang.

13. Are you still friends with them?

Yes.

14. Did your spouse cry during the wedding ceremony?

No; he did look nervous though that may just have been the photographer who was constantly ready to spring.

15. Most special moment of your wedding day?

Walking back together to my parents’ house from the church – married!

16. Any funny moments?

Many funny speeches though arguably the funniest moment was inadvertent when my father forgot my husband’s name and then called me by my sister’s name. He got a good laugh too when he said “Anne learnt to speak early and she has lived up to that youthful promise”.  Mr.  Waffle also provided some unintentional comedy when he said “We are particularly delighted that the best dressed diplomat and her husband are here, BDD because she introduced us and her husband because, um, because, um, (lamely), if he hadn’t agreed to come, she probably wouldn’t be here.”

17. Any big disasters?

No.

18. Where did you honeymoon?

Tour of Spanish and Portuguese paradors and pousadas, beginning here which is possibly the nicest place I’ve ever stayed.

19. For how long?

2 or 3 weeks.

20. If you were to do your wedding over, what would you change?

I’d be a little more biddable on the cake and the cousins.

21. What side of the bed do you sleep on?

The left, near the door.

22. What size is your bed?

Not big enough for five of us.

23. Greatest strength as a couple?

Common interests. Doesn’t that sound dull, but it’s true. Don’t knock it.

24. Greatest challenge as a couple?

Lark married to owl.

25. Who literally pays the bills?

Both of us, depends on the bill.

26. What is your song?

I don’t think we have a song. Unless it’s the Spanish version of Gloria.

27. What did you dance your first dance to?

Moon river. It was supposed to be Perfect Day but I forgot the CD.

28. Describe your wedding dress?

White, straight with shoulder straps and a wrap thing.

29. What kind of flowers did you have at your wedding?

Pink lilies, I think. Can’t really remember what we had at the church and I had a very fancy hair do with flowers poked into it which I still think looks beautiful when I look at the photos. Though, I vividly remember that the day after the wedding it looked like I had been pulled through a hedge backwards.

30. Are your wedding bands engraved?

No.

31. And my own question, invented by me:  What advice about weddings would you give to someone who is about to get married?

A.Go around to all the tables and speak to people while they are eating.  You will not be hungry and they will all be delighted to see you.  Otherwise you won’t see everyone and that would be a shame.

B. Feel free to stint on everything, except the photographer.  Nobody will really notice the food (unless it is unspeakably dreadful or utterly fabulous) or the flowers (at all, under any circumstances, I fear, this is especially true for unmarried friends) or care particularly but you will have the photographs for the rest of your life.

Pink to make the boys wink

26 July, 2008 at 11:00 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was a child, little girls did not wear pink all the time.  I was a child of the 70s, so orange was the dominant tone of my childhood.

When did pink take over?  Little boys don’t have to wear blue all the time.  Why should little girls have to wear pink?  My loving husband would be the first to point out that when the Princess was a baby, I went out and bought a range of pink things.  Well, I’m tired of it now.  I note that in Belgium, pink does not dominate in the same way as in Ireland though after spotting a number of girls in hot pink at the foire du midi this afternoon, I may have to reconsider.  I am informed that in Italy, it is not uncommon to dress baby girls in black.  Trendy but a little alarming, I imagine.  I bet they get through a lot of pink all the same.
Is it all Walt Disney’s fault?  Is it easier to market to little girls, if everything is pink?  Is there a conspiracy?  Do I only care because my daughter looks better in blues and greens?

Weighty questions for a Saturday evening while my husband is off emptying out his office.  Rather ominously, he feels it will take all evening.  Where will we put everything?
In a related packing question, my husband and I were discussing what we would take with us in the car rather than leave to the mercy of the movers.  “Only important things” we agreed.

“Like the family photo albums,” I said.

“Like my degrees,” he said simultaneously.

This neatly sums up some sexist assumptions.  I don’t even know where my degrees are, I should have left them in Cork with my mother where they were safe.  Maybe I should wear more pink.

Random Links

25 July, 2008 at 1:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Please see Mike’s list of 50 things to do before you die which is definitely the best list of this kind that I’ve ever seen.

Nicholas drew this to my attention: “For the three of you who care and haven’t seen it: Match It for Pratchett“. I am one of the three and I suspect my aunt is one of the last two. Are you the other one?

I’m not sure how I found this blog but I love it. I’m not saying that I always agree with it. She does not, oh she definitely does not, approve of people who let their children eat products from the supermarket before they have reached the check out. Guilty. But still, I love her firm laying down the law; she doesn’t have any of that wishy-washy oooh, I wonder what I should do, am I doing it right angst about child-rearing. I like that. I quite look forward to her nuggets of stern advice though, I think, if she saw how I am bringing up my children, she might shoot me.

In a completely different vein, I came across this put together by the mothers of dead babies. It is beautifully written and very moving but only for reading, if you’re feeling strong.

Le plat pays

24 July, 2008 at 10:45 am by belgianwaffle

In the mornings in the car, I often catch a programme on Belgian radio called “Mon grand-père, ce héros“.  It’s a clever little programme which has descendants of famous people talking about their famous antecedents (famous Belgians, I know).  There was a lovely one earlier in the week about the Chinese artist who worked with Hergé on “The Blue Lotus” and a slightly more prosaic one on Jules Destrooper.  But, today, as I drove up towards the Avenue Louise with the Etangs d’Ixelles in sunshine in my rearview mirror, they had Jacques Brel’s daughter talking about her father and, of course, they played one of his songs.  Plus Belge, tu meurs.

Anyone tired of the advance nostalgia yet?

Advice on twins, please

23 July, 2008 at 3:39 pm by belgianwaffle

When I thought about school for the boys initially, I had assumed that I would put them in the same class.  Then the school told me that, normally (or normalement as we say in Belgium, how I will miss that expression), they put twins in separate classes.  I decided that this was cruel and heartless.  I consulted and both twins I knew said that they had been in the same class as their twin siblings and they seem like pleasant, well-adjusted people.

Then, I was talking to the women who work in the creche whom I find very helpful and reliable.   They said that Daniel wants to play with Michael all the time.  Some days, Michael does not want to play with Daniel (fair enough) and then Daniel gets cranky (who could blame him?).  Apparently, there are never times when Michael wants to play with Daniel and Daniel does not want to play with Michael.  Their advice would be to separate them at school.

I had noticed that Daniel says that Alice is his friend but when I enquired at the creche, they said that Alice and Michael tend to play together and Daniel waits until they have finished and grabs Michael. My poor little mite.

They are both, of course, great fantasists, like their sister.  Whenever they hurt themselves, they both say “It’s not funny.”  When I ask them why, they say that Manon laughs when they hurt themselves at the creche.  On enquiry, creche staff confirmed that Manon, who seems like a very sweet little girl, is in fact a sweet little girl and very gentle. However, on hearing the context, they explained that some time ago Manon had fallen over and hurt herself and Daniel and Michael had both pointed and laughed at her whereupon they were both severely reprimanded.  On the plus side, it does look like they’ve learnt their lesson. On the minus side, I don’t think that they are ever going to forgive Manon for her imaginary offence, she remains a hate figure who mocks the injured, chez nous.  I digress.

At home, it is clear that Michael is the ringleader and Daniel dutifully falls into line.  We call Michael “dangermouse”.  He is the only one of our children who likes risk.  Daniel is by far the most obliging of our three children.  If we want to quell a fight over a precious object, it is most frequently Daniel who is called upon to give up his claim; because we know he will.  I know this isn’t fair but we’re tired.

On closer questioning, both of my grown-up twin advisers (one of whom is, handily enough, the dominant twin and the other the passive), agreed that on balance, it probably would have been better had they been in different classes from their twins at school though, at the time, they certainly didn’t think so.

So, what do you think?  Were the twins you know in the same class in school or different classes?  From what age?  What worked best?   I await any comments with bated breath (well, I always await comments with bated breath but in this case particularly bated breath).

Lasts

22 July, 2008 at 3:13 pm by belgianwaffle

We took the children for a last check-up with the paediatrician (we have become reverse ex-pats – who knows whether they will have paediatricians in our home country?).  As they kissed him goodbye (Belgium is the country of the social kiss, something I find bewildering but charming), I scanned the books on his shelf: lots of books on pediatrics in English and French and the Hachette Guide des Vins, 2006.

We took the car for a last trip to the garage to get rid of all the dents (as Mr. Waffle points out, we are careless with our toys).  4,500 euros later, the man in the garage and the Princess were exchanging polite kisses and we were leading out our gleaming car which we hope somebody may now buy.

Friday was my last day at work.  During the week I had a farewell dinner with my lovely boss who flew in specially to say goodbye, had drinks with my lovely colleagues and got some lovely presents.  Emptied my inbox (really lovely) and handed over my key.  If you think there are too many lovelies in this paragraph, you have never had my job.  Sigh.

On Friday night, Mr. Waffle and I went to a farewell dinner in our favourite restaurant in Brussels.  A place we used to go to long before it got its Michelin star when it bore the considerably less user friendly name of Mieux vaut boire ice qu’en face.

On Saturday we had a farewell party.  At the start of the evening Mr. Waffle made me a stiff gin and tonic and after that it all seemed to go swimmingly.  The next day, far less so.  That was my last gin.

All week we have been getting quotes from moving companies in excess of the value of our furniture.  Highest offer so far is 10,000 euros. I feel faint. Who would have thought that my inability to throw out books would cost us quite so much?  Would anybody like to buy a double bed?

Our cleaner came for the last time today.  She brought little presents for the children who adore her and they had something for her as well.  She has been so kind to them and they are so fond of her, that I felt quite tearful as did the Princess (though this may have been because she didn’t want to go on her sports course).  She was also an excellent cleaner and I am not sure whether the reduced cost lifestyle we will be enjoying in Dublin will permit us to replace her.  Alas.  She is on our Christmas card list.

Yesterday was the last time we will attend Belgian National Day celebrations.  Of course, the same may well be true for everyone else in Belgium.  The Prime Minister tried to resign in despair last week but the King wouldn’t let him.  The pair of them sat glumly in the rain yesterday watching the parade.  We, on the other hand, had a very pleasant time eating waffles and frites (not together, you understand) and meeting the police (horses! spinning cars!), the firemen (hoses! and firemen!), the civil defence (trampolines?), the army (tanks and our optician who used to be in the navy and gave us some new glasses cleaning solution for Daniel), farm animals (pigs, cows, and best of all a horse being shod who kept nibbling the farrier’s bottom) and suppliers to the royal court (Mercedes, Jules Destrooper, Delvaux, Godiva and lots of table ware).  As is the nature of these things, there were lots of balloons for the children and little Belgian flags to wave.  These latter included one (sponsored by a radio station but never mind) which covers my feelings for Belgium at the moment:


Things I want to remember

19 July, 2008 at 10:59 pm by belgianwaffle

“Daniel, come to dinner.” “I finish my book”.

“How!” – Daniel as an Indian with arms folded stiffly and a solemn expression.

Daniel using the wooden spoons as skis.

Daniel using the wooden spoons as violins.

Daniel using the wooden spoons as lethal weapons.

The boys running down the corridor with their towels on their heads flapping out behind them.

Sounds from the bedroom.

Daniel: Scream.

Michael: Giggle.

Michael: Scream.

Daniel and Michael: Giggle.

Dialogue

Daniel (in bed): Ehhh, mmh, waah (general whimpering noise).

Me (tiptoeing to his bedside in the dark): Daniel, what’s wrong?

Him (delighted): Moi, je fais “Ehhh, mmh, waah”.

Today, I explained to the creche that when the boys leave in July, we are moving back to Ireland. Since they would be finishing in July anyway, if they were going to school in Belgium, we hadn’t explained that we were actually leaving the country. It was funny because the women who worked there all said “ah, that explains a lot”. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought that the boys were aware of the proposed move at any level, but it seems that I was wrong.

Daniel insisting on silence before speaking and saying to each of us in turn “Can I talk?” or “Je peux parler?” before imparting an item of information such as “The house is big.”

Credit Worthy

19 July, 2008 at 4:24 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister has pretty much always earned more than the rest of us.  And she’s good at saving too, she probably still has her first communion money salted away somewhere.  When we were little she always had her sweets after my brother and I finished ours (then she would share them with us – she was the youngest, we were bigger).

She has, however, not borrowed much and travelled around a lot.   When she lived in England it took her months to get a bank account. When she lived in America, she was refused a store card for some big department store.  The guy in the shop said that this was the first time this had ever happened. When she moved back home, for a long time the bank wouldn’t let her have cheques.  Now that she has her own little business, they have reluctantly allowed her to have the odd cheque but they continue to be suspicious.

My sister is the most solvent person I know.  She likes to have six months’ living expenses in the bank in case of an emergency, yet she has consistently had difficulty with banks due to living all over the place.  Meanwhile, the world’s economy is going belly up because of the  sub-prime mortgages.  Oh God, why did we decide to give our economic well-being over to the banks?  I mean, really, the banks?

So there

15 July, 2008 at 9:53 pm by belgianwaffle

Father of friend (to Princess): Why do children like television so much?  It’s not real is it?  It’s not got real people like here (gestures expansively round bar).

Further father of friend (listening in): But real people are booorrring.

Princess: And television has programmes specially devised for children.

I know children are supposed to like boundaries but is it normal for them to articulate this so clearly?

14 July, 2008 at 11:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Do you always do what C (our childminder) says?

Her: Yes.

Me: Do you always do what Mummy and Daddy say?

Her (laughing): No.

Me: Then why do you always do what C says?

Her: Because C is strict.  You should be strict too like C and J&P [the heart surgeon and her husband who operate an impressively tight ship].

Me: Would you really like us to be stricter?

Her: Yes!

Me: But you always cry when we’re strict.

Her: Those are tears of joy, Mummy.

Highwater mark

11 July, 2008 at 1:46 pm by belgianwaffle

I went to see Horton with the children some time ago.  I recognised the voice of Horton as being Dany Boon from Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis.  A film which I understood almost in its entirety (not an achievement to be sneezed at – though I was somewhat helped by the fact that the Ch’tis are essentially Belgian).  And further, I recognised that Horton was Dany Boon based on his accent in French.  This was a proud moment, I can tell you.  Then, I realised that I am probably speaking the best French I ever will and it’s downhill all the way from the end of the month.  I suppose I can pepper my conversation with French words thereby annoying my friends and embarrassing my children.

As part of our preparation to leave Belgium, I am also sorting through our mountain of medical and dental bills.   Before I had children, I never went to the doctor and now I seem to spend all my time going from surgery to surgery with my travelling circus.  It’s all surprisingly complex and, of course, it wouldn’t be, had I done it as I went along.  I wrote a letter to my insurer in my best French and got Mr. Waffle to check it.  The maestro sat down at the computer and made it perfect.  He corrected the French and reorganised the letter so that my various rambling questions were concisely stated and clearly presented.  I was awed:my husband the genius.   “Yes,” he said “I have spent the past number of years perfecting the art of writing in administrative French, I have probably reached the pinnacle of my potential in this field.” Hélas indeed.

Writing about your children on the internet

8 July, 2008 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

A while ago, Dooce had a post about her decision to write about her daughter Leta on the internet.   Then, the Game Theorist had one too.  And he referred to a Slate article about this very same topic.  I have a feeling that Beth is going to do something similar.

Like most people, I am ambiguous about this.  Unlike Dooce, I don’t make money from my blog; does this make matters better or worse?  I’m putting my children in just as much danger as she is and/or exploiting them just as much and I can’t even make money out of it?  On balance, I think it makes no difference.  Dooce isn’t writing about Leta for the money, she’s writing because she loves her and that’s true for all of us.  I started this blog to let my family know what the children were up to.  So now that I am moving back to Ireland I will give it up, you observe.  Not at all.  I love it.  I am keeper of the family archive.  At the end of every month I print down a selection of the 100s of photos we take and put them in an album and carefully label them (don’t hate me).  I write about my children because, I know, if I don’t, I will forget.   I write about them on the internet because I am a show-off and I love the attention.  If I didn’t have a blog, I would intend to write all these things down, but I wouldn’t.  I like being part of a community (no scoffing) and I like that people read what I write (kind, good, generous nice people, unlike, say, my brother who can’t understand why anyone on earth should be interested).   I suppose I could wait until the children are old enough to read it themselves but at the rate the Princess’s reading is progressing, it could be years before we get any progress on this front.

I spoke to my mother about this the other day.  This is the woman who does not use her credit card on the internet for safety’s sake and who, for many years was very reluctant to use the internet at all on the basis that she might accidentally download something illicit or dangerous or both: this despite constant reassurances from her children that you usually have to pay for that kind of material.  In response to my concerns, my mother said briskly “Nonsense, they are very lucky children and they will be delighted to read all about themselves when they are bigger.”   You know, maybe she’s right.

Bad mother

7 July, 2008 at 7:15 pm by belgianwaffle

I am on my last work trip for this job.  Frankly, this is a mercy.

This morning I left my husband to drop the car into the garage for repairs, meet movers who are coming to decide how much money they will charge us to get our belongings back to Ireland, let in more random people who may want to rent our flat and generally mind everything. I also left the country with Mr. Waffle’s mobile phone and our camera nestling in the dim recesses of my handbag. He was not pleased when I told him.

I got back to my hotel this evening to find that I had left Mr. Waffle’s mobile phone on the desk (why always keep it in a handbag, why not strive for new and different ways of making things difficult?).  This was a pity because there was a message from the Princess’s summer course saying that it was nearly 7 and was anyone coming to collect her.  I then remembered that I had told the childminder, C, that we would collect the Princess on Monday because it was too difficult for C to travel by public transport with the boys and the Princess (the course being some distance from our house).  This is information I may not have relayed to my husband.  I have just rung C who tells me that Mr. Waffle had arrived home, realised that the Princess was not there and turned around to go and get her taking the boys with him as C’s working day was over and he did not want to impose.  I would have imposed myself but I have much lower standards than he does.

Any minute now,  I am going to phone home and see how things are going and, gentle reader, I am very afraid.  I think that I will plug the line that I have specifically asked not to travel in my new job and that I do not intend to leave him alone again until the children are in their teens.

Reading

4 July, 2008 at 2:34 pm by belgianwaffle

“If only you knew” by Alice Jolly
This was written by a friend of a friend in Brussels, so it’s a bit difficult to be objective even though I don’t know the author from Adam.  I found it a bit unsatisfactory.  It’s set in Moscow and it’s all high drama and swooning from the heroine who has “father issues”.  I don’t think it was bad but I won’t be rushing back for more.

“Too Close to the Falls” by Catherine Gildner

Again, this was something that I wouldn’t have read by myself.  It was recommended to me by a friend.  It’s a memoir which is not a genre that I particularly like.  It is, however, a cheerful memoir which is well-written and largely unsentimental (with some lapses).  I enjoyed it very much.  It’s about a little girl growing up near Niagara Falls in the 1950s and it’s lovely: warm and funny.  Apparently it was a huge bestseller, I’m not a bit surprised.

“The Lady and the Unicorn” by Tracey Chevalier

This is a dreadful book which I did not like.   The writing is pedestrian at best. It is very didactic.  If I want to know about weaving techniques, I can go and read up on them. If the characters in a book are supposed to be French speaking, I do not recommend inserting French words every so often in the dialogue.  Vraiment, this does nothing to encourage the suspension of disbelief.  On the plus side, part of it is set in Brussels and the plot skips along.   Also, the print is large.  I have read another Tracy Chevalier book (“Falling Angels”) which I thought was only alright but it was much better than this offering which I note was published a year later.  They made me do it for bookclub.   I tried to stop them.

“A Good Man in Africa” by William Boyd

I have never read a bad William Boyd book and this book is good. It is his first, though, and quite different in style from some of his later work.  It is narrated by a hapless British diplomat in Africa and is, in parts, utterly hilarious.  It owes a debt to Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop” I think and also Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim”.  It is a very well written book and enjoyable but not as well plotted as some of his later stuff.  There is lots of plot, the book has plot coming out its ears but it doesn’t hang together particularly well.  The way he managed the book: starting in the middle, working backwards to that point and then working forwards again was confusing and, for me, didn’t really add a great deal.  All very clever though. For a first book, absolutely superb.  For a William Boyd book, fine.

“The Sorrows of an American” by Siri Hustvedt

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  I think Siri Hustvedt is a brilliant, brilliant author.  She combines beautiful writing with interesting plot and, best of all, interesting ideas.

This book is narrated by an American psychiatrist, Erik Davidsen, whose father has just died.  It covers many many themes including immigration and loss.  It also reflects Hustvedt’s fascination with the mind and how it works.  It was this fascination (which I knew about from her previous work) that propelled me towards “Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present”.

Almost every paragraph of this book makes you think in new and unusual ways.  The problem with books that make you think is, in my experience, that they are generally not very readable.  This is a very readable book.   For example, as an Irish person, I used to be very sceptical about Americans who described themselves as Irish.  I would smile and nod and ask where their great-grandma was from but my inner dialogue would run “no, you’re not, you’re American.”  One of the many achievements of  this book is to articulate the sense of loss of the American immigrant community over several generations.  Maybe they are Irish too, just a different kind of Irish from me.

Hustvedt seems to put a lot of herself in her books; this book contains excerpts from her own father’s memoirs.  They are used as Erik’s father’s memoir.  You feel that there is a very thin layer of fiction between the characters in the book and those in Hustvedt’s life.  Inga, Erik’s sister, is the widow of a famous author and the book describes living with him and it is clear that Hustvedt is talking about her own experience of living with Paul Auster.  Erik’s father and mother in the book are very clearly versions of Hustvedt’s own father and mother and, Sonia, Inga’s daughter, a version of her own daughter.  I wonder whether this makes for a better book?  I do feel that it is a risky strategy for an author: she puts a lot of herself in her books and, given what we know about her, I wonder how well she bears up under the weight of that exposure for she strikes me as a very private person.  That though is her problem, not mine.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough as they say.  I give it the ultimate accolade, it is almost as good as “What I Loved”.

Mr. Waffle’s quotes of the week

3 July, 2008 at 8:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Scruples and the city

Explaining to his wife why he drove around the block four times rather than parking in the middle of the road and putting on his hasard warning lights and running in to the dry cleaner. To those of you who are shocked by my cavalier attitude to lawful driving, please note that we live in Belgium.

I suppose it’s reached uncritical mass

Suggesting a theory as to why Place Luxembourg has become a popular spot in Brussels for the young lobbyists, trainees and youthful Euro riff raff to hang out.

Is that the lowest standard of truth, something said to have been written on the internet?

On his wife’s reading out to him this line from the Irish Times: The … terror…was whipped into a frenzy by rumours … which [were] said to have been extensively discussed on such sites. [Emphasis added].  Might it have been worth journalist Kathy Sheridan’s time to maybe go online and have a quick look around the offending websites herself?

The fusing of two terminological traditions

On hearing that a colleague of his wife’s had said that Britain was to be “hauled before the beak for failure to transpose environmental directives”.

I’ve never written a poem before. Can you tell?

2 July, 2008 at 3:32 pm by belgianwaffle

Ecole Maternelle 2006-2008

Monsieur Marion,

Dernier de rang,

Portail, sonnette,

Bicyclette.

Madame Marie

Classe d’accueil.

Valérie, Tatienne

Première maternelle.

Madame Christine,

Dans la classe,

Chaise jaune, Matthias,

Etiquettes, Pinces à linge, Tablier, Plumier,

Farde (de communication),

Cartable.

Fancy fair, école en fête,

Quand est-ce que la pluie s’arrête?

Madame Martine,

Boîte à tartines,

Dans le bac,

Sur le crochet,

Bobo,

Repas chaud,

Garderie,

DVD.

Madame Bénédicte, Dany,

Chausseurs de gym.

Madame Sylvia,

Sous le préau,

Cours de récré,

Hasta luego,

Larmes, bisous,

Twinkle, twinkle n’y sera plus.

Only rhymes and scans in parts.  Very modern, no?  Alternatively, it could be a list of vocabulary.  Extremely modern.

Busy Day

1 July, 2008 at 12:01 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess completed her education in Belgium today and I felt quite sad as I walked her to and from school.  She was unmoved.

I took the three children as well as the childminder and her two children (it seemed like a good idea at the time) to the ophthalmologist this afternoon.  We spent an hour and a half there.  Truly, these are times that try men’s souls.  The Princess was excruciatingly badly behaved.   The only crumb of comfort was that both she and her brothers were very well behaved during their longish examinations and didn’t whine about the eye drops which appeared unpleasant.

I noted, by the simple expedient of nosily peering over the doctor’s shoulder as she typed up my children’s results, that the beautifully dressed and charmingly behaved boy who was waiting patiently for his appointment, shared a surname with the woman who will one day be queen of Belgium.  I later pointed this out to the Princess and followed up with the rider that this was, effectively, her first chance to impress a Prince and it had been an abject failure.  I further told her that I did not think that a real Princess would insist on lying (with her brothers) on the waiting room floor with her feet in the air showing off her stripy underpants.  I know what you are thinking; sarky comments of this nature are unwelcome.

On the eye front, the Princess and Michael have identical optic nerves (who knew you could tell); the Princess very deftly manoeuvered letters to reflect those on the screen; Michael mortified me by not knowing what an apple was or any of his colours (“I dunno”) but Daniel redeemed my reputation.  The Princess and Michael, as well as their identical optic nerves, share perfect eyesight.   This was the good news.  Unfortunately, poor Daniel’s eyesight is not improving.  We have been given a prescription for stronger glasses and he may yet have to have an operation.  We will have a long note to take to someone in Dublin.  I imagine we will have to translate it first.


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