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Sic Transit

30 August, 2008 at 9:40 pm by belgianwaffle

When I sat my matric, there was a space on the front page for candidates to insert place of birth.

The invigilator, knowing his audience, said to his group of Cork students: “When they say place of birth, they mean Cork, they’re not interested in the competition between the Bons and the Ville.”

Since I had had my pen poised to inform the university authorities that I was born in the Bons Secours maternity hospital, his warning came just in time.

Maternity services in Cork are now being concentrated in one centre. Coming back from the park this evening, my brother, the boys and I saw the Erinville being knocked down. It’s just as well that they’ve abolished the matric too.

Back to school

27 August, 2008 at 3:55 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess started school in Dublin this morning.  It was very odd to see her in a school uniform.  She looked so big.  As we are still not in our house (alas) we had to leave the parents-in-law’s at dawn to get her in – they kindly minded the boys who apparently took our absence in good part. 

It was my first visit to the school (Mr. Waffle having inspected previously) and I liked it.  There was a good social mix and the teachers and head seemed very friendly.  In contradistinction to Belgium where children are rather left to sink or swim on their own, the teachers were very anxious to introduce the Princess to other children and to give her a friend to mind her.  Although it is, obviously, all the same in the end, it did make a difference this morning, I think.

The school is housed in a beautiful (though sadly delapidated) Georgian building.  Senior infants are in a large drawing room with elaborate stucco work on the ceiling.  Having myself gone to a suburban, socially uniform primary school where I received all my education in a prefab (the baby boom having taken the authorities by surprise) , I like the faded elegance and social diversity of her city centre school.  I suppose this is hardly particularly relevant to herself and she did cry pitifully when we left.  However, Mr. Waffle has just collected her and the whole thing seems to have gone off peacefully.  I will be curious to see how she negotiates the linguistic regime but the teachers seem mercifully relaxed about using English as well as Irish.  Hold your breath out there. 

A story of jelly shoes

26 August, 2008 at 1:29 am by belgianwaffle

Sunday, 17 August

Our afternoon flight was slightly delayed with 3 changes of gate.  The parents-in-law made themselves by far the most unpopular people on the plane by saving us seats together.  I vowed never to fly Ryanair again.  Again.  The flight was followed by a three hour drive from Trapani airport to our destination.  We arrived at midnight and the Princess, setting a pattern for the week, was up and bright and breezy.

Monday, August 18

After lunch I was severely taken to task by the Baron (the owner of our agriturismo) for turning up late for lunch: “this is not a hotel”.   The Baron also abused my half-Sicilian sister-in-law for wasting water by letting the children play in the shower near the swimming pool, saying accusingly: you should know how precious water is in Sicily signora.  Fortunately, his efforts to upset the guests were consistently undermined by his staff who were charming and our first point of contact.

Tuesday, August 19

We made the distressing discovery that the beaches in this part of the world are stony as we hobbled to the sea shore and into the water.  There was some complaining by the junior members of the party as they leapt from hot stone to sharp pebble.  Though, mercifully, the Sicilians were having a dreadful summer and the temperature never went above 30 degrees.  Daniel was delighted to see sunshine again and having spent the previous three weeks announcing every day that it was raining again was equally surprised to see that in Sicily every day was sunny again.

The boys were fascinated by Italian which they identified as not French and not English.  They had already been astounded to see the priest at mass and staff in the supermarket in Cork speaking English (they speak in English!) though sad to discover that their favourite lady from behind the fish counter had gone (where the nice lady? still in Brussels, one assumes) but now there was a whole new baffling linguistic regime.    On our drive from our hotel sorry, not hotel, to the coast, we passed a little ruined house and I overheard the boys talking (in French) about fixing it up with the help of Bob the Builder.  Daniel said seriously to Michael: “Bob, he talks in English, you know”.  Despite reservations about the linguistic regime, Daniel, in particular, was delighted to be back in kissing country: everyone from customs officers to carabinieri was happy to give him a kiss when requested and there was none of this hugging business which Irish children favour and which he regards with the greatest suspicion.

That evening, the issue of how the publishing exec (Mr. Waffle’s sister and the Princess’s beloved godmother) was going to make her way from Palermo (to where she was flying on Friday night) to our agriturismo was raised.  She was arriving too late for the last trains and buses and is newish to driving and, really, you don’t want to put a newish driver on the road out from Palermo airport on a Friday night.  Feeling that this was the least I could do to oblige my parents-in-law, who didn’t fancy the drive and in whose house we have been residing practically forever, I happily volunteered to collect her.  Mr. Waffle voiced the hope that her new boyfriend who has been inspected and approved by the entire family (except for us – to my chagrin we were still in Belgium when he visited) might prove his mettle by turning up on the flight as a surprise and driving her up to us.  Let me remove any suspense now: alas, he did not.

Wednesday, August 20

Still no jelly shoes so we hobbled around the beach until we found the Sicilian relatives.  My sister-in-law’s sister (are you still with me?) is a stylist whose work frequently features in the organ of record (ooh the reflected glamour and glory).  Being kind as well as glamourous, she gamely trudged up and down the beach (she had the correct footware, well, obviously she did – she’s half Italian and a stylist) carrying our extensive kit from where we had left it to the family meeting point and we disported ourselves in the sea only stopping when three of our party were assailed by jellyfish.  Daniel was very stoic but Michael and I were whiny.  In my defence, I would say that a jellyfish sting on your bottom is particularly awkward.

That evening was stressful as we dined late (unlike the previous evening where we had a delightful early pizza and all the children ate, though the Princess did pat a cactus during the evening – why? – which restricted her movement somewhat) and Mr. Waffle failed to do my bidding on various matters.  As the designated Italian speaker I was sent into the take away to order.  I failed to understand them, they failed to understand me, the result was unhappy.  I returned to our table in precarious form and began to cry.  Family holidays can be a little tense, you know.  My mother-in-law patted my hand gently, Mr. Waffle looked anxious, my father-in-law (abandoning his hopes of sloping off from the children with his loving wife) went to stand by the door of the take away and harry the staff, my half Sicilian sister-in-law (who had just arrived) sorted out our order and said comfortingly that she too could have hissy fits (something I found very reassuring though it is not something I have witnessed with my own eyes which would be even better), Daniel said in tones of horror to anyone who would listen “My Mummy is crying“, I sniffed.  It was a low point and by the time I was alone with Mr. Waffle later, I had eaten and I was tired and even I had lost interest in my grievances.

Thursday, August 21

The children refused en masse to go to the beach so we took ourselves off to the swimming pool which was perishing – who would have thought that you could be so cold in Sicily in August?  We then went to look for jelly shoes which were in short supply in the local town but we got a couple of pairs, not quite the right size but half a loaf is better than no bread.  Mr. Waffle went to the internet cafe to wrestle with Ryanair.  To get access to the internet he had to sign several documents promising not to look at pornography or set up terrorist cells, hand over his passport (to be photocopied) and get printed details of his log on and password.  Sometimes, I think it is a miracle that the Italian economy manages to struggle on at all.  Doubtless Gunther Verheugen will sort it all out for them.  He might want to have a go at the Chemist as well where all purchases are scanned into the computer and painstakingly copied into a lined notebook by an elderly lady and her assistant which made for a long wait before I got my hands on swim nappies.

That evening the Princess and I drove into Cefalu which is absolutely beautiful.  She was immaculately behaved.  It was all very pleasant and full of jelly shoes in all manner of sizes.  On our return, the kind grandparents babysat while Mr. Waffle and I went out to wait for a pizza.  The elderly lady whizzing around the tables muttered something unintelligible and I eyed Mr. Waffle balefully and said that it was probably dialect because I didn’t understand it.  He, mindful of the previous evening’s disaster, said nervously, “um, I think she said ‘muss warten’, you know, in German”.  And warten we did for a good hour and a half.  On the plus side, we met everyone on the evening passegiata, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nonno.

Friday, August 22

We had a very successful beach expedition with our jelly shoes, hurrah. 

It transpired that Mr. Waffle would be required at 7 that evening in the hill top village where the christening was to take place the next day.  Did you know that we were in Sicily for our new quarter Italian niece’s christening and that Mr. Waffle was godfather? Well, now you do.  And the priest needed to talk to him about his duties.  Unfortunately, this was at precisely the time that I needed to go to Palermo to pick up the publishing exec.  My father-in-law could drive Mr. Waffle to the hill top village and I could go to Palermo but that would leave grandma alone all evening with three young children which is very rough going.   Then my sister-in-law’s brother, new Uncle as he was known (try to keep up – my children were baffled, dazzled and delighted by the numbers of new uncles and cousins who kept emerging from the woodwork last week) volunteered for duty and we heaved a collective sigh of relief.  New Uncle was a big hit with the children being a single man, willing to play and also quite happy to kiss the boys when requested to do so (half Italian, you see).  When the Princess and I went to look at the chapel in the agriturismo that evening she was very anxious to pray for new Uncle though whether this was on his own merits or because he was bringing her beloved aunt from Palermo was unclear.

Saturday, August 23

The publishing exec had arrived and the Princess went to wake her at dawn.  She came back wearing a beautiful dress purchased by her loving aunt in exotic London.  After that we hardly saw the Princess as she stuck to her beloved and very tolerant aunt like a limpet.  We got dressed up and drove ourselves up the winding road to the hilltop town where the christening was to be.  About three quarters of the way there, Daniel got sick.  We stripped him naked and, on the way into town, stopped to buy him new clothes. He looked absolutely beautiful in his smart Italian clothes but 80 euros for trousers and a shirt is considerably more than I would normally pay.  Also, both he and I smelt of vomit all day.  We then screeched up to the top of the town where various cugini were gathered and sprinted to the church where we were more or less on time.  The publishing exec was godmother and the Princess was a little inclined to take this in bad part as the publishing exec was her godmother but she was won over by being allowed to hold her little cousin on her lap while cooing at her with her aunt.

After the christening we went for a big lunch.  We were a party of 30 of whom 14 were children.  It was fantastic.  One of the bigger cousins was a boy of 13 who took it upon himself to entertain the 11 children under 7.  Michael followed him around devotedly and when he couldn’t see him would come running up to me saying “where my big boy?”.  It was lovely to see them all playing together and to have Marco separate the combatants, as appropriate.  Michael disappeared at one point and after some searching was still missing.  Eventually Grandad located him at the side of the swimming pool which he had reached by opening an emergency exit and travelling through very rough terrain and over several obstacles in bare feet.  He was, he told us solemnly, washing his hands.  We nearly had heart failure.

Near drowning incidents apart, it was very nice to feel part of a large extended Italian family and my sister-in-law was, I think, delighted with the results of her efforts to bond her Irish and her Italian family. 

Sunday, August 24

Yesterday was our last day and the Princess awoke like a briar having spent the previous evening playing with her new Palermitana friend; Giorgia, a four year old fellow guest.  The pair of them spent the evening examining the tortoises in the grounds and the Princess didn’t get to bed until 11 and, even then, only because we were going to bed ourselves and locked the door to the apartment.    She was cheered by a trip to the beach where we met all the relatives until she was stung by a jellyfish which made her crabby.

After lunch we had to say goodbye to her aunt.  Alas.  Then the hideous return journey: a three hour drive; a hot, sweaty airport; a long queue for check in; a long queue for security (grandparents helping to keep younger members of the party in order, reassurance from new Uncle that half the queue was people saying goodbye, delight from the children on discovering that new Uncle lived in Ireland not Sicily); a run for seats together on the plane; arrival at 11 carrying (with the assistance of the grandparents) a howling, bellowing Daniel, a tired Princess and a miserable, damp Michael the many miles from terminal D to baggage reclaim; and then an alarming queue for taxis.  Finally back at 1.20 in the morning.  I am really never flying Ryanair again. No really.  Next year we’re going on holiday by ferry.  You will be pleased to hear that we brought the jelly shoes home.

Wisdom

17 August, 2008 at 1:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Listen to this, there’s an interview with Deepak Chopra in the paper and he says: “In my life nothing goes wrong.  When things seem to not meet my expectations, I let go of how I think things should be.  It’s a matter of not having any attachment to any fixed outcome.”

Mother-in-law: I wonder has he ever lost his passport?

Further complications

16 August, 2008 at 12:56 am by belgianwaffle

We are going to Sicily on Sunday.  For a week.  I have no doubt that, in our absence, the plumber, the painter, the builder, the kitchen man, the carpenter and the electrician will work in complete harmony to create a beautiful home into which we can move upon our return.  Then again, perhaps not.

Full details of our Sicilian odyssey will follow at the end of the month (yes, yes, you are on the edge of your seat).  The Princess has been studying the Guardian’s supplement on Greek monsters (many of whom resided in Sicily) in anticipation of our trip.  It’s never too early to hothouse, you know.

What recession?

13 August, 2008 at 12:42 am by belgianwaffle

The builder cleaning out our new house has found a number of items which he feels are perfectly good, including a CD player. He does not want them.  None of the other builders want them.  We don’t want them.  It seems a shame that they should go on the skip.  When I told my father-in-law this and expressed the hope that someone might perhaps take these items from the skip, he mused that it was hard to know whether it was more embarrassing to be caught putting something into your neighbour’s skip or taking something out of it.  Good point.

The costs of our modest renovation continue to skyrocket unexpectedly (unexpectedly to me, anyway; doubtless providing a welcome boost to the Irish economy).  Our furniture arrived from Brussels today and it has been stacked up to the ceiling and out to the walls in the (only) ground floor room.  We should have got rid of more things before we left Brussels.  Understandably, the painter and the electrician (rewiring the house) say they cannot work in these circumstances.  The man installing the kitchen is game to give it a try but a kitchen without electricity is ultimately unsatisfactory.  The plumber is unaffected.  Tomorrow we will find a warehouse to store our furniture until these tasks are complete and a man with a van to move it.  Shortly we will have spent all our savings on renovation and moving (and removing) and when (if) we manage to actually get in to our house (now impossible due to packing crates), we will have to live on air or paint fumes whichever is the more nourishing.  Also, our builder has gone on holidays and there is still a wall to be demolished and a ceiling to be fixed.  Poor Daniel keeps asking when he can go home (something everyone involved would like to know).  We were hoping to be in by August 25 as the Princess starts school on August 27 but there is now every likelihood that we will still be holed up with the unfortunate parents-in-law on that date.

And it’s still raining.

The trials of genius

11 August, 2008 at 12:00 am by belgianwaffle

Princess: I am going to sing you a song I have made up.

Me: Mmm, great, let me just get started on dinner for the boys.

Princess [slightly more loudly]: I am going to sing you a song I have made up.

Me: I’m listening…yes, Michael, what is it?

Her [crossly]: I bet Mr. Tchaikovsky’s parents weren’t like this.

North Side/South Side

8 August, 2008 at 9:34 pm by belgianwaffle

Cork has a north/south divide but it is as nothing to the chasm in Dublin. The river Liffey separates the largely affluent south from the largely less affluent north. My husband’s family are from one of the most prosperous southside suburbs. We will be living in the north inner city. A 30 minute drive (off-peak), the river and a whole world separate these locations. May I share some sample conversations? Of course I may, it’s my blog.

Relative (you know who you are): You must join the [local] library, it’s wonderful for the children.

Me: But it’s miles away [for me].

Her: Of course [smiling encouragingly] they must have libraries on the Northside too.

I took myself off to the house of my new friend from the cafe along with herself and Daniel. She was charming and delightful but disappointed that we would be living so far away.

Me: It’s not that far, really.

Her: Mmm.

Me: Honestly, we move back to Dublin and it’s like the Northside is further away than Brussels.

Her: Of course, in many ways, psychologically, it is.

This weekend we are very Southside as I have taken the children to Cork while Mr. Waffle wraps things up in Brussels. Maybe he will be able to sell the car (hollow laugh).
I heard the Princess explain earnestly to her brothers: “Now we are in Dublin, Ireland but we are going to take the train to another country, Cork.” Clever girl.

The train ride was rendered less hideous by the charm of the teenager opposite who shared crisps and buttons with my offspring. She was travelling with her mother and several siblings. Her mother was a large lady with an IRA tattoo (and, people, I don’t think that this is an individual retirement account), so it just goes to show – you should never, never get a tattoo.

Culture Shock

6 August, 2008 at 12:46 am by belgianwaffle

Weather 

Due to a complete failure of imagination, I am always appalled by the Irish weather.  No one could have been more surprised than I was when on the morning after leaving sultry France, the Princess was running up and down the misty deck of the ferry, splashing through puddles in her sandles.

When we went to the beach the other day I was, however, prepared and the children were warmly wrapped up and had their rain coats on.  I realised that they will need to become hardier: all the Irish children were in t-shirts and shorts.  Mostly they had retired indoors by the time the torrential rain started.

Festivals

We went to the local horse show on Monday (not an exclusive event).  It was supported by a field of ancillary stalls and children’s entertainments.  In Belgium, it was always easy to tell our blonde milky white children from others on the boucy castle.  Here it is proving more challenging.  If only we had spent more time in Uccle than elsewhere we would have had more practice.

To our surprise and delight, there was a waffle stall.  The waffles cost 5 euros each.  And  they weren’t very nice.  We were outraged.  The standard rate for a reasonably acceptable waffle across all Belgian waffle vans is 1.50 (perhaps evidence of price fixing which the local competition authorities could investigate).  It is true what they say about the cost of living here.

Sporting Life

On Saturday morning the boys and their Grandfather watched Australia play New Zealand on the television.  They have not been exposed to rugby before. “They play a football, they all dirty!” exclaimed Daniel in surprise.  My brother came to visit later in the afternoon and, having seen the boys tripping about delightedly in my high heels was anxious to indoctrinate them with the basics of rugby.  I am not sure how much progress he made; when he left, Daniel was still trying to hit the ball with a tennis racquet.

Other Children

Escaping the rain on our return from the beach the children and I ended up in a cafe (Mr. Waffle was getting the car taxed – the glamour).  The Princess got chatting to a little girl.  They bonded and jumped in the small back garden.  The boys joined them.  They were very loud.  The punters got restive.  The little girl’s parents and I brought them in.  I decided to head out in the driving rain.  The little girl’s mother wondered could I get a lift from someone.  I explained that my husband was tied up with the Revenue (something I could have phrased differently, perhaps).  She offered us a lift.  I refused, grateful but polite.  10 minutes later we were drenched and only, alas, a little further along due to the indifference of small children to heavy rain and their deep interest in pausing to smell the flowers. The little girl’s father pulled up beside us in his Saab 9-3 (which, as his daughter had explained to us earlier was a clean car because they had taken Daddy’s instead of Mummy’s) and insisted that we all hop, dripping, on to his leather upholstery and dropped us to the door.  See, it is  true about Irish people being friendly; we have to be to survive the weather. 

We went to a barbecue on Sunday.  There was a little girl called Clodagh (very common Irish name, the gh is silent). “No,” said the Princess “there is no such name, it must be Claudia”.  Meanwhile the boys had agreed that the young man called Matthew must be Matteo and spoke firmly but kindly to the other 2 year olds in French (their experience of children in groups has been that French is the appropriate language, no longer).  Incidentally, my sister-in-law is a very talented painter and one of her nudes was hanging on the wall.  Daniel examined it critically and declared, “That lady has no nappy”. 

The Return of the Exiles

4 August, 2008 at 5:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008

We left home at 10.45.  Our departure only slightly delayed by the need to declare to the police that we had lost a document for the car (the curse of the car).  All the police computers in the commune were down.  They advised trying the neighbouring commune.  We decided that the declaration could wait until Mr. Waffle goes back to Belgium later this week to oversee the packing (no scoffing please).  It also appears that our protracted leave taking will involve a further trip to Brussels at the start of September to undergo the dreaded etat des lieux and reclaim some small part of our deposit from the landlord.  Sigh.

By 12.15, we were ready to break the journey for lunch.  We are not good travellers.  We stopped in Cambrai. If you ask me, Cambrai has nothing to recommend it.  This is particularly true of the cafe in the main square where we chose to eat lunch. I had a Welsh Flamand which was sold as a Flemish version of Welsh rarebit.  Not nice.  The local speciality is a boiled sweet known as the betise de Cambrai.  Very appropriate.

At 2.00 we were on our way to Brecourt.  We went to a wedding there when the Princess was three weeks old and we retain fond memories of it.   It took us a long time to get there but at 6.00 we rolled up.  Mr. Waffle reassured me that it had only added another 200 kms to our journey to stay there, so where is the problem?  When we got there, it was lovely.  The Princess flew the kite she got as a going away present from our lovely Italian neighbours only mildly impeded by her brothers.  Meanwhile, staff put a linen tablecloth and silver cutlery on the lawn for her and her brothers to eat dinner.  Dinner was some rather umimpressive pasta but the surroundings were impeccable.  That night we left the children to a babysitter and went to dinner in the hotel restaurant.  We noted that the couple who had been desperately trying to avoid eye contact in the garden were Irish and they were clearly trying to ignore us and enjoy an authentic French holiday experience.  It pains me to say this but though the surroundings were very beautiful with magnificent views over the grounds, the food was only alright.  As we returned to our room at 10.30, I heard voices and said to Mr. Waffle that I hadn’t noticed the television in our room.  There was no television: it was herself chatting to the babysitter who despite, one would have thought, having had a surfeit of the Princess, was kind enough to turn up the next morning with a book for her.  Our girl can be charming when she gets her way.

Over breakfast, they were, so we were informed by our loving daughter, piping out the Magic Flute over the stereo.  We had sent her to a one week music course and she had studied the Magic Flute in detail (middle class heaven) and was confidently identifying Papageno and the Reine de la Nuit.  Of course, she could have been completely wrong as we, not having had her advantages, had no idea what the different parts of the piece sound like (we only know the famous bit – I am, perhaps unreliably, informed that this is the Reine de la Nuit).

Wednesday, 30 July, 2008

We spent the morning strolling around the grounds and watching our children put on performances of the Magic Flute in the ruined chapel (the Princess’s efforts somewhat undermined by her brothers who thought they were re-enacting Kung Fu Panda).

At lunch time we went to Giverny and looked at Monet’s garden which attracts hosts of elderly French and English garden enthusiasts and some tired looking American families.  We had lunch in the car park which was, in fact, our only good meal in France.  Who would have thought?  Afterwards, we had ice cream which, as it was hot, melted.  I licked Daniel’s into shape and he was furious and inconsolable to the immense amusement of some Chinese tourists waiting behind us in the queue to get into the gardens.  It felt like a real holiday: hot, sticky and everyone just a bit cranky. 

When we left at 3.00, Mr. Waffle announced that Cherbourg was not as he had thought 2 hours distant but 3.  Cue much angst and a genuine worry that having taken two days to do a six hour drive, we might actually miss the wretched boat.  We did not miss the boat.

The boat was packed full of Irish people.  They were pale, they were square.  They had brown hair and freckles.  They were friendly.    I had an epiphany: these were my people.  I was back where I belonged.  Our very luxurious ferry (things have changed since I was a child), the Oscar Wilde, had previously sailed in Nordic waters which was, I suppose why they chose to decorate our cabin with a picture of a ski jump which the children found almost as exciting as bunk beds.  The family retired at 9.30 to explore all of their thrilling functionalities.

Thursday, 31 July

In the morning, we took ourselves off to the cinema.  The only thing showing was Kung Fu Panda and, frankly, once was probably one time too many for the boys to have seen that film but I had to get them away from the common areas where a stranger had reprimanded them.  The humiliation.

At lunch time, we packed up and drove off the boat into driving rain.  Ah, home again, home again, jiggedy jig.


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