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Utter mortification

30 September, 2008 at 10:17 am by belgianwaffle

We live near an institution and, on Sunday, they have a 20 minute mass in the chapel there.  This is not something to be sneezed at.  Over the past three Sundays, I have attended with one or two of my children but not all three.  Last Sunday, we took them all.

We arrived late which meant that we only had 15 minutes to get through.  The small congregation consists entirely of older adults who all know each other.

The Princess was a disgrace. She stamped her foot, she jumped up and down on the knee rest.  She clambered under the pew.  People (including me) glared at her.  Her father took her out.  She came back and swung off the seat.   Her brothers, doubtless inspired by their sister, began to climb under seats.  Their father took the lot of them out but, alas, the boys could be heard, all too audibly, wailing for their mother.  They all came back.  By this point the boys were covered in snot as they both have colds and their feckless parents had forgotten to bring tissues.  Their sleeves were quite damp and slimy and their faces looked like they were suffering from some alarming skin disease.  I offered it all up for the souls in purgatory but it nearly killed me.

When we came out, the small congregation was gathered outside and offered the usual consolatory noises which polite people do when other people’s children have behaved appallingly though one man asked, jestingly, whether I had ever heard of Supernanny.  I can only say that he was justified in asking.

We hung around outside as the congregation dispersed and upbraided the children who were somewhat chastened.  In due course, the priest and an acolyte arrived and we duly apologised for our children’s behaviour and he said kind words about how it was lovely to see young people in the congregation etc. etc. (words which I cannot believe to be true, at least not these particular young people on this particular morning. When I was a baby, there was a priest in Cork who used to roar “get that child out of here”, if there was any infant noise at his very crowded mass and, while this approach was perhaps a little brutal, I can see that it has merit).

We chatted to the priest and explained that we had just moved into the terrace across the road (not I thought to myself that we will ever see you again as that would be too hideously embarrassing and I am never, never going to bring these children to this church again).  “Oh really,” he said smiling, “I’m in number 7.” 

Not three today

29 September, 2008 at 5:52 pm by belgianwaffle

The boys were three on Saturday. Incredible as it seems, BT (perfidious Albion again) has still not given us the internet in the privacy of our own home so, here I am frantically tapping in a smart hotel where I have been “thinking in”. Insert sigh here.

However, despite the personal cost, I could not let this major landmark pass without a post.

Daniel (the elder)

Daniel has settled into his new Irish environment particularly well. He likes the structure of Montessori school and I think that he is happier than he was in the crèche in Belgium. He likes having his family around him and is fond of all his relations, particularly his baby cousin as he loves babies.

He is good at speaking and my mother-in-law says he sounds like a foreign child who has been taught English. In three weeks at school this has more or less disappeared and the other evening he asked for a “spoo-en plee-as” (the unfortunate Dublin habit of inserting extra vowels in words)

He likes to wear socks on his arms, like long dancing gloves. This is endearing until the moment when you try to take them off and put them on his feet and he screams like a banshee.

He is very affectionate and sympathetic. He is always the first to sympathise with his siblings and parents on their various bruises and ills (“show me, show me! – very sore”). In the evenings when I say good night to him, he always wants to give me a big kiss and a rub on the arm.

When we are cross with him (often for throwing things – an activity of which he never tires – it will be a project for the next year to teach him about John Vavassour de Quentin Jones who, as you will know, lost a fortune by throwing stones) his mouth turns down and he says as he squeezes out bitter tears “You made me cry.”

He still does not sleep through the night (you offer advice on this at your peril). Usually once but sometimes twice, he wakes up and cries for a bottle. A parent struggles to his bedside and matters play out as follows:

Me: Yes, sweetheart.

Him: NOOO, I want Daddy. [Note, he invariably wants the parent who is still in bed]

Me (knowing I should challenge him but feeling the lure of my nice warm bed and worrying he might wake Michael): OK

Mr. Waffle goes downstairs and gets him a bottle.

Daniel: NOOO, it’s too cold.

Mr. Waffle renukes.

Daniel: NOOO, it’s too hot.

Mr. Waffle pours half down the sink and tops up with cold water.

Daniel: NOOO, I want a little bottle.

Mr. Waffle pours half of it down the sink.

Daniel consents to take the bottle.

We are hoping that this will stop sometime before he turns 18. Only 15 years to go.

The other day he told me “Me not sweetheart.” 

Me: Oh dear.

Him: OK, a little bit.

Me (confused): A little bit what?

Him (helpfully): A small bit of something.

How little does he think I know?

Michael (the younger)-

Michael’s father took him to get his hair cut.  While Daniel looks like Boris Johnson with his floppy blonde hair, Michael has a shaved head and looks like a thug.  Mr. Waffle points out that his appearance now matches his temperment.  This did not placate his cranky wife.

Michael is adamant that the only people in the world he likes are his mother, his father, his sister and his brother.  Everyone else is greeted with the words “I attack you”.

He has endless enthusiasm.  Any activity that is presented to him in the appropriate tone will be welcomed with the words “that be fun!”.  On Saturday, for their birthday we all went on the Viking Splash tour of Dublin which involves wearing a viking helmet and roaring at innocent tourists.  He loved it.

He has recently expanded his diet to add cheddar cheese.  We are delighted.  We were all tiring of pasta and pesto.

He is a bossy little person and never tires of telling me, in imperious tones, to read him a story.  He loves stories and will sit spellbound by anything pretty much regardless of how difficult it is.  I am hoping to be able to start reading the paper aloud to him shortly.

Despite his very tough exterior, he is quite a nervous boy and will rush to me in fear at the sight of all kinds of things.  The other night, he confided to me that there was a monster in the bedroom and I had to stay and hold his hand until he fell asleep.

He does like to sleep.  He is his mother’s son (he is also the child who looks most like me – I once shaved my head too, I was in my 20s, it seemed like a good idea, it wasn’t.  I remember I arrived into the pub where my then boyfriend was waiting for me: “it’s rotten, isn’t it?” I sniffed – I also had a cold.  “It’s cool,” he said.  “Really?” “Yes, especially with the sniff, it makes you seem like a drug dealer.”)  He sleeps through the night and from about six in the evening he is begging to be allowed go to bed.  Have you any idea how hard it is to have this conversation with a small child:

Him: Mama, please can I go to bed?

Me: No, sweetheart, it’s too early.

Him:  Please, Mama, when can I go to bed?

Me: After dinner.

Him: No, Mama, please now, please, please.

So, there it is, landmark noted.  A very happy birthday to my gorgeous boys and on the very day they were born, my parents got married (well, obviously, not actually the same day but the same date) so a very happy 41st wedding anniversary to my wonderful parents too.  Rejoicing all round (insert trumpets here).

Upstairs Downstairs

18 September, 2008 at 2:25 pm by belgianwaffle

Her (imperiously while lying on the bed): Mummy, MUMMY, MUMMY!

Me (toiling up the stairs, muttering mutinously): This had better be a real emergency.

Her: Utterly trivial request.

Me: Moan, upstairs, groan, three children in this family, grizzle, world does not revolve around you etc. etc.

Her: Reiterates utterly trivial request.

Me: Do you understand? I do not want you to just lie there shouting Mummy, Mummy at the top of your voice when you want something.

Her (seriously): Would you prefer me to ring a bell?

Tears at bedtime

16 September, 2008 at 2:29 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel (urgently): My nose is running.  Tissue, tissue.

I wipe his nose.

Daniel (crying): No, no, don’t take away the snot.

Me: Eh?

Daniel (crying more loudly): Give me back snot.

Princess (sotto voce):  For God’s sake, it’s only snot.

Me: Danny, sweetheart, it’s gone, er, why did you want the snot?

Daniel: I want it go to bed in my nose.

Status Update

15 September, 2008 at 2:50 pm by belgianwaffle

Pros

We have our health.

As of last Wednesday we are no longer commuting hours to the city centre from the delightful but distant suburb where my parents-in-law kindly had us stay for 6 weeks (that would be four weeks longer than any of us thought it would be).  On the way in there is a level crossing and for many years it has featured in traffic reports as a Dublin landmark and I always thought it was a poor and unremarkable landmark.  That was before I realised that every commuter from South County Dublin spent an hour morning and evening crawling past it.  Also I spent a number of hours before a scrolling sign on a hotel telling me that bookings were now “been” taken for Christmas.  These things grate.  Especially if you have to listen to Charlie and Lola on endless repeat while chugging along.  Does anyone else thing that Lola needs something done about her adenoids?

The children all like school.  Our worries about the Princess going to school in Irish were completely unnecessary.  She is picking it up extraordinarily quickly.  It is quite amazing to watch.  Also, the structured, assigned seat, looking at the blackboard schooling we favour in Ireland seems to really suit her and she is happy. The boys have settled well into Montessori school and we love their teacher.  They also seem fond of her.

Cons

Our house is tiny.  We have far too much furniture and quite a lot of it is still in storage.  Despite 6 weeks and 20,000 euros worth of work, it looks worse than it did before we started. For this, I blame Eamon the electrician who left the place looking like Swiss cheese.
No internet (this comes from an internet cafe), no telephone.

I started work today.  I am not particularly enthusiastic about this job but it will pay some of the bills.  My reception this morning has not made me more enthusiastic.

My bicycle was stolen over the weekend.

Perfidious Albion

7 September, 2008 at 3:07 pm by belgianwaffle

I see that the organ of record has an article about an EU study which shows that part of the reason for the Lisbon No vote may be the increasingly eurosceptic press in Ireland. Of course, I said this ages ago.  Let me quote me for your delectation:

“Then, the British media which is almost uniformly eurosceptic is widely available in Ireland and, in some cases, produces Irish editions (Irish Sun anyone?). I have no idea what these papers’ stance was on the referendum but you know what? I can make a good guess. I believe British coverage of EU issues is hugely biased and I don’t believe that this is a fault of the Irish press (I can tell because Irish coverage of EU matters is invariably crushingly dull). I really suspect the British media of stirring up the sovreignity issue which is not something that I have been aware of as a particular concern in the past.”

Sometimes I feel like Cassandra, I can tell you.

Disapproving musings

6 September, 2008 at 1:03 pm by belgianwaffle

There was an article in the paper recently on free range kids, something I’ve seen knocking around the internet over the past couple of months (am I the last person to notice how many things in the papers seem to be stale versions of what has been on the internet for ages?).  It was a Dublin version of what everyone has been saying – our children have no freedom because we’re too scared to let them take any risks.

Since our return to Ireland, we have been struck by the suicidal behaviour of Irish pedestrians who throw themselves across the road whenever they get a chance.  This is particularly noteworthy as in the 5 years since we last lived in this country, everyone has acquired an enormous American SUV.  And we do not have American roads and infrastructure and these cars are ludicrously enormous on our small streets.  (These two paragraphs are connected, bear with me).  The other morning, Mr. Waffle passed a private boys secondary school near his parents’ house and he saw a fleet of these vehicles dropping off their precious passengers to school.  He said it looked absurdly like an army of mercenaries had decided to take over South County Dublin and were rolling up to the school to make it their headquarters: “The revolution storts* here”.

*This is not a typo, there is a nasty Dublin accent where the “a” sound is substituted by an “o”, I live in fear of my children picking it up but given where we will be living, they are much more likely to pick up a different nasty Dublin accent. It’s hard to know whether to be glad or sorry.

Reading

4 September, 2008 at 4:53 pm by belgianwaffle

“A Perfect Spy” by John Le Carre

This was lent to me by the lovely Heather when I said that I had never read a John Le Carre book and that I am not very keen on thrillers. It runs to 607 pages and my little heart sank when I first saw it. However, having put off reading it for some time, I was pleasantly surprised by how well written it was. It has lots of plot too. But yet, but yet, I do not care for spies. Hearing about how the burnbox works and tricks of tradecraft do not thrill me. This book tells the story of the perfect spy and a great deal of it is background about his youth. I love background and youthful history but yet, I did not particularly care for Pym’s. Could it be my fault?

 

“An Only Child” by Frank O’Connor

 

I am not an unbiased reader of this book. Frank O’Connor is from Cork and reading this book reminds me of my home town; the street names; the cadences of the language; even the press barons (prominent reference to George Crosbie early on – the Crosbies still own the Echo and the Examiner and everyone knows them, I was in college with a Crosbie cousin, coming home from family holidays we would all strain to be the first to hear an Echo boy shouting “Echo, Echo, Evening Echo”). In many ways this book is as much a history of Cork city as of the author.

When I was in school, Frank O’Connor’s First Confession was one of the short stories we had to read. I can remember when I was 12 or 13 being supervised by a cross nun while our English teacher was out (gallivanting, ill, who knows?) and we were all supposed to be reading quietly to ourselves from our short story book. I read this story. The requirement for utter silence combined with the hilarity of the story was my undoing. The more I tried not to laugh, the funnier it became. I was purple in the face and shaking by the time I had finished.

In view of this, you might think that I would have tried more Frank O’Connor but anything else of his I read never quite lived up to that first fine careless rapture. However, when I was last in Dublin, I picked up this volume and decided to give him another go. For me, a great part of its charm is reading about Cork 100 years ago and realising how little it has changed in many of its essentials. But this is certainly not its only charm. It is beautifully written. In some ways, “An Only Child” reminds me of “Angela’s Ashes”, however, while writing about the same kind of youth spent in poverty with an alcoholic father and a strong mother, O’Connor’s work is thoughtful and enlightening where McCourt’s is sentimental and clichéd. O’Connor is fully and painfully aware of his limitations, McCourt never demonstrates that self knowledge.

There is a great deal in this book about love of language and as, growing up, language was one of my own great pleasures, I find much in “An Only Child” which appeals. He teaches himself all kinds of languages with only the faintest appreciation of grammar. As children, my parents concealed their machinations from us by speaking a combination of French and German and, when this failed them, the odd word of Latin. My father refers to this largely as “the common European dialect”. For many years my father used to say a phrase I did not understand when asked to do something. There is an expression which possibly only exists in Irish English meaning I can do the job for you: it is “I’m your man”. My father, feeling that this really was too dull went for “Je suis votre homme”. This I understood as “Jesuis vo trom”. I knew that trom was the Irish for heavy (our education in Irish having started at the age of four and also there was the inexplicably popular TV show) and having a look at my father’s girth, I made my own deductions. I still remember my delight, when beginning to learn French at 12, in working out what the expression actually meant. Or rather what my father meant it to mean. To the francophone world, of course, “je suis votre homme” means not “I’ll sort it out” but “I am your husband”. Something which my father understood intellectually but which, however, never stopped him using the phrase on baffled French women.

When Mr. Waffle and I introduced our parents to each other, they got on like a house on fire and almost immediately began addressing each other in a variety of European languages, something which caused each of us exquisite embarrassment. As parents of three children of our own we are, of course, well beyond that now and only waiting for the opportunity to mortify our own offspring in a similar way. I digress.

My father’s parents would have been of an age with Frank O’Connor or slightly older and though they were somewhat better off (my granddad was a clerk in the railway, I’ll have you know, and my granny worked in the telephone exchange), I feel that they must have known each other because Cork is like that. Also they were both very strongly anti-treaty and had to leave Cork for America some time after the civil war (though they came back – the anti-treaty forces having lost the war but overwhelmingly won the peace).

Reading between the lines, you can see what must have made him a difficult git in many ways. He is not blind to his own faults or those of the people he loves. There is a very sad passage where he describes separating from his first wife. His children won’t talk to his mother, so she never speaks to them again. You can see from his description of her personality why this should be and though it clearly hurts him, it does not lessen his respect and affection for her.

There is a saying “No snob like a Cork snob” and the author, who was largely self-taught, has this feature in spades. I have a relative who is a very holy, generous, humble and kind religious man but he cannot resist name dropping. This, is a true Cork trait and one that Mr. O’Connor and I share.

I loved this book and, if you’re keen to know more about Cork (and who wouldn’t be?), it is a fascinating read from a historical point of view as well.

I know you love grammar, so I feel compelled to give you this quote from the text which gives a flavour of the whole:

A serious gap in my education was revealed to me during the very first days when I prepared my lessons for class, and the shock nearly killed me. I opened an Irish Grammar for what must have been the first time and read it through with a sinking heart. M. Jourdain’s astonishment on discovering that he had been talking prose all his life was nothing to mine on discovering that I had been talking grammar – and bad grammar at that…[following his enlightenment, he goes on to speak of his affection for grammar]

Whatever the importance of grammar in reading or writing, as an image of human life it seems to me out on its own. I have never since had any patience with the apostles of usage. Usage needs no advocates, since it goes on whether one approves of it or not, and in doing so breaks down the best regulated languages. Grammar is the breadwinner of language as usage is the housekeeper, and the poor man’s efforts at keeping order are for ever being thwarted by his wife’s intrigues and her perpetual warning to the children not to tell Father. But language, like life, is impossible without a father and he is forever returning to his thankless job of restoring authoritiy. An emotional young man, I found it a real help to learn that there was such a thing as an object, whether or not philosophers admitted its existence, and that I could use the accustive case to point it out as I would point out a man in the street.

 

“My Father’s Son” by Frank O’Connor

I’m on a roll here. This book begins with a rather ominous note to the effect that this book had not been completed by the author’s death and they did their best to piece it together from notes and earlier drafts. Unfortunately, it reads a little bit like that too. It is unclear in places in a way that “An Only Child” never is.

That said, it is fascinating. O’Connor was friends with every significant literary Irish figure of the time and his descriptions of them are priceless. I particularly enjoyed reading about Yeats in a very new and strangely intimate way.

Cork looms large at the beginning of the book. There are only two kinds of Cork people: those who stay and those who leave and, though those who leave would never admit it, the gap is unbridgeable and you can never go back.

O’Connor tried to go back. He found it tough going; of course, you can never go back. He left again but he says “Nothing could cure me of the notion that Cork needed me and that I needed Cork. Nothing but death can, I fear, ever cure me of it.” I know what he means.

“Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox” by Eoin Colfer

Children’s books, they’re so appealing. I particularly like this series which features an Irish child genius and fairies. Go on, try it, you know you want to.

Only funny to the Irish reader

3 September, 2008 at 4:39 pm by belgianwaffle

As we drove through heavy traffic in the centre of Dublin, Michael piped up from the back of the car “I want to do a wee.”

We exchanged glances of horror and he said gleefully “I never lost it.”

Probably not what the Rev. W. Awdry wrote

2 September, 2008 at 9:54 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess was so delighted to be reunited with her younger brothers after their sojourn in Cork, she began to “read” to them “Thomas Comes to Breakfast”. As I was watching them indulgently I was startled to hear the following:

“Don’t be so silly,” said Percy.

“I’d never go without my Driver” said Toby earnestly.  “I’d be frightened.”

“Pooh!” boasted Thomas.  “I’ll show you bastards.”


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