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Everywhere I have ever lived – 2008

30 November, 2008 at 9:47 pm by belgianwaffle

After a prolonged stint in Mr. Waffle’s parents’ house over the summer, we finally moved into our own house in the second week in September.

I think it would be fair to say that it is not the house of our dreams.  We are warming to it though.  It’s handy and it’s ours (co-owned with the bank, obviously).
My top ten list of things that we really need to do:

1. Sand and polish the floorboards in the one room downstairs.  The filthy bare boards which were inserted to cover up the hole in the floor created by our useless electrician are really getting me down.

2. Carpet hall stairs and landing.  More filthy bare boards.  Also some filthy blue carpet with flowers.

3.  Fill and paint over all the remaining holes left by the electrician.

4. Put some more of the junk in the back garden in a skip.  Cut back some of the more threatening foliage (the other day I found, not one but two old bicycles nestling hidden under random undergrowth at the side of the house).

5. Blinds for downstairs (in train).

6. Tiles for the kitchen – walls and floor.

7. Something to stop the water dripping into the kitchen roof.

8. Insulation for the attic.

9. Somehow to create smooth walls and get rid of the uniquely unpleasant woodchip wall paper.

10. Do something, as yet unclear what, about the floorboards in the upstairs bedrooms.

This is but the tip of the iceberg.  I have not even mentioned the bathroom – best for everyone.

Finally, November is over.  Mr. Waffle has declared next month is to be NoMoBlo.
I really hope that I pick up one of these prizes, not that I am threatening you, Mrs. Kennedy.  Well, not if it would jeopardise my chance of an etsy voucher.

Blighted or this kind of thing explains why Kalahari bushmen are as happy as multimillionaires

29 November, 2008 at 7:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Last Christmas my brother gave my sister and me a voucher for an expensive country house hotel.  All year long, I have been looking forward to using it.

Eventually, we had to use it because it expires on December 18.  This weekend was the only weekend where there were rooms available before Christmas, so we booked it.  There are a number of problems with this weekend:

1. I spent Wednesday, Thursday and yesterday away for work only arriving home late last night.  The children were delighted to see me this morning and correspondingly displeased when I told them I was leaving this afternoon.

3.  Though intellectually, Mr. Waffle fully supports my opportunity to enjoy my first night away from my family for pleasure since the children were born and he realises that going away for my job is not fun, he is still bitter despite himself.

4. Next week is a particularly busy one at work involving starts before the children wake up and several finishes after they go to bed.

5. My sister and I were supposed to leave at lunch time but guilt made me push it back to 4 and due to horrendous traffic, we didn’t get here until 7 (she is gracefully forebearing from criticism but I would be critical, if I were her).

6.  I have come down with a ferocious and miserable cold meaning that the spa, pool, sauna and the like are deeply unappealing prospects (even had I remembered to bring my togs which I have not).

7.  My sister has got them to give us a cheaper room.  At 200 euros less, it means we can enjoy an excellent dinner (free, hurrah!).  But the room is displeasing to me as it is off in a distant outhouse which is not a country house – more country stable – all very well in its way but not entirely meeting my needs.  I have previously confessed to delusions of grandeur – don’t mock the afflicted.  On the plus side, she brought her laptop, in case I wanted to update my blog – there’s kindness and virtue.  I would hate to drop out on day 29 of Nablopomo.

May 68

28 November, 2008 at 8:27 am by belgianwaffle

This has been sitting unposted in my drafts since May.  I felt it needed more work.  But it’s Nablopomo. I’m desperate.  Wait until you see what I end up posting tomorrow.

So to summarise, this is neither topical nor quite what I wanted to say.  With that enticing introduction, I am sure that you are keen to read on.

There’s been a lot on the radio about 1968.  The other day I was in the car and there was a woman on the Belgian radio saying how, although she was 35 in 1968, it had changed her life.  She was pregnant with her third child and in the spirit of the times she had changed the school they planned to send the child to and she was looking forward to a bright, new, future.  She wasn’t too pleased with the way it turned out.

Meanwhile, British Radio 4, when I switched over, was doing a somewhat heavy piece about the philosophers of ’68 and their thinking.

I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to get at here.  In the French piece you could really sense that they were trying to change the world and imagine what it was like to be there then (I perhaps haven’t done it justice). The English piece was just a bit dull.

Language is innate but literacy must be acquired

27 November, 2008 at 2:19 pm by belgianwaffle

My poor daughter is a textbook example of this. She is struggling with reading.  I sometimes feel we can’t have helped her by introducing a third language into her life.

I saw her painstakingly spelling out words in her Irish book the other day.  I did sympathise.  “Leanbh”, for example, is a bit of a killer, if it were English it would be spelt “lan uv”, I cannot imagine that this word could ever be written any way whatsoever in French, so at least we can rule out this difficulty.

Small prize (gasp of awe from me perhaps) if any non-Irish person can tell me what leanbh means without googling.  Residence in Ireland also disqualifies.  I’m going on the honour system here.

In fairness to taxi drivers

26 November, 2008 at 11:07 pm by belgianwaffle

I got a taxi to the airport this morning.  The taxi driver was particularly interested in art nouveau and art deco.  He has been all over the world with his wife photographing things (Napier is too far though).  He told me that after the foundation of the Irish State, the Office of Public Works got a group of young architects together and told them to hop off to Europe and get some ideas.  He says that there is an art deco block of flats on Townsend street that is nicked from a model he saw in a book of Dutch art deco drawings.  He was absolutely fascinating and extremely knowledgeable.  I am feeling a warm glow towards taxi drivers and that’s not something that happens very often.

 

Meme thingamajig

25 November, 2008 at 11:46 pm by belgianwaffle

Kind Leslie has given me an I *heart* your blog award. In return, all I have to do is one tiny meme.

Where is your mobile phone?  Until very recently I hadn’t got one.  I don’t like them.  Unfortunately, I was unable to hold out from work any longer. It’s sleeping in my handbag in the hall.

Where is your significant other? In bed asleep

Your hair colour? As my mother never tires of telling me “you have lost all your blonde hair” it is as P.G. Wodehouse once said of one of his heroines “a kind of glorious mouse”.

Your mother? A saint who reared “a family of racehorses”, a believer in infinite possibilities, an organic chemist, an outstanding organiser of children’s parties.

Your father? Kind, generous, excellent conversationalist only somewhat reactionary.

Your favourite thing? Possibly my nana’s engagement ring which she left to me; it was stolen over the summer.

Your dream last night? Can’t remember.

Your dream goal? Eh?

The room you’re in? The only room downstairs.

Your hobby? Blogging, reading, sleeping, talking.

Your fear? Failure.

Where do you want to be in 6 years? If Mr. Waffle makes his fortune, studying art history.

Where were you last night? At home having dinner with my husband and brother.  I love that our families are so near and they come for just an evening every so often.  A long weekend once a year can put a strain on everyone.

What you’re not? Quiet.

One of your wish-list items? Have far “too many of this world’s goods” (quote from mother) for tiny little house.  Only want to give things away.  I predict I will be impossible to buy for, for Christmas.

Where you grew up? Cork

The last thing you did? Went through old paperwork(found 500 euros worth of uncashed cheques – hurrah)

What are you wearing? Fleecy thing.  House is quite chilly.

Your TV? Off.

Your pets?  We had a lovely cat called Hodge when I was little.  I am trying to wear down my husband to let us have a cat.  I have said that it is either a cat or another baby.  He is definitely weakening.

Your computer? A 2003 model that I would love to update (ok, I do want something) but it works absolutely fine.  So that would be criminal, wouldn’t it?

Your mood? A bit tired.

Missing someone? Actually, rather annoyingly, having missed my family and friends in Ireland for five years, I am now missing my Belgian friends.  A lot of them were English and I seem to have developed a real taste for that English cyncism that we just don’t have here.

Your car? Disastrous.  We have two cars.  One with the steering wheel on the wrong side which we failed to sell in Belgium.  Must flog the one with the steering wheel on the correct side originally purchased in anticipation of a quick sale of the other one.  Are you still with me?

Something you’re not wearing? Earrings

Favourite shop? Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street

Your summer? Spent moving with a quick trip to Sicily thrown in.

Love someone? Lots of people.

Your favourite colour? Blue

When is the last time you laughed? Before my loving spouse went to bed.

Last time you cried? I cry all the time.  I think it was probably at the event yesterday when the gospel choir sang that thing “the higher you build your barricades”.  A 1980s anthem for the new intercultural Ireland.  I was overwhelmed.  This is always happening to me.  When Lassie was on the telly when I was little, I used to cry all through it.  I had to hide behind the sofa when it was over until my face stopped being so blotchy.  Even then, I knew it was uncool to cry at Lassie.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1996

24 November, 2008 at 11:25 pm by belgianwaffle

I forgot (I’m old, I’ve lived in a lot of places), for a couple of months in 1996, I lived and worked in Banja Luka in Bosnia overseeing voter registration.   I went expecting a war torn country and it was war torn but at the same time, the war was over and the tennis club was going as was the swimming pool (though I had a very unhappy incident in the pool toilets with an army of cockroaches), the spa (very authentic this, underground and managed by an old and rather grubby man) and many restaurants (heavy emphasis on meat – vegetarians are not well catered for in the Balkan menu).

I was in the Serb held part of Bosnia.  I had a student interpreter who had lived elsewhere but been chucked out (it’s hard to see the people you are living among as the badies).  Once, when I got the bus to Sarajevo, he asked me to look out for his town and tell me what it was like.  I told him that all the lamp posts had been painted green.

Sometimes in the voter registration halls (school gymnasiums, community centres) there would be groups of Muslim women who had come in from the hills where they had stayed throughout the war. Often people came in ponies and traps and there were lots of long dresses and headscarves.
The countryside was very heavily mined and I was always horrified to see young children 9, 10, 11 coming down the mountains with jars of wild strawberries to sell to us rich foreigners; beaming at us hopefully through rows of rotten teeth (dental care really suffered in the war and cigarette sales went through the roof).

A few of us drove down to the Croatian coast one weekend.  One of our Serb interpreters came with us a decision which she deeply regretted as she became (understandably in her case, one supposes) paranoid that her accent and the odd different word would out her to the Croats as a Serb.  The main difference between Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian is political – it’s very easy to pick up three languages for the price of one.

Living in the Serb held part of Bosnia, one of the things you got a real feel for was that the Croats were the unsung villains of the war in Yugoslavia.  At any rate, they did propaganda better than the Serbs.  This is not a high standard.

Many of the voter registration people were really very expert on the Balkans and the situation there.  It was there that I  first met Nicholas who has based a career on being expert on the Balkans.  There were many very committed and clever Americans.  There was also this (very nice, very pleasant) post-grad student from Georgetown with whom I had the following conversation towards the end of her time in Bosnia.

Ms. G: You should know about this guy, you know, that people talk about.

Interpreter smiles wearily.
Me: Sorry?

Ms. G: Oh I don’t know his name. He’s famous.

Interpreter rolls eyes.
Me: Er.  Karadic?

Her: No, no, this guy is dead. (To interpreter) C’mon, you know.

Her: Tito.

This is the problem with international observers, I suppose.

I knew it

23 November, 2008 at 11:53 pm by belgianwaffle

Remember, I said that I distrusted the influence of the British media in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

Sarah Carey had an opinion piece in the Irish Times during the week on this very topic.  Since the Irish Times is still getting to grips with new media and this piece may disappear off into paid subscriber only material, let me give you a few quotes:

“For anyone relying on the Sunday Times for information on its continuing coverage of the Lisbon Treaty, they would do well to ask themselves [who is behind this and what is his or her agenda].

For over three years, I worked for the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, which, like other British newspapers the Sun, News of the World and the Times, plus Sky television, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International. During my three years with the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, I was only vaguely aware that it was a distant outpost of Murdoch’s empire.

We seemed to be like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. The Eye of the evil Lord Sauron was rarely fixed on our petty domestic issues and we got on with the business of political and social opinion without any comment from Wapping. Except for Lisbon.

Some months before the date for the referendum was announced, I told Irish editor, Frank Fitzgibbon, that I was eager to write a piece in favour of Lisbon. At the time, we seemed to be in agreement on the political imperative that the treaty be passed, though it’s possible I misunderstood his views. We also discussed the fact that Murdoch’s well known pro-US-hawkish views would obviously be the opposite, but we shrugged our shoulders.

Time passed, the date was set and I staked my claim to the pro-treaty column. But something had changed. Fitzgibbon told me that not only would I not be writing a pro-treaty column, but no other writer anywhere in the paper would either. This was not a matter for Sarah’s precious little ego, but a cover-to-cover ban on any pro-treaty comment. Apparently since our first conversation, Fitzgibbon had looked into his heart and discovered the democratic deficit. From seemingly being in favour of Lisbon, he was now cheerfully banning all opinion favourable to Lisbon from the paper.

He argued that only broadcasters were legally required to present balanced coverage, and that as a privately-owned newspaper the Sunday Times was under no legal obligation to offer opposing views. I countered that while this was legally correct, he was under an ethical obligation to provide an alternative view, especially when that view tallied with the extraordinary political consensus that Lisbon was good for Ireland. He claimed he was under no such obligation – and that was that.

I should have written the column anyway and resigned if he refused to print it. But I was in no financial position to go around resigning on a point of principle, and I backed off. So no kudos to me. Part of me accepted that Fitzgibbon had a point: everyone is entitled to their agenda. The problem only arises – which it did in this case – when it’s not really your agenda at all. […]

In whose interests did the Sunday Times campaign against the Lisbon Treaty to the exclusion of all favourable comment? Was it because they really believed that Ireland is best served by wrecking the treaty or because Eurosceptic views were imported, or worse, imposed, from Britain? [….]

If our entire political establishment was dismayed because Lisbon was defeated and the cheers from Wapping were ringing in our ears, doesn’t that make anyone wonder whether No was the right answer to the question?”

Case closed, wouldn’t you agree?

Working on maintaining the language of Voltaire

22 November, 2008 at 11:44 pm by belgianwaffle

My poor husband is resigned to continuing to speak to the children in French; he doesn’t even complain any more.  However, when my sister saw him doing the Princess’s homework with her – she encouraged insurrection by saying “this is ridiculous”.

It is true that it’s perhaps a little odd to hear the following:

Him: Lis-le.

Her: “Tá Rírá ag rith.”

Him: Très bien.

Her: Papa, je peux arrêter là?

Him: Non, il faut continuer.  Donc, « Tá Lúlú ag léamh. »

Her: “Ta sé ag léamh.”

Him: Non « sé » c’est lui, il faut dire « sí. »

And so on… I appreciate that it requires a slightly unusual set of language skills to understand the above but I thought you would like that.

I thought they might make some French friends and Irish playgrounds seem to be full of French kids so my children are always running into French people in the park.  Unfortunately, the French adopt a strict protocol of ignoring other French speakers so that can be a little disconcerting but I remain hopeful.

Once, shortly after we returned, when we were in Cork a nice polite English man and his pregnant French wife approached me and said that they noticed the boys were speaking French to each other and how did we manage it. Michael used my moment’s inattention to rush for the pond so I was anxious to be off and couldn’t explain to them that this was due to our recent return from a francophone country.

Now, the boys never speak French to each other.  Sometimes the Princess speaks French to them and they will reply to her in French.  We have hired a new woman to replace our current French childminder (the delightful Aliette).  The new person is, to my great delight, rather poor at English.  Daniel was sick the other morning and she minded him.  By the end of the morning he was resigned to the fact that he had to speak French to her.  Though, as Mr. Waffle points out, it is a little disconcerting that the language of domestic administration continues to be French.  We are getting blinds fitted and I spent many useless minutes trying to remember the French word for this so that I could tell our new woman that there was a man coming to install same. Store, if you care (pronounced differently).

Another string to my bow is DVDs which, where possible, are watched in French.  Dora is hilarious.  She speaks French with the odd word of English in a French accent – allons y – lez’s go!  Dora’s abuela, who has become grandma, speaks French with a strong American accent.  My husband observes that this particular linguistic regime makes the role of the mariachi band more difficult to understand.

God, nobody said that having notions (as the nuns would say) was easy.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 2003-2008

21 November, 2008 at 8:59 pm by belgianwaffle

Brussels III

We lived in a beautiful flat which was luxurious for two when we arrived and rather cramped for five when we left.  It was round the corner from my previous flat in Brussels. I often passed it with the children thinking that I never imagined when I lived there that I would some day be strolling past the building with my children.  That is very inelegantly expressed but you know what I’m trying to say here; life is weird.
I started my blog in that flat so it is obviously of great significance – also very well documented.

I think we really have left Brussels for the last time.  Our memories can be constantly refreshed by the truckload of coffee table books about Belgium of which we are now the proud owners. When you leave a country forever, your friends and your colleagues give you coffee table books.  Even when it’s the third time you leave forever.

I’m quite relieved that I have nearly reached the end of my list as I am very depressed by the lack of comments.  No, it’s not like I’m begging you, really.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 2000-2003

20 November, 2008 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

Back to Dublin which was shockingly expensive.   I brought Mr. Waffle with me and he was shocked too.  For about a year I lived alone in a beautifully decorated three bedroom house in Ranelagh which belonged to an architect friend of a friend who was looking for a reliable tenant.  As well as being beautifully decorated, it had a fantastic collection of art and architecture books.  Unfortunately, her son who had been safely living in China for many years wanted to come home and, understandably, I suppose, his mother felt that he had more of a right to the house than I had.

However, fortune smiled upon me and two old friends who lived next door decamped to Bosnia and I was able to move into their house.  Despite regular arguments about the rent (them – don’t bother; us – no, we must; them – well not much then – they were our favourite landlords ever) I was very happy there.  I got married while I was living there and it was our first married home so it has all kinds of positive associations.

When I go to visit my friends now, I always feel very at home in their house which I am sure they welcome particularly late at night when I’m showing no sign of leaving.  In fact, a number of people I know still think it is actually my house and when we came back to Ireland said “you still have your house in Ranelagh”.  If only.

For work reasons, after a couple of years, Mr. Waffle and I decided to move back to Brussels.   With what I can only describe as spectacularly poor timing, my friends came back two months before we were due to move to Brussels.  Furthermore, they wanted to live in their house.

We found a short let in a new apartment block. The flat belonged to a colleague who had yet to live there.  It was small for two and in a somewhat soulless part of Dublin.  It was sub-tropical inside.  We got a printed note from the builders saying that the condensation was, essentially, due to people breathing in the flats and we had only ourselves to blame.  I was six months pregnant, sick and miserable.

Boy were we glad to shake the dust of that place from our feet and move back to Brussels (though at this stage it was getting strangely repetitive).

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1998 – 2000

19 November, 2008 at 9:41 pm by belgianwaffle

Brussels II

I moved into a lovely bright flat on the second floor of an old maison de maître filled with my own things.  It was delightful.  I loved that flat. It had a balcony big enough to accommodate a table and six chairs and several pot plants in various stages of decay.

I met the man who would become Mr. Waffle.

In fact, everything was perfect, except for my job which was rather tedious.

I was relatively rich but even so, I was very struck by how cheap Brussels was compared to Dublin.  The last time I had lived there, it had seemed terribly expensive compared to Ireland.  The early stirrings of the celtic tiger, I suppose.

I was lured back to Ireland by a promotion and kissed goodbye to Brussels for what I thought was the last time (insert hollow laugh here).

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1995-1998

18 November, 2008 at 9:07 pm by belgianwaffle

With some trepidation, I moved back to Dublin.  I needn’t have worried, I found it a much more welcoming town than I had done when I was a poor student.  It was much better being a poor young professional.  God, I was so skint.  I can remember going for coffee and only having water because it was two days to payday.

I lived with (just with, not with) a lovely man who was immensely house proud.  We were happy together for two years but when he upbraided me for chopping a tomato on his draining board, I knew our ways had to part despite his very beautiful and conveniently located house.  I then moved into a colleague’s old house and had a scarlet bedroom and a bracing cycle to work along the sea front.

After a couple of years, the office wanted to second someone to Brussels and a colleague and partner in poverty (we drank tap water together two days before pay day) encouraged me to apply with the words “you have to – look at the pay”.  This turned out to be unfortunate for him in the short term as I got the job and he did not but now he has a very important job so all is well in a cosmic karmic way.

Tomorrow – Brussels II

Today – some confusion

Princess (looking at a map): What does NL stand for?

Me: The Netherlands where the Dutch Mama and her family live.

Princess: And where Peter Pan took Wendy so that she would never grow up.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1993-1995

17 November, 2008 at 11:42 pm by belgianwaffle

Brussels 1

I arrived in Brussels in October 1993 and didn’t leave again until the summer of 1995.  I lived in a lovely house in a distant suburb with two French women and a half-Belgian Norwegian.  It is to this period that I ascribe any fluency which I now have in French.  Parisiennes do not hesitate to correct you when you make a mistake; it’s part of their charm.   After a year in the lovely house, the owner wanted it back.  So one of the French girls and I moved into another house together and then another flat.  All delightful.  Brussels is heaven for tenants with really wonderful places to rent.  I always think of this as my “Vile Bodies” period.  So many parties, so many people from all sorts of nooks and crannies of Europe.  I was full of energy and joie de vivre; particularly surprising since I never seemed to get to bed before 2.  This, I think, is the energy that nature intended me to use for night feeds for small children.

My mother had, meanwhile, been scanning the papers for jobs in Ireland for her daughter and, eventually, she found one and I was, with some regret, lured to Dublin.

In other news, would you say that this dialogue is positive?

Me: Grandma and ?

Daniel: Grandad.

Me: Nana and ?

Daniel: Cork Grandad.

Me: Uncle G and ?

Daniel: Aunty S.

Me: Mummy and ?

Daniel: Aunty Helen?

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1993

16 November, 2008 at 9:40 pm by belgianwaffle

Once I qualified, I passed over the opportunity to work in an Irish country town and moved to Rome.

I shared a rather nice ground floor flat in Trastevere with two Danish girls and I thought that they were extremely exotic.  I was disappointed when they moved out and a Dutch girl moved in – so much less thrilling.  However, I had my ancient moped and enjoyed whizzing round Rome on it.  I thought that I was fabulous circling the Colosseum – you know, Roman Holiday and all that.

In other news at mass this morning we had this reading from the book of proverbs.  Note to self, get busy with wool and flax.  Then the gospel was the one about the talents which is the Bible’s clearest endorsement of capitalism.  Not, perhaps, a particularly uplifting set of readings though I was glad to be reminded of where one of my favourite lines comes from: the servant who makes nothing gets thrown “out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth”.  I was also delighted to see, from my internet research, that verses 10-31 of the proverbs reading are “an acrostic, each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.”  I knew you would like to know.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1992

15 November, 2008 at 4:45 pm by belgianwaffle

I spent a couple of months in a small town a long way from Cork at the request of the managing partner.  I wouldn’t say I regret it precisely but I would say that a) there is not a lot to do in small Irish towns in winter and b) however pleasant he and his family may be, it’s probably not a good idea to live with your boss.

Tomorrow – Rome.

Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita

14 November, 2008 at 9:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Walking down the street in Dublin the other day, I was stopped by a respectably dressed older woman.

Her: Do you know where Boots is?

Me: I’m terribly sorry, I’m afraid I don’t.

Her: Never mind, it’s just that you looked like you would know, not like some other people.

I will be 40 next year.

My hair is like Hilary Clinton’s.

Are all of these things unrelated?  I think not.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1991

13 November, 2008 at 8:59 pm by belgianwaffle

It is distressing but I am a little hazy about the details of when I moved to Dublin to study.  I was only there for a couple of months and I thought it was cold, gloomy and dull.

This impression may have been reinforced by my accommodation.  My friend and I had inveigled our way into a short term let by assuring the landlord that we were nurses (a profession which he appeared to regard as entirely trustworthy).  The place where we were living had been inexpertly divided into flats.  We had a main room which boasted a calor heater as its sole source of heat and a carpet as old as time.

We shared a bedroom which had no source of heating at all.  It gets quite cold in Dublin in winter.  We bought a portable heater.  Despite the fact that it got quite warm (I accidentally melted my doc martin’s on it), the room remained arctic.

Our friendship was brought under severe strain by my friend’s chronic lateness.  She was not an early riser and she could not get out of bed.  We were on the same course and, the organisers, having made a very accurate assessment of the enthusiasm levels of trainee solicitors, kept an attendance register and, if you were late or did not attend, your master would be told and, worse, you would have to travel to Dublin to repeat the day.  This made me extremely keen to get there on time.  Every morning, F. would get up late as I paced up and down.  Then while I stood whining in the doorway, she would painstakingly lace up her 18 hole doc’s.  Then we would cycle like the wind and arrive, panting, just in time.

After those months together, I think we might both have liked a break but, unfortunately, we had already bought tickets to go interrailing together for a month which we did with almost no sulking except for that time when we were looking for the pantheon and I took us outside the city walls in Rome based on my expert powers of navigation.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1990

12 November, 2008 at 10:00 pm by belgianwaffle

In 1990 when the Erasmus programme was in its infancy, the law department were looking for a student to go off to Modena to study in the University there.  Funnily enough, Irish law students with a grasp of Italian were thin on the ground and I was selected and dispatched with all the funds available which came to a tremendous lot by student standards.

My accommodation was a small, modern bedsit paid for by the Modenese authorities in their first flush of enthusiasm for the programme.   I learnt a lot in Modena but, alas, relatively little about tax, EU and human rights law – my chosen subjects; my vocabulary in dealing with small children only seeing me so far into the world of third level study.

Still 18 years to go before I move in here and 18 days to go in Nablopomo.  Not sure how much longer I can keep this up.
A completely unrelated matter but very important to document, Daniel is now regularly sleeping through the night. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah.

Also, last night we interviewed a new woman to take over from the one who is off to New York and we now have a new childminder.  Hurrah etc.

Everywhere I have ever lived – Summer 1988

11 November, 2008 at 10:15 pm by belgianwaffle

I studied law in college and, contrary to what many people think, it is not particularly demanding. With only 8 contact hours a week, I had a lot of time on my hands.  Time which I now realise I should have spent in the library.  I digress
I took on Italian as an occasional student.  This was a quarter of what an arts student was doing and, again, contrary to popular opinion, that arts stuff is very demanding.  I found that my time was split pretty neatly between Cheshire and Fifoot and Manzoni’s “I promessi sposi”.  I know which I thought was easier too.

By the summer of second year, it seemed appropriate to spend some time in the land of Dante to try to keep up with my arts peers, so I signed up with an agency to work as an au pair.  I had originally been slated to go to Florence but at the last minute was sent to Naples.  My mother, seeing me off on the train in Nice, where we were on holidays, was convinced that I would be sold into the white slave trade.

I wondered how my Neapolitan family would recognise me when I got off the train in Naples.  I think this shows a fundamental lack of self or any other kind of knowledge on the part of a fair-skinned, blonde, blue eyed teenager.  They rushed up to me and I met Gabriele, my 18 month old charge.  We took an instant dislike to each other which did not dissipate over the course of the summer.

As his parents drove me to the house, pointing out the sights Gabriele wilfully and cruelly pulled my hair.   It appeared that they were getting work done to their house and the family had moved back in with her parents.  My family were still on holidays in France and I could not contact them.  The contact number my mother had was only answered by Italian builders.  Not to be deterred, she rang a friend in the Italian Department in college who spoke to the builders, gave my mother my new number and reassured her that I hadn’t been sold into the slave trade.

Other than a brief stay in Berlin as an exchange student (which was very nice also), this was my first experience of European appartment living and I was very impressed.  The avvocato and his family enjoyed a great deal of marble.  Gabriele, while in my charge, once fell down the marble stairs and bumped his head and his grandmother told me it was the kind of thing his mother probably didn’t need to know.  I was found of that grandmother.

I had never worked before.  I found it tiring.  Though the family were very nice, I had no time off.  We did lots of nice things together; we ate in smart restaurants, we went to the seaside (Gaeta) and their house in the country.  I got a pair of pyjamas for my name day. But I was never left alone except when I swam out to sea, went to mass on Sundays (they were lapsed catholics – I nearly had heart failure when the signora said that she had been so sick when she was pregnant that she had contemplated an abortion) and took Gabriele for long walks in the mornings in the country (not, alas, allowed in Naples).  The younger daughter of the house brought me out with her friends but I wasn’t allowed to make any friends of my own.  In retrospect, I think this was because they were terrified that something would happen to me.  I have a picture of myself in the park with the other childminders and, I might as well have had a sign on my back saying mug me, I’m a tourist and an amazingly naive one at that.

I remember once, some young man came and chatted to me in the park saying that he was a friend of Giulia’s (the daughter of the house) so I chatted away to him.  That night, my activities had been reported back and the signora said to me that he was a drug addict and not to be trusted and only talking to me so that he could get into the house and burgle it.  These things do not inspire confidence in the young.

By the end of the summer, though, I had reached a pinnacle of fluency in Italian (with a slight preponderance of vocabulary aimed at the under twos), I was skinny and fit from swimming an hour a day and wrestling a two year old the remainder of the time, I had a tan for the only time ever, I could iron children’s clothes to Italian standards, I knew that the worst sin in making pasta was not to have too small a pot and insufficient water (a lesson I cannot seem to pass on to my recalcitrant husband who continues to cook pasta as though it were rice), I could manage Gabriele – though we still did not like each other at all and the signora begged me not to leave and go on holidays to Florence (ha!).

Now that I have children of my own, I think I should have cut Gabriele a little more slack.  Of course, he’s 22 now but in my mind he is still an annoying but very attractive little blonde boy.
Tomorrow, your heroine will be living in Modena.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1980-1989

10 November, 2008 at 11:25 pm by belgianwaffle

Despite visiting almost every other house for sale in Cork, my parents eventually decided to return to the Edwardian semi-detatched house.  They cleared up after the tenants who were dreadful and decided to extend.

My father’s cousin’s husband the architect was asked for advice and he provided a very elaborate, very expensive and very beautiful plan.  In the end, largely on grounds of cost, they went for something rather plainer which was stigmatised as being like a bowling alley by the architect.  Ironically, the builder’s cost overrun (100%) was such that my parents could easily have afforded to buy a much larger house and not bothered with the extension.

Unsurprisingly, when we moved in, the builders were still in residence and spent much of that fine autumn in our back garden, drinking tea and playing cards while my mother cooked on a camping stove.

Though I am very fond of the house now (it is where my parents still live and my favourite aunt lives next door), I did not like it when we moved there first (the favourite aunt only moved in some years after us).  It was small and poky (though positively palatial compared to our current house) and we had too much furniture.  We marvelled at my mother’s revelation that the last family to live there had had 6 children and no extension (something that no longer stretches credibility).

This was not the least of my misery, I was paired with a very bossy girl for cookery class and my sponge failed to rise.  My father refused to take out a mortgage to cover the cost of the extension; he is not a big believer in debt.  Throughout the 1980s he lay awake worrying about the enormous national debt (turns out he was right, the IMF was hovering on the doorstep).  He was not going to add to the problem.  He took out a short term loan.  For the five years after we moved in, money was for the first time in my parents’ lives, and certainly the first time in mine, tight.  This was largely due to my father’s insistence on paying back the entire cost of the wretched extension over the shortest possible period at the highest imaginable rate (I now believe that this is very admirable but I was not entirely convinced at the time).

For my confirmation, I desperately wanted a particular dress.  It was very expensive and my mother promised to make me an identical one.  But it was not identical and I was unhappy.  My mother’s constant refrain was “for every pound you spend, your father has to earn three”  (in fact that was only at the marginal rate but still 65% tax is 65% tax). This made for frugal years.  It had a lasting effect on my sister who was at an impressionable age and she is still a big believer in savings.

The transition from primary school, where I was very happy, to secondary school, where I most emphatically was not, was very difficult for me.  My mother was anxious to sympathise but as former star pupil, head girl and captain of the hockey team in her own school, she was singularly ill-equipped to do so. Unfortunately, this transition also coincided with leaving the house I loved, a sustained and surprising burst of poverty and, when we had just about got over the poverty, my father’s heart surgery.

My father had heart surgery in late 1985.  At that time there were no such operations in Cork and my mother had to spend a great deal of time in Dublin.  He was very sick, I now realise but at the time, I couldn’t help but be bitter that he had chosen to be sick the Christmas before I was to sit my leaving certificate (in retrospect, my school may have had an undue emphasis on the importance of examinations).  Also, I was mortified that my mother made me ask the nuns in school to pray for him.  I dutifully did though which shows I may have had the vaguest inkling of how sick he was.

In 1986, I finished school and went to college. I continued to live in my parents house where I was now, very, very happy.   We were rich (relatively) again, my father was well again and I was in mixed classes for the first time since kindergarten.  I lived happily in my parents house throughout my college career except for a couple of breaks living elsewhere which I will come to tomorrow.  Possibly.

772 kilometres

9 November, 2008 at 8:52 pm by belgianwaffle

On Friday night I flew to Brussels.  On Saturday afternoon, I drove our Belgian car (unsold, alas, and languishing in the garage of Mr. Waffle’s building for the past three months) to Cherbourg.  Last night I got the ferry and had rather a bumpy crossing arriving in Rosslare at 3.30 this afternoon.  Then I drove to Dublin.  Now I am tired.  That is all.

Dirty old town

8 November, 2008 at 11:44 pm by belgianwaffle

A little break from the houses.
I have now been back in Ireland for three months.  We’re settling in, I suppose.

Dublin is a funny place.  I left it before I had children and it is very different to live somewhere with children.  I have found that Dublin is not the big city I thought it was when I lived here last.  It is dozens of small communities sitting, somewhat reluctantly, under the umbrella title of city.  Dubliners like to live near where they grew up.  Very near.  As in around the corner.   This makes it surprisingly intimate for a city with a population of over a million.

I have been shocked by the very visible poverty I have witnessed on the streets of Dublin.  It’s rough despite a sustained economic boom in Ireland over the last ten years.  There are drug addicts roaming the streets high as kites during the day.  There are many people who seem to have fallen through the net.  At the tram stop there are young fit men regularly aggressively begging from unfortunate tourists.   There are mad people everywhere, stomping, screaming, gesturing.  In Temple Bar the other day, I saw a teenager stamp on a pigeon with a damaged wing.

Then there is a lot of money.  I have been amazed by the number of behemoth SUVs which now block the (small) streets of Dublin.  House prices may be falling but small suburban homes are still selling for over a million euros.  I was in the IFSC recently and I was astounded by the offices I visited.  They were far more impressive than any I have visited in Brussels (though the place did seem to be run by 22 year old accountants, much in the way that the European Parliament on Fridays appears to be run exclusively by young women wearing crop tops).    From the top floor, as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Dublin mountains, there were cranes, building, building, building.  It was hard to believe that this recession thing will ever really take off.

Yet surrounding the IFSC is one of the very poorest parts of Dublin, the North inner city.  This rising tide does not appear to have lifted all boats.   The surrounding squalor, poverty and deprivation present a very stark contrast to the sleek premises in the IFSC.  Someone told me that Belgium has one of the smallest poverty gaps in the EU and Ireland one of the widest.  This definitely feels true but I just looked it up on the internet and it isn’t.  Nevertheless, there is a very visible gap in Dublin; perhaps it is just perception.  Or perhaps, Dublin does not reflect the national trend (certainly, I do not feel that there is the same visible deprivation in Cork).

For a little balance, I thought that you might like to know some of the good things about my adopted town as well.  After all, I have chosen to live the rest of my life here, so I must believe it has some merit.

Dublin enjoys a beautiful situation.  From all sorts of unlikely places in the city (including our back garden) you can get views of the Dublin mountains.  It is on the sea, unlike Cork which, alas, is on an estuary which is really not the same thing at all.

It is composed of several charming little towns, swallowed up by Dublin but still enjoying much of their own character.  The centre of the city is compact and, in places, remarkably handsome.  My father always said that Dublin is like any city in the North of England.  There is some truth in that but, as a capital, it enjoys many more splendid buildings than, say, Manchester.

Irish people are friendly.  It is still true and they tend to be indulgent to children and happy to talk to strangers.  Initially, when people addressed me I would often think (rather frantically) “do I know you?” but I’m used to it again now and I love it.

Dublin is very buzzy.  Recession or no recession, the streets are full of people talking and laughing well into the night.  During the day time, the place is heaving.  And demographics are in Ireland’s favour, still.  There are lots of young people and they add a certain rakish excitement to the mix.  And there are whole new immigrant communities – this is a much more heterogeneous Dublin than the one I left.  This is a very different Ireland; when I was in school there was a girl in our class whose mother was from Dublin, this was so exotic that it got an article in the Evening Echo entitled, if memory serves me “Cork girl moves to Dublin”.  Well, we’ve moved on a lot from then, even Cork people are less insular.

Also on the pluses, it’s very easy to reach Cork by train from Dublin.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1970 – 1980 (Part III)

7 November, 2008 at 1:14 am by belgianwaffle

Up the stairs again – there was another bathroom on the return and then up to a big landing with several small bookcases.   My parents’ room was the first on the right.  There was always ivy tapping on their window and it regularly had to be ripped back.  My father loves bright colours and my mother had painted one wall of their room bright purple as a surprise for him once.  He was away and, I think, my brother and I must have been at school but my sister helped my mother with the painting and fell into a pot of paint and cut her eyebrow quite badly.  An unfortunate doctor friend came and stitched her up and the painting continued.

I am reminded of a story about my father being away.  Once he came home very late a day before he had planned to and found the gates to the house locked.  He went to the phone box at the end of the road (no mobile phones, obviously) and called my mother who is a very sound sleeper.  She woke up, promised to let him in and promptly fell back to sleep.  Clearly, there were limits to her devotion.

The grounds were a bit like Fort Knox.  Local children (at least one of whom was in school with me, so easily able to, you know, ask for apples) were always coming and stealing (or slogging as it is known locally) apples and we were burgled a couple of times so this encouraged my parents to put in deterrents.  I once impaled myself on a spiky gate between the front garden and the back.  I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be there so I pulled my elbow off the spike and went into the playroom to watch television with Cissie hoping that my red cardigan would hide the blood.  It dripped on the floor though and she instantly brought me off to my parents.  I thought I would be murdered but they were most sympathetic and even brought me in to the study to put on a special kind of plaster (a butterfly plaster) for the night.  I had it stitched in the morning and was rewarded for my fortitude with new black patent shoes and an ice cream something I considered extraordinary good fortune given that my problems stemmed from illicitly climbing the gate.

Next door to my parents’ bedroom was the big room that my brother and I slept in.  Following my lead, he once broke his arm while we were jumping from bed to bed (he was too smart to do it twice).  He was always an attention seeker.  When my sister was born, he was moved to the spare, smaller room next door on his own and she and I were in the big bedroom.  He was scared on his own though, so she was moved in with him and I had the big bedroom all to myself, something of a triumph.  It was a very cold triumph.  In winter I would get up, grab my uniform from the radiator and put it on in bed.  In summer though, I could sit on the window box looking out feeling like a heroine in a book.

I liked Enid Blyton’s school stories and, when my best friend from school (now an esteemed consultant geriatrician and still, quite possibly, the cleverest person I have ever met) came to stay, we would try to stay up until midnight and have a midnight feast but invariably ended up eating everything at about 9.30 and collapsing into our beds exhausted.

Up the last flight of stairs to the attics.  There were two big attic rooms one of which was forbidden to us.  This was my father’s workshop where broken appliances and pieces of furniture came to be mended or self heal as my husband would say.  There was a huge model ship which we were forbidden to touch on pain of, oh I don’t know, dreadful things.  I used to tiptoe in and stare at it, awestruck.

The other attic room looked out over the back garden and this was full of all kinds of odd things – it is what I picture when I read Saki’s “The Lumber Room“.  It was in that room that the meetings of the O.J.G.C. were convened.  The O.J.G.C. was invented by my other best friend (now an ornament to our diplomatic service).  We had badges (the club was perhaps inspired by the badge making machine I had received as a present) and we had a library and we carefully marked the books O.J.G.C.  I still have quite a few of these books knocking round the house and read them to my children who have, as yet, no interest in Our Jolly Good Club (I did say that we all read a lot of Enid Blyton).

We had a good back garden and we spent a lot of time climbing trees – there was one apple tree near the house that was particularly good for climbing; playing cowboys (I had a great gun with caps) and indians; producing plays – curtain created by stringing it between two bushes (there was a whole row of shrubs and bushes alongside the path and sweet pea growing up the wall – I do want to try to grow sweet pea in my own garden now); and torturing poor Michael, the saintly gardener, who let us play hide and seek in the potatoes and dig them up too.  Michael always had a poached egg for lunch and I was fascinated by the way Cissie managed to make them quite round in the poached egg holder – can you still get those things?

There were two little girls who lived in another house in the grounds and, I think, my mother was delighted at the thought that they were built in playmates but one was a bit older than me and the other a bit younger and we never quite hit it off.  I think their mother (very understandably, I now realise) never really forgave me for encouraging the younger to twirl around on the bars of the swing and knock out her newly arrived front teeth.  I met her again recently for the first time in many years and her teeth look fine.

At the bottom of the garden, through a small gate, there was a chapel.  We never went to mass there as my father had to sit in a special seat and do a reading and seem very enthusiastic about leading the singing and he didn’t like that.  My brother was christened there (I think the only baby ever baptised in that church) and I disrupted the ceremony by insisting that my father and not my mother sit in the carved chair whatever the priest might want.  I had firm notions of what was right. I remember skipping down the path to the church with my father wearing my favourite dress with the American flag on the chest and looking up at the stars, very excited to be allowed out at night; I suppose that that can’t have been the christening – he was hardly christened at night – but that memory is so vivid that I am reluctant to deny it.

I was very happy in that house and, despite my mother’s spending every Saturday morning perusing the Examiner’s property supplement, it never occurred to me that we might move.  One morning I came down to the kitchen and found Cissie in tears.  She told me that it was because we were moving out and, as she worked in the house and would be staying there, she wouldn’t be minding us any more.

Despite my disbelief, we did move out.  My mother, herself a product of large houses, was very sad and also somewhat concerned about where we would fit all our furniture.  I was appalled.   My father was rather glad to be shedding one of his jobs.  My brother and sister were too young to really care although for a long time afterwards whenever my sister got cross she would announce “I’m going back to my own Cissie”.

There was no going back though.  On our last day before leaving, I went around to each empty room and said goodbye.  Two more families lived in the house after us, then it was offices for a time and then the trustees decided to knock it down.  It was riddled with dry rot – something that had been treated while we were there (my mother became something of an expert on dry rot in all its forms) – and not really of any particular architectural merit.  For many years, the small gate that led to the chapel survived.  It hung at the top of a short flight of stone steps on the way to nowhere in particular – the house and garden both gone and replaced by an underwhelming, though not unpleasant, modern building.  I would look at the gate and remember Saturday afternoons spent swinging on it admiring wedding parties emerging from the chapel below.  Even the gate is long gone now.  Sic transit.

More tomorrow.  Possibly.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1970 – 1980 (part II)

6 November, 2008 at 11:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Up the stairs which had amazing banisters which I never once slid down owing to my parents’ fear that I would crack my head open on the cast iron radiator below.  I’m not sure but I think we were told that this had happened to a visiting child in the past.  We were certainly frequently told about the boy who poked his sister’s eye out by sticking a pen through a keyhole while she was looking through it.  There wasn’t as much shielding of small children from the harsh realities of life in the 70s.

The wallpaper on the stairs was raised and featured a jungle jumble of flowers and leaves.  For many years, even after we left the house, my copybooks were covered in remnants of this paper so it remains green in my memory.  I distinctly remember, also, running a crayon all along it from the hall to the attic.  It was a lively pattern so I feel that the crayon wasn’t all that noticeable.

On the windowsill on the landing, there was an unhealthy pot plant and, years later, after we had moved out of the house, I went back to visit and on that very banal landing, I had a Proustian moment – the smell of dust and another dying spider plant bringing me vividly back to my childhood.

Up some steps, I think and then into the bathroom on the right.  There were several large trees which grew near the back of the house.  A large lime tree brushed against the bathroom window and made it dark in winter but green and speckled in summer.  There were always pigeons cooing gently; I thought that they were cuckoos. The bathroom also featured the hot press.  When my sister was a baby, I had to run to the hot press to get nappies for her.  I can remember flying from the drawing room to the bathroom in the dark, terrified. I have no idea why I didn’t turn on the light on the landing.  I had been given a present of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verse” and the trio of poems “North-West Passage” about a child going to bed had a profound effect on me, particularly “Shadow March” which was illustrated by a small boy holding a candle which cast a gloomy light around him.

On up the stairs from the return, the guest bedroom was on the right.  When my Nana came to stay, she stayed there.  I used to sneak into her bed in the mornings and she would hold her arm in the air and I would try with all my might to pull it down. When Nana came to stay, we would put flowers in her room and, if it was May, there would be cherry blossom from near the front gate.  I seem to remember that on one occasion I put in a little May altar but cannot remember the reaction I got.

One Easter, inspired by my father, I hid all the chocolate and sweets I got during Lent (which I could not eat because I was off them for Lent, you see) in the wardrobe in the spare room.  My father had done the same thing in his youth and on consuming them all on Easter Sunday morning had made himself so sick that he had never had an interest in sweet things ever again.  I was undeterred by the negative part of the story.  I’m not sure whether my constitution would have withstood the chocolate feast but, in the event, there was no need to as my little brother got there first.

Once, I spent one whole afternoon in the spare room lying on the bed reading “The Swiss Family Robinson” entirely undisturbed by anyone.

When my sister was christened, we had a party in the house and all the guests were in the drawing room.  A friend of my mother’s asked where she was and I brought her next door to the spare room where my mother was breastfeeding my sister and they were both mortified and I can still remember how very puzzled I was by that and wondering what I had done wrong.   My 3 year old brother was, meanwhile, going around the room polishing off all the sherry left over by careless guests which meant that all he could do by the end of the party, somewhat to my parents’ consternation, was roll around on the carpet giggling.

The drawing room was next door to the spare room and was  the most splendid room in the house.  It had two or maybe three large windows facing towards the front looking out over an ornamental garden with a bird pond in the middle (which always froze in winter – so exciting to break the ice) and one looking out to the side.  The only time I ever remember being smacked was when I swung on the curtains while my mother was entertaining and brought down the curtain and the  pelmet.  I ran downstairs and retired to the coal house outside weeping bitter tears.

You came into the room at the top and opposite near the window was a door which led to a walk-in drink cupboard.  There was a large bookcase against the back wall (formerly belonging to the canon in Kilmallock, I think) and then a lot of space for building card castles and running around before coming to the couch and armchairs around the fireplace.  The couch, due to my brother’s regrettable habit of wiping his nose on its back boasted little silver trails which were regularly removed.  In another corner there was an enormous baroque floor to ceiling gilt mirror.  Years later when the house had been made into offices I visited it.  The drawing room was full of desks and documents and filing cabinets but the mirror still stood, incongrously by then, in the corner.  It made me very sad.  What is now my parents’ dining room table – taking up almost all the space in the dining room nestled inconsequentially in the fourth corner of the room.

Outside the drawing room there was a little door to the right leading to the stairs down to the playroom, Cissie’s room and the sewing room where my mother created her works of genius: curtains, clothes, dolls’ clothes whatever you were having yourself really.

Shortly, the third floor.

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1970 – 1980

5 November, 2008 at 10:59 pm by belgianwaffle

In 1970 my father took up a supplementary job that came with a large house.

I loved that house and you are going to hear a great deal about it.  My mother always called it Irish Georgian on the basis that Georgian styles came to Ireland rather later than they did to England but it said 1884 over the front door which is very late Georgian indeed.  It was a substantial rectangular house over four storeys.  It was set in reasonably extensive grounds with a large back garden with metal swings, 12 apple trees and a big vegetable garden off to the side.

In the hall, there was a picture of the laughing cavalier and a long mirror in front of which I would prostrate myself looking at the dust motes dancing in the sunlight that streamed through the fanlight. The great thing about a big house was how much you got to be left alone. There was a chaise longue against the wall which was used as a kind of stair gate when my brother and sister were of an age to hurl themselves down the stairs.  I can remember sitting there with my mother trying to learn how to tell the time, desperate to get away.

Off the hall, on the right was the telephone room which had an unpleasant red floor which had to be regularly and laboriously waxed.  It was an uncomfortable, functional room and, I think, it also held a chest fridge freezer.  It was from the days when people didn’t chat so much on the phone.
My father’s study was off to the left as you came in and we were only allowed in there on special occasions, like when he filled up his little steam train with water and let it steam around the carpet.

The kitchen was further along, past the stairs on the right.  It had a large wooden table which I used to like to sit under.  My memory is that we children took all our meals in the kitchen with Cissie (who minded us) except on very rare occasions when we were allowed to eat in the dining room (birthday parties, I seem to remember). I have no recollection of ever cooking except at Christmas when we would all help to make the Christmas cake in a big bowl that had a beige knitted jumper pattern on the outside.  Whatever happened to all those bowls?  We would ice it later to look like a snowstorm (my mother who made and beautifully iced her own wedding cake was conscious of the limitations of her children in the icing department).

Off the kitchen was the playroom which was small and dark with bars on the window.  On the floor there was yellow lino with black and red dots.  The deeply unappealing black and white portable television was there mounted high up on the wall.  We could watch it from a leather sofa with stuffing poking out.  The only time I remember either of my parents watching the television was when the Pope came to Ireland in 1979 and my mother spent some time on the uncomfortable sofa while I languished in bed with a cold wondering why no one was bringing me up orange juice. By way of aside, I must tell you about my cousin who was offered the opportunity to serve mass for the Pope.  He asked what would happen, if he didn’t agree.  He was told that he would have the day off like everyone else.  He took the day off to the lasting horror of all his relatives.

The playroom looked out over a flat roof where, I think, the boiler was housed.  It is probably for that reason that snow sublimated off the roof.  My mother attempted to bring this to my attention once and I was not interested.  To this day this incident is dragged out as evidence of my complete lack of scientific curiousity. My mother was always keen to bring science into our lives.  I was on a course recently where the tutor tried to explain critical path analysis to the participants.  I longed to say that it meant putting the potatoes on first because they took longest to cook – my mother’s line “CPA would suggest that…” was an integral part of our childhood.

There was a small back stairs from the playroom up to Cissie’s bedroom and my mother’s sewing room.

From the kitchen I could, at a running jump, reach the dining room without putting a foot on the hall floor.  The dining room had a large table known as the “governors’ table” which belonged to the house.   One hideous day the governors’ table had my initials carved on it with a compass.  I have no recollection of doing this but honesty compels me to say that there were really no other likely culprits.   There were serious recriminations and I was very abashed.  That Christmas I asked for Topp’s furniture polish and spent many futile hours rubbing at the table.  The governors didn’t seem to mind.  I remember that one of them was a rather unpopular bishop of Cork (very holy and all that but not a great man of the people) of whom I was very fond as he gave me 50p every time he came to a meeting.   There was also a mustard velvet sofa in the corner of the dining room (people, it was the 1970s) that my mother had reupholstered herself and where Hodge (our cat) used to hide when she was little and it all got too much for her.

At the end of the hall there was a bathroom and a random room for gathering stuff, sort of the dividing line between inside and outside.  Like a shed but inside.

Tomorrow, we might go upstairs.  Hold on to your hats.

Oh, and in other news, a big round of applause for the Americans.  Yes, they can.

Is this turning into some kind of reactionary campaigning blog?

4 November, 2008 at 9:58 pm by belgianwaffle

A couple of years ago, I read an interview with a photographer wherein he said that the desire for celebrity photographs is entirely driven by women.  I stopped reading all the trashy gossip magazines.  In-flight fodder became slightly more worthy. I still look at the headlines in the shops but I do not buy.

It is distressing.  The way Brittney Spears had a nervous breakdown in public was horrific.  Kerry Katona’s widely publicised problems shouldn’t be widely publicised.  I don’t care whether these women courted the press at any stage in their careers.  They shouldn’t be hounded.  I can see no public interest in it and a great deal that is disturbing.   And, loath though I am to admit it, the photographer was right.  The phenomenon is driven by women, women like me.

I read a very cool review of the work of Annie Leibovitz in one of the Sunday papers. Her work had no humanity.  But what is wrong with a little glamour?  Surely this is what we pay film stars for.  Why are we so obsessed with their feet of clay?

I never buy gossip magazines any more and, you know, you shouldn’t either.

This preaching thing? I should warn you, I may get worse before I get better, it’s hard to stop once you start.

OK, tomorrow, definitely tomorrow, my next house.

Modern living

3 November, 2008 at 9:47 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle: We’re very post-modern this evening.

Me: Eh?

Him: You’re changing plugs (all of our appliances have two pin plugs, in Ireland we have a three pin plug regime).

Me: Mmm.

Him: And I’m sewing a button back on Michael’s trousers.

Pause.

Him: That’s tomorrow night’s blogging taken care of then.

Today was a rather less post-modern experience as our childminder (normally v. reliable) couldn’t make it until 3.30 and I had to hare round at lunch time collecting the children and bringing them home (also denting car and losing wing mirror in office car park).  My saintly mother-in-law drove across town to mind them in our house until the childminder came.  Childminder has got the job in high finance that she was looking for (yes, really) and will shortly be handing in her notice.  I am exhausted from it all and must shortly turn to interviewing new lucky candidates.

Will save the description of my second house for tomorrow.  You are on the edge of your seats out there, aren’t you?

Everywhere I have ever lived – 1969-1970

2 November, 2008 at 9:27 pm by belgianwaffle

My parents’ first house was a nice, central semi-detatched Edwardian house on a hill which my father paid for in cash.  I find this even more impressive now that I have a mortgage of my own. About a year after they moved in, I was born.
I have asked them which bedroom was mine and they can’t remember.  I have also asked my mother what she did with me when she went back to work.  “It was the summer holidays”.  “I was born in March.” “Oh, so you were, I think a friend of your nana’s who lived on the Grand Parade came in to mind you.”  Feckless pair.

The clock is ticking

1 November, 2008 at 10:53 pm by belgianwaffle

This month, for NaBlPoMo, I was going to tell you about everywhere I have ever lived.  I have been planning this for a long time (no sniggering at the back please) and had kept a word document updated with all this precious information which I was going to dole out to you day by day over the month of November (that is uproarious laughter, please leave the classroom).

Except, somehow or other, over the summer, I have forgotten where I put this document for safe keeping during the move.  Is it somewhere on a memory stick?  Is it in one of the 100s of emails I sent myself on gmail?  Is it on some hidden part of the hard drive?   A certain amount of brief and unsystematic exploration has yielded nothing and we are approaching midnight – I would hate to miss out on the chance of a prize right at the start.

Even if I can’t find my document, I plan to write it all up from scratch, so don’t think you’ve been spared.

Tomorrow – my first home.


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