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Santa Claus is coming to town

23 December, 2008 at 12:22 am by belgianwaffle

Some days ago – The disadvantages of trying to always tell your children the truth about everything
Her: Daddy why is Santa Claus so called?

Him: Well, you know Saint Nicolas?

Her (impatiently): Yes.

Him: You know in Dutch he’s called Sinterklaas.

Her (more impatiently): Yes.

Him: Well when Dutch people moved to America, all the other Americans liked the sound of Sinterklaas but they couldn’t say it properly so they called him Santa Claus.

Her: So Santa Claus is really Saint Nicolas.

Him: Yes.

Her: And he’s a saint?

Him: Yes.

Her: What did he do?

Him: Saint Nicholas Myra, Saint Nicholas of Bari, pawnbrokers, balls down the chimney etc. etc.

Her: But this was all a long time ago?

Him: Yes, yes.

Her (to me): Is Santa Claus dead then?

Me: No, no, absolutely not.

Her: He came back from the dead then?

Me (rashly): Yes, yes, absolutely.

Her: But I thought Jesus was the only person who came back from the dead.

Me: And Santa Claus.

This evening – showing promise for a future legal career.
Her: Why does no one ever see Santa Claus?

Me: Because that’s the rule.

Her: If we went to a different judge, could we change the rule?

Weekend Round-up

22 December, 2008 at 8:01 pm by belgianwaffle

I decided to take the children to Cork for the weekend.  Thanks to the portable DVD player, the train journey passed off peacefully.  We took a taxi to my parents’ house.  The taxi man was horrible.  This is the first time I have ever had a horrible taxi man with the children.  Normally, I find they are very patient and tolerant and at this time of year, they tend to make polite enquiries about Santa Claus and are, generally, sweetness and light.  As I piled the children into the back seat, this man began revving the engine.  As any parent of young children will know, strapping them into their seats is a lengthy operation involving kicking and swearing.  Once they were in, I tried to get my bags in the boot but it was locked.  With a theatrical sigh, the man turned off the engine and came round to open the boot.

I sat in the front which, in retrospect, was a mistake.  After three hours in the train, the children were a little, um,  boisterous.  Daniel kicked the window handle.  “He’ll break it,” said the taxi man.  “Stop,” I said firmly to Daniel.  “He’s kicked it again,” the Princess announced primly.  I gave her my force ten glare to which she protested, all too audibly, “Don’t you want me to tell the man Daniel’s kicking the door?”  The taxi man then said grimly, “I’m not cranky [manifestly untrue] but, if you can’t control your children, I’m going to have to pull in and put you in the back with them.”  “Fine, pull in please,” I said while hissing at Daniel to, for God’s sake, stop kicking. “I am cranky!” said Daniel loudly [manifestly true].  We pulled in and I got into the back.  Daniel started screaming blue murder and lashing out all round him.  “He hit me,” whined the Princess.  “He hit me too, now hush,” I muttered to her.  Daniel continued screaming as I tried to get him on my lap and get a belt round both of us.  The taxi driver drove on.  I arrived at my parents’ house a shadow of my former self.  While I was not tipping the cranky taxi driver, the wretched mobile phone rang too.

I called round to my aunt that evening.

Aunt: What a lovely surprise to see you.

Me: Suitable reply.

Her: You’re looking..ok.

Me: Fit of giggles.

Her: Well, I used to say to people that they were looking great but they always say they have just recovered from flu or something so I have downgraded my compliments.


Aunt: I was at mass the other evening and I saw people filing up to communion and the thought slipped into my head “all bloody middle class”.

Me: But you’re middle class.

Her: I’m not.

Me: But you have a degree.

Her: Mmm.

Me: And you’re rich.

Her: But I feel working class.

Me: I’m not sure it works that way.

I come from a long line of eccentrics.

I note that the powers that be have demolished the “Western Star“, watering hole of generations of students.  My father used to drink there when he was in college.  He knew Starrie who inherited it from his parents, so it must have been there since, at least, the 1930s.  God, is nothing sacred?

My father was in unusually reminiscent form at the weekend.  When he was a small boy, in the late 1920s, he lived in South Pasadena for a number of years.  He remembers passing a valley that was all lit up at night because they were making a film; the ice man coming with his enormous block of ice that was put in the bottom of the ice box with a fork; coming home to Ireland on the boat and going outside in Halifax and seeing the rigging all frozen.  Truly, the past is another country.  I would love to hear more of these stories but my father is not one to talk very much about his past.  Usually, when you ask him, he says “I forget and goes back to his paper in a marked manner.”

We went to the Lough to feed the ducks, as is our custom when in Cork.  They were hungry.  Every bird in the place came hurtling towards us.  Michael got bitten on the hand by a swan who was unhappy with the speed of bread delivery.   The seagulls flapped their wings aggressively in my face.  Daniel got chased by some greedy pigeons.  Only the Princess came through unscathed.  I told her that when my great uncle Dan, her grandad’s uncle was a boy, the Lough used to freeze and people used to go skating there.  We still have his skating boots in the attic.  My prudent daughter observed that this must have been very dangerous as the ice might have frozen unevenly.  That girl is her father’s daughter.

Michael, despite absence of any sign of a temperature, spent the day lying down at inopportune moments moaning that he was sick.  After I had put them to bed, I began to worry and decided to lay in Calpol.  Driving around Cork the Saturday before Christmas looking for a late night pharmacist to sell me Calpol, I felt vaguely envious of the scantily clad young girls laughing outside pubs in the drizzle.  I eventually tracked down Calpol at the 24 hour Tesco in Bishopstown (something I immensely disapprove of but needs must) and stood glumly in a queue at 11 at night with huge numbers of unfestive shoppers.  All this for a boy who subsequently asked me to “stop kissing me all the time.”  Kind Daniel explained that “it’s bold for Michael but nice for me.”  At least I am still permitted to kiss one of my sons.

Train ride home was too hideous to describe in detail but we had to wait an hour and a bit in the station which more or less entirely exhausted the children’s goodwill towards travelling.  By the time we arrived in Dublin Daniel and the Princess were roaring and hitting each other, Michael was lying in the aisle muttering that he was sick, I was hissing, cajoling and apologising and the occupants of the crowded train were ignoring us as best they could, God help them.

The Walworth Farce

21 December, 2008 at 1:23 am by belgianwaffle

We went to see this last week.  I think that much more of this culture stuff could kill me.  Mr. Waffle maintains that I remained stony faced because of the Cork accents (not bad at all) but I would suggest it was because of the deeply disturbing themes explored in the play.  OK, it may have had its comic moments also.  Not for me but clever.  Remained resolutely seated as the rest of the audience rose to their feet; regretted that we had seats in the front row, though.

Cupboard love

17 December, 2008 at 9:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael:  Are we going to grandma and grandad’s house?

Me: Not today, sweetheart.

Him: Hysterical sobs.

Me: Why do you want to see grandma and grandad so badly?

Him: Because their house is warm.  I’m always freezing here.

As you can tell, the insulation crisis continues unchecked.

I was relating this hilarious tale to a colleague and she became very concerned on my behalf.  I was bemused; when I was a child it was completely normal to be frozen all the time, I used to have to get dressed under the blankets in the mornings.  This Celtic Tiger has a lot to answer for.

Meanwhile, herself is busy practising for the nativity play: “Ní raibh aon leaba le fáil do Mhuire agus Iosaef” [Go on, non-Irish speakers, guess what it means using only your knowledge of infant nativitiy plays as a guide]. You may care to consider this in plain clothes (not quite the right text) or dress rehearsal version.

Seasonal Setpiece

15 December, 2008 at 11:18 pm by belgianwaffle

On Saturday we got the Christmas tree.

When I was a child we had an artificial Christmas tree which my parents had bought for their first Christmas together.  Forty one years later they still have that tree though it has had to be repaired with tin foil a number of times.   Nobody can say that they haven’t had value for it.  I hated that tree and I vowed that, once I had a house of my own, I would always have a real tree.

The trip up to the shop to choose the tree was marred by herself insisting that she wanted to cycle up.  The boys piled into the car and I walked up beside her muttering moodily that if she got tired of cycling uphill, I wasn’t going to carry the bike.

There was one Christmas tree left when we got to the shop.  We took it.  When we got it home and unwrapped it from its net, it turned out to boast particularly dense and luxuriant foliage around its midriff and none at all at its legs.  We manhandled it into the appropriate space and it stuck out its fingers into all of the surrounding area, dislodging papers and poking books and small children, even as I write, it is hanging menacingly over my left shoulder.

The children were very excited and instantly began decorating without allowing time to stand the tree up straight, remove the overhanging branches or take off their coats.  Mr. Waffle and I became a little tense and started barking at them to stand back.  They got cross back.

I put on a CD of Christmas music but Daniel insisted that we took it off and put on “Peter and the Wolf” instead.  Fine, fine, fine.

We chopped at the tree.  The Princess screamed.  Her father ordered her out to sit on the stairs and think about her sins.  Her brothers, ever her loyal defenders, hurled themselves at the door yelling “my sister, my sister, let my sister in”.  Mr. Waffle and the Princess departed to do the grocery shopping, the boys entertained themselves with a book and I finished off decorating the misshapen tree.  I asked the boys to turn off the lights which they did with great glee and the three of us spent 2.5 seconds looking at the lights before the boys whizzed back round the room and turned all the lights on again.


Slightly disturbing

12 December, 2008 at 1:47 am by belgianwaffle

Princess: You may kiss the bride.

Me: Eh?

Her: Who says that?

Me: The priest when people get married.

Her: I want to kiss a boy.

Me: You can kiss your brothers whenever you want.

Her: Another boy.

Me: Is this what you talk about at school.

Her: Yes.

Ladies and gentlemen, the child is five.

In other news, I have captured Daniel (with some interference) doing bits from Peter and the Wolf.  Only the really enthusiastic will want to follow all of these links.


9 December, 2008 at 1:40 am by belgianwaffle

I like my job and I like my colleagues but due to a series of administrative glitches, I do not yet have an office.   I try to be above caring but I do not like it oh no I do not. I am huddled in a large room with other people.  I want to be alone so that I can talk to my childminder in private or even concentrate on some work.  Nor do I particularly want to hear other people’s phone conversations.  Due to a series of canny career choices, I have not had to share office space very often in my professional life and I am not enjoying it on this occasion.

I am being driven demented by the two lovely, lovely men who work in the corner and have some rather annoying verbal tics.

Lovely man 1:  Well, they won’t be attending the meeting as such.

Lovely man 2: I can only say they ought to be there.

Lovely man 1: They would know that as such.

LM2: I can only say the chair will be disappointed.

LM1: They will be sending their apologies as such.

LM2: Will they?  I can only say that it is a mistake not to come.

I was cruelly telling a friend this and asked whether I had any verbal tics and was quite disconcerted to find that he said, with some relief, “yes, you say fabulous all the time”.

I imagine that when I am not there, scene in the corner goes something like this.

LM1: It’s not that I object to the word ‘fabulous’ as such.

LM2: I can only say that it’s a good word in its place.

LM1: It’s just that she says it all the time as such.

Random update on my children

5 December, 2008 at 9:40 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is not a great believer in metaphor and he does not like inaccuracy.

When he hurts himself, I will often say “my poor baby” and through his sobs, Michael will say furiously “I’m not a baby, I’m a big boy”.  Somebody at Montessori school has sold him the line that, “juice makes me small and water makes me big” and he will now only drink water in the hopes of growing up big and strong.  In fact, he doesn’t really like sweet things and when his brother and sister get a biscuit, he always has a cracker instead as he doesn’t like biscuits.  Isn’t this odd?

Michael is morbidly anxious that the family may be split up and always insists that when we go out we stick together like glue.

This morning, Daniel, as always, woke up first.  As I lifted him out of the cot (maybe for their 18th birthdays, they’ll get beds) I said “Up, up, up with a fish”.  And Michael said from some distance under the duvet, “My brother is not a fish.”Michael also likes to say “actually” all the time.  I fear he may have picked that up from me, actually.

Michael’s hair is finally starting to grow back after having been shaved off in September.  I remember shortly after his scalping I got the train to Cork with the children and the lady opposite asked, “Are they twins?” To which I said yes.  “And the little boy is a cousin?”  I explained that the boys were the twins and the little girl their big sister.  “Oh,” she said “it’s just that his hair was so different, I didn’t think that they could be in the same family”.

Daniel howled this evening from the moment his sister taunted him by singing the wrong song until almost an hour later when we finally wrestled him into bed, having wrestled him out of his clothes, into the bath, into a towel and into his pyjamas.  We are exhausted.  He is very strong and has an enormous capacity for misery, poor mite.

He is also an outstanding mimic with a great memory.  To hear him doing Peter and the Wolf from start to finish is enough to bring a warm glow to any middle class parent’s heart.

The Princess was awarded “Gaeilgeoir na seachtaine” (Irish speaker of the week) at school today.  We are unclear whether this is in recognition of her Irish prowess or because her name was drawn out of a hat.  We are, nevertheless, proud and she has some crayons and paints for her pains.She has just departed for bed in a state of high excitement as Saint Nicolas (who comes to Belgian children on the night of the 5th) may come to us as honorary Belgians.  We have carefully left out shoes for him to fill with sweets, beer and biscuits (there was some concern that we have no speculoos, but he will just have to manage) and a carrot for his donkey, just in case.  I have told her that he only comes when children are asleep.  She pointed out to me that the boys were already asleep and it would be most unfair of him not to come under these circumstances.  I beat a hasty retreat uttering dire but unsustainable warnings of what would happen, if she failed to drop off.

The Princess has started ballet on Saturday mornings.  I did ballet for 7 years.  For 6 of those 7 years I wore white tights, a white polo neck, black ballet shoes and my hair in a net.  In my seventh year, I graduated to peach shoes and a leotard.  For her first lesson last week the Princess wore the required gear, namely: white tights (some things never change), a blue leotard, peach shoes, a blue cross-over cardigan thingy and a blue filmy skirt (not a tutu, that would just be too much).  Did I mention that I walked to school barefoot as well?


1 December, 2008 at 10:12 pm by belgianwaffle

For most of my time in recent months, I have been recovering from the move.  I have therefore been rereading as this is all I felt strong enough for – Georgette Heyer, Father Brown, Myles na gCopaleen and Saki.  However, recently, I have begun to recover (hurrah) and have tried the selection below.  I am curious – what do you reread when life is becoming slightly overwhelming?

“When will there be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson

I think that Kate Atkinson is a wonderful writer.  I have read all her books and I have yet to be disappointed.  She has great plots, interesting characters and she writes so beautifully and insightfully that I sometimes sigh wistfully at her brilliance.  When will there be another new Kate Atkinson book?

“Ni d’Adam, ni d’Eve” by Amelie Nothomb

This is the third Amelie Nothomb book I have read and it is far less enjoyable than the other two.  It has its moments, I must concede and it can by quite funny but not funny enough to offset her vague musings on Japan.  She is, incidentally, quite clearly, nutty as a fruit cake.  This both adds to her work (funny) and detracts from it (no, no, too mad).  Still she is very Belgian and that must be worth something.

“This Year it Will be Different” by Maeve Binchy

A collection of short stories, some of them quite ancient.  All about Christmas and all about men having affairs.  Reading them all one after another does make me wonder a little about Maeve’s personal life.  Perhaps she only married late because her heart was broken by a philandering bastard.

“Heat” by Bill Buford

Mr. Waffle recommended this.  It’s about a man’s attempt to master (and I do mean master) Italian cooking while his very patient wife supports him.  It has its moments.  He comments that “seafood with butter – or any other dairy ingredient – verges on culinary blasphemy”.  I know this to be true because once, in a not at all fancy restaurant in Italy, I asked for parmesan to go on seafood pasta and there was some whispering in the back and then not one but two waiters came up to tell me that I just couldn’t have parmesan with seafood.

“Où on va papa?” by Jean-Louis Fournier

This is a book written by a man who had two handicapped children.  I found it very disturbing, very good and entirely compelling.  In public discourse, parents don’t seem to be allowed to say that having a handicapped child is very, very hard and a huge disappointment.  This man has no such hesitations.  This book is, I think, supposed to be funny and there is a certain amount of black humour but overwhelmingly, it is sad.  There is an aching sense of loss, of what might have been, of what his boys’ lives would have been like had they not been “different”.  It is a brilliant book.

“Mothering” by Rudolph Schaffer

I picked this up in my mother-in-law the psychologist’s house.  It dates from the 1970s so all the information may not be entirely up to date. I nearly gave up early on when we had two pages on the infant’s sucking reflex followed by another couple on sleep patterns.

However, I quite enjoyed this bit later on:

“With increasing occupational and social outlets for women a wife need no longer disappear into the confines of the home on marriage, with nothing to do except have and care for children…Having children should be only for those who want children and will actively enjoy children”.

I’m not sure that actively enjoying necessarily follows from wanting, however, I am touched by his vision of the brave new world that the proper use of contraception will entail.

I was lured into reading the book by seeing the author’s description of the Ik tribe in Northern Uganda but this is something of a sensationalist moment compared to the remainder of the text.  He says:
“The Ik had formerly been a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers….[but] confined to a limited barren area…[on the brink of starvation]…[there] came a virtual disintegration of their social organization: the family as an institution almost ceased to exist, and in the wake of the struggle to remain alive there followed an utterly selfish attitude to life that displace all positive emotions like love, affection and tenderness….Children were regarded as useless appendages who were turned out of the parents’ hut when they reached the age of three years, compelled from then on to make their own way without help or guidance from any adult and certainly without any parental love or affection.  Consequently one rarely saw a parent with a child except accidentally or incidentally; when a child hurt himself by falling into the fire the only reaction was amusement; if a predator came and carried off a baby the mother was merely gald at no longer having to care for it.  One never saw a parent feed a child over the age of three – on the contrary, such children were regarded as competitors from whom food had to be hidden; if consequently one died of starvation that merely meant one mouth the fewer.”
Not only is it sensationalist but it may not even be true.  Wikipedia has some serious reservation about Mr. Turnbull’s research on the Ik, on which the paragraph above is based.

Oh well, I see Mr. Schaffer had a new edition out in 1984 so doubtless he fixed it up then.

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