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Archive for January, 2009

A possible explanation for the low numbers in Danish classes

29 January, 2009 at 11:50 pm by belgianwaffle

A lot of people speak English as a second language.  As a consequence, native English speakers are tolerant of error and capable of understanding an extraordinarily wide range of accents.  This is less true for people whose languages are not spoken by as many non-native speakers.

An American who has worked in Denmark recently reported to me the following conversation.

Dane: My mother was a migrant, you know.

American: Really?

Dane: Oh yes, she came from Germany though she lived here almost all her adult life.

American: I see.

Dane: She never learnt to speak Danish.

American (surprised): She didn’t?  But how did she manage her day to day life? Schools, shopping, socialising?

Dane (surprised): Oh she could write Danish and speak it but she always had an accent.

People, those are high standards.

Sodden Oxen

29 January, 2009 at 7:20 am by belgianwaffle

Daniel and I explored the customs surrounding Chinese new year on Saturday.  We went to a hairdresser in the north inner city where all the customers and all the hairdressers were Chinese.  Ni hao to you too.  Daniel made friends with a little Chinese girl and she filled us in on what happens.  “People will throw money at me,” she informed us gleefully in her Dublin accent.   There are about 11,000 Chinese people in Ireland according to the last census figures.  The barber whom Mr. Waffle patronises dismisses this.  He says that there are 11,000 on Parnell Street alone.  He is clearly bitter about the competition.

Continuing our authentic Chinese theme, Mr. Waffle and I went for dinner to a Chinese restaurant in Parnell Street on Saturday night.  It was not very nice, alas.  We parked nearby and while Mr. Waffle went to get a parking ticket, I went and peered into a large somewhat delapidated Georgian house where a big van parked outside, bright lights and a wide open door in the pouring rain indicated that they might be making a film.  I hoved up to the three lads standing in the doorway and asked.  In fact, no, they were making a music video for Emmett Scanlon.  “Who’s he?” I asked.  “Me,” said the one in a shirt with ruffles.  “Don’t you recognise him?” asked one of the others.  “He’s going to be famous.”  Not famous yet though.  He directed me to his website and as an act of human charity, I am going to put in a link to it because Emmet and his mates seemed to be quite a nice bunch.

Finally, we went to inspect the Chinese new year celebrations in the city on Sunday.   We brought my sister too because bonding with her niece and nephews is very good for her.  The kids made kites.  The driving rain made it difficult to get them to fly.  The children would have been happy to watch the Silk and Bamboo trio all afternoon but the adults were getting wet and dragged them away.  They did get to shake hands with a person dressed as an ox, so this softened the blow of not being able to see the dragon over the top of the Chinese ambassador’s umbrella.

Apparently the ox is known for fortitude.  Well, I’d say that he’ll need it this year.

Relaxing at the end of the working day

27 January, 2009 at 11:10 pm by belgianwaffle

3 x children (screaming loudly):  Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!

Princess (sotto voce): Mummy, you’re going to have to call Wesley.

Me (confused): Who’s Wesley?

Her (rolling eyes): The plumber.

Me (nervously): Why?

Her: Because Michael stuffed the toilet with toilet paper.

Me (anxious glance at French childminder): Did he?

Her: Yes, good bye, have a pleasant evening.

I then went upstairs with a plastic bag and removed an entire roll of toilet paper (carefully shredded) from the toilet.

Waking the Celtic Tiger

24 January, 2009 at 1:26 am by belgianwaffle

It’s all a bit hysterical here at the moment.   You can’t turn on the radio without somebody telling you that we are all DOOMED!

I asked Mr. Waffle (fount of all knowledge, as you know) what happened to the soft landing we were promised and he tells me that “it turns out that the fundamentals weren’t sound after all”.  That’s alright then.

I had lunch during the week with a very pessimistic friend.  He has just remortgaged his beautiful house so that he can make it even more beautiful (extension, underfloor heating, walls taken apart to put in insulation – couldn’t he just have put on another jumper, seriously?).  He is worried about what will happen should Ireland go bankrupt.  What will happen to his beautiful house?  He gloomily prophesied that Mr. Waffle would have to go back to Brussels and send remittances to keep us all afloat.

I had a friend for the Princess round.  She is a little German girl (if you were German, would you put your child in an Irish language school?).  Her parents came too.  We talked about the economy (what can I say, it is all pervasive).  They were recruited from Germany for the boom.  Ah, I joked, you should move to Poland now; apparently, Poland is the new Ireland.  “Actually, our company is moving to Poland,” they said.  He has taken redundancy and they are moving back to Berlin as soon as he finds a job there. And how, we ask ourselves, is their daughter going to keep up her Irish?

Dell had a big plant in Limerick and they are moving to Poland.  My cousin will lose his job.  The Irish Times had a big feature on workers in Lodz and how they are taking the news.  I must say they seemed very realistic about it all.  Dell will probably move somewhere else in ten years.  They are leaving Ireland now, later they will leave Poland.  In some way, I think we fooled ourselves about foreign direct investment.  The Americans love Ireland we said to ourselves and we all speak English, their companies will stay forever.  I suppose if they were that indifferent to cost and related considerations, they could just have stayed at home.  Anyhow, I don’t see the Poles saying “there’s a big Polish community in Chicago, they’re bound to stay here because of their traditional links with Poland”.  Meanwhile, a man made redundant by Dell was showing extreme stoicism to the Irish Times “Nobody will starve to death”.  I suppose not.

It’s funny because it doesn’t feel like a recession to me, not like the 1980s.  My sister and I went to dinner on Wednesday night.  It was raining.  I had booked a table for two.  When I went in, the restaurant was empty.  Aha, I thought, the recession strikes.  Fifteen minutes later, the place was heaving.  In the early 90s we had “jobless growth”.  We kept getting told that things were getting better but unemployment was not falling and it didn’t seem like things were getting better.  Now we have jobless growth in reverse.

I listen a bit to Radio 4 and there the talk is also of recession but in a much more relaxed manner – has Gordon Brown’s spokesman rung in the middle of any show to ask them to stop creating panic – I think not (probably too busy analysing poll data).  I read an article somewhere that said that poor people who get richer lack the “inter-generational security” of the middle classes.  Ireland lacks the inter-generational security of the middle classes.  We’ve only been rich for ten years and we just have the national pension fund to call on when times get tough.

I have started reading an Irish economics website.  I’m not sure why since it only depresses me.  However, there was recently some much needed relief from the storm clouds that the website likes to whip up (collective noun for economists anyone – a correction of economists, a downturn of economists, a recession of economists, a depression of economists?). A contributor called Jim O’Leary was marking papers and generously gave us the following gem from one of the next generation of economists:

From the frontiers of knowledge (yes, it’s grading time again): “Fiscal contraction was first noticed in the 1960s by a man by the name of Fiscal and it was him who derived the short, medium and long run effects of it and how they would occur and the reasons for it…”  

Thank you, Jim, for drawing this to the nation’s attention when we needed it most.

Land of (equal) opportunity

22 January, 2009 at 11:03 am by belgianwaffle

Equal pay was forced upon Ireland by the EU (how can you not love it?) on accession in 1973.  Despite the then Government’s fighting a dastardly rear action to protect unequal pay for equal work, the EU won the day.  The Government, resigned to its fate, decided to appoint a number of equality officers to ensure that the principle was observed.  However, as you can imagine, it took a while for the new arrangements to be implemented and for some time there were transitional arrangements in place.

The outcome of this was that when the equality officer posts were advertised, they were advertised on the transitional scales with lower pay rates for women than for men.

[Insert relevant cliche here – perhaps “you couldn’t make it up”]

We laugh that we do not weep

21 January, 2009 at 11:54 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle: How was the afternoon?

Me: Michael fell down the stairs on his head.

Him: Oh dear.

Me: Daniel slipped off the toilet and banged his head on the toilet bowl.

Him: Oh dear.

Me: I turned my back on Michael while he was flushing the toilet and when I looked back, he had his head in the bowl and his mouth open lapping up the spray.

Him: That toilet has had a busy afternoon.

Living on the edge

20 January, 2009 at 10:32 pm by belgianwaffle

Our girl is a bit of a solitary soul.  She doesn’t seem to have much of a knack for making friends.  She came home in fantastic form today.  She was good all day.  Somebody (some blessed, blessed child) played chasing with her in the yard.  I hope she plays with her again tomorrow.

Here’s how old I am

14 January, 2009 at 9:24 pm by belgianwaffle

I grew up watching black and white television with two channels.

When I was a small child, married women were not allowed to work in the civil service or the banks.

I know what a soda stream is and I have tasted its products (not very nice, kids).

I watched the Berlin Wall fall and Nelson Mandela walk free (on the telly but live).

I saw “Who framed Roger Rabbit?” and was amazed and dazzled by the technology (it mixes real people and cartoons).

I watched the original series of Charlie’s Angels and was the proud owner of the 1977 annual.

I got Super Trouper the Album for Christmas when it was newly released.

I remember my cousins getting a video recorder and how we all marvelled at its miraculous, magical workings.

I didn’t use a computer when I was in college; there was no internet; there was no google.

I grew up without email.  When I began my working life, everything came in and out by post.

I was once expert in the use of the dictaphone.

I used faxes every day.  I remember when faxes were shiny new technology and they used shiny paper too from which, hilariously, the text faded away on the files where it was carefully kept.

I had a part share in the office mobile phone which was so heavy that you had to carry it around in its own special case.

I believed that Burlington socks, Benetton scarves, legwarmers, Adidas Roms, ankle boots (welcome back ankle boot – I see you have rejoined us in the new century) and  parka jackets were very cool.  Ideally all worn at the same time.

From an original idea by the ever estimable Finslippy.  Tell me, how old (or young, if you really feel that’s appropriate and tactful, in the circumstances) are you?

Domestic Felicity

12 January, 2009 at 11:22 pm by belgianwaffle

We have a new carpet on the stairs, it is cheap, as these things go, and it is beige.  It has made me more happy than I believe a carpet should.

I wish, though, that we hadn’t got it laid the week we finally started toilet training Daniel.


6 January, 2009 at 9:00 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister goes to see a lot of films and her return to Ireland has meant that I too am going to a lot more films.  Here’s a pretty unsuccessful batch

Waltz with Bashir – Ari Folman

The best of the bunch.  I saw it in the Kino in Cork and was able to take a snack bar and a cup of tea into the auditorium which alone would have justified the price of admission.    The last film I saw in Hebrew was Kadosh, true, that was a long time ago but that experience has kept me away from Israeli films for a while.  This was really very good, if somewhat disturbing.  It’s an animated film about a former  Israeli soldier’s experience at the Sabra and Shatila massacre.  I went with my younger sister and her friend and I was astounded that neither of them had ever heard of Sabra and Shatila.

The film did get me thinking again about the state of Israel.  It is the most extraordinary thing.  If you made it up, no one would believe you.  A state founded largely by central and eastern European intellectuals; people who had been in hiding; in camps; fleeing for their lives; people whose relatives had been killed in vast numbers.   They go to a patrt of the Middle East where the climate is a bit different  from say, Odessa; revive Hebrew (very guttural language and that is the least of its challenges); win wars against their Arab neighbours; and go about building and protecting their state with a stubborn single mindedness. You cannot but gasp at the improbability of it.

The tale of Depereaux – Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen.

This is an animated story of a mouse who rescues a Princess.  I didn’t think much of it myself but I wasn’t the one to be pleased.  The Princess and Daniel found it middling but Michael found it absolutely terrifying and watched it sitting on my lap while  sobbing in fear and peering through my fingers at the scary cat.  At the same time he refused to leave.  He is still traumatised.  Not recommended.

Twilight – Catherine Hardwicke

Now that my sister is back, I don’t have to drag my unfortunate husband to this kind of film.  There aren’t so many people in their 30s who are in the market for teenage vampire flicks.    I must say that I quite enjoyed it and am now toying with the idea of trying the books.  Does anyone have views on the books?

The Spirit – Frank Miller

This is a beautifully shot film with a hilariously over the top performance by Samuel L. Jackson.  It mixes real people and animation very cleverly.  It is therefore a pity that the plot is atrocious and the dialogue worse.   After about 10 minutes I begged my sister to abandon ship and a stream of wiser people left the cinema.  We stayed to the bitter end.  It was, undoubtedly one of the worst films I have ever seen.  Wikipedia quotes Robert Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times on the film, “There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material”.  Mr. Ebert is spot on.

Christmas round-up

6 January, 2009 at 12:02 am by belgianwaffle

Did you miss me?  I have been spending the Christmas season with my family. Christmas Day passed off peacefully; everyone was good, everyone liked the presents offered by kind benevolent Santa Claus and generous relatives.

We drove down to Cork on the 27th.  I haven’t driven that road in nearly 10 years.  It’s improved a lot.  True, the boom may be gone but they can’t take our roads away from us.  Cork was peaceful and presentful.  The children did not disgrace us in the presence of my relatives.

My father told a story of the joys of living in a small city.  When my father was a little boy, a barber used to come to the house to trim his grandfather’s beard (a man who was born during the famine, fancy that).  My father emigrated to Britain and when he came back to Cork several years later, he went to the barber on the Western Road who had trimmed his grandfather’s beard.  As he walked in the door, the barber instantly said, “Master Dan!”

As is traditional when we visit Cork at Christmas, we took the children to Fota wildlife park.  As is equally traditional the parents enjoyed it and the children did not.  Matters began inauspiciously with the Princess announcing that she hated animals.  We ignored this unhelpful intervention and tried to jolly her along.  Once we got there, Michael and Daniel joined in the revolt.  About half way around, Daniel stopped moving and stood in the path with his arms folded.  “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” “I am displeased,” he said without further explanation.  Anxious to avoid one of his spectacular temper tantrums (one night before Christmas he rampaged around the house naked – he did not wish to put on his pyjamas – and screaming for a significant length of time; he is the most empathic of my children but when he loses his temper the consequences are terrifying)  we carried him the rest of the way.  Michael was far more articulate about his concerns.  He started to cry in a nasty petulant kind of way.  “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”  He ticked his grievances off on his tiny fingers, “one, I am frozen, two I am tired, three I am sick, four I want to do a wee.”  We carried him the rest of the way too.  The Princess trailed along behind whining that nobody was carrying her and NO she did not want to see the cheetahs.  At one point she leaned her head on a fence and a monkey ran over it.  This piqued her interest for a moment and she asked me belligerently whether I had got a photo.  Needless to say, I had not.  Not 43 euros worth of unalloyed pleasure then.

We drove back to Dublin on New Year’s Eve, blithely informing the aghast Cork relatives that we would be back shortly.  I went to the supermarket and bought some food and a half bottle of Tesco’s special champagne to see in the new year.  Oh yes, it’s all glamour here.

We took the children to see Fossett’s circus (founded 1888 apparently and certainly around when I was a little girl) which I enjoyed very much putting my hands over my eyes for the cage of death which Mr. Waffle and the children were very blasé about.

Tomorrow is the last day of Christmas, alas.  We have our memories and a picture of the children with Santa which we stuck on our calendar.

Me (indulgently): Look it’s you and the boys with Santa.

Her: No, it’s us with a random stranger.

Sometimes that child is too smart for her own good.

Happy new year.

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