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Brilliant Dooce

27 February, 2009 at 10:44 pm by belgianwaffle

I know now she does a lot of the style guide stuff which is a bit dull; and she balances stuff on her dog’s nose which is also tedious but she is a genius. Take this, possibly one of the best insights into parenthood you will ever find, beautifully expressed:
Because raising Leta more than anything else in my life has helped me piece together the puzzle of what it means to be human. I understand my own childhood so much better, understand my own parents so much better, and there is so much about myself that I have tried to improve that I didn’t know I needed to improve until I was reduced to a late night pair of pacing legs.So much more makes sense now, and I don’t know if there is any other way I could have gained this type of insight into life. And I think this is what a lot of us are talking about when we say it feels like we were let into a secret club, a club we didn’t know existed until we got here, like we had no idea there was this much to know until our children showed it all to us.

You can read the whole post here.

Feeling my age, again

26 February, 2009 at 10:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Ireland is awash with angry workers.  This morning, I asked my 28 year old colleague whether she had ever seen a strike before.  “No,” she said “and I thought to myself as I walked past a man with a placard, this must be what industrial unrest looks like.”

Oh Celtic Tiger cubs, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

No sweets for my sweet

25 February, 2009 at 5:54 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is the oddest child.  He does not like sweet things at all.  If the others have a biscuit, he has a cream cracker.  We were in the bakery the other day and the others each had a bun.  Michael picked up a packet of eggs and said, “Please Mummy, can I have a boiled egg instead of a bun?”

Exciting neighbourhood

24 February, 2009 at 11:23 pm by belgianwaffle

My brother, driving me home from dinner, said “I know you’re a great believer in the classless society and all that but, for the sake of the kids, would you not move somewhere more normal?”

It’s not rough here, it’s just very…urban.

Quotes of the week (loosely interpreted)

24 February, 2009 at 12:47 am by belgianwaffle

I found this in a document I was reading recently:

Many wheels have been set in motion, which do not need to be reinvented.

I ask you, really? I have met my master in the matter of cliche.
Many weeks ago, I found this in the Irish Times and I’ve been storing it up for you since, it was apparently said by Louis de Paor and reported by Quentin Fottrell (great name eh?).  It would be important that you know about Peig to appreciate it.

When she [Peig] was dying there was a pilgrimmage to be at her bedside.  Isn’t it funny the way people don’t mention Henry James’s “Portrait of a Lady” as an excuse for extinguishing the English language?

A very bold Princess at bedtime: Can I have a biscuit?

Mr. Waffle: The audacity of hope.

Round-up for the record

23 February, 2009 at 12:09 am by belgianwaffle

I have been neglecting my blog.  I know, you haven’t noticed but it is all about me.

I am recovering from a week of mid-term with herself.  I kept bleating feebly that I was supposed to be on holidays too but we both knew that this wasn’t true.  I spent one long and tiring day fielding questions on God, dinosaurs and perjury, none of which is really my long suit; three long and tiring days in Cork and a day cleaning up the house after our latest round of handymen.  I think she enjoyed some of it.

One afternoon, in Cork, the boys and I visited the Glucksman gallery while the Princess bonded with her grandparents.  I find modern art can be a bit challenging but there was a very good exhibition on conflict in 20th century Ireland which the boys and I enjoyed on different levels (“Meaners with guns!”/”Oh Lavery, Paul Henry, how nice”).

Downstairs there was some more classic modern fare, if I may so term it (yes, you may permit yourself a titter here at my inelegant expression, should you so wish).   I think I can best convey the type of exhibit by quoting from the website:

The exhibition also explores strategies of participation, inviting visitors to discover and create conflicting relationships of their own by engaging with the works directly. In Stephen Willats’ Organic Exercise No.1 Series 2 , visitors are invited to re-configure a set of plaster bricks on a grid, without prior rules or instructions. The work therefore becomes everchanging and subject to the alteration of each participant. Visitors are also invited to participate in Mark Clare’s Ping-Pong Diplomacy – a functioning table-tennis table made of pallet-wood; a work that references the famous contest between American and Chinese players in 1971 which acted as a breakthrough in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In fairness to Mr. Clare, in particular, I must say that the boys got great value out of Ping-Pong diplomacy and played there until closing time when we were chucked back out into the rain.  Maybe the exhibition wasn’t really for us because we are perfectly capable of creating “conflicting relationships of [our].. own” without any help from modern art.

[Is this next paragraph a non-sequitur or is it art?  Only you can decide.] Daniel’s toilet training appears to be complete.  This means that we are now finally in a position to fully appreciate the joys of a house with one toilet and five inhabitants.  The other day, Daniel and Michael had the following chat:

Michael: I want to do a WEE.

Daniel [ensconced] : I’m doing a wee and a poo.

Michael [Jumping from side to side] : I want to do a WEE.

Daniel: Tough luck.

The Princess has learnt to read.  Just like that over the past couple of weeks. I am astounded and constantly keen to hear her reading things.  She is considerably less entranced.  She finds it a chore though she does like reading signs when we are out.  I was appalled to discover that she had seen part of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” on television at school.  At this rate, she will have seen all the children’s classics on television before she reads them herself.  The first book I clearly remember reading was “The Magician’s Nephew” and it has a special place in my heart.  I do hope that there will be some book like that in her life.

Daniel had his first visit to an Irish ophthalmologist.  He has confirmed that our son is quite longsighted (+6).  I was, however, delighted to hear that the doctor does not think that surgery will be necessary for his lazy eye.  I am not quite sure whether this is because Belgium is more interventionist than Ireland or because it has got better with the patch.  We can also stop patching his eye in a couple of months which will be fantastic.  Daniel is generally very good about wearing his patch (two hours a day) but it is uncomfortable for the poor mite and removing it from our morning routine will save us precious minutes trying to get out the door on time. When I asked Daniel how the trip went, he said fine but added glumly that he had had “gouttes”.  “Did you tell him what they were in French?” I asked Mr. Waffle.  He hadn’t.  Poor Daniel had remembered the term since last July when he had his parting visit with his Belgian ophthalmologist.  I suspect that the eye-drops are not very nice.  I know this is all very tedious for you but, you know, how will I remember when all this happened if not for the trusty blog?

Michael continues very manly.  He asks me to stop kissing him and when I rub his back he informs me coldly that he is not a cat or a dog. Inspired by their uncle, he and Daniel have begun to throw themselves into impromptu rucks on the floor which, when rebuked for fighting, they describe in injured tones as playing rugby like Uncle Dan.  So, now only Michael’s large collection of stuffed toys stands between him and his quest for absolute masculinity.  He goes to bed with doudou, nounours, wabbit (the English R is still proving elusive, he can do the French one though), Ingeborg, big Ingeborg and cheetah.  Three of these had to accompany us to Cork during the week taking up appreciable space in the small case.  This must end.

Films

22 February, 2009 at 12:05 am by belgianwaffle

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – Eric Darnell

The troops loved it. No one was scared.  No one wet his pants.  I didn’t think it was too bad myself.  Thumbs up.

Yes Man – Peyton Reed

I wouldn’t be the world’s greatest Jim Carrey fan (he’s a little bit scary, isn’t he?)  and he is definitely too old for the love interest but I found myself giggling away all the same.  Note that I did go in with expectations at rock bottom which is always a help.

Lemon Tree by Eran Riklis

I’m on a roll with the Israeli films here. This got great reviews.  I thought it was alright.  It didn’t present me with any amazing insights into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert.  I heard an interview with the director on the radio and he said that the film despite international accolades had been very poorly received in Israel.  This could be because they are all hawks or it could be because the film is a bit facile.  If you only see one Israeli movie this year, make it “Waltzing with Bashir” and not this one.

Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle

It was ok.  We were sitting in the last seats of the house in the very front row.  Craning your neck up to be assaulted in close up by the glory and squalor of India is sub-optimal.  It was clever enough, I suppose, but it failed to enchant me.  Sorry, but there it is.

Bolt 3-D by Chris Williams and Byron Howard

I have three small children; I see a lot of this kind of thing.  It was fine, if you like 3D.

Reading

20 February, 2009 at 8:56 pm by belgianwaffle

“Master Georgie” by Beryl Bainbridge.

I remember once reading a tv review which said that all historical drama is from two periods: that in which it is set and that in which it is made.  This book is set in the Crimean war so you might think that it wouldn’t date but I think that it has.  It was written in 1998 and there is something about the style that feels a bit tricksy and modern (and therefore now dated, if you see what I mean).  It is very well written but a bit too clever for its own good.  There are a couple of very funny moments but I wouldn’t exactly say that it is unmissable.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is my third attempt to enjoy a book written by Neil Gaiman.   Success at last.  Despite the macabre bloodshed, of which the author is alarmingly fond, I really enjoyed this story for teenagers.  It’s about a little boy brought up in a graveyard whose guardian is a vampire.  If you like this kind of thing (some people do, you know), then I guarantee you will love this.  The edition I got also features illustrations by Chris Riddell who is the Observer’s cartoonist.  Although I don’t like his Observer stuff much, I really loved these drawings which I thought were very endearing and really added to the story.

Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama

In case you are the person who hasn’t read the Obama biography, it is, like Gaul, divided into three parts.  The first part deals with his youth, the second with his experience as a community organiser in Chicago and the third with his relatives in Kenya.

I read part one rejoicing that this man had been elected president of the US.  Because, frankly, if he hadn’t I would have thought it a spectacular waste of time.  He has an interesting background and he writes about it competently but dispassionately; he made good material dull.  Part two, dealing with his work in Chicago which is, theoretically, much less promising material, is brilliant and by far the best part of the book.  Part three deals with his family in Africa.  I am good at working out who is related to whom but when every man has four wives it all gets too much for me.  This part of the book would have benefited from a family tree.  Mildly interesting.  I don’t think that I’ll be reading about the audacity of hope.

Out of a Clear Sky” by Sally Hinchcliffe

I should declare an interest here.   I do not know the author but I have read her blog for a long time.  Words of comfort – this is not the book of the blog (never a success, I feel).  Her blog is about commuting (in London, by bike in Scotland)  This is a birdwatching thriller.   Enough caveats.

To recap, the story is set in the weird world of birdwatching and it’s a thriller.  Neither of these things attracted me to it.  I am pleased to report, however, that it is very well written and full of all sorts of clever things.   A good start, birds or no.

There are three alternating/overlapping strands to the plot.  One is that our heroine is being stalked, one is that she has split up with her boyfriend and one is her family life.

My favourite strand was about the heroine’s ex-boyfriend and there is a really excellent set piece in the pub early on.  Dealing with the break-up is well done and engaging. Manda (our heroine) is a very interesting character and what I enjoyed most about the book was watching her change and learning about her past. I liked the way she developed from a relatively bland likeable character into someone who is disturbed and disturbing and, in some ways, pretty nasty. For me, the best parts of the book were those that described her relationships with other people: her sister, her father, her mother, her ex-boyfriend.

The stalker supplied narrative thrust and all that but he took time from the relationships which were much more interesting, I thought.

So, to summarise, I liked it and I think it was very well written and clever but I would have liked it much better, if it weren’t a thriller, however clever.  I suspect that this may be my own distaste for thrillers coming through rather than any failing on the part of the author. [Mr. Waffle read it too and found it v. good – he likes thrillers].

Finally, must confess, that though the thriller bit failed to grab me, I was really interested in the whole world of birdwatching.   Did you know that swifts are built for flight, that they sleep on the wing and only come to ground to mate?  Neither did I.  Mr. Waffle on being given this gorgeous piece of information asked whether they laid eggs on the wing too.  I cannot say.

Keen to try the next offering in due course.

Twilight  by Stephenie Meyer

I bought it.  What could I do?  Dreadful stuff.  Irksome, uninspired, writing.  But, yes, strangely compelling, damn it.  Feather left the following comment on my blog when I mentioned I might give it a go:

“I know several very intelligent people who are totally in love with Twilight–which baffles me, as I can easily say that they were the worst books I read last year. Poorly written (literally hundreds of pages mooning about how beautiful Edward is) and ridiculously imagined (sparkly vampires?!?) is bad enough, but scratch the surface and the books are incredibly misogynistic. I swear, Edward and Bella’s relationship is so prototypically abusive it’s creepy–which is basically the only interesting thing about the books–reading them and making up theory about what the hell is wrong with women in our society that an obsessive-stalker-emotionally-abusive-deadly eternally adolescent boy is the new exemplar boyfriend. I can forgive the fourteen-year-old girls for being fooled, but the grown women?! No.”

This is a very fair comment.  It is badly written.  It is unintentionally creepy.  But, yes,on the strength of it I went off and bought books 2 to 4 (three for the price of two).  That will allow me to investigate the drinking game.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Somewhat to my chagrin given that I now own the next two volumes also, this is quite dull.  It does not, in my view, live up to the promise of volume 1.  If I am promised a book about vampire romance, I do not want my vampire to disappear on page 73 and not reappear until page 449.  What else, you might ask, can I expect from a woman whose first name is misspelt?

The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam

This was a bookclub book.  It was recommended by Eileen Battersby, the Irish Times’s literary critic.  My experience of Eileen Battersby is that, if she likes something, I will not.  I did not like this book.  Neither did any of the other book club people.

It’s set in Afghanistan. It is written in the style of a book from the Indian subcontinent.  Lots of adverbs and adjectives.  No one ever just walks to the door and opens it.  This passage describing picking up a bottle of perfume, selected at random, is pretty typical:

Bracing his arm against the stone mouth he bent down to retreive a small vial of glass from the floor.  So much destruction and yet this had survived.  A four-line poem in Dari was etched on it. He removed the stopper the size of a lark skull and sniffed it, remembering that containers discovered in Eqyptian tombs were still fragrant after three thousand years.

If you like this kind of thing, then there is plenty of it.  There is also lots and lots of plot.  The book is full of weird co-incidences which fail to convince.  Most annoying though, it has an extremely strong didactic bent.  At the start of the book there is a quote from President Carter’s national security advisor:

What is more important to the history of the world – the Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  A few agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?

Mr. Aslam’s aim is to show us how wrong Mr. Brzezinski was. Did you know how many inventive and cruel ways the Taliban discovered for making life miserable in Afghanistan?  Well, you’re about to discover that, and also, the many, many different unpleasant ways people died. In gory detail.  I think this could have been a lot more effective, if the book had not been written on the patronising assumption that its potential readers were likely to know nothing even general knowledge.  Parts of it read like the history snippets you get in tourist guidebooks.  I did not like it.

On the plus side, I did not buy it.  On the advice of my sister-in-law, I went and reserved it online.  I forked out 50 cents and Dublin City Library, rang me up, told me they had it and held it at the issue desk for a week for me.  I was most pleased.  It means I get to bring it back too.  Hurrah.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid

The problem/advantage of book club books is that they are often things you would never read yourself.  This is one of them.  It was recommended by my friend D who once sincerely and enthusiastically recommended to me a long biography of Hildegard of Bingen.  This gave me pause when picking it up but she reassured me that it was short.  It is short.

It’s alright; it didn’t really set my world on fire and I’m not sure that it had any particularly piercing insights but at least it was well written and undemanding.  We like that.  Having just finished off “The Wasted Vigil”, one thing that struck me was how two Pakistani men (both living in London, I think) write about the Taliban in different ways.  Mr. Aslam’s characters are largely down on the Taliban and in many ways his book is a polemic about how ghastly they are.  Mr. Hamid’s narrator, as befits a reluctant fundamentalist, is more ambivalent.  He is annoyed when he sees a foreign power (the Americans) raining down bombs on his neighbours and allies.  He doesn’t really appear to have any strong views about the regime.  I think this is part of the problem with the book; I am never convinced by the narrator.  The whole book is, I suspect, an intellectual effort by the author to show how someone like him (the narrator has a very similar CV and I can’t help feeling that the author like the fundamentalist, felt a sense of very guilty schadenfreude when the twin towers went down) could be become a fundamentalist and as an intellectual exercise, it does succeed to an extent.  As a human exercise, not so much, I feel.

Autumn Term”  by Antonia Forest

When I was in Cork recently, my aunt asked me whether I still read school stories.  When I was younger I loved all boarding school books.  She did too.  She liked the Chalet School which was more upmarket than the Enid Blyton St. Clare’s series which I favoured but we both read anything.  My mother, who went to boarding school herself was, I think, keen to give me a go at it based on my enthusiasm but I assured her that it was purely theoretical.

“This is good,” my aunt said to me.  I picked it up.  My aunt does not lie.  This is good.  You have to like this kind of thing but if you do, this is an excellent example.  It reminded me forcibly of why the Harry Potter books have done such a roaring trade.  It doesn’t really matter whether the end of term event is putting on a play or defeating Voldemort, it is still all anticipation.  This book was particularly good on shades of grey.  The characters are very nicely fleshed out and both good and bad; people’s motivations are mixed as they are in real life.  I would like to read more of this woman’s books and I would like to give them to my children when they are older.  No greater praise.

“Eclipse” by Stephenie Meyer

What can I say, I can’t stop myself.  This is better than book 2.  I am facing into the enormous book 4 with, if not renewed enthusiasm, at least less trepidation.

Feeling my age

16 February, 2009 at 9:45 am by belgianwaffle

I will be 40 on March 10.  I find myself surprisingly sensitive about this.

I dropped the Princess into school the other morning.

Me: Who is that little girl over there.

Her: That’s [insert ludicrous name here]

Me: Hello [ludicrous name].

Ludicrous name: Hello, are you her granny?

More theology

12 February, 2009 at 10:49 pm by belgianwaffle

I went out the other night leaving the Princess and Mr. Waffle watching University Challenge [you think that you’re hothousing].  As I went out the door I heard Jeremy say to the contestants “The atheist bus campaign had the following slogan: There’s probably no God so…”  The Princess interjected excitedly “If there’s no God, does that mean I don’t have to go to Mass on Sunday”.  I stuck my head back around the door and said, “Yes, there is a God and you do have to go to mass on Sunday”.

I was able to escape into the night but this morning and this evening I have had to field a series of questions beginning with the subject of Hell.  My daughter is an old-fashioned catholic.

Her: Is it hot in Hell?

Me: I believe it is.

Her: Really?

Me: Well, nobody knows really but people sometimes say it’s just bad because you are so sad there.

Her: Why?

Me: Because you realise that you will never see God.

Her: But what about people who don’t believe in God?

Me: Well, I suppose they believe in him once they’re in Hell.

Her: Does everyone who doesn’t believe in God go to Hell?

Me: No, of course, not, there are some very good, kind people who don’t believe in God and they won’t go to Hell and some people who believe in God can be very bad and they might go to Hell though we don’t really know who goes to Hell.

Her:  Could I bring water to the people in Hell, if it’s very hot.

Me: No, I don’t think it works like that.

Her: Do angels exist?

Me: Yes, I think so.

Her: So, Cupid exists.

Me: No, he’s a different kind of angel, a mythological angel.

Her: How do you know that the angel Gabriel isn’t mythological?

Me: Your father went to a Jesuit school; he is answering all theological questions in future.

Her: What’s theological?

Probably undue formality

2 February, 2009 at 8:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Him:  I have a meeting at 5, so I may not be home until after the children have gone to bed.

Me: OK, not to worry, I’ll be there.

Him: Give the children my apologies.


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