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Archive for May, 2009

My children’s very different personalities

27 May, 2009 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

The other evening they sat down to draw for me.

Daniel drew a soldier:


Michael drew a picture of me:


The Princess wrote out a passage from the bible:


Look, cut her some slack, she’s left handed, it reads “God says let my people go or I will make the rivers run with blood.” She’s very taken with the gore of the Old Testament. My mother gave her a bible for children for her birthday. It is quite sanatised and, in fact, says rather blandly of the first plague “God made the water undrinkable”. When the Princess read this out to me I was initially confused and then after a moment’s reflection said “Oh the rivers of blood.” This has taken a very strong hold on her imagination is all I can say.

Domestic Games

26 May, 2009 at 9:33 pm by belgianwaffle

Recently, on Saturday mornings, we have been taking the children to football and hurling training. The boys love it. The Princess stays on the sidelines, solidly (and very annoyingly) refusing to take part. To their enormous delight we dress the boys up in their FC Barcelona and Lions 09 kit (a Christmas present from their uncle) to go to training. And very fetching they looked too.



I did have mild qualms about introducing kit from foreign games but all that is in the past now and I noted that the very patient man training the four year old boys in football was wearing an Irish rugby jersey. After limbering up and working on their ball skills, the four year olds started a match. I was a bit concerned about this as my children had never played a match before. “Never mind” reassured the trainer “wait until you see it, it’s like a flock of sheep milling around a ball.” So indeed, it proved.

The hurling, however, was a different matter. The trainer was from Cork and he took it all very seriously. Ah, well do I remember my primary school days when year after year the hurling team won the All-Irealnd. They would tour the schools, show us the McCarthy cup, and give us all a half day (they won three in a row between 76 and 78 – formative years, I was 7, 8 and 9 and very grateful for the half day). The trainer clearly remembered that too and he was taking no prisoners. Having equipped his 30 four year old with helmets and hurleys, he went down the line “clashing the ash” (essentially walloping their hurleys with his) and he made them all get in the ready position and roar (something that works well for the NZ rugby team). There was some confusion with his instructions. “Is the ready position holding the hurley on our heads?” roared the trainer. Some of the young men thought it was and held their hurleys over their heads. The match itself was more like a real match than I had at all anticipated following the football. Poor Daniel came trailing over to me saying that no one was giving him the ball and I explained to him that he had to go and get it. I then had to wade on to the pitch and separate him out from another little boy who had taken the ball from him. Aside from this minor off the ball incident and despite the fact that 30 little boys were given sticks and told to swing them, there were no injuries.

In encouraging the Princess to play (in vain), I picked up a hurley myself for the first time in my life. My previous experience had only been in hockey and a hurley has a much bigger head, so it is much easier to dribble the ball. I was delighted with myself as I zoomed around the little markers until I heard an English accented voice say “that looks like a back stick to me.” These migrants are clearly mingling well. After confirming that I was indeed playing a different game (with his hurley as it turned out), he encouraged me to go again. I was happily zooming round the obstacles (the Princess lolling disinterestedly by the fence) when a six year old came up and with a sweeping wallop of her hurley took the ball out from under me. This is indeed a very different game, maybe I should stick to what I know.

When relating all of this to my mother-in-law the next day, she told me that her father-in-law, my children’s great-grandfather, had played senior hurling for Tipperary. This is information which was hitherto unknown to me and very impressive indeed, trumping the information I already had that my father-in-law had played minor football for Dublin. I see a great future for my children, particularly, if I ever succeed in actually getting the Princess on the pitch.

Equality

25 May, 2009 at 9:41 pm by belgianwaffle

I have a friend whose father regularly says “there’s no point in sending women to college as they always give up working”. This is an immense source of annoyance to my friend who has always been in (very gainful) employment since leaving college twenty years ago and, given the state of her company’s pension fund, looks likely to continue to do so until she is seventy. On the other hand she talked about another friend who had recently attended a twenty year school reunion. At the ten year reunion, all of her former classmates had been running the world; at this reunion, it was all “you have children and you still have to work, how dreadful for you”.

We then talked about all the women we knew who were the main breadwinners in their households (including both of us though, I’m hoping that, in my case, that is only temporary). Off the top of our heads, we came up with 10. Isn’t that interesting? Brave new world, people. Now, if only we could close that persistent salary gap.

I could buy one book

24 May, 2009 at 9:31 pm by belgianwaffle

Town Mouse encourages readers to buy a book from a small independent publisher that is finding it difficult to keep its head above water.

I have purchased this which I hope should be a further exploration of my interest in women and psychiatry (first inspired by the really excellent Siri Hustvedt). Having (alas, subsequent to purchase) read a short extract, I am not altogether convinced. However, you will be more discriminating should you choose to purchase, I am sure.

Tattoos

23 May, 2009 at 11:29 pm by belgianwaffle

Just when I thought we could sink no further, this has come to my attention.

Reading

22 May, 2009 at 11:10 pm by belgianwaffle

“Gone with the Windsors” by Laurie Graham

This is a dreadfully dull book unless you have a particular interest in Wallis Simpson. I haven’t.

“A Traveller in Time” by Alison Uttley

My godson bought me this as a birthday present. I thought that his childish hand had been guided by his father but his father, when asked, said, “No, he chose it because he liked the cover”. In fact, as we all know, you can usually judge a book by its cover and he made an excellent choice. This is a children’s book about a house and a place. The heroine slips between early 20th century England and 16th century England. In the 16th century she is involved in the Babington plot to free Mary Queen of Scots. This is really quite unimportant when compared with the wonderful sense of place. My mother always says (a little gloomily as this is a problem of hers as well as of mine), “never fall in love with bricks and mortar”. The author is passionately in love with this house. The house, which is the lynchpin of the story is a real house. I am indebted to Wikipedia for alerting me to its existence and I was charmed to see that it is now a B&B. Maybe, I will be whisked off there for a wedding anniversary at some point (tum, ti tum, ti tum, just thinking aloud really). I loved this book and am only sorry that I didn’t first encounter it at 10 rather than at 40. But better late than never.

“The Reluctant Widow” by Georgette Heyer

I reread a lot of books. I don’t normally cover books I’m re-reading here (I like to give you all new material) but I thought I would give this a quick mention. It was one of the first grown-up books I read. My parents had brought it on holidays with us when I was 12 or 13 and I remember reading it while pumping up air mattresses and sneaking around to the back of the tent to peruse it in the ditch where I wouldn’t be disturbed and asked to do any of the many tasks which seemed to me to be doled out with displeasing frequency. I still remember my surprise when the hero proposed to the heroine and she accepted him. “She hated him”. It was my first encounter with romantic fiction. It’s perhaps not one of Georgette Heyer’s best works but I have a fondness for it. As I picked it up for the umpteenth time since that first reading, I knew that there would be no surprises in the plot and very few new insights in the text but it was warmly reassuring and held my interest sufficiently to make me sit on the stairs at one in the morning to finish it off [this often happens to me – Mr. Waffle does not approve of reading in bed after 11 – he is a morning person; so I come up from downstairs determined to go to bed and I read my book as I wash my teeth in the bathroom and convince myself that I will shortly put it down – I keep reading as I walk up the stairs and can’t bear to put down my book so I sit on the top step, hot water bottle at my feet, book in hand and polish it off before I go to bed]. When I see my little girl sitting up in bed reading, as she has lately started to do, I feel a distinct thrill. I read her three chapters of the first secret seven short story (they wear buttons with SS sewn on them – really in 1948 what was Enid Blyton thinking?) and she was so curious she read the rest of it on her own. My parents maintain that Enid Blyton helped me to read with fluency because they couldn’t bear to read her aloud. By way of riposte I would say two things: 1. My father never read anything to us anyway as he detests reading aloud and 2. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed “The Girls of the Veldt Farm” which is so out of print that I can’t find a reference to it on the internet, my mother is in no position to be superior.

“Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman” and “The Royal Game” by Stefan Zweig

My friend D recommended these two novellas which are sold together. I distrust my friend D’s recommendation as she likes hard books. She is a big fan of “Austerlitz” by Sebald, for example. She read a biography of Hildegard of Bingen. For fun. She continues to maintain that it was a fascinating read.

“Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman” confirmed my worst fears. It is an Edwardian melodrama by an, until recently out of print, Austrian author who, with his wife, died in Brazil in an “apparent double suicide”. You can see why I might be nervous. I didn’t like it much. It’s about a middle aged woman who has a “coup de foudre” when she meets a young gambler. Underwhelming and overwrought.

Under these circumstances, you can readily imagine, the low levels of enthusiasm with which I started the second novella but I very much enjoyed “The Royal Game”. I note that the novellas were translated by different people and I wonder if that made a difference. Whereas I found the first pretty dull, the second was very, very exciting and I was completely engaged by the plot and the story from the very beginning. It was clever and it was interesting. It’s about chess, which I have only the haziest idea how to play; my ignorance was no barrier to enjoyment. Perhaps I will attempt some more Mr. Zweig.

“Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire” and “Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones” by Derek Landy

Yes, I read a lot of books for children. Your point? These are not as good as the Artemis Fowl books, their natural comparator but they are entertaining. It is also great to see contemporary Dublin in this kind of novel. Very good. Volume 4 next year, apparently.

“The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave

This is a book about two women written by a man. A man who is a Guardian columnist to boot. While it at no point plummets the depths of Tony Parson’s “Man and Boy” (what could, we ask ourselves), there is, it seems to me, something similar in the smug, all-knowing authorial tone that hovers over both texts.

He is annoyed about how refugees are treated and he uses his book to explore this fictionally. I found the two female characters unconvincing. At first I thought it was because they were written by a man (what kind of a woman asks whether her tights match her shoes, seriously?) but then I encountered his male character Lawrence and found him unconvincing too. I think it may be because he is using them to make a point about the system rather than treating them as real people. Sarah is from Surrey and this is pretty much all we get on her background and we are to assume that she is a typical product of a happy marriage in the home counties but no one is like that and that kind of shorthand is lazy and undermines any appreciation of who the character is. Andrew, her husband, is Irish or of Irish extraction, it’s never really made clear and you might say it doesn’t matter but I think it does. The most successful character is Sarah’s little boy, Charlie. I did find him believeable. I looked on the author’s website and he says that he drew Charlie from his own little boy. He spent a week at home noting down what his son said and it shows. The engaging vitality of this little character highlights the lack of depth of the others.

The story trots along at a brisk pace and it is, on the whole, a very readable book. There are, however, long passages where, if you ask me, he lets himself get a bit carried away and loses momentum. Here is one of our heroines describing what oil taken from Africa is used for in the West:

“The heaviest fraction, the wisdom of our grandparents, was used to tar your roads. The middle fractions, the careful savings of our mothers from the small coins they put aside after the harvest time, these were used to power your cars. And the lightest fraction of all – the fantastical dreams of us children in the stillest hours of full-moon nights, – well, that came off as a gas that you bottled and stored for winter.”

If these little aperçus appeal to you, then this is the book for you. For me they struck a false note in the character (insofar as she is coherent and not a cipher used to exemplify the author’s – worthy – concerns) and slowed up the pace for a very contrived literary effect.

In my view, the problem of conscience and how to deal with plenty in a world of want is addressed far more more successfully in Nick Hornby’s “How to be Good.”

“Death of a Celebrity” by M.C. Beaton

My sister gave me this to read on the train. It’s that kind of book. A somewhat twee detective story set in a small Scottish village. By far the most startling thing about it was the fact that it had been turned into a television series where Robert Carlyle starred as Hamish Macbeth the local mild mannered policeman. Cast against type, I must say. It makes me think, though, that the television series must have been a lot better than the book as Robert Carlyle is good in everything.

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

I am very susceptible to the power of advertising. If I see an ad for honey roasted ham at the bus stop, then I will not rest nor will the sword sleep in my hand until I have consumed some honey roasted ham. The disappointment is always huge, of course, when honey roasted ham, or whatever it is, turns out not to be the nectar of the gods.

In April, Dublin City Council runs an initiative called “One City, One Book”. The idea is to encourage everyone in Dublin to read the same book which is connected to the city in some way. “Dracula” was the chosen book for this year and every flag and leaflet in the city encouraged the citizenry to read it. Inevitably, I succumbed. Although the author is from Dublin, it does not feature in the text although St. Michan’s crypt (which the Princess and I recently graced with our presence before going to see justice dispensed in the Four Courts – it was a very educational day) apparently inspired the crypt where our anti hero lies during the hours of daylight.

I found the novel slow going at the start: lots of scenery in the Carpathian mountains and that. For a modern reader, the problem is that much of the suspense is removed. What might have been shocking in Gothic in 1897 is pretty well known to everyone today. Dracula’s eyes are red, he becomes alarming at the sight of blood, he has no reflection: these may well have been exciting new tricks 110 years ago but hardly now.

However, from about 100 pages in and the arrival of Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing (who does not speak like a Dutchman – had the author ever even met a Dutchman we ask ourselves), things start to pick up. Nevertheless, I scare easy and I can say that this book is not scary. The writing style is hilarious and, if you were told it was pastiche, you would accept it willingly. The men are manly, the women are womanly and the vampires are, well, vampirely. And male vampires only go for females and vice versa though children are fair game for anyone. Harmless but dated and, I suspect, saved from oblivion by the fickle hand of Hollywood.

Upstaging

21 May, 2009 at 11:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Further to my recent post on the birth announcements – you may recall the arrival of “caddies for Daddy” – I saw the following in last weekend’s Irish Times:

SURNAME – Father, Mother… and big brother .. are thrilled to announce the safe arrival of (perfectly pleasant name)…..That completes our crew for Grandad’s boat!

What next we ask ourselves? You may make your suggestions below, if you feel so inspired.

Cultural Hegemony

20 May, 2009 at 10:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Recently, the Princess asked me what “ggu..nn.ess” meant? “Where did you see it?” I asked. “Everywhere,” she said. “Ah, I think you must mean Guinness”. “Oh, the black beer with white on top?” “Well, Guinness isn’t the only black beer with white on top, its called stout and in Cork they make two kinds of stout : Murphy’s and Beamish. In fact, your great, great uncle Tommy, your Cork Grandad’s uncle worked in the Murphy’s factory in Cork”. I’m doing my best here but I feel that I’m fighting an uphill battle.

Thalidomide

19 May, 2009 at 10:28 pm by belgianwaffle

I heard a fascinating programme about Thalidomide on radio 4 as I was driving to work a while ago (it was too wet to cycle – please note defensive tone) and I ended up sitting in the car park to listen to the end of it and scuttling in late to my desk. While I did know about Thalidomide and its effects, it was much more immediate and shocking to hear the people who had been involved and the archive radio material on this. Really interesting stuff and well worth a listen.

Vote!

18 May, 2009 at 10:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Last night the Princess asked her parents why there were pictures of the judge everywhere (she meant the Taoiseach – separation of powers is a mystery to the Princess, she regards the executive and judiciary as interchangeable). She spends a lot more time pounding the mean streets of the city and she likes to read everything and election posters are unavoidable. We explained that there were a number of elections looming. The local elections where we would vote for people to run Dublin and the European elections where we would vote for people to.. um…go to Brussels and Strasbourg. “And,” added Mr. Waffle, “don’t forget the by-election.” I consider myself very literate in these matters but I am having trouble working out whom they want me to vote for and for which position. It’s all very exciting though. The other night a young fella came knocking at our door urging us to vote Green in general and more specifically for him. Following a brief chat we established that he had been lectured by a former classmate of mine and our friend, the Dutch Mama when he was at college. Is it any wonder that there is a statistic that something like 90% of Irish people know their local T.D. personally?

The unkindest cut

17 May, 2009 at 8:09 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess, in her infinite wisdom, cut her hair while I was away overnight last week. She was making playdough and got some in her hair and this seemed to her the most practical way to deal with the problem. Essentially, she cut out a large clump of hair on one side of her head. I nearly cried when I saw her. “Your beautiful hair,” I said in exact imitation of my mother. “My sister is a boy now,” said Michael gloomily. We went to the hairdresser to get it all chopped off. He tsked and gave her a mullet. Her hair grows so slowly that she could be a teenager before it looks respectable again.

I spoke to her on the phone while I was away and she told me a tale of woe about how school was awful. The others had told her that she was to look for them while they hid and while she was counting they went and told the principal that she had pushed someone and she was punished. The principal and even the school secretary (who is lovely) had been very cross with her. Then, the authorities had found out that the others were lying and she was pardoned. I was very saddened by this glum little story and, the following morning, took her into school myself to get to the bottom of it. After dropping her off, I went for a word with the principal. He was astounded. The whole tale was utter fantasy. “In fact,” he said, “she is a very good child and has never been in any trouble at all.” What, internet, are we to make of this?

Finally, I discovered that in the Princess’s school, they make their first communions in their school uniforms. While this is something of which I heartily approve in theory, in practice, I find myself a little disconsolate. In theory, obviously, it stops ludicrously over the top expenditure and helps to focus the children’s (and indeed their parents’) minds on what is a very important religious event rather than an opportunity for dressing small girls as brides to be. In practice, I find that I had been somewhat looking forward to dressing my small girl as a bride to be (don’t mock the afflicted). One of the other parents said that some parents get dresses for their daughters for after the event. Even I can see that that is daft and my husband thinks that its completely ridiculous but yet, I am tempted. It’s two years away (oh stop sniggering in the corner) and perhaps herself will, once she has a thorough grasp on transubstantiation, have views on the appropriate dress code.

More from the birth announcements

15 May, 2009 at 10:23 pm by belgianwaffle

Recently, at the end of two announcements where boys were given relatively innocuous names (well, Riley and Zach, if you must know, my standards are slipping) the children’s thrilled etc. parents have seen fit to finish the announcements as follows: “A caddy for Daddy!!” In both cases, two exclamation marks were called for. What is this new and sinister development? Is it in some way related to the fact that you can now play straight through Ireland from North to South given that the greater part of the island of Ireland is now made up of golf courses?

With age, possibly, comes wisdom

14 May, 2009 at 10:23 pm by belgianwaffle

Many years ago, I used to drive from Dublin to Cork at Christmas with my friend M. When we were within sniffing distance of Cork city within the county bounds, in fact, he would insist on stopping for several hours in a college friend’s house. I see from the paper that said college friend’s firm is now sponsoring the Trevor/Bowen Literary Summer School. I wish now that I’d asked the friend about his reading habits rather than spending all my time there glumly nursing a cup of tea and desperate to get away. There’s a moral for young people there somewhere but I’m too tired to draw it.

Guilt 2.0

13 May, 2009 at 10:22 pm by belgianwaffle

“Our house in the middle of the web”. In the Irish Times, Debbie Orme was concerned about Google street view. You may read her concerns here, if that’s your kind of thing. How does this sentence make your correspondent feel:

It would be lovely to think that our children could be featured on the internet and we could log on to share images with our friends. But we all know that we don’t live in a world like that.

Um, unnerved. That’s how.

Thoughts on growing-up

12 May, 2009 at 10:21 pm by belgianwaffle

John Butler, in the Irish Times, hit the nail on the head with the following: “As time presses on, and the genetic prophecy is fulfilled, it feels as if we become more like our parents than our own selves, or the self-determined third person we thought we had been building all along.”

Regrettably accurate.

Socialising

11 May, 2009 at 10:21 pm by belgianwaffle

Last weekend, the Princess went to a birthday party in one of Dublin’s more exciting suburbs. It boasts horses in front gardens (this is not a good thing in Dublin, you’ll have to trust me here) and, if you type this suburb + shooting into Google, then you get 26,100 results. However, she emerged unscathed.

That evening her father and I went to dinner at the houses of friends who live in a rather different Dublin suburb. For the hell of it, I typed “much nicer suburb + shooting” into Google and it reproachfully asked me whether I meant “much nicer suburb + shopping”.

Meanwhile, Mr. Waffle got a call from the childminder asking whether she could take the children to a party at the house of a little (francophone, North African) boy they regularly played with in the park. He said yes and I probably would have too but I had some qualms subsequently. This is the problem with having two working parents. While I was perfectly happy to drop the Princess off to gangland shooting suburb as the birthday girl was a classmate whom I had met, I was uneasy about them all going to a strange house where I didn’t know the child or his mother even though their childminder stayed with them the entire time. Sigh.

We also got invited to lunch by friends – she is French and he is Irish and her parents (who do not speak a great deal of English) were staying for a week and I think that they felt that it might be useful to have some other French speakers and French speaking children about. All very pleasant – they are French farmers from deepest darkest Brittany and I was fascinated to hear that his parents were native Breton speakers and hers spoke a local dialect but, of course, they all learnt French French at school. While both our friend’s parents understand dialect and Breton respectively, our friend understands neither. It has to be said that the policy of the French state seems to be a little hostile to languages other than French within its borders. My husband, who knows everything, told me that as recently as the first world war only one in five Frenchmen spoke French. Well, they’ve fixed that then.

Startling

10 May, 2009 at 10:20 pm by belgianwaffle

I was at mass with my mother in Cork last week. The local catholic church, in a touching display of ecumenicism which I am sure would be crushed by the catholic hierarchy had they the faintest idea that it was happening, invites a protestant vicar to attend mass every week.

Last Sunday, the vicar read the Gospel and gave the sermon. I had by this point accustomed myself to his presence but since he kicked off with the words “My wife and I..” he succeeded in jolting his catholic congregation wide awake. These are not words you hear from a catholic priest.

It was vocation Sunday (the irony of having a Protestant vicar preach to a catholic congregation on vocation Sunday might not, I suspect appeal to the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but let us draw a veil over that) so there was a lot of talk of good shepherds.

The vicar told us of his former parish in West Cork and his parishioner, Trevor. Trevor was a good shepherd. He loved his cows. OK, sorry, a good dairy farmer. One day he saw one of the hired hands belting a cow and he fired the hired hand on the spot. Clear analogy, we are with you vicar, your words are only slightly undermined by the visible amusement of your catholic counterpart who had until that story been sitting nodding sagely as you told us of the wisdom of Billy Graham.

At the end of mass, the priest stood up to say a couple of words. Firstly, he thanked the spectacular choir who had come in from the Cork choral festival; secondly he told us that the church was 3 million in the red as the trustees had put all their money in AIB shares and this faith in capitalism turned out to be misplaced hence the need for a collection basked; finally he remarked that we might have seen him laughing during the sermon. He explained that he was a farmer’s son from West Cork. “And,” said he, “Protestant cows and Catholic cows are clearly treated very differently in that part of the world; we’d often give a cow an old belt to move it along.” I don’t know whether this ecumenicism lark will ever really take off.


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