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The Epitome of Cool

29 October, 2009 at 1:27 am by belgianwaffle

Myself and Mr. Waffle went to see the Saw Doctors on Saturday night. As we were going into the Olympia, two young men about town were passing. We were happened to overhear a snatch of their dialogue. “What’s on?” “The Saw Doctors.” “Ah, that old shite.”

The Saw Doctors have been around for about 20 years. They have a particularly Irish flavour to their music and very funny lyrics. Mr. Waffle maintains that the further you are from rural Ireland the more you will like the Saw Doctors. He is a bigger fan than I am but his friend from Fermoy (not a fan) is married to a Londoner who is wildly enthusiastic.

They attract a bizarre demographic. Sitting in front of me was a bald man of about 70 wearing a suit and tie and a fáinne. Beside me was an older gentleman wearing a baby blue v-necked golf jumper. He was accompanied by a young man of 17 or 18. They both knew all the words of all the songs. The concert also boasted a couple of children and loads of 20 somethings.

The Saw Doctors themselves are not as young as they once were. When they sang about leaving “the Christian Brothers’ school“, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s been a very long time since they left the Christian Brothers’ care. That song, about emigration, is topical again for the first time in 20 years so maybe the Saw Doctors are due a serious revival. Again, when they sang “Red Cortina” (remember the Cortina?) and mentioned “Christmas party 77”, it was clear that a large part of the audience wasn’t even born in 77 let alone meeting a first love (though a significant minority would have been 20 years married in 77). I’ve been humming it all week. What’s great about the Saw Doctors is that they sing about a very specific Irish context. Their songs really couldn’t have been written anywhere else – I mean, take for example the one about baling hay.

Apparently they’ll be back in Dublin in February, there’s something to look forward to.


28 October, 2009 at 1:26 am by belgianwaffle

It’s a long way from this:

to this:


Weekend round-up (late for every event so only appropriate that this is late too)

23 October, 2009 at 10:12 pm by belgianwaffle

Friday night
7.00 – Arrive home from work
7.30 – Leave for 50th birthday
2.00 – Stumble into bed
9.30 – GAA. Herself refused to play and the boys drew the line at hurling. Michael got lost. Not a success.
12.00 – Lunch
2.00 – Horseriding for children in the Dublin mountains. Their kind aunt got them vouchers. They absolutely loved it. I spoke to a mother on the sidelines. “Three children riding, it’s going to be bread and water for you from now on.” Hmm. They may have to contain their enthusiasm.
4.00 – Work thing for me.
13.30 – Lunch at a friend’s house
16.30 – V. pleasant walk in the war memorial gardens at Islandbridge
18.00 – Arrival of Hodge.


22 October, 2009 at 10:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Halloween is coming. At school, they have been listening to Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” on CD and watching it on television. The Princess got the book out from the library on Saturday and read it four times in rapid succession. She has not spent a night in her own bed since Sunday. Sigh.

Another mouth to feed

21 October, 2009 at 10:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Meet Hodge.
Hodge 1

Hodge 2

It’s getting closer

19 October, 2009 at 12:42 am by belgianwaffle

First it was in the school; now it’s in her class:
Swine flu

Why am I the only person in this family who ever throws anything out?

17 October, 2009 at 12:21 am by belgianwaffle

Following a late night search for my phone charger, this pile was left for Mr. Waffle one morning along with a tart note saying 1) I was going to throw them out unless he mounted a very convincing defence and 2) did he have any idea where my mobile phone charger might be?

sos connectique

He confessed that he had “misfiled” my phone charger in the drawer with his – where it is easily found, being apart from the big box of wires we are not allowed to throw out (including, until recently, Air Canada headphones purchased on a transatlantic flight about ten years ago – never used since that initial trip). Is it my fault for buying a big box where all these things could co-exist in harmony and develop their own ecosystem?


15 October, 2009 at 11:35 pm by belgianwaffle

Consider the gender of every person in this photo:

First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of the G20 leaders pose for a group photo at CAPA High School in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sept. 25, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Is there still some way to go before we have gender equality, do you think?

Babysitters – A history

14 October, 2009 at 11:21 pm by belgianwaffle

Unbelievable as it seems, we had no regular babysitters until the boys were born. What were we thinking? We stayed at home with our daughter for 2 and a half years worth of evenings. This is the kind of thing I now ridicule new parents for (in the inner recesses of my brain, clearly, not publicly, they have enough to endure, poor souls).

Shortly before the boys were born, friends of ours, fellow-parents, told us that they had a babysitter every Saturday night, no matter what. “But, surely,” we babbled, “you’re too tired.” “True,” they conceded, “some nights you’d really prefer to crawl into bed but you’re always tired, so you might as well get out regularly.” We took this piece of advice away, pondered on it and found it good.

When the boys were born, we decided to go for a Rolls Royce childcare solution (we were richer then, now we regret spending money like water, you will be pleased to hear). We had a creche full-time and a woman to mind them at home 2-3 days a week. If she was sick, we could take them into the creche. If they were sick, she could mind them at home. It worked very well from a practical point of view.

That first woman we recruited was called Charity. She came from the Philippines. I met her upstairs in the neighbours’ flat while she was cleaning and I was feeding their cats (they were on holidays). Enterprisingly, she asked whether I had any cleaning work I needed doing. I had not but I asked about her childcare experience. We struck a deal and for the next three years she was part of our daily lives. The children didn’t like her much; she was strict. On the plus side, she had two young daughters of her own who adored the boys and she was amazingly efficient. Theoretically, I would have liked her to have spent more time playing stimulating games with the boys but practically, it was quite nice to come home to a clean and tidy flat and fed children.

She was supplemented by Cheryl, a lovely, gentle woman from the Philippines and Yolanda who had spent many years in Belgium while her children grew up in the Philippines and also by Katya, a young French girl studying to be a cartoonist in Belgium. Cheryl I found via a small ad in an ex-pat magazine, Yolanda through a friend and Katya had an ad up in the bakery. Katya was much too kind-hearted to mind our three and I think she used to be worn down by the strain. I spent a fair bit of time with her as I used to go off with her and the children occasionally on Sunday afternoons letting my loving husband have some time off (am I not a good wife) and she was unfailingly patient and kind. Much more unfailingly than, say, me. She has since diversified into landscape gardening but sends us the odd card which I find very touching.

On our return to Ireland, I was determined to find French babysitters for the children, a project which was amazingly easy to realise. Dublin is full of young French women and almost all of them live within a two kilometre circumference of our home. First, we had Aliette, whom Mr. Waffle found through a French ex-pat chatroom. She seemed very strict to me but the children absolutely loved her. She invented clever games for them and she took her task of keeping up their French very much to heart. She was supplemented by three French students whom I met and recruited in the local supermarket. Alas, I have forgotten their names. One of them didn’t like it and only came once and one of them the children didn’t like. The third girl had an extraordinary name that neither my husband or I ever learned to pronounce correctly. Her surname was double barrelled and Mr. Waffle felt that she was the issue of the haute bourgeosie (which also explained her unusual first name). She was extremely pretty and beautifully dressed. Under these circumstances, I could only regard her with extreme dubiety. The children thought she was fabulous. She was kind to them and interested in their concerns. There is a lesson for me there somewhere, I think.

At Christmas, 2008, it was all change. Aliette got an intern job in a New York financial company (she was, alas, overqualified for us) and our three French students finished their semester in Dublin and headed back to France.

I found our current babysitter, F, through an online recruitment service for babysitters. It cost me €50 to get an account for 12 months but it has been well worth the expenditure. As you will be aware, I am not a big plugger of products but this one really worked for me, so I feel generous. F. has been with us almost a year, collecting the children from creche and school (and now just school) and bringing them home by public transport 4 afternoons a week. I think she’s great. Enthusiastic, obliging and helpful. The children can’t abide her although they did express the mildest enthusiasm for seeing her again after the summer holidays. Sigh. F has been supplemented by: the girl who put up an ad in the local library and, alas, after a month decamped back to France because she could find no other work; Chloe who was v. popular with the Princess but was regarded with less enthusiasm by the boys (finished her stint studying here in the summer and headed back to Lyons) and by our newest find J (also from the website people), who seems lovely. She is doing an arts administration masters in one of the Dublin universities. When we asked why she had moved from Paris to Dublin to study in this field, she replied, with commendable frankness, that she had met a man and followed him here. Unhappy differences had subsequently arisen but we would be glad to hear that she had now met a nice German (un petit allemand). Somewhat overwhelmed by this unexpected information (even, I would hesitate to share quite so much in this context), we nodded encouragingly. She is very much enjoying her course but regards everything to do with marketing as unbearably sordid: how delightfully stereotypical. Like Aliette, she takes her French language duties seriously and when reading English books to the children translates into French as she goes. That’s the kind of enthusiasm, we like to see.

I am recording all this as, some day, the children might like to know who brought them up. I’m sure Mr. James would approve.

Oi done da

13 October, 2009 at 11:12 pm by belgianwaffle

That is how my son Daniel now says, “I did that”. He has a very good ear for languages and for music as well. While the others still sound broadly the same, Daniel has now completely adopted the demotic lingua franca of the playground. I had no idea that bringing up my children in Dublin was going to mean kissing goodbye to grammar.

Really, the Nobel Peace Price?

12 October, 2009 at 11:12 pm by belgianwaffle

Honestly, what were they thinking? I thought it was a joke on a comedy show when I heard it first on the news. Don’t get me wrong, I think (like all us Europeans) that Obama is the cat’s pyjamas and I love it when America is all multilateral and that but, as he said himself, he hasn’t accomplished anything. He is also the President of the United States of America, and there is a serious risk that he might end up waging war during his Presidency because that often seems to happen to American presidents. It’s like the Pope calling Henry VIII the Defender of the Faith. They’re laying themselves open for trouble.

And one of the good things about the Nobel Peace Prize, surely, is that it shines a light on abuses and human rights work of which you might not previously have been aware. I think every sentinent being on the planet knows about Obama. And, I suspect, politically, it might do him more harm than good.


6 October, 2009 at 9:06 pm by belgianwaffle

“The Host” by Stephenie Meyer

Don’t despise me, pity me. Very page turningy tome from the vampire queen. It features aliens which I rather enjoy. It continues to show Ms. Meyer’s disturbing penchant for violent men. Of course, the men are entirely justified in their violence and the heroines always blame themselves (none of this would have happened, if I weren’t an alien, it’s all my fault, I cut my finger – whatever you fancy yourself). Isn’t that what happens in real life in domestic violence – the abused partner thinks it’s all her fault (and it usually is a her, pace John Waters) and if only she had done something different, he wouldn’t have hit her? I didn’t like it but I still read the book in jig time.

“The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters” Ed. Charlotte Mosley

This is a wonderful book. Further, if you can only read your books in fits and starts (let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that you live with young children), it very much lends itself to that kind of reading. If you have any interest in the Mitford sisters (go on, you must have), it’s fascinating.

The editor is Diana Mosley’s daughter-in-law and it’s clear that she was very fond of her. I do find myself wondering whether that prejudices her views of the sisters who are unkind to Diana (Nancy and Jessica). Nancy appears to have been unkind to everyone from time to time and to have had a very vicious streak but it is hard to judge based on what the author herself says is less than 5% of the sisters’ output. The letters go from the early 1920s to 2003 and one of the reviews printed on the book describes this as a story of the 20th century by those who had first row seats and that is a good summary. There is though, also, a lot more domestic, mundane items and these do fill in the sisters’ characters.

Anyway, I am going to go off and reread all of Nancy’s output (now that I have a much better knowledge of who her characters are) and “Hons and Rebels” too. So this book is an extended pleasure. My book of the year so far.

“Unless” by Carol Shields

This is a beautifully written book. It’s a bit thin on plot and, normally, I would be the first to criticise this but, in this case, I really didn’t mind. It is the story of a happily married author with three children. Her life is perfect. Then her eldest daughter goes off the rails and sits on a street corner with a placard marked goodness around her neck. This is really an exploration of the state of women. As a young friend of mine said to me recently about something else “it proves that the gender debate still has legs.” It does indeed.

“Hangman’s Holiday” by Dorothy L. Sayers

My parents both like Dorothy L. Sayers and there were a lot of her books around the house when I was growing up. I tried one once and didn’t like it. My sister likes her very much and recently my aunt was saying how much she likes her. I found this slim volume in the unwieldy piles beside my bed and decided to give Ms. Sayers another go. I’m glad I did. It’s a series of short stories and I enjoyed several of them very much. A whole world of happy reading stretches before me.

“Strong Poison” by Dorothy L. Sayers

Great stuff and the contented knowledge that there’s lots more where this came from makes things even better. Lord Peter Wimsey stars as detective. All ends well. Hilariously funny in places. I suspect you would have to know Lord Peter rather better than I do to be touched though. Also, recent learning on rhotic and non-rhotic has taught me that “er” is pronounced “eh”. This has improved my reading happiness no end. Lord Peter says “er” a lot.

“Unnatural Death” by Dorothy L. Sayers

We’re on a roll here. More Wimsey.

“Excellent Women” by Barbara Pym

Gently, gloomily humourous. Some people love Barbara Pym; I quite like her despite the fact that plot is really incidental to character and detail. Genteel England in the middle of the twentieth century – all perfectly pleasant in a mild way.

Alphabet soup

5 October, 2009 at 10:21 pm by belgianwaffle

They say that God never gives you a burden you cannot carry. This is why I have three children but only two birthday parties a year.

Yesterday we celebrated the boys’ fourth birthday with their friends. Even when we sent out the invitations, I knew there were too many. We did get some refusals but then other parents brought siblings along for the hell of it. In the end there were 19 children under 7 in our tiny house. Had the weather not been fine, we would have gone insane.

The showing from school friends was disappointing. There were only three:
-U, a lovely, gentle, quiet boy who wandered around hoping that his father would come back soon;
-Z, who wedged herself between the sofa and the bookcase and only emerged in the last half hour and
-S, whose sister is a good friend of the Princess’s so was therefore invited though both boys loath him (the feeling appears to be mutual). S’s sister J came as company for the Princess. As the day went on, J started to wilt. The poor mite had a cough, a headache and a temperature. We did not have her parents’ number. Her father arrived to collect them an hour and a half late (car broke down) by which time poor J was asleep on the sofa and even I was going off her brother S.
The other 6 children invited from school didn’t come. Possibly just as well.

Montessori school produced many more attendees:
-S2 whose father asked could he drop sister C as well (age 2) – S2 was a very well-behaved little boy and C, despite my misgivings, a confident and self-contained two-year old. I was charmed by S2 who came up and kissed my hand – he will go far. S2’s father shares a name with a friend from college and cross-examination elicited the information that he is my friend’s first cousin. Small country and all that.

-D who was great and, of all the girls, the most up for participating in the running and jumping games – at one point, I saw her holding 4 boys up with a Ben 10 laser gun – her mother turns out to be a former girlfriend of the man whose wedding we attended two weeks ago – small country again;

-E who is a big, boisterous, noisy boy;

-J whose parents didn’t bother to respond to the invitation (bitter moi?) but who turned up unexpectedly with S2’s delegation and also an arm in plaster. I distinctly heard the plaster crack on at least one occasion but to be fair to J he was a very tough, chirpy child and there were no tears. I passed the information about the cracking noise on to S2 and C’s father who collected J and considered my duty done.
M who used to be the boys’ teacher in Montessori and does parties at the weekends in exchange for a fee. She face-painted and made balloons but in retrospect we would have been better off having her do crowd control in the garden.

Then there were the neighbours:

-S3 and two-year old D from next door. I was slightly startled when their father dropped them and scooted off saying, “If there are any problems, drop D back”. I had expected that, given his tender years, a parent would stay with him but no. In fact, like our other toddler C, he was no trouble. He promptly sat on top of his tractor, which had been passed over the garden fence some time previously and not returned, and stayed there. He and his sister are vegetarians and impressed me by a) staying away from the cocktail sausages and b) asking for rice cakes and carrot sticks, which were really only on the table to impress the parents, and which the other children treated with the contempt they deserved;

– M, a shy only child, asked to go home several times but in the end, stayed the course;

O, another only child but a more forceful one. She spent the afternoon in the back garden with nothing on but a party dress accessorised by goose pimples despite repeated attempts to get her into a cardigan. When her father came to collect her, I didn’t recognise him at first. “How can you prove you’re her father?” I joked on the doorstep. “You can keep her,” he said with alacrity. That’s a convincing response, I have to say.

C who is 2 and whose mother mercifully stayed with him. C, I feel got a rough deal as he had to eat the rice cakes and carrot sticks but was clearly desperate for chocolates. He lives entirely on a diet of healthy, organic food. Can this be right?

And finally ourselves:

Cousins J and G. The waffle-in-laws had hoped to drop J and depart for a couple of hours to bond with their daughter but it was not to be as we desperately needed them to stay and help with crowd control which they dutifully, and very effectively, did. We have pledged ourselves to come and repay the favour when J turns 4 in March.

The Princess, who was very virtuous – she lured Z out of her safe place between the bookcase and the sofa, made sure that she was fed and brought her upstairs to her room to play. At one point, I noticed that 2 year old C was missing and found her safely with the Princess playing with dolls.
Michael had a great time. He was a green monster (face paint) and he and friend D (also a monster) went around roaring at the other children.
Daniel enjoyed himself too but was slightly more weepy about various injustices (I wanted to be first in the race). Much of his time was spent torturing me to open presents. I always feel that it’s rude not to open presents as children arrive but after yesterday’s excitement, I can really see the merits of putting the presents aside until everyone has gone home. Almost every item the boys received was attached to cardboard backing by an intricate series of wires which required all one’s attention to unpick. Undivided attention was in short supply. I have no real idea who gave what. Pieces of important looking plastic wrapped carefully in film littered the floor, separated from the toys to whose successful functioning they were integral. We have finally and definitively lost the battle against plastic toys. We now have to swim on a sea of plastic to get anywhere. I was astounded that they got no books at all.

This motley crew had to be entertained. By far the most successful game consisted of running past Mr. Waffle (who was a monster with a scarf tied over his eyes – the advantages of a classical education) to the end of the garden.
Three legged races were less successful due to poor co-ordination and similar problems were encountered with the egg and spoon race.
Pin the tail on the donkey and find the matching card hidden in the garden were regarded as very dull by the hard chaws from Montessori (let’s put it this way, J didn’t break his arm pinning the tail on the donkey).
At one point, in the vain hope of exhausting the punters, I promised a prize for everyone who could run up and down the garden ten times. As I distributed my spot prizes (purchased in the €2 shop only the previous day), the children of the new Ireland rose up and protested to a man: I don’t want a pencil, why has he got a car?, I want the baby’s bottle full of sweets. It was hilarious and terrifying in equal measure.
Pass the parcel, musical chairs and statues had to be rejected as they would have involved the terrifying prospect of bringing everyone indoors (for music).
M toiled away inside making balloons and painting faces.
We pitched the two-man Ben 10 tent which the boys had received as a present. The children piled inside – thoughtfully removing their shoes first (they seemed to feel it was the right thing to do – we didn’t ask them to). Of course, they never put their shoes back on. We were therefore able to hit a new low in party child care. Not only did the children not wear their coats when in the back garden but most of them weren’t wearing their shoes either.

People, that was the longest two hours of my life. When I was growing up, my mother always had wonderful parties, all afternoon parties, for all of us and my father didn’t even help – I don’t ever remember him being there (though we did have Cissie – the lady who minded us). To be fair my mother had a big house and garden but even so, I have a whole new found respect for her organisational skill and daring.

There was no dinner that night. There was certainly no bath. I did my best to remove the spiderman/green monster face paint with make-up remover. I was only partially successful and the boys went into school this morning looking, respectively, pink and jaundiced.

I crawled into bed last night at 8.45 where I slept undisturbed until Michael joined me about 9.15 and put his freezing feet all over me and then again until Daniel woke me at 2.15 asking me why I had gone off with the woman in the hat. A mystery.

And, in what can only be called spectacularly poor timing, tonight I hosted my bookclub. This would merit a post all of its own under normal circumstances. Michael came downstairs every two minutes until 9.30, one of the participants got hopelessly lost and rang regularly for directions.

The evening went like this.

Michael (popping a cautious head round the door): Mummy, it’s dark, I can’t sleep.
Carry him back to bed.
Lost attendee: I’m outside a Maxol garage.
Michael: Mummy, I fell out of bed.
Carry back to bed
Lost attendee: I’m on the Dublin ring road.
Michael: Mummy, Daniel frightened me.
Lost attendee: I’m at a Superquinn.

And so on ad infinitum. My friend C suggested it was like a Beckett play and the lost attendee would never actually make it. More like a Greek play with a chorus said another as Michael yet again stuck his head round the door.

On the plus side, it won’t be my turn to host again for months.

Random reading

4 October, 2009 at 12:11 am by belgianwaffle

From the Irish Times:

The decision by the Sun to withdraw the support from Labour that it has given since 1997 was revealed to Labour ministers, ironically, as they attended a function held by the Sun’s parent company, News International, on Tuesday night. Business secretary Peter Mandelson expressed his anger directly to News International executives, though he denied later that he had used foul language, saying that he had called Sun journalists ‘a bunch of chumps’.

A bunch of chumps, eh? Unlikely, I think.

Very good illustration from Ph.D comics which I discovered via Eoin. Eoin’s site reminds me a litte of Kottke but with more law and blasphemy.


For Irish speakers only

2 October, 2009 at 8:31 am by belgianwaffle

Have a look at this. Seriously, ignoring the spelling, aren’t Manx and Irish the same?

Lisbon II

1 October, 2009 at 11:55 pm by belgianwaffle

The Irish people will be voting again on the Lisbon Treaty tomorrow.

I asked the Princess what she knew about it. It has been omnipresent, so I assumed that she must have some views. And she had. She had seen this poster and this one. I was fascinated that the yes campaign’s posters didn’t seem to have registered with her at all (and they were plentiful). There has been some fun had with posters on both sides, if you are so minded you might like to see the mocking posters which have been dreamt up such as these, these and this.

It’s been an interesting campaign. My personal highlight was watching Michael O’Leary and Declan Ganly debating on the television. This was fascinating as it was the reverse of what usually happens. Usually, the no side says something. And keeps saying it. And keeps saying. The yes side leaps to the Treaty and seeks to refute the no side comment by reading out chapter and verse. The net effect of this is that one retains the no side’s argument and the yes side’s counter argument is ineffectual, however, right it might be. Michael O’Leary did not know the Treaty in any detail. He kept repeating three things: 1. I live in Ireland, pay my taxes here and have created 1,000 jobs here; 2. Lisbon allows us to retain our Commissioner and 3. the ECB is bailing us out of the current banking mess. Ganley kept quoting the Nice Treaty on Commissioners and so on but it really didn’t matter as Michael just kept on making his three effective points. It was interesting to see the no side’s tactics being used against them and, much as Michael O’Leary irritates me, I have to take my hat off to him

So, just in case there was any doubt, I’ll be voting yes tomorrow (did I or did I not discover only this week that social insurance paid in another member state goes towards dental benefits here?) and keeping my fingers crossed.

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