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When did that happen?

30 April, 2010 at 10:31 pm by belgianwaffle

During my enforced bedroom tidy up, I found a sheet of paper in the Princess’s room on which she had written her name backwards. I suddenly remembered that she used to almost always write her name backwards. But she stopped at some point. Recently, I feel, but I can’t say when. It appears that despite my attempt to obsessively catalogue their every move, the children keep growing up and it happens so naturally, I don’t even notice.

Recovering

29 April, 2010 at 10:18 pm by belgianwaffle

I’ve been saving this up until I could get back online.

One Saturday afternoon, the Princess went out with a friend and his mother for a birthday treat, Mr. Waffle went to the supermarket, I cut the grass and the boys played upstairs with a little girl who lives on our road. Later that evening, after the children had eaten dinner I went upstairs to dress to go out. It was only then that I discovered that my sons and their little visitor had taken off the shelves, out of baskets, out of cupboards and out of wardrobes everything their little four year old mitts could reach. In all the bedrooms. The Princess’s room was knee deep in tat. I couldn’t even open her door. I roared at the two boys. They lay on the ground and bawled contrition. I continued to roar at them. I was so furious that I STILL don’t feel bad about that. At this point the babysitter arrived and asked, in awed tones, whether we had taken photos. As we had to leave, our priority was to clear a path to the beds so that the children could get into them at some point later in the evening. I was most displeased. I think that this may well be the boys’ earliest memory.

As though this were not bad enough, the following day we had the Princess’s birthday party. This normally hair raising event passed off relatively peacefully due to the following factors: the party was only two hours long; my sister came to help and made the birthday cake; we hired professional help; one of the invitees was 11 and more like an extra helper than a guest; the weather though not sunny was dry and the children were able to run in the garden; and, all the parents collected their offspring on time.

Much entertainment in the office with stories of colleagues stuck all over Europe under a cloud of volcanic ash; ferries fully booked; general hilarity on the part of those not stuck in Cherbourg where colleagues comprehensively fail to see the humour. All back to normal now. Until the next Icelandic volcano.

Bunk Beds

28 April, 2010 at 10:16 pm by belgianwaffle

We got bunk beds for the boys. This followed a concerted campaign by Michael who insisted that they were essential for his happiness. To be fair, I also felt that it was time that my four year old sons got out of their cots. Michael steered the delivery men into his room. He was quite cross when they wouldn’t move the other furniture so that the bunk beds could be fitted into the selected alcove. I went upstairs having seen the men out, to find Michael lying weeping on his bed. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked. “What will happen to my bed? Please don’t give away my bed that I’ve had since I was a tiny baby.” Oh dear.

While they were far too big for their cots, they look very small in the bunk beds.

My bourgeois hell (TM)

27 April, 2010 at 10:15 pm by belgianwaffle

1. I still haven’t had a chance to use the immensely large gift voucher my parents gave me for my birthday 6 weeks ago.

2. You may have noticed that posting has been light here recently (or not, don’t shatter my illusions). Our computer is broken, the men have taken it away to fix it but still it is not back. And my husband wants the laptop to work in the evenings. The injustice. I have wrenched it from him tonight but I think he wants it back.

Reading

16 April, 2010 at 9:27 pm by belgianwaffle

“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

I prepared a big long spiel on this and then I lost it. I can’t face doing it again. Here is the summary version. This is about Thomas Cromwell who was Henry VIII’s chancellor. Some kind of great, great, great uncle of the more famous Oliver. Until about page 350 I thought that this was one of the best books I had ever read, I was entranced with it, I couldn’t speak highly enough of it and I kept accosting random strangers and telling them about it. But, at page 350 or thereabouts, I went off it: I got increasingly tired of the way everyone was always very clever and each sentence uttered was capable of several different interpretations, something not clarified by the author’s tendency to refer to her hero only as “he”; I was unconvinced about why our hero attached himself to the Boleyn interest – this is not, in my view at all clearly explained (and as those of us who were forced to do Othello for the Leaving know, lack of motive for a principal character is a major flaw in any work); Cromwell is given a very modern English liberal sensibility, this became annoying and deeply unconvincing; and, the endgame with Thomas More drags on forever.

Still and all, well worth a read.

“The Mysterious Affair at Styles” by Agatha Christie

Read while recovering from Wolf Hall. You know, Agatha Christie, undemanding.

“Skulduggery Pleasant – Dark Days” by Derek Landy

Really lovely to read this series set in Ireland. Other than that, teenage zombie, vampire, alternative universe standard fare. With a skeleton.

“The Famished Road” by Ben Okri

That’s it, I’ve had it with magical realism. Never again. I should have been warned by the following quote from a review on the back “..an epic poem that happens to touch down this side of prose…When I finished the book and went outside, it was as if all the trees of South London had angels sitting in them.” And the following: “Overwhelming…just buy it for its beauty..” You certainly wouldn’t want to buy it for its plot. Because there is none. 500 pages of the spirit child and his visions set to a backdrop of grinding poverty. I am so glad to have finished this book. Poetry that lands just this side of prose is not meant to be read in 500 page dollops in my view. If this book had been written in four stanzas, I might really have enjoyed it.

“Tanglewreck” by Jeanette Winterson

I got a present of this from my godson and I really enjoyed it. It’s Jeanette Winterson’s first foray into the world of children’s fiction and she does a good job. I think that she is a fantastic writer and that is a huge help. Her plot is a bit convoluted and owes a lot to Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy. Mrs. Coulter and Regalia Mason are closely related. Still, I would definitely read another of her offerings for children.

I have lost my copy of “Cold Comfort Farm”. I am bereft.

Finally, what would you think if your husband, a man who normally reads literary fiction, came home with a book entitled “Another Man’s Life”? And further, he had recently turned 40. And further the book was described thus on the dust jacket:

“Another Man’s Life is a brilliant, funny and honest novel about living every man’s dream – whatever that is….

Tom is married with kids. After losing two jobs in as many years, he is now a full-time ‘house-husband’ with the self-confidence of a mid-leap lemming.

Sean, his twin brother, runs his own business, wears handmade suits and sleeps with a succession of beautiful women. The problem is: they are both miserable.

Sean craves stability and domestic bliss. Tom dreams of a day when his shirt is not dripping with his children’s snot.

So, the brothers decide to use the trick of their birth to live each other’s fantasies; to have another man’s life for two weeks.

But things are never quite so simple and the truth of what these brothers really want begins to emerge…”

Is it any wonder I’m growing my hair?

Random Statistic

15 April, 2010 at 10:29 pm by belgianwaffle

I am growing my hair. Mostly through inertia, it grows slowly. I haven’t had it cut since April 2009 and it only really needs to be cut now. It hasn’t yet reached my shoulders. Someone complimented me on it recently and commented that 90% of men who have affairs have them with women whose hair is longer than their wives’ hair. Discuss.

Heartfelt plea

14 April, 2010 at 10:09 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel having hurt his toe: Oh God, please take the pain away it’s so sore.
Me: Sweetheart, I’m not sure that’s how prayer works.
Daniel: Oh God, PLEASE take the pain away and give it to Michael.

Health and Safety gone mad etc.

13 April, 2010 at 10:37 pm by belgianwaffle

I am recycling a story from a friend here. I suppose it is a new low but I rather liked this one so you will have to suffer. My friend’s father, a retired neurosurgeon and all round no nonsense man, went walking with my friend’s sister and sister’s son by the river. The child, aged four, was on his bicycle with stabilisers. His grandfather described his outfit thus to my friend with mounting outrage: the child was wearing a helmet, a high visibility vest, knee pads, arm pads and…water wings.

The Age of Reason

12 April, 2010 at 12:02 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess turned 7 today. This is the first year of my own life which I remember with some clarity and I wonder whether it will be the same for her.

I took a half day from work and picked her up from school as a surprise. We bought high school musical stationery (ah girls and their love of stationery), sandals to celebrate the change in the weather, tea and a bun which we enjoyed in silence: I read my book, she read her Beano. Then we browsed in a bookshop amicably together and went home. When we got home, we found that the boys and the childminder, M, had put up balloons and bunting and made her a cake. M had also bought her a present. Relatives called to wish her happy birthday. Shortly after M’s departure, my brother and sister arrived weighed down with presents. And we finally got the walkie talkie we gave her in the morning to work. She had such a great day. And that is not always the case. For example, she spent much of her birthday last year sulking in her room.

I seem to remember that 7 used to be regarded as the age at which children can give uncorroborated evidence in court and I can see why. The Princess is much better at seeing things and describing them in ways other people can understand. Smaller children can describe what they’ve seen but it’s as though they have no points of reference in common with you. They’re speaking another language. She has lots of points of reference in common with adults.

Mind you, sometimes, I think that we attribute more knowledge to her than she has. She really startled me the other day by saying that she had thought that you got change from every commercial transaction. When she paid the exact amount some months ago (counted out by me, she was buying a stuffed turtle), she was surprised not to get change. I remember the incident and I would never have thought that, at that stage, she didn’t really understand how money worked. She has a very extensive vocabulary (today she described herself as “tempted by several different cakes to the amusement of the people at the table next to us) which she does not always deploy in a manner which indicates understanding but she does like words.

She reads a lot and she hates to be told anything. I suppose, as an eldest child, she suffers from the full weight of her parents’ didactic tendencies (poor Daniel is always begging to be asked sums but we seem to have used up all our energy on herself). And sometimes, she does know surprising things. One day, in the wake of one of their unhappier interludes, I described herself and her father as being like diamond on diamond. “Why do I say that?” I asked her. “Because diamond is the hardest thing.” “That’s right and you know what’s interesting about diamond? It’s made from carbon atoms and do you know something else that’s made from carbon atoms?” I asked, about to trot out everyone’s favourite science fact. But she answered “Yes, coal.” “How do you know that?” I asked. “I read it in my science book.” That science book gets a lot of reading. I’m unclear how much she understands but she loves it.

It seems almost incredible that this whole loving, clever, beloved little person with views (oh how she has views), likes, dislikes, friends, conversation and a personality (lots of personality) was once a tiny baby. Although seeing her closing her eyes and sucking her thumb when I put her to bed tonight reminded me that she’s not so big as all that. Of course, it’s easy for me to check what has changed as, unbeknownst to herself (insert appropriate quantity of guilt here) my daughter has lived a life online. I hope that, on balance, someday, she will be pleased that so much of her youth is set out here. I think it might be interesting to read about what happened to her when she was little from a grown-up’s point of view and match it to her memory. She is part of the very first generation of blogged about children – it’s different from being in a book or being in a newspaper column. It’s more anonymous yet more detailed. I think that it is also less intimate than a book where more seems to leak out and, of course, it’s much, much more common and that’s probably a good thing. If the worst comes to the worst, all this can serve as a basis for her PhD research.

Happy birthday my favourite girl in the whole world.

RSS

7 April, 2010 at 10:08 pm by belgianwaffle

I did a virtual spring clean. I went through my RSS reader and had some thoughts which follow. This is perhaps not a post for the faint-hearted but persistent readers will be rewarded with some excellent links later on.

I read all my blogs through bloglines, recommended to me many years ago (2004, I think) by the ever enchanting Fluid Pudding. I rarely go to see the blogs themselves although they are much more beautiful in the flesh than the standard text offering produced by bloglines. I go to blogs to comment and I go to one blog which will only put the first couple of lines in my RSS feeder (I’m looking at you Beth Fish). Until my recent ruthless clear up of my RSS feed there were a startling 250 blogs (I am now down to a much more manageable 178) to which I was subscribed and I would glance at most of them regularly. With some regret, I unsubscribed from old blogs that I have kept on the list in the hope that they might revive (chez miscarriage, last updated 2005, still one of the best blogs ever) but stuck with some very irregular updaters on the basis that their very rare posts (approximately annual) are worth the wait (Aphra Behn) or that I care about them and want to see how they are getting on (wet feet, little blemishes, gpmama) or perhaps can’t quite face following them in another medium (Letter B – lost to twitter)

In the past, I almost always took site recommendations from other bloggers. I still do this but over the past year or so, I find myself checking out links recommended in the paper. Yes, the paper version of the paper. I tear out the relevant article and stick it in my diary for later inspection. Almost invariably, these are corporate collective type blogs, almost never individual voices. Mostly, journalists appear to go for blogs written by other journalists or commentators on media sites or collective blogs from think tanks and NGOs. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of blog but it is quite a different animal from the blog written to satisfy a personal need to communicate rather than a corporate obligation to do so.

In my spring clean of my RSS feeds I removed people who were no longer posting and I divided up the blogs I read into the following categories:

20six
Cartoons
EU
Factual
Ireland
Me
Personal
UK
US
Work
Writing

And now I’m going to tell you about them. Because I can. Here is the public service part of this post. I will give you some of my favourites from each group and why (though, like the book, they are all my favourites). You deserve this for reading thus far. And they are, unless otherwise specified, regular updaters.

20six (14 feeds)

This should really be subsumed into personal (see below) but for sentimental reasons, I keep it separate. I started my blogging life on this platform and I still remember it with fondness. All of the people listed here started on 20six. None of the people listed here are still on 20six which tells its own story.

When I first met Town Mouse (met in the broadest sense of the word, you understand) she lived in London. Now she lives in rural Scotland. She gets a lot of excellent material from bad weather.
Heather used to live in Switzerland but now lives in Greece. Less snow, a completely different relationship with bureaucracy.
Mike believes in the beauty of travel.
Lesley’s blog is called peregrinations.

Mobile bunch, aren’t they?

Belgium (4 feeds)

I don’t follow Belgian blogs much anymore following my repatriation. The woman who stole my name writes very nicely. She is gloomy. I would love her, if she wasn’t me only better. As it is, I am left with a faint sense of bitterness. Even though you probably only ended up here looking for her. Damn her.

Cartoons (10 feeds)

xkcd.com is my favourite by a long way. Very funny little stick men. Catering for the minority market for tech cartoons.
Missed connections has appealing watercolours but they are not quite cartoons. Have a look you’ll see what I mean. Also, they are very infrequently updated.

EU (4 feeds)

What can I say, I still care but following my weeding out, much less so it would appear. Of the four remaining after the cull, Jon Worth’s is by far the best. He often complains about the poor quality of the EU blogosphere, he’s right.

Factual (16 feeds)

This is where I put most of the more corporate, um factual stuff.

Pride of place here most go to Kottke.org I love this site. Its tagline is “home of fine hypertext products” and it couldn’t be more true. I have found some of the best things on the internet via Kottke. 14,414 other blogline subscribers and I find it invaluable, informative and unmissable. And very regularly updated. An observation: anything whimsical which is reported in the papers (for example, portion sizes in the last supper are getting bigger) I will almost invariably have seen earlier on the internet, usually at least a week earlier. Quite often on Kottke.

I am fond of the Sartorialist also. A man who attempts to inspire everyone to dress beautifully.

Seth Godin is perhaps a little American in approach for us Europeans, too perky and all that, but still very insightful at times (I have to say that I don’t buy his obsession with the lizard brain but buying into everything isn’t the point). I tried to apply his wisdom on powerpoint once when giving a presentation to a group of English county councillors (really, please don’t ask) and it all went horribly wrong. I still think it’s good advice though.

Lessons for Old People. Distressingly informative from time to time although I would like to emphasise that I DO actually know how to friend people on facebook, should I wish to do so.

Free Range Kids – Let your children out occasionally. It’s health and safety gone mad etc.

Ireland (19 feeds)

Nearly two years back in the country and I am still trying to get a handle on the Irish blogosphere. Since, theoretically, with the internet it doesn’t matter where you live, you might think that I could have started that process in Belgium. But it ain’t so Joe. I am much more interested in finding out about what Irish people think about everything now that I live here again. And I have found it pretty darn difficult.

Jason O’Mahony, who I started reading when I was in Belgium, is funny and on the ball about the Irish political situation but he doesn’t do much personal stuff. So far, my biggest find in my traditional blog reading field is Ken and Dot, a New Zealander and a Briton living in Dublin with their two small sons, so not entirely Irish. I quite like Fatmammycat but she is not quite what I’m looking for – too young and enthusiastic. She is trying to change the world. Admirable but tiring. I have joined a ning group of mother bloggers but so far nothing has really appealed.

On the corporate side of things, there are a number of good, competent, interesting blogs – I like Irish election best but, with a range of writers, it can be hit and miss. These blogs are fine in their way but what I really miss and what I can’t seem to find are personal blogs that I love. Blogs that talk about ordinary things on my doorstep (rather than the doorstep in Utah – snowing again apparently). Suggestions very welcome.

Me (17 feeds)

Mostly blogs by people I know or know of in real life. I can recommend my sister-in-law. I know I would have to say that anyway, so you can’t tell whether it’s true or not unless you go and check. It’s true, really.

I would recommend my friend the cappuchin but he almost never updates. Worth the wait though. Brother Lawrence, are you listening?

Bloglines can be a little cranky and it has stopped picking up Nicholas’s feed no matter what I try to do to persuade it otherwise. And shamefully, I only rarely go to check – this is because he often posts on Dr. Who and that is, frankly, a disappointment after all that clicking. It’s the other posts that are worthwhile (unless you’re a Dr. Who fan, in which case, all bets are off) and the beauty of bloglines was that you could pick up one and ignore the other. When it worked.

Personal (55 feeds)

This is by far the largest category of the blogs that I read. I pulled them all together under this heading. I used to subdivide them into mothers (obviously, I read a lot about mothers), infertility (because being infertile makes you a better writer – this appears to be true), medical (all the things medical people do, strangely compelling) and other categories (OCD anyone?). As the corporate sector grew and blogging became mainstream, I found myself reading more and different kinds of writing, I realised that all of these blogs from the different categories had one very significant thing in common. That they were personal about the authors’ real lives. And, drumroll, here are some recommendations.

Dooce: Because, although her blog supports her family (making her corporate, I suppose) she is both very funny and completely genuine and she writes about her life, day in, day out. Can there be anyone at all in the western world who doesn’t know her?
Beth and Chris: Because, really, how often do you get a successful husband and wife blogging team?
Finslippy: Because she writes beautifully although, alas, the quantity of posts has fallen.
Fluid Pudding Because I love her and reading her blog is why I started blogging in the first place
Mamacita: Because she has standards.

UK (10 feeds)

I find that I have, over the years, accumulated a number of blogs complaining about the state of society from our friends across the water. I gather them here. PC blogs (guess what that’s about) and Random Acts of Reality (less easy to guess, a paramedic) are my favourites.

US (6 feeds)

The Huffington Post, the New York Times, the White House blog. That kind of thing. Can’t say that there is anything there that I would particularly recommend although, I did read a fantastic series on maths in the NYT. I have spent some time boring my husband about this so I fail to see why you should be immune. Of all the online media commentary I have trawled through, I have found this series the most enlightening and fascinating. It also made me deeply envious as I can’t imagine something similar being produced by the Irish Times’s immensely dull online offerings.

Work (14 feeds)

Well, this is a secret. But if you hold down a job why are you not using the power of the internet to stay on top of your field? Eh? Could be because you don’t fancy reading about work at 11 at night. The authorities are against access to bloglines. On balance, probably for good reasons. This means I end up reading my work updates at home. But never mind because work and life are all one seamless joined up space now are they not? Really, no, you think not..

Writing (4 feeds)

More reading and writing really. People who write about what they read and what they write. And offer advice. My favourite? How to Write Badly Well. I also miss Miss Snark. Alas.

That’s the lot. What do you read online? How do you read? And, most importantly, what would you recommend?

Wretched Easter Bunny

6 April, 2010 at 10:18 pm by belgianwaffle

The babysitter tells me that last night the Princess confided to her that she does not believe in the Easter bunny. I was distinctly lacklustre about the Easter bunny myself. My line to the children was “there was no Easter bunny when I was a child, I know nothing about its habits or habitat”. However, as the Princess spoke to the babysitter, she began to speculate that if there is no Easter bunny, there may well be no Santa Claus. The babysitter went for “well, I’ve never seen him, but some people believe in him.” I am distressed. Also, I foresee trouble as the Princess is incapable of keeping a secret. I think the tooth fairy has bitten the dust as well (no repining there) as her French childminder has said that in France children’s milk teeth are taken away by a mouse and there is no tooth fairy in France.


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