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Weekend round-up

31 August, 2010 at 8:31 pm by belgianwaffle

It was heritage week. Getting into heritage week events is a bit like getting your children into a good secondary school in Dublin. You have to start before you might conceivably have thought it was necessary. The minute the brochure came out at the end of July, I attempted to book us in to three events. One was already fully booked but the other two came good. On Saturday we had a children’s tour of Farmleigh which, though led by a slightly forbidding woman, was actually very well done. She had stories from the last children who lived in the house (now grown-up Guinnesses) and she handled the crowd very well. It was her outdoors colleague who was less successful. His job was to introduce the children to the horses and donkeys on the estate. On the face of it, this was the easier job. However, he was the kind of man who likes to complain about his job and he told the utterly uninterested audience that you might think that he would be allowed to name the foals but no. That job goes to the general manager. And then when he goes on his holidays, the lad who looks after the horses doesn’t talk to them and they’re wild when he comes back. He would do anything with horses but he won’t get up on one, not for all the tea in china. And so on.

The mild success of Saturday was, however, completely eclipsed by the trip to Kilmainham Gaol on Sunday. The authorities in the gaol had gone to a lot of trouble and they put together an excellent tour for children. Firstly the children were given sheets of paper with their “crimes” and sentences on them (things like vagrancy, 6 months hard labour) and photographed. Then they were marched single file into the gaol carrying their crimes in front of them. Then they met the governor, Obadiah Bartley, who harangued each of them in turn for their “‘orrible crimes” in a strong Yorkshire accent. It was unfortunate that the Princess was the first child he came to as she collapsed in nervous tears even as Daniel whispered to her that it was “only pretend”. The children were then put in a cell, accompanied by parents, if they wished. Herself sat in the corner weeping hoping that the governor would not come to inspect her. The boys were already starting to enjoy themselves. On emerging, the children met prisoner 98 (an actor dressed up in prison gear) and went into his cell to see what he ate and what work he was doing. Even the Princess started to enjoy herself. Then they went out to the exercise yard in single file and marched around. Prisoner 98 attempted to escape and they ran after him and stopped him. Then they followed the Governor as he locked up prisoner 98 in the “smelly cell” in the basement. The Governor said that the children had all been good and he would pardon them. He then asked whether prisoner 98 should be released also but they were unanimous that he should be left to rot. Children have no bowels of mercy. They were then given their release papers.

The children were sufficiently reconciled to the Governor that they even got their picture taken with him and prisoner 98.

And there’s more

29 August, 2010 at 9:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, August 14

For the foreseeable future we will be holidaying in August. This has a number of disadvantages in terms of cost and availability of accommodation and travel. It does have the advantage though that this is when all the excitement for tourists is laid on. August 15, the feast of our lady is a general occasion for parades and rejoicing. On the eve of this big festival, I took myself off to the church at the foot of the mountain to see the “pardon” of the Menez Hom. On the way in, I met an elderly local lady and she pointed out to me all the banners of the local towns and the mayor who was in his traditional gear. “I wouldn’t know who the mayor is,” she confided to me “except that he is the son of my cousin.” She told me that she was a native Breton speaker and only learnt French when she went to school at 6 and promptly began exchanging greetings in Breton with the equally elderly gentlemen in the parade. Mass lasted an hour and a half and had the somewhat festive atmosphere of Christmas mass at home. The church was filled with people of all ages including saintly French children. I noticed a group that I had seen at the bakery the previous day sitting silently in a nearby pew and gazed in awe.

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Sunday, August 15

We took ourselves to see the parade at Plomodiern. This was terrific. It was short, not too crowded and the man who had led the bagpipe session earlier in the week waved at Michael and Daniel from the parade. Mathilde the silent’s father and sister were parading along with almost everyone else from the neighbouring parishes. The photographer from Ouest France was there and we had high hopes of making the cut for the following day’s edition as he pictured Daniel and Michael sheltering from the sun under a Ouest France advertising hoarding but it was not to be.

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Our timing was perfection which almost never happens. We retired to a nearby restaurant just before the end of the parade and got prime seats upstairs from whence we could eat mussels and chips and survey the rest of the excitement. To make our happiness complete, a kind local lady gave Michael and Daniel little Breton flags (made in China, of course) and the Princess a stone painted with figures in Breton costumes.

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That afternoon on the beach, Michael managed to find another English child and was ecstatic. Hugh from Harpenden was not, alas, as wonderful as Joe, but he was just fine. At least he didn’t speak French.

Monday, August 16

We went to the beach in the morning and the children dug a large hole with their hands ignoring the spades we had carted from Ireland.

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They liked it. We liked it. We read our books. Something of a book crisis was approaching as herself had re-read Harry Potter books 5 and 6 several times, I had finished my books and I had read her Harry Potters, even Mr. Waffle had finished his books and was contemplating HP. Only Ouest France stood between us and disaster.

That afternoon we went to Pont Croix. It’s a lovely, lovely place, just as pretty as Locronan but mysteriously devoid of tourists. It has a deserted village feeling about it.
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We went to a house which had been turned into a small museum. It was delightful and we had it to ourselves.

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The whole place was absolutely entrancing. The children thought that it was a bit dull and the ice-cream offerings were poor. They were quite pleased with dinner in the local crêperie though.

Tuesday, August 17

It poured rain. Along with every other tourist in Brittany we went to Oceanopolis for the day. As we trudged from the muddy overflow carpark in the driving rain, I suspected that we were not going to enjoy our visit. I was correct. The place was heaving and the visit nearly killed us. Next time I will go on a sunny day. Luckily Mathilde the silent was booked for that evening and Mr. Waffle and I were able to go out for dinner to recover.

Wednesday, August 18

We drove down to the south of Brittany where Mr. Waffle had been on holiday with his family as a child (all remembered in loving detail – all I can really remember distinctly about my family holidays in Brittany is the time the girl from the tent next door insisted on playing with my slime and then dropped it on the ground and ruined it). We visited the château de Kerazan which was grand but I think that our familial tolerance levels for museums were declining at this point. We took the boat from Loctudy to Île Tudy (5 minutes each way) which the children absolutely loved but when we got there, they were hungry and demanded to go to a cafe. I got cross and things went downhill from there.

We finally got back to Ploéven to go to the soirée crêpes (local excitement with pancakes – obviously – Breton music and dancing) with bitterness all round. Michael declaiming loudly from the back of the car that all he was was a servant to his parents being dragged from place to place to do their bidding. This tetchiness was not helped by finding on arrival at the soirée crêpes that there was nowhere to sit and you might have to wait up to an hour to get your hands on a pancake. Disaster was averted by nice locals kindly finding and moving a supply of tables and chairs for us. The younger members of the party ran off with a group of feral children and, aside from the cold, it passed off better than might have been expected given the dismal beginnings.

Thursday, August 19

Michael was ill in the morning. I dragged himself and Daniel to the beach to find stones to paint and he trudged back very dolefully and promptly got sick in the toilet on his return. Heartlessly, after lunch, I left my sick son and his brother to be minded by their father and the Princess and I went shopping in Quimper. So excited were we by this outing, that I nearly completely lost the run of myself and was in the Petit Bateau queue, waiting patiently to pay over €100 for three pairs of children’s pyjamas when I said hang on a minute, put them back on the shelf and ran out of the shop. I subsequently got three pairs of pyjamas from Eurodif for €18. With the savings, the Princess and I were able to buy macaroons. And by the time we got home, Michael was better. This inspired me to try out the barbecue that came with the house (I dunno, I felt I’d like to give him a further dose of food poisoning?). This, despite the children’s interest in the novel coooking method was, frankly, not a success. Dinner was late and undercooked.

Friday, August 20

Raining again and, increasingly, the troops were getting restive and speaking longingly of home. We spent the morning in the local pub playing games of mini-foot. The Princess and Daniel are terrible (and loud) losers. Mr. Waffle and I were going out for a final French dinner together that night and I thought I would try to find somewhere nice. So I phoned my long-suffering sister and ask ed her to harness the power of the internet and see whether there was anywhere nice to eat nearby. There was; a two-star Michelin restaurant only up the road. And, in a classic my bourgeois hell moment, I knew that Friday lunch time in the middle of August would be too late to book a table for dinner that night. And I was right. Oh blah. To help me recover, Mr. Waffle took the children to the cinema while I went for a further stroll around Quimper. This sustained me during a last dinner in the crêperie. I am not sure that, if I were told that I could never eat another pancake, I would be altogether sorry.

Saturday, August 21

We spent the morning packing and cleaning. This was the moment to remove the revolting but highly effective fly paper that had been hanging from the ceiling when we arrived and swayed, increasingly ominously, over the breakfast table with its grim cargo for our fortnight in the house. Mr. Waffle did it. He is very brave.

We drove up to Mont Saint Michel and played I spy on the way. Daniel said, “I spy something red, white and blue”. “A French flag,” I said. “No, Mummy, in the car.” “I give up.” “Your eyes, silly!” No more late nights for me.

When we arrived our hotel Mr. Waffle and I were keen to get out to see the Mont but the children really didn’t see how it could be better than a two star hotel with the Pink Panther on the telly. Eventually we hustled them out under protest.

I may have been to Mont Saint Michel before. I can’t remember. I suppose an apology is probably due to my parents at this point. I do remember my mother telling me that the tide came in faster than a horse can gallop but whether this was in the context of crossing the causeway to the Mont or just the kind of general knowledge she felt I ought to have, I cannot say. Anyhow, on this occasion, I read nothing in advance. I knew what it looked like from the outside and that was it.

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We arrived in the car park (not covered by water and unlikely to be flooded that evening – reassuring) and went in the gates. It was about 7 in the evening and from the moment we walked in the front gate everything was absolutely perfect. Mr. Waffle had the inspired idea of suggesting to the Princess that Mont Saint Michel was like Hogwarts and she was entranced. As the shopping districts in the HP books are inspired by twisting medieval streets she was soon happily pointing out Diagon Alley and the Hog’s Head. We stopped for dinner in a restaurant with a beautiful view out over the bay. The children were good. And after dinner we kept climbing up, up, up to the very top. The children were full of enthusiasm and ran ahead. Michael was particularly delighted and pointed out each of the many, many images of his patron saint taking out the dragon. Even though it was August, the streets were relatively empty as it was quite late in the evening. It was 8.50 for an adult to get into the church at the top of the mount and I hesitated. I have seen a lot of churches. The children, however, were keen to go in, so we forked out €17. The children were right, it was €17 well spent. The bored teenager in charge of ticket dispensing was charged with asking tourists where they were from and when I had asked for my tickets he said to me “quel département?” I was delighted with myself – he thought I was French. I think the secret of my success was that I had only to say “2 adultes et trois enfants” words which do not contain the almost impossible “ue” sound (if you can pronouce ‘rue’ and ‘roue’ differently you’ve got it, congratulations).

Then we went into the church. Except it wasn’t a church, it was a whole monastery complex. It was enormous and breathtakingly beautiful. Huge gothic chambers illuminated by the setting sun. Room after room after extraordinarily beautiful room, even the children were astonished. And the views:
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The most amazing moment was when I finally thought I had reached the top. We went up a narrow twisting stairs and I expected to come out in a small turret with a view of the bay except I didn’t, I emerged in a gothic cathedral. It was quite astonishing. I nearly cried in wonder. I cannot imagine what the medieval pilgrims thought. And then in front of the church, there was a parvis with spectacular views. Off to the side there was a cloister. It’s difficult to convey how surprising it is to see all of these things on a small rocky outcrop. Then we left and ran down the near empty streets in the gathering darkness. It was without a doubt the best moment of our holidays and the most spectacular monument I have ever seen.

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Sunday, August 22

We were a bit reluctant to go back to Mont Saint Michel in case we somehow ruined the magic of the night before but we went back anyway because we hadn’t walked the ramparts and we are thorough tourists. It was still beautiful but full, full, full of people. It was standing room only and the children were cranky and we were worried about losing them. I went to mass which was lovely but I was conscious of poor Mr. Waffle waiting outside with the children (couldn’t face letting them run riot in a French church with only elderly people – I know, this makes me both a bad mother and a bad catholic). Mass was a welcome break from the relentless peddling of cheap tat and hoards of tourists on the streets outside and a reminder of why the Mont was actually built. As soon as I emerged we hot footed it back to the mainland. The previous evening I had looked at diners in the tacky restaurants across from the Mont and wondered who on earth ate there when they could eat on the amazingly beautiful Mont Saint Michel. Well this was my day to find out: people who ate on the Mont yesterday and couldn’t face the waves of tourists and fancied better and cheaper mussels.

We then went to a bed & breakfast we had found on the internet. It was run by a retired English couple. Normandy is awash with English people. There were times when Normandy felt like it was suffering a reverse takeover by the English. The nice B&B couple recommended that we go and visit a nearby forest and, shortly afterwards, the Princess was swinging through trees on a rope. Really. The boys were too small to go up but she was attached to a harness and sent flying for a couple of hours. She loved it. No helmet, no knee pads, no nothing. I can’t help feeling that this more relaxed attitude is delightful. The boys and I went on a little electronic boat to help them recover from their sorrow at being under 5 and therefore unable to do the rope thing.

Monday, August 23

We were all pretty much ready to go home at this point. We drove north to Cherbourg in good time acutely conscious of the horror of the journey to the ferry. We stopped off and looked at the beautiful cathedral in Coutances. We then had lunch in a brasserie congratulating ourselves on how the children’s restaurant manners had improved over the holidays (they all used cutlery, sat up in their chairs, didn’t shout, it was lovely).

As we had lots of time, we then stopped in a chateau in Pirou which was mildly interesting. When we emerged we still had three hours until the boat left. It was at this point that we realised that we had left all the children’s coats and jumpers in a bag in the brasserie in Coutances. We considered abandoning them but in the end decided that we just had time to go back and get them. Coutances had been dead as a doornail when we went there in the morning: rainy, gloomy and windswept. By the time we got back in the afternoon, all that had changed, the shops were open, the sun was shining, the good burghers of Coutances were out and about doing their shopping. The traffic was murder. I thought that we would never get out. There followed an unnerving drive to Cherbourg during which Mr. Waffle was heard to say between clenched teeth “you will never pass that caravan unless you drop a gear when we come to the next climbing lane” which remark led to some tension between driver and navigator. The children, doubtless recalling the journey to Rosslare, remained virtuously silent in the back. Cherbourg was full of traffic too. Surely we weren’t going to miss the boat? We didn’t. Next time, however, we will drive to the ferryport at 9.00 in the morning and remain there all day until the ferry leaves. Our marriage depends on it.

The boat was full of Irish people. After a month of French people, I found my compatriots delightfully chatty. You know, just exchanging little asides when we were standing looking at the same thing. French people don’t really do that. I was also quite shocked by how badly behaved some of the children were. After three weeks of French conditioning, mine seemed positively saintly in comparison to many of the others.

Tuesday, August 23

We were home. Note to file: we drove back from Rosslare in 3 hours. When I asked the children whether they would like to go to France again, they said yes, so I take it, the holiday was a success. Although Michael did say that he would like to go to England also to find Joe.

One of the courgettes in the back garden had grown to enormous dimensions while we were away and we harvested it and had it for dinner. I discovered that I am the only person in my family who likes courgette gratin. So much for all this guff about children liking vegetables they grow themselves.

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And now the holidays are really over. The children are going back to school on Wednesday. The cat who was coldly indifferent on our return has now, just about, forgiven us for going away and last night consented to eat some cold roast chicken.

How were your holidays?

Aaaand we’re back

25 August, 2010 at 11:47 pm by belgianwaffle

But don’t think that I haven’t been taking notes. The moment you have all been waiting for – yes indeed, a blow by blow account of three weeks in France follows.

Wednesday, August 4

Oh the trauma. The ferry was to leave from Rosslare at 4 – a two hour drive from our Dublin home. We had all day to get there. We packed up the car and the children and left home just before noon. The traffic in Dublin was very slow and be the time we reached Wicklow, everyone was hungry and cranky so we stopped for lunch as we had all day to make our ferry. It was after 2.30 when we left the lunch venue. It was about then that we discovered that it is not in fact a two hour drive from Dublin to Rosslare. It’s really closer to three hours. As we crawled through the traffic in Enniscorthy at 3.25 with tension radiating from the two adults in the front, an innocuous comment from one of the children in the back led Mr. Waffle to snap – we are going to miss the ferry, we are not going to France which caused the children to cry, frankly, adding nothing to the gaiety of the party. At 3.45, we rolled up to the ferry port and, as ferries are not airlines, they let us on with 15 minutes to go. We were last on and I can still feel the waves of relief I felt at the time. This euphoria sustained us through a dreadful night on the ferry – a four berth cabin, five people and much bed hopping.

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Thursday, August 5

La belle France – the excitement. We went to the Château de Kerjean which was nice in a low key way although Michael insisted on spending all his holiday money (€5) on a ludicrously expensive colouring book, something which he was subsequently to regret loudly and at length explaining that he hadn’t understood that there would be other things to buy in France. We went to a lovely old restaurant in the grounds of the castle and the children ate nothing. The waitress said that it was probably because they were spoilt. The unhappy habit of the French of failing to marry truth with tact. On the plus side, the bill for all 5 of us was €50. And this was pretty much the case every single time we went out. I was amazed how much cheaper France is than Ireland. Consistently. It looks like prices may have further to fall here.

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We then took ourselves off to a slightly underwhelming although perfectly acceptable two star hotel in Morgat. But by God, the children loved that hotel. Even at the end of the holiday, they were still asking wistfully whether they could some day go back to the Hôtel Julia. Perhaps their affection was inspired in part by the really lovely beach a short walk away.

Friday, August 6

After breakfast, although it was cold and windy we took ourselves down to the beach where the children swam,

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jumped up and down on a huge elastic thingy (provided by Messrs. Crapato – great name eh?)
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and we all proved the dictum that it is possible to get sunburnt on an overcast day. In a day that the children would look back to longingly over the course of the holiday we then had table football, a merry go round, ice cream, a fishing game with prizes and TV.
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Dinner that night was a resounding success despite Michael showing some evidence of difficulty with the linguistic regime.

Michael: Papa, comment est-ce que je dis “Je veux un pizza en francais”.
Mr. Waffle: “Je veux un pizza.”
Michael: Mais en francais.

Daniel is less chatty than Michael but better at French. So while Michael was saying blithely to a baffled French waitress “Et, after, mon pizza, je veux..” Daniel was hissing “après” from the end of the table. I was delighted to note that Michael’s desire to communicate was beginning to outweigh his hatred for French.

Saturday, August 7

We arrived at our holiday house which, against all laws known to man, was better than it appeared in the advertisement. It was 400 metres from the beach. The garden was huge. There was a big empty field beside it.

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The house was also very big and for the first time in their lives, the boys enjoyed separate bedrooms. I thought they might miss each other, but no. They immediately started posting up signs on their doors (using their sister and parents to write as they cannot read or write) saying private, keep out and so on. Since the signs were largely addressed to the illiterate members of the family, their usefulness was questionable. Lest you think that the house was absolutely perfect, I should explain that it was last redecorated in 1974. The wallpaper was very exciting. It was the trendiest that the 1970s could offer. I was going to post a photo but, if you really care, you can go and look on flickr.

That evening after a slightly disastrous family stroll around the village of Ploéven (pretty but tiny) and inspection of its calvaire (never seen one in my life before as far as I can recall, Mr. Waffle suggested that perhaps I had not, in fact, been to Brittany before) I took myself off to mass alone. I have never seen an older congregation. There were no children at all and I was by far the youngest person there. I could only be thankful that my children were not there as they would have been terrifyingly loud and lolled about the seats in a manner sure to draw adverse comment. In fact at the end of mass I did see one small child but like all French children, he remained silent throughout. Mr. Waffle and I were very impressed with the manners of French children who unlike their Irish counterparts, still seem to be brought up on the “children should be seen and not heard” rule of which my parents were so fond. Seeing a French three year old sit up straight at table, use his cutlery properly and converse over dinner in a gentle, low voice is an astonishing sight. And it is available everywhere in west Brittany.

The holidaymakers were mostly French – there were far fewer foreigners than I remember from my own holidays with my parents in Brittany 30 years ago. And then, I didn’t notice that there were no black people, no veiled women, no one imperfectly dressed. It was a startlingly homogeneous population. The French middle classes en masse, all the BCBG people and their absolutely beautifully dressed and even more beautifully behaved offspring were in Brittany this summer. It was like a very genteel theme park.

Sunday, August 8

We went to the beach in the morning and it was low tide. The tide went out for miles and it seemed like hours until we actually got to the water, dodging jellyfish carcases on the way.

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Apparently global warming has lured the jellyfish out of the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic coast. On the plus side, this does mean that the water is surprisingly warm. In the afternoon when we went back, it was high tide and the character of the beach was completely different. Michael and Daniel made a little friend. An English boy called Joe. After that afternoon we were never on the beach at the same time and Michael pined for his friend.

That evening as Michael and Daniel slipped under the table of the restaurant where we were having pancakes (I have had enough pancakes for some time – I had no recollection that Brittany was full of creperies – Mr. Waffle asked me again whether I was sure that I had been to Brittany as a child – I was 9,10 and 11), I pointed out a little French boy sitting in his place eating with his cutlery conversing with his parents. “That,” said Michael scornfully, “is not a boy, it’s a baby.” He failed to appreciate that this made matters worse not better.

Monday, August 9

After a morning at the beach (much of it spent by Michael tearfully looking for Joe), we went to the beautiful old town of Locronan, named after the Irish saint, Ronan. It was heaving with tourists and tourist tat. Michael (who, you will recall, had spent his holiday money) kept up a constant drone of “I want, I want..” The church was loud with tourists and a woman was sitting in a pew unashamedly eating a sandwich. Say a prayer, I hissed to the children as we lit candles. “I don’t know how to pray in French,” said Michael indignantly. I wouldn’t say that I was entranced with Locronan but I entered into the mood sufficiently to buy the boys two stripy jumpers – essential items for the Breton tourist.

Tuesday, August 10

We ventured in to the nearest big town, Quimper. Scarred by trips there with my parents as a child, I warned that we would never find parking and be trapped in the one ways forever. It was fine actually. Again, Mr. Waffle enquired solicitously whether I was absolutely sure I had been to Brittany before. We wandered round in the rain, we yielded to the children’s importuning and gave them ice cream and a couple of turns on the merry-go-round.

At the Breton Museum we picked up our passeports culturels which I thought was a really nifty idea. It’s a passport sized document which gives a list of 20 sites in Finistère and information on them. Each time you went into a museum you got a stamp and reduced entry fee (entry fees were small in any case – typically €3 to €4 for adults and free for children). Entry to the 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th sites is free. I asked and none of the museums had seen someone who had been to all 20. I suppose you would want to be particularly keen to go to the Strawberry museum.

The museum in Quimper was staging a clever exhibit. The top floor was turned into an art deco flat with original Breton pieces from between the wars.

Wednesday, August 11

I began to enjoy reading the local paper which Mr. Waffle had started picking up in the Boulangerie in the morning. Apparently Ouest France (its logo is, in my mind, inextricably associated with holidays – see I was in Brittany) is one of the few models of a profitable local newspaper. What it does is cover national news in the first couple of pages, standard everywhere and then devote the remainder to the most local of local news. They put in a range of things to do, they cover what’s on. There was the account of the local boules competition with poor turn out. There is very specific weather and tide information. Terrific for the holiday maker. I found myself drawn to the deaths (my age?). In the French death notices they publish the age of the dead person. They were mostly in their 90s. The odd one over 100. There is perhaps something particularly salubrious about the Breton air. Or could it be that it’s the same at home but we just don’t notice as it’s not the custom to put in the age of the deceased?

After a quick inspection of the beach, its green algae and its jellyfish at low tide (as covered in Ouest France), we pushed on. Armed with our “passeports”, we took ourselves to the Musée de l’école rurale which was manned by a gorgon. It was an appealing building with a classroom downstairs and quite substantial living quarters upstairs as well as a vegetable garden outside. The woman manning the building on the day did not like small children and frowned disapprovingly at ours. It’s true that they were making some noise but as we were the only visitors, it’s not as though we were disturbing the other punters. You would think that in a school museum, they might have put in someone who liked children a little.

We went for a picnic in the grounds of Saint Marie du Menez Hom before our next adventure. I’m not sure I would have picnicked in the church grounds, if I hadn’t seen some French people doing it first but it was all very peaceful.

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Then we took the children horse riding because we are kind virtuous parents and discovered that it costs less than half the cost of a similar experience in Ireland. Rejoicing.
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Thursday, August 12

I took myself to the Thursday morning market in Ploeven. This was a disappointment. It consisted of a bored man in a van selling fruit and vegetables. Thereafter, we decided to sample one of the Ouest France suggestions and took ourselves to a bagpipe and bombard learning session. I quite enjoyed this but the others found it dull. Daniel was very good sitting quietly in the drizzle watching the men belting out loud tunes but the others went running around in the background. Nevertheless, when the demonstration was over and the man with the bagpipes asked who would like a go, Michael shoved himself to the front of the crowd and said “Moi!” to general laughter while poor Daniel hung on to my leg nervously. In the end, he got a turn too, herself couldn’t be bothered. It’s hard work blowing a bagpipe.

In the afternoon following our “passeports” we went off to look at the Musée des Vieux Metiers. This was pretty much an unqualified success. The idea is that elderly people man various stations showing how things were traditionally made. The day we were there they were making butter and all the children there turned the handle of the churn until, eventually, the cream turned into butter.

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I had never seen that done before and was fascinated. Then they buttered some bread and handed it around and sold little boxes of newly churned butter. A woman showed the Princess how to turn flax into thread and another how to spin wool. A woman embroidering asked whether the Princess would like a turn. I looked dubiously at the delicate pattern, “Well, she can’t sew…” The lady looked shocked and whispered, “What’s wrong with her?” “Nothings wrong with her, she just can’t sew,” I said. “Ah, I see,” said the lady, “they don’t teach them at school [in your godforsaken country – clearly implied] and the discipline is lacking at home.” The French and their frankness. Afterwards, we went to a park where they had Breton games, mostly variations on the theme of throwing but the children had a great time.

Earlier in the week we had sourced a local teenager for babysitting duties and we hurried home to be there when she arrived. She’s only 15, I said to Mr. Waffle, “I bet she’ll come with her mother because, if I were her mother, I would want to check that we weren’t mad axe wielders.” This was wrong. She came on her moped. We turned the children over to her – she seemed phlegmatic. She was a very pretty girl and she clearly hadn’t needed to polish her conversational skills to any degree because talking to her was like drawing blood from a stone. We went out, took in the night market at Locronan and returned reasonably early to find all was well. In fact the Princess had really taken to Mathilde the Silent and they had spent the evening playing marbles together.

Friday, August 13

Mr. Waffle and the Princess went together to conquer the Menez Hom, the tallest point locally. At the top there was a notice explaining that on May 1, the Celts celebrated Beltaine as they lit fires to Bel. There was mild excitement as Mr. Waffle was dying to find links between Irish and Breton and Bealtaine is the Irish for May. On the whole though, the languages seem pretty far apart.

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The boys and I went down to the local campsite where they illicitly played on their swings and kicked a ball with some other children. It reminded me of both the agreeable and disagreeable aspects of camping – agreeable there are always loads of other children to play with – disagreeable there are no dishwashers and there is no running water in a tent, I don’t mind the communal showers so much – call me weird. After half an hour or so, Daniel fell and cut his knee. He wailed. There was one small drop of blood. A passing woman sympatised, “You need a plaster,” she said kindly. “Georges will get you a plaster. Georges, Georges!” A man with a walrus moustache emerged from the campsite reception and, like a Jane Austen heroine, I felt all the awkwardness of my situation: illicitly playing in his playground and demanding attention for what anyone but the afflicted child would consider a minor injury. Georges looked grave. He asked Daniel if it hurt. Daniel confirmed that he was in agony. Solemnly Georges brought down from the shelf a box with a large red cross and showed it to Daniel. Together they selected the largest plaster in the box which, when applied, entirely covered Daniel’s knee. He was cured!

In the afternoon, following our “passeport” (are you beginning to see a pattern emerging?) we went to the port museum in Duarnenez the local, slightly rough, fishing port – probably the edgiest place in Finistère . Very right on, it’s twinned with a refugee camp in Palestine. The port museum was a surprising success aside from the open quays which nearly gave me heart failure. Sample dialogue

Me: Stay away from the edge.
Daniel: Why?
Me: Because you will fall in and drown.
Daniel: Why?
Me: Because you can’t swim.
Daniel: Oh.

The museum has a number of real boats that you can go onto at the quayside. They’re really well laid out and everything is cleverly explained.

007

Afterwards, we went to a local baker who opened up his premises to an audience and showed them how to make the Breton speciality, the Kouign Amann. This was extraordinary popular and there was a huge queue outside the baker’s. I thought that we might not get in but we did. This was, as it turned out, a bad thing. The baking session was mildly entertaining for adults but, frankly, dreary for children. We were all gathered round his kitchen with no way out – children at the front, parents some way behind. It started off well when he began his patter and said, “What will we be making today, ladies and gentlemen? What delicacy are we going to create?” and Michael said loudly and clearly, to general laughter, “I know what you’re going to do, you’re going to make a cake.” Alas, using tu rather than vous as he has never had to use vous at home. A mortal sin in French. And then, it went on, the type of flour to use, the water and so on. Michael tired of the general patter and deciding that the conversation could be improved by his intervention, poked the baker in the back and, having got his attention, told him that he, Michael, had a sore knee. The baker who was an excellent show man asked “Who owns him?” I raised my hand and blushed. Eventually after an hour in the toasty kitchen with the Princess wilting behind and the boys fighting in front and only a couple of bits of cake to leaven the children’s boredom, it was over. Even the French kids (compass for good behaviour) were looking distinctly droopy. We hot footed it for home with, of course, a kouign amann in hand.

A bit dull this, I appreciate but at least my children will be able to prove to their spouses that they had a family holiday in Brittany, should the need arise. More tomorrow, if we’re both feeling strong.

On holiday

5 August, 2010 at 7:06 am by belgianwaffle

Belgianwaffle wanted to leave you all a post to let you know that she is on holiday and won’t be posting for about 3 weeks. However as our mother would say “the day ran away with her” and she didn’t have time to leave her faithful readers this information.

Watch this space for holiday memoirs and dozens of photographs.

Belgianwaffle’s sister

Weekend Round-Up – More a Stream of Consciousness than an Actual Post

3 August, 2010 at 11:53 pm by belgianwaffle

Let me see, the boys and I went to Dublinia which was dull but they seem to have come away with an abiding interest in bubonic plague. We went to mass where our parish priest dutifully hung Daniel’s picture of the crucifixion on a marble pillar. We had that great reading that starts “Vanity, vanity all is vanity”, which is both beautiful and pointed. Dinner with the cousins and in-laws.

Went to see the National Transport Museum which is appeallingly amateurish. The website is far more professional than the premises. Had lunch on a bench by the playground in Howth eating Beshoff’s take-away chips. A group of German tourists looked at us very disapprovingly. My sister rang from Bahrain and disapproved. Despite being sneered at for our poor eating habits/vulgarity, the children still didn’t eat anything. Daniel sucked the ketchup off his chips and then passed them on to the seagulls. Sometimes, I despair. Then, a walk at Howth Head where the Princess astonished us by running all the way. Michael did not surprise us; he insisted on travelling all the way back up on his father’s shoulders. Daniel was tired but manful.

001

Then out to the cinema with sister-in-law to finally see Inception.

Reading

2 August, 2010 at 11:53 pm by belgianwaffle

“Pig-Heart Boy” by Malorie Blackman

The author is an acclaimed children’s writer so I thought I would investigate. Pretty good I thought as a book but for a younger reader so, not really holding my interest. I am ambivalent about trying her “Naughts and Crosses” series. Does anyone have a view on these?

“George III and his Troublesome Siblings” by Stella Tillyard

Another book on George III. This one gave potted histories of the more troublesome siblings. And they were delightfully scandalous but overall the book was unsatisfactory. It should have hung together as all of the protagonists were members of the same family but there didn’t really seem to be great ties of affection between the siblings and their inter-relationships are pretty cold and formal. So it was like reading about several different 18th century scandals. All very well in its way but the author is trying to link them around the over-arching theme of family and it just doesn’t work. This is a very old fashioned family and the siblings do not enjoy the kinds of relationship which could make their interactions with each other particularly interesting. It’s hard to see how much of a personal relationship George III enjoyed with his sister Caroline who was 13 years his junior and married off to the Danish king at the age of 15. I can’t help feeling that it would have been better as a series of essays on each of the siblings. But then, I suppose, nobody would have bought it.

“Two Caravans” by Marina Lewycka

This is about a group of exploited migrant workers in the UK. I thought that it was a bit twee (unlikely given the subject matter but nevertheless true). It’s put me right off ever, ever buying battery chickens though.

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

I thought that this was interesting but a bit sentimental. My emotions are easily manipulated but this does not mean that I like crying every two pages when I am reading a book. It’s about the relationship between black maids in Jackson, Mississippi and their white employers. It’s cleverly plotted and has quite a number of threads to keep interest alive and the characters are well drawn although Hilly (baddie in chief) and Celia (white trash girl who married Hilly’s boy) are a bit one dimensional. But there are a lot of characters in this story and it’s hard to give fully rounded personalities to all of them, I imagine. The narrative device that drives the book forward is that a young white woman wants to talk to her friends’ maids about their relationships with their employers and write a book about it. I suspect the author, a white woman from Jackson, is alive to the irony of the fact that her own first novel about the relationship between black maids and their white employers is a best-seller. The author puts in an afterword where she talks about her own relationship with the black woman who looked after her when she was a child in Jackson. I must say I quite liked the fact that she admitted there that fact and fiction were somewhat blended in the text and how much the novel was driven by her own experience and imagining. Not bad then, I suppose.

“Citizen Lord” by Stella Tillyard

This summer appears to be the summer of the 18th century for me. This is the story of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and I was fascinated by it. I learnt all about the 1798 uprising in school. In fact, my best friend and I wrote a play about it which we staged for our class when we are 11. All I can really remember about the play now (lost, alas, to humanity) is the oath of the United Irishmen (which I think we invented but may have been based on the genuine article – a quick search of the internet was unhelpful on this point) which went something like: “This is the bloom of freedom – where was it first planted? In America. Where did it first blossom? In France. Where will it blossom again and strike down the foreign oppressor? In Ireland.” She got to be Wolfe Tone and I was stuck with the less exciting role of Edward Fitzgerald.

It is, however, very different to learn about the ’98 rebellion at school and at home (any mention of ’98, even 1998 was likely to lead to my mother reciting “Who fears to speak of ’98“?) and to read about it from the point of view of a British historian. She tells me a lot more about Lord Edward than I ever knew before. He sounds very dashing but just the kind of rebel leader we always have in Ireland: absolutely hopeless. As written, he seems to have been entirely motivated by republican ideals rather than the plight of the Irish peasant (always a bit grim, only one season of blight away from starvation and with no civil rights to speak of) which seems deeply unlikely. The account of his death, in jail, from his wounds is really very sad and there is an angry letter from his brother, Lord Henry, to the Lord Lieutenant which still has a sting over 200 years later:

“I implored, I entreated of you to let me see him. I never begged hard before. All, all in vain. You talked of lawyers’ opinions, of what had been refused to others and could not be granted for me in the same situation. His was not a common case – he was not in the same situation. He was wounded and in a manner dying, and his bitterest enemy could not have murmured had your heart softened, or had you swerved a little from duty (if it can be called one) in the cause of humanity.”

What I find oddest about the book and what Mr. Waffle refused to believe when I told him, is that the book ends with the death of Edward Fitzgerald and this is its focus. As he was dying and after his death, the rebellion was being crushed. The rebellion of which he was the reluctant leader is given short shrift, covered in a half page or so while his miserable demise is covered in very significant detail. I know that the author’s brief was to cover Edward Fitzgerald’s life but I cannot imagine an Irish historian writing a life of Edward Fitzgerald and covering the Battle of Vinegar Hill in the following short sentence: “Only in Wexford, where twenty thousand rebels marched into the town and proclaimed a republic, was there a tangible sense that political ideals were overriding economic and sectarian grievances and that was punished by the slaughter of thousands.”

The author seems to imply that ecomonic and sectarian grievances were not very worthy matters to base a rebellion on but as people were horribly poor and the majority catholic population were subject to the penal laws, it seems like a pretty good basis to me. The author herself says: “I have not attempted to describe or interpret the rebellion itself in my text, partly because it lies beyond Lord Edward’s life, and partly because it has been brilliantly researched and written about by the latest generation of Irish historians, both ‘revisionist’ and ‘nationalist’, who have put forward a convincing portrait of a political struggle aggravated by economic and sectarian grievances rather than the other way round, as had been promulagated until the mid-1960s.” I am not convinced by this explanation and I think that the book is the poorer for, essentially, leaving out the rebellion altogether.


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