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Virtual Reality

24 December, 2010 at 10:07 am by belgianwaffle

There has been much snow here recently. Instead of being excited about it and running out to play, the children have been unenthused, running into the house complaining of being cold. This is a far cry from my youth when we would scrape up every scrap of snow in the garden (never very much) to make a snowman.

You can imagine then my excitement the other day when Michael said, “Mummy, I want to play a game with a snowflake”. I replied, “Of course, sweetheart, let’s get your coat and your wellies on.” “No, I don’t want to play with a snowflake outside!” “But Michael,” I protested, “all the snow is outside.” “No, no, no, I want to play a game with snowflakes on the computer.”

Everyone’s out of Step but my Johnny

23 December, 2010 at 11:52 pm by belgianwaffle

My brother places great faith in what he calls “conventional wisdom”. I sometimes think that this is because he knows I lack any very clear idea of what it might be. Regularly, when people are complaining on the radio, I just don’t get it. In the case of a media attack, I see everything from the point of view of the person who is attacked and though I want to work myself up to righteous indignation, I just can’t.

On the other side, I have a slightly puritanical streak (my mother’s side, I think) which makes me probably over-punctilious about a lot of things others are more relaxed about. When I was in college, we were talking in one class about the concept of “scope of employment”. If something is “within the scope” of an employee’s work, then the employer is liable. So, said the lecturer, if Mr. X is a lorry driver and leaves his lorry dangerously parked while going into a bar for drinks and causes an accident, is that within the scope of his employment? “No,” we chorused obediently. “How about, if he parks his lorry and hops out to make a quick call to his wife [yes, I went to college when there were no mobile phones, what of it?] and while he is out, his lorry slips and causes an accident, is that within the scope of his employment?” “No,” I said immediately. But I was the only one and I still remember how odd that felt. It turns out that making the odd phone call is actually within the scope of your employment.

I feel I am always out of step with the public mood, surprised both by what irritates and, more particularly, by what doesn’t. Does everyone feel this way or is it just me?

The Weekend that Keeps on Giving

22 December, 2010 at 11:21 pm by belgianwaffle

You will recall that a couple of weeks ago we were supposed to go to Edinburgh but ended up in Belfast instead. And our hotel room was free. And now we are not being charged for our flights to Edinburgh (not in fact cancelled due to snow as we told Aer Lingus in our letter looking for a tax refund). I feel very warm and fuzzy towards Aer Lingus who not only refunded but sent a very nice letter also. Season of goodwill, clearly.

In the Wars

21 December, 2010 at 11:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel is a very cautious child. He does not like to be hurt. He is careful. This is why it is particularly upsetting to him that he has, in the last week, swallowed a 5 cent coin and fallen while crossing the road (not simultaneously).

The coin is still, I think, lodged in his tummy – it may be there forever but he seems to have recovered from the pain of having it travel slowly down his oesophagus. His fall, where he landed on his nose and lips (though, mercifully, apparently not his teeth) continues to be a source of grief. He bled profusely. He now has swollen lips and a big scrape on his nose and his glasses need to be replaced again which will not be possible before Christmas. Even his siblings have been moved to sympathy.

Christmas Traditions

20 December, 2010 at 10:55 pm by belgianwaffle

When we lived in Belgium, Saint Nicolas used to come on December 6 on his donkey and leave chocolate in children’s shoes. You had to leave out beer for Saint Nicolas and a carrot for the donkey. Then Santa came on December 25. Then, thanks to the kind intervention of our Italian upstairs neighbours, the Befana came on January 6 bearing sweets.

The first year we came back from Belgium, Saint Nicolas came to Ireland, Santa came, of course, and the Befana came too. Last year, only Saint Nicolas and Santa came. This year, in the context of the current economic climate, all having to tighten our belts etc, etc., only Santa was due to visit. And that was going fine until the Princess came home speaking about Black Peter – she had been learning about Christmas traditions in other countries at school. “But surely,” I said stupidly, “you remember Père Fouettard.”

Her little face lit up, “Oh yes, when is Saint Nicolas coming?” Again, slightly caught on the hop, I said, “Oh, he comes on the 6th and that’s long gone, he’s not coming this year, I’d say Santa’s taking over his duties.” There was much weeping and wailing. Then the Princess looked at me shrewdly and said, “When does the Befana come?” I see the Befana making a comeback in this jurisdiction.

The Princess, is proving slightly trying in the matter of Santa more generally. Sample question delivered in front of her brothers: If there is no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny, how do you know there’s a Santa? I see dangerous shoals ahead. Next year I am looking forward to questions on the nativity.

And finally in this rather miscellaneous category: it is the time of year for infant classes to put on nativity plays. We have two shepherds in our house (am very envious of colleague with 4 children who counts a Joseph and a Mary among their number). Religion can be faulted on many grounds but certainly the selection of music available for Christmas is not one of them. Some of the most beautiful songs are Christmas carols. Why is it then that children always end up singing the rather dreary “Away in a Manger”? Furthermore, our lads have also added to their repertoire the classic “Hosanna rock, hosanna roll” which sounds pretty much as you might imagine. I suppose if I continue in this strain, it is only a matter of time before I begin campaigning to restore the Latin mass.

Fun with Boys

19 December, 2010 at 10:54 pm by belgianwaffle

I was putting my make-up on this morning and Daniel was lying in bed watching me. I heard a pinging noise behind me like one of the buttons from my back pocket bouncing on the floor. I made a tsking noise and turned around. Daniel started to laugh, “It was me, it was a snot”.

The Middle Classes at Play

18 December, 2010 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to a performance of “The Snowman” in the Concert Hall with a live orchestra. I saw it advertised in September and thought it might be nice for us to go. A family Christmas outing. I forked out €70 (non-refundable) for this piece of Christmas cheer. When I announced the proposed treat at the start of December, the children all groaned. “We hate the Snowman, we’ve seen it loads of times before.”

The children’s best friends decided to hold their birthday party on the same afternoon as the Snowman. After much agonising we decided to stick with the Snowman even though a) our children would have loved the party and b) all three of them would have been gone from 2.30 -5.00 and we could have read the papers. They still don’t know that they missed the party. I really hope that they never find out.

On the day of the treat, we dragged them to the Concert Hall. The foyer was abuzz with excited children and their parents. Sample conversation: “Have you put little unpronounceable (aged 3) down for secondary school yet?” “No, actually we haven’t, but imagine the local primary school is no longer taking names for its waiting list”.

Despite their best intentions, the children did actually quite enjoy the show. In addition to the Snowman it had a range of other attractions. It featured Santa and, in a complicated plot development, the Grinch. The latter was stealing clothes from a washing line. When Santa asked where the Grinch was all the children in the audience roared out “behind the line” except for Daniel who shouted in his best demotic Dublinese “behind the li-on”. He is great at picking up accents. We have a CD of Irish songs and when Daniel sings along, he sounds just like a little boy from the Connemara Gaeltacht. I am hoping that this will be useful to him in later life. Have I told you this before? I digress. There were some songs from Glee all of which the Princess seemed to know (mental note – how?). There was much talk of the X-factor. There were carols. When asked afterwards whether they enjoyed it, the Princess and Daniel said that they did but Michael (despite ample evidence to the contrary during the show) said that he did not.

Emboldened by the relative success of the show after a poor start, we decided to go to Milano’s. The children were ravenous – having refused to eat lunch – and the sight in the foyer of a Christmas treat box sent the Princess wild. She really wanted that box. But we were going for pizza and her mean, horrible parents would not let her have it. Cue unfortunate meltdown in the foyer as a number of people we knew tripped out of the stalls. Sigh. The trip for pizza passed off peacefully though. We should be grateful for small mercies, I suppose.

Tomorrow: the pantomime.

Further Adventures in English Usage

17 December, 2010 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

I overheard the Princess explain her activities at school to Daniel:

“We are currently painting our shoeboxes to make them into cribs, we will be adding straw to the floor of the manger presently.” [Emphasis original]

Clearly, a proud moment.

Violent, Enid Blyton-Loving Gaelgeoir Proclaims Loyalty

16 December, 2010 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself: It’s funny how knowing about something changes your loyalties.
Me: How do you mean?
Herself: Well when I lived in Belgium, if someone had said that Irish was pointless I would probably have agreed but now, if someone said that, I would jolly well hit him in the face.

When Speed is not of the Essence

14 December, 2010 at 11:54 pm by belgianwaffle

I subscribed to the Economist for Mr. Waffle for Christmas. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, you’re right. What can I say, he’s hard to buy for.

I ordered it the other day and they said it would take three weeks to arrive. I was therefore, understandably, mildly peeved when this evening he waved a copy in front of me and said, “This arrived today for me – is it my Christmas present?”

“Happy Christmas”.

In completely unrelated news, I am inexplicably fascinated by the deeply offensive Horse Outside. Maybe it’s because I’m half Limerick myself.

Restoration Drama

14 December, 2010 at 8:33 pm by belgianwaffle

For her own obscure reasons, the Princess tossed a pen on top of the bookshelf on the landing and asked me to get it down. Standing on top of a chair, I groped blindly behind the books stacked on the top and felt something soft and extremely dusty. He’s back, the one and only, the original transitional object.

New Development

13 December, 2010 at 8:12 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself has taking to cooking. She does all the measuring, creaming and mixing. We light the oven and put in the cakes. We are greeted on weekend mornings with requests to be allowed to cook. We are full to the brim with cakes and buns. I am not sure whether this will be sustainable in the longer term. But we are all very impressed all the same.
chil 005

Seasonal Message

12 December, 2010 at 11:44 pm by belgianwaffle

Another Country

11 December, 2010 at 2:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Are you curious about our weekend in Edinburgh? Last weekend? Go on, you are dying to know. Well, what with the snow we decided not to go. Desperate to get away and completely snowed in, we decided to get the train to Belfast. Despite my mother’s concerns about our safety (she is not really a believer in the peace dividend) the most exciting thing that happened was when someone threw a snowball at the restaurant window on Saturday night and everyone in the restaurant jumped and stopped talking. More so than they would have in Dublin, I think.

Growing up in Cork, I never met anyone from Northern Ireland except my mother’s friend from round the corner who was so integrated that I thought she was from Cork (a real achievement that). I thought that people from Northern Ireland were nasty, difficult people who either berated you for not caring about the North or berated you for having an opinion because “the Southern State was founded on violence”.

I remember when the Good Friday agreement was signed, I was working in Brussels. A Spanish colleague left a rose on another Irish colleague’s desk with the message “For peace in your beautiful country.” We both thought that this was mildly hilarious. Me particularly because I didn’t even think of it as my country.

And then over the years, I started to meet and make friends with people from Northern Ireland and my views tilted alarmingly. They were the only properly friendly Irish people left – the Celtic Tiger had ruined any Irish friendliness south of the border and it was only now available in the North. I still believe that a bit though [lengthy aside coming] a recent trip to Athlone in the midlands made me feel slightly differently as people were very friendly. Alarmingly so. In a deserted but very glossy shopping centre (almost certainly owned by NAMA), I think everybody I passed made a point of talking to me. It also allowed me to have the following conversation on the phone with my sister:

Me: I’m in Tommy Hilfiger in Athlone looking for a present for our esteemed brother, any thoughts?
Her: Hysterical laughter. Tommy Hilfiger IN ATHLONE? That’s where the boom went out of control, right there.

Anyway, never mind that. Belfast. The train journey up was uneventful. Belfast had that weirdness that all of Northern Ireland has for me. Irish: the weather; the people; the landscape; the accent. Foreign: the post boxes; the post office; the car number plates; the money.

So, anyhow, because of the snow and the anxiety to get away, we had booked ourselves into the last room in the rather pricey Merchant hotel in Belfast city centre. I felt slightly guilty and have promised myself that the children will get new wind proof windows in their rooms before we go away again. On Friday, I had lunch with a friend from Belfast who was giving me sightseeing tips and, as it turned out, the men at the table behind us were also from Belfast – a rather exciting part of the city – and weighed in, utterly unintelligibly to me, with further advice. When they asked where I was staying, I told them and their jaws dropped and they said words to the effect that I must have more money than sense (alas, no longer true).

So, the hotel was to be the jewel in the crown of our stay. And it was very nice. But the heating in our room did not work. We complained. We were told that there was a problem in all of the Victorian part of the hotel. We went for afternoon tea in our hotel. We went to the Christmas Market. We went for a cocktail (I am not a drinker, I had one cocktail and a nasty headache for the next 24 hours, alas, I am never touching alcohol again). We went for dinner. The nice concierge got us a booking in a nice restaurant for the following night and all was well with the world. But when we went to bed, the heat was still not working. Under the blankets, it was toasty but outside it was freezing. The corridor was warmer. At 12.30 and 1 am the alarm went off and at 6 am a steady dripping sound as of water entering a radiator woke us up. We were unhappy. We made further complaints. A bottle of champagne came (useless to me as I will never touch alcohol again) but the room was still cold. Even the information, imparted by the Irish Times over breakfast, that the Merchant hotel was the place to go in Belfast, although making us feel pleasantly zeitgeisty, failed to win us over completely.

After a trip to the delightful Linen Hall Library, Mr. Waffle returned to the hotel to tackle a man from maintenance and I went shopping. The man from maintenance arrived. He noticed the radiator filling noise. There were no radiators he pointed out sagely. He then pointed to the ceiling where an ominous bulge hung over our bed. Then, the hotel went into overdrive. We were moved to another, larger, room (apparently the hotel was no longer full) and told that we wouldn’t be charged for our stay. Can I tell you how delighted I was? The children can still have new windows.

On Sunday, before returning home, we went to mass in Saint Malachy’s church and I was completely charmed by the interior which was recently restored and beautifully bright. Not normally a feature of Irish churches.

To summarise: Visit Belfast. Stay at the Merchant. For a budget option, try to get a room where the heat isn’t working.

Inevitably, our flights to Edinburgh did in fact go out and come home on time. Oh well.

A Right On Christmas Tale

10 December, 2010 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

Recently, some of the children’s friends came to visit. In the car on the way home from school, we saw a Christmas advertisement for Coca Cola with a happy Santa and a large lorry. “Coca Cola is poisonous,” opined our five year old visitor, “we are not allowed to drink it at home.” “No, it is not poisonous,” said his eight year old brother. “Do you know,” he asked me, “where Coca Cola is mostly made?” Without pausing for a reply, which was as well, really, he continued, “In South America, in Brazil and they won’t let their workers unionise.” This conversation was somewhat beyond Daniel but he was trying hard to follow the general gist, unlike his sister and brother who had lost interest. He turned to his little friend, the five year old, and asked anxiously, “Is Santa really poisoning the Coca-Cola?”

Keeping Warmish

9 December, 2010 at 11:34 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is interested in hot water bottles. For a long time, he would insist on a bottle filled with cold water to take to bed with him. He would cradle it in his arms and murmur affectionately to it, “Coldy, coldy.” Recently, my mother gave him a hot water bottle with a cover and he has started to take this to bed with him filled with hot water. For reasons best known to himself, he puts it under his head rather than under his feet.

Cats of the Chattering Classes

8 December, 2010 at 11:26 pm by belgianwaffle

Our cat is called Hodge. She is called after the cat my family had when I was a child. That cat in turn was called after Samuel Johnson’s cat.

This afternoon, the children had some friends to visit. Over dinner, they mentioned their cat. “What’s it called?” we asked. “Bakunin” said the five year old. “My father is an anarchist,” explained the eight year old. Retired, I’d say.

Circumstances Alter Cases

2 December, 2010 at 10:41 pm by belgianwaffle

On Tuesday the children had a bookfair at lunchtime in the school. I went up to help them choose books and pay for them. Then I went back to my warm, dry place of employment leaving the children and the childminder to trek home through the snow. It is fair to say that I felt pretty guilty. At regular intervals during the afternoon, I rang home. No answer. They’re stuck on the bus I thought guiltily to myself. When I got home, early because of the snow, it transpired that they had been at the library. The childminder who, crucially, is from Grenoble is unfazed by the snow. She was happy to trek outside rather than rushing home as we would have done. As Mr. Waffle hurried her out the door to get home because of the snow she was coolly saying words to the effect of “Snow, what snow?” And shrugging. And as it got worse and worse she remained unpreturbed (there is a joke about sang froid to be worked in here but I decided to let you do it yourselves).

The children’s school has been closed since the ill-fated book fair Tuesday. I saw the childminder off into the very heavy snow this evening wearing her runners. I had walked home from work in my ski gear and hiking boots. When I rang later to check she had made it home, she said that she was fine and clearly thought I was insane. Just wait until she sees what happens to the bus services with another 5cms of snow.

Oh and Edinburgh is off as is driving anywhere. We will be taking the train to our weekend destination.

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