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Looking out for your Immoral Soul

28 February, 2011 at 11:07 pm by belgianwaffle

At mass yesterday we had a reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians. Consider the following:

“What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of his trust. Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you, or indeed any human tribunal, find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgement on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all…”

Doesn’t your heart go out to the Corinthians? Wasn’t St. Paul an annoyingly smug correspondent? He comes to a sticky end and one can’t help feeling that a small number of Corinthians were wondering whether Paul, on arrival in heaven, got busy telling God how to manage matters better. I once heard a monk say that St. Paul was necessary for the organisation and administration of the early church but that he must have been tedious and irritating company.

In his sermon, the priest told us all not to worry, all would be well. Which was comforting but not quite as well put as the Gospel itself:

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” [King James Bible version]

That’s probably enough material for your immortal soul for one day.

The Cavalry!

27 February, 2011 at 10:47 pm by belgianwaffle

Princess: Am I related to anyone famous?
Me: Well, your nana’s first cousin’s first cousin is a moderately famous television presenter (in Ireland).
Her: Never heard of him.
Me: And also, technically, he’s not actually related to us.

The telephone rings. It is the parents-in-law to tell us that Mr. Waffle’s sister has just secured a two book deal. Rejoice! The Princess will be related to someone famous.


26 February, 2011 at 10:42 am by belgianwaffle

Last night I voted in the General Election. Today we will watch the votes being counted. Is it going to make any difference who gets in? I’m not so sure.

Let’s Giant Up Think That!

25 February, 2011 at 10:10 pm by belgianwaffle

I asked an English colleague to find out what the exact title of a conference was – she rang the organisers. “It’s called ‘Giant Up Thinking for the Future,” she told me. What a stupid name, I thought to myself wondering how to work it in to the presentation I was preparing. Another colleague looked over my text for me and said, “Is that definitely the name of the conference?” “I know, it’s stupid, let’s double check with E.” “Yes,” she confirmed. “Are you sure,” said my smart colleague, “that it’s not ‘Joined Up Thinking for the Future?” E and I did feel foolish. Ah the perils of the Irish accent for the non-native. I do love the crisp delivery which my English colleague has; imagine, she finishes all her words. When we have crank callers, we ask her to take the calls because they all respect her crisp, clipped tones.

Round Up

24 February, 2011 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Parent teacher meetings: Herself, v clever, but continues to coast along without making the slightest effort (this is all very well in primary school but I can see disaster looming in the long term). Michael, too early to tell whether clever or not, but does not apply himself, particularly to colouring (try to care but just cannot, am clearly a bad mother). Daniel, tries very hard and worries a great deal about what everyone will think of his efforts. Due to power of will alone he can now nearly, nearly read. I think I should rely on Daniel for my pension. None of them shows the slightest interest in Irish or desire to speak it despite encouragement from all quarters. Sigh.

Went to see Tutankhamun exhibition on Saturday at the request of the children who are learning about ancient Eygpt in school. We queued for an hour with our pre-purchased ticket but, as a fellow queuer pointed out, at least it wasn’t raining. It was a bit dull in the end but the children, amazingly, seemed to enjoy it. Probably because they were given headphones.

Unintended Consequences

23 February, 2011 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

You often read about how incentives can have a perverse unintended effect. I think that I have an example. A couple of weeks ago we decided to pay 20c to each child who was up, breakfasted and dressed by 8.45 on school mornings. On the first morning, the Princess appeared in our bedroom fully dressed at 8.15. A couple of days later she turned up at 7.20. This morning she turned up fully dressed at my bedside at 5.05 am.


21 February, 2011 at 11:26 pm by belgianwaffle

The head of my organisation is presenting at a seminar on how to promote your career in a recession. I have been asked to attend. Unfortunately, I cannot do so as it is mid-term and I will be at home minding the children.

I can’t get this out of my head

20 February, 2011 at 11:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Being sick, poor and marginalised. Not very nice.


19 February, 2011 at 11:12 pm by belgianwaffle

The childminder took the children to the park yesterday. Some big bold boys ran after them, tried to kick them, shouted at them and called them names. The childminder departed with the children in tow and the bullies following. They only left when the children got on the bus home. The Princess is particularly upset, pointing out that they tried to kick Daniel she said, “I can do that, but no one else is allowed to.” They were all a bit shaken up. Later in the evening, Daniel said to me, “Mummy, the mean boys in the park called me [insert nasty racist epithet here] what does that mean?” Lovely. Proof that racists are stupid, I suppose. Mr. Waffle said to them, that these were children who weren’t looked after properly and taught properly and they probably wouldn’t have very happy lives. I was much less inclined to go with the wishy-washy liberal approach than usual and just said that they were nasty children [looks like it’s true – a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged].

Peer Reviewed

18 February, 2011 at 11:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Princess: Don’t put clips in my hair.
Me: But they’re nice.
Princess: Only to old people.
Me: But the teachers in your school are old people.
Her: But there are far more students than teachers in the school.
Me: That’s what’s called peer pressure.
Her: No, it’s not, my peers are only in second class. Sixth class girls don’t like them either.

In other news, the Princess has taken to saying words backwards. She is quite amazingly talented at it but, as my mother says, it has absolutely no practical application whatsoever.

Nature’s Conservatives

17 February, 2011 at 11:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael would not go to bed so he sat on the couch with me watching such parts of the news as I deemed suitable for his consumption.

Him: That’s a robber who’s been found guilty.
Me: That’s right.
Him: And they’re going to kill him.
Me (slightly shocked): No, of course, they’re not. He’s going to go to jail.
Him: Oh yes, and he won’t get any food there.
Me: No, of course, he’ll be fed!
Michael: What is it, a holiday camp? [OK, I made that last line up but you can see that this is what was going through his little mind.]

Follow Through

16 February, 2011 at 11:02 pm by belgianwaffle

I have a colleague who is a vegetarian and loves animals. I think she may be a vegan and not use leather either. Very thorough. The most impressive moment came today when she gloomily confided to me that she thought she had rats under her decking (a distressingly common problem, apparently). “What will you do?” I asked. “I’ll get a humane trap and release them in the park.”

OCD Pedants Will Love This

12 February, 2011 at 7:27 pm by belgianwaffle

From xkcd

Speaking of Sin

11 February, 2011 at 7:17 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess is making her first confession at the end of March. She is terrified. I gave her Frank O’Connor’s First Confession* to read. She was amused and relieved. She is unlikely to go for any relatives with a bread knife. That’s alright then.

*This should really be read in a Cork accent but you will have to make do. Aside – sometimes I feel that this blog is one long aside – the woman who prepares our young hero for confession in Frank O’Connor’s short story is from Montenotte, a very smart part of Cork. A friend from there told me he was once speaking to someone who asked why Montenotte was so called. “I think it was one of Napoleon’s battles,” said my friend. “Jeez,” said the other guy, “I never knew Napoleon came to Cork.” If you know anything about Cork, you would realise that this misapprehension stems from the firm belief that Cork is the centre of the world.

Too much television

9 February, 2011 at 10:24 pm by belgianwaffle

When I went to my parents’ house a couple of weeks ago, I put the children in front of the television for the weekend which worked well for all of us, aside from the inevitable guilt which I suffered. I am now paying the price for this over-exposure.

Daniel keeps saying in an English accent, “See our new catalogue for details. Now in-store!” Michael peering into the cupboard under the sink said to me, “Look, Vanish oxi action power gel, works on all kinds of stains.” Oh the wages of sin.

Glass Half Full

8 February, 2011 at 10:44 pm by belgianwaffle

The boys eat nothing. Every evening at dinner, Michael surveys the table and announces dolefully, “There’s nothing I like.” I was at the library the other day and the staff had strategically placed a book on parenting in the children’s section. I flicked to the part on children’s eating habits looking idly for tips. It was all about tackling childhood obesity. Well, at least there’s one problem we haven’t got at the moment.


2 February, 2011 at 10:30 pm by belgianwaffle

“The Death of the Irish Language” by Reg Hindley

Mr. Waffle bought this when he was poor and living in Paris. I think because he is a masochist. The book examines the health of the Irish language in 1985/86 by DED. This is not, in fact, as tedious as it might sound. One of his research methods was to hang around playgrounds listening to the local children to see whether they were really speaking Irish to each other – testing the truth of the census and, more particularly, the deontas returns. I can see this being a quite effective methodology but one probably not open to older male researchers today.

The author can’t help himself from lamenting the fact that women and men from the Gaeltacht have no concern about finding another Irish speaker when looking for love and non-native speakers are constantly marrying in and diluting the strength of the language – not to mention the damage that the television and the roads do. This is gently funny from time to time though not deliberately so.

The author is a linguist and an Englishman from Bradford. He gives a phonetic English pronouciation of Irish place names for the convenience of the English reader, one assumes. I was amused to see him say that Cois Fharraige might be pronounced Cush Arriger in English. It mightn’t. That intrusive final “r” is entirely English. Oh that a linguist should make such an error.

All in all I found it surprisingly enjoyable but a little depressing. I don’t want the Irish language to die. And even though, the other night my loving husband and I sat on the sofa and watched our children sing songs in the first national language and do some Irish dancing (a long way from Riverdance), in a manner that would, I am sure have made De Valera proud- it’s not really much good, if Irish is on its deathbed as a native language. The author points out that in general Irish people are positive towards the language and do not want it to die out but essentially they feel that the duty of saving it falls to civil servants and school children.

On the back of the book is a quote “Oh the shame of Irish dying in a free Ireland.” I do think that this may be our generation’s tragedy, that Irish as a living language will die on our watch. Of course, what with the IMF and that there is a lot of competition for what this generation’s tragedy might be. I suppose we’ll have to see how the recently published 20 year strategy on the Irish language pans out – come back to me in 2030.

“Death of a Macho Man” by MC Beaton

Left behind by my sister following babysitting adventure. All her tired brain could face after a day with my children. Undemanding.

“Another September” by Elizabeth Bowen

This is set in County Cork at the time of the War of Independence. I found it tough enough going and, for a slender volume, it took me quite a while to read. If you’ve ever read “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons, you will know that she satirically asterixes descriptive passages which are particularly fine. I can’t help wondering whether this was the very book she was satirising, take this passage selected at random:

“The screen of trees that reached like an arm from behing the house – embracing the lawns, banks and terraces in mild ascent – had darkened, deepening into a forest. Like splintered darkness, branches pierced the faltering dusk of leaves. Evening drenched the trees; the beeches were soundless cataracts. Behind the trees, pressing in from the open and empty country like an invasion, the orange bright sky crept and smouldered. Firs, bearing up to pierce, melted against the brightness. Somewhere, there was a sunset in which the mountains lay like glass.”

I think that is quite dreadfully overwritten, even allowing for the changes in tastes over the 80 odd years since it was published. And there is a lot of this kind of thing to wade through. As I read on, I remembered that I had found “The Death of the Heart” a real struggle. What saved this book for me was the context. It was interesting. Firstly, it was written from the point of view of an Anglo-Irish family. They considered themselves Irish and disapproved very much of the English whom they found vulgar: obsessed by their digestion and by money.

And at one level, where else would this Anglo-Irish family be from? There they were in their family home on the site where their ancestors had lived since the 1600s (assumption based on the belief that Danielstown is Bowen’s Court, Elizabeth Bowen’s family home). But yet, they seem very alien to me. Even allowing that everyone from the 1920s would seem very foreign, this is another layer of separation.

Co-incidentally, I went to an exhibition in the National Photographic Archive called “Power and Privilege: The Big House in Ireland”. Mostly these photographs of the landed gentry, their houses and their households dated from the period between 1900-1910. They provided images to go with the text of Elizabeth Bowen’s book. To my surprise, what I found fascinating about the exhibition was not the houses but the staff. Their uniforms, the women’s lace hairpieces and their number; those houses needed armies of servants. Under one picture, there is a comment that all of the servants in the picture are English. The gentry, or this particular family at all events, didn’t want Irish servants; one can only imagine the rancour this must have caused in a poor country where employment was scarce. In England, there was no such thing as the absentee landlord. In Ireland, many Anglo-Irish families never visited their Irish estates at all.

All this by way of saying that the attitude to the Big House (and its inhabitants) in Ireland is ambivalent, some were good landlords, many were not but all of them were different. This book captures that rather well. These people suspended between Ireland and England, neither one thing nor the other. I was fascinated to see that they appeared to be just as terrified of the Black and Tans as any other Irish person despite the fact that they were entertaining British army officers over tea and tennis. In this story, there is an exquisitely awkward moment when Lois, our heroine, inquires of a family (presumably tenants, though possibly neighbours) whether they have any news of their son who both parties know is on the run. I would quote it but it is too bloody long to retype. Bowen is good on interactions between people and all that is implied by silences and unfinished sentences and the half truths which make up polite conversation in difficult circumstances.

In the 60s, the longest Georgian terrace in Europe was in Dublin. It was knocked down for a modern concrete construction. In the face of some outrage (the terrace was pretty, the replacement was not) a government Minister said that he was delighted. He regarded this as one in the eye for the oppressor. This attitude is a very direct descendant of the one which burned down some 200 big houses up and down the country during the war of independence. I think we have made our peace with the big house now, they’re mostly filled with luxury hotels. When Paddy Kelly put up a development near Castletown House, in Kildare, he said, “It was time the Irish went through the front gate.” I’m not sure that he considered the Anglo-Irish to be really entirely Irish.

The introduction is by Victoria Glendinning, an English woman. She says, “I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing the climax. But I would ask you, as you read, to notice the accumalative imagery of fire and burning.” Any Irish person, of any description would not need that – you know, almost from the first chapter that the house will be burned. This picture, “An Allegory”, by Seán Keating should be used for the cover of the book:
An Allegory by Seán Keating

“At Home” by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson and this is a very readable, entertaining book but I feel that it is, slightly, painting by numbers. He’s done better and he certainly got full value for his subscription to the dictionary of national biography in drafting this tome. There are a couple of places where things are repeated and it could, perhaps, have done with more thorough editing. All that said, I enjoyed it very much and learnt some new things. I found myself itching to get back to it and it was a great Christmas holiday read. Bryson has an infectious enthusiasm for everything and if you ever thought you would like to know more about sewers there is no better man to talk you through them. This is, essentially, a history book. It is organised around the rooms in his house. So, for example, in the bedroom he covers sex, childbirth, illness and death over the years and the changing perceptions and processes from about 1600 to the 20th century. Sometimes one feels that interesting facts he has learnt are somewhat shoehorned into the format but, broadly, it works.

“Over Sea, Under Stone” by Susan Cooper

My sister got this for the Princess for Christmas, she didn’t fancy it so I picked it up and read it myself. I really enjoyed it – more for the delightfulness of childhood summers that it evoked than for the plot, it must be said. I went out the next day and bought volume 2 of the series which is really all you need to know.

“The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper

Volume 2 of the series which began with “Over Sea, Under Stone”. Oh, the disappointment. All dull fantasy (and I don’t object to fantasy, just dull fantasy), none of the lovely seaside holiday feel of the last book and only one character carried over and that one among the least engaging. I think I will be leaving the rest of the series alone.

“JPod” by Douglas Coupland
[New Year’s Resolution Pile]

Sitting on my bedside table since 2006 hasn’t done this book any favours. It’s supposed to be bang up to the minute and I’m sure it was in 2006 but putting technology at the centre of your book turns out to be a problem. One of the characters describes kodak photo share as like being transported back to 1999. Hmm, but this book has no twitter and no youtube and it features game designer nerds who would presumably use all these things. Catastrophically dated. Also, annoyingly self-referential. These characters talk about Douglas Coupland a lot and he has a bit part.

I used to really like his books and I have read a lot of them but this book lands on the wrong side of the line between pretentious and original. Disappointing.

“Una Bambina e Basta” by Lia Levi [New Year’s Resolution Pile]

This is really a novella and the fact that I took two years to finish it is more a reflection of the fact that it is in Italian than the content itself. It’s about a little Jewish girl who ends up hidden in a convent during World War II and about how she and her family get through the war. It’s autobiographical and I find the author’s childish voice a little tedious. I suspect although it has merit, it’s the kind of book I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed even had I read it in English. Rather annoyingly, my mother-in-law is reading it also and she loves it. My mother-in-law sits Leaving Certificate courses for fun and this book is on the Italian course. Which reminds me of a rather amusing anecdote she once told me. Regular readers will recall that my husband’s next door neighbour when he was growing up is now a well-known novelist. My mother-in-law decided to sit the Leaving Certificate English paper for fun and she relied on the young pre-novelist, then a Leaving Certificate student herself, to supply details of the syllabus. This worked very well until the night before the examination when the pre-novelist admitted to my mother-in-law – “Oh dear, I forgot to tell you, we had to do a play as well.”

“Jane Austen Ruined My Life” by Beth Patillo [New Year’s Resolution Pile]

I cannot tell you how dire this book was on every level. I received it as a present from someone who has never previously failed to deliver. Which, of course, makes it worse. Good title though.

“Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande

When I was at my parents’ house in Cork over the weekend, my father said to me, “I’m sure you gave me a Christmas present, just remind me, what was it.” It was this book and a companion volume “Complications”. My father is impossible to buy for and we almost always end up giving him books. This is guilt inducing as he has a huge pile of worthy books which people think he might like to read (mostly they tend to cover sailing boats, steam engines, medicine and Cork usually with a dash of photography thrown in) and which only serve to unnerve him at every turn as he tries to polish off his daily crossword. However, I was delighted when he said, “Oh I thought that they came from your aunt, they were very good.” I was delighted also to clarify that I was the brilliant donor. I found this volume on the couch and, on the basis of his recommendation, read it. It’s an interesting read and a very easy one, the author has a very accessible style and seems to be as much a writer as a doctor which is an unusual combination. He writes about medical matters in a very insightful way and certainly gives the lay reader a number of new perspectives. One of the essays in this series is about cystic fibrosis – my father particularly recommended it and it stuck in my mind also. I think one of the reasons for this is that, in Ireland, cystic fibrosis rates are high. A girl in my class in school died from it. The author used CF as an example of the finding that medical success rates are in the classic bell curve shaped graph. He said that we expect the graph to be fin shaped with good results bunched towards the right of the graph but this is not actually the case. He then goes on to discuss how to use this kind of information to improve performance. In the best performing case in the US, there is someone who is 67 who has cystic fibrosis. When you consider that my former classmate died in her 20s that seems amazing. Gosh, I am making this sound quite dull but it’s really not. I recommend it and, what’s more, I’m going to find the companion volume to read when I go to Cork next.

Did you wonder what I did for the weekend? Wonder no longer.

1 February, 2011 at 11:32 pm by belgianwaffle

I took the children to Cork from Friday to Monday. All in all it passed off pretty peacefully. The children were pacified by watching 5 hours of television a day and eating all the junk food they could get their hands on. We picked up the Princess’s baptismal certificate in the church where she was baptised in Cork so that she can now make her communion – though I fear she is turning against organised religion.

Anecdotes for your delectation:

The Princess found one of my old dolls. She fashioned an outfit for it including a sash. I peered at the sash expecting to see “Rose of Tralee” or “Miss World” but in fact it said, “Votes for Women”. A proud moment owing something to the intervention of Mrs. Banks.

On Sunday, I decided I would take the children for a walk in Farran Woods just outside the city. I spent 30 minutes, putting on the children’s shoes, coats and gloves and prising them away from the television. My mother accompanied us. We got hopelessly lost. “How can you not find the way to somewhere you drove to every Sunday for 20 years?” I asked my mother in exasperation as the troops battered each other in the back seat. “How can you not find the way to somewhere you were driven to every Sunday for 20 years?” she replied tartly. After a long hour and a half we arrived. It was 4 in the afternoon, cold and about to get dark. The signs were not propitious. Nevertheless, we began our walk. After 5 minutes, the children announced en masse “I want to do a wee.” I let them off into the bushes on their own which turned out to be a spectacular error of judgement. One of them (name concealed to protect the guilty) emerged soaked to skin with every piece of clothing from the waist down wringing wet. It was quite a spectacular accomplishment and one which was quite difficult to achieve, I would have thought.* There was nothing for it but to pack everyone back into the car and go home. On the plus side, the return journey only took half an hour.

I had planned to return to Dublin early on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, no sooner had I pulled out of my parents’ driveway than the car started flashing a red warning light at me. I drove back, redeposited the children in front of the television and rang my husband, some 250kms away, who couldn’t talk. As I pointed out to him, I could have been on the side of the motorway in desperation. As he pointed out to me, he could hear my family in the background so he knew, I wasn’t. So, my mother supervised the children; I perused the car manual (unhelpfully, only available in French); my sister inquired of the internet what the problem might be and my poor father, recovering from routine surgery (but still, you know, surgery) emerged from his armchair where he had been quietly reading the paper and hovered over the bonnet. “Ring Canty’s” he suggested. May I take this opportunity to endorse Mr. Canty’s operation should you ever find yourself in need of a garage in Cork. I rang the garage and described my problem. “Throw in a pint of water,” said the mechanic. “Where?” I asked. “There are only three places you could put it: where the oil goes, where the brake fluid goes and where the coolant goes.” “How do I know which is which,” I asked anxiously. He laughed and said, “Whatever you do, don’t put it where the oil or the brake fluid go and drop down to us and we’ll take a look at it.” My father indicated the correct spot and I drove to the garage with my poor sister as moral support. The warning light disappeared. The nice mechanic checked it over and said it was fine while opining that Peugeots are dreadful cars for mechanics. “We have a rule here that we never take more than 2 French cars in a day, as it could tip us over the edge.” If you care, he said that the best cars to fix are Toyotas. And he didn’t charge me. But it all took two hours which made for a late arrival home. Poor Mr. Waffle was working away on the home front and for reasons which I still don’t fully understand had not one but two dinners prepared for us. I think I might try it again when we have all recovered from the excitement.

* Please note example of elegant variation as despised by Fowler and other great stylists.

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