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First Confession

31 March, 2011 at 12:02 am by belgianwaffle

The Princess made her first confession. It was a surprisingly nice ceremony. When I made my first confession, we were taken out of school during the day and filed into the church and into the confession box in turn. No parents were involved.

This was quite different. It was in the evening and families came in droves. The children did a little play and went up to the altar to tell the priests their sins (although as I may have mentioned before, there are no sins any more, only occasions when they don’t “show love”). The sixth class choir came as did all the teachers from the school.

Mr. Waffle and I didn’t quite know what to wear so we were somewhat overdressed for the occasion. My poor daughter was horribly nervous, mostly because she had one small line in the play which she had to deliver in front of an entirely sympathetic audience. As her moment came, she turned pink. Then she scrunched up the end of her skirt in her fist and delivered her line at great speed. Not, in fact, entirely unlike my interventions when forced to speak at large conferences.

After this, the actual confession was painless.

The church where the ceremony was held is very pretty. It’s a beautifully proportioned Victorian gothic structure with lovely stained glass. It is, however, in a very deprived part of the inner city surrounded by run down council flats, some of which are boarded up. After the ceremony we were told by the school to do something celebratory, so although it was late, we decided to take herself to a slightly old-fashioned but still smart hotel nearby for a drink. As we walked past the flats (or the flahs, as they are known locally), I was astonished to hear someone calling the Princess’s name and to see her waving merrily up at a depressing balcony. “Who was that?” I asked. “That’s X [let us call him Bronte] from my class, he lives in the flats.” Truly all human life is here. “Oh, I think he lives with his granny,” I said to Mr. Waffle, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen his mother.” “Who then is the young woman with Bronte tattooed on her lower back?” replied Mr. Waffle.

The Princess got orange juice and marshmallows from the nice waiter in the hotel. She got a sparkly bracelet from Veritas (religious goods store in Ireland, haberdashers in Belgium – I give you this information free) which was the best of an, ahem, interesting range of items. She loved it which was delightful. The whole thing was very pleasant and, I suspect, may be more successful than the First Communion day given the weight of expectation which is riding on it. Of course, she is not really prepared at all for her second confession when she’ll have to go into the box in the church, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


30 March, 2011 at 10:45 pm by belgianwaffle

Sign in alterations place:

“All garminds must be clean”

Random Cork Information

29 March, 2011 at 10:36 pm by belgianwaffle

I visited Cork alone at the weekend to celebrate my father’s birthday. It was during the time without the children that I had the chance to speak uninterrupted to my loving family and learnt the following mildly surprising things:

1. I asked my mother who gave us our breakfast and got us up when we were small as I couldn’t remember. Apparently, C, who minded us did and then our loving father drove us to school. “Didn’t you see us off?” I asked her in indignation. “From bed,” said she.

2. Before he was married, my father used to go out fishing in Cork harbour on Thursday nights. One night they caught plaice and my father put it in the hospital fridge (where he was working) with a view to giving it to my grandmother on Friday morning (fish on Fridays, you will recall). Apparently plaice survives for quite a while out of water. Some poor nurse came to the fridge in the middle of the night, poked the bag in which the plaice was sitting and it moved and she brought the house down.

3. My sister, despite being very interested in food and fond of cooking, and despite the fact that my mother loves the market and goes there a couple of days a week, would rather shop in Tesco than the market. The shame.

I said it was random, I didn’t say it was interesting.

Busy Lives

23 March, 2011 at 7:33 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael came into the parental bed looking bleary eyed this morning and greeted me with, “What are we late for today?”

St. Patrick’s Day

22 March, 2011 at 10:49 pm by belgianwaffle

Last Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day. I dutifully started the day at mass. Further exposure to Saint Paul who continues to show his excellent turn of phrase and unbearable smugness:

“I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that Day..”

We took the children to the parade which was based on a short story by Roddy Doyle. Unfortunately only one of us had got around to reading the story and she was reluctant to share any of the details with her loving family. Nevertheless, it was all moderately entertaining.

In one aspect, it failed to please. The children had been saving their pennies to spend with the hawkers of St. Patrick’s day tat. Unfortunately, as we arrived, the gardaí were rounding up the illegal vendors’ stock for confiscation. One guard in his high-vis vest, was vigourously pushing a large old fashioned pram weighed down with horns, wigs, scarves and flags while being impotuned by an elderly, extraordinarily wrinkled lady. As he unloaded her tat into the van, my children went rushing up to ask whether they could buy some of it. Not a happy scene, I have to tell you.

First Steps in Reading

21 March, 2011 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel has begun to read by sheer will power alone. He painstakingly sounds out words from everywhere. They are always slightly disappointing words – Avonmore, O’Neill’s, stop, yield – but he is undaunted. Next stop, the Russians.

Making Sense of the World Around Us

16 March, 2011 at 11:51 pm by belgianwaffle

The Home Lives of Others
Me: Do you like the new babysitter?
Daniel: Yes.
Me: What language do you think [insert the most Irish name you can think of at this point – babysitter’s mother is a native Irish speaker from Donegal] speaks at home?
Daniel: I dunno, French?

Me: Everyone has two grandmothers. Do you know who your two grandmothers are?
Daniel: Grandma and Aunty Nic?

The Solar System
Daniel: Do you know which planet is closest to the sun?
Me: Mercury?
Daniel: Yes, and then it’s Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Do you want to hear about sunspots?

No, just no

15 March, 2011 at 10:28 pm by belgianwaffle

This evening I was the lucky recipient of an email from a PR firm asking me to promote a number of products. The details of the one that caught my eye are as follows:

My Beautiful Mommy: Must Have for Mom’s Undergoing Plastic Surgery

Young children are naturally curious – they’re full of questions and excited to learn about the world they live in. However, as times change, children’s curiosities have addressed more complex and sensitive issues, often at younger ages. In today’s American culture, more than ever, answers can increasingly be found in children’s books. Everything from divorce and global warming to potty habits and how to deal with a death in the family, children’s books have tackled it all. Dr. Michael Salzhauer, a Miami board-certified plastic surgeon and father of four, has taken the reins on a very hot topic and wrote [sic] “My Beautiful Mommy,” the first ever children’s book that addresses plastic surgery. To learn more about the book , you can visit: www.mybeautifulmommy.com

Where will it all end?

On the other hand, this is more appealing.

Happy Birthday to Me

11 March, 2011 at 11:14 pm by belgianwaffle

I am ancient. It was my birthday yesterday. Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk in the Wicklow mountains. It snowed on us. I’m hoping that this isn’t a metaphor for something.

Why you Should Try to Keep your Small Children away from Police Stations

8 March, 2011 at 11:40 pm by belgianwaffle

To renew the children’s passports, we have to bring them to a police station and let a Garda look at them. This may or may not be because Mr. Waffle was not born in Ireland but in a country well known to harbour dangerous subversives (Canada, since you ask). So on Sunday we trooped into the station where the Gardaí duly looked the children over and pronounced that they matched the photos. During that time, I fielded the following questions from the Princess based on a series of posters on the wall:

What is rape? [Having looked at these excellent but disturbing posters]
What’s human trafficking?
What’s a drug dealer?

While doing this, I had also to break up a fist fight between the boys on the subject of Daniel’s wellingtons.

Unrelated: Praxis, please advise on the capitalisation of the title.

Why hello negative equity, I like the way you’re doing your hair

7 March, 2011 at 11:22 pm by belgianwaffle

Did I tell you that we are thinking of moving house? Well, we are. The man from the estate agent’s came around to look at the house and after some humming and hawing told me that it is now worth only just over two thirds of what we paid for it in 2002. Oh the pain.


5 March, 2011 at 10:30 pm by belgianwaffle

“Greenwitch” by Susan Cooper
“The Grey King” by Susan Cooper
“Silver on the Tree” by Susan Cooper

So, I persisted with “The Dark is Rising” series – it’s alright, I suppose, but I think that there was something deeply appealing about the first book that is missing in the others. The author does have a great sense of place and that comes across in the settings of all of the books. I also like the way that she inserts Welsh phrases into “The Grey King” without translation or much by way of explanation. Nice touch. But for me, I think I am just too old to enjoy these properly. The nice thing about children’s books though, is how they respect the rules. In Greenwitch, the children are fighting the dark for the survival of mankind but they can only do it in the Easter holidays and our hero is worried that the week provided by the school authorities won’t be long enough. Well, rules are rules, even if evil is about to take over.

I thought the last book which was largely set in fantasy land was the weakest of the bunch. When she talks about England and Wales and an idealised landscape she is really quite unbeatable. The “Lost Land” is just tedious. But maybe not if you’re 13 which is probably when I should have read them.

“The Memory Chalet” by Tony Judt

A series of autobiographical essays, vaguely reminiscent of W.G. Sebald, except that I enjoyed them. The essays are full of nostalgia for the 40s, 50s and 60s which I found very appealing. They are very readable though about hard ideas so they make you feel clever. Always welcome. The one about French intellectuals is the best.

“Decca, The Letters of Jessica Mitford” edited by Peter Sussman [New Year’s resolution list]

Lads, this is a massive book. 700 odd pages. Why, oh why are American books so bloodly long?

Once you are sucked into the world of the Mitfords, you never really leave. Last summer I read “The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters” which was a collection of the sisters’ letters edited by Diana Mosley’s daughter-in-law Charlotte Mosley. I enjoyed it very much.

What this book suffers from by comparison is that it is all one voice. Only Jessica Mitford’s letters. The early letters are pretty dull but as she gets beyond her 20s, they are a lot more interesting. She becomes a much more compassionate and appealing person (I suppose we all do). And although she was doing very interesting things in her 20s, somehow she fails to convey much. I feel that she was probably putting up a brave front and that makes for a dull read.

If you are steeped in Mitford knowledge, then you will be aware that Jessica (or Decca – the nicknames, Lord, the nicknames – here’s a selection of the sisters’ nicknames for each other – Sooze, Cord, Honks, Bobo, Woman, Hen) is the second youngest, that she eloped to Spain with her cousin, Esmond Romilly; moved to America; stayed there when he died; married a radical lawyer and wrote about the American funeral industry. What I found really interesting was her life after Romilly’s death. This doesn’t really get a great airing in most of the accounts I have read. She was a committed communist, very happily married to a radical lawyer for the rest of her life. And she knew EVERYONE. Random example – Hillary Clinton was an intern in her husband’s office. They really were an extraordinary family. Each of the 6 daughters, other than Pam, did very, very unusual things. Jessica fell out with them all when she eloped with Romilly. As a dedicated communist, she was peeved with her sister Diana who married Oswald Mosley and didn’t see her for 34 years. There is a rather funny letter where she describes meeting Diana while weeding in her sister Nancy’s garden. When Diana asks what she is doing, she says that she refrained from saying that she was giving the irises lebensraum.

For someone so unconventional, she does seem to have been unhappy about her daughter living in sin. Not so much for the sin but because, I think, she felt that it made for a somewhat unstable relationship. She was a veteran of many anti-racism campaigns. She used to front to buy houses for black families in white neighbourhoods. In response to the regularly asked question “Would you let your daughter marry a negro?” she answered “Rather!” Her daughter’s partner was black.

I find myself veering wildly in my opinion as to whether I would like to be around her. At times her letters are so funny and loving and she bore all sorts of deprivations very cheerfully. But, my goodness, she was quarrelsome and not at all inclined to just let things go. In the end, I think this made her what she was but she could be difficult, I feel.

I did enjoy this book but it was just too long and I am already steeped in Mitford knowledge (though considering re-reading Nancy’s novels and “Hons and Rebels” after this). If you fancy getting into the Mitfords, and there’s plenty of material to go around, Charlotte Mosley’s book is just much better. If you’re there already, then this is worth a read. Perhaps more fun for an American audience than a European one as dramatis personae presumably better known.

“A Soldier for Eden” by James Congdon [New Year’s resolution list]

There is potentially excellent material here. This is the story of a young American boy who ends up joining the fedayeen by accident and proves himself an outstanding recruit. Unfortunately, the author has a gift for making everything dull. Not recommended.

Signs, omens, portents

3 March, 2011 at 9:46 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel came home with a big cut across his forehead. “What happened to you?” I asked. “Mary Lou [McDonald, successful Sinn Féin candidate in the recent election] hit me,” he said. “WHAT??” “Well, Michael, threw her at me and she hit me on the forehead.” It transpired that one of the candidate’s posters had fallen off a lamp post and Michael decided to test its aerodynamics by flinging it as his brother. I tell you, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

A Meme

2 March, 2011 at 10:13 pm by belgianwaffle

I saw this before on Librarything and then it turned up on facebook (what is this facebook people speak of?) and felt I had to do it because I know I will triumph as I always finish everything.

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. I’ve read 62. Ha. I knew, one day, I would be glad that I had read all of “A Hundred Years of Solitude”. I have bolded the ones I have read. Should you wish to do likewise, don’t let me stop you.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier [I heard the audiobook – does that count?]

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot (TWICE, I read it twice and I didn’t like it the first time – long story)

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma-Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry [I’ve read “Such a Long Journey” – that must count for something, it nearly killed me.]

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom [Please note, this may be one of the worst books I have ever read. I bought it in an airport; it was recommended by the bookshop staff.]

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres

1 March, 2011 at 11:30 pm by belgianwaffle

If you loved Caesar’s Gallic wars in school but now, since the children have come along, have had less time to pursue your Latin reading, then this is for you. You would hardly think that it’s a huge market but apparently “Winnie Ille Pu” is a New York Times bestseller.

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