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Toujours Belle

31 August, 2011 at 9:49 pm by belgianwaffle

Are you really back for week 2? I applaud your enthusiasm.

Saturday, August 13

The rain, oh lord the rain. The local summer festival was cancelled. We went into Lorient and watched Mr. Popper’s Penguins. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Jim Carrey speak French. My children exclaimed loudly at intervals throughout the film. We were surrounded by perfectly silent, perfectly behaved French children.

Sunday, August 14

We went to mass. It went on forever. The children were restive. The French children were, of course, saintly.

We went for a walk in the afternoon through the woods

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as far as the little port:
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That evening we attended the rescheduled poissonade (you will recall that it was rained off on the previous evening) where the Princess had mussels and chips and candy floss (sequentially).

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And, ultimate poor parenting accolade, the leader of the band had to interrupt his singing to say, “We’ve found a little boy here, his name is Daniel, he’s wearing glasses and a stripy jumper..” Oh dear.

That night and every night thereafter, Michael asked, “How many days, including today, until the rescue ferry comes to bring us home?”

Monday, August 15

We did some more wading in rock pools. We forked out €60 to see the most depressing circus ever which even the children found depressing. Mr. Waffle bought “Breton pour des Nuls”. He tells me that links with Irish are not very obvious.

Tuesday, August 16

Down by the rock pools, the princess sat on my lap, “Ouch, ouch, get off!” “What?” “You were sitting on a wasp, my knee, my knee, my knee, the pain.” “It could have been worse,” said she, “it could have been my bottom.” Indeed.

That night she and her father went back to the abbey to look at bats and hear a talk. They left at 7 and weren’t back until nearly midnight by which time I was sitting up in bed a nervous wreck. They liked the bats.

Wednesday, August 17

We finally got to the flying fish adventure centre.


Thursday, August 18

We went to the Manoir de Kernault in the morning which had an exhibition about a famous French radio broadcaster. Children are sub-optimal company for those actually hoping to hear any of the broadcasts.

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We also visited a Dolmen.

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My husband, at my prompting, told me that I pronounce the word “du” incorrectly. Further, I cannot pronounce the words jeu, jus and joue in a way that makes them sound at all dissimilar. I am doomed. By tacit agreement, the short lived experiment of making Mr. Waffle my French teacher was abandoned.

The Princess went horse riding again. The boys were tired of it and spent the afternoon on a merry go round instead.

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Mr. Waffle and I went for dinner to an immensely elaborate restaurant entrusting the children again to the intrepid babysitter. The restaurant was in a very industrial suburb (we were able to park in the DIY superstore across the road) and the decor reminded me vaguely of a very smart hairdresser but the food was fantastic and the service excellent [none of the chilly hauteur which we encountered in Pont Aven]. “A triumph” says the Michelin guide, oh yes indeed. If you find yourself in Lorient, do not hesitate. The memory of the crab soup will remain with me forever.

Friday, August 19

We went to the beach along the path. We made still more blackberry jam. We watched the squirrels in the garden and the hermit crabs in the rock pools.

Saturday, August 20

We gave the house back to its lovely owners. They wished us bon voyage and sped us on our way with a present of a box of Breton biscuits. We went to a hotel on the way to the ferry. It had television. The children nearly died of happiness.

Sunday, August 21

We went to Bréhat a small island about 10 minutes off the coast. It sounds delightful; there are no cars, there is a delightful micro climate and it is surrounded by a spectacular archipelago.

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All these things are true but, the, rather rich, home owners in Bréhat do not fancy people looking at their tasteful houses, so it mostly consists of lanes with high walls.

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Mr. Waffle found it strongly reminiscent of the part of suburbia where he spent his youth in Dublin. And there are millions of tourists. It is, frankly, not untamed. Alas, not a success.

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Monday, August 22

We got the rescue ferry! Michael nearly died of happiness. We met old friends on board who were moving back to Ireland after 22 years in Brussels. Ah nostalgia.

Tuesday, August 23

And we’re back. Faerie hands have painted the outside of the house while we were away – alright, Glenn the painter, then – and the sunflower had come out. Home again, home again jiggedy jig.

La Belle France

30 August, 2011 at 9:49 pm by belgianwaffle

I am still alive. Did you miss me? We returned last Tuesday from our final holiday of the summer. In my role as keeper of the family archive, I have detailed all below.

Friday, August 5

We drove to the ferry, stopping for a picnic in the park beside Castlebridge House where the Guinness book of records was thought up. It’s now very sad, boarded up and dilapidated although it would seem to be of mild historic interest and has an absolutely amazing conservatory.

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Saturday, August 6

After what felt like an immensely long drive, we arrived at our holiday house in torrential rain. The lovely, slightly elderly couple who owned the house were there to meet us with cider in the fridge and a slight air of nervousness at the thought of handing over their house to these odd foreigners.

Sunday, August 7

The rain continued. We went to Lorient to look around the damp interceltic festival.

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We decided to visit the Thalassa which, the website tells me is an “espace découverte de l’Océanologie”. I would love to know what that means but I am afraid I cannot tell you for as we trudged in damply at 4.35 to do our discovering, we were told coldly that last admissions were at 4.30. “But, it’s open until 7,” I protested feebly. The woman looked at me indifferently and said that admission was by guided tour only. We trooped back out into the rain. The only thing to be said for our visit was that it allowed me to have the following conversation with my husband.

Me: Is there some phrase or something – “Thalasso, thalasso”
Him: Thalatta, thalatta. It’s the story of a bunch of mercenaries trying to fight their way back to Greece and when they see the sea, they know they’re nearly there, so it’s an exciting bit.
Me: Do you have to pronounce it as though you have a lisp?
Him: Well, yes, because it’s in Attic Greek.

Feeling in need of child friendly activities, we went to the fair which accompanied the interceltic festival, the sun came out and the children stocked up on their supply of weapons with which, somewhat rashly, they threatened the police.

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Monday, August 8

The sun came out and we walked along the coastal path at the back of the house to the beach. It was a bit like an Enid Blyton story. That path made my holiday. It was so pretty and as you walked along there was the scent of pines and the sound of crickets chirping.

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On this occasion our walk was marred by losing herself for a slightly terrifying 15 minutes – she ran ahead to the house and disappeared. Turns out she wasn’t as good at recognising it as we all thought. It made us appreciate her more.

Tuesday, August 9

We went to the market and got new raincoats for all the children. The weather was fine but we felt prudence was probably appropriate.

The local press informed us of the books which the presidential candidates are presenting to the public for the “rentrée littéraire”. Only Martine Aubrey hasn’t produced one and that’s because she’s already written 14, the last of which came out in March. Is there any other country in the world where writing a book is a pre-requisite to running for high office. Remember de Villepin?

Wednesday, August 10

The children went to a riding camp for the afternoon.

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Mr. Waffle and I hot-footed it into Quimperlé which is a lovely little place. And, even better, the children loved the riding so much they wanted to come back another day, even Michael who only speaks French under duress.

Thursday, August 11

The day started well. We went to the Abbaye de Saint Maurice which is lovely. It is also very cleverly laid out so that the children can run about while the grown-ups find out about the origins of the monastery.

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After this successful start, we drove around the French countryside trying to find an outdoor adventure park. The children were very saintly as we drove around looking for clues and finally missed last entry. Sigh. Also, we made the amateur’s mistake of trying to eat in rural France at ten to two with the result that we found ourselves driving around looking in vain for food and had to stop off at the boulangerie for a baguette to ward off starvation.

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Friday, August 12

Ouest France’s pages were more or less equally divided between the toxic green seaweed invading Brittany (36 unfortunate boars had recently died on a beach after snuffling around in it – who knew that there were so many wild boars in Brittany?) – caused, allegedly by excess nitrates created by farming methods – Le Monde had a diagram; the London riots and the collapse of the financial markets. Both Le Monde and Ouest France had interviews with the S&P staff in Paris while we were in France following the American rating downgrade. Apparently it’s all “tu” and first names in the office. I thought you’d like to know.

Then we were out to gather more blackberries for jam [we made a lot of jam].
Stage 1 – Collection
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(in all weathers)
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Stage 2 – Production
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Stage 3 – Storage
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Stage 4 – Marketing
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We also peered at the rock pools.
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They were extremely exciting and over our fortnight we spent much time looking into them spotting hermit crabs scurrying around in periwinkle shells, little fishlike yokes (marine biologist’s term of art), limpets, anenomes and this very exciting find:
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That afternoon, the children went for more riding and Mr. Waffle and I went to Pont Aven. I did not like Pont Aven. It heaved with tourists and whatever attracted Gauguin and his mates there has, in my view, long since evaporated. It was unfortunate then that we were scheduled to go there for dinner that evening. Entrusting the children to a babysitter, we ventured out. The restaurant had not been very welcoming. We had to confirm our reservation on the day as we had a foreign mobile and, clearly, were not to trusted. The food was good and we got to wear lobster bibs but our hostess was chilly and forbidding.

Tune in tomorrow night for week 2. Ah go on.

Cork Concluded

4 August, 2011 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, July 23

The children and I went to Blackrock Observatory in the morning where they have been many times before but they still really like it. For the first time I got there without getting lost.

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At lunch time we met my husband and sister [who had spent the week moving from Leiden to Cork via Dublin – it’s complicated] at my parents’ house. Hurrah for the cavalry. I had a rather relaxed afternoon and Mr. Waffle drove back to Garryvoe [Penalty points!! Don’t worry, Daddy’s driving!]. We stopped in Castlemartyr for chips for the children’s dinner. I am not proud.

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Mr. Waffle and I went to Ballymaloe for dinner. The setting is lovely but the food is really only alright despite the excellent reputation. Every time I go there, I swear I won’t come back but yet, there we were. There, I’ve said it, I’ll probably be barred from Cork forever.

When we got home, the babysitter recoiled in horror when we suggested that we would pay her €10 an hour. “For babysitting,” she screeched, “I couldn’t take that.” This was distinctly endearing. She lived five minutes away and I drove her home. On my way back to the house I got lost and spent 45 minutes exploring the lanes of East Cork. My concern that my husband might be worried about me was unfounded as he was sound asleep on my return – insert mild sigh of reproach here.

Sunday, July 23

I went to mass, cravenly leaving the children with Mr. Waffle. As I went out the door, I heard herself taking Michael’s reading into her own hands – “Listen, Michael, when two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking.” Daniel, doesn’t need her help.

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We found ourselves in the diocese of Cloyne in the eye of the child abuse storm and much of the parish newsletter, when I got to mass was given over to these very distressing matters and I was glad that my two readers hadn’t got the opportunity to give it a look over.

In the afternoon, we dropped Mr. Waffle to the train to continue his labours in the big smoke. The children and I went to the butter museum which is appealing in a low key kind of way.

Monday, July 25

We went to visit our Limerick cousins. My aunt has a small shop from which she doles out sweets to the delight of the children. One of my cousins is an undertaker. When my mother asked how was business, he said “Very bad, same everywhere, no one’s dying anymore.” You heard it here first. Then on to my cousins who have a farm. This is usually a huge success but on this occasion it was marred by the following: one child who sulked and would not get out of the car for much of the visit; a fall in a bed of nettles and one child who fought with all of the young cousins present. A low point was a work call while dealing with several children trying to loudly explain their grievances to me. We will draw a veil.

An anecdote for my trouble: one of my cousins, who was also visiting, works in the research institute in Cork where the Queen visited. “Did you meet the Queen?” I asked him. “Well, I could have,” he said, “but she wasn’t coming until 2.30 and we finish at 1 on Fridays…” His family have form on this. His older brother was supposed to serve mass when the Pope came to Limerick in 1979. “What,” he enquired of the school authorities, “would happen if he didn’t serve mass?” Then he would have the day off like everyone else. He took the day off.

Tuesday, July 26

Recovering from the trauma of the previous day, we spent much of our time peacefully and happily around the house – the children created a club in the shed. It was pleasant. Daniel told me about the wages of sin. He said that no one can forgive my sins but Jesus and that the Bible alone will bring me to salvation. Slightly conscience stricken, I told him that Catholics and Protestants believed different things in some ways – I covered confession, the role of the Church and transubstantiation in outline. The Princess intervened, “You know, Mum, I think Daniel is probably more of a Protestant than a Catholic.”

Wednesday, July 27

We all cleaned the house. The children, in the absence of the mysterious cleaner were a big help with the hoovering. Then we locked up and went to Cork where the children’s kind grandparents gave them a tenner each to spend in France. Joy was unconfined. We went to Shandon; we played the bells; we climbed up to the tower; we looked at the matchstick model of the tower and the old books in the church including a Bible in Irish [those Protestants and their Bible reading again – Shandon is a Protestant church].

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And then, we drove home [penalty points, penalty points!] to Dublin.

And, tomorrow, we’re going to France for a fortnight [full description on our return, bien sûr]. I can tell you, my return to work at the end of the month will be painful.

And we’re back. Again.

4 August, 2011 at 12:48 am by belgianwaffle

So, are you looking forward to a full description of our second holiday of the summer? Ah go on.


Tuesday, July 18

The children and I drove from Dublin to Cork. Humiliatingly, I managed to turn the wrong way on Dublin’s mighty ringroad. I had to ring Mr. Waffle and ask him to pay the toll twice – once for going the wrong way and once for coming back the right way. The children were very virtuous on the longish drive. They were particularly conscious of my recently acquired penalty points [2 for doing 60 in a 50 km an hour zone, since you ask] and any time that they felt the car speeding up at all, each would make a little comment.
Daniel [in tones of panic]: Penalty points, penalty points.
Michael [drily]: Achem [he sounds faintly Arabic when saying ahem, who knows why?], penalty points.
Herself: Only 10 more points until you lose your licence.

It is fair to say that these interventions certainly had the desired result. We lunched with my kind parents and drove on to East Cork where our wonderful friends have a house which they lend us regularly – so regularly that some of the neighbours think we own the place.

When we arrived, conscious that the house would need to be cleaned before we left the following week, I contacted a cleaner whose number Mr. Waffle had got from a colleague. This colleague had said to him, that the woman would do a fine job but on no account was he to reveal where he had got her number. She said this to him on several occasions but refused to go into the reasons why just saying that it was complicated. The cleaner’s reply to my text was to ask where exactly I had got her number. I said “friend of a friend” but the cleaner never contacted me again. A mystery.

Wednesday, July 19

We went to the seaside and the children neatly divided themselves between the beach on one side of the car park

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and the playground on the other

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while I ran between both locations making sure that they were still alive.

After we had been burnt by the sun, it started to rain and we drove to Cork city looking for diversion. I decided that we would visit Mahon Point in our search for wellingtons. I was fascinated by this shopping centre which, whenever we pass it at Christmas has cars backed up the motorway for ages which indicates that people are surely desperate to get in. Oh the bitter disappointment, as Michael said, “It’s like the ILAC centre with fewer people”. We took ourselves to Debenhams which, alas, had no wellingtons but we picked up a new kettle for the house. As I was paying for the kettle and the children were all talking at me, my phone rang. I thought that it was a local babysitter and answered in that spirit. [Please insert noises of children/paying for kettle/apologies for taking call into the dialogue below to appreciate the full effect]. I missed her introduction but she followed up with “Where are you?”
Me: In Cork
Her: On holidays?
Me: Yup, are you available to babysit?
Long pause.
Her: I just called to tell you I’ve decided to retire.
Me: Sorry, who is this? You must have the wrong number.
Her: No, I haven’t it’s me, your boss, I thought I should tell you before you heard on the grapevine.

The mortification. The distinct quashing of holiday spirit. I love my boss – she is a really interesting person to work with as well as flexible and extremely brilliant and I was curing her faults – maybe that’s what forced her into early retirement. Alas.

The Princess and I deposited the boys at their grandparents’ house and went to see Harry Potter which we enjoyed. We returned to the grandparents’ to find that their television – a key part of their babysitting strategy – had broken down. With great presence of mind, my mother had lured the boys to the park with promises of chocolate and then made them run races to get it. I think, nonetheless, that our return was greeted with relief.

We went back to Garryvoe where, inspired by the Princess’s tales of Harry Potter, Michael waved around a wand [a chopstick which he had brought from Dublin for this very purpose] and the others were given kitchen implements as substitute wands. Of course, herself wheedled Michael’s chopstick out of him in no time and he was left with a slotted spoon.

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Thursday, July 21

We went to the beach in the morning and then to Stephen Pearce’s pottery in Shanagarry for lunch where, astoundingly, not one of the children saw a solitary thing that he or she liked. Michael briefly contemplated a cheese sandwich until he discovered that it was orange cheese and not white cheese [in Michael’s world, cheese and cheddar are synonymous]. We left dolefully but were cheered up by a young potter running out with three plastic bags full of clay which he said that the children might like to play with. They had a great time making lumpen pots and the like which they brought back to Dublin and which [the shame] I have just covertly thrown out.

So, for lunch we went to the Kilkenny design shop which was unremarkable except that the Princess spent all her money on a teddy bear which we had refused to buy for her at Christmas. And also, we were able to buy three pairs of the world’s most expensive wellingtons.

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The afternoon took us on our annual trip to Leahy’s Fun Farm which always pleases. I ran into old Mr. Leahy and asked him about the economics of the place [because I am shameless] and his views on the viability of the Valentia pet farm for which my kind brother-in-law has prepared a website. The answers were a) excellent – it supports seven families and b) slightly pessimistic. The children brought home a caterpillar from the pet farm – great excitement – but eventually let it loose in the wild.

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[Not a picture of the caterpillar]

Friday, July 22

The children finally plucked up the courage to investigate a group which had been intriguing them. The previous day, we had seen people in red jumpers giving out leaflets on the beach. They were the “United Beach Missions“. Their leaflet specified that they were not a cult, which may not have had the reassuring effect they were hoping for. It seemed to be run by rather nice older ladies from Northern Ireland and, crucially, they played games.

The children started to play games interspersed with God. An older lady and I sat and watched – her great niece was playing too. All the other children were very quiet but mine were roaring out the answers to everything. “Why is this?” I asked the other lady, mildly mortified. She replied, laughingly, in the manner of all Cork people, “They’re from Dublin, aren’t they?” “Do you think they’re being indoctrinated?” I asked. She felt yes but then got distracted by telling me how you could get mass online. I turned my attention back to the children who were now all bellowing out about the wages of sin. The man leading the group, said that everyone could be saved, it didn’t matter who they were or what their ages. Inevitably, I heard Daniel pipe up “What about someone who is 42, my mother is 42.” The lady beside me became mildly hysterical.

The missionaries broke for lunch so we went in to Ballycotton and had a walk along the pier which was nice though windswept [please note crisp bribery].

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The children then had a surprisingly good time running up and down the ramp to the lifeboat station – almost as much fun as they had tipping all my change into the RNLI collection box in the pub (you know the one where the ship goes up and down in the waves as the money goes in – an object of huge fascination to my from my own misspent youth in pubs).

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We were careful to be back for the indoctrination tug of war which was followed by further bible study [all you need is the bible, there is no need for further enlightenment or explanation – the catholic in me winces] and then a break before the talent show. I went back to the house. We took too long and when we returned to the beach the talent show was over. Michael was inconsolable and ruined the presentation ceremony by wailing “WE WERE TOO LATE” until I bundled him into the car. Daniel took up his role and was placated by a puzzle and yoyo from the missionaries.

To recover from the missed talent show, we went to visit the Ballymaloe shop – part of the Ballymaloe empire – poor choice – rather dull and expensive. The wailing continued unabated. Back to the Stephen Pearce pottery shop on the basis that, though unsuitable for lunch, it might provide an acceptable restorative snack. It was closing. The lady behind the counter, observing the children’s mournful faces suggested that we might buy something to eat outside which we did. Outside was lovely – warm and sunny with room for the children to play some of their newly learnt Christian games. All was well.

That night, after the children had gone to bed, the next door neighbours knocked on the door and asked whether I would like a glass of wine in the front garden with them. They were lovely. She works in the cinema and had only the previous week been to London to see some flick Keanu Reeves was making. “What’s he like?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “my colleague and I were hampered by the fact that we had to pretend not to be overwhelmed that he was talking to us so that took away most of our conversational skills but he seemed like the guy in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. So now you know. I had to leave then as herself marched across the grass to the table to tell me it was high time I came in.

More tomorrow, if you’re feeling strong.


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