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Now, we are six

27 September, 2011 at 12:20 am by belgianwaffle

I was seeing a house the other day and the estate agent made conversation with the boys.
Estate Agent: And how old are you?
Michael: We’re five.
Estate Agent, turning to Daniel: And how old are you?
Michael (more forcefully): We’re five.
EA: But how old is your brother? 6,7,8?
Michael: WE’RE FIVE.
Me: They’re twins.

And today, they are six.

But first, they were new born babies;
And then, they were crawling one year olds;
When they were two, we were busy;
They were three when they had their first birthday in Ireland;
Then, they were big boys of four who had started school;
And last year they were five and Michael wanted to be able to read.

So, this year, they are six.

Michael is the most charming person; delightful, endearing and entertaining. He also can be very cranky. “STOP kissing me,” he often hisses at me. Despite my telling him he would be able to read when he was five this hasn’t happened – he can read a little bit but he’s a long way from Tintin. He has outsourced the effort of reading to his brother. He eats about 5 things, he still bites his nails, alas, and he is as thin as a whippet. He is very generous and is usually willing to share. He is utterly indifferent to the views and opinions of others. He loves, loves, loves playing club penguin on the computer and is alarmingly good at puffle rescue [if you have to ask..]. He has an uncompetitive streak and is often happy to let things go. This can be a relief to his hard pressed parents. He has started saying “sh” more often than “s” (my ship, not my sip) following intervention from the speech therapist [possibly last free thing we will ever get in Ireland]. He is keen to trade and at bedtime is in and out to his sister’s room swapping toys. He hates all languages that are not English and is waging a rearguard action against them – though when he speaks of Asterix and Obelix he gives them the full French pronunciation, not knowing any better. He has become a better walker and it’s been quite a while since we have heard the plaintive cry of “Carry me, carry me.” He is a home bird and loves our house. He would spend all his time here, if he could. The prospect of moving, fills him with horror. Fortunately, for him, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any closer. He continues to be by far the best card player in the family and the best loser. Possibly, because it doesn’t arise very often. He has a great deal of joie de vivre and likes to chat to strangers. He doesn’t appear to have a shy bone in his body.

Daniel is very serious, except when he is hysterical with laughter. He likes to explain things in detail, the plots of books we haven’t read and television programmes we haven’t seen are particular favourites. He is very earnest about these things. Often, when you ask him a question – for example, what would you like for lunch? – he will think for a long time and reply with the plot of an episode of the Power Rangers. He gets very, very cross about injustices, real or perceived, and will howl the house down at the drop of a hat which is unfortunate but, I hope, just a phase. He is a terrific reader and loves reading. When not being forced to read aloud to his brother, he likes to take himself off with Tintin or Horrid Henry. He is the most musical of the children and can reliably produce a tune. He also has a very good ear for accents – Mr. Waffle says he is fluent in English, French and Dub. He speaks extremely clearly in all three. He is anxious to please and is always looking to see whether people are happy with what he has done. He has excellent hand writing and always colours between the lines. He is amenable to being kissed occasionally. He loves playing football, hurling and soccer and the trip to the GAA on Saturday mornings is the highlight of his week. He is horribly grumpy in the mornings except on Saturdays when he positively leaps out of bed, beaming. He is a good player and is very competitive which, funnily enough, makes him inclined to hang back in defence because no one else does and the goalie tends to be sitting on his hurl staring at the sky [his team mates are 6, remember]. For a while there, he used to say to us, when we distracted him from something, “you made me lose my focus.” This was slightly disastrous as we then laughed and he was furious with us. He is a picky eater but has yet to meet a sweet food he doesn’t like. He’s a fast runner and even though he’s a year younger than many of his classmates [he is the second youngest in the class, his brother is the youngest by 20 minutes], he can give them a serious run for their money. He is very clever and recently when asked who were better drivers gave this impeccable answer: “In general, it doesn’t matter but in this family it’s Daddy because he doesn’t have penalty points.” He seems to really need his glasses and they almost never come off. Sometimes before going to bed I go in and look at his little face without glasses and it is almost like looking at a stranger – partly because his face is in repose and it is always full of whatever emotion he is experiencing by day, but mostly because he is not wearing his glasses.

They are both, despite the bar on kissing in most circumstances, very affectionate, which is lovely. They are always delighted to see me, except when watching TV or playing on the computer, in which case, my presence is a matter of indifference to them. Ah, a mother’s lot. Still, I wouldn’t change it.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept

25 September, 2011 at 11:17 pm by belgianwaffle

Tom Fishburne had a great cartoon on mission statements which my loving husband pointed out to me.

This led him to a link with (sadly) real mission statements.

He points out that this one (for Albertsons, a supermarket) would fit any organisation in the world:

Mission Statement
Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.

A Tale of Two Cities

24 September, 2011 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Dublin won the All-Ireland football final a couple of weeks ago.

This is what the north side of the city looked like:


The south side of the city looked just the same, except there was no bunting. All of Dublin’s inner suburbs were built by people who liked things to match.

The north of the city is GAA heartland. The south, not so much. A friend of mine went, along with thousands of others, to see the Dubliners show off the Sam Maguire cup. The master of ceremonies asked the crowd, “Is there anybody here from Raheny (north city)? The crowd went wild. “Is there anyone here from Dalkey (distant southern suburb)?” Complete silence, this despite the fact that one of the squad is actually from Dalkey.

While not wishing to single out Dalkey for punishment – it is a perfect pleasant place – I must tell you about the ad for “exclusive luxury homes in Dalkey” in the paper the other day. Among the benefits which the developers claim is that “it would be difficult to find a more appealing address”. They also point out that “There is no social and affordable housing within the development”. Do you think that I’m making this up?


23 September, 2011 at 10:16 pm by belgianwaffle

I stayed up until 11.30 last night making and printing off birthday invitations for the boys. I am full of virtue.

Event Guide

22 September, 2011 at 11:04 pm by belgianwaffle

Some colleagues said to me recently that I am like an event guide. This may be true. Sometimes I think the children wish that they could be let stay at home a bit.

We have been harvesting fruit:



Cycling in the city:

Watching canoe water polo (you haven’t lived):

Observing the man-made desert island in the Liffey (it’s art, someone lived there for a week, except for a break during the gale)

Chopping wood and doing other outdoorsy things in the forest:

Sampling culture night. The only actual culture we experienced was a quick concert for children in the Ark. This was a mixed experience. The performance, a violinist and a guitarist, was delightful [I subsequently discovered that they are married to each other and have two small children – her sister was in school with a colleague – welcome to Ireland]. The performers were terrific and very good at engaging the young audience. In one segment they played themes from television shows. On the very first one my boys were out of their chairs yelling “Ben 10” before the performers had played two notes. Mortifying but a triumph at the same time – see all those hours in front of the television weren’t wasted.

And then, on Sunday, I took my mother to watch the Solheim cup.


22 September, 2011 at 8:37 pm by belgianwaffle

Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu [New Year’s Resolution]

I have been curious about Lady Mary for a long time and I picked up this volume of letters. It’s a bit of a con. There is an unreadable academic introduction and then what folllows is an unchanged bowdlerised 1906 version of the letters – interesting, the academic tells me, in itself for socio-cultural reasons. Letter editors in 1906 do not feel the same need to hold your hand as more recent scholars. That leaves a lot unexplained. We start out with her early letters to Mr. Wortley Montagu. She was in her late teens and was enjoying a will we/won’t we relationship with him. Though the register of language is clearly different, in essence a lot of these letters say: “UR dmpd. Nvr cll me agn.” The sequence begins with a letter from March 1710 which finishes thus:

I don’t enjoin you to burn this letter. I know you will. ‘Tis the first I ever writ to one of your sex, and shall be the last. You must never expect another. I resolve against all correspondence of the kind; my resolutions are seldom made, and never broken.

Next letter:

To Mr. Wortley Montague. I have this minute received your two letters etc.

Clearly Wortley Montagu was a bounder because her confidence that he would burn her letters appears to have been entirely misplaced. At least he responded to her letters though.

So, not a strong start. She elopes with Wortley Montagu – a mistake. This does lead to a number of interesting letters to him about how to get elected.

I hope you are convinced I was not mistaken in my judgment of Lord Pelham ; he is very silly, but very good-natured. I don’t see how it can be improper for you to get it represented to him that he is obliged in honor to get you chose at Aldburgh, and may more easily get Mr. Jessop chose at another place. I can’t believe but you may manage it in such a manner ; Mr. Jessop himself would not be against it, nor would he have so much reason to take it ill, if he should not be chose, as you have after so much money fruitlessly spent. I dare say you may order it so that it may be so, if you talk to Lord Townshend, etc. I mention this, because I can not think you can stand at York, or any where else, without a great expense. Lord Morpeth is just now of age, but I know not whether he ‘ll think it worth while to return from travel upon that occasion. Lord Carlisle is in town; you may, if you think fit, make him a visit, and inquire concerning it. After all, I look upon Aldburgh to be the surest thing. Lord Pelham is easily persuaded to any thing, and I am sure he may be told by Lord Townshend that he has used you ill; and I know that he ‘ll be desirous to do all things in his power to make it up. In my opinion, if you resolve upon an extraordinary expense to be in Parliament, you should resolve to have it turn to some account. Your lather is very surprising if he persists in standing at Huntingdon; but there is nothing surprising in such a world as this.

But the letters really come into their own once she finally goes abroad. Her letters from her journey to Turkey are fantastic: interesting, engaging, funny and still very, very readable.

One of her many correspondents was Abbé Conti and in her letters to him, she is regularly very scathing about catholicism in general and transubstantiation in particular. I was fascinated by this and wondered how the correspondence could possibly continue in those times of religious turbulence.

She also corresponds with her sister who is married to a leading Jacobite and I can’t help wondering how that works when she is also corresponding enthusiastically with the English court. Truly a modern edition with a guide through these mazes would have been very welcome.

Lady Mary quotes from Roman poets, in Latin. My edition believes translation is for wimps so I did my best with my school Latin but it is challenging. Oh for a modern edition.

Childbirth is not the centre of her life in the way it might be to a modern mother. Here is how she announces to her sister that she has had a daughter. Below is the entire reference to the event. Note that her sister is not informed of the baby’s name. Those were clearly more robust times. No epidural either.

In the first place, then, I wish you joy of your niece; for I was brought to bed of a daughter five weeks ago. I don’t mention this as one of my diverting adventures; though I must own that it is not half so mortifying here as in England; there being as much difference as there is between a little cold in the head, which sometimes happens here, and the consumption cough, so common in London. Nobody keeps their house a month for lying-in; and I am not so fond of any of our customs as to retain them when they are not necessary. I returned my visits at three weeks’ end ; and, about four days ago, crossed the sea, which divides this place from Constantinople, to make a new one, where I had the good fortune to pick up many curiosities.

About 1739, I found myself thinking (in the middle of letters to the Countess of Pomfret and others), oh no, she was born in 1689 – how much longer has she got?

Quite a bit longer – what do you think of this extract from a letter to her daughter in 1749?

I was quietly reading in my closet, when I was interrupted by the chambermaid of the Signora Laura Bono, who flung herself at my feet, and, in an agony of sobs and tears, begged me, for the love of the holy Madonna to hasten to her master’s house, where the two brothers would certainly murder one another, if my presence did not stop their fury. I was very much surprised…However, I made all possible speed thither…and was directed to the bed-chamber by the noise of oaths and execrations; but, on opening the door, was astonished…by seeing the Signora Laura prostrate on the ground, melting in tears, and her husband standing with a drawn stiletto in hand, swearing she should never see tomorrow’s son I was soon let into the secret. The good man, having business of consequence at Brescia, went thither early in the morning; but as he expected his chief tenant to pay his rent that day, he left order with his wife that if the farmer, who lived two miles off, came himself, or sent any of his sons, she should take great care to make him very welcome. She obeyed him with great punctuality, the money coming in the hand of a handsome lad of 18; she did not only admit him to her own table, and produce the best wine in the cellar, but resolved to give him chère entière. While she was exercising this generous hospitality, the husband met midway the gentleman he intended to visit…he returned to his own house, where…he opened his door with the passe partout key, and proceeded to his chamber, without meeting anybody, where he found his beloved spouse asleep on the bed with her gallant. The opening of the door waked them; the young fellow immediately leaped out of the window, which looked into the garden, and was open, it being summer, and escaped over the fields, leaving his breeches on a chair by the bedside – a very striking circumstance. In short, the case was such, I do not think the queen of the fairies herself could have found an excuse, though Chaucer tells us she has made a solemn promise to leave none of her sex unfurnished with one, to all eternity.

Later on she offers advice to her daughter about the education of her granddaughters and she really struggles to justify what she believes to be worthwhile (the education of girls) and what she knows to be socially inappropriate (the education of girls).

I really cannot recommend the letters strongly enough, although I would steer clear of this edition unless your knowledge of the period is excellent. To be honest, I can’t see that the bowdlerising did much harm but then I don’t know what I’m missing. My next mission is to get hold of Lytton Strachey’s “Biographical Essays” which features our heroine. Since the edition I have, disapprovingly omits all letters to her lover whom she spent quite a while junketing around the continent with/after, I feel there is more to learn.

“Daughters of Britannia” by Katie Hickman [New Year’s Resolution]

I thought that this would provide more background on Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu but, alas, it largely quotes from the Embassy letters which I have just read. For the rest, it is a mildly entertaining description of the set-up of British embassies abroad over the centuries and the travails of diplomatic spouses. There is one chapter, “Dangers” which describes kidnappings and being caught in the cross-fire of civil wars and uprisings. The author covers in some detail the domestic aftermath of the assassination of the British ambassador to Ireland. The author’s father was a counsellor in the embassy at the time and her mother was up at the house trying to comfort the ambassador’s children. Their mother was in England and heard the news on the car radio which must have been dreadful. I vaguely remember the event myself (I was 7) but to read about it from someone who saw the domestic fall out at close quarters was really surprisingly distressing.

Some Confusion

21 September, 2011 at 8:35 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess and I went to visit St. Patrick’s cathedral at the weekend. Dublin’s best cathedral, since you’re asking.

Famously, Jonathan Swift was Dean of the cathedral. I said to herself, “I’ll give you 50 cents to spend (in the appallingly tacky shop which sits beside the Boyle monument -features statue of the grandfather of chemistry), if you find me a bust of Dean Swift.” Moments later, she came flying back to me, “I haven’t found Dean Swift, but can I have 25 cents for finding Jonathan Swift?”


14 September, 2011 at 10:08 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel: Why isn’t there a chicken in my egg?
Me: Because it’s not fertilised.
Daniel: Oh it’s only the egg?
Me: Yes, and a chicken is like a baby…
Daniel: I see, there can’t be a chicken unless there’s a sperm to mind the egg.

An Outing

9 September, 2011 at 9:00 pm by belgianwaffle

I am always trying to prod my little family to go on outings. Last Sunday, I made them go to Carlingford, which is supposed to be picturesque and charming.

We arrived to a light but persistent drizzle. We had to abandon the picnic but lunch in a nice pub where the staff were fantastic did much to cheer us all up. We emerged in slightly heavier rain. Undaunted, we decided to go for a nice walk at the base of the mountain. Based on the only map available, I thought it would take about 15 minutes.


An hour later we were still tramping along the path in driving rain, peering at the only map we had (you’ve seen it, we were inspecting it on the camera screen) wondering where we had gone astray. There may have been beautiful views, in fact I am sure there were but it was hard to see through the cloud. We cut cross-country and squelched back to the village. Soaking. Oh so wet.

On the plus side, there was a sale in the village hall (dry! indoors!) and we bought lemon curd, sage jelly and jam from this woman. The sage jelly is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted and herself has already polished off half the lemon curd. But yet, the family consensus is that I am barred from taking them on any further outings.

No sooner had we left Carlingford, than the sun came out. It was quite warm for the remainder of the day. It gave us a chance to dry out the coats.


Rubbing Salt in the Wound

8 September, 2011 at 8:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Email from husband following conversation the evening before about economic woes – you know how it is, we talk of little else.

Subject: Wondered how Iceland was getting on ?

Much better than us, it seems


On the plus side, even the OECD no longer believes that happiness is solely dependent on GDP. Just as well, eh?


7 September, 2011 at 8:36 pm by belgianwaffle

“The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap” by Susan Pinker [New Year’s Resolution]

This book suggests that women’s and men’s brains are different and this is why women tend not to be as successful as men in their careers. Despite seeming like a cop out there are some interesting ideas here. And, really, why is it that a majority of those who suffer from Aspergers are men?

“The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” by Michael Scott
“The Magician” by Michael Scott
“The Sorceress” by Michael Scott

Books 1-3 in a teenage fantasy series written by an Irish author pretending to be American (our heroes are American twins). Drags somewhat but I’m on volume 3. I’m not exactly dying to check out volume 4 though.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer [New Year’s Resolution]

This is about a clever, slightly weird, child whose father died in the Twin Towers. It’s also a hymn to the wonderfulness of New York and the huge variety of odd people who live there. It left me cold. The child is supposed to be winsome but I just found him really, really annoying. I thought that the whole thing was a bit cloying and over-sentimental. That’s just me, there were two pages of critical plaudits at the start of the book.

“Last Orders” by Graham Swift [New Year’s Resolution]

My husband said I wouldn’t like this but I did, in the mildest possible way. It’s about a bunch of older working class men who go to throw their friend’s ashes off the end of a pier. That’s it. It’s a gentle, easy book. Very nicely written though and the author is great at drawing characters which is good because plot is not his long suit.

“The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler [New Year’s Resolution]

This book was such a surprise. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it but I found it very clever and immensely enjoyable. The story is about a group of people (all women, bar one) who meet to talk about each of Jane Austen’s books in turn. The characters and their stories are entertaining in themselves but if you know Jane Austen’s books reasonably well, then you can see how in each chapter there are events which echo events in Austen’s books. Absolutely terrific on a range of levels.

“Park and Ride: Adventures in Suburbia” by Miranda Sawyer[New Year’s Resolution]

It turns out Miranda Sawyer likes the suburbs after all. I started this expecting to be smug about my urban life and getting a chance to look down on the suburbs. Fortunately enough, Ms. Sawyer starts with exactly the same perspective. By the end she is singing the praises of suburban life and I can see where she’s coming from. I’m not quite ready for the long commute yet though.

“I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett

Another Tiffany Aching novel. Terry Pratchett is reliably excellent. What greater praise can one give?

“A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” by Marina Lewycka

I resisted reading this as I did not enjoy “Two Caravans” by the same author. This is much better. Very, very funny. And lots of Ukrainian history for free.

“The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai [New Year’s Resolution]

Another Booker prize winning book set in India. For my money, every bit as dull as “The God of Small Things”. Yeah, I know, you loved it. But, it just did not work for me at any level. There is no real plot. There are lots of interwoven stories only two of which interested me slightly. I found the our heroine’s character slight and under-developed. It is well written I suppose but exceptionally good writing would be needed to make up for the shortcomings of character and plot in my view. No more Booker winners for me.


3 September, 2011 at 10:49 pm by belgianwaffle

“The Water Beetle” by Nancy Mitford

I’ve been reading/re-reading Nancy Mitford novels although, annoyingly, both Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love have, unaccountably, disappeared from the shelves. I quite enjoyed this series of essays, though I have now had three versions (Decca, Deborah and Nancy) of the sisters’ story of how their Nanny said to Diana on her wedding day (when she complained something was torn), “Who’ll be looking at you?” And really, one version would probably have been enough. These essays are very readable but a bit forgettable. One of them features “Eire”. Her views are as might be expected.

“The Blessing” by Nancy Mitford

It has to be said that a strong element of sameness runs through the work of Miss Mitford. I wouldn’t read three or four in a row, if I were you. That said, I enjoyed this story of an eight year old boy who tries to keep his parents’ marriage on the rocks as new potential partners woo him to get to his parents. Last time I read it, I didn’t have an eight year old of my own at home.

“Pilules Bleus” by Frederik Peeters [New Year’s Resolution]

This “graphic memoir” [term dug up from trawling the internet] describes the relationship between the author and his girlfriend and her young son. His girlfriend and her son are HIV positive and the book focuses on how this affects their lives together. For me, the part about the small boy was particularly touching. I wasn’t convinced, however, that this memoir worked well in graphic format. Easy read though and thought provoking.

“The Summer Without Men” by Siri Hustvedt

I love Siri Hustvedt, I love the way she thinks and the way she writes and I did enjoy this book. However, it is packaged as a novel and it’s not really a novel. She would have done better, I think, to have bitten the bullet and turned it into a series of prose pieces and short stories. Only for hardcore fans, I feel.

I met my friend R while I was reading this and showed it to him. R is always recommending books to me that I really find tough, tough going. R, recoiled in horror, “I hate her,” he said with unusual vehemence. You might like to know that following years of recommendations both ways, the only book we both liked was “Havoc in its Third Year” by Ronan Bennett. You may wish to rush out and buy it as it clearly has immensely wide appeal.

“The Bonesetter’s Daughter” by Amy Tan [New Year’s Resolution]

This is a bit forgettable and the heroine is very annoying. There is a framing device – a 20th century American daughter and you become engaged by her concerns – and then she disappears for 100s of pages. Very annoying indeed. But you know, lots about upheavals in 20th century China, if that’s your thing.

“Broderies” by Marjane Satrapi [New Year’s Resolution]

Another French graphic novel. I preferred this one. The author is Iranian and this is a series of stories told by nine Iranian women to each other. The stories are all about sex but the effect is, generally, not salacious but more about the relationship between the women in the group.

“Chance Witness” by Matthew Parris [New Year’s Resolution]

This is a book by a very odd man. Mostly, the book is about his life in politics under Margaret Thatcher and his views on this are interesting. But what I found more interesting was how awkward a person he still seemed to feel in his late 40s. Constantly tormented by guilt about all kinds of things especially whether he had stood up for gay rights sufficiently. It makes him tortured but interesting, I suppose.

His description of the interview he had with Mrs. Thatcher when resigning as an MP [she was not pleased – he was causing a by-election] is hilarious – he feels honour bound to tell her he’s gay and he thinks that lots of gay men are natural conservatives and perhaps the party might be friendlier. Her response? “There, dear,” she breathed. That must have been very hard to say.”

And I’m also going to include his best anecdote which arose in the context of his laudable efforts as an MP to stop prostitution being an imprisonable offence for women.

‘Are you the prostitutes from Birmingham?’

It had been idiotic to put the question like that – I realized this the moment I said it. But there seemed little doubt they were. Before daring to make such an inquiry in the Central Lobby of the House of Commons I had hung close by to listen in, and all these women had strong Birmingham accents. They were overdressed, mutton dressed as lamb, and more than a few appeared to have hit the lipstick with a vengeance. They had to be of doubtful virtue.

There was an awful pause. They were temporarily too affronted to reply. ‘No,’ said their leader. ‘We’re a Catholic women’s group and we’ve come to lobby for the rights of the unborn child.’

“Old School” Tobias Wolff [New Year’s Resolution]

I think Tobias Wolff is a great writer. This is a story about a smart boys’ school in America in the early 60s. All the boys are obsessed with writing and with Hemmingway. There are some small tragedies and these are beautifully resolved.

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