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Archive for March, 2013

I Used to Write All My Own Material

31 March, 2013 at 10:26 am by belgianwaffle

When an idea pops into my head, I stick a note on the phone and then, in due course, I elaborate it into morsels such as you are now reading.

Just the other day, I wrote “How will I get the children to write thank you letters for Easter eggs I’ve eaten?” as a prompt to myself to share this difficult dilemma with you. When I came to the computer, I checked my phone for my reminder, and there it sat. Underneath, someone had typed in “Buy more eggs and let us eat them and it’ll be our secret.”

Happy Easter

I Probably Couldn’t Have Danced All Night

30 March, 2013 at 10:01 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle’s sister got married in London recently and we all went over for the weekend. It was extremely exciting, though, somewhat damp, all weekend. In advance the Princess had asked anxiously whether they drank tea in England and after being reassured on this point was able to enjoy a weekend of unalloyed pleasure.

The children were really very good on the journey. Not having been on a plane with them since 2008, I was astounded how much easier it was to travel with them. We didn’t even lose Michael once.

On Saturday, we had photos in advance of the wedding and arrived in time to see the bride and groom emerge from a taxi. My sister-in-law was quite delightfully relaxed about her wedding arrangements. When I asked her how she was going to get to the venue she said, “Well there’s a bus that goes right past the door but we think we’ll get a cab.” Their photographer was a friend and he did a superb job. Want to see? Alright, go on so.

The flower girls were terrific. Apparently, upon being complimented by one of the guests on her shoes, herself said, “They may be pretty to look at but they are murder to wear.” The boys didn’t disgrace us but I think Michael read “Captain Underpants” throughout the ceremony. When he was upbraided for this, the groom’s mother, who used to teach, commented very kindly, that it was nice to see young boys reading.

The ceremony itself was very short and the registrar was lovely. The bride was beautiful and the groom handsome (really, it’s true, you saw the photos) and I cried but not too much, I trust.

We drove to the reception on a London bus and the groom’s mother had saved the children seats at the front up top which filled them with joy. Getting on the bus was something of a highlight for them.

2013-03-16 057

The reception was in trendy Soho and it was very trendy and the food was superb. The speeches were great and the bride spoke which I always like. Best of all, from the craven parents’ point of view, there was a special room for the children where they got chicken and chips and access to a large DVD player.

Mortifyingly, when the children started to get tired about 9, just before the dancing started, we wilted and faded also and went back to warm embrace of Jury’s Islington – we got very wet on the way wandering around Soho trying to get a cab.

The next day we threw ourselves into touring London but not before, to the children’s intense chagrin, going to mass. It was a children’s mass and it was heaving. The priest summoned the children to the altar and talked to them about the Holy Land. He asked a couple of questions which I really feel were for the honours rather than the ordinary level paper; sample – does anyone know why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is famous? Needless to say, my lot didn’t have a clue but I could hear the answer being shouted aloud from the enormous group of children gathered around the altar. They all got a little card from the Holy Land whether they knew the answer or not. Not so Godless England, it turns out.

After mass we went to visit a friend of Mr. Waffle’s who lives nearby in the most envy inducing house (Georgian, 4 stories over basement). Very gratifyingly, she gave us a tour from attic to basement. Is there anything more appealing than exploring other people’s houses? She had very kindly offered to house us for the weekend but I felt that five of us would be a bit much – actually, having seen the house, not at all. The boys disappeared to the games room in the basement where they played to their hearts’ content with her 9 year old and were only removed from the house under duress. This remains the high point of their trip to London. When we subsequently, back in Dublin, used their Christmas vouchers to buy lego Lord of the Rings for the x-box, I heard Daniel earnestly explain to the salesman how they had played it with their Dad’s friend’s son in London and it was amazing. I was a bit put off by the 12 label and asked the salesman whether he thought it was alright for 7 year olds. “Well,” he said, “there’s nothing in it that wasn’t in the film and it’s in lego.” This was good advice. In fact when we got it home and took off the wrapping, it said age 7 underneath. Baffling. I digress.

We went to the science museum which was alarmingly busy and where we lost Michael a number of times. The children quite enjoyed it but I found it hot and hair-raising trying to keep track of them. Mr. Waffle and herself peeled off to Madame Tussaud’s and I took the boys back to the hotel on the tube which proved surprisingly stress free.

Then we all went out for pizza that night – cousins, uncles, aunts and the bride – which was really lovely.

I suppose, my predominant emotion for the weekend was surprise. Everything was much, much easier and more enjoyable than I expected. I had significantly under-estimated how much easier it would be to travel with the children; the effort the poor bride would put in to making the day great fun for them; and how handy it would be that our extended family took over the hotel. And right after surprise, was delight to see the happy couple very happily married.

History Lesson

30 March, 2013 at 9:04 am by belgianwaffle

If this is of interest to you, I suspect you already know. But just in case it has escaped you, as part of the EU presidency excitement, the book, “A History of Ireland in 100 Objects” is free to download until tomorrow. Everything you wanted to know about Irish history but were afraid to ask.

Ritual Humiliation

29 March, 2013 at 9:54 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Do you want to put something in the collection?
Daniel: Yes.
I discover to my horror that I have only one cent in my purse. I hand it over. Daniel looks at it in astonishment and exclaims: “ONE CENT, is that all you are going to put in the collection?”
Everyone in the church looks at me.
Me: Look, it’s just all I’ve got on me at the moment.
Daniel [in a loud and carrying voice]: Oh so you have lots of money in the bank but you are just putting one cent in the collection basket?

Another Milestone

28 March, 2013 at 10:41 pm by belgianwaffle

We recently taught our 9 year old daughter to tie shoelaces. Velcro has a lot to answer for.

Disappointing

27 March, 2013 at 10:14 pm by belgianwaffle

When you find yourself flicking around and settling on watching Euronews in German you know that both public and commercial broadcasting services have failed you. That is all.

Not Known at this Address

26 March, 2013 at 10:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle: Who lives at 124 Conch Street?
Me: Leopold Bloom?
Him: Nope, that was 7 Eccles Street.
Me: Someone else from “Ulysses” then?
Him: Nope.
Me: Alright who?
Him: Spongebob Squarepants.

Maybe this should be the year I read “Ulysses“.

Numerology

25 March, 2013 at 8:05 pm by belgianwaffle

My father is 88 today. And, all things considered (which currently includes being in hospital with a broken hip), he is pretty well. When I was last home, he told a story about how he had come to visit me in my flat in Brussels in the 90s and as he was struggling up the hill (weak ankles, a family failing), a lady had come up to him and said, “Monsieur, you must sit down.” He felt obliged to and went into a bar where he felt very glum. He didn’t mention it to me at the time but the other day he said to me, “I felt it was like that Edith Sitwell poem ‘Cold Death had taken his first citadel‘”

But yet, be that as it may, here he is nearly 20 years later, still largely fine. And, oh so much like he ever was: he is a great man for steam trains and recently I texted him a picture of one I took in the National Photographic archive and he instantly texted back “Ballydehob Viaduct?” Quite right too.

I have to say, I didn’t really expect that when I was 44 and he was 88 my father would still know everything but so it is. And what is more, the older I get the more I realise that he is absolutely right about everything. I suppose it is only a question of time before I start to take the Telegraph.

Happy Birthday Daddy, and here’s to many more of them.

Over-enthusiasm

24 March, 2013 at 10:01 pm by belgianwaffle

A colleague who used to be a maths teacher pressed a book upon me and I am really enjoying it. The Princess and I were out for a cup of tea and each of us was reading her book. I looked up and said to her, “I’m really enjoying this, the author says that finding something in maths is like discovery not invention. Isn’t that clever? It’s out there waiting to be found. And you can see that’s true. I mean look at pi. It’s a constant for any circle and it’s true for every circle even if we didn’t know what it was. Isn’t it fascinating?” Pause. “Do you know what pi is?” Herself, coldly, “No, I am only 9, you know.” I returned to my book, suitably chastened.

Time Marches On

23 March, 2013 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

I was in a bric-a-brac shop with herself and there was an old bakelite phone which she rather liked. The nice lady behind the counter said, “I have one plugged in here, do you want to try ringing your mother’s mobile?” We laughed as she poked at the cumbersome dial in amazement. Of course, she went wrong half way through and had to start again. “Push down the buttons where the receiver goes until you get a dial tone” we said. She looked at us in disbelief – really how primitive was this system? Wait until I tell her you had to wait three months to get a phone when I was a child. And that you rang the operator and gave the name of the town and asked for a number, in the case of our country cousins, this was 42. It turns out that 35 years is quite a long time.

Finite Incantatem

22 March, 2013 at 10:46 pm by belgianwaffle

For the last number of weeks, the children have been waving chopsticks around and shouting “Stupefy” and “Expelliarmus”. They have printed off lists of spells from the internet which is disturbingly thorough in this regard. They are working their way through them. This game is showing no signs of palling. Daniel, who is chameleon-like in relation to accents, has decided that an English accent is best for casting spells, so we have a little boy with glasses running around, waving a chopstick and shouting out Latin(ish) words in an English accent. It’s all very odd.

Mass Card

21 March, 2013 at 9:48 pm by belgianwaffle

The parent of a colleague died and I sent him a mass card. I wrote a few lines hoping that my colleague was bearing up and that his father was “well before he died.” Really? Beautifully put. Go me. What, was I hoping that the gentleman had been hale and hearty and run over by a car? I despair.

The Battle of the Boyne

20 March, 2013 at 10:42 pm by belgianwaffle

We visited the site of the Battle of the Boyne a number of years ago. It made a lasting impression on the children. The other night, Michael asked me for a Jacobite biscuit. Some probing revealed that he meant a Jacob’s cream cracker. That is all.

Drill and Practice

19 March, 2013 at 10:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle: Do you know how brackets work, Miss?
Herself: Yes, you do the operation inside the brackets first. We did that last year.
Mr. Waffle: What is the Irish for brackets then?
Herself (coldly): Maths is a universal language.*

*Translation: I don’t know.

Social Media

18 March, 2013 at 10:33 pm by belgianwaffle

Isn’t it odd the way that Twitter has revealed the personalities behind companies. OK, maybe not so many companies but who knew that Betfair Poker had quite so much personality? If I ever get into poker, Bet Fair will be my dealer of choice.

Samples below:

Fire or Your Mother is Always Right

17 March, 2013 at 10:50 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister left a message on my phone, “Don’t panic, but we’ve had a small fire.” I called her.

My mother had put a leftover piece of Christmas hamper wrapping on the fire expecting it to turn to ash but it seemed to be made of sterner stuff and flared in an alarming manner [I think it was some kind of wood-like substance but I am unclear. Evidence is now burnt.] My mother yanked it out of the fire still burning. My parent’s front door can only be opened with a key (yes, from the inside and the outside, yes, I know it is spectacularly awkward) so in her wisdom, my mother decided to bear her burning wrapping to the back door – through 4 rooms. My father who was, until her arrival, sitting happily in one of them, leapt to his feet and opened the door for her. My father is 87 and normally walks with a stick. We can take this as a sign of the urgency and excitement attending my mother’s adventure or, alternatively, he is only pretending with that stick.

My brother was in the breakfast room and my mother asked him to open the back door. My brother has a fatal desire to get to bottom of everything and insisted on asking how on earth this had happened as my mother stood holding her makeshift torch and dropping bits of flaming wrapping on to the floor. My sister at this point rushed in and opened the back door, tossed out the burning wrapping and doused it with water.

“What lessons did we learn from this adventure?” I asked my mother. “That everyone is very slow except for your sister. And also that it’s very hard to get out of this house.”

All You Need is Love

16 March, 2013 at 10:37 pm by belgianwaffle

While I was on one of my many trips to Cork recently, my husband took my boots to the cobbler and got them re-soled. I walked home in the rain the other night with toasty dry feet. And you know that I got a Valentine’s card too? Who says romance is dead?

An Gorta Mór

15 March, 2013 at 10:25 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself is learning about the famine in school. She had a great time doing a dramatisation where she got to play the lady from the big house increasing the rents of misfortunate tenants who had made improvements and then tossing them out. Another day, they made a coffin ship.

One night, she had a couple of questions for homework, the first of which was – “Why were the Irish so poor at the time of the Famine?” “Why were they so poor?” she asked me. “Well, lots of reasons: landholdings tended to be small as they were divided up between families; landlord and tenant law was unsatisfactory in a number of ways [insert digression on land league]; there were, of course, absentee landlords and unfair agents [digression here to cover Captain Boycott]; then remember that the Catholics had been disenfranchised for a long time and there was the legacy of the Act of Union in 1801 and the penal laws…” I began. “Does this go back to William of Orange and James II?” she asked. “Well, yes, even before that, I suppose it is the nature of history that it is informed and shaped by the past.” And so on.

I checked her homework later. In response to the question, “Why were the Irish so poor at the time of the Famine?” she had written: “Because the English were not very nice.”

Is it any wonder that her aunt has vetoed all talk of the Famine when she marries her English man in London at the weekend?

Céad Fhaoistin

14 March, 2013 at 10:27 pm by belgianwaffle

The boys made their first confession this evening. Their sister sang in the school choir. They were all a mass of tension. Herself because she had a solo; the boys because they had to confess their sins and in Irish to boot. I had read them Frank O’Connor’s “First Confession” to get them in the mood.

It all passed off peacefully. The children did a drama on the altar about the lamb who had gone astray (Michael was the lamb) and then went up and made their first confession. It’s a lovely ceremony. The priest told them, quite mendaciously (one assumes), that he had been speaking to the new Pope who had said they were all good boys and girls. When he asked where the Pope was from, there was a forest of hands which did not include Michael’s. He was leaning over the edge of the pew examining the parquet flooring. Daniel, however, was a credit to us and very serious, sober and upright throughout.

At the end, Michael asked me whether he could now get the “holy bread” at mass on Sunday thus showing his, alas, utter ignorance of the nature of the sacrament of reconciliation which he had just received. He appears to have fatally confused first confession and first communion. This might be remedied, if I made known to him the likely cash bonanza that his first communion will bring but I feel that this is hardly in the spirit of the sacrament.

We all went for a drink and the children have just now been whisked off to bed. And tomorrow we’re flying to London. It’s just non-stop excitement.

Nearly There

13 March, 2013 at 10:21 pm by belgianwaffle

Him: Have you decided what you are going to wear for N’s wedding?
Me: Yeah, it’s a bit mother of the bride but it’s ok.
Him: Well I am going to be father of the bride, so that suits.

It has been decided that Mr. Waffle will say a few words at his sister’s wedding though this is turning out to be less onerous than originally expected (correspondence below):

From: Mr. Waffle
To: Me

Looks like I’ll have to jettison the last 18 minutes of my speech…

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: The Bride to be
To: Mr. Waffle

Hi

How are you? Looking forward to seeing you on Sat week! Hope the speech is not too taxing … we’d ideally like them to come in at under 2 mins or so, but don’t let me cramp your style! I’m sure it will be great.
Talk soon

Flowergirl is very excited indeed.

Reading

12 March, 2013 at 8:34 pm by belgianwaffle

On Canaan’s Side” by Sebastian Barry

This is beautifully written but I found it very difficult to keep going. It was a very thoughtful book and those can sometimes be hard going. It’s about a woman who found herself on the wrong side of the Irish civil war; her father was an RIC officer and her boyfriend was in the Black and Tans. Even now, I don’t think that there are many Irish people who would admit to having a relative in the Black and Tans. The RIC has been rehabilitated somewhat but I remember growing-up hearing about a man whose father had been in the RIC. People still knew and it wasn’t held against him in any way; he was very successful in his field. But people knew. And this was in the 1980s – more than 60 years after the demise of the RIC. Our heroine, ends up having to go to America to escape from vengeful locals in Wicklow and lives her adult life there. It is very full of incident and adventure but something about the way it is written makes it seem very slow. An interesting book but hard going at times.

A Postcard from the Volcano” by Lucy Beckett

This is about a bunch of friends in Germany between the wars. Their various ominous fates hang over them from the beginning. It’s interesting in spots though somewhat didactic in tone; the author has clearly done a great deal of research. What really put me off is the author’s obsession with catholicism and Nietzsche [she is in favour of the former and against the latter]. You might think that this would appeal to me as a catholic myself but it just doesn’t, she is too emphatic and too didactic. And at 500 pages or so it’s a lot to trawl through. The characters are really just messengers for what she’s trying to convey and have no depth. They are dreadfully one dimensional – take for example the rather obviously named Eva who is a fallen woman who lures our hero into an affair. Or Adam, I’m ruining it for you now, who becomes a priest. On the plus side, I know a lot abut Breslau or Wrocław as we now know it.

“Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

This is a book of short stories. It is not, as you might think, a sequel to the spectacularly successful “Cold Comfort Farm”. Once you get over this disappointment the stories are fine. A little bit sad but also funny which is her speciality. Some of them are a bit dated but most have stood the test of time.

“Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian” by Eoin Colfer

I think that Eoin Colfer is really tired of Artemis Fowl. You can see it here and I think that he should bow out gracefully while Artemis has his dignity in tact.

“The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family” by Selina Guinness

I really liked this book. I think it’s very well written and quite touching. It’s about a suburban girl who ends up, by degrees, owning her family’s big house and their farm, in the Dublin mountains. She is related to the Guinnesses but her family is the cadet branch and has no share in the brewing fortune. I was astounded that it divided our book club. I was in the minority. The majority didn’t like it much and found the author patronising and the book not particularly interesting though competently written. You’ll have to make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, I would recommend it very strongly and it is possibly the only book which my mother-in-law and I have both enjoyed.

“A Glass Full of Blessings” by Barbara Pym

I like Barbara Pym for a quiet, relaxing nothing particularly happens read. Lots of that in this book. It’s written and set in the 50s and it’s about a woman who is a bit bored with life and throws herself into the activities of her local church. That makes it sound a lot more active than it actually is. But it’s funny, in a mild way, and pleasant.

“Castlereagh” by John Bew

As you know, of course [as our paediatrician in Belgium used to say] Castlereagh was British foreign secretary during the Napoleonic wars and enjoys the unusual distinction of having a dismal reputation in both Ireland and England. When I mentioned to my father that I was reading a book on Castlereagh, the very first thing he said was “I met Murder on the way/ He had a face like Castlereagh” – this is also quoted on the dust jacket of the book [being immortalised by a romantic poet – Shelley in this case – is not always all it’s cut out to be], so Castlereagh is clearly a man in need of a revisionist biography. Cometh the hour, cometh the brilliant young historian. Step forward Dr. Bew.

The early part of this book deals with how Castlereagh grew up in an atmosphere of liberal Presbyterianism. I must say, I was singularly ignorant of this aspect of Presbyterianism and if you’d asked me for a list of words to sum up this religion, liberal would have been quite a lot further down the list than, say, dour. So, I was fascinated – a whole aspect of Northern Ireland opened up to my interested gaze. And then it moves to 1798; anyone who went to school in the republic of Ireland has learnt about 1798 as the uprising that really almost succeeded. It was rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant with the aid of the glorious French republic about to overthrow the oppressor’s yoke etc. etc. Castlereagh was active in suppressing the rebellion and then, for good measure, steered through the Act of Union after which dissolved the Irish Parliament and was a terrible blow for Dublin and Ireland. So not a popular figure in school history and, to be fair, revisionist or not, there is much in Bew’s description of Castlereagh’s conduct that makes him seem pretty unpleasant. That said, according to Bew [and he has lots of sources] Castlereagh genuinely believed that the Act of Union would bring about catholic emancipation which would have certainly been a huge achievement.  The rest of the book adduces a fair amount of evidence that this was something that Castlereagh attempted to achieve throughout his career in the measure he could without rocking the boat.

This first part is full of great quotes about Ireland and the Irish parliament which, regrettably, could still be used today. End of Part I. The book is subtitled “Enlightenment, War and Tyranny”. At this point, I did feel that the repression of the 1798 rebellion was pushing it under the “Enlightenment” heading.

The second part of the book (war) deals with the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna. It begins by discussing Castlereagh and Wellington’s relationship in the course of the Napoleonic Wars and this remains a theme. The author points out that they were both Irish men born in Dublin in the same year. They also both became MPs in the Irish House of Parliament in the 1790s and knew each other well from Dublin. While I knew that Wellington and Castlereagh were both Irish, I hadn’t really given much thought to how this influenced their views on each other and helped their relationship to develop. It is odd to think of that epic contest of England and France being led on the English side by two Irish men. But, I suspect that they didn’t think of themselves as Irish men first. I wonder whether Castlereagh had an Irish accent though. I suspect he did because he went to school in Armagh. The bit on the Congress of Vienna is very interesting despite the fact that I had the slenderest grasp of its aims and conclusions before beginning to read it. This is the high point of Castlereagh’s career and he performed brilliantly. I am fascinated by how he resisted the idea of war reparations from France (in the face of stiff Prussian opposition – watch this space in 1870/1914) and how he wanted France to be a strong power. He wasn’t entirely motivated by noble disinterest. He wanted a strong France to ensure a balance of power in Europe and he was nervous about Russia’s influence.

Part III (the tyranny bit) sees him back in England hugely popular after his successes but becoming rapidly unpopular. Budgetary worries were a big issue. The war was very expensive. Pitt, famously, introduced income tax to pay for war with France in 1799 and people were not absolutely delighted to see it still knocking around in 1816 (only for a few more years they were told – oh how we laughed).

He was pretty down on radicals but, to be fair, his personal safety was regularly and alarmingly threatened by the mob and his experience of 1798 and views on the French revolution influenced his thinking throughout his life.  Castlereagh did not always cover himself in glory.  In Peterloo yeomen killed 11 and injured hundreds of others in an unarmed, non-violent crowd listening to a radical speaker. Our author gives a weak defence of Castlereagh’s position on this:

‘Peterloo’..was indefensible; the protest had been entirely peaceful. Castlereagh himself did not bear any personal responsibility for the atrocity. Indeed he was deeply troubled by the outcome of the event. But as the government’s spokesman in the Commons it fell to him to justify the conduct of the local magistracy and yeomanry to an outraged public.’

Castlereagh was very shaken by the Cato Street plot as well he might have been but the revolutionaries seem to have been, like many good revolutionaries, a bit short on the implementation strand of their plot.

Thistlewood hoped that the assassination of the cabinet would be a spur for a general uprising and [it was later revealed] that they planned to display the decapitated heads on Westminster Bridge as a signal for national uprising….On the morning of the plot, Thistlewood worte a manifesto for the public in preparation for the national uprising: ‘Your tyrants are destroyed. The friends of liberty are called upon to come forward. The provisional government is now sitting.’

As you might imagine, this did not end well for the revolutionaries.

[Spoiler alert] In the end, Castlereagh goes mad and cuts his throat.  The author does convince that this was a man doing his duty according to his lights. His constant concern was to steady the ship of state and act in the United Kingdom’s best interests. To modern eyes, and even to many contemporary eyes, his position on radicalism and slavery are entirely indefensible but the author does a great job of putting these in the context which Castlereagh would have seen them.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, if you are at all interested in the period. One quibble is that the Quercus edition I read is full of typos. I don’t normally tend to notice this kind of thing but some of these were fairly egregious [the word whig substituted for wig, for example – obviously both Whigs and wigs feature in the text]. I think there’s an OUP edition available and, if I were you, I would go for that.

“VII” by H. M. Castor

I got this as a present. I’m not crazy about the Tudors but this is a book for teenagers and I like those. It’s the story of Henry VIII told in the first person from inside his head. It didn’t do it for me but it did make me reasonably well-informed when they dug up Richard III there recently. Look, I’m extracting the positive here.

Votes for Women

11 March, 2013 at 11:58 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: It was International Women’s Day last Friday.
Her: I know and I still can’t vote.
Me: Well, that’s not because you’re a woman, it’s because you’re 9.
Her: Indignant silence [yes, she conveys indignation with her eyebrows].

Happy Birthday to Me, Also, Happy Mother’s Day to Me

10 March, 2013 at 11:50 pm by belgianwaffle

Today is Mother’s Day and my birthday. It’s like having your birthday on Christmas day. Unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, the presents rolled in (from generous relations) as did breakfast in bed (from immediate family). I got my first ever present from herself. Bath salts. Fancy. As I pointed out to her, it represented a greater proportion of her weekly income (99%) than anyone else’s present had and I was suitably grateful.

The boys made me cards and Mr. Waffle, very daringly, bought me a vase and “The Book of Irish Mammies”. Herself read it cover to cover and I have just now got my hands on it. As herself commented, “You say that kind of thing all the time!” Well, middle age wasn’t long in catching up with me, now was it?

So to mother’s day: I read a post the other day about having it all. The author comes to the conclusion that mothers of young children can’t have it all but having children makes up for it. I think she’s right; at least given the way the world works now. Maybe it will be different in the future. I had no idea before I had children how they would change me – very much for the better, I think – I am a more tolerant, more patient and less selfish person now than I was before I became a parent. My children are a real source of delight and entertainment and the bigger they get, the better company they are. I would do it all again like a shot (though I would have a long nap first). I am the most popular person in the house and although it is tiring sometimes, it is, on balance, rather lovely.

The majority of the most successful women I know have no children. I also know some successful women with 1 child. One of my oldest friends is a heart surgeon with her own practice in the US and she has four small children. She bucks the trend. In my circle of acquaintance, she combines the maximum number of children with the maximum progress in a career. I was speaking to her about this today. “Yes,” she said, “I love my job and it is very rewarding but I work 80 hours a week and I always feel guilty that I don’t see enough of the children.” She has help and a supportive husband, she loves her job and she’s good at it but still she feels guilty. I don’t know whether it’s nature or society but the women I know do feel guilty when they spend a long time away from their children. The men don’t seem to. It’s not that they don’t love their children but they just seem to be wired differently or the expectations are different. As I look at the women and men of my generation, overwhelmingly work in the home and childcare are shared as they never were before. But still more men than women succeed in the world of work. Maybe it will take another generation to get it right.

But still, in my own balancing act, I think I have been lucky. I would like to spend more time with the children and I do feel guilty but not too guilty. My work is interesting and my colleagues supportive. I almost always come home with a briefcase full of papers but I don’t always read them. Maybe that’s as good as it gets.

Heaven is a Place on Earth

9 March, 2013 at 8:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I take the children to Cork for the weekend from time to time. During these weekends away from their father – who is all virtue – I tend to give up on the healthy eating/playing in the park regime which we try to achieve in Dublin. As a result their time in Cork is spent eating pizza, watching television and playing on the iPad and the x-box. It’s quite relaxing for me too but, of course, my enjoyment is undercut by a steady pulse of guilt, made no better by the following happy confidence from my youngest child when we last visited: “I love Cork because there aren’t so much [sic] rules.” “How do you mean Michael?” I asked. “When we started playing the x-box it was bright but now it is dark.”

Also, are you singing that Belinda Carlisle number?

Sweet Cork of Thee

8 March, 2013 at 8:10 pm by belgianwaffle

With one thing and another, I have been in Cork quite a bit recently. Does where you are from become more loved when you move away? Cork is delightful in the Spring (though showery). The city centre is small but not too small. Last time I was there a busker was belting out Spancil Hill in front of the Crawford and the sun was shining and people were milling about and it was lively and familiar.

I was desperate to get out of Cork and see the world when I qualified. I left in 1993 and haven’t lived in Cork for any significant length of time since. When we came back to Ireland from Brussels, Mr. Waffle suggested that we might consider moving to Cork. I did consider it but it didn’t suit for a range of reasons (including that neither of us had a job there) and I was ambivalent about living in Cork again. It’s small and all my friends had left. If I go to Cork now, there is no one I know beyond my immediate family. So, my homesickness is artificial and I think living there would be difficult. When I had the chance, I turned it down. But yet, it is a lovely place and I miss it.

Eavesdropping

7 March, 2013 at 7:41 pm by belgianwaffle

I was on the train from Limerick to Dublin last night and found myself distracted from my book by the conversation of four young men opposite.

Boy no.l: I am well-pleased with my skipping.
Boy no.2: You’re in the gym all the time alright.
Boy no.4: Diet is very important too.
No. 1: Absolutely, I ballooned in second year because I ate take away all year.
No. 2: I make a mean omelette actually.
No. 3: What do you put in it?
No. 2: I fry up onions… [insert your own description of how to make an omelette here].

[Is it all the images of male supermodels pressuring these young men to worry about their appearance?]

Pause

No. 1: UCC girls are really pretty. But they really know it.
No. 4: They don’t look after themselves like us though, they kind of let themselves go.
No. 3: Yeah, they’re all a bit over-weight. When do you ever see them in the gym?
No. 1: Trinity girls are well fit though. Of course they’re stuck up and all English.
No. 2: UCD girls are beautiful. And they are really natural and down to earth.

[Can I point out here that I was a UCC girl?]

Pause

No. 3: Have you ever seen Blood Diamonds?
Others: No.
No. 3: You have to see it, it’s one of the ten best films I’ve ever seen. It’s set in Sierra Leone.
No. 1 : Where is Sierra Leone?
No. 3 : In West Africa.

[Go Leonardo Di Caprio]

Pause

No. 3: I went to look at a flat and it had an outside toilet.
No. 1: No way, I don’t believe it.
No. 3: Really, I couldn’t stop laughing, it was like something out of the 1980s.

[As someone who lived through the 1980s, I longed to reassure them that despite all our problems, we did have indoor plumbing.]

I’m practising to be the next Maeve Binchy.

Austerity, What Austerity?

6 March, 2013 at 7:38 pm by belgianwaffle

Work on the new house is progressing. Mr. Waffle went to give them a cheque the other day and pronounced himself pleased. The electrics will be finished off when our electrician comes back from his skiing holiday in Val Thorens.

Damn You, Stephen Colbert

5 March, 2013 at 10:44 pm by belgianwaffle

The boys were playing on the computer and the Princess and I were watching this video about bullying on my phone:

She found Stephen Colbert absolutely hilarious [can’t see it myself but I understand I’m in the minority]. The boys had wandered over from their video game at this point to see what was so funny. They all asked could we see any more videos. I know a lot of Colbert’s stuff can be a bit risqué so I flicked through the offerings on youtube and saw that he gave a commencement speech at Northwestern University. Surely that would be safe enough. It started off tamely. The children found it hysterical. Colbert referred to the students’ proud parents and grandparents. All was well, until about 8 minutes in. That was when he started talking about sex. The children wrested the phone from me, still laughing hysterically. And then, it moved back to safer waters; all was well. Another couple of alarming seconds followed at 11.53 but then back again to firmer ground. Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, he hit a final great moment at 19.45.

What was the first question Michael asked his father when he came home from work that evening: “Daddy, what’s a brothel?”

Births, Marriages, Deaths

4 March, 2013 at 10:59 pm by belgianwaffle

I was in Cork recently for my mother’s birthday. I was collected from the station and promptly sent to mass with my mother for a local priest’s month’s mind.

I hadn’t even known that Fr. C was dead. At the mass (cast of thousands, well 10 priests on the altar) there was a long and interesting sermon about his life which in no respect chimed with what I knew of him. Until I was 11, every evening in term time, my parents would eat with Fr. C while my siblings and I were fed elsewhere. My parents therefore knew him very well and they were fond of him. I only met him occasionally and, as this was the 1970s when adults were not obliged to show interest in children unless they actually were interested (possibly a better system than that which currently applies where everyone has to be fascinated by children all the time), he paid me no great attention.

I was a bit surprised when he turned up on the altar at my wedding to concelebrate the mass with my father’s cousin (who was the priest we had asked to come). On the day, Mr. Waffle raised his eyebrow – who was that – and I shrugged whispering, “Family friend, rather dour.” And then Fr. C christened all my children for me. He was as gruff as ever and I can’t say that I ever had a conversation of any length with him but I came to expect his lined, frowning face at important religious rites. I was surprised to hear the priest at the month’s mind refer to him jovially as Canon Mike and a “charismatic priest”. I can tell you, he was never Canon Mike to me and the charisma, if any, was in trace quantities as far as I was concerned.

Still, I do feel that perhaps, from his now lofty perch in heaven (gruff, but holy, you know) he may just, unexpectedly, keep an eye out for my family here. I stopped and said a quick prayer at his grave on Sunday, just in case.

Faustian Pact

3 March, 2013 at 9:18 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess is to be in another television programme.  Her class are to be filmed a couple of times and she was very excited.  I had to sign a release form for her.  I came home shortly afterwards and she said, “I read the release form.  They can do anything they like with my image.  They own everything I have no rights.”  “That’s right,” I said, “if you don’t want to, you don’t have to do it.” “Of course, I want to do it, I’m going to be on television!”

The actual experience of television was very boring. They had to do lots of re-takes. The crew brought out some worms to show the children (the programme is about gardening, I understand). This was a highlight and they were all fascinated. But this was not the correct reaction. All the girls had to scream; the boys did not have to scream. So they redid the worm introduction until the girls screamed loudly enough. “Which was very sexist,” said she. That’s my girl.

Etiquette Question

2 March, 2013 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

I was walking down O’Connell Street at lunchtime the other day. It was busy. A man in a tracksuit was yanking firmly on a bike which was attached to a pole by a spiral lock. The spiral lock was not yielding. Could he be stealing it in broad daylight? He didn’t match the bicycle which had a wicker basket. But who am I to judge what tracksuited possibly drugged people might cycle? Perhaps he had forgotten his key. And surely no one would steal a bike by pulling on it until the lock broke in the middle of the day on the main street of the capital? Nobody paid him and his lock pulling antics the slightest bit of notice.

I hovered anxiously looking at him. The lock held and he walked away. So did I, in some relief. What would you have done?


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