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Burnt to a Cinder

31 July, 2013 at 1:07 pm by belgianwaffle

The heat wave seems to be over. It’s probably for the best; we weren’t able for it. I took the children to a beach in North County Dublin a couple of weeks ago. It looked like this.

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We all came back burnt in parts: the Princess’s right shoulder, the back of Michael’s neck, Daniel’s lower back, my ankles. We recovered with lots of shade. I think that this was the longest continuous spell of good weather in Ireland since 1976. We were flabbergasted.

A description of my time in East Cork with the children will follow. Something for you to look forward to.

Belgian National Day

21 July, 2013 at 8:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Item 1 – wherein I am reminded of Belgian paperwork

I got a change of address form to fill in from my (entirely depleted, alas) savings account recently. It had to be witnessed by a solicitor, a commissioner for oaths, a clergyman, a garda or some other pillar of society. It had to be accompanied by an original utility bill from my new address (which would be returned to me – what if I only get my bill online, you ask).

I got a friend who is a practising solicitor to sign the form. Was that sufficient? No it was not; she had failed to affix her office stamp to the form (largely because she was in my house and it was 9 at night and I thought it wouldn’t matter). The form was returned to me with the place for the stamp circled and the words NB written on it. Of course it did because my savings were with an institution which was channelling the Belgian State. It made me feel very nostalgic for Belgium. I dutifully cycled to the local Garda station and got the guard on duty to fill in the form and, crucially, stamp it. That did the trick.

Item 2 – Wherein I decide to get my hands on the special edition of Point de Vue covering the life of King Albert.

As you will know, of course, King Albert has decided to abdicate today in favour of his son Philippe. The excitement. Mr. Waffle and I watched a very long programme on RTBF about the life of King Albert (possibly prepared in anticipation of his demise) which covered his father’s war record (not good) and his life as a playboy (possible explanation of why Queen Paola always looks displeased) but yet, somehow, failed to entrance. This may have been because these juicier nuggets were intercut with the King and Queen visiting yet another flooded home/exciting civic event in the years 1993 to 2013.

Item 3 – Happy Belgian National Day

My eyes, my eyes!

20 July, 2013 at 10:32 pm by belgianwaffle

As I sit beside my loving husband on the sofa flicking through tv channels, I require him to read aloud to me the names of the programmes as they appear briefly on the screen below. Alas, I cannot read this unfeasibly small (ahem) print.

I know that I need glasses. However, since beginning parental leave at the start of July I have found that I am more and more able to read the small print. Might this be to do with the fact that I have not been spending all day in front of a glowing screen? I think it could. What do you reckon?

Why it’s not lost until your mother can’t find it

19 July, 2013 at 11:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel: Where are my shoes?
Me: Did you try your bedroom?
Him: Yes.
Me: Are you sure?
Him: Yes.
Me: If I go upstairs and find them in your bedroom, I will be displeased.
Him: I can’t find them.
I toil upstairs and find the shoes beside his bed.
Me: Dan, they were in your room right beside your bed – the most obvious place.
Him: Oh, I was looking in the unobvious places.

Sign of the Times

18 July, 2013 at 11:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle is reading Trollope. He was working his way through some 1980s edition of “Framley Parsonage” with learned notes by a professor of literature from somewhere distinguished. A note referred to a line quoted in the text stating “I have not been able to find the source of this quotation”. Total time taken by Mr. Waffle to find the source of the quotation on the internet: 30 seconds. We’re all experts now.

Keeping Track of Relatives

17 July, 2013 at 11:22 pm by belgianwaffle

My friend to me: Poor Angelina Jolie, wasn’t she very brave all the same?
Me: Yes, wasn’t she?
Princess: Who is Angelina Jolie, wait, is she a cousin?

Discomfiting the Middle Aged since 2003

16 July, 2013 at 9:42 pm by belgianwaffle

My brother has a friend who is an actuary, I introduced him to my daughter thus, “This is your uncle’s friend, do you know what he does for a living? He works out when people will die.” He began to protest mildly but herself turned to him and said with great sangfroid, “You work in insurance then, do you?”

Poor Parenting

15 July, 2013 at 9:37 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel: I had a nightmare.
Me: What happened?
Daniel: I was playing the x-box and a monster came out and attacked me.

I fear we may have over-indulged somewhat on the x-box although, as all he plays is FIFA 13, I am at a loss to work out where the monster comes from. Insert your own joke about Arsène Wenger here.

It’s so unfair!

14 July, 2013 at 9:36 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Daniel, shut the door behind you please.
Him: Slave driver!

For the Record

13 July, 2013 at 9:12 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel lost another tooth on June 19. He’s still enjoying sticking his tongue through the gap.

Science and Religion

12 July, 2013 at 9:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel: There’s no gravity on the moon.
Me: Actually there is, it’s just less.
Herself: Why is that?
Me: Well objects kind of attract stuff to them and the larger the object the harder it attracts – the moon is much smaller than the earth so gravity is less. At least, I think that’s how it works.
Herself: Are we lighter on the moon?
Me: Um, I think this is about the difference between mass and weight. Let me think, you have the same mass everywhere but your weight is different because of gravity.
Daniel: Is there mass on the moon?
Me: Yes, that’s it, mass is the same everywhere.
Daniel: Do they have churches on the moon?

The Challenges of Parenting Small Boys

11 July, 2013 at 9:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel: I fooled you!
Me: How did you do that?
Daniel: You told me not to wear yesterday’s socks again today.
Me: And you didn’t, you can’t fool me, that’s not the pair you were wearing yesterday.
Him: But look what is under today’s pair!

I’ve started, so I’ll finish

10 July, 2013 at 10:12 pm by belgianwaffle

My Aunt: When I was younger, I wanted our family to enter one of these family quizzes on the television where you could win a holiday; your father would have been brilliant.
Me: Mmm, he does know everything but I doubt he would have liked the idea much. What did he say to you?
Her: Would you sell your dignity that cheaply?

Rite of Passage

9 July, 2013 at 10:41 pm by belgianwaffle

Following a concerted campaign, the Princess has had her ears pierced. I remember getting my own ears pierced at 12 and my father commenting disapprovingly on bodily mutilation and comparing it to the neck rings African women sometimes have which I think was a little harsh.

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Herself is, in any event, very pleased.

The ear piercing has led to two unexpected follow-up requests:
1. From her – when can I have my tongue pierced?
2. From Daniel – when can I have my ears pierced?

Very difficult, from a feminist perspective to justify a negative response to question 2; I was reduced to saying “well, we’ll see how you feel about it when you’re 10” and hoping for the best.

Harassed Parent

8 July, 2013 at 11:29 pm by belgianwaffle

When I came home from work one day in late June, the childminder said to me : “Your daughter wanted to know the meaning of the word ‘amant’ but I felt it was best if you explained when you got home.” He then left; she was very anxious for an explanation. I was distracted, however, from my difficult task by the sight of a number of small downy feathers floating around the utility room. No sign of the cat either, ominous.

I explained the word “amant” to the Princess asking how this had come up [apparently, the childminder had been scraping old newspaper from the floor – don’t ask – and come across a cutting on the death of Diana and Dodi – thank you British royal family for indirectly introducing my child to the concepts of infidelity and the amant] and was interrupted by a piercing squeal. I ran and added my own piercing squeal as the cat was sitting on the utility room floor tucking in with great gusto to a meal of a small bird. To her intense chagrin [and indeed mine but Mr. Waffle was not yet home so I saw my duty clear] I chased her off it and picked up the bloody corpse in a plastic bag which I swept into the dustpan and then threw in the bin. Moments later I saw that one of the children had put the dustpan and brush on the work surface in the kitchen. It was all very trying. Can I tell you how glad I am that the summer holidays are finally upon us?

Cork Views

7 July, 2013 at 11:28 pm by belgianwaffle

The Crawford has just opened a watercolour room and there are some lovely pictures there which I have never seen before. Not entirely relevant to this post but at the moment there is a great exhibition on cubism as well – Mary Swanzy is a revelation to me; I thought her pictures were really lovely [I’m sure that ‘really lovely’ is the kind of accolade the cubists would have liked].

Anyhow, to the watercolours – look at this lovely view of Cork:

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The picture by John Fitzgerald dates from 1796 and is described as “Old Saint Finbarr’s and Elizabeth Fort”.

And look at this picture of the same view that I snapped on the walk back to my parents’ house:

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Very recognisable, I think, although the old Beamish and Crawford site on the right [now closed down] is obviously not from the 1790s, Elizabeth Fort is still the same and even though the cathedral got rebuilt in the 19th century, it’s still in the same spot.

Now, let us consider one of the great architectural travesties visited on Cork. This is a picture of Cork Opera House before it was burnt down.

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My parents remember the much loved 19th century opera house burning in 1955. I once read somewhere words to the effect that any architects who built a replacement would have had their work cut out to build something that the people of Cork would take to their hearts as much as the old building, but they didn’t even try. This feels entirely true. This is the replacement building on the site of the old opera house:

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It has actually improved since I was a child as then the side facing the river was an uncompromising brutalist plain wall. It has been somewhat relieved by the addition of a glass window over the river and glass cladding at the front but it is still, to my eyes, quite spectacularly ugly. To be fair, I assume that the 1960s architects did not realise that their clean lines would be disfigured by the addition of a large poster for Grease and the Toyota ad on the roof [a permanent, unlovely feature].

Enough Cork architecture for today.

End of Term

6 July, 2013 at 9:14 pm by belgianwaffle

School ended on June 30. I am taking parental leave this summer, so I stopped work also. It has been fantastic to just hang about the house. The last couple of months have been horribly busy. The last week of school/work nearly sent us to an early grave. Every time we thought everything was done, we needed to buy another present for some worthy person associated with the school or work or something else. I had a frantic time at work trying to finish everything. Mr. Waffle kept the show on the road.

During the last week we cycled into school with each of the children in turn. This was an entirely artificial exercise as the parent who was not cycling drove in with the other two and coats and bags and then stuffed the cycling child’s bike in the car to take it home again. However, it was gratifying that they were all able to do it with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm. I have put it to them that we might try this greenway thing during the summer and there was mild enthusiasm from two of them. Michael, however, said, “Um, no thanks.” He is very stubborn so I am re-thinking our cycling expedition. I will keep you posted; your summer entertainment is now provided for.

The children all got their school reports. Nothing unexpected really – all good stuff bringing joy to their mother’s middle years [Mr. Waffle is above these things]. The boys’ teacher who has just finished her second year with this class had 6 lines in the report to give a written personal comment on each of the boys and she described both with complete accuracy. I wish the boys could have her next year; she was an absolutely brilliant teacher. I am hoping against hope that the Princess might get her.

As I take parental leave in the summer, I don’t get paid. Also, I don’t need a childminder because I am not at work and can’t afford one. So every year, we hire someone in September and have to let him/her go in June. In recent years, particularly, we have had great people. I am so sorry to see this year’s man go. He was terrific. We gave him an excellent reference and he has got a job in a creche. Lucky creche. I suppose he could hardly starve over the summer waiting for me to re-employ him in September but he seemed a bit of a free spirit and I thought he might go off hitch-hiking in Asia or something and be ready for me again in September but it was not to be. Oh woe. The children are not pleased.

Cultural Activities

5 July, 2013 at 11:00 pm by belgianwaffle

Things we have done in the holidays thus far:

St. Michan’s Church on Church Street

I had to practically beat the children to get out of the house to come here. The rain was coming down in sheets and even the short walk from the car to the church had us sodden. But it was so worth it. We have been here before. There are Mummys in the crypt [very dry apparently, unlike outside] and there is a great guide who makes the whole think immensely entertaining for children. They shook hands with the crusader [800 years old still quite a lot of face left – they know he was a crusader because his legs are crossed] and heard the gruesome story of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Sheares brothers [involved in the 1798 rebellion – ended badly for them]. This was described in loving detail to the intense delight of all the children on the tour. There is also the family crypt of the Earls of Leitrim which has lain unused since the third earl (a bad lot) was buried there. The church boasts the font where Edmund Burke was baptised and the organ on which Handel practised the Messiah before the first performance in Fishamble Street. We ran into the vicar [I think, the titles of Protestant clergymen are always a mystery to me] who asked the children where they went to school and then surprised them by saying he was a neighbour of one of their classmates and horrified them by speaking to them in Irish. After this alarming encounter, they decided that it was best to leave again but not before writing in the visitors’ book. A number of American visitors had described their visits as “awesome” and “amazing”. Michael having laboriously written his name and address went for a more restrained “good”.

Henrietta Street

The Princess and I walked up and down Henrietta Street and admired the buildings. Number 14 was home to C.S Lewis’s great, great grandmother. I thought you would like to know. We went to the Uilleann Pipers house and had a look around. The boys sat in the car and refused to move.

Subsequently I went on my own to no.14 to see the Dublin Tenement Experience. This is a performance set in the 1913 Dublin lockout and using no.14 Henrietta Street which is largely unchanged since it was used as a tenement. The performance is done by the same people who did “The Boys of Foley Street” so I was prepared to be alarmed and to have plenty of audience participation. Maybe my previous knowledge of the company ruined it for me but it’s just not so real when you are accompanied by a bus load of elderly tourists from Northern Ireland. I thought it was mildly interesting and reasonably well done but I certainly wouldn’t have been gushing that it was the best thing I had ever seen as I heard one of my fellow participants say in awed tones to the woman on reception. Still and all, well worth a look.

Unrelated but as I was there they were filming an ad for C&A. The security man told me that they had been filming for 5 days for a 30 second slot. 5 days! So, if you see a nice old Georgian street in a C&A ad, you’ll know where it was shot.

No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street

The Princess and I had previously tried to visit this restored Georgian house but it was closed for renovations. This time we got in and I think she found it mildly entertaining but really more fun for me than for her. Sometimes she is a saintly child. Ironically, the ESB which funded the restoration of this house, knocked down all the rest of the terrace. There is some bitterness about this. It’s interesting though that Irish attitudes at the time were very ambivalent towards Georgian architecture and what it represented. I think now there has been a complete turn around and no one would argue for the wanton destruction of Georgian houses but certainly there’s still plenty of neglect in the centre of Dublin.

Glendalough

I forced the children to go to this world famous monastic site. They haven’t been for a couple of years. The traffic was dreadful. It took us an hour and a half to get there. The information that the American first children had recently been forced to go there left them unmoved other than leading to a slight fellow feeling. When we arrived I made them go on a mild walk.

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It went pretty well for the first half but by the second part of the circuit they were getting tired, hungry and fractious. Michael fell down a hill and was picked up by a kindly German tourist. Daniel got stung by nettles. We saw deer but even that was insufficient to rouse them to any great enthusiasm. The Phoenix Park has made them all a bit blasé about deer.

I got to use my picnic basket again. As I was unpacking it, two very small girls stood and watched me enviously. See below, Michael enjoying the picnic which, in his case, consisted of 5 cream crackers.

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After the picnic, I played hurling with Dan. Very poorly. A number of Americans stopped and took pictures of this native sport; unfortunately the quality of the play gave very little idea of what hurling is actually like.

After this I tried and utterly failed to get them to the monastic site. This is as close as we got to Glendalough this year.

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St. Audeon’s Church

For the best part of a year, I have been threatening to take my family to this city centre church. Mr. Waffle kindly minded the children one morning and I set off on my own. It is a lovely, lovely church managed by the Office of Public Works in co-operation with the local parish. It’s less showy than St. Patrick’s or Christ Church both of which are nearby but really peaceful and very appealing.

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The OPW has done a great job with the exhibition in the oldest part of the original church. There is still an unroofed part – the Portlester chapel – which is somehow particularly attractive in the centre of the city surrounded by very busy roads. It feels like it belongs somewhere else altogether. Petrie has a drawing of it from the 1800s and it is still very recognisable; although no one was hanging out washing while I was there.

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I will now force the children to come with me and see it because they have not suffered enough.

It’s All Weekends

4 July, 2013 at 10:50 pm by belgianwaffle

And finally, for my last trick, I have to describe the weekend of the street party. As Mr. Waffle said, for this to be a success there would have to be four fine Sundays in a row. We did not have four fine Sundays in a row. This mattered surprisingly little. And you know, the sense of obligation to get out and do something in the [limited supply of] sunshine is very tiring.

The children played soccer in the street for hours [Daniel, who had played a GAA match that morning and got a medal for his participation in the mini-league along with a bag and a wristband and cap, spent, by my calculation, seven hours that Sunday running after a ball]. The grown-ups resigned themselves to the weather and ate from the really excellent selection of food on offer. There was bunting. It was good. It would be great all the same if, just one year, it didn’t rain on the street party.

More weekends

3 July, 2013 at 9:55 pm by belgianwaffle

My friend from school came to stay with her American husband and four American children. Even though our new house is much bigger, it was still something of a squash and a squeeze. But it was lovely to see them – we last saw them on December 29, 2010 when their youngest was a very sick baby. They are all well now and particularly polite in the manner of nice middle class American children: eye contact when talking to adults! Still a skill which some of my children have not mastered. The children all got on pretty well. My friend’s two youngest boys were particularly excited by the presence of my boys’ extensive arsenal of weapons from water pistol to plastic sub-machine gun and stocked them on the landing with great enthusiasm. When the three-year-old came up to me laughing and shot me, I played dead but his parents were appalled. They have no toy guns in their house. Culturally, there seems to be a difference in toy gun control between here and the US.

So, picture the scene, they arrived off the plane on Sunday morning, hired a car and turned up at our house having been travelled from their home in Vermont at 2pm US time on Saturday. Were the children cranky? They were not. Were they tired? No. Were they even particularly grubby? Not really. Instead of collapsing into their beds, they spent the afternoon with us at the church garden party. This event was, by the standards of these things, a huge success. Crucially, the sun shone. Members of the Indian Christian community [larger than you might think] performed a dance to Shiva the Destroyer in front of the priests’ dining room and all the cakes were sold. Herself was deputed to sell raffle tickets and to her great joy, our visitors bought €20 worth.

All was well with the world. And the children all slept all night. The Americans went to Cork on Tuesday and on to a wedding in Kerry on Friday before flying out of Shannon on Saturday. The horror. But they are brave souls.

Weekend Round Up

2 July, 2013 at 9:55 pm by belgianwaffle

That’s actually the weekend from weeks and weeks ago. I’m behind. Anyhow, some of the people I used to work with in Brussels came over for the weekend. It was lovely to see them and the weather was spectacularly beautiful.

One of my former colleagues, T, stayed with us. She does not have children herself and one can only hope that she has not been put off the idea by Michael’s constant, mortifying whining – “How much longer is she staying?” He gave up his room, most unwillingly, and boy did he want everyone to know that he wasn’t happy about it.

Typical conversation:
Me: Michael, did you know that T is a twin also?
Michael: I…DON’T…CARE!
Me: Michael that’s very rude, say ‘sorry’.
Michael: Sorry.
Me: Like you mean it.
Michael: Daniel doesn’t say sorry like he means it.

Yes, Ireland of the 1,000 welcomes.

Fortunately, former colleague N, who is working in Dublin for 8 months, had arranged an elaborate programme as I was something of a broken reed. They walked around Howth Head in searing heat (unusual); they came to my housewarming on Saturday night; they went for a stroll around Dalkey on Sunday.

On Saturday, Mr. Waffle had to work and I took the children off to the beach in Portrane. I had never taken them there before and was a bit uncertain of the way but we made it. It is a lovely sandy beach that is shallow for miles. When I reached waist height in the water, I collapsed after the long trek and had my first swim of the season. It was all very pleasant in a mild way. When I saw those who had walked for 4 hours around Howth Head earlier that day, I knew that I had been wise to acknowledge my limitations and only walk into the sea.

Not a great shot of the beach but you can see that the sea is a long way away.
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They have also decided to go for an unusual juxtaposition of old and modern in the siting of their water tower beside the clock tower:
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On the housewarming, one of my former colleagues asking whether there were any single men coming. A rapid mental scan of my guest list confirmed that there were not. Woe. On the plus side, older married couples are great with the presents. We are groaning with fancy champagne stocks. The weather was terrific and we stayed outside until late. One set of neighbours had brought their 10 and 12 year old children and our children stayed up until 12 to entertain them – something that herself particularly enjoyed. She was hyper all evening letting people in and telling them where to put their tasteful gifts and chatting animatedly. A friend commented that it was a shame that the Princess had set her face against an Irish medium second level school as she didn’t think that her English needed further improvement. I was torn between smug delight and angst at the knowledge that herself had been letting her, occasionally forceful, personality shine forth on the guests. At one stage during the evening, she hugged me and said, “I love this party!” She is really one of these children who love to talk to adults. Also, she is very sociable, like her father.

And then on Sunday, out to Dalkey: it really was beautiful and quite unlike Ireland; my Brussels friends now have a deeply warped view of what the Irish summer is like. All to the good really.

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