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Tayto Park

30 October, 2013 at 11:18 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Tayto Park on Sunday with the cousins. It’s an attraction park built on the enduring appeal of the crisp and the place of the potato in the Irish psyche.

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When we arrived, it was lashing. We stopped in a petrol station on the way and I said to the woman behind the counter that we were going to Tayto Park. She put her hand up to her mouth and said “Oh my God.” It was that kind of rain.

As we ran from the car to the entrance in the wettest kind of rain the Princess skipped sideways encouraging us on shoutinge:

‘Charge, Chester, charge!/on, Stanley, on!’/Were the last words of Marmion.

It was very appropriate and all that but did give me a slight shock. “Are you quoting from Marmion?” “Yes, obviously.” Obviously. I have subsequently discovered that she regularly uses many of the lines from Scott’s epic poem:

Heap on more wood! the wind is chill;/But let it whistle as it will

Something she says often and a line that I really like myself especially at this time of year. I had thought vaguely that it was Frost.

And then she knows these couplets about young Lochinvar:

O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;

For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.

And it turns out that this line she is fond of is from Marmion as well:

And darest thou then/To beard the lion in his den

“Are you doing Marmion in school,” I asked (improbable, you will concede). “No, I just know it, I don’t know how, just from reading, I suppose.” She continues to surprise.

After the first half hour, miraculously, the weather improved and Tayto Park’s various attractions were sampled, including a terrifying zip wire that only herself went on. I had to go with the boys around a sky walk which did not look terrifying but really was. The boys and I went on level 1 but herself went on level 2 and pronounced it unscary. Isn’t it well for her?

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There was a haunted house which the children bailed out of in room 1 but I went around because I couldn’t bear not to get value for our money. I scare easily but it was kind of scary. The best moment was when I was alone some way behind three adults screaming loudly. One of the actors from the house was behind them, dressed as Dracula. I tapped him on the shoulder and he jumped a mile.

Overall, I must say, it was very successful; the children enjoyed it very much and it wasn’t too hideous for the adults. The knowledge that in fine weather you may have to queue an hour and a half for the rides we were able to saunter up to was pleasing even though the danger of damp was a constant. Still and all, a win over all.

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And, oh yes, there was face painting:

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Cultural Differences

29 October, 2013 at 10:36 pm by belgianwaffle

The scene: the office at lunch time on a crisp autumn day.
My Portuguese colleague: I have a terrible dilemma.
Me: What’s that?
Her: I want to go for a walk.
Me: Well then go, for heaven’s sale.
Her: I can’t. It’s too cold. I will die.

Equity’s Darling

29 October, 2013 at 12:07 am by belgianwaffle

Herself: If a man took a woman’s vase by accident and then he gave it to a shop who sold it to another woman; who would own the vase, the first woman or the woman who bought it?
Mr. Waffle: Excellent question for a first year law paper.
Me: The first woman would continue to be the rightful owner of the vase but the other people could sue for damages, I suppose.
Mr. Waffle: Ah but the purchaser is equity’s darling.
Her: What’s equity?
Mr. Waffle: Well, these courts began with petitions to the Lord Chancellor of England. They ran in parallel to the common law courts and they were supposed to be fairer to hard cases.
Her: Like OJ Simpson?
Him: No, more like Joe Duffy.

End of an Era

28 October, 2013 at 6:58 pm by belgianwaffle

When the Princess was a small girl, she used to hit people. Her grandmother, the psychologist, said it was much better to incentivise than to punish as, she observed wisely, “You run out of punishments.” So for many years, at the end of the Princess’s day, if she hadn’t hit someone she got a smiley face. Relatively early on this turned into a complete win for her as she didn’t hit people very often and every time she got five smiley faces she got a small present. Efforts to extend the smiley face criteria beyond physical violence to other forms of misbehaviour were largely unsuccessful due to the less definite descriptions of the fault and the consequent room for debate. In time, the regime was extended to her brothers.

Her involvement was phased out and replaced with pocket money of €5. In recent years, the boys are in her former situation, where physical violence is minimal and smiley face presents are many. Since the smiley face presents are almost always a magazine, we have recently negotiated with the boys that their smiley faces will be replaced by a subscription to the Beano. And just like that, a regime which has been going since 2007, at least, is over. On balance, the relief in not having to find smiley face presents makes it all worthwhile.

I hope that, in the absence of incentives, it doesn’t all return to primeval chaos here.

Halloween Prep

27 October, 2013 at 10:19 pm by belgianwaffle

L to R: dead bridesmaid, minecraft zombie, evil lumberjack

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Eight

26 October, 2013 at 10:08 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel and Michael were 8 on September 27 and my parents celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary, so a significant date all round. Let me summarise where we are. Better late than never.

Daniel at 8

Daniel has been losing teeth by the new time. We woke one morning to the sound of him weeping bitter tears as the tooth fairy had forgotten to come. Mr. Waffle went to check and it was all a terrible mistake, he had just missed the money left safely under his pillow. Another time, he thought he saw Mr. Waffle put money under his pillow but this was clearly an error as Mr. Waffle said that the money was already there. How the tooth fairy managed to slip it in earlier, we shall never know.

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Daniel still loves playing all kinds of sports and is out at GAA training on Friday night and matches on Saturday morning. An exhausting regime for those of us who stand by the side of the pitch (his father generally) but, one assumes, even more so, for him. If left to his own devices, he would never wear anything other than nylon sports tops and shorts. He cycles in the park with great speed and determination.

He is a picky eater but fortunately is fond of dairy products, so he won’t starve.

He is meticulous and thorough in his school work though inclined to get distracted when doing his homework. He can be very focussed though. He taught himself to read at an earlier age than his brother or sister by sheer force of will. He also seems to have taught himself to swim over the summer. I was pretty surprised when I saw him go under water and strike out since he has never had a lesson (parental ineptitude, it’s a long and slightly dull story).

He enjoys school and seems to have lots of friends in his class. Though I am finding the world of young boys and their friends much less clear than the world of girls where I have good empirical experience.

He is usually the first to run out to greet me when I come home from work (unless he has been granted the right to use some electronic device, in which case, I might as well not exist). He loves, loves, loves playing soccer on the x-box which is only allowed at weekends. The consequence of this is that he arrives into his parents’ bedroom regularly at 7 on a Saturday morning to ask whether he can play the x-box. For his birthday, he got Skylanders (if you don’t know, you’re better off) for the x-box and he loves his Skylanders also.

He enjoys reading. He particularly loves facts and jokes. He was best boy of the day in school the other day for his encyclopaedic knowledge of ancient Egypt. I am sometimes surprised by the ways he finds it comfortable to sit and read.

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He hates to hear me sing, except for a song which I sometimes hum to him at bedtime (my mother-in-law tells me it is from the merry widow, she is better than soundhound).

He is tidy. He clears his plate after dinner, he puts things away in his room. It is a delight to me to have a tidy child. In my own family, I was the only tidy person and I sometimes felt like a changeling, so it’s great that there are two of us.

He loves to play with his brother and sister and, sometimes his sister is kind and makes up games for them to play together. Sometimes she is not and he wanders around the house disconsolately looking for someone to play with.

Overall, he seems to be quite a content child despite occasional rages and announcements that “this is the worst day ever” in relation to issues which might not make you think that the day merited that description (you have to put on your shoes now, for example).

He is a most affectionate child and loves his mother but will no longer let her kiss him in public for which her heart aches a little bit but that’s life, I suppose.

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Michael at 8

Michael has taken to saying “indeed” instead of yes which makes him sound like a Victorian gentleman. He is officially the thinnest and lightest boy in Ireland. He nearly made me cry the other day by saying casually, “I don’t like cheese sandwiches any more”. To my impassioned, “What will you eat then?” he replied laconically, “Dunno.”

He hasn’t enjoyed the return to school much which may explain the following dialogue:
Me: Sleeping is my gift.
Him: Feigning blurry eyesight to miss school is mine.
Me: What?
Him: Don’t worry, you have a short memory, you’ll forget this.

The Princess has been spreading propaganda about the blog among her siblings and Michael is terrified of what I might write as it could be embarrassing. Since my continued existence is slightly embarrassing to my children at times, this could all go horribly wrong.

He is very clever and quick at all kinds of games: cards, chess, computer games; x-box games. Maybe he will become a professional poker player when he grows up. However, he sees no point in applying himself to things which are not of interest to him, which may explain his handwriting.

He is extremely charming and outgoing and has a very winning manner. He is very rarely cross and usually inclined to yield in arguments. Occasionally, however, he gets cross and stares at us all from under creased eyebrows, howling his annoyance. Also, occasionally, he can be stubborn and at these times, any effort at persuasion is pointless. He is very independent and is not too concerned about the views of others. His uncle, who is unreconstructed, will often say things like “That’s for girls!” and he will either ignore the comment or say he doesn’t care, and I really don’t think that he does.

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Michael’s catchphrase is “I’m bored” and I cannot tell you how tired we all are of hearing it (delivered with a slight lengthening of the o sound). Often I yield and offer up the computer to the altar of Michael’s boredom. Sometimes, I make him soldier on, because I am cruel that way.

Fortunately, he likes to read and that fills in the time between opportunities to play on the computer and my phone. They all like the Beano but Michael loves it. He is also a huge fan of Asterix and Tintin and Snoopy. He is often to be found leafing through the pages of Gaston La Gaffe. You can tell that he was born in Belgium; the comic strip holds infinite appeal for him.

Though generally not sporty, he does like to climb mountains.

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And trees:

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He finds it very hard to get to sleep at night and equally hard to get up in the morning (these may be related). At bedtime, he often smiles at me and says, “You can stay here with me.” And there is something so appealing about the way he says it that the prospect of sitting at the end of the bed watching him read seems momentarily attractive. He regularly trots downstairs after bedtime and announces dolefully, “I can’t sleep” and then curls up in my lap looking hopeful. His kind father will often carry him back up to bed and I think he quite likes that.

Even though he is only 20 minutes younger than his brother, he has very much carved out for himself the position of youngest child which he rather enjoys.

He hates to let anything be thrown out or given away, including but not limited to, baby books, toys he no longer plays with, old socks with holes (they might be useful), school lunch bags (I could draw on them) and clothes he has grown out of. Like my mother, he does not belong to the throw away generation. He is still sad that we moved house. He is now, however, resigned to his new accommodation.

Altogether he is a charming and slightly unusual combination of occasional determination and a general willingness to yield; interest and sympathy in the problems of others with no concern about what others might think of him; no interest in almost all foods (including sweets) other than cereal and Yorkshire pudding (of which I am heartily sick).


Together at Eight

Although I try to talk about them separately and not compare too much; it is inevitable that two eight year olds in the same family and the same class in school are going to have a lot in common. They are great friends but they also annoy each other regularly. They have lots of common interests and can talk together about Skylanders in phenomenal detail.

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The Pain of the Parish Pedant

25 October, 2013 at 9:20 pm by belgianwaffle

We had the parable of the unjust judge at mass recently. The archbishop came. He gave a great sermon but it contained the following line: “scripture scholars tell us that it was not that this judge was corrupt or took bribes, it was just that he was disinterested”. I said to herself after mass, “Well what did you think of the archbishop?” She replied, “He doesn’t know the difference between uninterested and disinterested.” That’s my girl.

Reading

24 October, 2013 at 8:28 pm by belgianwaffle

A Short History of Everything” by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson. Everything he writes is beautifully written, funny and bursting with his trademark enthusiasm. I must say though, I found the physics and chemistry bits easier going than biology (possibly because I studied chemistry and physics to the end of school but gave up biology at 15; this was not on the basis that I disliked biology but rather because my parents said that I needed physics and chemistry but could always pick up biology later. I regret to say that neither of these statements has proved to be true – until now, I suppose.) I now know everything. Go on, ask me anything.

The Hounds of the Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea

This is a children’s book. The Princess was given it by her aunt who loved it when she was a child. The aunt suggested that I read it too: “It’s set in Cork, or maybe Galway.” Dublin people and their knowledge of the rest of the country. It’s set in Galway. It’s about these two children who are on a mission in a land of the fairies and being chased by the hounds. It’s a bit too magical realism for me and horribly long but it may just be one of those books you have to read at the right age.

Family Romance” by John Lanchester

This is a family biography by one of the last children of the empire. His father was born and grew up in the far east and so did he. His mother was Irish. Usually in these kinds of stories, the Irish mother is Anglo-Irish but this woman was not and he was clearly fascinated by her. She was born into a poorish farming family in the West of Ireland. She spent many years in a convent (before emerging and marrying his father) and he spends much of the book looking at her life and motivations. It’s an insider’s outsider view of an Irish life and, for an Irish person, a really fascinating slightly disorientating view. At the centre of the book (spoiler alert) is the fact that his mother lied to his father about her age. I think that this is viewed by Irish people and English people in quite a different way. He is appalled by this and worries about the affect of this life of deceit on her. But Irish people have a long tradition of lying about their age. When the state pension came in, there were armies of people who changed their age. My own great aunt’s age was only known when she began drawing the pension having seen no need to tell people (including her husband) that she was nearing 50 when she married.

It made me determined to write down as much as I know about the history of my own family. Written so far: nothing.

Tamara Drewe” by Posy Simmonds

A modern story of writers’ retreats, affairs and celebrity culture told in the form of a graphic novel. Quite appealing.

Madams, Murder and Black Coddle” by Terry Fagan

A look at Dublin’s poor in the notorious Monto district in the early part of the 20th century based on oral history from older people. Really interesting for a range of reasons. I found the tales of children searching through the rubbish heaps nearby for cinders and anything else useful quite extraordinary. It seems amazing that in the empires second city there were children picking through the rubbish dumps.

Three Houses” by Angela Thirkell

I am reading anything by Angela Thirkell that I can get my hands on, fiction for preference. This is not fiction. It’s a story of her youth, looking nostalgically at her own house, and those of her grandparents, in town and by the sea. She was related to all sorts of people through her grandmother (Rudyard Kipling, Stanley Baldwin) and her grandfather was Edward Burne-Jones so she has lots of people to draw and she has a fund of charming anecdotes. She’s a bit of a snob but that doesn’t intrude too much. This is a bit slight but very appealing.

Death of a Dentist” by M. C. Beaton

Oh how the mighty are fallen. The first time I read one of my sister’s MC Beaton detective books, I poured scorn upon it: poorly written and bland. But yet here I am addicted. Yes, since you ask, I quite enjoyed this.

Tanith Low in the Maleficent Seven (Skulduggery Pleasant)” by Derek Landy

A novella with the characters from the ever-popular skeleton detective series. As you might expect.

Light: A Gone Novel” by Michael Grant

This is the concluding volume in a series about children who are cut off from the outside world by a transparent dome. It’s more exciting than that makes it sound but the author was right to cut it off here, it was running out of steam.

Last Stand of Dead Men” by Derek Landy

Another outing for the skeleton detective and his sidekick. The penultimate in the series. For my money, too many fights and not enough intricate plotting or exposition. Also, the premise is particularly ludicrous (yes, even allowing for the fact that it is a series about a skeleton detective).

The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain

The story of Hemingway’s first wife as imagined by the author. It’s fiction not biography but based on fact. Lots of people loved it but I found it dull.

For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway

I loathed this book. I found Hemingway’s style irritating and the action tedious. Anything that was interesting, he had clearly taken from stories he was told when he was in Spain. I know I am in a minority here, but there it is.

IF you ask me, Faulkner is a far superior writer in every way; they’re not even in the same league. We can lay that literary feud to rest now, I have pronounced my view.

Dancehall Days” by George O’Brien

Oh God, a bildungsroman about a young man in Dublin in the 60s. My mother-in-law pressed this upon me. Her tastes and mine do not generally chime but she had lent me the John Lanchester book which I so enjoyed, that I was willing to give this a try. A mistake. The following is one of the few lines I enjoyed in the book:

As for the Hemingway, it obscenetied in the milk of impatience and I couldn’t be bothered to finish it..

Bonk : the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science” by Mary Roach

Oh the disappointment. Mary Roach is a terrific writer. This sounds like a fascinating subject and there are some great anecdotes in the book but, overall, it’s a little dull.

Intuition” by Allegra Goodman

This about cancer researchers and nature of truth. It’s a very enjoyable, easy read yet the themes are interesting and the characters are well drawn. I would go for one of Ms. Goodman’s books again.

I have also recently re-read all of the Noel Streatfeild books I could lay my hands on when in Cork. I think Apple Bough is still my favourite.

Bread

23 October, 2013 at 11:43 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess is experimenting with yeast. It’s all going very well. Oh rejoice. Thank you Great British Bake-Off.

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The Rules of the Game

22 October, 2013 at 11:35 pm by belgianwaffle

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Transcript follows:

We the undersigned do hereby solemnly swear that we will play Hot Chocolate fairly without fear or favour and follow the rules and regulations as explained by [herself]. We promise to obey the completely random system of Coconut Crack and never complain about the (if any) prejeduices (sic) of the President Dipper. We promise to obey the Catcher System and never complain or disagree with the catching if the majority are against us.

It’s signed by herself, the boys and the childminder.

Dialogue at Dinner or Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth etc.

21 October, 2013 at 10:28 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself: Are those your feet that I’m touching under the table?
Me: Yes.
Her: Who would have thought your tiny legs would stretch so far?
Me: Look who’s talking; you’re not exactly tall.
Her: Yes but I’m elfin; you’re a hobbit.

Jumping the Shark

20 October, 2013 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I emailed herself a link to an article about Malala Yousafzai. She emailed back, type “what does the fox say” into google. It took me a couple of moments to work this out but let me spare you that mental effort: this has nothing to do with the girl from Pakistan. It leads to a youtube cult Norwegian video. Finally, I know what the young people are looking at, although the fact that I know this means that pop culture has moved on.

This is the first time I have written the expression “jumping the shark”. I see it’s been around since 1977. I guess it’s jumped the shark.

I Need Glasses

19 October, 2013 at 10:15 pm by belgianwaffle

This evening I said “Hello Puss” to the cat who was sitting on the stairs. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the axe that Michael has fashioned from tin foil for Halloween.

Scripture Analysis at Dinner

18 October, 2013 at 8:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself: Do you know which Gospel story I think is the most unfair?
Daniel: The Prodigal Son?
Me: Martha and Mary?
Her: No, no, it’s the one where the labourers work all day and those who were recruited in the morning get the same as the ones taken on at lunchtime and in the last hour.
Me: But, if it was fair to them in the morning, then why should it not be fair in the evening? What does it matter that the same price was paid to people who worked less? If they thought it was fair in the morning, then it’s still fair at sunset, surely?
Her: No, it’s not. They didn’t know he was going to be such an idiot as to pay the same to people taken on in the last hour or they wouldn’t have thought it was fair. It’s really unfair.
Me: Well, anyway, I think it’s about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven and the idea is if you truly believe and repent your sins and so on, even at the last moment, then you will get in.
Her: Well that’s not fair either and anyhow, that thing about the workers is UNFAIR.
Me: But it’s not…
Mr. Waffle [cutting across]: I think we can agree that Jesus didn’t understand industrial relations.

Not Getting Any Younger

18 October, 2013 at 12:32 am by belgianwaffle

My driving licence has just expired. I had to get a new passport photo. Compare and contrast.

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Why is my neck getting shorter?

How My Mind Works

17 October, 2013 at 8:03 pm by belgianwaffle

Colleague: Who is looking after this?
Me: B but she is in Brussels and A but she’s in Corfu.
Colleague: What’s A doing in Corfu?
Me: No, no, not Corfu, hang on, Corfu is in Greece which begins with G, no sorry she’s in Geneva.
Colleague: I pity your husband.

Conversations I Suspect Men Never Have

16 October, 2013 at 11:58 pm by belgianwaffle

Text received from a friend: See you there at 1, I will be wearing a pink jacket to celebrate the continuing fine weather.

Upon her arrival, I said, “That jacket is more fuchsia than pink.” She replied, “Yes, I know, and I was going to say fuchsia but then I wasn’t sure how to spell it and I went to google it and then I just thought this is getting ridiculous and it’s too pretentious anyway, I’ll just say pink.”

Practical Application of Science

15 October, 2013 at 11:49 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Do you know where the round table is?
My sister: The attic.
Me: Oh God, any idea where?
Her: No. The attic is like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle; the more sure you are that something is up there, the less likely you are to be able to locate it.

Glass Half Full

15 October, 2013 at 12:43 am by belgianwaffle

We are wondering about where herself should go to secondary school. At lunch the other day, I was boring a misfortunate colleague on this issue. “What a lovely problem to have” said the childless one wistfully.

First World Problems

14 October, 2013 at 11:35 pm by belgianwaffle

As the professionals say, posting has been light. I have found the past month or so demanding as I went back to work and the children went back to school.

During my first week back at work, I found myself slipping out of a meeting with important people to rescue Michael from school where he declared himself (convincingly) to be sick. Mr. Waffle, who normally does the sick child trip, was in a meeting with no phone coverage. I went to school where a surprised and delighted (and crucially, in my view, quite well) Michael greeted me with ecstasy which was rather charming. We went home. In the utility room was the corpse of a mouse which the cat had brought in for inspection. I disposed of it. Mr. Waffle came home and I hared off across town on my bike to my next meeting.

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We have a new childminder, who seems lovely, but we all have to get used to each other. And the children are still flattened from being back at school.

And then, this time of year brings heritage week (a man dressed up as Robert Boyle in the Casino Marino – excellent thanks although herself now wants a vacuum pump for Christmas); the Fringe Theatre Festival (Ashling Bea and James Walmsley – only mildly funny- and The Stoneybatter Strangler – really quite dreadful performed outdoors by a large cast with little talent and a chill wind blowing, mildly atmospheric in places); the Theatre Festival (A Feast of Bones – for children, a bit creepy but herself loved it and Sheridan’s The Critic where I struggled to stay awake for the first half but found the second half alright and the ending superb); Culture Night (where we saw a limited number of things: Tailor’s Hall, St. Audeon’s but had pizza); Open House (by now flagging, we only inspected two premises, one of them very small); and we went to the opening night of the documentary film festival where we saw “The Great Hip Hop Hoax” which was good but the interview with the Director afterwards was even better and added additional layers of context to what is already an extremely odd story; there was a fly-by (sounds more exciting than it was – lots of planes – new and old- flew up the river Liffey at quite dispersed intervals, town was jam packed and the children couldn’t be bothered to get out of the car to look); we went to the Dublin growers’ festival and got the apples from our three apple trees pressed into apple juice and possibly cider (the jury is still out on this last one); and the Princess and I went to Cork for the weekend (twice).

And I broke a molar and had to go for an unscheduled trip to the dentist.

And the boys turned 8.

And, as of today, Mr. Waffle is lame with a horribly swollen and blistered ankle. He is allergic to wasp stings and got stung yesterday. He also got stung the week before last. His parents have a wasp’s nest in the largest tree in their garden. One our children like to climb up and get stuck in.

Is it any wonder posting has been light?


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