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Archive for January, 2015

Weekend Round-Up

22 January, 2015 at 10:51 pm by belgianwaffle

On Saturday we went to an old friend’s house for lunch. We’ve lost touch a bit over the years for no reason really just continuing our busy lives. It was delightful but, regrettably, we can never have them back as their house is undoubtedly the tidiest and one of the most beautiful we have visited. I particularly admired the floors which were varnished and had no gaps between the planks. They made the builders re-lay them as “you could see the foil backing of the insulation underneath in the gaps!” As I sit here looking at the foil backing in the insulation visible in the gaps between my floorboards, I can’t help wishing that Mr. Waffle and I were more forceful people. I am often reminded of Mr. Bennett’s assessment of Jane and Bingley when I think of us:

“Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed you income.”

I am not sure about the generosity but I can vouch for exceeding our income.

After visiting our friends, we called around to the grandparents. Of late, Michael has become obsessed with getting home before dark. It is hard to be home before dark all the time in January. Michael spent his time looking reproachfully out the window which made for a not entirely restful visit.

Sunday saw the Princess up to do the first reading at mass. This was a huge relief as the second reading which she normally gets was 1 Corinthians 6:13-15,17-20. One of the unfortunate teenagers had to work her way, very gamely, through that one.

On Sunday afternoon we prodded the children out. They were not happy. We went into town to get Herself runners and wandered around Trinity a bit aimlessly. We went into the Book of Kells and the Long Room library – interest levels from boys despite being told that it was the model for the Jedi archives (or was it): zero.

It’s nice though:

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And it was all pretty empty on a late Sunday afternoon in January. Of course, we weren’t home before dark. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness.

Glamour, Excitement, Bins*

15 January, 2015 at 9:33 pm by belgianwaffle

Bin services in Dublin have been privatised and are no longer provided by the city council.

This has led to much woe, not least of it related to the truly phenomenal amount of dumping of domestic refuse in lanes around the city. Apparently the private contractors are not as willing to continue providing for rubbish collection when the punters do not pay. I happen to know that the city council will provide this service free of charge for 5 years as that is the length of time they continued to collect bins from our tenants while we lived in Brussels – happily collecting the bins while the tenants happily ignored the bills and reminders. When we terminated the lease, said farewell to the tenants and moved back to our house, the city council presented us with a steep bill for rubbish collection for the previous five years and refused to collect our bin until we paid it. Appeals to the (departed) tenants were unavailing and we ended up having to fork out a fortune.

While this did not leave me with any particular affection for the council regime, the move to private providers has been appalling for us. Greyhound, the only bin company which serviced our last house regularly forgot to collect the bins at all. Mr. Waffle had to ring them most weeks. They only began collecting your bins when you had made payments in advance. But they didn’t tell you that. It was shambolic. When we moved house we had the option of another company and we transferred with delight to Oxigen (I don’t know why they spell it that way but please don’t think I can’t spell oxygen) and all has been sweetness and light until today when they did not collect the bin. Mr. Waffle called them. “Oh sorry, you should have got a letter, we are no longer collecting from your area, we have transferred your account and your credit to City Bin.” Call to City Bin follows. They don’t do our area. Oxigen agree to mediate with City Bin to persuade them to cover us. Oxigen will do one last pick up for us. In fact, it looks like there is only one provider who will service our area. Oh excellent, we’re back with Greyhound.

The free market is not doing it for me. Total disclosure requires that I reveal that privatisation of city bin services in Cork has created no problems whatsoever. Cork is perfect, though.

*Only two of these words are relevant to the content of the post. Honestly, could this be more exciting?

From the Chalkface

14 January, 2015 at 10:18 pm by belgianwaffle

They are learning about Jupiter in the Princess’s class. Observations from the floor as reported by Herself:

Girl from the seat behind her: Oooh Jupiter, you think you’re fancy with your 63 moons.

Teacher: Jupiter is 1,300 times the volume of earth. If you put Jupiter in an enormous bath it would displace 1,300 times the amount of water that the Earth would.
Smart (yet annoying) child: Actually that’s not true as a lot of Jupiter’s volume is made up of gas.

Incidentally, though reported to me in English I assume that this is all done as Gaeilge (at least the teacher’s interventions).

Who would be a teacher?

Weekend Round Up or Next, Conversion of Russia

11 January, 2015 at 9:53 pm by belgianwaffle

We had a busy weekend. My brother stayed with us Friday and Saturday night. On Saturday morning we went to the Young Scientist exhibition. Within less than two minutes of arriving I had lost Michael and had to make a lost child announcement. It wasn’t bad: the exhibits were interesting; the exhibitors were enthusiastic (we found a neighbour’s child exhibiting, very exciting) and there were quite good shows but the troops started to get hungry and we bailed at lunchtime.

We dropped the Princess in town with her friend and then she went off to her friend’s house and didn’t reappear again until she was dropped off at 8 in the evening – there is definitely something to be said for the mobile phone as regular updates kept us abreast of these developments.

Meanwhile the boys had a friend round in the afternoon who was to stay the night. We said to the child’s parents, “We are going to 11.30 am mass and happy to take him with us or for you to collect him beforehand.” His family are committed atheists, but clearly not committed enough as his mother replied immediately that he could go to mass no problem and they would collect him later in the afternoon.

So this morning I found myself hounding out of bed to go to mass: my two sons, their friend the atheist, my daughter and my brother (who had only returned at 4 in the morning from his night of dissipation). As I shepherded my unwilling flock in the direction of the church, Mr. Waffle commented, “You have become the Irish mammy”.

Mass itself was fine, even my intro which is usually fraught with difficultly. The Princess impressed her uncle with her reading skills. The atheist friend and the boys were positively saintly. After communion, I whispered to Michael to tell his friend it was nearly over as he was unlikely to know how long it would run and I felt he might welcome an update. “Neither do I know how long it will run,” said Michael mournfully.

Mass featured renewing of our baptismal vows and a sprinkling of holy water which is not standard issue. I am pretty sure that there is a device for sprinkling holy water but our priest today chose to use a bunch of (reasonably fresh) flowers for his water sprinkling which I think is unusual. I suppose it was all odd to our atheist friend.

Afterwards I asked him what he thought of it all. “Well,” he said, “it was very boring for me because I am an atheist.” I see.

How was your own weekend?

To Improve Our Service to You

10 January, 2015 at 9:35 pm by belgianwaffle

One night I went to book a train ticket online. I went to the iarnrod eireann website. I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa which I hate with the passion of a thousand suns. Our internet security (Kaspersky) would not let me insert the relevant details in secure mode or otherwise. The train people promised terrible consequences if I gave up or left the page. At one in the morning, I gave up and left the page. Added bonus the link page you are to go to, if you are having trouble is a 404.

The next day, Mr. Waffle told me how to disable Kaspersky. I went online. I disabled the internet security. On the iarnrod eireann site I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and inserted my password. Twice. Wrong password even though I had it written down in front of me (internet security experts everywhere gasp in horror). I reset my password. It asked for the first four numbers of my bank account, the street or district where I lived when I was 10 (somewhat vague that no? Comes with the ominous advice that you had better remember your answer as it may be used as a security question in the future). I have done something wrong. I am locked out.

Ring verified by visa helpline and trouble a poor English woman who I am sure would rather be doing other things at 9.30 in the evening. Wouldn’t we all? I give my name, my bank account number and part of my online banking pin. She resets my card and tells me to continue my purchase. I go back to Iarnrod Eireann, I type in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password, my full name, I book my seat, I insert my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and reset my password and, finally, it worked.

It’s all about the positive customer experience, isn’t it?

More Dispatches from the Cultural Differences Frontier

9 January, 2015 at 7:14 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister’s friend who married the Swede was back in Cork for Christmas.

She decided to take her husband’s name. She is wrestling with Swedish bureaucracy and they have referred her request to head office.

While she was in Cork, she decided to check with at the local Garda station to see what the procedure was in Ireland. Dialogue as follows:

Her: So I want to make my name double-barrelled and add my husband’s name.
Guard (puzzled): OK.
Her: So what do I need to do?
Guard (long pause): Start using it, like.

This reminds me of when I left Belgium and went to hand my id card back to the commune.

Man in commune: Where are you moving to? I will post your documents.
Me: There’s no need, I’m moving to Ireland.
Him: But tell me your commune and I will post it for you.
Me: We don’t have communes.
Him: But where do you get your id card?
Me: We don’t have id cards.
Him: But how do the authorities know where you live?
Me: They don’t.

Collapse of stout party etc.

Everyone’s a Critic

8 January, 2015 at 7:46 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself: The 1990s was a golden age for cinema.
Me: Eh?
Her: I give you “The Parent Trap” and “The Baby-Sitters Club”. Need I say more?

Books of 2014

7 January, 2015 at 7:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Leaving aside books written by those nearly related to me, these are my top 5 books of 2014, in order of preference:

“In the Woods” by Tana French
“Dear Life” by Alice Munro
“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail
“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe
“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

2014 was a really great year for me – I read loads of books I enjoyed very much and the choice of a top five was unusually hard. More detailed reviews below, lifted from old posts and slightly updated, if you care.

“In the Woods” by Tana French

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It’s a detective story and a page turner but also very well written; quite lyrical in places without ever being dull. The author has written quite a few books and I plan to read them all. I’ve read another one since and it is just as good as the first and would have made this list only I was very tight for space.

“Dear Life” by Alice Munro

I really enjoyed this collection. I had read some of her work in the past and found it tough going but I found this collection drew me back again and again and I was putting aside other things to read it. I am not sure whether her style has changed or whether I like her better now that I am older. These short stories are all sad. They are slices of life and although things happen, that is not really the point. She is superb at drawing characters; not necessarily very nice or appealing characters but convincing ones. She writes beautifully. Well worth a read.

“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail

My kind sister-in-law gave me a present of this in the Persephone Bookss edition and I was charmed. It is a lovely novel about a young married couple in their first home. The couple are singularly ineffectual, always running out of money and live in fear of their maid whom they call “the murderess”. All their crises, however, are minor ones and happily resolved.

I discovered on reading the introduction that Angela Thirkell, whose books I like very much, was the older and much loathed sister of Denis Mackail. Apparently she was by far the stronger personality of the two. I can see that as there is a sweetness in “Greenery Street” which is entirely absent in Thirkell’s work.

“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe

This is a very entertaining read but might possibly be even more entertaining, if you were intimate with literary London in the 1980s. Unacquainted as I am with London literary figures, it still made me laugh. Also, Alan Bennett is a lovely man.

“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

The conceit of this novel, which was a best seller in Germany, is that Hitler wakes up in modern day Germany. Everyone things that he is a Hitler impersonator and he becomes a media darling. It has some very clever and amusing pieces like when Hitler tries to set up an email account (“Adolf Hitler” – No that’s gone – “Reichstag” -That’s gone too – and so on) and when he visits the neo-nazi offices. Quite daring overall, as well as funny, and interesting.

Epiphany

6 January, 2015 at 11:59 pm by belgianwaffle

I always thought this was the last day of Christmas but the priest said firmly at mass last Sunday that it is not over until next Sunday. I am doubtful but I suppose he knows best. It seems sad that by the time Epiphany or Women’s Christmas rolls around everyone is back at school and work and it is grim January at it worst. When I was small, I think it was a holiday but not any more. Still, this evening as I came up the road in the dark, I saw that all the neighbours have their trees up and lit and they looked beautiful.

This evening Mr. Waffle made dinner and cleaned up as it was Women’s Christmas (unfair when he also helped to wash up after dinner on Christmas Day but there you are, he is paying for the sins of the patriarchy). He and I and the boys played 110 in which Michael channelled my mother and overbid outrageously. Like his Nana, he is lucky though and has a good feeling for cards so he survived. So far have I gone from my roots that I had to text my father to double check whether the rules allowed for reneging on the ace of trumps (he thinks not). I was surprised how enjoyable it was. We played in two pairs as my poor first born was the picture of misery from a nasty cold and not up to the effort of cards. After the boys went to bed, she and I watched the end of singalong “Sound of Music” later which we both enjoyed considerably more than her father.

So that’s the end of Christmas for me whatever the parish priest may feel. Tomorrow we say goodbye to our tree. Alas.

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Glendalough

5 January, 2015 at 6:02 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle and I eased ourselves into January by going for a walk in Glendalough today. It was pretty rainy but pleasant all the same.

I have seen it look like this in sunshine; to be honest, that is better. I felt for the American tourists who were unlikely to be back.

The visitors to the toilets have strong views about grammar. Glendalough: attracting pedants from all nations.

More Excellent Parenting

4 January, 2015 at 7:11 pm by belgianwaffle

When we are in Cork, rules about electronic devices go out the window and, basically, if you can get to it, you can play it.

One night I brushed past Daniel who was on his way to bed. “Ow, ow,” he said. “What’s wrong, I barely touched you” I said. “Oh it’s nothing,” he replied,” just a thing I call ‘gamer’s thumb’.”

It’s All Going So Well

3 January, 2015 at 7:11 pm by belgianwaffle

We had a bit of a fractious lunch today and Michael went around spreading oil on troubled waters, effecting reconciliation between the warring parties. We then had the following conversation.

Me: Michael, you are a great peacemaker; ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.’
Michael: Oh, well that’s not much good to me as I don’t believe in God.
Mr. Waffle: Well, “Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth.” So that’s better.
Michael: Hmm.
Me (curiously): Why don’t you believe in God?
Him: It’s just impossible. [Pause] In fact, I think that the gods of the ancient world are actually much more believable.

Maybe he’ll grow into it.

Cork

2 January, 2015 at 4:16 pm by belgianwaffle

We spent a couple of days in Cork. The weather was surprisingly good but much of our time was spent indoors exploring the delights of various electronic devices.

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We did get out for our traditional trip to the observatory and went for a short walk nearby. The view looks idyllic but in fact the Cork ring road is only a stone’s throw away and the noise is quite extraordinary.

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We also saw a large rat which was very exciting and quite daring for the rat given the number of dogs being walked nearby.

My family are always very generous with Christmas presents and the children always look forward keenly to their Cork haul. This year it included, very successfully and at minimal cost compared to the overall investment, a packet of Pringles each. Here you see my brother handing over €20 each to his nephews, jaded from the effort of ripping off paper from so many parcels.

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This is what the pile of presents looked like before they began their work:

I think that a little commentary is needed on the tree. This is the tree which my parents bought the first Christmas they were married. I doubt whether it was particularly attractive in 1967 but now as it approaches 50, it has lost almost all of its sparkle. The spirited campaign which I waged as a teenager to have it replaced by a real tree was utterly unavailing. Now my mother says, “We were green before anyone else.” I am still struggling to make my peace with it.

My sister bought the boys the Skyrim guidebook. She says it is the largest non-academic title she has ever purchased. Indeed, when I saw it first, I thought for a moment that it was a telephone directory. They love it. Even though they do not own Skyrim the game and we will not be purchasing it in the near future as it is certified 18s.

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We also went for our obligatory walk up to the Lough and I recollected how my great Uncle Dan used to skate on the Lough (skates still in my parents’ attic) and the children were filled with hope that it might be frozen but it wasn’t. It was quite mild actually allowing punters to sail their motorised vessels, “like in the Tuilleries” as I said to the children.

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We also went on the big wheel which would have been fantastic if only the boys hadn’t kept twirling it around and making me feel sick as a dog. Note the Princess’s cowl which she knitted herself.

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Returned to Dublin laden with presents and stuffed to the gills.

Happy New Year

1 January, 2015 at 3:45 pm by belgianwaffle

My mother always says that the people you end up being friends with are the parents of your children’s friends. So this year we spent New Year’s Eve at the house of people whose daughters are friends of our children from school.

The mother is from South Africa which led to the following mortifying exchange.
Her: Last year, Sam and Phoebe played Chase until 1 in the morning.
Me [suspecting some new video game]: What the hell is Chase?
Everyone else: Chess.

Accent difficulties notwithstanding we had a lovely time. We had lots in common with the other guests as our children mostly attend the same school. Other advantages included being able to actually bring the children who had a great time until Michael became too tired to take any more and his siblings wanted to stay. As we had only driven up from Cork that morning and it was about 11 we just went home. The children fell into their beds. I went in to say good night and happy new year to each of them. The last words my daughter said to me in 2014 were, “There is NO WAY I am going on a walk tomorrow. Close the door after you.” How well she knows me. The weather conspired in her favour as it has been lashing all day and we haven’t left the house.

Also I have new year’s resolutions. Firstly, we intend to entertain more. I have decided that we will have people to dinner the third Saturday of every month. Let’s see how that goes. That was about it until the other day. My mother and I had the following exchange:

Her: Your brother Daniel is a good dresser, isn’t he?
Me: He is, particularly for an Irish person where the competition is so limited.
Her: And your sister has really smartened up and dresses quite nicely now.
Me: Yes.
Her: It’s a pity you don’t dress yourself up a bit more. There was a time there when you lived in Brussels that you were quite smart but it seems to have gone downhill.

Frank confession, my entire wardrobe including work and casual clothes includes: 1 suit, 5 skirts, 4 long sleeved tops [+1 my sister gave me for Christmas because she felt I was desperate], 1 short sleeved top, 4 pairs of trousers, 2 cardigans, 1 jumper [Christmas present from sister, see above] 2 jackets, 3 dresses, one fleece and two pairs of holey track suit bottoms. Laid out like that it doesn’t look too bad but it really is. This is not a capsule wardrobe with each piece carefully chosen, immaculately cut and working flawlessly with everything else. It’s what hasn’t worn out [and frankly that is arguable for at least two of the tops]. I’m not sure why but I’ve just lost interest in buying clothes. I bought a nice winter coat in September and a pair of cotton trousers in France in the summer but that’s it for clothes purchases in 2014. It’s not like I sublimate my purchasing needs by buying things for the children. My brother and sister are always buying them clothes so that I don’t have to.

So my second new year’s resolution is to try to improve my wardrobe. My parents gave me a large cheque for Christmas and I intend to begin my labours tomorrow by spending it in the sales. More tops are a priority; perhaps some that need to be ironed. I polished my boots today as well. I am going to pin things to wear on pinterest. Or maybe not. I understand small steps are essential.

Tell me, what are your own new year’s resolutions?


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