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Gloom of the Exile or Slightly Self-Indulgent Reflections

31 May, 2018 at 7:50 pm by belgianwaffle

When I was growing up in Cork, I always wanted to leave. It seemed too small, too cramped, too confined. It was full of people I knew, people my parents and siblings knew and you could not go anywhere without being observed. Everyone cared about your business. Also, I grew up during a time when all Irish university graduates were expected to emigrate at least temporarily, often permanently. My own parents both emigrated and returned to Ireland eventually. In my 20s, time spent living in Italy and Belgium, confirmed me in my belief that the best fun was to be had away from Cork. When I moved back to Ireland in my late 20s, I moved to Dublin. I liked Dublin very much, I still do. Among its many virtues is that it’s within striking distance of Cork. Also, Dubliners are not picky, everyone is assimilated. In Cork, my mother who came from a neighbouring county and whose own parents were actually from Co Cork, has been living in Cork for more than 50 years and she is still considered a blow in.

When we moved back from Brussels, we did consider moving to Cork. Mr Waffle (a Dubliner) proposed it. I considered it but a number of factors militated against that choice. Firstly, I had a job in Dublin but no job in Cork. I suppose Mr. Waffle could have started on his own with no money in Cork as easily as he did in Dublin but somehow the prospect of no money at all was unalluring. I remind myself of these things when I miss Cork.

But yet, when my oldest friend, another Corkonian, said to me recently, “I always feel sad when I leave Cork.” I knew exactly what she meant. Of course, this is the loveliest time of year in Cork and so it is at its most missable. I was cycling around the city on one of my weekends at home recently and aside from enjoying the far superior cycling infrastructure which Cork offers, I was struck again by how attractive the city is. While Dublin turns its back on the river, choking the quays with heavy traffic in both directions, Cork is practically all river and while there is plenty of traffic, there’s a lot of the city where you can enjoy the river.

UntitledI feel that I know Cork in a way that I will never know Dublin.

I know the schools and I have feelings about them. When I was an apprentice solicitor, myself and a friend from school were having a cup of tea and a bunch of Scoil Mhuire girls came in and she hissed at me, “Look at them, they’re in their school uniforms and we’re trainee solicitors and they’re still better dressed and better made-up than us.” I know where I would have sent the boys to school – they would have gone to the primary school where my cousin was the principal; they would have gone to the secondary school that their uncle and grandfather went to. I would have considered a range of options for herself in relation to all of which I would have had very firm views; I wouldn’t have sent her to my old school and probably not to Scoil Mhuire either. In Dublin, meh, who knows really? They have Dominicans and Loreto nuns, we had Presentation and Mercy.

I know College (other people called it UCC or the College but as my parents both worked there we were more intimate with it); until I was 11, I lived on campus and I have spent my life walking in and out of there. I spent endless hours playing bad tennis in the lower grounds and lost innumerable balls forever in the river over the fence.

I would have wanted to buy one of the houses up in Sunday’s Well where the gardens slope down to the river; maybe we couldn’t have afforded that but maybe we could have bought a house in town, on the North Mall, a persistently underrated street by the river in the centre of town. I know where to look and what each location is like with a degree of intimacy and certainty that I will never know in Dublin.

My father’s family were all from Cork. I know the place where my grandfather was shot at by pro-Treaty forces (or the State as we now think of it) during the civil war (they missed); I know the house where he died in the 1930s. I cycle past it regularly. Between us, my father and I have been cycling along the Western Road for nearly 100 years (at 93, I concede he has done a lot of the heavy lifting on that). I know Murphy’s brewery where my great grandfather and great uncle worked as clerks. I know the South Infirmary where another great-grandfather worked as a caretaker and my father put in time as a junior doctor. I know the house that my great uncle Dan built in the suburbs (containing Archangel pine imported from Russia) when he won a (small) lottery. I know the Lough where he skated when it froze over in the 20s (skates still in my parents’ attic awaiting the next great freeze along with Uncle Dan’s gas mask from the Emergency, just in case we need it). I know that my grandmother ran a newsagent which also sold cigars called “The Cuban House” up on MacCurtain Street (and I think someone very unlikely like the Duke of Westminster had the ground rent on that one, you don’t get to be unbelievably rich without having interests everywhere, I suppose). I know the two hotels that were designed by architect cousins (a little undistinguished perhaps – maybe I am bitter because when my mother asked one of them about her extension, he said it was “OK, if you want a bowling alley” – it was long and narrow and he was ultimately right about how dark the middle room would be). I know the stained glass window that my grandfather played in an exhibition hurling match to fund.

UntitledI know who the merchant princes are, the solicitors on the Mall, their families, their connections. I remember the lovely rather glamourous lady who was one of the Roches of Roches Stores a friend of my parents who had painted nails and smoked a cigarette in a cigarette holder and who on one, never to be forgotten, Christmas Day gave me a present of a Sindy doll – my third that day. My mother wanted to give one or even two back to the shop but I staunchly resisted and hung on to them all.

Look, I knew everyone, I knew where I belonged, I knew the city like I knew myself. I often think now I threw that all over for Dublin, for Brussels and for anonymity and adventure. It was a bargain that was well worthwhile in my 20s and 30s but now that I am in my late 40s, I am feeling something perilously close to regret. I think it is probable that Mr. Waffle and I have had more success at work than we would have had in Cork and probably more interesting work too. On the other hand, work isn’t everything and Dublin swallows up money in a way that Cork is less inclined to. My children are all Dublin children. Even if I moved to Cork in the morning, their identity, their loyalties, their sense of home and who they are would all be bound up with Dublin. On the other hand, Mr. Waffle would always have been a blow-in until the day he died and all of my Cork credentials would not have dislodged that. But I would have been near my own family and I can’t help feeling that the pace of our lives might be a little less frenetic.

With the benefit of distance and middle age I feel a permanent small sadness that I do not live where I am from.

To Dust We Will All Return

30 May, 2018 at 7:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle’s aunt died a couple of weeks ago; she had been ill for a while and it fell into the category of merciful release, I think. We brought the children to the removal and I was surprised that Daniel was quite upset. Of course, I should have realised that she was the first person my children know who has died. I had also forgotten that it would be the first time that they would see a dead body and I think Daniel, in particular, got quite a shock. With my constant funeral going, at this stage, I feel barely a week passes without my seeing an embalmed and jaundiced corpse so, I perhaps underestimated the likely impact.

The funeral was small but Mr. Waffle’s cousin read a nice eulogy and over the lunch afterwards, Mr. Waffle was rather pleased to meet an old schoolmate of his aunt’s who was able to tell him what she was like when she was young. His aunt, who was somewhat eccentric, had planned her own funeral (many years ago, memorably, she rang Mr. Waffle while he was shopping with the children in Tesco to discuss her choice of coffin) and, to be fair, it seems a pretty good idea as the service really was very nice. She was very Catholic indeed so, if you are of that persuasion, do say a prayer for her.

Brace Yourself

29 May, 2018 at 7:13 pm by belgianwaffle

Herself got braces last Friday. I am quite sad. She had this adorable snaggle tooth that I loved but I think it probably has to go before she grows up. I blame the Americans and their obsession with dentistry. And also myself.

The Pain Quotidien has opened in Dublin (be still my beating heart) and we went on Saturday morning but her poor mouth was so sore that she really couldn’t eat anything. Oh dear.

Papal Visit

28 May, 2018 at 7:12 pm by belgianwaffle

The Pope is coming to Dublin in August. Herself is recording a song for schools in the Dublin diocese (to learn, to sing together, who knows really? We just have to sign the consent forms) and the school chaplain said she might be able to meet the Pope. There was a time when we thought that that might not work as we would be on holidays but it looks like he has arranged his schedule to meet our needs. I was very surprised that she was keen to meet him but she seems to be enthused at the prospect. A bit unclear what “meet” means in this context, but I will keep you appraised of the details. I know, you’re on the edge of your seat.

“Not free merely, but Gaelic”

27 May, 2018 at 7:11 pm by belgianwaffle

In pursuit of further Irish excellence, the boys went to the Donegal Gaeltacht for three days from Monday to Wednesday with the school. I was a bit worried that they might not have enjoyed it but it all went swimmingly. There were lots of pictures on the school’s facebook page apparently but since I have deleted facebook, I will never know. I’m sorry I will miss the one of Michael on the beach, coat on and hood up standing beside his classmate in her togs.

Apparently they had a disco one night. I asked Daniel whether they got dressed up. He said, “The girls all wore make up and had their hair done and the boys all wore tracksuits; in fact, I wondered whether I was overdressed in my jeans.” Who would be a teenage girl?

Weekends Rounded Up

26 May, 2018 at 3:36 pm by belgianwaffle

The bank holiday weekend is a while ago now but I know you are keenly awaiting an update from me. Oh yes you are. Saturday was unremarkable but on Sunday, which was a beautiful, beautiful day, my poor sons spent the day in the art house cinema judging the young audience award for three films (one Finnish, one Italian and one French-Senegalese co-production – all a bit worthy, I think). Herself had plans with friends so Mr. Waffle and I daringly went out for a walk for the day in the Wicklow hills. The weather was really beautiful and we got a little bit burnt but it was delightful. The thrill. If 15 year old me knew that I was describing a walk as a thrill, she would be utterly appalled.

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On Monday, we went out to visit Mr. Waffle’s parents leaving herself at home to study for the Junior certificate (state exams at 15 – a taste of the fear that is to come in 3 years when she sits her final school exams). Later that afternoon, Mr. Waffle and I went up to Glasnevin cemetery to investigate the newly reopened Daniel O’Connell round tower. It’s only just reopened and currently only open from 1-3, given that it was 4.45 that was quite annoying.

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However, we had a soothing middle aged walk around the cemetery and the botanic gardens followed by a cup of tea so not too bad. They have tea rooms in the cemetery but I feel there is something a little disturbing about that so tea elsewhere. We had a pleasant evening in the garden where the boys managed to lose 4 tennis balls to various neighbouring gardens and one landed in the middle of the dinner table (to clarify, outside). I am a martyr to my sons’ entertainment.

The weekend before last, Mr. Waffle and I again went off together and visited Charleville House – we offered to bring the children with us but it was an offer that they were resolute in declining. It’s a big house in Co. Wicklow that is owned by a property developer and opened up to the public at various times of the year for tax break reasons. I wasn’t hoping for great things but it was actually very enjoyable. Firstly, we had the place to ourselves which is always good. We explored the grounds in a mild way. I have reached the age where I find grounds delightful. Four rooms in the house are open to visitors: the hall, the dining room, the music room and a drawing room. There is a really lovely collection of art and furniture. We had the ministrations of two guides entirely to ourselves and could ask questions and look at things for as long as we liked (honestly, the tax break must be terrific because there is no way that this enterprise is turning a profit based on the visitor to guide ratio). I particularly liked a John Lavery picture of the neighbouring Viscountess who was an interesting character in her own right. Highly recommended. I couldn’t face asking to take pictures indoors but here are some pictures of the grounds. Well worth a visit.

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Also, I bought, second hand fire irons. I have been spending my evenings since floating in a cloud of brasso fumes. Idiotically, failed to notice on purchase that bargain basement price may have been due to the fact that there was no shovel. Alas. Photo of work in progress.

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Also that weekend, I has my first spice bag. I think that this is a Dublin only delicacy. It’s chips and chicken strips in batter mixed with spices and chillies. I found it quite spicy myself but I was glad to have sampled the cultural phenomenon. Daniel made a spice bag in home economics on Monday so it is clearly part of the mainstream here. Are people outside Dublin aware of this particular thing or is it, like the deep fried Mars Bar, a delicacy only available in a particular jurisdiction?

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On Sunday I made the boys and Mr. Waffle go for a cycle along the sea front which was moderately successful. As an incentive measure, we had chips from Beshoff’s at the end of our cycle ride and before heading back. Take away chips on Friday and Sunday: truly exceptional parenting.

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Last weekend I went to a work dinner in Kerry on Friday night, took the train to Cork on Saturday morning and came back to Dublin on Saturday night. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it. Although, I must say, the view from my hotel bedroom in Killarney was lovely.

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I did get to go for a lovely lunch with my sister in this convent in Cork which has been repurposed as the Nano* Nagle centre and the UCC school of architecture.

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On Sunday, I forced everyone to walk from Bray to Greystones along the coast. Suffice it to say that it was not a success and all the children were quite cross with me, though no one was quite as cross as Michael who pointed out that it was yet another failed outing on my part and then asked when was I ever going to stop. A low point was finding out that the Dart wasn’t running and we were going to have to get a bus back from Greystones to where our car was parked in Bray. In my defence, I would say that the rain held off for much of the walk.

Actual enthusiastic little faces filled with joy:
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*Real name Hanora. My own granny was called Hanora but I can really see why it’s gone out of fashion and nickname versions were so popular. Granny was always known as Nina. If your name is Hanora, I’m sorry. Not as bad as Tanora (popular fizzy drink in Cork, not normally a girl’s name but I saw one year in the Holly Bough that a grief stricken Cork exile had gone for that for his daughter).

Tulips

15 May, 2018 at 8:39 pm by belgianwaffle

The Dutch Mama gave us tulips from Schipol airport when she came to stay with us a couple of months ago. I planted them which, frankly, is where I often fall down in reaping the rewards of botanical presents. They blossomed for a couple of weeks in April/May and I sat on the front steps almost every evening looking at them. And they should be back next year. Hurrah for middle age. This picture goes a little way towards conveying the delightfulness of my tulip crop.

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This is the Maiden

14 May, 2018 at 8:32 pm by belgianwaffle

Me – Looking into the distance thinking about nothing in particular.
Michael: Are you sad, Mama?
Me (snapping out of it): No not at all, why?
Him: It’s just your neutral face looks forlorn. [Yes, forlorn, that is the exact word he used].

Me – Celebrating summer by wearing new shorts.
Daniel (definitely most fashion conscious child): Mum, what are you wearing?
Me (nervously): Just new shorts, do you like them?
Him (kindly): It’s just that I’m not used to seeing your knees.

Machiavellian

13 May, 2018 at 1:27 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is reading “The Prince”. He says that he isn’t really learning anything he doesn’t know already but it’s nice to have it set out so succinctly.

His sister sang solo in a Dublin archdiocesan choral extravaganza (very proud) and we all went along to hear her perform. Michael appears not to have been entirely spellbound, I saw he brought Machiavelli for company. Why would he be listening to choral music when he could be learning how to run a renaissance kingdom? He’s already given me some very good advice on mercenaries (bad) and allies (should be smaller and weaker so that they have to be really organised to gang up and defeat you).

You know, his teacher in third class said to me, “Michael will do amazing things.” “Amazingly good or amazingly bad?” I asked. “That remains to be seen,” said the teacher.

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Handy

1 May, 2018 at 10:16 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is doing woodwork at school. I didn’t think that he would like it but he does. They made a wooden plane and it is very impressive. He says it would be better if he hadn’t had to use wood glue and the pieces fitted perfectly but it looks pretty good to me.

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