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31 Years of Learning

November 30th, 2017

I was out of school 30 years last summer. Mr. Waffle went to a school dinner earlier in the year and it brought this significant milestone to mind. I thought I would record what I have learnt since leaving school.

1986 – After a certain number of exams; nobody cares any more (reflection caused by my entire family going off on holidays, leaving me to sit the matric while staying at home alone). How to talk to boys (college was mixed; school was not).
1987 – Just because contact hours in university are few, this does not mean that all of the time not in lectures should be spent off enjoying yourself. How to speak Italian. How to touch type. Some law.
1988 – Au pairing is quite exhausting (good lesson there for later if only I had really taken it to heart). More Italian. Slightly more law.
1989 – Why you should get a professional photo of your graduation. Peak Italian. More law.
1990 – Just because you can’t get a job, another degree is not necessarily the ideal solution to your problems. Peak law.
1991 – How to use a dictaphone. How to discover that being a solicitor is not for you.
1992 – Rudimentary Dublin geography. Little did I know how useful that would prove to me later.
1993 – How to ride a moped in Rome. How to share a house with people from lots of different countries. How to make yeast bread with milk.
1994 – How to party. Peak party year. Basic EU bureaucracy.
1995 – How to speak and write good French. Peak French year.
1996 – How to live on air. How to share a house with a house proud man. How to speak very basic Serbo-Croat.
1997 – How to live by the seaside.
1998 – Advanced EU bureaucracy. How to live alone. How to finally cast aside the shackles of a legal career.
1999 – How to meet a husband.
2000 – How to move country when you have possessions. Challenging. How to set up a book club (still going, thanks for asking).
2001 – The importance of booking a good wedding photographer (learnt the hard way). How to organise a wedding in three months. How to get a diploma in Art History.
2002 – How to pretend to own a house in Ranelagh when, sadly, you do not. How to buy a house.
2003 – That your friends will all get married at the same time. How to have a baby in Belgium. How to mind a baby and travel to two weddings in Italy, two weddings in Ireland and one in France with a small baby in tow. How to blog.
2004 – How to job hunt in Belgium. Peak job-hunting.
2005 – How to have twins.
2006 – How to work full time with three children under 3.
2007 – How to live without sleeping. How to travel to America with three children under 5.
2008 – How to move country with many possessions and 3 children. Challenging.
2009 – How to survive with one new business, one income, a paycut, creche fees and a childminder and also, the collapse of the economy. Challenging. How to own a cat as a grown-up.
2010 – How to garden. How to have 3 children in primary school.
2011 – How to change jobs unexpectedly. How to use a smartphone.
2012 – How to househunt in a depressed market. How to deal with mortgage brokers.
2013 – How to move house in Dublin. Less challenging than changing country. How to pass time in hospital with an elderly relative.
2014 – How to have a child in secondary school.
2015 – That you have drifted apart from many of the people you invited to your wedding but you are still friends with your bookclub.
2016 – How to do a different job. That the only new friends it appears you will ever make are the parents of your children’s friends. That no matter how much you pray for them to be discriminating in that regard, your children will not be swayed by your concerns.
2017 – How to cope with cancer in the family. How to mildly regret that some 20 years previously you cast aside the shackles of a legal career. How to appreciate what you’ve got.

And we have come to the end of another NaBloPoMo. Thank you and goodnight.

First World Catastrophe

November 29th, 2017

I spent nearly 5 years choosing a sofa. It was delivered today and it is unutterably hideous. I want to cry. I think we’ll have to get rid of it. It’s much too big. And the smaller one I chose to go with it is disproportionate and ugly. I would show you photos but I haven’t the heart to take any. My affliction is not rendered the easier by being utterly ridiculous.

The Struggle Continues

November 28th, 2017

I have recently covered how ideologically opposed I am to Kildare Village (outlet shopping) in principle while being strangely attracted to it in practice.

When we went down to the wedding in East Cork a couple of weeks ago, we stopped off for breakfast in the Pain Quotidien in Kildare Village which I loved. Mr. Waffle was distinctly less impressed as he sipped from his bowl of weak tea. “It’s all very well abroad,” said he, “but I am in Kildare and it seems outrageous to be drinking this kind of tea when I know that everywhere around me perfectly good, normal tea is available.” I left him to brood over his tea while I went for a quick run around the shops. I bought some Penhaligon Bluebell perfume which my father used to bring from London to my mother. When I met my sister that evening, I said, “Smell this!” and held up my wrist and she instantly recognised it. I’m wearing it all the time now although I do seem to be mildly allergic to it and it makes me sneeze which I concede is sub-optimal. Like my relationship with Kildare Village.

Did I mention it has a Villeroy and Bosch shop? I love Villeroy and Bosch.

#MeToo

November 27th, 2017

We had a good old chat about harassment at my all female bookclub recently. We all brought out the usual horror stories for each other’s delectation – things which would appal us now but which we put up with, almost unthinkingly, when we were in our 20s (although I do remember complaining to my friend D about one particular colleague and her advising me to say, “If you touch me again, you pull back a bloody stump”, so I suppose, I wasn’t quite putting up unthinkingly and, no, I didn’t say anything, just stayed out of his way).

As we moved towards the close of the conversation, I said, “It’s really much better now, I think.” My sapient friend, D (she of the “bloody stump” suggestion), observed, “No, it’s not, it just doesn’t happen to us any more because we’re too old and too senior.” Now that is a depressing thought.

Weekend Round Up

November 26th, 2017

Saturday morning Michael had a storytelling thing at the school. He was quite looking forward to it but it didn’t totally live up to expectations. Daniel’s GAA match was cancelled (oh rejoice!). Michael went to drama in the afternoon – how he loves drama class – and I did some mild Christmas shopping while waiting for him to emerge. I know, I know, it’s only November. Herself, briefly emerged from her room for mealtimes but basically stayed put recovering from the rigours of the week.

This morning we cycled to 10 o’clock mass in Irish (basically realising Dev’s vision for Ireland). I see that they are making the extraordinarily named Solanus Casey blessed. I think that’s step one on the road to canonisation. I was already conscious of this from my contacts within the religious world (hi Mark) but my contact, being American, neglected to mention that Solanus’s parents were Irish. An essential point, you would have thought. Also adding to the mystery of his first name. Was he perhaps Solanus in religion and christened something less exciting? The mystery continues.

We then cycled into town (freezing) to see Fanny’s Journey as part of the French film festival. It’s about a group of young Jewish children trying to flee into Switzerland from France. I cried from frame 1 and to the end of the film. Then we split forces and the Princess and I after a brief stop for sustenance went to buy her trousers for school. As she points out to me, she has been campaigning for school trousers since third class. I’m not quite sure why I resisted for so long but I did. I think in my oppressive, conservative, internalising the patriarchy way, I quite liked the school skirt. Anyhow, I have now accepted the error of my ways. Really.

When we got home she took herself off upstairs to do homework. Daniel was the only child even slightly willing to go into town to check out the organised Christmas fun at Smithfield. It was freezing. I bought Daniel a migraine inducing coloured light thing which sang a tinny jingle bells as his reward for accompanying me. We queued for 40 minutes (timed on my phone) for crêpes. That was a low point. Post-crêpe it was all mildly appealing, far too few stalls and an arctic east wind but loads of entranced kids running around and people on stilts and local kids singing in a choir. There was also a chance to hold the Sam Maguire Cup which Dublin seems to be consistently winning these days.

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Still we were glad enough to leave and get back home to the fire. Final weekend items – Daniel lost a tooth and my brother was in Dublin for the rugby match and did not visit his loving family, my wrath will be terrible etc. And how was your own weekend?

A Funeral

November 25th, 2017

My uncle died on Saturday night, October 21. It was his 83rd birthday. He had a constitution of iron but he used it all up. My mother is now the only one of her three siblings still alive. My uncle died after a long illness and my mother has been sick for a long time herself. I think that, although it was a terrible shock, the way their eldest brother died, suddenly at 76, might have been a better way to go.

As is often the case in middle age, the only time I see extended family is at funerals. I really miss having my parents around at these events and I am struck by how many of my cousins still have parents who are hale and hearty. I hope I have inherited these genes. In the coffin, I was surprised how like my mother, my uncle looked in profile. When he was alive, I never saw the similarity. He was so frail by the time he died that his bone structure stood out in a way that it hadn’t when he was alive. My cousins and I reminisced about how, as children, he and my mother had loathed each other. Although they got on fine as grown-ups, they vied for their parents and older brother’s attention as children. My uncle was very ill as a small child. The wisdom of the time was that his parents shouldn’t visit him in hospital. When he went in he was walking and talking and when he was discharged, he couldn’t walk or talk. It must have been terrifying for my grandparents. He was probably a bit spoilt in consequence. My mother was very bitter about the time he threw her china doll’s tea set out the window. I think this was after the return from hospital. He never settled in school and ran away from boarding school a number of times until my grandparents gave up the effort and let him leave early. My mother, on the other hand, loved school and grew up to become an academic. They were very different people but as adults they were loyal and kind to each other.

At the removal, the decade of the rosary in the funeral home (once my uncle’s and now my cousin’s – he was burying his father in a particularly literal way) was led by a priest with a smart English accent. I was astounded, has it come to this in the Catholic church in Ireland that we have to import English priests to work in congregations in small towns in Co. Limerick? As we walked over to the church, I asked my mother’s elderly (but very sprightly) cousin Maurice whether the priest was English. He’s a bit hard of hearing (aren’t we all?) so I had to repeat my question more loudly. Two local men who were walking just in front of us turned around to fill me in. “No, he’s not English, he’s from Limerick. He did spend some time in England alright,” said one. His companion added, “He sounds so posh that I was once there when he was saying mass and the fella beside me asked whether he was a Protestant.” I think you probably need to be Irish to find this hilarious rather than baffling but Maurice and I were both in fits.

I spent a while with Maurice, he’s a farmer and when I was a child he would often turn up at our house with dead pheasants which my mother would hang in the attic before plucking. I think this is not a feature of most urban childhoods. My mother used to put on her white lab coat to pluck them and once my sister’s friend, the vegetarian (at a time when it was unusual), turned up at our house and had the door answered by my mother in her lab coat covered in blood and feathers which, I think, was not a great experience for her. Maurice has been finding out about family history – he’s done a lot of research. Apparently the man who wrote this book is some class of relative. Sadly, I see that “Kiskeam versus The Empire” is no longer in print. I’ve never been to Kiskeam myself but I understand it’s quite small. According to Maurice, when the author was asked about the ultimate fate of tiny Kiskeam he announced, “Well, Kiskeam is still here and there’s no sign of the Empire”. Mildly interested in getting a hold of this and having a read.

I asked the relatives from Ballyhea who were there whether Ballyhea continued to say no. Apparently they had just started back the previous day. News. I discovered (to my mild outrage) that my beloved grandmother was godmother to one of my second cousins as well as me.

The next day, my sister and I drove back up from Cork to the funeral. We picked up a hitch hiker on the way. He was an unemployed painter and we asked for advice on painting. He was a bit monosyllabic but he became really animated when he talked about never using gloss paint outside. I give you this tip for nothing.

I texted Mr. Waffle to see how the morning had gone at home. “Poorly,” he replied. When I rang him it transpired that the children had headed off on their bikes and he noticed that Michael had left his lunch behind. He picked up the lunch and drove after them in the car. He caught up with them about half way in. He was quite annoyed. Not as annoyed as he was when he got home and discovered that Daniel too had forgotten his lunch and he had to get back into the car and drive the whole way into school with it. Suffice it to say, they were missing me.

The funeral mass was in the church where my parents got married. There were many elderly relatives reminiscing fondly. My mother’s cousin’s husband, Pat, recalled her arriving to the church just as the clock was chiming the hour. “It must have been the last time she was on time for anything,” I said. My father subsequently confirmed both parts of this story. A very glamourous cousin of my aunt’s said that she had known my father when he was a junior doctor and she was a trainee nurse. She was an extremely healthy looking 80 odd and she introduced me to her 95 year old aunt, who appeared to be in perfect health, although she did have a stick. Sadly, these are not blood relatives of mine so these genes are not available to me. The cousin was very nice about my mother who she knew when they were both young – “And, Anne,” she confided, “she was so clever, we all thought she was fantastic.” This was a pleasant counterpoint to Pat who was busily listing all of my blood relatives with dementia (he only married in, he’s as sharp as ever). After a while he said gleefully, “Do you think it’s hereditary?” Despite the impression this may give, he is actually a lovely man and married to one of my mother’s favourite cousins; it’s just that as an elderly relative he has dispensed with the need for restraint, I’m quite looking forward to this phase myself. He also did a recording of my parents’ wedding which I have never seen but my sister thinks she might know where it is.

Then off to the graveyard where we buried my uncle beside his son who died last year, his mother (1984), father (1969) and brother (2008). Notwithstanding the fact that he could be a difficult man, my aunt adored him and she was devastated by his death. Burying him and her son within the year is horrendous. I genuinely think she is a candidate for sainthood. I have never met a more-selfless person. She cared for my uncle at home for years when he was suffering from dementia and bedridden. Caring for other people and religion are the twin pillars of her world. Although she has lots of children and grandchildren, I have never seen her as lost as she was at my uncle’s funeral. If you are a praying kind of person, I am sure your prayers would be welcome.

My brother assures me I am paranoid but I remain convinced that my other aunt still has it in for me for not attending her husband’s funeral. It was in 2008 and the day we were moving home from Brussels; he died suddenly in hospital. My other cousin flew home from New York for it. They still talk about that. My other aunt pointed out my other uncle’s newly engraved headstone when we were in the graveyard. My assurance that he was my favourite uncle (he was) I feel sure availed me not at all. Again, to reiterate, my brother thinks I’m completely paranoid.

I’m going to become one of these people who love going to funerals, it’s the next step in my journey through middle age.

More Fun with Logistics

November 24th, 2017

So, last night I got back from exotic Sligo quite late. This morning, the Princess begged for a lift on the grounds that if she had to cycle she would be late and it was freezing. I acceded on the grounds that I have been away a lot and I still feel guilty about sending them out in the lashing rain when I had the car in Kilkenny earlier in the week. I said to the boys that I would give them a lift home from games club which is on in school after their Friday half day. End times can vary so I asked them to text me when it was over and I would come and get them.

A minor crisis at work meant that I didn’t get out of the office until about 2.30. I rang the boys a couple of times as I cycled home but no answer. Then Daniel called me and as I answered my phone died. I rang Mr. Waffle from my work phone (he got his number so long ago that I know it off by heart unlike any of the children’s numbers) and asked him to ring Daniel and tell him I was on my way. When I finally got home, I tied my bike to the railings in the front and leapt into the car to drive to the school. At the traffic lights, about half way there, there was a banging on my window and there was a tearful Michael who had walked home from school alone, as he thought I had abandoned him. He had seen me in the car but, sadly, I had not seen him and he had had to chase after the car for two streets with his enormous bag on his back. We drove to the school where Michael spotted Daniel who had just begun to trudge home. Daniel was more resigned than tearful, he has lower expectations for me, I suppose. He told me that he had forgotten his school lunch as well but had managed with donations from friends.

When we finally got home, herself was in bed sick and Michael reminded me that I had promised to take them to the Science Gallery again to check out the catastrophe room which had been fully booked when we visited the exhibition a couple of weeks ago. I got a quick bite of lunch and we were back in the car by 3.45. I tried a number of approaches to the Science Gallery but encountered grid locked traffic in all directions. It took us an hour to get there; it’s normally about 10 minutes. We parked some distance away but the walk made a pleasant change from sitting in traffic. The visit was great. The kind, lovely student guides played disaster card games with the boys; we got into the catastrophe room and Michael got to be president of the citizens’ assembly and had a veto on all the suggestions which he enjoyed very much. The scenario was that a tsunami might flood Cork in the next 500 years and to my chagrin he moved everyone out of Cork rather than build a defensive wall. My Dublin child. Daniel was very patient about Michael being president. It was clearly a role he might have liked himself but he refrained from undermining Michael and was actually quite supportive.

It was nearly 6.30 when we left. I got a call from herself asking when we might be home as she was entertaining saintly T, the childminder turned French conversation class, on her own and felt that in her ill state she needed a bit of support. I rang Mr. Waffle to say that there was no way we were going to make Michael’s hockey training at 6.45.

I got home and lit the fire and moved the language party out of the kitchen and in to sit by my lovely fire so I could start dinner. I had decided to have braised lentils which take forever but I was going to be home Friday afternoon so I would have time, I had thought. Sometimes I find that I can be curiously inflexible so even though it was 7.15 when I started dinner, I still made the lentils so we only sat down to eat at 8.30. As dinner was late, the boys were late to bed and a bit cranky and started rowing with each other upstairs which actually hardly ever happens. Parents were required to separate the tired combatants; all is quiet now but it is almost midnight.

If there were no weekends, I think I would die.


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