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Alas

October 9th, 2017

I went out for a leaving drinks at work recently. It was loud in the pub. I was chatting to one of my younger colleagues who has a strong Dublin accent and he said to me, “You’re looking very on-trend tonight, Anne.” “Really, do you think so?” I asked, quite pleased as, you know, I don’t think I was ever on trend really. I was just wondering whether the 90s wardrobe I was rocking had come back around into fashion when he said, “Yeah, you look exhausted.” “Sorry,” said I, “what did you say earlier?” He said, sympathetically, obviously taking pity on my advanced age, “I said that you’re looking very drained.”

Weekends – Rounded Up

October 8th, 2017

It’s been a while since I had a weekend round-up, what have I got for you?

The boys have joined a panel which involves seeing lots of films for children in foreign languages. They are enjoying it. We arrived a day early for the first session. For reasons I cannot now remember, it was supremely awkward to get in on time and it was all my fault (that latter part is true, I misread the date) so I took them all for pizza to assuage the pain. It worked. I shudder to think how much money I have spent in Milano’s over the years.

We went to Merrion Square which on that day, as part of Heritage Week, was full of tents with archaeologists talking about digs. Mild interest from the boys in the digging up of dead bodies which seems to have been a feature of laying the Luas lines.

We went to see “Dunkirk”. I did not enjoy it. It was much too loud. I can feel that I am really going to enjoy settling in to later middle age but, seriously, even the boys thought it was too loud.

We went to see Hentown in the Tenement Museum. It was an “immersive, site-specific” experience and it was pretty good – the kids found it reasonably enjoyable too. The best part though was the local kids from the flats who joined in the outdoor element of the play. The actors wove them into the narrative even though it must have been a bit challenging as a gang of four or five youngish boys shouted out their lines with them.

I went to see “Foil Arms and Hog” in the Abbey. I booked the tickets on a bit of a whim as they are supposed to be funny. I hadn’t realised but it was the opening night of the Fringe Theatre Festival. Before it started I had to suffer through two middle aged men in jeans and crumpled shirts telling us all about how having a fringe festival comedy on stage was going to improve the permeability of the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre where I have seen my fair share of dreadful productions in the past but at least there was always assigned seating – not on this occasion). I was with my sister who pointed out that we were the oldest people in the audience which included the Taoiseach (at only 38, our prime minister is younger than both of us). It was alright, not hilarious, but fine. I would definitely have enjoyed it more though if the rest of the audience had not been paralytic with laughter. I felt I was missing something. God, not only is the Taoiseach ten years younger than me, he’s also more cutting edge and he was in young Fine Gael in college.

We went in to town for culture night.

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Herself met her friends at the theatre which is owned by one of her friend’s fathers and I noted that it was doing readings from a play by my sister’s boyfriend’s uncle. We almost have loads of arty friends, just at a couple of degrees of separation. We did the obligatory culture night things: we went for pizza, we went to the sweet shop in Temple Bar.

As part of the, entirely optional, cultural part of the evening we went to the Gallery of Photography [great exhibition based on their Flickr account – thery’re part of the National Library] and we briefly partook of the big sing – a karaoke type activity which Daniel and I quite liked but wasn’t for everyone. Most importantly, we got to stay out at night; always very exciting.

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Mr. Waffle’s sister, her husband and her new baby came to Dublin for a week. This was their first trip to Ireland since the baby was born in London. There was much excitement in the extended family and we all got to see the baby for the first time. We had everyone to our house for lunch on Sunday. Here are some tips on how not to prepare for an extended family lunch: do not have your sons go to a film which ends at 1 and from which they require to be picked up just as your guests are arriving (on the plus side it’s part of their new film panel thing and they loved it), under no circumstances let your daughter go to stay with a friend in Wicklow whose father is a Church of Ireland clergyman. I said blithely that of course she could go to the service on Sunday morning showing my cheery ecumenicism, unfortunately, I am not ecumenical enough and I had no idea that the harvest service is one of the lengthiest of the year and it was 2 o’clock on Sunday before I was able to go and pick her up from the train. She had the full clergyman’s daughter experience of going to the farm of some poor parishioner to help with feeding animals as her (parishioner’s) husband was ill and she needed the help. Herself said that unfenced geese are a menace to human safety. She also had to, along with her friend, accompany an unwell parishioner back to the rector’s house for a reviving cup of tea in the course of the lengthy service. It was still going on when she got back. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, despite the hostess constantly departing to collect children, lunch for 15 passed off peacefully, mostly due to the fact that everyone got to inspect the new baby, who was as good as gold, and Mr. Waffle did all the cooking. I have asked herself to, in future, choose her friends from the 1 million people who live in Dublin.

What else did we do?

I supervised Michael and a number of other scouts bag packing to raise money in Tesco. They were more impressed than I expected when I told them that herself had met Baden-Powell’s great, great nephew in Wicklow (if you hang around in C of I rectories, this is the kind of thing that happens).

We walked on the pier in Dun Laoghaire.

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We visited Trim Castle.

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It’s where Braveheart was filmed. They are still very proud of that. The guide, who was about my age, was interesting about how attitudes have changed in Ireland. He went to school in Trim and no one ever spoke to him about the castle or it’s history. It was an Anglo-Norman castle from 1176 and not part of our history. Now, of course, they are falling down with school tours and I’d say there isn’t a primary school child in Trim who isn’t sick of colouring in pictures of the Castle.

That’s a lot of activity, isn’t it? I have, however, just collected Michael from a friend’s house. Friend’s mother and I stayed chatting for a while at the door as I thanked her for having him. “No problem,” said she, “there was another friend here anyway. Actually, we were a bit chaotic today as we were minding a puppy and my brother-in-law was here as well as my sister who is in labour in the kitchen at the moment. We’re actually heading in to the hospital now.” In fairness, that’s a busy weekend.

Daniel at 12

October 7th, 2017

Daniel turned 12 on September 27. He is so tall all of a sudden. I feel like he is going to pass me out soon.

He started secondary school at the end of August. It’s been tough for him adapting to the new school. He’s the second youngest in the year (his brother is younger by 20 minutes – more on him later) and I did spend quite a while agonising about whether the change was so hard because he was so young compared to his classmates. On the social side, he seems to be good at making friends and he has made a few new friends in the school. Academically, he seems to have settled and he is quite enjoying doing new things now I think. Tuition is through the medium of the first national language and his Irish is really improving and he seems to be getting on top of the vocabulary needed for each subject reasonably handily. He has the good science teacher (his sister, had the bad science teacher, happily, since retired) and as I type he is in the kitchen with a classmate working on a science project for the young scientist exhibition and loving science. Oh happy day. Some of his teachers are a bit terrifying and, although he personally never gets into trouble, he fears for his classmates. It’s a bit easier for us as we saw his sister go through the same process a couple of years ago and we knew that it would be hard at the start but it would get better. Also, I am on the parents’ council and I know the principal and all the teachers and any new ones, herself can give me the low down. It’s a big step up though. He’s going on the school tour to Germany in February and, reading the itinerary, I see that they will have free unsupervised time in Munich for a couple of hours and I do feel quite nervous about that. His sister is going on the tour too and I can see myself ruining the trip for both of them by insisting that she keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, he’s working away on duolingo as well as at school to bring his German up to entry level for the trip.

He is still doing GAA to beat the band. He has training two nights a week and a match every Saturday. He’s also on the school team, training one afternoon a week and a match every second week. He’s starting basketball soon too. He is, undoubtedly, the fittest and the sportiest member of our family. He’s also the only one who wears glasses. It was slightly disastrous when he lost his gear bag after a match at school and we feared that his €200 prescription sport goggles, his football boots and his school tracksuit might be in a field somewhere. Happily after an unhappy 24 hours for everyone, they turned up in the art room at school. I foresee more of this.

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He will play football with anyone and he is just delighted when someone turns up with a football. Here he is outside the Pompidou centre in August:

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He’s also started cycling in and out to school. I am a little afraid of the traffic, I have to say, but there is an approved safe route which I have authorised and he is pretty responsible, so I hope my fears are misplaced.

He is a proper latch key child as we said goodbye to our last childminder in July. Now, from 4 to 6, he and his siblings are home alone. So far, so good, it seems although, I would have liked to have been there the first few afternoons to help him along with homework which was quite the shock to the system.

For the first time, he is not in the same class as his brother and he finds that strange but he is getting used to it. He enjoys the fact that it reduces the tendency of people to treat them as the same person – which we are all guilty of, not just school. All the same, they still get on like a house on fire; actually, if anything a bit better than in primary school when they were together all day. They do annoy each other occasionally but mostly they play or chat together perfectly happily and they have loads of common interests.

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His sister is more disputed territory. They are getting on a bit better but he still measures himself against her constantly and, given that she is two and a half years older than him, she usually comes out better (though not in sport!). For the school trip, I gave him a copy of his passport and his sister’s to give in to the history teacher who is co-ordinating the trip. “Oh,” said the teacher, “I didn’t realise you were [the Princess’s] brother”. Daniel admitted that he was and confided that he was slightly dreading being known as [the Princess’s] brother. “I know,” sympathised the history teacher, it was the same with me and my older brother Cormac.” So, I suppose it was inevitable that the next time that Daniel stuck his hand up to answer a question in history class, the teacher pointed to him and said, “Yes, you, [the Princess’s] brother.”

He got a phone for his confirmation in June and he loves it. He watches loads of game videos narrated by Americans giving him a slightly American twang which we do not love. He is like a sponge for accents though; we watched Des Bishop’s “In the name of the Fada” and for a couple of hours after each episode you would have thought he was born and bred in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He also uses instagram to stay in touch with all his friends. It seems to be their main mode of communication. He tells me that one of his friends who went to a less strict school has now died his hair purple and joined a band. Hard to know how to feel about all this. I think he is reading a bit less since he got the phone, though he still reads a lot and enjoys it very much.

Daniel continues to be a spectacularly picky eater. If he didn’t drink milk, I think I would pretty much despair. I pretty much despair as it is. I hope he grows out of it and someday we will be able to go out for family dinners to places that serve neither pizza nor chips. He confided in me recently that his favourite food is the Lidl chicken nugget – something, I would like to emphasise, that his father brought into the house.

He is generally interested in things and willing to explore and investigate where his siblings might dig their heels in; the triumph of hope over experience as he gazes around another gallery.

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He’s good at art and enjoys drawing things on the whiteboard in his room that his aunt got him and drawing manga comics. They did an art project at the end of 6th class and their work was hung in the Hugh Lane Gallery as part of an exhibition. I thought Daniel’s picture was really good. So good, in fact, that in a blind test to guess which one was his, I picked it last because it seemed almost presumptuous to guess that that picture might have been done by my child.

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He’s also quite musical and I’m hoping that music class in secondary school will fill the gap which his parents have left in his musical education. Look, at least he sings in the church choir on Sunday.

Overall, it’s been a good year for him, I think. I hope that he will like secondary school; despite the terror of teachers and the horror of homework, he’s really enjoying learning new things. There’s a school games club and, of course, GAA and he’s enjoying both.

I would love to see him care a bit less about what other people think; he can get really upset and frustrated. I think he is growing out of this but it is hard when the world is full of very annoying people – many of them closely related to him. He has a clear sense of what is fair and what is not and he watches his sister like a hawk to make sure that there is equal treatment. He has parents who can be mortifying but he is resigned to this and bears us no malice.

He is very hardworking – at school, at sports, at home. If you want something done domestically, Daniel is obliging, speedy and efficient.

At the moment, now that he has settled in to secondary school, he is a pleasure to be around. His father and I went out for a cup of tea with him this afternoon and it was lovely. He and I walked back home together afterwards and we had loads to talk about. Let us hope that all will continue to be well as we stare down the abyss of adolescence but for the moment, things are pretty good.

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Cycling Gloom

October 1st, 2017

I seem to have become obsessed by cycling infrastructure. It was not always thus. I have always cycled. I cycled in and out to school from when I was 12 and I never stopped. I don’t remember being concerned about cycling infrastructure and safe cycling until my own children started cycling in Dublin. It has been regularly heart-stopping. But I persist. I want them to be able to cycle: it’s good for them, it’s good for the planet and it’s handy. It’s also scary.

Herself has been cycling in and out to school since she started secondary school a couple of years ago. I was really nervous at the start but increasingly less so. She is on top of it now, I hope. I note from the most recent census that of the approximately 250,000 girls in secondary school, about 700 cycle. This is a significant percentage increase from the last census where only some 500 girls cycled to school but it’s not exactly a sea change. This is what the census says:

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The 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, saw an 87 per cent decrease in the numbers cycling to secondary school. 2016 saw the reversal of this trend with a 10.5 per cent increase since 2011, bringing the numbers of secondary students taking to their bikes to over 7,000. Over 90 per cent of these student cyclists were male, but the number of female cyclists has grown by over 30 per cent since 2011.

Her brothers started secondary school in September (more on this anon) and have been cycling in and out together, at first with a parent and, now, alone. It is unnerving stuff. September 8 is etched on my brain as the first day they cycled in and out unaccompanied and came home alive. I enjoyed the following conversation with Daniel:

Him: If I am run over while cycling to school, whose fault will it be?
Me: I am sure that you won’t be run over. When you say “whose fault” what do you mean?
Him: Will it be mine for cycling carelessly, yours for letting us cycle to school or [my sister’s] for refusing to cycle with us?

This was a bit depressing and, honestly, it is absolutely no wonder that people don’t send their children cycling to school in the same numbers as in 1986 (when coincidentally, I finished school) because there are far more cars on the roads, they’re faster and they’re much bigger, squeezing cyclists to the edge of the road and the car seems to be king in Dublin.

I am getting increasingly annoyed about this. So far, my only action has been to follow people who share my annoyance on twitter so, more work may be needed on my part. I was deeply depressed to see that the Liffey cycle route has been shelved because of inability to reach consensus in Dublin City Council. I mean Paris, Paris, is able to put in place better cycling provision than Dublin. Every time I visit my parents in Cork, I am impressed, yet again, by what can be done by a city with far fewer cyclists and much more rain than Dublin. I’m not saying Cork is perfect but it has more segregated cycling options in the city centre than Dublin. An action group has recently been formed and they are standing in human chains trying to keep cycle lanes free for cyclists. I applaud their efforts. However, with the best will in the world, there are many cycle lanes in Dublin which are so poorly designed that even sympathetic drivers who keep an eye out for cyclists (like me when I drive in town, which I do occasionally) find themselves crossing over them and squeezing cyclists. The motoring lobby says that the City Council is anti-motorist and in the grip of the cycling lobby. If only this were true or there were some evidence that this is the case in the form of half way decent cycling provision. I despair.

In unrelated cycling news, my bicycle was nicked a couple of weeks ago from the shed. Mr. Waffle, sneaked an illicitly purchased folding table (long story which you may well hear in due course) into the shed at lunchtime on a Sunday. When we went out to the shed in the afternoon to go for a family cycle, one of the family bikes was gone. It transpired that the €700 door we purchased after someone last tried to break into our shed hadn’t worked. It turns out that, for it to be really effective, it has to be locked.

I got the bike in 2015 on the bike to work scheme and, sadly, you can only claim relief once every five years so, I was alone on the purchase of the new bike. I got a second hand one and it was grand but I was a bit disappointed by the reaction of the guards with whom I had registered my stolen bike. They didn’t hold out any hope of getting it back and suggested that I look on donedeal.ie which, um, you know, I suppose, I might. Sigh.

Paris – Part Five (This is the End)

September 20th, 2017

Friday, 18 August

More rain.

Mr. Waffle and I went out early for breakfast. And then we went for lunch to a fish restaurant in Montparnasse. We left the children to their own devices. Likely to be electronic devices, but we shut our eyes to this.

After lunch Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went to an exhibition featuring dragons. Herself drew the line at going and was probably right as perhaps not quite what she would have liked. It turns out that our sons know an extraordinary amount about dragon lore and given that they are, you know, mythical animals, it’s surprising how consistent their information was with that in the exhibition. It turns out they do learn something in those fantasy games. As my mother says, “Knowledge is never wasted.” Though I am not sure that this was what she had in mind.

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On the way home, we passed a group of boys playing football on a concrete pitch near our house and Daniel asked if he could join them. Off he went and I sat nearby watching the whitest boy in Ireland playing with 9 black kids from one of the more exciting Parisian suburbs. But Daniel was delighted with himself and they were very nice to him. I chatted with a 5 year old who was watching his elders and told me who everyone was and where they lived (large block of flats across the road) and also that he, the five year old, had just got a new cousin. I told him that Daniel had a new cousin too. “But my new cousin is in London,” said he. “So is Daniel’s!” I exclaimed and we sat there and marvelled at the delightful coincidence.

In one of the papers there was an article about the new French equality Minister who had fought her way up from one of the rough suburbs to Ministerial glory. “Which rough suburb?” you cry. Ah, Malakoff, of course. Maybe it was rougher when she was young but I didn’t think it was too bad at all.

Saturday 19 August

Herself and myself went back into town. We had breakfast together. We also went to HEMA. I love HEMA but this was not an optimal HEMA and I feel she still hasn’t appreciated its true wonderfulness. It’s a Dutch shop which is also in Brussels. I still have loads of stuff that I bought there years ago which has stood the test of time despite it’s cheap and cheerful ethos.

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She spotted some cute bollards.

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She’d been keen to go to the Monoprix for a while and we finally went. Fantastic, I have taken to the Monoprix with the zeal of the convert. We even got the boys’ school tracksuits (plain navy, no logo on pain of death, impossible to find). Then we went to Mariage Frères and I bought some very expensive Earl Grey and confirmed what I had heard from another expensive tea merchant that Lapsang Suchong is now no longer available. The woman behind the counter was a bit cagey about why EU regulations banned it but I feel I now have a complete explanation for Brexit and post-2019, I guess we all know where we can go for our illicit Lapsang.

We went to Place des Vosges for lunch.

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Food was a bit indifferent but the setting was delightful.

After lunch we went to get the metro home. When we got there, the metro station was closed and two policemen with semi-automatic rifles were standing at the entrance while Parisians hung around impatiently. I suddenly felt a bit nervous and I said, “Let’s get a taxi.” It was a bit depressing and I suppose it was nothing really but I was definitely unnerved. Our taxi driver home was full of personality he had views on big pharma (against), tourists in August (for, numbers back to normal this year as I knew to my cost), terrorism (against), Mélenchon (strongly for) and cyclists (against). It was a long journey.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle asked whether I wanted to go out on the electric bicycle to the Monoprix. An irresistible combination of thrills. Sadly, I am not even being sarcastic here.

Later in the evening, Dan went out to play football with his new friends and the rest of us went to the local pub for an aperitif.

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The credit card company called me to say that my card had been compromised. Alas. It was compromised in an unlikely way. About €50 spent in a suburban Parisian DIY shop. Not a credit card fraudster who thought big. I went back to the house with herself and later was able to send her out for the others saying in a timeless fashion, “Tell your father and brothers to come home from the pub.”

That evening we searched for a film we could all watch. We made them watch “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It was a surprise success everyone was amused; it stood the test of time really well though I still think Andie McDowell is dreadfully miscast and there are some ethically dubious choices which I felt it was hard enough to explain. However, I covered up by saying things like, “Is that Mr. Bean?”

Sunday, 20 August

We went to mass in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The priest said we were all so lucky to be in this beautiful church but since most of it was shrouded by sheets and scaffolding, it was a little hard to agree. He said a good long mass including singing the gospel which is not something I’ve ever come across before. Clearly not catholic enough.

We had lunch nearby and then had an exhaustive search for an open pâtisserie. In the course of our search, a very kind woman, who led us to the only open pâtisserie in Paris asked Mr. Waffle whether he was Belgian, because of his accent. I love the Belgians, but that’s not what you want to hear. We went for afternoon tea, with the cake, at my friend’s house. She and her family had just come back from a holiday in America the previous day but they were ready and, apparently willing, to have us round. She and I shared a number of flats together in Brussels years ago and we are now exchanging our daughters on a regular basis. She lives in the 16th which is leafy and beautiful, though pretty quiet in August.

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I was dying to see her flat and I was not disappointed. It is just beautiful. Parquet everywhere, big beautifully decorated rooms in an old residential building. Her children 13,11 and 9 got on reasonably well with mine.

Spot the Irish limbs:

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We had tea and then we went to the park where the children played and the adults caught up on all our news. It was lovely.

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We went home and had a last Parisian dinner in the pub around the corner.

Monday 21 August

I dreamt I was working for Macron. I knew at that point, it was definitely time to get away.

Packing up was quite painless. Although also, I discovered subsequently, pretty ineffective as the French people had to post back to Dublin a pair of sandals and two dresses I left behind.

Daniel and I went down to the park and had a ferocious game of table tennis. I have no idea when he improved so much. Last time we played, he could hardly get it over the net. Then we hopped into the taxi and arrived in CDG two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart. We queued up at the check-in. “Where are you going?” asked the woman. “Dublin,” we said. “You are much too early, you will have to wait and [the unkindest cut] you are delaying the people travelling to Cork.”

At the airport which was quiet, it was definitely starting to feel like home. We saw: a man going to Cork whom Mr. Waffle knew but couldn’t quite place; a man I had met at a work meeting; and sitting opposite us on the plane Mr. Waffle’s French teacher from school. Once we got to Dublin, the French people were in departures waving frantically at us. We waved back, passing them like ships in the night. I met a former colleague in the bathroom. Note for people from larger countries, this is what being Irish is like, all the time.

We arrived home and collapsed exhausted. Herself piped up, “OK if I go to a party this evening?” And that was it for another year.

Paris – Part Four

September 19th, 2017

Tuesday, August 15

The 15 August represents the pinnacle of, absolute max, August shutdown. We were braced for it. Notwithstanding this, the Sainte Chapelle was open. We booked online (slowly, we were learning; inevitably no queue, booking unnecessary) and turned up early in the morning as the French people’s cleaner was coming at 9 (15 August or no). We went in to the lower chapel which was busy, but not impossibly so.

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Then we went upstairs and even Michael said, “This is impressive.” It definitely was.

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Weirdly it’s inside the complex of the French courts so we had to be let out by soldiers with guns. I can’t really feel that this arrangement is entirely satisfactory from a French judicial point of view. Afterwards we went to the Conciergerie (tickets also booked in advance, also no queue). It was interesting and the exhibition space was really well laid out. We saw where the flood waters had risen to in 1910.

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Some of us perhaps more fascinated than others.

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We were all pretty much on top of the French revolution and the Terror when we came out. A triumph as this is a pretty complex period of history, I think you will agree. We bought Michael a horse and knight in the bookshop.

We went for lunch in town – some places were open – rejoice. It was pleasant, Michael got some mileage from playing with his Dark Rider. We all enjoyed our lunch in a mild way and then we went for a stroll to have a cup of tea elsewhere. As we were enjoying our cup of tea, I said to Michael, “Where is Dark Rider?” Alas he had been left in our lunch venue. Michael and I ran through the streets of Paris to rescue him. When we got there, the man behind the bar said that no, they had found no Dark Rider. Then I saw the waiter who had served us. “Was Dark Rider in a paper bag?” he asked. He was. The waiter went through the bin and rescued him. See what I mean about the nice Parisians left in Paris in August? There was great rejoicing among our small party on the return of Dark Rider.

The children and I returned alone on the metro to our distant suburb leaving Mr. Waffle to wander about on his own reminiscing on his student days. The whole thing was fine and, as my sophisticated children hoped from metro to metro, I couldn’t help feeling very smug and remembering how stressful it was travelling with small children and thinking how much more satisfactory it was to travel with older children.

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Wednesday, August 16

Since we were staying for a fortnight in Paris, we were resigned to a trip to Eurodisney [incidentally autocorrect is suggesting that I change the word “Eurodisney” to “neurosis”, just saying]. Herself, however, had been with school as part of a school tour in April and was not very enthused. I, extremely nobly, offered to take the two boys and spare Mr. Waffle from this ordeal. In return, he booked the tickets online over his phone (in itself, a mammoth undertaking) and went into Montparnasse with us to print them out, the local printing place which had served us well earlier in the holiday clearly decided that the staff had suffered enough and it had closed up for the fermeture annuelle.

The boys and I took the RER out to Marne La Vallée and arrived about midday. It was quite warm and we were a bit confused by the Eurodisney layout. We got in reasonably speedily and took ourselves to a Jedi training session which I found distinctly underwhelming but the boys quite enjoyed.

I totally failed to understand the fastpass system (kind of a way to jump queues) and got us tickets for Buzz Lightyear. We finally got on our first ride at 3.10 after 70 minutes queuing. It was the Indiana Jones ride and it lasted about 5 minutes. I found it deeply unpleasant but the lads quite liked it even though Michael’s head bounced about which he, understandably, did not enjoy.

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We went to get another Fastpass ticket before going to the Buzz Lightyear experience. Alas, there were no more fastpass tickets to be had. The park was too full and all of the dispensers were closed. Given that we got our first ticket at midday and our next was only available after 3.20, this wasn’t great. We had some sustaining chips to help us deal with the pain. Did we queue for these? Yes we did.

Then, to my horror, I realised that I had only got two fastpass tickets. I needn’t have worried, the boys were fine on their own. While they were jumping the queue and enjoying the ride (only ok, they said), I was enjoying my own queuing experience outside the bathroom.

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The visitors in the park were mostly English, Dutch and German. I didn’t see any French visitors at all. The only French people were the staff struggling to show American levels of enthusiasm while being French. It was, frankly, an unequal battle. They were pathetically grateful to us for speaking French (pathetic in the sense that normally French people are not grateful at all and regard it as only right and proper that everyone speaks French). On one of the stalls the woman wearily addressed me in English (understandable, I look English, I do not look like a chic French person or even, lower bar, a chic Dutch or German person). I replied in French and she smiled warmly at me and apologised saying in a lowered tone, “Sorry, I thought you were English”. I only spoke to her in monosyllables afterwards to preserve the flattering illusion.

It was pricy. It was about €8 for a couple of ice pops and I felt considerable sympathy for English tourists paying out given that sterling was in freefall.

We then queued for 100 minutes, as timed on my phone, to get on to the Big Thunder ride. Partly we queued in shade but often in blazing sunshine. A real taste of the American west. The ride lasted about 10 minutes which is a long time in ride life and, I must say, it was really enjoyable. Not so enjoyable that we were prepared to queue again but pretty good.

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We had pizza for dinner; quite vile but the boys liked it. Did we queue for it? Yes, we did. Then we began to wend our way towards the exit. I said they could each buy a thing in the shops. Daniel found a glass and I queued up to pay. I found a queue with only one person in front of me (the thrill). 15 minutes later I was still there and the assistant had rung up €294 worth of Disney merchandise for this woman and it showed no sign of ending. I joined another, longer, queue and even though it was delayed by the woman in front of me deciding she did not, after all, want Simba, if he was that price and the cashier’s supervisor having to be called, I was still finished before the one person at the other queue was. I saw some poor fool take up a place behind her. He’s probably still there. Seriously, she must have spent well over €1,000 on Disney tat. Extraordinary.

The boys were delighted with the trip. Even though we spent most of the day queuing, they seem to have really loved it. In the evening, it was much more pleasant than in the middle of the day although still heaving with people. I might even have stayed a bit longer and used the movie lot ticket (bought but never used, alas) but the boys were exhausted and wanted to go home.

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We got slightly lost on the way to the train station on the way out. Harder to do than you might think. No, really. But soon we were speeding back to Paris. When we got off the RER, we had to go almost from one end of the metro line to the other. To pass the time on the metro home, we started playing various guessing games. So successful were these that it was not until Michael yelped, “We’ve missed our stop!” that I realised we had gone four stops too far. We hopped off. I was kicking myself as it was nearly 11 at night at this stage and I was wondering what time the metro stopped. Spoiler, some time after 11. We got safely home eventually and Mr. Waffle and herself were dutifully waiting up for us to ask about our day and to mock my inability to get off the metro at the right stop (her only, he was too grateful/tactful).

The bank told us Mr. Waffle’s credit card had been compromised. I blame Eurodisney.

Thursday, August 17

It was lashing, of course.

Earlier in the week we had booked in to a funfair museum for Thursday morning. Bitterly did I regret it as I dragged my exhausted sons from their beds. We took the tram – it was in Bercy and we ended up having to traipse through an old railway and for the first time saw rubbish in Paris.

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But once we got to the museum itself, all was delightful.

The museum had been recommended by my Parisian friend. The children were dubious. Happily, it was, hands down, the best thing we did in Paris. The guide was superb. The children were allowed to play on the old merry-go-rounds and use the old games.

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I would seriously recommend it to anyone with children planning a trip to Paris. We all loved it. Michael won the first horse race and was delighted with himself. Then Daniel won one.

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We all got to go on a carousel made of bicycles which was powered by the people on it and was surprisingly speedy and great fun.

Herself and Daniel made friends with an American girl and boy about their own ages and they went around together. The Princess discovered that her American friend was not allowed to have her own mobile phone and her life was a misery. On the other hand, her friend was going to start learning to drive from the following February when she turned 15 and herself nearly expired from envy when she heard this. Michael meanwhile was bonding with the tour guide, who pronounced him the best visitor she had ever had, and a lovely older couple from California. A part of me died when I heard him asking them what they thought of Donald Trump. I rushed up and said, “Michael, Irish people like to talk about politics a lot but I think for Americans and French people, it’s considered quite rude.” The woman said kindly, “It doesn’t matter and explained to Michael that she thought that any Americans he met in Paris were unlikely to be Trump supporters.” She turned to me and said sadly, “Of course, we came on holidays to get away from that but it’s the first question everybody asks us.” I did feel bad.

We went for lunch nearby. Apparently Mitterand was outraged that the Ministry of Finance was housed in the Louvre and turfed them out to Bercy. I am sure that they were outraged in their turn. I find it hard to imagine any individual in this State having the power to dislodge the Department of Finance from Government buildings but that’s the French presidential system for you, real, concentrated power, ability to move Finance officials to the middle of nowhere. The whole thing looked up in the air for a while when there was a concern that the Minister mightn’t be able to get to the Assembly in time for votes but then some smart person suggested that he could get a barge.

That evening Mr. Waffle suggested we should cycle to what is known in family lore as his “hellhole suburb” and on the map as Arceuil. This is where he lived when he was a student in Paris. It was within easy electric bike reach. Although his house, once found, did overlook a railway line, never really a plus, I didn’t think it was that bad. Not as nice as the student residence I enjoyed in Modena when I was doing my Erasmus year, but you can’t have everything.

Still not at the end. Are you exhausted yet?

Paris – Part Three

September 18th, 2017

Saturday, August 12

Herself and myself went for a wander around town. We went to the Galeries Lafayette. We went to Printemps. We went to H&M. We had a cup of tea on the quays and went to the bouquinistes where we had a great time poking around for hours and bought many pictures. She’s hung hers up but mine are still stacked up on the mantelpiece.

I’d left my phone back at the house so I was slightly worried that the others would be wondering what had become of us. I need not have worried. They seemed to think that we were well able to look after ourselves.

Sunday, August 13

We contemplated going to mass in Notre Dame but we were just too scared that we might have to queue to get in so we went to Saint Eustache in Les Halles instead. It’s an odd church. It is described as gothic and it is kind of gothic but it’s the first gothic church I have seen with Corinthian columns. Stand out sight was undoubtedly Louis XIV’s Minister for Finance’s monument. He was so successful at raising taxes for Louis XIV that his funeral had to be held at night so there wouldn’t be riots. The locals appeared to have noticed that he lived pretty high on the hog himself.

We went for lunch in Les Halles and then wandered down to the Pompidou centre which could be seen from the outside without queuing. While we had a cup of tea, Daniel befriended a young French child with a ball and he and Michael played happily in the square with him.

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I decided we would round out our day by taking in the view from the Arc de Triomphe. Not a super spectacular view but, presumably, less in demand for that very reason. No, that is not the case. It turns out that there is a grand big queue to get up the Arc de Triomphe as well. We wandered around the bottom instead. To be honest it’s not really quite the same.

When we got home, Mr. Waffle suggested that he and I could go out for a cycle on the French people’s bikes. He offered me the electric bike. I loved it. I always thought that I would get an electric bike for my 50th birthday but now I know that I can’t as if I did I would get no exercise whatsoever. I sailed around the suburbs taking any inclines in my stride. It was just delightful. Mr. Waffle took us to the Cité Universitaire which was nearby (on my super electric bike anyway). I’d never heard of it before but basically all sorts of countries built residences there for their students studying in Paris. Lots of countries represented with a bit of an emphasis on former French colonies. The whole area was green and pleasant with lots of paths for me to test the full power of my electric bicycle.

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I was so pleased with my bicycle ride that I insisted on prolonging it to inspect Leon the lamp post which is, you know, fine but still a lamp post. As the lamp post in Narnia, it burns day and night but you really can’t see that very well in day time.

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Monday, August 14

To their great relief, Mr. Waffle and I left the children at home alone and went into town together for a wander. We had a nice breakfast and then went to the Orangerie where put off by the queues for the gallery we sat, instead, under the shade of the trees on those nice green municipal chairs and looked out over the Place de la Concorde [fountains to wash away the blood and all that] and chatted.

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It was peaceful, it was sunny. We reminisced on the last time we had been in Paris together which was when I was pregnant with the boys and, daringly, we left herself with our lovely Polish cleaner for the weekend. It all went very well and when we came home, she could recite a number of Polish nursery rhymes (we were assured they were nursery rhymes, we weren’t really in a position to know).

It was as well that we had had an enjoyable morning. That afternoon we went to Aquaboulevard. Herself had been there before when she was in Paris and recommended it. It turns out that it is much more enjoyable during term time than on Monday 14 August when everyone left in Paris is on holidays (the 15th being a bank holiday and everyone “making the bridge”. If you are unfamiliar with this French term, you haven’t lived.) We pre-booked our tickets. As requested by management the gentlemen of the party bought speedo type togs, as shorts are not allowed. We were ready. In a daring move, we took the tram (public transport abroad other than metros is..exciting). When we arrived, the man at the door asked to see the boys’ swimsuits. They were wearing them so opened their trousers and showed him. We moved on. “Hey,” he said to Mr. Waffle, what about yours?” Hilariously, he too had to show his swimsuit which he was wearing. An auspicious beginning. When we reached the top of the stairs, the man guarding the entrance yelled down to his colleague “Have you checked the English people’s togs?” We ignored the error on nationality. Clearly they had been stung previously by hordes of English people descending in their Hawaiian shorts.

The pool itself was heaving. It was barely possible to stand in it, let alone swim in any direction. There were long, long queues for each of the slides. The pools were generally up to my shoulders so too deep for the children to stand in in comfort. Every time I lost sight of one of them (extremely easy to do in the mass of humanity wedged together in the pools notwithstanding the fact that they were several shades whiter than the whitest French people), I was terrified that they had drowned. There was a big sandy outdoor area and an outdoor pool as well as the indoor ones and it was a bit warm outside – this was one of the warmest days we were there which was why we had selected it for our pool day; clearly half of Paris had the same idea. It was pretty hideous. Alas.

We returned home and to cheer myself up after our swimming trips, I took another cycle on the electric bike around the mean streets of the suburbs. I amused myself by looking at the price of houses in Paris. Unsurprising: Paris is dear. Even Malakoff is dear; well over a million euros for a medium sized 3 bedroom house.

That night, I discovered that the Princess was obeying the letter if not the spirit of the ban on electronic devices in the bedroom. I noticed that the light in the basement (storage spot for spare pasta, pulses, water, milk and various other essentials) was on and, when I turned it off, there was a shriek of indignation from the bottom of the stairs. Herself was on the phone to her friend. At regular intervals for the remainder of the holiday, I would see her haring down the stairs to talk to some friend or other. The washing machine was there as well and Mr. Waffle frequently ran into her while rescuing the laundry.


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