Me: I’m thinking about summer holiday options. Where might we go this year?
Many voices: Not that Estonian island you keep talking about.
Me: What about Japan? Not this year, but next year maybe?
Daniel: What’s wrong with like…Newry?
Me: I’m thinking about summer holiday options. Where might we go this year?
Many voices: Not that Estonian island you keep talking about.
Me: What about Japan? Not this year, but next year maybe?
Daniel: What’s wrong with like…Newry?
Herself went back to England. Alas alack. We will not see her until Easter at the earliest. She is a bit preoccupied about her post-college employment/study plans and fears that she may have to move back home. She’s appalled. I’m delighted but I feel that one of the many irons she has in the fire will mean that her worst fears will not be realised.
Here she is the day she got back to college dutifully preparing not to remove her nose from the grindstone for many months.
I went to Cork and had a January Christmas dinner with my siblings. Honestly, not as satisfactory as an actual Christmas dinner but not too bad. We went to the River Lee hotel which used to be Jury’s where we went for post communion and confirmation lunches but has now gone upmarket. It was grand. Busy. A bit pricey for what it was, I thought.
I went for a walk in the Lee Fields (very unusually not underwater) with my sister and her partner.
I totally lost track of time meaning that I had to cycle to the station at epic speeds weaving through Sunday strollers like a middle aged man in lycra trying to set a new personal best time. I made it with minutes to spare. It took a lot out of me.
Michael had his play. It wasn’t too bad and he was on stage a lot. But whatever way you slice it, Hamlet is a long, long play and I was exhausted by the time it was over. Obviously worse for Michael but he got to be on stage which I think he rather enjoyed. A couple of his friends turned up with a sign saying we love gravedigger number 2 and I was charmed.
Over the holidays, while Mr. Waffle and I were at work and Michael was at endless Hamlet rehearsals, Daniel stepped up to the plate and cooked dinner a number of times. It was absolutely delicious. These talents did not come from me. He also has a new haircut. The young people; would you be up to them etc.? He has also been concussed by the GAA – the bane of my life. He’s recovering but it’s taking the best part of a week. First his tooth, now his head. He’s mostly been exhausted for days and days but he went back to college today and is feeling a bit perkier after doing some theoretical physics.
We had some friends around to dinner which was great but also exhausting. Timing meant that we were supposed to have Mr. Waffle’s aunt (home from Australia) and the cousins over for dinner the following night but happily the aunt cancelled – I mean sorry not to see her and sorry she was not feeling up to it but pleased not to be doing a second large catering event on the trot. I skipped out to my Sunday afternoon bookclub with, well, a skip in my step.
Speaking of book clubs, my Monday night book club has had a change in its operating model for the first time in 25 years; there are 12 of us and this year we all got to pick a book a month for the next year; two people were happy not to suggest and so December is still open – honestly, possibly a relief. Normally it’s a bit of chat on the night and a consensus. I felt very much the weight of responsibility in picking my one book for the year. Herself says that it is unfair on me as under the old system, due to my domineering ways, I got to pick way more than one book a year. The jury is currently out for obvious reasons but the 2024 selection does look quite worthy. That said, very much enjoying “Yellowface”. You may guess which was my suggestion.
As part of my new year’s resolution, Mr. Waffle and I have been to the cinema twice this month. We saw “Poor Things” (really still not the better of it) and “The Holdovers” (quite sweet but would have been definitely a better viewing experience in the run up to Christmas rather than after it). More scintillating cinema reviews as we get them.
In tooth related news, my electric toothbrush disappeared for 24 hours and I carried out extensive inquiries, even texting my cleaner. It turned out to be on the stairs hidden by a banister. It was on the stairs because I had put it there to go back upstairs after its little adventure at the charging station which, for reasons I will not bore you with, is downstairs (see I do hold some things back). Oh great was the rejoicing among my children whom I am constantly upbraiding for their inability to see things sitting on the steps waiting to go upstairs.
And, in further tooth related news, my dentist has decreed that I need another crown. This is my third in as many years. What is it about my 50s? Are my teeth all going to crumble and fall out of my mouth having worked perfectly for all these years? Apparently yes. And today as I sat at my desk eating a sandwich, my temporary crown (installed following a, frankly unpleasant, session in the dentist’s chair) fell out. Back to the dentist this evening. Reinstalling was fine really but I look forward to the moment at the end of February when my permanent crown is installed. Sigh.
This weekend, we went to a Burns night supper with our friends. We went for the first time in 2020 and little though I knew it then, it was to be our last big night out before the pandemic. It was weird to be back but in a good way. I felt like a veteran this time and was ready for the “Address to a Haggis“. We had such a nice evening – I do hope we make the cut again!
I went to IMMA for the first time in ages on Saturday. I am always a bit ambivalent about modern art and indeed I found the RDS audiovisual winners in general not to my taste. However, there is also an exhibition called “self-determination” about the new nation states (including Ireland) that were established in the wake of WWI and that was really fascinating. It runs until April so if you’re local, you have plenty of time to go and see it. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can also inspect nightmare bunny (may not be the name chosen by the artist) who is outside the main entrance.
I went for a walk with friends in the park and despite the fact that rain threatened, it did not rain and we had our walk, a scone after and a chance to inspect the millions of deer with which the park is overrun.
At mass last Sunday we had to fill in a survey about which mass time suits us best; the beginning of the end for some masses I’d say. It’s inevitable with all the priests getting so old. Next weekend is our new post-Covid bank holiday weekend in celebration of St Bridget whose feast day is on February 1 so the priest referred to her and quoted the opening lines of that lovely poem “Anois teacht an Earraigh“. This made me think of my mother whose birthday was on February 1 and who always quoted that poem at this time of year. She always really enjoyed celebrating her birthday and it makes me really happy that it now has a bank holiday devoted to it which she would really have liked. But somehow, as the priest said the poem, I found myself just feeling sad and missing her. That’s the way it goes, I guess.
Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24
Christmas Day fell on a Monday. I went to regular Sunday mass on the 24th in the morning. In the tussle between the (lovely) newish choir mistress and the (severe) retired choir mistress, the latter won out with traditional numbers including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. A perennial Advent favourite.
I zoomed home to watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael and anyone else who was interested. As I say, year after year, an amazing Christmas film and Michael Caine’s best work.
My sister, in exile from Cork (the builders are in her house), was up with her partner’s parents in Dublin for Christmas. This was a source of some bitterness. It was her first Christmas ever out of Cork and it was not a concept that had a great deal of allure for her. However, we were all glad to see her and exchanged Christmas presents. Hers, as ever, much better than ours.
We had her to dinner and I got to deploy my Christmas ware; colour me delighted.
Due to an unfortunate miscommunication with chef (Mr. Waffle), dinner was roast beef and not chicken so the mountain of Christmas stuffing I had made the day before was not deployed. Never mind I have been working my way determinedly though it ever since. Stuffing for breakfast anyone?
I am pleased to announce that the Christmas pudding went up in very satisfactory flames (part of a Lismore Christmas hamper which I recommend). In fact in a development which I can only describe as unusual, everyone got a flaming little piece as it took quite a while to go out. Tasted grand too.
Our Christmas crackers came with a guessing game which nearly killed my sister as she collapsed in paroxysms of laughter at my utter inability to guess the name affixed to my forehead.
She then came with us to midnight mass (9pm, confusingly). Those of you who have been counting will realise that it was my second mass of the day which, honestly, felt like a lot. Herself and Mr. Waffle guessed what poets would be covered in the sermon. They got points for Patrick Kavanagh and John Betjeman but no Seamus Heaney. Hymns were broadly good (severe older choir mistress holding out) but we had “Love is Christmas” for communion which definitely came from the younger choir mistress (who is a saint and very talented but whose musical taste, sadly, does not chime with mine). “Because there are so few Christmas hymns,” I whispered to herself bitterly. “Don’t be churlish,” said she. Fair, but honestly, mass went on for so long that it felt like midnight and didn’t I deserve a “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” having been to two masses? Apparently not.
Christmas Day, Monday, December 25
We didn’t get up until 11 – recommended – and then exchanged presents which were broadly a success, I think, though hard to know whether Santa really did deliver for the children. I was pretty pleased anyhow.
We went off across town for Christmas dinner with the cousins. They had also invited Mr. Waffle’s aunt and uncle, their daughter and her children. So we were a big crowd and a good time was had by all. I did feel for my sister-in-law when the uncle and aunt were ill and unable to come but their grandson came (much admired slightly older second cousin to my guys) and brought, surprise, his girlfriend, who, double surprise, we discovered five minutes before sitting down to eat, is a vegan. My poor sister-in-law began anxiously listing the things the vegan could not eat: not the meat, not the potatoes done in duck fat, not the sprouts with bacon, not the parsnips with parmesan…”Do you eat mushrooms?” she asked. Fortunately the vegan said yes and my sister-in-law whipped them up. The rest of us got to eat the amazing Christmas dinner. Santa had brought Michael “Poetry for Neanderthals” and it was great to see almost all the cousins playing from the sophisticated 21-year-old with his vegan girlfriend to the 15 year old hostess. Only the eight year old was a bit shy and stayed chatting with the grown ups.
Then we packed ourselves up and came home where the children did Mr. Waffle’s Christmas treasure hunt which they love. He thought it would be really hard but it took them about 20 minutes. More challenging material required for 2024. It slightly reminds me of a six-year old’s birthday party where you have all these games prepared but 10 minutes in they’ve passed the parcel, played musical chairs and musical statues and ten six-year-olds are looking up at you hoping that you have something prepared for the next hour and fifty minutes.
We had a three way video call with my sister in Dublin (who, ironically, was eating her Christmas dinner at her partner’s sister’s house, a ten minute walk from where we were having our own Christmas dinner but the logistics of meeting up were a bit beyond us), my brother in the Canaries and me. He seems to be having a good time. “Did you go to mass?” I asked him because I enjoy torturing him. “Yes, yes,” he said, “we had the loaves and the fishes.” “On Christmas Day?!” I asked. “Ah, is it the same everywhere?” he asked. “I mean you couldn’t even make a guess for today of all days? I despair,” I said. Just as well I went twice I guess.
It was my father’s third anniversary but I had thought about him on the solstice and that seems like a better day to remember him for a lot of reasons.
St. Stephen’s Day, Tuesday, December 26
Herself made her Christmas breakfast which was deferred from Christmas Day due to logistical challenges and very nice it was too.
Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk in the park. This made me think “Windows has caused a general protection fault.”
I had a quintessential Christmas snack. Yes, yes, that is spiced beef.
That evening, herself and Daniel went out to visit friends. When I was collecting herself she asked, “When are we going to Cork?” This is the reason why I repeat logistics ad nauseam though, in fairness to her, herself is not usually the one caught out. “Tomorrow morning,” said I. Surprise, disquiet etc. I collected Dan as well and he, at least was aware of our plans. I’d told him loads of times apparently. Sigh.
Wednesday, December 27
We left for east Cork at 9.30 in the morning. Our friends’ house there where we have stayed many times over the years and for which we are very grateful has a fatal winter flaw. The heating is very eco-friendly and, for reasons I do not understand, this means that the house takes hours to heat up. The teenage neighbour was supposed to go in the day before and fire up the heating for which service we were to pay her a tenner. Money which we would more than gladly have paid had she done the job, but alas, you just can’t get the staff.
We turned on the heat and went out to a local hotel for lunch. Golf course view but, you know, grand.
Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk on the beach leaving the children behind. Bracing.
There was a portable sauna (it’s far from etc.) and people left it to swim in the sea. Extraordinary. And people were out surfing as well.
When we came back to the house it was, alas, still baltic. We tried and failed to get the stove to work (it is a capricious beast, I emailed our friends – in Madrid for Christmas isn’t it well for them etc. – and got this reply “No special tips for the stove but follow instructions. And then do so again. It is like prayer. It will be warm by morning.”). I had neglected to bring a hat from Dublin so I spent the evening with a tea cosy on my head. This must represent some kind of new low but it was warm. I discovered in the morning that poor Michael, who is far thinner than me, had gone to bed with his jumper, coat and trousers on over his pyjamas. Yes, yes it was warm in the morning.
Thursday, December 28
We had a further walk on the beach for enthusiasts in the morning.
We drove up to Cork and had a nice lunch in the city. Then we went to my sister’s house where she needed to deploy us moving boxes and furniture in advance of the arrival of the electrician scheduled for early next month. The builders have done a lot of work and the house looks pretty good if absolutely filthy and covered with builders’ dust. We worked away and then the boys went back with my sister and her partner to their temporary accommodation to play Magic (if you don’t know, lucky old you) and Mr. Waffle, herself and myself went into town for a poke around. The Crawford Gallery was open, always a delight; I will be sad when it closes up for a couple of years of works – in 2024, I think.
I have been nominated family keeper of photo albums. When we were moving boxes we found another photo album. The first half of the album is devoted to pictures of my father and his mates sailing and climbing mountains.
The second half is devoted entirely to me – on my own, with various relatives etc. – as, needless to say, it should be. Here I am with my Granny, my father’s mother. Note cigarette, a classic touch. She actually gave them up when I was 3 or 4 so I never really remember her smoking. She’s wearing the diamond engagement ring that we found earlier in the year when we were cleaning out Aunty Pat’s upstairs. I’m wearing it now. Herself suggests I should sell as with the development of such excellent lab grown diamonds, I am losing thousands every day I fail to dispose of it. I will not be disposing of it.
That evening we all went out for dinner in Blackrock castle. Honestly, in the past I have been underwhelmed by the food available but it was actually quite nice, handy for the road back to East Cork and a lovely setting. Herself got us talking about what minor super powers we would like to have. She wanted to always be able to order the things she would most like on the menu in a restaurant or maybe to know what clothes would suit her best just from looking at them on the rack; Daniel wanted to be able to avoid sporting injuries; Michael wanted to always know when the bus would come (the commute to college is trying for him); Mr. Waffle wanted to always be able to sleep at night (that’s actually my super power, it’s grand but not as good as he thinks it is); I wanted to be able to always find something to watch on TV that would appeal to all the family; my sister’s partner had the best answer though, after a moment’s pause he said, “I want to be able to answer questions like these.” Meta.
Friday, December 29
The morning brought further obligatory walks on the beach and between that and packing up and cleaning up, it was nearly 11 before we got on the road to Dublin.
Unusually enough, we decided to stop on the way for lunch. The road is so good now that unless we start quite late as we did this time, it’s hardly worth stopping. On this occasion, timing suggested that Abbeyleix would be a good place to stop. There is a really lovely old pub there called Morrissey’s and my strong memory is that I have had a sandwich there in the past. However, although the pub was otherwise unchanged from my last visit 20 odd years ago, there was no food to be had. A cafe across the road turned us away as they were fully booked though annoyingly enough almost entirely empty when we went in (I don’t doubt that they were fully booked for lunch but it is galling to be turned away from a largely empty establishment). We ended up schlepping about a kilometre out of town to “the hotel”. The hotel does not do lunch but there was a kind of trailer thing in the yard with a heated enclosure. Beggars cannot be choosers but I would not call it a vintage lunch experience. We went back to Morrissey’s to warm up and sat beside the stove (installed when the pub was opened in 1775 and still, I can attest, delightfully toasty). I had forgotten just how nice a pub it is but the absence of food in Abbeyleix is definitely off-putting for the casual visitor.
The rest of our journey was accomplished without further incident. Herself read us aloud extracts from the Farmers Journal. She reads it a couple of times a year and is a big devotee. I’m sure her great-grandfather would be proud of her knowledge of mart prices but we’re all a bit puzzled by her enthusiasm.
I returned to a threatening email from the library. In fairness, it was my third overdue reminder. I had taken out David Copperfield but I was finding it hard going and had only got to page 50. Since the library abolished fines, Mr. Waffle has been wondering how they are going to deal with useless people like me who occasionally (not always, not always) return their books late. Well now, I know, unless I return David Copperfield pronto, they will suspend my account. I would have returned it on the morrow but, of course, Monday being a bank holiday, the library was closed on Saturday (I love the library service and use it all the time but like the rest of us, it has its idiosyncrasies that you have to get to know).
Saturday, December 30
I finished my Christmas jigsaw puzzle. Delighted with myself. Time well spent.
New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31
Herself went off to England by ferry at 8 in the morning (flights too dear) to go to a New Year’s Eve party in London. You have to admire her dedication. She’s back tomorrow (by plane, return flight is cheaper but at 9.40 from Gatwick, alas for her). Hurrah.
Today is the feast day of the Holy Family. The priest went all out in his sermon which went on forever and, slightly bafflingly, encompassed the role of the family in resolving the war in Gaza. A fifty minute mass and no singing. Alas. The second reading was from the reliably irritating St. Paul and included this paragraph, never my favourite:
Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
I remember my parents particularly enjoying the “children be obedient to your parents” line and us countering about driving children to resentment before extracting money to spend in the penny sweet shop across the road from the church. What a long time ago that seems now.
I really love this time of year but I realise that as I get older, it will always be tinged with a little melancholy. And perhaps, after all, this is a nice way to remember those who have died.
Anyhow, enough melancholy, onward and a very happy 2024 to you. Tell me, have you made any resolutions for the new year?
My father always celebrated the winter solstice. He loved summer and warm weather. The solstice meant that the year was on the turn and the climb to long, warm days was beginning. I am glad that he had one last solstice before he died on Christmas Day in 2020; though, of course, he didn’t live long enough to enjoy the summer that followed.
For the first time in years, I didn’t post every day in November. I just forgot. It’s been busy back in the world of work.
Daniel’s shoulder is still causing problems. I’m not sure that he is entirely capable of managing his own medical affairs. One evening he had to call the doctor’s surgery – land line, this is relevant – about his shoulder. The surgery closes at 5.30 and at 5.27 he rang me (whatsapp free on the home wifi) to tell me he was out of credit. It was a race against time to top up his phone and inevitably when he rang at 5.31 he got the automated, “Did you expect us to pick up? You must be joking” message. Anyway he did manage to get through eventually and has been scheduled to be seen at a sports clinic where the next available appointment is July 2024. Fantastic.
Since I last wrote we have had riots in Dublin and a school stabbing so it hasn’t been the best of times for Dublin. On the night in question, I was out in Skerries in north County Dublin (subsequently revealed to be the best place to live in the world, honestly, nice and all but not entirely convinced) having dinner with a school friend. Poor old Michael texted me to check whether I was ok but, in fact, he was far closer to the action at home than I was in my North Dublin fastness. I subsequently heard that on the night of the riots various groups were trapped in their offices (my favourite, the Department of Education quiz night participants) and Trinity students had to stay overnight on campus.
We were flying to England to visit herself at the weekend and I was a bit worried about the boys and asked them not to go out in town while we were gone which felt like we were giving in to the rioters but there it was. Anyway, they were fine and there was no more rioting either. We had a good time in England except for the part of it we spent on trains. It had been suggested to us that flying to Birmingham would be a good way to travel. I cannot recommend Birmingham airport which is undergoing extensive renovations. I fell over comprehensively in a damp lift (water, I think) and lay on my back like a beetle waving its little legs in the air. All of the pre-recorded announcements had a hoover in the background. Unpleasant.
Nor can I recommend the train service which in my (admittedly limited) experience cancelled trains at short notice and had everyone squeezed on like sardines with no chance of getting to your reserved seat. However, Birmingham airport was redeemed by its lovely staff. Mr. Waffle lost his wedding ring and he just gave up. I, however, went back to security and a really kind man checked all of the security belts. He didn’t find it but gave me a form to fill in in case it turned up. Mr. Waffle had no faith in the form – to the extent that he just bought a new wedding ring – but he filled it in and they found the ring and sent it back to us. Very gratifying.
We had a nice time in England overall notwithstanding our transport trauma and it was very nice to see herself.
I have returned to tennis having finally got back in to the tennis club 18 months after I applied to rejoin. I was stiff all over after my first session. Let us hope things improve.
My sister is on the mend having been pretty unwell. I went to Cork to visit her to speed her recovery. I am not sure that it really helped but I had a pretty good time. It was nice to visit Cork at Christmas (all of December now apparently) and finally get to inspect this Marina market which I’ve been hearing so much (fine but, as my sister observed, probably not notiony enough for me). While I was in Cork, Dan’s team won the Championship. He was very pleased, notwithstanding his shoulder he’s been turning out a bit for training and matches (the physio thinks it’s ok, I hope it’s ok).
The Cork-Dublin train is Ireland’s best train line and when you travel you can shove your bike in the guard’s van. If, like an amateur, you get the Cork Dublin train that is not direct you have to stand on a chilly platform in Mallow, change trains and put up with this kind of bike storage.
Some of you have doubtless been wondering what was the source of the weird smell under the stairs which appeared around the time of my mother-in-law’s funeral. It went away but then Mr. Waffle disturbed the beast in its lair and it came back with renewed vigour but this time, Mr. Waffle managed to trace it to its source. It was a (mercifully wrapped) packet of cooked chicken pieces which had been purchased some months ago. They had lain forgotten in a rucksack in the interim waiting for their moment to shine.
A former colleague’s father died and I spent the days before the funeral humming and hawing about whether I ought to go. It was in rural Kilkenny which is just far enough out of Dublin that I would have to take a day off to attend but not so far that nobody could reasonably expect you to attend. I was definitely going, then I was definitely not going but in the end, I went. Having taken the day off work to go to the funeral, you might have thought I would arrive on time, you would be wrong. As with every funeral I have ever been to, I was glad I went afterwards; there was actually a big crowd of former colleagues there and we had a grand old chat. The burial was in the church yard which in my experience is quite unusual as most funerals seem to involve a trek to some graveyard in the back end of nowhere. And then there were sandwiches and tea (of course) in the adjacent church hall. A more elaborate lunch was being served in the town afterwards but the tea and sandwiches in the hall were great as they allowed me to sympathise in the warmth, and, you know, a cup of tea, not to be sneezed at.
I went to the Kildare Village outlet shopping centre on the way home. I despise it and all it stands for (the fake American vibe, the car dependency, the absence of the diversity you get in an actual city etc) but I also really like it. A difficult time for me. I see they have bike parking. A luxurious Sheffield stand it is not, but it is something, in fairness.
In one of the shops I attempted to buy something for €20. The shop assistant refused to take my money and said that I had to buy two things. Did I leave in a huff? I did not. I, somewhat reluctantly, picked up something else. What a wheeze.
We had Saint Nicolas in Dublin. He sent chocolate to herself in England. His feeling for weights and measures is not what it might be. Herself was, on the whole, pleased to get a kilo of chocolate delivered.
I had my Ukrainian lesson on December 6 and we talked about St. Nicolas in Ukraine. They have him, he comes on December 6 and he brings satsumas. On December 6, when my teacher was growing up (she’s about the same age as me so this would have been in the 70s), the classrooms all smelled of oranges as people illicitly peeled their satsumas under the desks. When I was growing up in Cork in the 70s we used to get a tray of satsumas for Christmas. The excitement in seeing them come into the house, the joy in eating satsumas whenever you wanted. In retrospect, I am very puzzled by this. It’s not like satsumas were not available all year round and I can’t imagine that my mother (very much officer in charge of food in our house) would have objected to us eating as many as we wanted at any time of year, unlike other Christmas treats which were rationed for obvious reasons. I have verified this with people my own age; the big tray of satsumas for Christmas seems to have been a treat for everyone in Ireland in the 70s. Baffling.
I’ve been Christmas lunching with work to beat the band. Exhausting but not unpleasant. I have had not one but two book club Christmas events (two bookclubs). One in my friend’s beautiful house in the suburbs where she had a magnificently decorated 12 foot tree in her drawing room (replacing the grand piano which normally sits there – question to self, where on earth did she put the grand piano?). Her son took a picture of us all in front of the tree and everyone looked amazing except me and I’m right in the middle. Sigh. Even my children felt the need to reassure me that I don’t really look like that. Eyes closed, mouth half open. My other bookclub met in the Westbury hotel for afternoon tea yesterday. Lovely and Christmassy and I kept my mouth closed for all the photos. Sadly, I looked a bit like Rudolf as I was dying with a cold and probably shouldn’t have gone and definitely should not have cycled home in the rain. I was so miserable last night, awake all night that I stayed home from work today. My new boss is lovely and, as I said to Mr. Waffle, “Since I started only about six weeks ago, I have taken every kind of leave, bereavement leave, holiday leave, leave to go to a funeral and now sick leave. He’ll think I’m incapable of putting in a full week.” I have looked at my work email over the course of the day but only in the most desultory way. All I need now is to tell him I’m applying for adoptive leave. I am not applying for adoptive leave.
I have had my hair cut – finally – first time in about 18 months, honestly, well overdue. I am delighted but I was truly unnerved to see how like my brother I looked in the hairdresser’s mirror with my hair cut short. Herself wants to know why I look so glum in all the selfies. Look, I feel foolish photographing myself, there was a time when this was not unusual, right?
Here I am looking slightly cheerier with herself.
Crocheted Christmas tree – an idea whose time has come?
My sister-in-law sent me this very pleasing picture of Hodge, Samuel Johnson’s cat in London.
We have got the best Christmas tree ever this year. I am delighted. I held off until this weekend just gone in the face of some opposition. We had to go to a new place because our regular vendor was out of trees in the size we wanted. What a blessing in disguise; a definitely superior tree was found after some tense moments that I would prefer not to speak about.
Everyone was there to decorate it (herself back from staying in a foundation in Munich where her friend is studying and which appears to be the most amazing place the Princess has ever stayed, I have rarely seen her so enthusiastic about anything and she’s polishing up her German again on foot of the visit so pleasing). And we had Christmas music playing in the background. I was beside myself with joy. Except for dying from my cold. It doesn’t really photograph well but you will have to take my word for it that the tree is magnifico.
More news as we get it.
My lovely mother-in-law died on the evening of Wednesday, November 8. She had been really ill with dementia for a long time and the news wasn’t entirely unexpected but still a shock. We got a phone call from the nursing home. In fairness to my brother who was staying with us, he scooted up to bed even though it was only about 10 at night. Mr. Waffle set about the gloomy task of calling his siblings and notifying relatives. It’s not all sitting in the front seat of the car being the eldest, you know.
On Thursday morning I rang my great new boss and told him the news. I kind of created quite a lot of stress for myself by going into work and collecting the laptop which probably wasn’t necessary and certainly added to my overall tensions levels. Then Mr. Waffle and I traipsed across the city to the nursing home. We spoke to herself on the phone as we drove across. These things are always harder when you are away. She was a bit miserable. “You’re both orphans now,” said she. A pause. “Very fat orphans.” Herself, keeping it real.
We went in to the nursing home and took my mother-in-law’s things. Not so many things. She was never very interested in possessions anyway; she was much more interested in people. Going into that room where we had visited her over the last number of years and seeing her in the bed was hard going. It’s funny, she was largely unresponsive for the last couple of years but there is quite the difference between a person, however ill, and a dead body. God, it was just really sad.
We had a couple of hours before Mr. Waffle and his brother were due to meet the undertakers so we went for a walk and a cup of tea.
In Ireland, people are usually buried quite quickly but because her daughter was coming from England, the funeral was deferred to the following Thursday. That was a hard week to put in. I went back to work and so did Mr. Waffle. It was a bit weird and neither of us were at our most productive. Poor Mr. Waffle was also very busy at work so that didn’t help much.
My sister has been a bit unwell and it was also her birthday so I went down to Cork at the weekend to see her. I felt a bit strange abandoning my poor orphaned husband but there it was. On Friday night, there was a deeply unpleasant smell under the stairs – hadn’t we suffered enough? I said to Mr. Waffle that if it was still there on Sunday, we would have to do something. My poor sister has moved into an apartment/hotel thing while getting works done in her house. It’s all very nice (though she saw a mouse in the kitchen, so not that nice) but obviously, she would rather be at home when she is ill. The works seem to be going well though. A side benefit is that the builders are waking my brother, who is living next door, at 7 in the morning. I am really enjoying his anguish as I am basically a bad person. Also the awful smell had gone by Sunday but is it really gone? Time alone will tell.
I was glad when we got to Wednesday lunch time and I finished off work to go to the removal. Because Dublin is a traffic nightmare we had to leave the house at 2.30 to get to Mr. Waffle’s appointment at the church at 4 in advance of the removal. In fact we were there at 3.30 and went to a café. For reasons I cannot understand all Dublin cafes close at 4. This is an unbreakable rule. When the cafe closed, Mr. Waffle went off to the church to meet the priest. His sister who had just arrived from England went too. The guys and I sat in the car and waited which was fine actually. We saw a man who looked just like my father-in-law with a shock of white hair and the orange trousers he favoured striding energetically along the street.
When Mr. Waffle came back we went into the undertaker’s. The removal was from 5-7 which is, I can tell you, a long time. The early attendees included a lot of retirees and relatives and actually a couple of our neighbours who made the trip across town. Later on came friends of the grown-up children who had been at work until then. The boys put in two good hours talking to lots of friends and relations including my brother who, I was slightly terrified, would only arrive after seven but all was well. My brother-in-law who is, quite possibly, the most popular person any of us will know in our lifetimes, was known by everyone and there was a long queue of neighbours, orienteers and relatives waiting to talk to him. He also has a big gang of friends who I first met nearly 25 years ago and who are remarkably close and who came in numbers. It’s funny, to see at regular intervals this group of people moving from students, to parents, to kings (and queens) of the corporate world.
I really felt for my sister-in-law who had, probably wisely, decided to leave her young daughter at home in London with her husband so in consequence didn’t have her own immediate family there to support her. That’s tough going.
After the removal, we had a bite to eat and then drove home. I went off to the airport to collect herself. She is in the middle of exam season so it was a bit of a struggle but she got home. God, I was glad to see her. I remember when her Dublin grandfather died she was in France and a colleague said, “The only good thing about this is that you’re getting that little girl home for a bit.” I can’t help feeling it was true again this time. She reminded me that when my own mother died she had been in Zambia and unable to get home and that in consequence she was never totally sure that her Nana was actually dead. I know what she means.
We were up at the crack of dawn on Thursday to make the funeral at 10. In fact, we were a bit too early and ended up going for a cup of tea in advance. I noticed (mother’s prerogative) herself had a hole in her tights and sent her off to buy a new pair. They were just out in the chemist having sold their last pair. “I might have a novelty pair in the back,” said the chemist. “Would they do?” They would not. She made good the deficit with black pen.
The quest for photos for the funeral missalette turned up very few good ones of my mother-in-law. As a rule, in photos she was turned sideways talking or laughing with someone or facing the camera with her eyes closed. I was somewhat surprised to see on the cover of the missalette a lovely picture of her with baby Michael. I was the only person in the extended family who knew it was Michael and quite a few people thought the baby was Mr. Waffle (she was a really attractive looking woman and aged very well but still and all). In the missalette there was a picture of her from the 1970s and Michael, quite genuinely, asked why a picture of his aunt was included. My sister-in-law is the spitting image of her mother and also very like her in temperament, it’s one of the reasons I am so fond of her.
The funeral service was beautiful. My mother-in-law was very musical and my sister-in-law has a friend who is a conductor and she put together a choir that sang some music from a number of classical pieces including Handel’s Messiah and Fauré’s requiem. Mr. Waffle and his brother did the readings, the grandchildren did prayers of the faithful and my sister-in-law did the eulogy. I love a eulogy, it really gives a flavour of the person who has died and my sister-in-law is a writer and I think she really did her mother justice – her charm; her love of travel and languages; her openness to new things; how she loved to walk in the mountains. It’s funny my sister-in-law’s latest book is just coming out and she dedicated it to her parents who loved the Wicklow mountains which feels pretty appropriate.
In fairness to the priest, he did a good job on the sermon as well and read a poem by Seamus Heaney – my mother-in-law loved poetry and I can never see a cherry tree without thinking of her reciting “Loviest of trees, the cherry now”. The poem the priest read is called Scaffolding.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
It was so appropriate. All the time she put in with her grandchildren; all the support she gave their parents; every Sunday at her house for years; the holidays in Kerry every year. She and my father-in-law are a large part of the reason we all know each other so well and that we have so many family bonds. She was a wonderful mother-in law and she adored her grandchildren. She was genuinely fascinated by their concerns. She had a great gift for listening and never offering advice unless asked. A rare and wonderful talent which, alas, I do not share. She was also, obviously, the mother of my husband and, I may be prejudiced here, but I think she did an excellent job.
After the mass, we met mourners outside. One of them was a man who was my boss of bosses at the time I got engaged to Mr. Waffle (he’s looking very well – somehow these senior men who never retire always do look really well). He came up to me and sympathised. I remember when I got engaged he sought me out and told me that I was very lucky as I would have the most wonderful mother-in-law. An odd angle I thought at the time but he was absolutely right. A couple of my own friends came which was really lovely. So did my sister who schlepped up from Cork notwithstanding being ill and shelled out cash to the kids to boot.
Lots of Mr. Waffle’s friends were there including the man who is legendary in our family for the following story. When he was a little boy he stayed with Mr. Waffle and they were given hot chocolate. Mr. Waffle protested to his mother that it was not nice but she told him to drink up. When his friend said the same, she investigated and discovered that she had inadvertently made the hot chocolate with Bisto. The friend told the kids that their grandparents were definitely the hippiest parents of any of the boys who went to their rather strait-laced school. No surprises there.
Then we all repaired to a room in a nearby pub and, while many people had to leave after the mass, I was amazed how many people came to the pub. Tons of relatives and loads of my brother-in-law’s gang of friends who would have had to take the day off work (local mores are that it is acceptable to leave work for a couple of hours to go to a funeral but if you stay on you have to take the day off). My brother-in-law had done trojan work pulling together slides from when my parents-in-law were young including many from when they lived in South America and they were supposed to play as a slide show but alas it didn’t work. But that work is definitely not wasted because I have them now. We were in the pub for hours – you kind of have to stay to the end but we were all exhausted and I was pretty glad when we had to leave to drop my sister-in-law to the airport. Poor Mr. Waffle was a shadow of his former self; so sad and tired and quiet.
Herself went back on Friday morning and then I went back to work on Friday afternoon and now it’s all done. A mountain climbed, appropriately enough.
My mother-in-law had a philosophical approach to difficulties. There were sad and difficult years towards the end of her life but overall she had an exciting and charmed life full of joys and adventures. She was utterly beloved by her family and had a wide circle of great friends. Not a bad tally and, as she often said so wisely herself, “We live in an imperfect world”.