I bought a pair of new walking shoes in Matthews in Cork. I tried various pairs but none seemed right. The young man in the shop (a relative of the owners currently in his final year in German and business yes, I was there a while) brought me out a beige pair which he suggested I try. “But they’re so ugly,” I protested. “Those are your words,” he said, “I would say they are less aesthetically attractive than some of the other boots.” I tried them on. They were so comfortable. My young shop assistant looked at them critically, “You know,” he said, “they’re not quite so ugly on.” Reader, I bought them.
My sister was in Chicago the week it was very cold and snowy. Miraculously, she got in and she got out. Her flight out of Chicago was much delayed but she got in to Dublin about midday. She then picked me up and drove us both to Cork.
I offered to drive, I really did but she has a new car and, secretly, I think she doubts my ability to keep it scratch free. It was lovely to have her to myself for the day even if she was exhausted. We stopped en route for lunch in Kildare Village (my struggles with which I have previously documented). I spent a fiver on lipbalm from Penhaligon which was profligate and €7.50 on a vase from Villeroy and Boch which was definitely a bargain.
As we approached Cork, I asked her “Will you go straight to bed when you get home?” “Oh no,” said she, “I have to spend a couple of hours answering emails.” I was suitably horrified by the work ethic expected from her American overlords. “But then,” I said, “then, you’ll go to bed.” “No,” she said, “I’m going to a record launch in Cawlan’s”. “Where?” “Cawlan’s.” “Never heard of it, spell it.” “C-O-U-G-H-L-A-N-S” “Oh,” I said, “Cocklan’s”. “No, Cawlan’s, you’ve just been out of Cork too long, you don’t know how to pronounce it any more,” said she.
I let it go, she was driving after having been awake for 36 hours and flown out of a snow bound mid-West. But I knew I was right.
Later that evening, my brother asked me would I run him to the pub in the car. “Sure,” said I, “where are you going?” “Cawlan’s.” I am a broken woman.
*You know from Hilaire Belloc ” But this pronunciation varies/ Some people call it Buenos Aires.”
We drove down to Cork on January 1. We had to pick herself up from Kildare where she stayed overnight at a friend’s house following a New Year’s Eve party. Personally, I was tucked up in my bed at midnight and it was fantastic. I don’t know why I didn’t start doing this years ago. Did I mention that I turn 50 this year?
It was only when we stopped in Cashel for lunch that herself noticed that her carefully packed bag had been left behind in Dublin by her mother who faithfully promised to put it in the car and then completely forgot. “You have your overnight bag,” I pointed out, not entirely hopefully. That remark was treated with the contempt that it deserved.
We were coming to a family in Cork which was a bit laid low. My father had a fall last week and although he appeared to have sustained no serious injury he had a most spectacular bruise covering all one side of his face. Meanwhile my brother had contracted flu and my sister had sprained her ankle. Not propitious. We called in to my parents’ house to distribute and receive presents and inspect the various invalids before travelling on to our friends’ house in East Cork where we were staying. They seemed alright and they improved over the course of the week.
Our friends’ M and R had just vacated their premises in Garryvoe before we arrived and it was delightfully warm (normally their fancy energy efficient Scandi heating requires a day to heat up). We unpacked. Mr. Waffle came downstairs, “Is something wrong with the toilet in the ensuite?” “Yes,” I said, “remember they told us when we met for lunch and when they texted that they were leaving. ” “They met you for lunch and texted you, but you did not pass this on,” he said with understandable bitterness. His first new year’s google search was for dealing with a used broken toilet. In view of the audible unhappiness attendant on this issue, I was not going to fall for it the next day when Daniel said to me, “I used the broken toilet.” Sadly, it was all too true. Later in the week I stumbled blearily from bed to the en suite bathroom and would have fallen into the common error but Mr. Waffle was ready for the lot of us and the toilet bowl was sealed with sellotape and there was a sticker on the lid saying “Out of Order”. Truly, he is a prince among husbands.
We made a 500 piece jigsaw and failed to make a 1,000 piece one. Valuable lesson there for us.
The Princess and I spent two hours shopping in Cork for a replacement wardrobe for her. I have to tell you that it nearly broke my spirit. I’m not able for the young people’s shops with their absence of places to sit. We bought a pair of cords for her which I quite liked. “Do I look like Frodo of the Shire?” she asked. I assured her not. Big shout out to the lovely waitress in Barry’s, Douglas who spontaneously admired them. Actually, I found the service in shops and cafes in Cork uniformly lovely. Even though they probably despise my family as non-Corkonians, they concealed it really well.
My sister took the children and me to dinner in Milano’s. Later in the week herself went for breakfast with me in the Crawford (where we had a look at the lovely Harry Clarke exhibition) lunch with her aunt and wandered around town like the Dublin sophisticate she is. Daniel and I went on the Ferris Wheel on the Grand Parade which was surprisingly pleasant.
In the absence of wifi in Garryvoe, Daniel and Michael took to doing the crossword.
In a very mild way we went for a walk on the beach and in the forest.
Herself showed a gratifying level of interest in old family photos which are all stored in three drawers under one side of the old bookcase (bought by my Nana from the Canon in Kilmallock and designed for a much larger house). On the plus side they are all together. On the minus side, they are not particularly well labeled or, really, at all. There’s one I quite like of my mother and her classmates doing calisthenics on the front lawn of their rural Limerick boarding school in the 1940s (to impress parents? who took the picture? so many questions which are now unanswerable). Herself was able to unerringly identify her Nana in the photos. Others were trickier. There’s some young man in a Free State army uniform with his Lee Enfield rifle. Who is he? My father doesn’t know and also, doesn’t care. I didn’t think that either side of the family were big fans of the Free State so I am a bit baffled. On the plus side there was a picture of my father’s grandfather which my father instantly recognised. His intervention was unnecessary as my mother had written all his details on the back. “Born 1848, died 1938” I read out. “Look,” I said, “born just after the famine, the year of the Young Irelander uprising and your Grandad sitting just over there knew him well, lived with him, talked with him, look at how close you are to the middle of the the 19th century.” Both she and her grandfather were unmoved by this but studying the picture she said irately, “He has the same bags under his eyes that you, Grandad and Aunty Pat have, and they’ve passed on to me.” She neglected to mention that they are also the bags my Granny had but, they were. Notwithstanding this unfortunate genetic inheritance, I think he looks very kindly and my father says he was lovely. Great genes as well as eye baggy ones, he lived to be 90 as I pointed out to herself.
We came back to Dublin today. The builders are supposed to be coming to start work on Monday. We have put off clearing out the kitchen and under the stairs until tomorrow. Oh dear. And I still have my assignment for my course to do (deadline end January, loads of time, right?) and it’s back to school and work on Monday. Alas, alack.
The coda to our logistics last week was getting Herself back to France. She was due to fly out at 9.50 on Wednesday morning. Alas, I did not see some form online which was supposed to be filled in for under 16s [Air France didn’t need one but Aer Lingus did – I know, I know, when you’re explaining you’re losing] and she was thrown off on the steps of the plane. Mr. Waffle had to zoom back to the airport and re-book her for a later flight and then we needed to re-book her train from Charles de Gaulle to the west of France. It was all a bit stressful. She is Miss Super Competent in fairness to her. She got on the plane in Dublin and from there, unaccompanied, navigated her way to the train station in CDG and on to the express train back to her host family in the west of France.
Poor Mr. Waffle meanwhile spent the morning in the airport (unexpectedly, obviously) and then came home to find that the wretched cat had captured a blackbird and brought it into the kitchen. Mr. Waffle arrived home to a storm of feathers and the bird standing dazedly on the work surface between attempts to hurl itself out the closed window. The cat was pacing the floor frantically some dimly understood precept (or possibly her vast bulk) preventing her from hopping up on to the work surface. Mr. Waffle threw her into the utility room and ushered the bird into the garden. The cat got out the cat flap in the utility room and was waiting anxiously for them at the back door so that escape plan was not entirely successful. The bird got out eventually and we are still finding feathers in surprising places. Joy.
Meanwhile it was Halloween in Dublin and for the first time since moving in, our decorations beat next door’s. It could be that now that their children are 19 and 17 they are not trying so hard but I like to think that we really tried. The boys looked very impressive in their costumes but were too sophisticated to go door to door and just wore them for school.
We had planned to go to Cork for a couple of days over mid-term before Mr. Waffle’s father died and I wondered whether we should cancel but after some humming and hawing we went in the end. In a new development, the boys stayed in my parents’ house and Mr. Waffle and I stayed with my sister. This was a very satisfactory development for everyone except, possibly, our host.
We drove down on Thursday night which was a bit of an epic trek but it did mean that we woke up in Cork on Friday morning ready for a day of Cork related fun. In what can only be called the high water mark of family cultural engagement, the boys said that they wanted to go to Charles Fort in Kinsale on Friday, so we did. It was a bit damp but we missed the worst of the rain. On the strength of this, I bought a new family heritage card for €90 which means that we have to go to at least six heritage sites over the next year to break even. I fear the worst. So do the children.
We went for lunch in the Bulman and Daniel took the obligatory before and after pictures of the ketchup bottle to send to his uncle who does not love ketchup. The waitress assured me that ketchup is part vegetable but I am not entirely convinced.
We took the traditional picture at the caution children sign.
On Saturday, my brother and sister minded the boys for much of the day (including a trip to Milano’s for pizza, let joy be unconfined) leaving myself and Mr. Waffle to our own devices. We were a bit blinded by the unexpected freedom. We went for breakfast and, after a trip to the Crawford gallery and a mild wander around the town in the rain including a look at food fair in the City Hall, we waddled on to lunch. In slight desperation, wondering what to do next, I asked Mr. Waffle to check a list of 17 hidden exciting things to do in Cork he found on the internet. One of them was feed the ducks in the Lough. I mean, I’ve no objection to feeding the ducks but I wouldn’t exactly call it exciting. We had about an hour and a half until Mr. Waffle was meeting a friend for coffee and I almost suggested going home (to be fair, it was lashing) but then I had a mild stroke of inspiration and we went to see Elizabeth Fort and the Protestant cathedral.
Elizabeth Fort boasted mildly exciting views and an air raid shelter which I don’t remember seeing before. It was extremely damp and had a random collection of cold damp objects for viewing including this slightly alarming map.
I quite like the cathedral although I am not generally a fan of neo-gothic. Mr. Waffle wondered about the candles and the IHS on the altar. “Maybe they are very high church?” I offered. “Not in Ireland,” he said firmly. He said it was the least Protestant looking Protestant church he had ever been in. I wonder was he misled because Ireland is basically full of 19th century neo-gothic churches that are Catholic and there are inevitable stylistic similarities. It’s a mystery.
That evening, the boys played board games with my sister and her partner and had a fantastic time.
We drove back on Sunday morning. It was actually a really good idea to go in the end. We all had a lovely time. It turns out that despite the cynical words of my son Michael on another occasion, there is such a thing as fun for all the family.
Me (buying the Saturday newspaper requirements for Cork – The Daily Telegraph (yes, I know) and The Examiner for my father, The Guardian for my Aunt and the Irish Times for me – truly a back breaking load): Can I tap to pay?
Young woman in the shop: No, I’m afraid you’ll have to put in your PIN.
Me: Why don’t you have the tap facility? Is there a cost?
Her: The boss doesn’t want it. It’s a no go, if it makes our lives easier.
What have we been doing, you ask yourself. Well, wait no longer.
In the category of what herself refers to as “culture as middle class performance*”, I outdid myself by taking them all to see Ruth Negga as Hamlet in the Gate. I wasn’t as prepared as I might have been for full frontal nudity with my teenage sons, their father and myself sitting in Row A. However, overall, it was pretty positive. It was very long. At the interval (90 minutes in), I half expected that the boys would have had enough but they were actually really enjoying it and their father’s hope that he might have to fall upon his sword and take them home early was dashed. In fact, Michael was very excited and started quoting all the Shakespeare he knew as well as sprinkling his conversation with doth, verily and forsooth. He and Mr. Waffle went to the Centra at the top of O’Connell street during the interval as the queue at the bar was massive and he only wanted a soft drink. Mr. Waffle tells me, and I am sure that he is correct, that the Centra at the top of O’Connell Street at 9.30 on a Friday night is not the optimal environment for a 13 year old using Shakespearean language and trying to speak in iambic pentameter.
The second part wasn’t as good as the first in my view and it did drag a bit but overall, it was one of the most engaging and accessible Shakespeare plays I’ve been to see.
We went to the Cinema and saw “Johnny English”. Probably not “culture as performance” but we all found it mildly enjoyable.
Last Sunday, Mr. Waffle had to work and so I was on duty taking Michael to hockey training. The whole thing ran like a poorly oiled machine. We went to early mass as Gaeilge to facilitate this. Normally we cycle but I had left my bike at work so the boys cycled and I met them en route on a Dublin bike. Michael had to turn around and go home as he hadn’t brought his coat on the baffling grounds that I might not approve. He was freezing. Daniel took ages to arrive as his chain had come off. Eventually we set off. When I walked round to the church, having got rid of my Dublin bike, Michael was pacing up and down; he had put his bike lock in the basket of the Dublin bike. We had to walk to the Dublin bike stand as he couldn’t cycle on his own as he didn’t know where it was. By the time we arrived the sermon was just finishing up and small wonder. Alas. When we got home, Michael announced that his runners were too small and his tracksuit bottoms too big. “Don’t be cross,” he said, “I told Dad last week.” I was a bit cross all the same. We turned around and drove straight to the massive shopping centre near his training and bought runners and tracksuit that stayed up (he is tall but v skinny so this is a challenge). I discovered that he had never learnt to tie laces. It is true that if you wait until they are ready they learn quickly. He got the hang of it in about two minutes. Though as Daniel pointed out, it was possible that he was ready some time ago. Anyhow better late than never.
When poor Mr. Waffle came back from his meeting at about 4 we went for a mild walk in the Phoenix park and saw an exhibition about the RMS Leinster (it sank). I particularly enjoyed the story of the captain who had a family in Dublin and Holyhead so he could sleep in his own bed with his wife regardless of which side of the Irish Sea he was on.
Daniel got new glasses and I think they’re great. Literally, nobody else cares, even Daniel.
Last Friday, I went to Cork and visited aged relatives and some of the younger ones as well. I thought my father had really improved since his emergence from hospital so, all to the good. I came back on the train last night and it took forever; delayed by 50 long, long minutes.
Today we went to the Obelisk on Killiney Hill. Mild walk, great views.
And what have you been up to yourself?
*Not her own line but she likes to use it when speaking of her mother.