The 27th of September is a busy day for my family. The boys were 2 yesterday and it was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. If I weren’t sick as a dog, I would compose eloquent posts on both these topics but it will just have to wait while I go back to bed and keep coughing.
Archives for September 2007
A weekend filled with incident and adventure
On Saturday morning the boys and I went to the supermarket leaving the Princess and her father to be sick together. On our return, the Princess had, miraculously, completely recovered and her father was sick as a dog.
The children and I took ourselves off to the Brocante, you know, the Belgian experience where they close off the streets, add some chip vans and neighbours sell unwanted clutter to each other. It is surprisingly appealing. The afternoon took us off to a birthday party where the anglophone world was represented by a New Yorker, an English speaking Quebecer, an English woman and, my favourite, her half Irish (Kerry), half Spanish husband. Their little girl looked entirely Irish/English, definitely a pale Northern European and their little boy was entirely Spanish. By the end of the party, Mr. Waffle had stopped vomiting and was in a position to come and collect us. Good news as our paediatrician would say.
By Sunday, my loving husband was largely recovered. We took ourselves off to enjoy car free day. My colleagues were saying today – where did all the children come from at the weekend and I felt like replying, they were all mine. There were no cars anywhere in Brussels, all 19 communes. I insisted on taking the children out so that they could scoot and pedal up and down the road. This turned out to be a bit of a disaster as the boys soon lost interest in pedaling and began to try to throw themselves under the odd passing taxi. Undaunted, we took the tram into Place Royal where there were bouncy castles and farm animals and all manner of excitements. Sometimes I think my standards for high entertainment have really plummeted over the years. It was good, though. I was also allowed my obligatory moment’s smugness when I read in the paper that in Dublin they closed exactly two streets to cars. A token gesture, surely even they must feel. All over Brussels in odd corners there were neighbours who had hauled out tables and chairs to have lunch together in the middle of the street. It was lovely. Over on Bxlblog, they’re saying they should do it once a month, wouldn’t that be fabulous?
And then, in the afternoon we went to the “Fair of Gascon produce” in the Sablon. They went the whole hog and decorated the Sablon to look like a French village square. They also supplied a small free merry-go-round. This was, frankly, disastrous as the two men drinking wine and pressing the buttons were indifferent to order and the rule of the jungle prevailed in getting your children onto their preferred or any ride. We retired early with only minor injuries and took home some foie gras and cassoulet to nurse us back to health.
Weekend reading round-up
From the Observer magazine:
“…a plethora of other 12-step programmes, including Clutterers Anonymous and Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous – two meetings you hope don’t ever get mixed up or invited over to each other’s houses.”
From the Irish Times birth announcements (fadas omitted apologies to purists):
Cuireann Seamus agus Rhonda an-fhailte roimh Aengus Seosamh Alan, A rugadh i Melbourne, An Astrail ar an 18u Mean Fomhair, 2007. Dearthair le h-aghaidh Annabelle agus Charlotte.
Seamus and Rhonda are delighted to announce the safe arrival of Aengus Seosamh Alan on September 18, 2007…a brother for Annabelle and Charlotte.
Buiochas le Dia”
Does anyone else feel that Annabelle and Charlotte were named at a time when the family felt less enthusiasm for the Irish language?
Betjeman at bedtime, surprisingly pleasant.
The Princess was sick as a dog on Friday. Mr. Waffle stayed home with her this morning and I took over in the afternoon. She was hot and lethargic but she insisted on making fairy cakes. We did, she has a will of iron.
Halfway through her first cake she said “Mummy, I feel sick” and she ran to the bathroom but unfortunately got sick all over the hall floor. I comforted her and cleaned her up and put her into our bed. “You stay there while I clean up the vomit.”
“OK, Mummy, but call me when you’re finished because I want to go and finish my bun.”
What future for Brussels without Belgium?
This was the headline I read over a fellow commuter’s shoulder the other morning. Belgium is in crisis, in case you didn’t know. It made page 33 of the London Independent a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that big a crisis. As Angeline (and to be fair, a number of others) kindly pointed out to me, the country has been offered for sale on ebay. I am sure that this has garnered just the kind of publicity that the caretaker government welcomes
Since the national elections on June 10, Belgium has been without a government. And no sign of anything budging either. The King is rushed off his feet.
Belgium is divided into regions and communities in an extraordinarily complex way for such a small country. There are Flanders and Wallonia which are federal areas. Then the Brussels region has special status. The Flemish want to leave Belgium and take their money with them – they subsidise Wallonia, it appears. My taxi driver from the airport the other night, a Walloon with a Flemish father, said “if your lover says she wants to leave, do you forbid her? Let the Flemish go.” And unbelievable as it seems to me, it looks like they might split.
A country formed in 1830 and given a minor German princeling as King (the late Princess Charlotte’s husband, since you ask), it’s hardly a historical entity of great antiquity. In its time, it has presided over murder in the Congo – “Heart of Darkness” anyone? – and been a battlefield for two world wars – remember plucky little Belgium? It’s fair to say that it has some negative associations. The late W.G. Sebald, beloved of literati, gave it a particularly hard time, saying “And indeed, to this day one sees in Belgium a distinctive ugliness, dating from the time when the Congo colony was exploited without restraint and manifested in the macabre atmosphere of certain salons and the strikingly stunted growth of the population, such as one rarely comes across elsewhere. At all events, I well recall that on my first visit to Brussels in December 1964 I encountered more hunchbacks and lunatics than normally in a whole year.” That is unfair. I like the Belgians. I like their food. They have acres of great art and know lots about it. I am endlessly entertained by their attitude to linguistic diversity and their coastline (it is dull, they adore it). The Belgians are an enterprising bunch. It’s probably the only place in Europe where tramps routinely speak three languages. And though Belgium is largely flat, it has beautiful towns and some lovely countryside (in the South, the non-flat bit, I concede).
If Belgium dissolves, I will be sad. In a reflection on the fact that I have spent far too long in the heart of Europe, I also note that it will mean at least one extra country in the EU (and this scenario ignores the fate of Brussels) and the consequences for Council voting rights and the new Treaty will be ominous. I bet the Portuguese (the current holders of the EU’s rotating Presidency – there’s a new one every six months to keep you on your toes) are hoping that Belgium will wait until next year to disintegrate.
And in other non-dissolution of Belgium news – Michael has started vomiting again and the Princess went to bed with a temperature but, hurrah, my husband is home.
Late, late, late
I am one of life’s tardy people. My father always says that my mother has no appreciation that time is finite and I have inherited that flaw. I always think things will take less time than they do.
Yesterday I had to take leave to mind sick Daniel (poor Daniel, he’s fine today, thank you for asking) because, alas, my husband is off in foreign parts and I am holding the fort. In between being sick Daniel slept, so it could have been worse. At 5.30 our student babysitter came to mind him (he had been made safe by a motillium suppository and, if you don’t know what that is, you’re better off) and I drove off to pick up Michael from the creche and the Princess from the childminder. The traffic was dreadful and I didn’t get back until (eek) 6.30.
I fed the children and the babysitter (well, otherwise when was she going to get dinner?) and then we bathed the boys and put them to bed and then while K got the Princess cleaned up and ready for bed, I got ready for my dinner with a delegation visiting Brussels for work. I felt mildly self-conscious applying my make-up in front of a beautiful 21 year old but, never mind.
At 7.30, I drove to the school in pouring rain and finally found parking at 7.45 and ran in, late, for the parent-teacher meeting that started at 7.30. This was a mildly depressing experience. Mostly from pragmatism but partly from principle we put the Princess into the school nearest to our house. It is a school with pupils who are overwhelmingly the children of poor immigrants and the remainder are the children of poor Belgians. On the whole we have been very happy with the school and very smug about our choice. However, it is undoubtedly true that we were also aware that a lot of the children in the Princess’s class didn’t speak French but, to be honest, I would have thought that in their third year in the school system (Belgian school starts at two and a half – it keeps them tough) with significant extra language tuition, that problem would have disappeared. Apparently not. Madame Christine tells us that she is still gesturing to get her meaning across. There are children who do not understand “folder” (OK), there are children who do not understand “school bag” (less OK) and there are children who do not understand “put” (not OK at all). Lots of the children don’t know their colours. This is daft, they’re FOUR. I was telling the Princess an edited version of last night’s encounter this morning and asked her did she know her colours and she said “oh yes and when Madame Christine does the exercises on colours, she keeps saying to me ‘stop, you’re going too fast, give the others a chance.'” I don’t think this illustrates that my child is vastly gifted but my smug four year old clearly does.
At the end of last year, the teachers found that the children didn’t know what things were made of. Sample dialogue:
What’s this made of?
Yes, I know it’s a fork, but what’s it made of?
Sample dialogue with the Princess at breakfast:
What’s my spoon made of?
What’s your spoon made of?
What’s your bowl made of?
What’s the cornflake box made of?
I’m hoping that this business of what things are made of is not the key learning for the year. I know that she needs to learn lots from school other than ‘academic’ things, how to socialise, how to work out her place in the world, how to become autonomous but I know that the problems her classmates are having are almost certainly not experienced in the posh communal school down the road (which had no places by the time her feckless mother called them).
Funnily enough, the Princess’s school is private (as it’s Catholic) and the posh school is public. The fact that it was catholic was one of the selling points of our school for me until the head ‘reassured’ me that it was Catholic in name only. I see where he’s coming from, although there are lots of statues of ‘dead Jesus’, if the Princess is to be believed, there doesn’t seem to be any religion in the classroom. This is also funny when you consider the situation with faith schools in the UK as outlined recently by the GPmama. In fact there is a (Catholic) friend of Mr. Waffle’s in London who is still doing the flowers in her local Protestant church because she cosied up to them in the hopes of getting her daughter in. Unfortunately, the daughter didn’t get in despite all that creative use of oasis.
So, 8.15, I really had to go though I would have liked to stay until the end because, you know, when you get worried about things like this, you like to have a complete picture so that you can drive yourself insane. Bucketing down and I was supposed to be at the restaurant near the office and was striding womanfully across the school yard. I rang and said, quite mendaciously, that I was circling looking for parking and they should go ahead without me. Oh no, they would wait. Alas. Mercifully parking very easy on arrival so no one was forced to eat the table.
My delegation being on a bit of a break from their day jobs were very relaxed. I meanwhile had my mobile phone on the table waiting for a call from the babysitter to tell me to come home because Daniel had been sick. She didn’t which was just as well because we were paying for dinner and it would have been difficult to do before people had finished eating which they didn’t until gone midnight; you will recall that they were relaxed. I dropped a couple of my Brussels based colleagues home (because I am kind) and pitched up about 12.30 all apologies to saintly babysitter who had an 8.00 am lecture next morning. Called her a taxi, put out the bins and went to bed at 1.00. Up with the boys at 3 and 5 and the Princess prodded me out of bed at 6 so that we could have breakfast alone together before the boys woke up.
Arrived into work this morning to hear young colleague complaining that she is exhausted; jet lag from her trip to LA. Firmly buttoned my lip.