When I was a child, my parents would regularly say to me, “Children should be seen and not heard.” It did not seem odd to me and it was standard that children would have to be silent to allow grown-ups converse although, children could, of course, leave (I found out the hard way that swinging silently but thrillingly from the curtains in the room until eventually bringing down the pelmet was not an approved activity). It didn’t seem harsh or inhuman or anything other than completely normal. My husband was astonished when he heard this and it feeds further into his belief that I had the last Victorian childhood in Ireland. He, of course, was raised by hippies (well, relative hippies,I mean his father was a captain of industry but a very right-on one), so I was unsurprised. I checked with my bookclub and while I was not alone in hearing this expression brandished about, I was a definite minority. I feel that it was reasonably widespread but the unscientific evidence seems to be against me on this point. Gentle readers, did your parents say it to you?
Archives for February 2018
It’s mid-term. Herself and Daniel are off in Munich on a school tour. They left at 4 yesterday morning and seem to be still alive. A tribute to their teachers.
We strongly encouraged Michael to go but he even more strongly resisted so he is home alone for the week. Boy is he loving it, my little home bird. We signed him up for a sports course between 9.30 and 4 (advertised as “for the sporty child” – “I’m not a sporty child,” he pointed out. I said that it would be fine, it is fine). I knocked off work early today and picked him up. I offered all manner of treats but he just wanted to go home and sit in front of the fire where, even now, he is sitting happily. It’s all very peaceful.
Things are the Sons of Heaven
My parents and my grandparents had lots of mahogany furniture. My grandmother gave my mother some of her furniture including an enormous solid bookcase and my mother spent a great deal of her own time scouring auctions from where much of our furniture was sourced (I used to sit beside her quiet as a mouse because she told me if I moved at all, items would be knocked down to me and I was terrified). This was great when my parents lived in a big house but not so fantastic when they moved to a smaller Edwardian semi-detached house which basically had to be organised and extended around the furniture. I remember one of my friends commenting when he came to my parents house first what a curiously old-fashioned house it was.
Anyway, doubtless due to my peculiar upbringing, I love dark furniture. I think mahogany is a lovely, lovely wood. And it is out of fashion so truly beautiful pieces are going for a song. I want to cry every time I see a big house auction and fantasise about bringing all these items home to my terraced Victorian house. Although, frankly, with the items we have already imported from my parents house and the sofas of doom, there isn’t a great deal of space. Furthermore, I am not at all handy and so the round mahogany table which should tilt sideways, is permanently slightly askew, let us not even speak of the piano, the wardrobe door will not close (my grandmother gave me the wardrobe and I love it but it is inconvenient to have to wedge one door shut with a child’s old sock) and one leg is collapsing and there seem to be no carpenters who are at all interested in mending these beautiful things. It is all a bit depressing. I saw in the Irish Times design supplement one Saturday (which I find curiously appealing, I know what you’re thinking, stop it) an exhortation to readers to go out and buy mahogany furniture cheap at auction and then paint it over with pretty pastel shades. I think I nearly did cry when I saw that.
Am I entirely alone in my love for cluttered living with dark furniture? A whole generation of Victorians can’t be wrong.
Independent Lives of Infinite Variety* or Weekly Round-Up
Last Monday night, Daniel had hurling training, there was a talk in the school about Transition Year and I was hosting bookclub. Something had to give. It was Daniel’s training. He took it manfully, particularly since the weather was freezing.
On Tuesday night it was parents’ council in the school at 7, Michael in scouts at 7.30 and Mr. Waffle at soccer at 8. We made everything but one of us had to cycle home from the school at 8.30 in the evening in positively Baltic conditions.
On Wednesday morning, the Princess and I left the house at the same time. As we arrived at the top of the road in the freezing cold, she said, “I’ve forgotten my gloves but I’m not going back”. She had “mocks” this week, a venerable Irish rite of passage where you do a whole set of practice exams for a week before you do your actual State examinations in the summer. Since you have half a year of the course left to cover, results are invariably hair-raising. They are taking these with immense seriousness in the school and she was particularly anxious not be late. I was wearing gloves. It was very chilly, my fingers were frozen inside my gloves. I half-heartedly said, “You can have mine.” “No,” she said, “you have further to cycle” and she pedaled off like a demon in the other direction. I felt like a heel all day.
On Wednesday night there were no activities. This encouraged me to spread my culinary wings. Other nights I get home at 6.30 and there is some activity which means that dinner has to be on the table and eaten by 7 which doesn’t really allow for flights of fancy. On Wednesday night we had salmon (sadly still raw when brought out of the oven), cheesy potatoes from the butcher (slightly out of date but ingredients were described as “potatoes, cheese, sauce” so a bit difficult to gauge how bad out of date might be, sauce, it turned out, included cream so that meant out of date corresponded to “completely inedible”) and green beans (do you find that these always take longer to cook than you might think?). The whole was an unmitigated disaster. Thursday saw me returning to “fun with pasta” (say what you like, pasta and pesto, hard to go wrong) and last night Mr. Waffle had to go out to his parents’ house so the children and I had take away which was undoubtedly the highlight of the culinary week although, doubtless, very bad for all of us.
How was your own culinary/activity filled week?
*Title is Hilaire Belloc, if you’re wondering
Absorbing Lessons about Work from your Parents and Applying them at Home (inadvisability thereof)
Her (lying on the sofa): That picture over there is crooked.
Me (sitting down on the other side of the room): Well, get up and straighten it.
Her: I’m afraid you’ll have to do that, you see, I’m policy and you’re operations.
Change and Decay in All Around I See
When I was in my 30s, a lot of my friends got married. The year that herself was born (2003), we attended 5 weddings in three different countries and it nearly killed us all.
I think, gloomily enough, this is going to be the decade of funerals, not funerals of my friends, I hasten to add, but of their parents. It’s only the start of February but I’ve already been to a removal and a funeral and a colleague’s father is gravely ill and I fear the worst. The removal was for another colleague’s father who died suddenly last weekend. The funeral was my oldest friend’s father who was also a friend of my parents.
The funeral was in Ballydehob in West Cork. I was speaking to a friend before I went and he said, “I love Ballydehob, that gorgeous little bridge.” As a Cork person, I didn’t want to seem ignorant of something a Dublin person knew about and I agreed sagely but inside I was thinking, “What gorgeous little bridge?” Then I realised he meant the really quite big bridge in Ballydehob. That’s Dubliners all over for you.
It’s about a two hour drive from Cork city and although I thought I’d left plenty of time, I arrived just as the funeral service was starting. It was one of the nicest funerals I’ve ever been at. Firstly, the church was beautiful and the service was short and straightforward and I liked the music. My friend spoke really well about her father and made everyone laugh and remember his good points. She spoke about the wonderful care he had received in hospital which is not the kind of thing we see much in the papers and I found it mildly reassuring. Unlike my friend who bore up amazingly, I was a bit tearful. I had known this man all my life and it felt like the end of an era, the utter end of a part of my childhood: I remembered him tending to my teeth (he was a dentist and probably the reason why I have never been at all afraid of dentists); making up stories for myself and my friend (he was a great storyteller – as a dedicated amateur actor, he brought great oomph to performances for even the smallest audiences) and trying in vain to persuade me to eat a boiled egg as a very small girl.
He was buried in Schull with a superb view over the harbour. He was always a great man for a view and he used to live in Oysterhaven on a hill with view and work in Cork at a time when commuting was not the commonplace feature of our lives that it is today. My parents thought he was crazy with his insane 30 minute commute (length of my father’s commute – 3 minutes by bicycle, my mother’s – 10 minutes on foot) but it was worth it to him. It’s nice to think he is buried with a view.
He was 87 and had not been in great health so his death was not a complete surprise. I was very glad that we had seen him en famille over the summer holidays. I felt really sad for my friend as well. She’s an only child and, I know, “how they will manage my funeral” is probably not a good reason to have more than one child but it is a hard time to be alone. She was amazing. I was struck by what a gift she has for friendship, perhaps because she was an only child (swings, roundabouts). She has a lot of lifelong friends, me included, and although the groups of friends don’t necessarily know each other particularly well, we’ve know each other and our stories through her over a lifetime. I had such a nice time at the hotel catching up with all these friends which I know sounds a bit weird (I am doubtless destined to become one of these old people who really enjoys a good funeral) but it was lovely. I ended up sitting beside her next door neighbour from when my friend was a child. I was always slightly wary of the neighbour because, like my friend, she is a year older than me and, when you’re seven, that’s a lot of sophistication. We had so much fun reminiscing about when we were children and the things we got up to with my friend. Her family were farmers and she told me that, very sadly, they lost the farm during the recession (apparently it was all over the news, how miserable), meanwhile the friend on the other side was telling me how her partner also had recession property difficulties and it struck me that our generation really bore a lot of the pain of Ireland’s recent boom/bust cycle: many of us were forced to emigrate in the 80s and 90s and almost all of us were also absolutely crucified on the property market between 2000 and 2008. However, I suppose we’re all still standing.
At least the longest January in living memory is finally over and things will surely improve. I am trying to teach my children “Anois teacht an Earraigh” in celebration (as they are learning no Irish poetry in school – insert middle aged tutting sound here) but they are resisting ferociously. They don’t seem to regard it as celebratory either. And how are your own start of spring celebrations going?
Updated to add: February has not proved to be the break from relentless gloom that I had hoped. I heard that a former lovely, lovely colleague died of cancer. My colleague’s father who had been ill, died on Valentine’s Day. I went down to Tipperary for the funeral the Saturday after. My friend R’s (one half of the couple who got married in November) brother died the same week. He had been ill for some time and it wasn’t a complete surprise but it was very sad. I went over to the house on Friday night because I couldn’t make both funerals on Saturday and felt I had to go to Tipperary to represent the office. I got into my car at 7 on Friday evening and, as I did so, the neighbours rapped on the window to ask was I going over to R’s brother’s house as they had been there earlier. I did think it was ominous and I drove across town at speed but when I got there there was still a good crowd. The dead man had been great fun (one of his obituaries described him as Falstaffian) and they were throwing one last party. I stayed until about 10 o’clock. Already when I arrived a number of people were chatting across the open coffin with glasses of wine in their hands. It was actually very nice. The family had dug up loads of old photos and press cuttings (he was a public man) and it was lovely to look at them. At one point the room where the body was became very silent. I said to R, “Are they saying a decade of the rosary?” We both felt a bit surprised as the dead man was not at all religious; it turned out they were singing traditional songs as he had been a big man for trad and various traditional music luminaries (utterly unknown to me, philistine that I am) were in the house. I felt a heel not to be going to the funeral on the following day but I sent Mr. Waffle as our family representative.
Notwithstanding that all these funerals are lovely occasions, I could do with a bit of a break, to be honest. I’m hoping for a “no funeral March”.
Updated to add: Just this morning, March 3, a friend texted me that her mother died last night of an aggressive form of cancer which was diagnosed just after Christmas. People, I have had it.