What did the world’s best husband purchase for me? Oh yes.
Me: How did the history exam go today?
Herself: Not great.
Mr. Waffle: Chronologically speaking, she is the latest victim of Hitler’s foreign policy.
I’ve been in book clubs since I was in my late 20s. Always all women. I wouldn’t say that reading books is/was entirely incidental to these groups but I always found it to be secondary to the pleasure of being with a group of friends.
The first one I joined in Brussels was a very sophisticated affair with hard books and a serious focus. I only got in because they wanted some more English speakers. I quite enjoyed it though all of the other members were slightly terrifyingly beautiful (all Dutch and Swedish bar me and my English friend) and had very impressive jobs (our biggest coup was a Dutch MEP – look I was in my 20s we were all a lot more impressionable then). We read worthy books around a theme and if it was your turn to lead debate, then you read the book and wrote up reading notes for the others. Once a year we had a black tie dinner with partners. Yes, really.
When I came back to Ireland in 2000, I missed the camaraderie of the Dutch (really it was basically Dutch – v organised and immensely thorough) book club and set up one with my friends in Dublin. This is still going strong – first Monday of the month for nearly 20 years. We take a relaxed approach to reading the book. Mostly at least one person has not read the book and, on at least one occasion, no one had read the book. It makes me really happy because without this book club I think I would have lost contact with a lot of my friends from that time, just because we’re all busy and lots of us have children. When I came back from my stint in Brussels in 2008, I rejoined seamlessly. I love it. [A parenthesis here – did I set up another book club while I lived in Brussels between 2003 and 2008? I most certainly did.] We have a core group – lots of lawyers – and a revolving cast of members who come and go. Three of our core group are sisters and I am almost certain one of our revolving cast left in horror because she heard them talking to each other without knowing they were sisters. Sister one remarked that sister two’s new coat was not a success and sister three agreed. There was then a discussion of sister one’s new haircut and all three agreed that it was probably a mercy she wore a wig for work. I could see new member thinking that this was a tough school.
And then, eight or nine years ago, a friend of Mr. Waffle’s invited me to join her book club. This was different again – held about once every six weeks on a Sunday afternoon, always in our foundress’s beautiful, beautiful house – this is one where everyone reads the book and we have a very structured discussion about it and then go next door to the dining room and have the most wonderful afternoon tea. In the course of this we discuss weighty political topics and current affairs but also all sorts of gossip. It’s lovely to make a group of new friends in your 40s. Mr. Waffle’s friend (he sometimes says plaintively ‘she is my friend, it’s very unfair that you see so much of her’ – I think of her as a shared resource) is from Limerick so many of the members of the group are from there also and as my mother was from Limerick there’s something about their voices and expressions that remind me of her. They’re a diverse bunch with a couple of media people so they always have excellent gossip. The Sunday before last was the book club’s tenth anniversary and there was a book club quiz (I love a quiz) and a goody bag for each member with a bottle of gin from the Isle of Harris (our foundress’s husband is half Scottish); various cards and bookmarks and a mug. I nearly died of happiness. It was the surprise and the delightful nature of it.
I was reflecting the other day for women and men of my generation our mothers played tennis and golf and bridge but for my children’s generation, their mothers will all have been in book clubs. I wonder whether the days of book clubs are numbered or whether they will be with us forever?
Unusually for someone who is as fond of eating as I am, I am not a very keen cook but, having invested my retirement fund in our new Aga (make your own jokes about going up in smoke here), I am doing my best to use it. When the Aga was delivered it came with a free (for a certain value of free) cookery book. I used a recipe from the book the other day. It involved using both hot plates and all three ovens. It was very elaborate and I also made a vegetarian version with tofu for herself (she once told me that tofu could substitute for chicken) further complicating matters.
I served it up, quite late but triumphant. The boys had a look at the creamy sauce and instantly said that they didn’t fancy it. “Surely, you’ll have some chicken,” I pleaded. Mr. Waffle obliging dipped in the ladle to extract some chicken. “Um,” he said, “are you sure that there is chicken in here?” Alas, I had left the chicken in the warming oven after quickly frying it and it was sitting there on the raw side still instead of having spent a happy twenty minutes in the roasting oven. I microwaved it. Michael pronounced it rubbery but nobody died. Herself said, “I’m sorry I led you astray but tofu cannot substitute for chicken on all occasions.” Really, is it any wonder that I dislike cooking?
“I suppose,” said Mr. Waffle, “that poultry is that which is lost in translation.” Daniel went for “Fowl play is suspected” and herself offered that it was just a run of bad cluck. Alas.
The weekend before last, I drove to Cork with the boys. On the motorway outside Cashel (2 hours from Dublin, an hour from Cork, not handy for either), the car died. We pulled over to the hard shoulder and contemplated our options. The AA will let you join from the side of the road (important information) and they were very helpful but the woman said I was probably better off getting a tow truck and she gave me the number of a local. I called him and he came promptly enough. The boys and I were delighted to get off the hard shoulder.
The tow truck man suggested we go to a local motorway service station but I thought we might be better off going into Cashel and getting dinner while we waited for my saintly sister to drive up from Cork to collect us. It was a bit out of the way for the tow truck man but he was very obliging and we had a grand old chat on the way. He knew the (deceased) father of a former colleague of mine and it’s always nice to have an acquaintance in common so we discussed the extended family at length.
We got to Cashel and took out our bags. I also had four litres of milk as the boys get through a lot of milk and the shopping (14 litres) had just arrived the previous day and I thought it would be as handy to take some of the milk to Cork. This was a decision I regretted as we wandered around the town with our luggage and four litres of milk. We went to a restaurant where we have often been before (home of the bacon salad) and settled down to dinner in front of the fire while my poor sister drove up from Cork to collect us.
The problem with the car was failure of the fuel injectors and, on Monday, the tow truck man took it to the Peugeot dealer in Clonmel (still very far from Dublin) who gave us new fuel injectors, probably for less than we would have paid in Dublin but, you know, €1,600 is still €1,600. It took a while. We were carless for ten days which I thought would be fine as I maintain we never use the car during the week. It turns out we do use the car during the week. One morning it was lashing rain. Could we drive the children in? We could not, they got sodden on their bikes. I was on the baptism roster on Wednesday night but I forgot as did my partner. Could I get a lift to the church? I could not. Were 10 people including a week old baby and the parish priest (who was filling in on an emergency basis) waiting anxiously for my arrival? They were, but they were very kind about having to hang around for my arrival (except for the baby who slept throughout which I suppose was her own way of being kind). I really miss the days when there were armies of knowledgeable people with no day jobs to do this kind of thing and they didn’t have to rely on the likes of me.
Mr. Waffle signed us up to the Dublin car sharing scheme (no joining fee!) and it is quite handy but it’s €11 an hour which means that it probably would have been cheaper to have got a taxi to take Daniel to training but we felt it was a bit ludicrous. We also had a family weekend away (more of which anon) and we had to hire a car for that so all in all it ended up being a pricy adventure.
Mr. Waffle being noble said he would collect the car. He had to get the bus to Clonmel (a good two hours) and then walk a mile and a half to the Peugeot dealership. But he got it and he’s still alive.
My bike meanwhile had two punctures in rapid succession. The first, I got near home and Mr. Waffle fixed (what a man, I hear you say), the second was right beside the office. It was flat as a pancake and there was no way I was going to wheel it to the distant bike shop so I left it in the office all week until the car returned to us and I could shove it in the boot and take it to the bike shop.
I think I will be less smug about my urban car free life in future.
Today is the first anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. Mr. Waffle’s uncle and aunt booked some tables in my father-in-law’s favourite local pub and the extended family went out to dinner which he would really have liked.
Usually people have a mass, but I don’t think he would have enjoyed that half as much, as I said to herself, “He wasn’t particularly religious.” And as she pointed out to me, “Only in Ireland can someone who was a weekly mass goer be described as not having been particularly religious.”
Anyway, it was nice to think of him and to see everyone and to tell stories about what he was like.