Will we? We will. Expect a daily post in November. Hold on to your hats etc.
One of my Sunday book club friends had tickets to see Marina Hyde being interviewed by Patrick Freyne in Liberty Hall so I went along on Tuesday night. I bumped into the little brother of a friend of mine (he was in school when I first met him and I just can’t get over it even though he is now in his 40s), someone from my Monday night book club and a colleague from work (Ireland is very small but even by these standards, that was quite the crop of friends and acquaintances).
Marina Hyde was pretty good actually. Great projection – say what you like about English public schools and Oxbrige (she did), they give you great public speaking skills. Anyway the funniest thing she said was about some woman who messaged her on Twitter and said that her husband had a first from Oxford in economics and therefore could possibly claim to be the greatest economist of his generation – like Kwasi Kwarteng – but he had recently super glued his teeth together. Apparently he got super glue on his hands and tried to lick it off. Let that be a lesson to you.
She did say that she found the news cycle a bit exhausting. A couple of years ago you could go away for a week and come back and it was pretty much the same but now you’d make yourself a cup of tea and when you came back everything would have changed. She had got up at 4 in the morning to write her column (eek!) before getting her flight to Dublin and on the way over she worried that her column would be out of date while she was up in the air and offline. Related, I see that Liz Truss has just resigned.
So here I am several months into my work break and I am still loving it. I thought once the boys went back to school in September and herself went off to Paris and then back to college, I might get bored. Not at all so far. Last time I had this much time alone was when I was six months pregnant with herself and we had just moved back to Brussels. I can remember being a bit bored. But, I am not pregnant now and it turns out that the increased mobility and being in Ireland rather than just back in a country where everyone I knew was working full time makes a big difference.
My initial plan to re-join the tennis club has been thwarted by an 18 month waiting list. I am outraged. I am half thinking of trying yoga. Is this crazy talk? I have never yoga’d before and I am a bit nervous about starting now. Your thoughts are welcome. In the absence of other forms of exercise, I have been cycling around with enthusiasm. I was particularly proud of a very long cycle I made to a distant suburb beyond the Dublin ring road to meet someone for lunch. I was a bit late for lunch though. It’s a long way. I took Michael for a tamer cycle through the park a couple of weeks ago and he was almost enthusiastic. He finally got a new bike and this has contributed to his enthusiasm levels I think. It positively sails over the ground compared to his clunky old one.
I went for a swim in the sea in September with a good friend who is also not working (she took a redundancy package pre-Covid and is pretty clear she’s not going back). She swims in the sea every day of the year. Not quite sure I am up for that yet. I was surprised how nice a dip in Howth in September could be. She has a lot of kit though. I’m not sure I’m ready for the level of investment required. Still I enjoyed our swim with fellow crazy people and then a lovely lunch in Howth afterwards.
I am finding cooking more enjoyable now that I have more time to do it. I made, yes made, a very successful batch of hummus. I was distressed to find that all this talk of chick peas is nonsense and the main ingredient is basically olive oil.
I was able to visit a good friend of my mother’s from college. She’s probably the only person left on earth to whom I can turn for tales of my mother that I don’t already know. Having known this woman literally all my life she’s probably the only parent-like figure left in my world. This is doubtless why she felt it appropriate to greet me with the words, “You’ve got fat.” True, alas. As we talked about my sister who is buying the rest of us out of the family home and the paper work she is womanfully ploughing through as my father’s executor, my mother’s friend commented on how good she was to take all this on. “Of course,” said she, “she was always the nicest of the three of you, that’s her problem.” Indeed. Weirdly, am quite keen to go back for more of this as she is absolutely great fun and I really like her.
My newfound plenty of time status means that I arranged for a birthday cake for a friend whose birthday fell on a book club date. Unfortunately, it turns out that those of us not gifted with plenty of time are good organisers and there were no fewer than three birthday cakes on the evening. Is too much cake really a problem? I refer you to my mother’s friend’s comments.
I’ve had a lot more time to spend in cafes. I love a good cafe. I have been very impressed by how nice the young people in cafes are to elderly customers. They appear to have almost infinite patience and turn a blind eye to those who furtively unwrap Marietta biscuits from tin foil while sipping their tea. Well, things aren’t getting cheaper, are they? I was particularly impressed by a young woman (his companion not a waitress) listened to an older Polish man describe his colonoscopy in detail. To be honest, I could have done with being seated a little further away.
As covered in an earlier post, I have been to Paris and I’ve also been to England and Wales (more details to come, something to look forward to as I like to say). What I enjoy about travelling in the new dispensation is how much freer it feels when trying to pick travel dates – a day earlier, a day later, it makes no difference.
I’ve had a nasty cold I am having trouble shaking for the past three weeks (not Covid, I tested, other colds exist). I am very nearly better now though I still have a slight cough (makes one feel like an absolute pariah in the current environment) and I have quite enjoyed being sick on my own time. If I’m sick, no one needs to cancel a meeting. I can go out one day and stay at home the next without feeling guilty. Though I do think that I am more noticing of my illness without the stress and adrenaline of work crises to distract me.
I had dinner with a friend the other night. We were supposed to go to a play but it was cancelled due to illness. It’s the first time in years I haven’t gone to the theatre festival but we may have dodged a bullet as our chosen play got, at best, mixed reviews. She asked me whether I was missing work. I really am not. I have had a tough couple of years and maybe I am just decompressing still. But, due to an extensive lunch programme, I’m still getting the best parts of work – the gossip, the gossip obviously – without the normal accompanying pain. I am a bit surprised and a tiny bit sad – I mean what have I been doing with my time – that I don’t miss it at all. There is no pleasing some people is all I can say.
This is always a very busy time of year: there’s the Fringe Festival, the Theatre Festival, Culture Night (sadly missed it this year but we were in Paris – more of which anon – so basically a win), the Dublin Festival of History. It’s all go, I can tell you. With my new non-working status, I can bring a whole new energy to this which my family very much welcome.
Earlier in the year I booked for four people to go to Steward of Christendom in the Gate. It was cancelled twice (Covid, I guess) and we ended up going in late August which was perilously close to the cultural whirlwind that is autumn in Dublin. Also herself was there and I only had four tickets. Everyone wanted not to go (honestly, this is what I have to put up with) but herself won in the end as she was the one for whom a ticket hadn’t been bought in the first place. You would think as an English student she might want to go to this play by Sebastian Barry exploring the great sweep of history through one individual’s recollection of the tumultuous period around the foundation of the Free State. You might think that but you would be wrong.
Anyway, I thought it was really good. I saw it years ago, maybe in the 90s, in the Abbey, I think, and it made a big impression on me. What I didn’t remember from that previous performance is that the main character is in a county home with senile dementia. I think I didn’t know anyone with dementia then and what stayed with me was the loss and the change experienced by the main character rather than the situation in which he found himself. Also there wasn’t so much exploration then of how people loyal to the Crown managed that transition in 1922/23.
The others in the family were less enthused with Mr. Waffle saying, only half in jest, that it should have carried a warning that it dealt with difficult themes including dementia. Alas.
Mr. Waffle and I also went to a performance at the Fringe Festival. We often go to see a comedian in the Fringe (rather than a play) – only about an hour and a half and my experiences have been generally good. We both quite enjoyed “This is Toxic” by a comedian called Julie Jay. I mean, some dark themes and I emerged knowing more about Britney Spears than I had before, but overall very funny. Mr. Waffle was one of the few men in the audience. Make what you will of that.
I went on a tour of the Worth Library – a long held ambition of mine – as part of the festival of history. I had a cold on the day and it is housed in the offices of the Health Service Executive. In the invitation, I was asked to wear a mask. I hummed and hawed but decided to go. No one in the former Dr. Steeven’s hospital appeared to be wearing a mask except the librarian. When I arrived, he explained that I was the only person taking the 11 o’clock tour. To be honest, I had been hoping to avoid that level of scrutiny. He told me that I was a bit early – I was – and maybe I’d like to go to the ladies’ down the corridor while he turned on the lights. Sure, why not?
It’s one room. I learnt a lot about it, and antiquarian books in general, in the 45 minute one on one tour. The librarian had a northern accent, a mask, and as he said, much to my mortification, a speech impediment. I was mortified because I had to keep asking him to repeat things as he was hard to understand. Meanwhile I was pulling down my mask and blowing my nose every two minutes as we danced around the room maintaining a social distance. As though things were not difficult enough, my trusty ancient cords chose this moment to collapse. A bad habit of keeping my phone in my back pocket became too much for these old trousers to bear and the pocket tore taking a good wodge of fabric with it leaving my bottom at severe risk of exposure. I kept my jumper pulled down with one hand and blew my nose with the other but all in all, I wouldn’t call it an entirely comfortable experience.
During Covid, Mr. Waffle gave me a present of a National Gallery membership and I have been waiting for the correct moment to deploy it. That moment is now. I went to the Giacometti exhibition. I wouldn’t be a major Giacometti fan (he weeps) but I did find it pretty interesting. He had a much younger wife who survived him and fiercely promoted and guarded his legacy notwithstanding his taking up with a much younger again mistress who, like his wife, featured in the exhibition.
Having gazed my fill on Giacometti’s works, I went back to the closed cloakroom where I had left my waterproofs reasoning that no one would take them. Reasoning incorrect. They were gone. I went to all the desks but no joy. It was very wet outside. However, just as I was resigning myself to a damp cycle home and considerable investment, they turned up at one of the desks. Mysterious but very welcome. The security guard told me that the cloakrooms have been closed since Covid. This is ridiculous at this stage, frankly. And, once bitten, I’m not so sure I will abandon my coat again. Welcome to my world of first world problems.
Mr. Waffle and I went to the cinema on a Wednesday afternoon. I don’t think I’ve gone to the cinema in the middle of the working day since I was in college. We saw Official Competition which was quite funny in places but relied too much on one gag, I thought. On reflection, quite like the kind of film I used to go and see in college.
I took the opportunity of an empty foyer to insert myself in the “Don’t Worry Darling” drama.
We went with the boys to see “See How They Run”. It was only alright I thought. I’ve actually seen “The Mousetrap” but happily could remember nothing of the plot so the action was all new to me. We’re still searching for the high that was “Murder on the Orient Express”. I know that that Kenneth Branagh vehicle got very mixed reviews but, for us, it was a really great family film.
More cultural adventures to come. Be still my beating heart.
The Raptures by Jan Carson
This is a really great, beautifully written, entertaining and engaging book. I truly recommend it. It has some weird supernatural stuff in it, but not in a bad way, kind of matter of fact. It’s set in Northern Ireland and involves strict religious sects and children dying BUT do not let that put you off. It’s actually quite funny as well.
The Firestarters by Jan Carson
I enjoyed “The Raptures” so much that I got this earlier book of hers out from the library. Although many of the same themes are present and it is pretty good, it’s just not as good. However, I will be running out to the shops to buy whatever she writes next.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I listened to this on audiobook. I find that a completely different experience from reading a book and, for me, never as satisfactory. It was very interesting – with some truly shocking revelations about the treatment of black people in America – but it felt a bit worthy
Thirty Two Words for Field by Manchán Magan
Mr. Waffle bought this and I just picked it up not intending to read it. I hate Manchán Magan. He has a column in the Irish Times and he comes off as very holier than thou. Herself was rendered incandescent by a column where he said that he’s able to live a simple life and do what he wants to do by not having saddled himself with a massive mortgage as he bought a plot of land and house out in the country with a bequest from his grandmother. In fairness, I think he does live quite a simple life and is trying to live sustainably but he just seems a bit preachy. However, to my enormous surprise, I loved this book. It got slightly trying towards the end but basically he is looking at the Irish language and all the words that derive from the landscape and are specific to where we are. Very many of them are in real danger of disappearing forever. It’s a lovely, heartfelt book and I have had to reconsider my prejudices against Manchán Magan which is an exhausting endeavour at my age and stage.
Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground by Susan McKay
I thought this was really good. Susan McKay is a Protestant journalist originally from Derry and she goes around interviewing Northern Protestants and letting them tell their stories. It’s a very interesting perspective from a community I know surprisingly little about.
Can Medicine Be Cured? by Seamus O’Mahony
The Way we Die Now by Seamus O’Mahony
I’ve already read a book by this Cork doctor and I got these two on the strength of it. He’s about 15 years older than me and went to the boys’ school up the road from my girls’ school so I feel, probably quite wrongly, that I know a lot about him already. He is a very good writer and, although somewhat cynical, pretty compelling about the problems of modern medicine. I found his books fascinating.
Free: Coming of Age at the end of History by Lea Ypi
This is a book by an Albanian woman about growing up in a very repressive communist state and then struggling when the regime collapsed. It’s very well written and very interesting and – bonus prize – relatively short. I suggested to Mr. Waffle that we might go on holidays to Albania after reading it but he remains unconvinced.
The Troubles with Us by Alix O’Neill
Another book in my Northern Ireland summer reading list. This is funny even though the story is quite dark in places. It’s also interesting. It’s a sort of Derry Girls for Belfast vibe. However, it’s unfortunately not very well written and I found that a bit jarring.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This was a big hit when it came out. It’s about the sexual lives of three women. Herself didn’t like it; she told me I wouldn’t like it. She was right. I thought it was a bit exploitative. Well written though.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh
I read somewhere that this was a much better book than “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance. I thought that was an excellent book, so I decided to give this a go. The themes were pretty similar, it was about, as the blurb said, “Growing up poor in the richest country on earth.” The author is much more left leaning than JD Vance (I suppose, isn’t everyone these days?) and her account is probably a bit more nuanced than his but like him, she’s someone from a poor background who ended up safely in the middle class and is trying to explain the constraints of being poor to her new tribe. She also had a strained relationship with her mother. I noticed that the book dedication was “For Mom” and that was one of the most moving things about the book once you’ve read it. In fairness, it was good but, in my view, not as good as the JD Vance book.
This Much is True by Miriam Margoyles
This actress’s autobiography was launched in a blaze of publicity and I am unable to resist a blaze. She’s a character actress. Overall it was fine with some interesting parts including her relationship with her parents but like many another celebrity autobiography as she goes through life it becomes a bit episodic and who I met at dinnerish. Grand though and undemanding.
Will she do? by Eileen Atkins
Someone on the ever-excellent Slightly Foxed podcast recommended this and I thought I would give it a try. It’s an autobiography by the actress Eileen Atkins (of whom I had never heard – she plays Queen Mary in The Crown). She came from a working class background and had basically worked on stage all her life from an early music hall start to theatre, television and film. She is quite frank about the awful times when she couldn’t get work. She can be very funny in parts. I think it was better than the Miriam Margoyles book. Although they were near contemporaries (Margoyles is seven years younger) they had very different lives and I just found Atkins’ experience and descriptions more interesting. She seems a bit more reserved and reflective than Margoyles and, ultimately, for me, that made it a more interesting book.
The Death of Stalin by Fabien Nury
The graphic novel on which the film was based. The film stuck pretty closely to the book actually. Short and mildly interesting.
Chivalry by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran
I thought this was sweet and Mr. Waffle thought it was nauseating – take your pick. A graphic novel for children featuring Lancelot transported to modern times.
Fleischmann is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
This was the novel of the summer when it was published in 2019. I come to its joys three years later. Topical. Mr. Waffle loved it, really enjoyed it. I thought it was grand, a bit long and a bit plot free. It’s about a New York couple splitting up and there are lots of details about trying to get their children ahead, her job (she is the main breadwinner and has her own showbiz agency) and his (he’s a senior doctor) and the resentments and unhappinesses of life. He is a bit superior and annoying about all the things their money can buy and that is kind of funny. Ultimately I found the absence of plot unsatisfactory but it is very of the moment (where the moment is summer 2019 – I have to say, I am curious about these characters might have navigated the pandemic).
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This was a big hit and lots of people whose views I respect really enjoyed it. It’s about a research chemist who makes a career for herself in television. It’s basically a feminist fable and I assume is not really meant to be believable. I didn’t love it myself but it’s a runaway best seller and an easy read so I give you that.
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
I really enjoyed this slight novel. It’s, I think, his first novel. It’s set over a weekend in a country house and there’s no particular plot. It just pokes fun at all the characters. Apparently it’s a roman à clef but even if you were only vaguely aware of Ottoline Morrell and had never heard of Garsington Manor (your correspondent), it’s still very enjoyable. Mind you, it’s a bit savage, I’d say that the originals on whom the characters were based were not delighted; in fairness, he’s probably hardest on the character who is clearly our young author himself. It reminds me a bit of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. Really recommended and, if science fiction is not your thing, fear not, despite Huxley’s later fame in this field, this book is a science fiction free zone.
Echoes by Maeve Binchy
I have enjoyed Maeve Binchy novels in the past. I didn’t like this one. Very readable as all her books are but there was something sanctimonious about the characters here that put me off.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
This is the first installment of a young adult fantasy series about demon killers. I picked it up from a basket in a shop saying “Free Books” (so dangerous). The writing is really poor and quite jarringly so. However, I am forced to confess, that I flew through it and quite enjoyed the pacy plot. I am judging me, feel free to join in.
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
So I got volume two out of the Library. This was really poor, much less good than book 1.
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
I was going to stop after book 2 but I got book 3 out of the library at the same time. Better. People, I’ve ordered book four.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
I find Jennifer Egan a bit hit and miss. I’ve read a number of her books and I don’t always go for them. However, a kind friend gave me this one at the start of my break from work and I thought I should give it a go. I am pleased to report that I enjoyed this one very much. Like Fleischmann, it’s very much of the moment. I found the thinking around online lives and where they are going really interesting. Like all her books there were loads of different plotlines all of which I found good. Recommended.
Climbing the Stairs by Margaret Powell
Another free book from the basket of books. Curses. This book apparently inspired both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. It’s a bit odd but not uninteresting. This woman went into service in the 1920s and then ended up writing a number of books about her life. This is the second. It’s a bit episodic and peculiar but quite a range of insights.
The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach
This is full of twists and turns. It’s about an older woman whose husband leaves her and how she manages. Well written and not too demanding. Good holiday read.
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov
Oh God, I got this out from the library to try to round out my knowledge of things Ukrainian. It’s tough going. Literary fiction about a man from Dombas who ends up on a trek around Eastern and Southern Ukraine. You’d want to be in the whole of your health. Mr. Waffle enjoyed it but he likes hard books.
What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
A children’s book from the Rivers of London series about magician policemen. I quite enjoyed this and, in contrast to the books from the series aimed at adults, I mostly understood what happened.
The News from Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory by Brian Cathcart
Daniel got me this for Christmas. I thought I would read it in tandem with “A Civil Contract” a favourite Georgette Heyer novel part of the plot of which turns on how long the news took to get back from Waterloo to London. I took about two days to reread the Georgette and nine months to read this book so not exactly an in tandem experience. To be honest, the author is lucky to get a whole book from this but it skips along reasonably entertainingly. It struck me forcibly that a lot of Irish men were involved in the story: Wellington (though you will recall the stable remark), Stewart, Castlereagh and the Knight of Kerry all have big roles. They all have a hybrid Anglo-Irish identity which was much easier then than it is now, of course. The author comments that Wellington and Castlereagh knew each other from Dublin but like they were just passing through (which in some ways they were) but not noticing or commenting on the fact that they were Irish. The text of the original Waterloo dispatch is included and by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re pretty keen to read it. It was a great victory but the losses were really immense. I am a bit reluctant to say this but the author tackles the battle much more effectively than Georgette does. She sets at least one novel in Brussels at the time of the battle and it is dire and the descriptions of the battle are very confusing. This book is relatively clear; not sure that military history is really my thing but this was pretty readable.
Cat, one of my commenters recommended trying rose petal jam. I was intrigued. We have a lot of roses. I tried it out. It’s a very instagrammable process but sadly I have given up instragram. I only made a small quantity. “Handmade in small batches” is very apt here I can tell you.
It’s fine but tastes more of lemon and sugar than roses. Maybe it needs to sit for a while. If you have rose petal jam recipes, I would be interested. Yes, yes, I have taken some time off work, why do you ask?