Archive for November, 2009

December 1st.  This dreaded, parental date in central Europe, heralds the beginning of the chocolat overload season.  In this house, the date announces itself by the need to create a miniature ‘Santa’s Little Repair Grotto’ in order to glue, hammer, wire and restring the various receptacles in which said chocolat is housed, along with the other Christmas countdown relics.

(Glued the Santa back on, hammered in tiny nails to hold roof together, applied new wire holder to back)

(Re-glued number pegs, re-attached wire at back)

Truly, my Xmas D.I.Y. skills are second to none.

‘Tis the start of the season whenThings One & Two’ leap out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning to race, squabbling all the way, down the stairs to check if St. Nicolas, er, remembered to place the chocolate squares in the Advent house and to argue ferociously over who gets to open the daily box of the Playmobile ‘tableau’ calendar.

By 7 a.m., the combined sugar hits of the chocolate and breakfast Cougnou (a traditional sweet bread, in the form of the baby Jesus, with raisins and sugar) peak. It’s kind of like the over-excitable kids from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, on acid. This early morning horror scenario will last for TWENTY FIVE DAYS. By Christmas Eve, this Mama will have lost her baubles.

(Who knew baby Jesus had two heads?)

As if this were not all bad enough, on the night of December 5th, St. Nicolas and his band of not-so-merry men (armed with switches), are due to pop in.  The children put their slippers outside the bedroom doors.  If they have been good, St. Nicolas will fill them with goodies; if bad, I think one of the ‘companions’ of the blessed Saint, um, beats the child with a switch…

You know what, I’m going to leave it up to David Sedaris to explain the whole thing to you.

David Sedaris: 6 to 8 Black Men




“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the  eleventh month”  (1918).

November 11th, 2009.  The only significance of this date yet to my children is that they are on congé from school.  At seven and five they have yet to study history, a subject which I loved in school but which also left me bewildered as to the extent fellow humans would go to kill each other for the sake of “power and glory”.  Nearly thirty years have passed since I last picked up a history book; the wars may have become more sophisticated but alas it seems, the motives of man mostly remain unchanged.

Sometime during my sixteenth Summer, I travelled alone, back to England for the first time since our family had made the move to Ireland when I was nine.  I went to stay with my Auntie Pat who was a professor of social anthropology at Clare college, Cambridge.  In those days I was much consumed by the poetry of those who had fought during World War I; Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Julian Grenfell and most especially, Rupert Brooke.  One sunny afternoon, we took a leisurely walk to the village of Grantchester, where my aunt gave me a beautiful little Sidgwick & Jackson, 1931 edition, Selected Poems by Rupert Brooke. For the remainder of that year, I carried that book with me everywhere.  There is a handwritten inscription before the title page and frontispiece, which reads:

“To Joan, with much love and best wishes, from R.A. Liddell, (Xmas, 1934)”.

And directly underneath in different handwriting:

“On behalf of Subaltern R.A. Liddell, killed in action on 7th, January, 1944”.

Rupert Brooke02.JPG

The first time I read this inscription I cried, and even as I write this my heart aches for the terrible waste of life brought about by human folly and greed.

Here, on the border of Belgium and Luxembourg, we are surrounded by testimonials to those who died in both World Wars.  Whether it be an engraved wall of a judicial building in the larger town squares, with a hundred names, or a small tablet in a village, with just five, the impact is the same.  Military cemeteries are scattered across the landscape. Nothing that is written in any history of conflict prepares you for the stark sight of thousands upon thousands of white crosses; so many young men, known and unknown; a weeping continent of mothers and fathers.


Today, we will watch some of the ceremonies at Ieper (Ypres) together.  At eleven o’clock we will be silent for as long as the children can bear it, (probably 30 seconds or less).  I will read this, even though they won’t yet grasp any real meaning; but they will like the image of red poppies in a field and larks in the sky and that their world is perhaps safer because of many, many brave men.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918)