Thursday, 23 October 2014

Forty days: Pt 5 (I leave the house/country)

Today’s update comes to you from a delayed Eurostar (book launch party, then on to Tetanus Manor for a long weekend of examining vole cadavers). The composition of this Eurostar is:

96% Happy, boozed up Arsenal supporters shouting “YA CUNT” at each other. I know they won, but even so, they are astonishingly cheerful given that three of them have had their passports stolen, two their phones and one guy missed his train and had to buy a new ticket for €300. Oh, and another guy has just been operated on for skin cancer. I’m not eavesdropping deliberately, they are SHOUTING this stuff across the carriage. Ha, now they are talking about potty training their children, they are big softies really. Apparently two of them sit down when they pee to show their daughters what to do. YES THEY ARE STILL SHOUTING. I don’t know what’s happened to traditional masculinity, but I’m broadly in favour.

3.99% Men in suits pecking at Excel spreadsheets and trying to make vital sales conference calls to the background accompaniment of Arsenal songs (“YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO PUT ME ON MUTE, PAUL, PATCH ME IN AGAIN WHEN YOU GET TO THE PROJECTED QUARTERLIES”).

0.01% Me, trying to write December listings without a functioning internet. I have just braved the 35 potato-featured-man-deep queue at the bar to get a KitKat and a cup of tea, so my mood is vastly improved as against an hour ago, though I did nearly get into a fight with someone who tried to push in front of me. BRITISH PERSON ON THE EDGE, DANGER OF TUTTING. A man tried to push into the passport queue earlier and drowned in a tsunami of anglo-saxon disapproval. "Please don't jump the queue" said one woman in a loose tea dress, in a testy undertone. She was quite pink with the effort of assertiveness and suppressed strong emotion.

You were all very interesting on hospitality: if I asked you a question a day for forty days, I could probably end up quite significantly enlightened.  I LOVE Nimble’s suggestion about putting wine and food on the table within reach (also The Auntologist’s advice to take half a benzo struck a chord - if only I could employ this to combat my horse terror - I had an awful lesson today with many tears and got shouted at by instructor for being utterly pathetic - but I think horses definitely count as ‘heavy machinery’).

We are nearly there. I got changed in the highly salubrious Eurostar lavatories before realising I was actually arriving an hour earlier than I thought and it was totally unnecessary. Party outfit scores highly on the "meh" scale (Eurostar lavatory selfie):

(On disembarking I took a packed Circle Line tube at rush hour and a man tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted a seat, which gives you an idea of how flattering this dress is. Pregnant/sick/worthy of public transport pity dress. )

I will finish this post after I have been to this party and report back on whether I managed to talk to anyone.


Post-party report:

I am now eating a burrito in my pyjamas in front of the telly (my father is not in his house, which makes such a thing far easier, otherwise I would be having to make coherent conversation and eating an abstemious selection of home grown apples and nuts) and that was an EXCELLENT party, with excellent snacks (arancini and meatballs and whole plates of toast) and small delicious quince based drinks (strong ones, if my limbs are to be trusted, I have just slid down a whole flight of stairs, I reckon I will feel it in the morning) and several people who I knew enough to speak to and lots more I could just stare at in awe (Lynn Barber! Marian Keyes! Apparently also Will Self, but I looked in the wrong direction and missed him). General consensus: ageing is totally devoid of dignity, but possibly fun, in parts.

Too drunk to write more, having already fallen downstairs and lurched into bed fully dressed. Disgrace. Must do better tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

40 Days Pt 4

A Belgian submission for Drunk Furniture

Wednesday. It's last minute shit-we-forgot-the-geography-project night ("no, maybe don't include the Wikipedia cannabis page") and last minute Halloween biscuit night ("NO I WILL NOT REROLL THE ARSEING DALEKS THEY ARE FINE JESUS WHO PUT THE OVEN ON GRILL WELL THESE CAN GO STRAIGHT IN THE BIN??") and I am still in total neck spasm and keep having to stop writing to lie on the floor. On the upside, I didn't have to wear tights and uncomfortable shoes or speak to strangers with insufficient warning. I spent about ninety minutes in blissed out staring at the wall this morning. Then I ate a packet of Cadbury's Halloween novelty biscuits. A winner, overall.

Ok, tonight, perhaps you can help me out with a problem, which is something I feel I need to learn for the forthcoming decade.

My question is this: how do you get good at hospitality? By which I mean, how do you carry off having people round for food or to stay or whatever? I am shit at this - truly, so bad - and it's clearly a massive problem, because (i) I feel inadequate (ii) my children never see people other than family members at weekends so they will end up deeply flawed humans like me (iii) this is not how adults behave (iv) it's embarrassing (v) only 4 people will come to my funeral.

I mean,  I don't think it would surprise anyone to hear that I'm fairly introverted (see above: bliss of staring at wall). But I do like people (no, honestly) and I would like to be able to invite them into my house without dying of awkward. I rate myself on the hospitality scale somewhere around the deeply depressed lady who lodged me and my friend Kate on our gap year in Florence feeding us stewed radicchio in baleful silence. I don't have an incontinent cat and my house does have a lavatory door, but that's probably my only advantage over her.

I know the problem is that I make it all about me due to idiotic anxiety. I do know it is not about me. That is the whole point of hospitality. IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. IT IS ABOUT YOUR GUESTS. But how does one achieve this zen-like state of welcoming the other? I have been to the homes of people who are considerably younger than me who can manage this. How? What is the secret? Have you cracked it? Does it come so naturally you don't even know how you do it?

More specifically:

- Simply having people round for their dinner: how does one approach this? Why do I make such a meal (ha ha) of it? The last time, I provoked a fight about GM crops, about which I didn't know I even had an opinion. It's not the food - I'm confident I could make something edible (not nice, but edible), but I would then hover and make anxious eyes rather than relaxing and pouring wine and laughing. Can you get better at it? How?

- If you know very disparate groups of people should you throw them together? How much effort do you then need to make if they are not gelling?

- Where should the line be drawn between not being the person who forces you to have the fourth pint of wine and seconds of pudding and being me, ie. too shy to offer anyone anything in case they feel obliged to accept, leading to feelings of deprivation and joylessness?

- What if all the glasses come out of your dishwasher looking as if they are filthy so you are ashamed to have people round and your children insist on putting them in the dishwasher when you are not looking?

- Where is the line between charmingly mismatched and 'student house disgusting stolen canteen plates'?

- How do you not get unmanageably sad when you invite people and they don't come?

- If they do come, HOW DO YOU MAKE THEM GO HOME?

These are all variants on the same question, I realise. Also, I sound a bit like a horrible man I met in group therapy who used to dissect every minute social encounter out loud in precisely this unhelpful fashion. HELP ME UNDERSTAND YOUR WAYS, people who are sociable. Or recommend a book I can read about it, fellow introverts.

NB: I am not planning a birthday party or anything, this is just a necessary life lesson.

Shit, M has just shown me this reconstruction of Tutankhamun and now NO ONE WILL EVER SLEEP AGAIN.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

40 Days Pt 3

Shit, this was a stupid idea, my foblopo .. something. But failure and anticlimax seems to be a feature of forty according to many of yesterday's comments, so perhaps that's fitting.

Today was grisly, hail, rain, thunder and professional horrors (including a full day ordeal by DOUBLE SURPRISE POWERPOINT), faintly horrified to discover Hadley Freeman is only 36, when she has achieved so much. I always assumed she must be my age. This was also another day of Out, my ninth in a row, of which 7 involved 'talking to groups of strangers' (with a special mention for last Friday when I also left my phone in a taxi, adieu phone), I am no longer fit for that much time with so many people and my neck has seized up with tension and shit posture, like a badly taxidermied weasel. Quite frankly tonight, I got nuffink. Ah well. Perhaps some greater truth will emerge eventually? Some as yet indiscernible pattern? Hmm.

Also, let us share a thought for my father who texted disconsolately that he was "on an 11 hour guided tour of the Cartoon Museum without wine".

Clawing it back from the edge tonight:

- Dead Sea Salt bath (I just dumped the whole sachet in there, fuckit).

- The fact that we now have a functioning bath, albeit with brown water.

- Half an hour of Molesworth.

- Herbal tea (what the fuck. I have started drinking herbal tea again after a good ten years abstinence, I sort of hate myself. Not fruit teas though, there are limits).

- A KitKat (crap Belgian version, but needs must).

- Looking at fantasy elephant camp brochures.

- Sliding a gnarled crone hoof under the warm silky flank of the stupid dog who has exhausted himself fretting about thunder.

- This fantastically horrible, fascinating film about the worst prison in Russia.

- Possibly a hot water bottle.

What is your emergency head repair kit for shitweasel days? Obviously we can discount alcohol, which is taken as read.

This is my eldest son's solution to everything, see also here  and here and here and here. I'm going to get him to do me a special one for my birthday. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

40 days Pt 2: In Your Prime

You had some excellent ideas of forty things I could write about, but they sounded hard and requiring of thought and applicationOf course, the problem with this forty days thing is that you are not always in an articulate and reflective mood. Or indeed most of the time. Or, perhaps, ever. Today I have been on a 3 hour public transport trudge, given a TRULY APPALLING careers talk (I thought it was just a chat! It was a proper talk! Well, obviously it wasn't the way I did it, but it should have been) and also got into a fight about guitar lessons (middle class fight club, this).  Reflective mature wisdom 0 : shouting in the street 1.

In more relevant news, I have just finished reading this, which is out on Thursday.

I was very much pre-disposed to enjoy it, partly because I think India Knight can make any topic appealing (I actually burn with desire to buy all the beauty products she recommends and I mainly exfoliate with my own tears and a stick. In another life, she'd have been absolutely amazing in advertising) and partly because, thrillingly, I am in the acknowledgements, having given my expert advice on (i) wigs and (ii) eyebrows. But even if I weren't, it was a very jolly (well, maybe not the dementia and vaginal withering bits) and appropriate read for me at precisely this point. Before reading it, I thought it would be more of a style and beauty guide, but it's actually a cheery kind of guide to life in middle age, by turns briskly prescriptive, very funny and full of joy. It is mainly, and evangelically, about enjoying things and the bliss of small domestic delights, but not in a moony self-help way. What better message could there be?


New neuroses spawned: Feet 
Awful things may happen to my feet once I turn forty and ceaseless vigilance is apparently required. This is problematic because my feet are already genuinely revolting, full of bumpy, deformed, gnarled horrors. I might just have to cut them off at the ankle.

Existing neuroses reinforced: Teeth
I knew they were bastards and I knew it would only get worse. This confirms it.

Danger of turning into 'Hampstead Lady': ever present
- Grey Louise Brooks bob
- Shapeless, genderless, artfully folded Japanese garmentry
- Birkenstocks or brogues
Quite honestly, I aspire to look this put together, but it is beyond the pale. No five armed hunchbacked black shrouds from the Liberty Japanese Weirdness Room. No massive glasses. No angular jewellery. Step away from Hampstead Bazaar.

Insuperable problem: colour
"Black looks absolutely awful on almost everyone"
"Grey is the colour of fog, pigeons and mice"
This is 98% of my wardrobe out. Remaining: a green, patterned Issa dress that looks like one of those Magic Eye drawings and probably only covers one tit now, since it was bought at Maximum Insanity point. A one shouldered Jaeger red dress, also bought in a fugue state which I will never, ever wear. Something blue and a bit cheap looking with a grease stain that is impossible to get into due to complex layerage and whose belt I have lost. I need to do something about this. Without spending any money.

Frightening revelation: guinea pigs

Anyway, it is highly recommended.

My friend F on forty: "It had been the worst six months of my life and it was about to get even worse. Nadir of my life. Anyway. Forty. Worst birthday ever."

Do please continue to share your crappy forty stories.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

40 days: part 1

I am forty in forty days. Since one should never let a potential gimmick go unexploited on the Internet, I am going to try and post on every one of these forty days.

I am not going to try and detail forty things I have learned in my life so far. I quite enjoy reading those posts, but at this point in my life, if I am clear about anything, it is that I know pretty much fuck all. Nothing. I mean, I can make a béchamel and drive (badly) and sing Happy New Year in Mandarin. I can iron a shirt pretty well, but I could do that when I was 14 and I really don't have the chest for shirts. Beyond that, it's all grey areas. I like the idea of arriving at forty in a state of serene and purposeful sorted-ness, but barring some kind of miracle, it seems unlikely.

I thought for a while about doing forty regrets or forty mistakes, which I could definitely muster, but it seemed a bit of a downer. Then I thought I could do 40 things I still want to do, but jesus, the pressure. Imagine that list staring back at me in 5 years time with only 2 items ticked off ("make a coffee and walnut cake", perhaps, and "own more than two pairs of tights without holes in"). How depressing would that be?

So I don't really know what I'm going to do. Post something halfway interesting, I hope, without the crutch of ups, downs or percentages. Is there anything in particular you'd like to read? Do not fear, I am not giving up funny for forty days, like some kind of hideous lenten penance.

As for today, my father came to visit and tonight we had steak-frites and too much wine and a ceremoniously flambéed tarte tatin in Brasseries Georges, where the average customer age is 80 and they are all very cheery despite varying levels of infirmity. It is thus the perfect place to feel good about your advancing years and the salvation of creature comforts and he told me again - as he did when I was at my very lowest (so far! There's always time to sink lower!) about how when he was forty everything was shit in his life. I love this story, it's the adult fairy story I never tire of hearing. All is not lost! The losing dice are not tossed, the bridges aren't all crossed. Maybe in 30 years time I too can have okapi petting privileges?

Now I have to go to bed because it's late and I have to give a careers talk tomorrow. Shut up, I can hear you laughing. Sssh. I know all about careers.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Some Reasons I Should Not Go Out

1. Age and its attendant increase in irascibility and decrease in inhibition is turning me into a public transport vigilante. I am irritated beyond all reason at the insistence of the commuters of Brussels on standing in a bovine fashion in front of the opening doors of buses, trams and metros, thereby impeding the egress of other passengers (me) and slowing the whole process down (I remember my friend B complaining about this when he lived in Brussels, so at least when I am setting my eyes to 'murder', I can think of him and smile). So irritated, indeed, am I, that I have started telling them to get out of the way. Seriously, people, you live in a capital city, albeit a very small one. BEHAVE. It would only take another couple of journeys in sub-optimal conditions for me to resort to shoving. I know, because I have previous with this, having once - heavily pregnant - lightly kicked a man on the platform at Liverpool Street. I can't really remember the circumstances or what had angered me (hormones), but he turned round and gave me a massive shove in the chest and then I went all "HOW DARE YOU HIT A PREGNANT WOMAN" on him, which was a bit unfair given I had started it. Oh god, I was a horrible, horrible person when pregnant. But even un-pregnant, I should apparently avoid public transport.

2. I started crying at a busker today. She was playing known tear-jerker Ne Me Quitte Pas (albeit quite erratically) on a violin, but I have also started to well up at accordions and even the man with the horrifying violin/trumpet hybrid, though that is through despair not sentimentality.

3. I have not lost any of my crazy person attracting mojo.

4. Outside is expensive. Especially because I have a tendency to buy unreasonable quantities of cake regardless of available disposable income (none, currently) just because I AM OUT and it must be celebrated.

5. If I go out in the car (ugh), I spend the entire journey in abject terror, partly because I have mislaid my driving licence so if anything happens I am in the shit, and partly because I AM A TERRIBLE DRIVER. Not dangerous, just dithery and pathetic and easily freaked out. Yesterday a policeman tried to make me move the car (they were filming a film at the hairdresser's!) and I pretended I couldn't drive and told him he would have to move it for me, hahahahahahaha. Shit.

6. Bad things happen, such as the terrible, awful meal we had last weekend from which I am still suffering (pretty sure it was One Legged Street Pigeon Yassa, not Poulet), or being scared rigid yesterday by mentally disturbed horse Cartolino and his enduring terror of doorways (Horse lady: why are you going slowly, go faster Me: I AM VERY SCARED. This basically encapsulates all our exchanges this autumn). NB and wholly unrelated, there is a horse at the stables that is actually called 'No Name'. Someone has a sense of humour.

7. Key incidents.

8. Outside is cold and rainy and I am stiff from full body terror on Cartolino and crampy from the Pigeon Yassa and I like inside. Inside has hot water bottles and Yorkshire Gold and you'd have to go a hell of a long way in Belgium to get a  Yorkshire Gold teabag and even if you did find one, they would have sat it in a too-small goblet of lukewarm water on a tiny metal tray with a speculoos and a tiny plastic pod of Belgian Millac Maid.

Reason I should go out:

I have watched a succession of soul-shrivellingly bad romantic comedies on Netflix, culminating in the shame-sodden (both participants and viewer) 'What To Expect When You're Expecting) and also because I cannot really remember how to speak to someone to whom I am not related.


You? Out or in?