Saturday, 21 February 2015

An Update

I have been completely on my own in the house for last week (it is half term and everyone has gone skiing, freaks). I had high hopes for this time as an uninterrupted sabbatical of white hot creativity.

Now, I have done some work. I had a bit of legal work to do too, so I did that too, but mainly I sat grimly in front of my .. whatever you'd call it ("shite" has been my preferred term over the past week) and tried to make it better. When I got stuck, I watched Grey's Anatomy on Amazon Prime, to which I accidentally subscribe (free next-day delivery doesn't apply in Belgium, so I am paying 75 quid to give my son access to back episodes of Top Gear, basically). So far I have watched 2.5 series of between 22 and 24 40-minute episodes of this utterly ludicrous medical drama which gives you some idea of how well the work has been going. In my defence I have not actually left the house except to walk the dog, so there have been a lot of potential getting stuck hours. I have made some progress. (I have to put that because my editor reads this. This is also why I am not here every day, wailing incoherently at you.) I could probably also clip an aortic aneurysm pretty competently too, so there's that (I totally couldn't, I've read Do No Harm).

During the week I have become progressively weirder as is usually the case when I spend prolonged periods alone. I long for this time, then when it comes around, it turns out I can't really hack it. I get bored with food preparation after about 36 hours and only eat things you can put on toast or which can be delivered by obliging Belgians on mopeds. I have insanely long baths with oils with weird names whilst reading so many domestic noir thrillers I have started to believe I have probably killed someone with a 5L tin of Farrow & Ball Elephant's Breath. My aesthetics default to "that old woman in the village everyone is scared of". This time round, I have developed an unhealthy relationship with my furry slippers and an even unhealthier relationship with the dog, who has decided he is now allowed to sit in my office staring at me every minute of every day, except for the odd thirty seconds he takes to luxuriantly lick his genitals. I have been picking at tiny blemishes on my face until they become vast wounds that I then have to repair with Laura Mercier products. When the neighbour has one of his episodes and starts shouting ENCULÉ repeatedly I have considered joining in. 

ANYWAY. That is not the point of this story. The point of this story is the following: yesterday I got one of those pieces of paper the postman leaves you saying I had a registered envoi (this ambiguity is important). Firstly I was furious because I HAVE NOT LEFT THE HOUSE FOR DAYS, so of course I was there at 10:41 when you purportedly rang the bell, you duplicitous post-bastard. But then secondly, I entered a state of demented anxiety. What could it be? I ran through the options over and over again in my head.

Options:

- Someone I have written about trying to sue me (I genuinely gave this credence for many many hours, even though I mainly write gushingly complimentary hotel and restaurant reviews. I actually thought that perhaps someone was suing me because I spelled their name wrong in my food truck article. I am a lawyer. Just imagine if I was still employed as a lawyer! On second thoughts, best not imagine that.)

- Tax investigation.

- Other Bad Thing I Could Not Even Imagine. Perhaps those dreams where I am trying to dispose of a corpse are actual real, suppressed memories. Perhaps I .. I dunno. Fleeced widows and orphans and gave their money to ISIS. Killed a man just to watch him die. Killed a GOAT just to watch it die. Something terrible.

From 4pm yesterday I entered a state of total all-consuming anxiety from which not Grey's Anatomy nor red wine, nor Aromatherapy Associates "Inner Strength" oil (I chose this one carefully from my box of mini oils, since it seemed more practically useful than "Deep Relax", tempting as that state sounded) could extract me. I bargained with a deity I did not believe in. "I WILL GIVE UP EVERYTHING," I told him/her. "GOATS, WRITING, MALTEASTER BUNNIES if this can just be an overdue bill. Please let it be an overdue bill (for less than €1000, ideally, thx)." I did not sleep.

This morning, my heart was beating at approximately 700 bpm and I sat hunched in misery, waiting for 10am for the Post Office to open. I read several long scholarly articles in the LRB that I did not understand (not sure if this was due to their complexity or my raddled state). The minutes passed agonisingly slowly. "Most things that arrive by registered letter can be resolved by money," I told myself. Then I tried to work out how much I could raise by selling all my paintings. I considered the black market for human organs.

Finally, 10am arrived and I ran to the Post Office. I cried as I ran. Actually cried. I reached the Post Office, snotty and miserable and took a ticket and waited, then I went to the desk and showed them my passport and signed my name and waited again, with dread in my heart.

This is what the woman brought back:



A FUCKING RUBIK'S CUBE. AND 20ML OF "CUBE LUBE".

So that is how it is going, for the kind people who have emailed and asked and sent me pictures of capybaras in hot springs (oh, to be a capybara at the Saitama Children's Zoo). Really great. Now I must go and do some work, because the family will be back in 2 hours and I have just wasted 18 hours promising to forswear goats because of a Rubik's Cube.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Checking in, checking out



Perpetuating the cycle of rural cruelty

Happy belated New Year! I hope, despite the "morosité ambiante" as one email correspondent called it this week, that you are well and happy. I also hope you are not doing any silly January deprivation things. I have seen my numerous chins on the Christmas photos and it's a sobering sight, but this is no time to be trying to do anything about it. Fish and chips for dinner tonight, followed by these salted caramel marshmallows which are an obsession that has crept up on me. I don't even like marshmallows.

I have not been here (or on Twitter, Jesus, that is hard) because I am trying to finish the sodding book. It is a chilling journey of self-discovery (concentration span: 4 minutes; ability to maintain positive demeanour in face of adversity: nil, general go-getting creativity: absent) on which I will not bring you because it is super boring as my long-suffering friends can confirm.

But briefly, an uneventful update:

1. We had a lovely Christmas and New Year in my Native Lands, barring two strops from me - relating to salmon and crackers respectively, because not sweating the small stuff regrettably forms no part of my life philosophy - and one from L, much more reasonably, because we made him climb a mountain with a filthy cold.



There's a mountain back there but you can't see it for weather. Look, also, how delighted the dog is to be out in the fresh air. He exudes wellbeing and contentment, even though he is wearing his handsome new 1980s geography teacher roll neck coat.

2. I actually came back bursting with resolve and positivity (no, truly): more of this! Less of that! But we drove back into a howling tempest which has continued unabated for ten days and my good intentions seem to have been gradually dissolving with each inch of rain. By the end of last week I was hunched in a semi-foetal ball with a family sized Dairy Milk crammed in my mouth, and a smartphone in my hand listlessly refreshing Twitter and muttering "I hate everyone".

I am trying to think if there are any resolutions I wanted to make back in those glorious days when such things seemed possible which I can still stick to in the cold light ("light") of mid-January Brussels. I think they are: see more humans to whom I am not related and look less like a tramp. This latter I intend to effect by wearing more of my existing clothes and not just grubby shapeless Gap trousers and a revolving cast of grey jumpers. I am writing this in two layers of grey jumper and the shapeless Gap trousers but I have two - two! - social engagements lined up in the next week. Baby steps, eh. I haven't resolved to stop picking at my dry lips, thankfully, because that appears to be entirely beyond me.

3.  I read many things over Christmas, which I have added to the Reading page and it was delicious. I will make a new Reading page for 2015 soon because the current one is too big. 2014 was a great year for reading for me, of which my two absolute favourites were H is for Hawk, which deserves every one of its many prizes and made my chest hurt it is so vivid and Other People's Countries for conjuring up a forgotten corner of Belgium with precision and humour and beauty.

4. Since we returned, little has happened,  though the boys and I did manage to go on a trip to the relatively new Brussels cat café, which was predictably insane and chaotic, with four cats huddled around a storage heater, five kinds of fruit wine and no juice and all the furniture piled on the tables. A skinny tom cat fixated upon a 2-year-old customer's slice of chocolate cake and kept jumping on the table/her face/the cake. Despite having their wrists lacerated by the smallest and most aggressive cat, the boys were entirely delighted with the whole thing and are keen to go back at the earliest opportunity.


Cat sticking its arse in my face, plus token bottles of hand sanitiser. 

5. My younger son's first foray into consumer affairs (he wrote to Milka complaining about a packet of cow shaped biscuits, including the immortally French phrase "la texture n'était pas superbe") has borne limited fruit in the form of the following wonderfully flowery letter:



and €6 worth of vouchers. We were more hoping for the purple Milka cow in person with a giant purple lorry full of chocolate treats, but it was probably busy sucking the goodness out of Creme Eggs, so I suppose this will have to do.

This made for a brief respite from Rubik's and other cubes which currently take up 85% of his large and secretive brain. Many videos must be watched each day and algorithms tested and specialist shops visited and stranger and stranger things purchased. Earlier this week he made his own miniature cube out of Lego, specially scanned logos and nail varnish, which was extra-perplexing. Our evenings are punctuated with the repetitive clicking noise of a well lubricated Cube (thanks to a lengthy and informative video entitled "how to lube your Cube") being fiddled with endlessly. Where will it all end?

6. My sister has turned THIRTY dear lord. Prog Rock's enviable gifts to her: a second-hand pressure cooker and a pair of waterproof trousers, which must place highly on the list of crap 30th birthday presents. She seemed delighted.

I told you it was boring.

Back to the word gulag. I will try and reappear occasionally.

What of you? Are you surviving January and if so how? What was the best thing you read last year?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Feck the halls

First things first - my eye is fine. It - ew, sorry - sort of exploded painfully on Sunday and has been steadily improving since. The cold sore is not improving but mainly because I can't leave it alone. If I continue to recover at this rate, I may be able to appear in public without a paper bag over my head by Christmas. Wehey! Not that it is necessary to be presentable in York at Christmas, there are only 2 hours of daylight and during those hours everyone is trudging up and down Parliament Street wearing fleece and eating Yorkshire Fat Rascals and/or filled Yorkshire puddings, then standing outside superlative hardware store Barnitts and wondering at their display of plastic squirrels (oh god, I cannot WAIT to join them).

That may be the only thing that is improving. Other factors:

I am in the middle of an assignment that requires me to trudge around Brussels in pursuit of elusive, possibly imaginary food trucks in the rain (which is constant and unrelenting, the back yard looks like the Somme and the stupid hens are bedraggled). The number of food trucks required keeps increasing, whereas the number of food trucks capable of answering a telephone or email remains stable at 'vanishingly few'. Today has been a new low, wild goose chase after non-existent food truck in the rain (obv), still have about 5 more to try and track down, socks are wet, spirit wetter.

My elder son has been on the sofa without moving/dressing for ten days already, during which time he has sent me every LOLcat in existence. His last email to me contained 67 jpegs of cats dressed as foodstuffs and the eloquent text 'well what can i say'. I have confiscated his tablet to spare my inbox, so he is currently watching Bargain Hunt under the duvet and has just stirred and said "WHOA I actually fell asleep!" I am so jealous.

I had to make gingerbread people for the school fête (well, 'had to' = was guilted into it and could find no plausible excuse) but forgot to turn the oven to the right temperature and burnt them to fuck, requiring ingenious chocolate foot dipping. F, who was the guilting party, was spectacularly unhelpful in many ways, and only made one gingerbread person, this one:



Last night I had to also actually go to the school fête which cost me €20 (3 brochettes de bonbons (cost price 0,04 cents), one hot dog, one water, one apple juice, one brownie, one "bowl" made from PVC glue and confetti, already half-perished, and one large glass of wine (this last wholly essential). It was extremely crowded and there was an odd smell of mulled wine/choucroute/onion soup/spilled hot chocolate and thousands of tiny children dashing in every direction muffled in 27 layers of thermal clothing. I sat in a corridor with my wine like the ghost of Christmas Go Fuck Yourself until it was time to drag ourselves to the other school for parents evening (no wine, just a blow-by-blow rehash of the French exam in a chilly 1950s schoolroom under the sorrowful eye of drooping mahogany Jesus).

I have an odd, unsatisfactory assortment of Christmas tat. Some people have lots of stuff, others have none. I am in complex negotiations about a guitar and have been to lots of seedy guitar shops, also in the rain. Guitar shops are like garages in that they can sense your ignorance and are not about to make you feel good about it, so that is going as well as you might imagine. I have sent one card (too late to arrive in time, possibly to wrong address).

I have had a fight with a computer repair man and now I cannot go and get the computer back and must bribe a child to do so for me.

ANYWAY. I'll cheer up as soon as we're on the boat and I have my face in the first of several gins (23rd) even if I do have to bring all my end of year accounts with me in a carrier bag.

On a more festive note, could I encourage you all to join me in speculating on what on earth is going on here:




It was featured on the school Christmas leaflety thing and I am deeply puzzled. What is Mary carrying (angry baby panda? Owl? Ham?) Why has she been banished to a rock? Why is Joseph giving the baby Jesus to the donkey for approval/dinner? How huge is the angel Gabriel? WHAT WHAT WHAT? Your theories are welcome.

Percentages:

35% resignation
20% fretting
20% poor decisions
10% throbbing face
10% what to read at Christmas?
5% Nutella sandwich.

You?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

UNCLEAN

Oh god. Thank goodness I'm a self-employed introvert who isn't invited to any Christmas parties because I literally don't think I can leave the house in this state. I have one of these (ew, ew and EW) and a massive cold sore and I look .. ugh. I look like a comedy peasant in an episode of Horrible Histories, covered in buboes. My self-esteem is at rock bottom, I cannot wear any make up to cover up the horror, the internet seems to suggest I may have this eye deformity for anything up to TWO YEARS and I am rather weepy.

After much superstitious peasant prevarication and rubbing the affliction with toad mucus, I finally resorted to the emergency doctor yesterday. This was not an unqualified success. He arrived, bustled in and said "c'est pour ta maman?" (is it for your mum). Er, non? Then he told me he had a magical remedy I couldn't tell anyone about that would save me from surgery. On further enquiry this remedy proved to be 4 homeopathic powders

"Is there any alternative?" I asked delicately. "ONLY SURGERY." He said he had cured 23 people with this remedy. Then he started talking about scientology and his hobby of writing 20 page letters rectifying errors in scientific journalism. He also tutoied me in a disturbingly intimate fashion throughout as if I was his teenage niece. €38 well spent, then ("you should have paid him with a tiny coin in a glass of water," said my friend Tara, which made me laugh). I can't quite believe he was actually a doctor. Perhaps I'm on some kind of Belgian Noel Edmonds style prank show.

Last night, the children finally noticed my facial deformity (I have not been being specially stoic about it, but they filter out my complaints highly effectively). After staring in fascinated horror for a while, L said "you're like.. what's his name? The super hero? The red one?" A lengthy Google marathon enabled him to establish that he meant Hellboy:


This is broadly accurate.

The youngest said cheerily, as he headed off to bed "perhaps you will perish!" Perhaps I will, you thankless wretch, then who will subsidise your Rubik's cube nerd-habit?

It hasn't been a great week - I have barely left the house, the weather is shite, eldest son is in permanent residence on the sofa and will remain there next week because the teachers are "marking" and Thursday brought my most disastrous riding lesson since my 2010 accident. It was not because anything happened really, but because the horse - totally untypically - was really spooky and I was on my own at the start and took massive fright and believed death or catastrophic accident was imminent, so I got off and stood there feeling like a dick (one of those Terrifying Horse Women arrived in the meantime and whirled around using her whip extensively, which made my horse freak out even more). When the teacher arrived, I spent half an hour making it 10000% worse with my tears and terror and generally winding the horse up and both of us ended up in a spasm of stupidity and freaked-out ness. I'm so determined not to give up but oh god, it's an expensive half hour of rigid fright at the moment.  I am conscious any complaint relating to horse riding comes firmly under the bourgeois tragedy heading but it is my only extra-curricular activity and if I can't do that any more, I dunno. I'll just go full hermit.  

Sorry, this is just an existential wail, things are fine really (certainly more fine than my neighbour who has endured, in the last year: lupus, breast cancer, a burglary the insurance company won't pay for and the death of her much loved cat). Let me redress the balance:

- We have put up The Tree today, it is as garish and overladen as usual but it is mighty.

- I also managed to untangle the terminally tangled lights which have been out of commission for about three years due to their huge knot and it was the most satisfying sensation imaginable. I felt  briefly superhuman.

-  I went to the pharmacy in despair after the emergency doctor yesterday and they were lovely and gave me free soap and the nice girl said "I barely noticed! It's hidden behind your glasses and your fringe!"

- When I finish this, I am going to get into the bath with a cup of tea and some Epsom salts and Cold Comfort Farm, which is my Christmas re-read for this year.

- M introduced me to the Facebook feed of the Elephant Valley Project and it is extremely conducive to happiness.

- I'm enjoying the birds in the garden at the moment (jesus, I sound 800 years old), particularly the two crows who are working, possibly in tandem, possibly in competition, unclear, to try to untie the bag of peanuts and carry it away. They managed to get it onto the ground earlier this week but failed at the last hurdle. The chickens, who are puffed up with outrage at most birds in the garden and tend to chase them, stay very still and quiet around the crows who are giant and bad-ass.

- L has just sent me an email headed "IT'S CRISTHMAAAAAAAAASSSS" (sic) containing 22 jpegs of animals and the message "this is my cristhmas list". There is a lot of this kind of thing at the moment.

- I have not actually perished.


Percentages:

60% Facial affliction

20% weeping (of which 5% self-pity, 10% seasonal emotions/nostalgia/etc)

10% Christmassy

6% Irate someone ate my concealed half cookie

4% Very ready for wine (that's a lie, I'm 100% ready for wine).


How was your weekend?




Wednesday, 10 December 2014

You aftoo clean your theets

I am waiting for something in order to get on with some work, so I will use the time (semi) productively here. I don't have much to say, I'm in deep hibernation and brain activity is limited to the odd flicker around good telly, chocolate biscuits and working out where I could house a Dartmoor pony (can you house an at-risk Dartmoor pony?).

1. I have just finished reading Proust's Letters to his Neighbour (a "Madame Williams"), which were discovered fairly recently and have been published as a slim volume I thought might be tangentially relevant to my Paris book. Oh my god. Proust is the crown prince of the pass-agg letter, they are full of flowery, circuitous whining about the noise (Mme Williams played the harp and had builders in) and complaints about his health. I mean, god knows why this is surprising to me. Occasionally he will sugar the pill with a brace of pheasants or a bunch of flowers of a copy of one of his books (mmm, thanks), but the overwhelming tone is of thinly veiled rage and smouldering martyrdom.

2. My eye (lid) infection is SO BAD. I should probably go to the doctor, but instead I sent a picture of it to B, who replied:

"To be fair, that's not a bad colour.  a lovely shade of salmon eyeshadow, swollen lids are VERY winter 2015.  Gwyneth Paltrow has hired a Tibetan monk raised on a diet composed exclusively of organic yaks' milk and flaxseed to head-butt her in the face each morning. You're simply ahead of the curve."

This made me laugh, which was painful as the lumpy bit of the swollen eye bashes against my brow bone. I am broken. "DON'T YOU WINK THAT THING AT ME YOUNG (ISH) LADY" admonished B.

I had to go to a law meeting last night and spent the whole time self-consciously trying to cover the Eye of Suppuration with my fringe, I believe entirely unsuccessfully.

3. My eldest child is never at school at the moment, due to study leave (WTF, he's 12), exams and marking. Thank god he is the child who is largely able to amuse himself, but it has meant an awful lot of emoji-heavy email (I rue the day he discovered emoji), excessive Top Gear, biscuit-heavy snack plates and a dreary quantity of revision. Jesus, they've only been at school five minutes, they've barely learnt anything, is this really necessary? Things I have learned as a result of my brief episodes of helicopter revision (a process I can only sustain for ten minutes before boredom sets in): a big section of the population of the Marolles (the popular heart of Brussels, now mainly home to antique/junk shops and limitless hipster tourists) was moved to Uccle when they built the Palais de Justice. A selection of Dutch nouns of limited usefulness, like "dental brace". Absolutely no Latin (too hard, I did a year of Latin at his age, but literally nothing remains) or maths. He is lovely company thankfully, and continues to amuse me with his Molesworth spelled text messages.

This from my Monday visit to the dentist:


(The dentist could not find anything wrong despite my tooth pain. This cost me €45, but was pleasing overall) 

And this during recent cold spell:




4. Loads of people I know have recently had or are having babies and even though the babies are delightful and the adults more than equal to the task, it is giving me the most chronic anxiety dreams during which I have another baby. These dreams fill me with absolute horror. Often during them I mislay or drop or forget the babies, which seems totally plausible. More enduringly, I am filled with utter dread (in the dream) at the prospect of sustained sleep deprivation and total responsibility and my complete inability to cope with either. Waking up from last night's dream of twins (TWINS, holy lord) was the sweetest relief imaginable. People with real non-dream babies, I salute you, but my sub-conscious has NO regrets. Oh, I am also reading Sarah Moss's Night Waking which is incredibly vivid and funny and awful on those bone-achingly grim parts of early motherhood, which compounds this.

5. I'm just reaching the traditional Christmas tipping point where childlike excitement shades into utter dread at outstanding shit to be done/absence of time/absence of ideas/absence of money. I am medicating this condition with regular applications of mulled wine, Nurofen and a basilisk style approach to my invoicing, something which only happens at 'quarterly social security bill' crunch time and Christmas, which OH YAY, come together in December.

What of you? How do you deal with the queasy panic and what are your very worst anxiety dreams about?

Oh yes, percentages:

68% disgusting eye (considerably lower than yesterday);
10% weary of child chivvying, curricular and extra-curricular;
10% gratitude for healing works of gin;
10% pastry;
2% large-car-parking related fear for tomorrow.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Back

A long overdue update. It was this or editing some copy written by German people. Or, you know, all the other work I should be doing or that awful pile of unopened envelopes, but I have chosen you.

Things that have happened:

1. Venice




Was - of course - wonderful, grey and damp and empty and enchanting. Also, a pandoro costs FOUR EUROS there! If I had known I would have brought an extra pandoro/pannetone suitcase. We did not manage to see any shrivelled fingers, but it did not matter because there was wine and cicchetti and spritz and hours of getting lost down weird picturesque dead end streets and taking pictures of furious, child-eating seagulls.

2. London
I went to London on Tuesday for a really lovely lunch (Moro, pheasant, trifle and delicious booze), plus various admin type things but made the mistake of straying into and around Oxford Street looking for Christmas child-tat. THE HORROR, the heat, the noise, the piles of undesirable gew-gaws, the naked consumer ghastliness. I was feeling intensely Christmassy (a day of jollity will do that) and it nearly sucked all my joy out. Also, and heartbreakingly, Muffinski's in Covent Garden, where I have been getting muffins for years even when they were the Canadian Muffin Company and occupied a corner site on Brewer Street opposite Raymond's Revue Bar has GONE. I know you can't get excited about muffins, but these were amazing, I do not have the vocabulary to explain them, they were sort of healthy wholegrain but not too wholegrain and just ludicrously delicious. I have tried to reproduce them and totally failed. I am muffin bereft.

I tried to do some Christmas shopping, despite the heat and horror, but reviewing my purchases, I seem to have acquired only a selection of jelly sea creatures from Cybercandy, two pairs of tights (for myself) and a packet of David Shrigley playing cards (damn you, Magma, you pit of temptation). I have since acquired some caps (the kind you throw on the street when you are a delinquent pre-teen) and some juggling balls that look like poo. Can I just give up now?

3. Smashing
One of my London errands was to collect a gingerbread house kit to be photographed, which was slightly eccentric. On my return we had to build the house (stupid) and decorate it (even stupider) then smash it with a hammer for the photographer. This last bit was bloody brilliant though the dog made a repeated nuisance of himself barking and trying to eat shards of gingerbread. Last night we found him furtively trying to eat the decorative Christmas tree that came with the house which he had recovered from the kitchen radiator and it took two of us to prise his reluctant jaws open to remove it. Since then I have put the rest out for the birds, who are ignoring it. A magpie had a go yesterday but he has not been back. I imagine it will survive all the depredations of winter an emerge unscathed and just as unappetising in the spring.

4. Infirmity
I already have to go back to the dentist on Monday because the tooth he filled when I went very recently is now an ouchy, sensitive no-go zone. I don't imagine he has a satisfait ou remboursé guarantee, sadly. My back and neck are also in permanent crockedness and I would sell a kidney for a really good deep tissue massage. Presumably this is just my age. Are there any crackpot remedies I can try for my shitty joint aches? Fish oil? Virgin's blood? Anyone? I have also woken up with some kind of painful eye infection. All the middle-aged fun. 

5. Owls
F came home yesterday and mentioned in passing "the cook brought his barn owl into class today". Which, hang on, stop right there child and provide me with MUCH MORE DETAIL. This is the gulag, not Hogwarts, but apparently the school cook (I am already sort of surprised he's not a Sodhexo mechanised drone that hovers above the canteen dispensing food pellets) has raised a barn owl ('chouette effraie' in French which is lovely) from a hatchling until now, when it is 8. It flies free range around his house and sometimes he opens the window and lets it have a little go around the park. The owl came to their class twice, tried to bite several people and pooed on someone's desk. Honestly, if this had happened when I was at primary school it would have been the biggest event of my educational career. F seemed rather blasé about it. Where is his sense of wonder?

6. Mourning
Queen Fabiola, she of the magnificent coiffure, has died. The country is in a paroxysm of mourning and I watched several hours of obsequious coverage (plainly prepared years in advance) last night and have purchased the souvenir edition of Le Soir today. One of the main points of debate last night after the announcement seemed to be whether they should postpone Monday's planned national strike as a gesture of respect. The consensus was no: it was, perhaps, what she would have wanted. I expect moving scenes of slow, solemn tyre burning.

How have you been? It is St Nicolas today, so be careful no one puts you in a sack and kicks you to Spain.