Saturday, 6 February 2016


I wrote a tiny thing for the Guardian today about the advice I wish I'd had when I had children. I couldn't quite decide what to write, so this is the other version I wrote, which is also true, and an attempt to put into words what I felt, and feel, most intensely about parenting, but came out a bit incoherent:

Pregnant at 26, I was certain I would not become “one of those obsessive, weird mother who stare at their children all the time.” I was, I believed, young enough to be selfish about my own needs and that selfishness would save my sanity. After my son was born and I was wondering, shell-shocked, how the hell childbirth had stretched my nostrils, for God’s sake, I wish someone had told me the following: 

“You’re already one of those obsessive mother weirdoes, numbskull. You will spend the next year bound to this incontinent, snurkling piglet creature physically and psychically to such a degree you will lose any notion of who you used to be. Let us be clear - this is not because you enjoy it; rather it seems to be some kind of biological imperative you are powerless to countermand. Even leaving a room with your son in it will seem wrong and unnatural and as you sit and stare at him as he sleeps, because apparently you are now incapable of doing anything else, your helpless co-dependency will terrify and oppress you. But keep the faith. You are still yourself. 

That weirdly intense physical connection never goes away, but it slackens gradually, like one of those retractable dog leads and eventually your brain will be - partly - your own again. You will read books, have friends, take an interest in the world, go out for the evening without feeling sick with rootless anxiety, eventually. 

Sometimes, even when your kid is a surly, exasperating giant who steals your headphones, the lead will snap taught again and you’ll need to hold him tight and listen to his heart beat until he shakes you off in disgust, but that’s ok too. That retractable lead is love and sometimes love feels like a sudden tightening round the throat, not a fuzzy glow. Embrace it, find an accommodation with it. It's not like you have any choice in the matter. Sorry about the nostrils, they’ll never look normal again. Try a bright lipstick, MAC do good ones.”

After that, I also thought of a third piece of advice which is "learn some really basic baking, but hold it in reserve until your children are old enough to regard it as an act of miraculous witchcraft, then bring it out." I have had more kudos from my kids for whipping up scones in 5 minutes or doing those terrible Pokemon cakes I used to make than for anything else I have ever done. I make scones about twice a week now and everyone looks at me like I'm Derren fucking Brown or something. Satisfying.

Fellow parent-drones, what advice do you wish you'd had?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Still no phone = no pictures = this capybara disdains my puny bourgeois anguish

Argh, I think yesterday was my own personal Blue Monday even though it was actually Tuesday. I spent the day eyeballing 60 incomprehensible Powerpoint slides and an impenetrable law mountain to a soundtrack of relentless rain. STILL no phone. My younger son is sick, which is not keeping him from his exhausting self-imposed programme of improving activities but is making him crosser about them and my elder son is 13 which is a sort of illness in and of itself. Someone sat on the dog and it is limping, exaggeratedly. I discovered all my planned summer activities for the boys were already booked up so my anxiety dream about having to enrol them in a seminar on the female orgasm may come true. I also got so enraged trying to shake bits of washed paper hankie out of a jumper earlier that I banged my hand on top of the washing machine and now it is all swollen and bruised. It's like January has reached out its slimy tentacles into February to mess with us.

However! Barrel scraping for positives:

It did stop raining for half an hour at a useful juncture when I needed to leave the house.

The Channel 4 programme about Chester Zoo had an excellent baby elephant, which I commend to you.

PANCAKE DAY (Chandeleur) here. I managed to make crêpes which are not my forte - I can do a fluffy American style pancake very well, but crêpes not so much. Used Delia's recipe which makes a thoroughly paltry amount, but otherwise worked. Do you have a better one?

Got what is apparently a really really good book (What Belongs To You) in the post.

I have bought some of this bath stuff and spent the latter part of the evening soaking myself into a stupor. It's no Elemis Supersoak, but it's a quarter the price, so it'll do nicely and also scents the whole house with lemongrass, which is pleasing.

I have managed to update my Reading page, sort of. The urls are all messed up, I can't remember how I did it last time, but you can now consult 2016 over in the sidebar (with hyperlinks at the bottom to last year and the year before's reading). January was a pretty good month.

(This is just a holding post, I am writing something else, but it's been a while and I thought I would at least draw your attention to New Books.).

Let us hope for better things today, or at least no Powerpoint.

How was your Tuesday? And are the prospects for Wednesday any better?

(*Doodmoe means dead tired and is one of my favourite Dutch words)

Friday, 29 January 2016

On my mind

What's on my mind? I'll tell you what's on my mind.

1. The navet boule d'or
I don't really know what this is other than a small yellow turnip, but I think I have confirmation bias or something (is that what I mean? It isn't, is it. You know what I mean, I just tried to Google the expression I am looking for and it was a total disaster and only threw up a chat forum about threadworms. UPDATED: MrsStupidHead reminds me it is the Bader-Meinhof Phenomenon!) with these things, I am seeing them EVERYWHERE. I started sending M the menus from the virtuous organic hipster take away near here a few days ago and we soon realised that the navet boule d'or appears every day. An ordering glitch? We imagined them standing, staring gloomily into a gigantic sack of turnips every morning, trying to work out how they could hide them in the plat du jour. Anyway, since we spotted them there, they have been cropping up in all sorts of other contexts so I can only surmise there is a world glut of small yellow turnips. Have you encountered a navet boule d'or? Phone the turnip helpline and tell us more.

2. Gérard Depardieu
Thanks to this headline: "Gérard Depardieu, «fume un cerf» dans une nouvelle pub douteuse" (Gérard Depardieu "smokes a deer" in a dodgy new advert). I have not spoilt it by going off to read the actual article, because I prefer the version in my own head.

3. Tunnels
Brussels is having one of its periodic infrastructure related disaster-stroke-embarassments as all the tunnels on the inner ring road have this week been declared unsafe, and one is closed already for "at least a year" and the collective lamenting and reciprocal recrimination in all 18 layers of local government is great. As a public transport user I give no fucks whatsoever about this, but I am always entertained by the utter chaos that ensues when Brussels embarks on some ill-advised programme of public works and anticipate this will continue to provide amusement for years to come.

4. Silence
There have been people in the house for the second half of this week and I am sorry, I have hated every minute of it. I don't want talking, I don't want music, I don't want premature suggestions that it is lunchtime at 11:55. Leave me in my womancave and do not dream of disturbing me before 4pm, there is brooding to be done. I am genuinely considering a trip to Quaker meeting on Sunday just for an hour of uninterrupted (well, perhaps, who knows, I have never been in Brussels, maybe there are loads of chatty types being moved by the spirit here) silence.

5. Winterwatch
I get universal derision in this household for loving the BBC's Winterwatch, a bleaker offshoot of the more crowd-pleasing Springwatch, but I do not care. Where else could you watch a CARCASS-CAM? Recently a fox and a golden eagle had a fight over the carcass on carcass cam, I mean, how can you fail to be charmed by that? I live with soulless fiends. Loud, early-lunching soulless fiends.

6. Doughnuts
It turns out these guys are based about 5 minutes away from here, I can't see how this can possibly go wrong, says she typing with matcha glazed fingers and a salted caramel chin. I would also have a unprecedentedly popular doughnut Instagram post if my phone were not STILL with the uncommunicative dullards at iClinique. I am over it. I no longer care. Well, except for Instagram.

7. Sparking of joy
I had a useful discussion with F earlier today about what really sparks joy, Kondo-style for us. Our agreed joint list:

Cosmetics (including expensive bath oils)

E: Our Kondo-ed house would be a place of joy. Everyone would want to visit us. Except we wouldn't let them in because they don't spark joy.

F: We would have a spark-joy intercom. We'd check who was there and then not buzz anyone in.

E: "Sorry, no. Not feeling the joy."

8. No to this

You? What's on your mind and what really really sparks your joy?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Go on, join in, let's get it all out, a problem shared is a problem... well, I don't know. It's still a problem but I always like reading yours.

1. January has gone on for seven months already and is not over.

2. I am really sick of watching "Mythbusters", which is our compromise household default programme, but which is basically just two overgrown ginger manchildren, one of whom has a walrus moustache, exploding stuff in a highly repetitive fashion for entirely spurious reasons. Tonight: breast implants, CDs, petrol stations. Yesterday: lavatories. Tomorrow: who knows. Racoons. Cereal. Soft furnishings. No one cares as long as there is FIRE. This is not science, people and I have my doubts as to whether it qualifies as entertainment either.

3. I have a spot on my chin and tomorrow I am going to get my picture taken for my book flap-slash-publicity (my choice, in a fit of a kind of reverse vanity. I could have just reused some old one from a million years ago, when I was young and fresh faced, but the contrast with real Hag Me would have been too hideous and I would rather the truth were out there, unpalatable as it is).

4. I keep overeating, but not the jolly, indulgent kind of overeating. I am doing the worst kind of overeating where you start with an orange, virtuously. Then a plain yoghurt. Then you add a semi-virtuous square of dark chocolate. Then another. And another. Then you are still hungry so you have a couple of nuts and so on and so on until you have ingested twelve billion calories and could have far more satisfactorily eaten a whole coffee and walnut cake.

5. I am using a ridiculous ancient phone as a replacement for mine which is still with the applenerds, who are apparently committed to sustainable, artisanal, Slow Repair, probably with wooden whittling sticks. Things you cannot do on the ancient phone:
- answer calls
- pick up voicemail
- listen to podcasts with less than an hour's preparation
- count your steps
- take pictures
- obsessively refresh Instagram even though it is only pictures of the Chanel show and some sky and all those chicken feeds my younger son has forced me to follow. God, why do I love Instagram so much? It's just pictures of chickens and food.

Actually that doesn't sound too bad when you put it like that and it is certainly teaching me patience, but I wonder whether there is any point in it at all. I might as well adopt a crow and carry that around with me, it would be far nicer and just as useful. The only thing I can actually do is contact my eldest son's friends of three years ago (I can choose from eg. "les emerdeurs" (sic), "huglandlefayot" (sic) or myself, for some reason listed as "Future Goat") using an app called "Vibr" (sp?) and look at PewDiePie. I have not done any of these things BUT I MIGHT. Also, the ringtone, when the phone that I cannot answer rings, is some soft rock number on histrionic crescendo, which at least matches my mood/expression as I bash furiously at the 'accept call' button to no avail.

6. Having tanned fractionally from blue to off-white in Thailand (yes, here comes a true tiny violin complaint), my legs are now so amazingly dessicated that flakes of skin drift off them in an attractive fashion every time I dress or undress (not that I do this much in winter, I just occasionally swap one layer for another as hygiene demands).

7. My eldest son has just announced to me that he has Thursday and Friday off this week for teacher training, wotthehell, how can I sit in restoratively morose silence eating my meagre lunches of punishment soup followed by orange/chocolate/yoghurt/nuts/guilt whilst watching First Dates when I have to police his Playstation killing and prevent him from eating every biscuit in the house? Mehitabel and her kittens comes to mind ("the life of a female artist is continually hampered what in hell have I done to deserve all these kittens", for "kittens" read "teacher training days").

8. I got cornered by a fireman who came to the door and made me give him €10 and I have no idea what I paid for and also I got cold called about changing my electricity supplier and the woman was so skilful that I think I have agreed to a man coming round at some point to try and sell me electricity and clearly the only way ahead is to neither answer the phone nor come to the door ever again.

9. As evidenced by the above my life is very boring at the moment and I have nothing whatsoever to write about.

Please proceed with your complaints, the bureau des réclamations is now open.

Friday, 22 January 2016


There was an Incident on Wednesday night the nature of which remains unclear to me but the upshot was that some damage was inflicted on my phone involving water and one of my children, the intermediate consequences involved some shouting and stomping and a broken mug and the ultimate result is that I have no phone for some, as yet undefined, length of time. I have tried many times to call the shaggy haired, eye-contact-avoiding youths who are holding it hostage, but they do not answer the phone - I mean, who under 30 does that - their voicemail box is full and they do not respond to email either. Clearly I either need to join their WhatsApp group (no I have no idea what that is) or go round in person like a vengeful pensioner and glare at them and nag until they languidly give in (I am very familiar with this tedious discipline technique). I am not up to either of those things. It took me about 90 minutes of psyching myself up to get as far as the post office this morning (Eireann, your book is now on its way, sorry it took so long).

As a result I am phoneless and it is making me agitated-slash-paralysed. Why go for my usual lengthy morning walks when my virtuous step count will not be recorded and when I cannot distract myself by listening to Our Mutual Friend (Mr Boffin was just becoming unhealthily obsessed by lives of misers)? How can I take artfully arranged pictures of the old hen's large eggs next to the new hen's tiny brown ones for as many as three or perhaps four people to pity-like on Instagram? Perhaps most importantly, why the fuck did the alarm clock app I downloaded onto my laptop not wake me up this morning, leading to the most almighty 8am panic? I do not know. I need to readjust to analogue life and engage with beauty and peace and prolonged periods of uninterrupted abstract thought but instead I am mainly thinking Dark Highly Specific Thoughts about the responsible individual. I have become as shallow as a saucer and as easily distracted as a toddler by a packet of raisins. I have no inner life.

Assuming they do not relinquish the phone for some time, I need to plan my life better (first step: purchase a basic alarm clock). I need to take my book and drink expensive tea at Comptoir Florian where phones are banned and use my Beaux Arts membership to go and stare at Breughels. I need to cook nourishing soups (ha, I am SOUP KRYPTONITE, every soup I try and make is disgusting) whilst listening to informative radio programmes. Sit in cafés with notebooks and pencils writing short stories. Learn to play a new Chopin Etude. Of course I will do none of these things, but will sulk around the house more tied to my laptop than ever, perhaps reaching some tipping point of acceptance just as the phone is finally relinquished by its infant captors.

What would you do if you suddenly had a week free from the tyranny of your smartphone? Or are you perhaps already one of those ahead of the curve refuseniks? My sister is trying to become one but she is far more disciplined than me.


10% Rediscovered Uniqlo cashmere mix sweatshirt joy
10% New trainer discomfort
10% Chapped hands
10% Unable to believe I will ever write anything again
10% Coffee and walnut cake
10% Puny Dutch exam triumph (I came top! 90%! I must be honest, it was not very difficult and the marking must have been pretty generous)
10% Invoice rage
10% TMI about the neighbour's UTI
10% No more salty breadcrumb chocolate panic
10% Cold Comfort Farm


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Contentedly furious

It is still freezing -  minus 6! - and I know almost everyone hates this part of the year and I am sorry for your suffering, but I actually quite love it. What I like is that simple survival becomes an end in itself and I can derive purpose from simply remaining alive, rather than berating myself for achieving nothing. Also: bowls of hyacinths, cashmere socks, a million birds in the garden (mainly crows trying to drag whole fat balls away to their crow lairs), the remains of the Christmas cake which I have secreted at the back of the cupboard to prevent anyone else eating it and cooking with even more butter than usual.

Do not think this generally tone of positivity extends too far - it does not. A well of unfocused anger swirls within me, mainly emerging when inanimate objects cross me. I am furious with:

- the neighbour (yes, I know he is not an inanimate object. If only he were. He's playing along to Hotel California this morning, because what Hotel California has been missing all these years is a fucking sax solo)

- the washing machine, which blocks approx. once a week now and which I must then empty via the stupid outflow thing, using trays and ending up with water all over the floor and dark spots in front of my eyes from fury. "I HAVE A FIRST CLASS DEGREE FROM OXFORD AND STILL I HAVE TO TOLERATE YOUR BULLSHIT" I shrieked at it yesterday as gallons of warm, mysteriously dark blue water gushed forth, with no effect whatsoever.

- Tights. Why must your feet or crotch always be the wrong way around? What the hell is that, you are tubes of fabric, how fucking hard is it simply to do your job? JUST ENCASE MY LEGS AND LEAVE THE FLOW OF BLOOD TO MY LIMBS WELL ALONE.

- The dishwasher. Yes, sure, just slightly warm up the dirty bits, causing them to become more encrusted. And yes, take three and a half hours to do so, that seems perfectly reasonable.

- The dog (not quite inanimate but nearly), for choosing to spend most of any walk insistently licking patches of frozen urine while all feeling leaves my hands and feet.

- Amazon Prime for not telling me it had Grey's Anatomy Season 11 until the very day it was removing it from Prime, causing me to watch six episodes in one day crying in fury. I will never know what happens about Derek fixing brains for the President now.

Snack issues: 

M: I feel like I could eat a house. If it were made of toast. I would eat that.

E: Or a horse, also made of toast?

M: I don't know about the horse. Maybe I would just keep the horse as is, but walk it into the toast house and eat that. Like a sort of horse sandwich.

E: What, you'd keep the toast horse? I'm confused.

M: No, I don't want the horse to be toast. I want it to be meat. Then I'd put the meat horse into the toast house. And eat the whole thing.

E: I'm glad we straightened this out. 1. Toast house. 2. Meat horse. 3. Place 2 in 1. 4. Consume.

M: This is going to end up as a blog post isn't it.


30% Weirdly despairing and sad for no reason this morning despite all the above flannel about my love of cold winter days, crow squabbles and cashmere.

20% Skirt uncertainty. I haven't worn one for months and am wearing one now, due to "spontaneity". Is it too cold? What shoes? Will I get food on the white border like I did last time I wore it?

20% Sick of these ground up linseeds I keep putting in everything because it's January and one is supposed to do that kind of thing.

20% Completely delighted by this book:

which I am using to counter my son's 'can women be pilots' question.

10% On a tidying jag that will not last. The problem with tidying jags for me is that while they continue I am delighted with the state of the house but perpetually angry and resentful at its other inhabitants for putting things in non-mandated putting spots and generally continuing to exist obliviously in a world of unfolded blankets and unpaired shoes. Given I am incapable of simply taking on the extra workload without furious resentment, it is better for the global utility of the household for me simply to allow everything to sink back into our usual state of mild, but convivial squalor. I anticipate this happening by the weekend.

You? What are you furious with and what would you eat as a snack, ideally, today (me = a whole M and S coffee and walnut cake I think, thanks)?