Friday, 19 September 2014

Mission Mildly Difficult

DOWN: 

- Got locked out and had to crawl through the grate at the front of the house, only to find - quelle horrible suprise - that there is now a second grate behind the first grate and it has a combination padlock on. Twenty minutes head first down a tiny brick tunnel trying various combinations surrounded by all the spiders of Belgium has left me with elbow abrasions, a mysterious forehead lump and PTSD.

- I got spooked riding and ended up in tears. Nothing actually happened, so I don't really know what to make of it, I just had a comprehensive failure of courage.  Now I am scared I will never get my confidence back, because I am getting older and more breakable (or rather, more conscious of my own breakability) and fear seems an ever more potent force. That is a lot of 'more' in one sentence.

Ideally, one would react to the terrors and fragilities of life by seizing every opportunity for joy and living fully and fearlessly, but I am very bad at that. I feel so anxious so much of the time, it is exhausting and unnecessary. I have had a CBT-style book called "Overcoming Anxiety" on my Kindle for about a year, but it is not helping. Its whole strategy seems mainly based around asking yourself 'what's the worst that could happen' and 'would you cope' to which my answers are "THE MOST TERRIBLE THINGS IMAGINABLE, THINGS ONLY WHISPERED OF IN THE DARKEST OF NIGHTMARES" and "HELL, NO".

It is a particular sadness in relation to the riding, because in my head this is one of the few things I am good at, but it appears I am not good at it any longer, because I just think 'fuck, I am at the mercy of several tonnes of unpredictable, flighty equine death-muscle' whenever I get on. I do still adore being around horses though (the smell, the velvety noses, the general loveliness of them). I will persist, for now, even though it is a very expensive way to make oneself miserable, because I will feel even worse if I give up.

- One of those evenings where the children were evasive weasels about homework, tellings-off from teachers and lost books, all of which came to a head at half past fecking bedtime when a succession of sorry sagas were revealed. I said things like "this is simply not good enough" and was generally a sanctimonious dickhead. Also, no one should have to multiply anything by 0,15 at 7am as we were required to this morning, thanks to forgotten maths homework.

- Due to all of the above I had to resort to gin, but the gin we have in the house must be made of anti-freeze and polonium, because it systematically gives me the headache from hell, so by shortly after half past fecking bedtime I was in my own bed, keening gently with a tisane and a Nurofen.

- I have singularly failed to do any work yet today and it is half past twelve. Oh! And now it's twenty to one because I can't think of a title.



UP:

- I managed my Mission Impossible style crawl/combination lock housebreak. So no emergency locksmith €€€€.

- Despite unwisely leaving the house for as many as two whole hours, I managed to be in for two deliveries, the bastards at DHL/Bpost must be devastated. I also drove past our front door looking for a parking space and saw a man with another parcel banging on our front door, so rolled down the window and said "that's my house". Somewhat worryingly, he happily handed over parcel in the middle of the street without even asking for my ID, which may go some way to explaining where most of my post from the past 5 years has gone.

- Both children went to the dentist yesterday and neither has any caries so I am €80 down, but at least do not have to sink into self-loathing at my poor, fruit juice and chocolate button based, parenting. I have also woman-ed up and booked my own overdue dental check for next week, which is very much a DOWN, but I am calling it an UP due to the unusual display of bravery it constitutes. Also I still have that stash of Valium from when my back gave out for when I go, which is very much an UP. NB: the dentist tutoies me. Is this pleasant informality or rude? Difficult to tell.

- In further dental news the orthodontist said that L's treatment (€€€€€€) "touche à sa fin" which I interpret as 'regretfully, I cannot rinse you for €100 a month for much longer'. He would not be more specific than that, but hopefully this dark era of the Roomba and the dog sharing whole packets of dental elastics between them will soon be over. L has been an absolute trooper about the endless ghastliness of it and I am delighted at the prospect that he will soon be free of both wires and the spectre of British Teeth, like my own.

- Netflix has finally arrived in Belgium six months after my secret squirrel UK Netflix account stopped working, so I can spend the weekend bingeing on the second series of Orange is the New Black.

- I am about to give up and go and sit in the garden and share some tremendously greasy noodles with the chickens and the dog, because I am 40 in two months and I need to stop worrying about every idiotic thing under the sun and the only way I know of doing this is by sitting outside for a while with some carbohydrates and some stupid livestock.

A picture:

I haven't taken any pictures this week so here are some disdainful giraffes from last Saturday:




Percentages: 

38% weary
20% aching
12% broken flies
10% eclair plans
10% bacon plans
10% dozing plans

You? Plans, ups and downs, anxiety strategies?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Catch up

Ten days have gone by and I have failed to commit my numerous complaints to html. Only shreds remain.

On Monday everyone forgot all their stuff and woke up late and the pre-school morning horror slot plunged to new depths of crapness, with farcical up and down the stairs nonsense (everyone), backchat (them) and shrieking (me). At one point I opened the door whilst still shouting about something and came face to face with the next door neighbour who was also red faced and shouting at her two boys. We shared a brief glance of fellowship, which was nice.

On Tuesday, I went on a simultaneously hilarious and terrible expedition to a mainly empty Brussels nightclub  for work, where a strange woman followed me round for 40 minutes, then a man tried to teach me how to lindy hop with predictably catastrophic results.

Man (holding out hand): Vous dansez? 

Me (panicky waving gesture): Ah, non non non I have the two feet left. Have pity.

Man: Si si si it is easy.

Several awkward minutes 'dancing' elapse.

Man: Ah yes. This is the wrong foot. Not like that. Not there. Ah. Non. Non. Non.

Fin

On Wednesday I went to London and my father got me drunk in a hotel that brought you trays of cheese on toast soldiers with your martini and showed me pictures of pygmy goats. Imagine! Giant gin martinis, deep sofas and spicy cheese on toast. Why would anyone ever leave (lactose intolerance?)?

On Thursday I spent the morning in a legal focus group faintly and deservedly hungover and bought The Paying Guests as a treat in the afternoon, then read it, eating a salad in a disgusting fashion on the train. There is no good way to publicly eat salad with a plastic fork, is there, you (I) invariably look like something David Attenborough might examine on screen in fascinated revulsion. The Paying Guests is great.

On Friday... um, work? Lots of work. And pizza. Always pizza on Friday. Oh, and the neighbour resurfaced after his most welcome African trip. I have not missed his combination of saxophone and shouting.

I loved Saturday. On Saturday L and I lay on the sofa for about 4 hours reading our respective books then in the evening we all went off to the special late night opening at The Scary Bat Caves. This was an excellent, highly eccentric event with Pikachu paper lanterns:





elephant bathing and AT LAST FINALLY A VIEWING OF THE BELGIAN PANDAS, Nice Nice and Shining Star. L took me some pictures so terrible - it was very dark - that you really can't work out if it's a panda or a trick of the light. I sent the one half presentable one to M who wrote back "that's not a panda, it's a drunk in a panda suit" which was harsh but understandable.

It was this picture:


Frankly, this sheep in a manger makes about as good a panda as the real panda:


Nevertheless it was highly satisfactory. The bats were INSANE, dive-bombing tourists and getting tangled in hair.

On Sunday nothing, for 'tis the will of the Lord. Or rather, we were all quite tired and cross. There was a fight about the dishwasher and when we all made up, grudgingly, we went to check out the new Brussels Ladurée (gilded tart boudoir) and sat on the sofa watching recorded crap telly and eating macarons, then went out for prosecco, altogether like the kind of coves who would be first in the tumbrils come the revolution.

On Monday again: no, I have nothing to say about that, it was just another fecking heap of work. Same today.

Percentages:

20% desperate for a pudding or possibly a drink
20% forced to settle for chocolate buttons
15% too tight bra
10% potato face
10% Congolese slang (work)
10% Unspecific guilt at things undone and forgotten
10% Unspecific dread at upcoming things that must be done.
5% Don't Tell The Bride

You?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Things I did today

(Not strictly in this order.)

Stood in a queue of about 60 people in the stationery shop that reached from the front of the shop right to the back in order to buy, among other things, a specific model of calculator then realised I had forgotten the slip of paper with the calculator reference on. Bought *a* calculator anyway. Forgot the scissors. Got the wrong length of ruler.

Tried to find a way to translate the expression "dans le plus pur style festif new yorkais" which didn't make me want to vomit out of my eyes. Failed.

Maths homework: something something associative, commutative something something élément neutre. 

Happened upon a parade whilst checking the price of a hot chocolate for an article (please admire my conscientiousness). It was composed of brewery drays with huge feathery fetlocks and vintage lorries. The horses were delightful.


Being immensely predictable, this charming pony was my favourite.



Watched a 1964 live Jacques Brel set in bed with a tilleul-citron like a pensioner (Me, like a pensioner, not JB. Brel is soaked in sweat and electrically intense in his good suit, with all his features too big and too expressive for his face and his giant tombstone teeth and you can't take your eyes off him).

Found and watched an episode of Father Ted I had never seen before with boys (stolen whistle). Father Jack identifies a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay 1991 just from the clinking.

Watched a short film of a dog dressed as a spider.

Left the new violin teacher standing on the step for 10 minutes because we were watching 'Marrying Mum and Dad' with the volume far too high and didn't hear the doorbell.

Considered accosting a butcher. Rejected plan.

Discussed with the children what the headmaster's instructions as to his funeral might be (scattering of ashes in school dinners, pre-recorded 3-hour oratory, glass coffin in pyramid mausoleum in schoolyard?).

Got increasingly angry looking for a bag of dental elastics. Failed to find bag of dental elastics.

Ate many tiny things in puff pastry to celebrate the opening of our Picard.

Made not-great fluffy pancakes.

Had a small gin.

Fed the hedgehog.

Fed the chickens.

Realised the dog had no food and it was too late to buy any and had to feed it roast chicken.

Googled "animalerie ouvert le dimanche" without success.

Sat on the sofa after the children had gone to bed and pretended to give an interview in French about a book I haven't written, but had written in the fantasy life I was living in that moment (it's not even the book I'm supposed to be writing). I think you should probably grow out of giving pretend interviews to a pretend TV culture show eventually, but I haven't reached that point yet. I'm only admitting this under the influence of a small gin and a large Lemsip. I was very articulate and amusing and perceptive.

Cleaned Nutella off the sofa.

Wrote this.

You?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The usual

Down:

Poor quality and quantity of sleep this week punctuated by frequent anxiety dreams revolving around financial disaster and embarrassment and losing children, often simultaneously.

Bullied into buying unnecessary insoles to accompany regrettably necessary trainers in giant sports shop of despair, atmosphere electric with cheap nylon, minimum wage resentment and attempted shoplifting. Woman at the till furious I didn't "have anything smaller" than €60 for a €47 purchase.

Also had to purchase: 5 A4 folders, a set of dividers, a compass, plimsolls, a set of "feuilles quadrillées 1mm", 2 lumberjack shirts for eldest. On the list for tomorrow: €75 atelier, €20 to charge canteen card, obscure and very specific calculator, lots of other feuilles quadrillées, dividers, etc. etc. etc. I am ruined. It's no surprise that all my dreams revolve around my bank card being declined in mortifying circumstances.

Not unrelated: have taken on far, far, too much work and spend every day spinning between multiple tasks in probably quite inefficient manner getting increasingly clammy palmed and panicky. Anxiety peaks around 4, then children come home and suck me into a vortex of forms to be filled/fingerclaws filed/fights broken up/homework chivvied about/foods to be provided and so on, from which I emerge around 10, too broken to do any more work. It's not the best arrangement, though experience tells me that it gets a bit better after the first week, when the school runs out of pieces of paper to foist on you.

Disgusting rentrée cold has me in its clammy grip and I have had to take out of date Lemsip.

As I type the dog is standing in the kitchen staring at me accusingly for reasons unknown. This is a common occurrence.



Worst cappuccino ever this morning served by woman with all the good humour, bonhomie and service skills of a king cobra. €2,90.

Rather than writing this list of complaints I should be translating a press release about a successful gallery owner half my age.

This afternoon a chicken came into the house and shat on the rug whilst my attention was elsewhere.

I also nearly got into a fight with a man who remonstrated with me about putting my neatly tied bag of dog shit in the totally normal bin on the street, the red mist only clearing when it became apparent he was quite mad and intent on filling the totally normal bin with a large sack of recyclable plastic bottles. A normal Uccle interaction, then.

Plumbing issues entirely unresolved except by the simple expedient of a regularly emptied bucket.

Up:

Chickens saved from the pot by INCREDIBLE egg laying rate currently. We have All The Eggs.

Eldest child spontaneously tidied sitting room. Both children being quite delightful and affectionate (and quite sanguine about rentrée), although youngest pulled my neck wattle and called me fat earlier and eldest point-blank refused to go to the chip shop.

Indeed, youngest child got a special gulag commendation for being the only well-behaved one at the commemoration of the liberation of Brussels, which is quite possibly the only accolade any family member has ever received from that institution.

Picard, my frozen food emporium of love, has finally opened at the end of the street, so all attempts at cooking, and all requirement to bribe eldest child into going to chip shop, can cease.

2 of my upcoming commissions are actually quite good and do not involve editing corporate reports.

The hippies from NerdCamp have finally admitted they do have my son's passport.

THE BATH IS FIXED. It has been broken for, quite literally, years. I am about to get in it with the dregs of a bottle of Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax oil I was saving for a day exactly like this one and half a bucket of Epsom Salts.



Percentages:

400% plague-ridden (what, shut up)
20% bread-based meals
20% Disproportionately anxious
10% Too befuddled to add up
5% Maybe I need that special calculator
5% Is it bedtime?
4% Shit it was bedtime hours ago
4% Well, is it the weekend soon?
2% not that that makes any difference
2% at least I've washed my face for the first time this week
2% Must remember to cut child's toeclaws and get out swimming stuff tomorrow morning
2% and the €2 'religion' photocopy envelope, WTF is that for anyway, what religious photocopies do they need, they already have a whole young people's bible with jesus wearing a baseball cap.
2% No way I have enough brain for these Colm Toibin essays tonight
1% I'll just have another Nurofen and a rest my eyes.
1% Bleurgh.


You?


Monday, 1 September 2014

Here we are again

Oh dear, it has been ages since my last confession. That is because:

 (a) I had (indeed still have) a shit ton of work. I keep saying yes to things to which the answer should be "regretfully, no, especially at that price."

(b) I escorted my eldest son on a tour of London last week which was highly successful, if ruinous, with some light shopping (for him), a smattering of culture and some heavy eating (both of us). The least successful bit was the obligatory trip to Hamleys where twenty minutes in the basement made me long for easeful death. The most successful bit was the bit where we STROKED THE OKAPI. One of P-Waffle's new jobs is being President of London Zoo, you can imagine how little that interests us as a family, we do not care about that kind of thing at all (I have basically been hyperventilating solidly since he told us, and that was about 8 months ago).

L was allowed not only to feed and stroke the okapi (velvety soft, not as shy as I expected and fond of willow branches), but also to hold a rare rhino rat snake or something (weird looking green yoke with a big pointy nose), which whilst it would not float everyone's boat, was a massively exciting moment for him. Also, and this was equally exciting for both of us, THE GIANT TORTOISES. Thus:


The giant tortoises rise up on their leathery wrinkled legs when you touch their shells, a reflex called The Finch Response  to which, in the absence of the parasite removal skills of the Darwin's Finch, the appropriate human response is a vigorous neck scratch. Happy to oblige, my magnificent leathery friends. I got a bit emotional at several points at the magnificence of it all.

On the train to London, I received a Eurostar text message customer survey, which I handed to L to complete. This was the result:


I have soundly beaten him for his grocer's apostrophe, but otherwise the content and form of his responses were very pleasing.

(c) Apart from that joyful interlude, it has been my least favourite bit of the year, the crap leftover bit at the end of August when you know all the fun is over but the rentrée, with its psychic balm in the form of self-adhesive plastic film, new jumpers and LISTS is not yet there. I cannot think of a year in living memory when I have felt fully sane and in control of my emotions in the second half of August and this one was no exception, coming as it did with an extra load of building work, endless sanding, leaking boiler, wallpaper hung upside down, mislaid paperwork, galloping rootless anxiety, etc etc etc.

Thankfully, as of this morning the rentrée is now officially here and I have already been able to start channelling my difficult emotions into the soothingly repetitive task of writing down the dates of my children's latest tetanus shots seventeen times on seventeen different forms and covering awkwardly shaped exercise books in plastic film. L started secondary school (they move a year later in Belgiana) and I found this morning immensely stressful, to the point of getting actual chest pains: I thought I would have failed to fill in one of the essential forms in 8 point Times New Roman, or missed some crucial instruction and that he would not be enrolled, or that he would hate it and not know anyone or that any manner of other disasters would befall him. Thankfully, he was totally laid-back and mature about the whole business and sloped off in a slightly sinister-looking gang of pre-teens this morning without a backward glance, which is exactly as it should be. I was so choked up with idiotic parental pride at my gigantic, gentle, child, I had to go and sit in the garden with a quiet cup of tea for ten minutes afterwards and watch the chickens behaving ridiculously when I should have been editing a travel agent training programme.

His brother was so profoundly unmoved by the whole rentrée scene that he managed to depart for school without even telling me, leaving me bleating pathetically at an empty house. I did however manage to force both of them to submit to the Traditional Rentrée Photo:


I love F's expression here. He also seems to have grown up alarmingly over the holidays. He only came back from Science Camp on Friday afternoon, perhaps they were synthesising human growth hormone over there, he has been quite cagey about the whole thing and it was very rainy for the whole ten days, so I suppose they had to find indoor activities.

So here we are again. Another school year. An eldest child now grappling with both Latin and Catholicism (I wonder if he will remember not to call Jesus 'Nathan', unsure). A younger child .. well, who knows. He has not got any less secretive over the years, so I do not expect I will ever find out. But soon the black opaques can come out and the fire can go on and I can sink into the dark and cosy sufficient unto itself hygge-ness of proper autumn. Phew.

Percentages:

30% crumble
20% self-adhesive plastic film
20% fridge noise foreboding
10% horror at prospect of 2.5 hour parents' evening
10% obsessive tidying of very limited parts of the house whilst the rest descends into habitual squalor
10% Reverted to type as burst veined, florid, shiny-faced, dirty clawed, shelf-chested Britmatron and wondering how to claw some semblance of Continental sophistication (hem hem) back.

How are you? Cast into gloom by impending autumn or cheered by conkers and grey flannel?


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Death, more death, extra death, treacle toffee and laminitis: my holiday reading


My holiday reading was very extensive, so I am not adding it to the "Reading" page but doing a proper post. Incidentally, I loved this piece on holiday reads - though none of mine qualified at all. Actually, if I was writing my own criteria, they would involve a lot more death, and ideally some detectives who like eating.

Tana French - The Secret Place
I have adored all her other novels and there was a lot to love about this one, which is beautifully written and creepy, but the minor foray into the supernatural put me RIGHT OFF. Might do the opposite for other readers. Also it is huge, you get a lot of French for your money.

Joanna Rakoff - My Salinger Year
I did really enjoy this slight, thoughtful, lyrical memoir (with a slight bitter fore and aftertaste caused by several people bemoaning my 'book' not being sufficiently like it) but was repeatedly distracted by wondering how she dealt with describing her profoundly non-simpatico ex-boyfriend so, um, candidly. I mean, he sounded an absolute tosser, so perhaps she just didn't care what he thought, but I would have been terrified of coming across him in the future and awkwardness.

Lynn Barber - A Curious Career
There is very little new material in this collection of interviews linked with little snippets of autobiography, but it's thoroughly enjoyable all the same. Now there's a woman who would never be put off by awkwardness.

Elly Griffiths - The Outcast Dead
This is a very pleasing series of archeology related crime novels, but this one did not have enough archeology in it for my liking.

Julian Barnes - Levels of Life
Apart from the magnificent description of Sarah Bernhardt's menagerie on the previous post, I sort of felt that the best bits of this grief-memoir-using-extended-ballooning-metaphor  had been so extensively excerpted I had already read them all.

Eimear McBride - A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
Godalmighty. This is the antithesis of a holiday read as described in that New Yorker article and gave me insomnia. This Anne Enright review of it is very good, I think. Do I regret reading it? No. Was I delighted to move on? Yes. It's stayed with me though.

One More Pony - Hilda Boden
After the almighty harrowing of A Girl is a Half-Formed thing, I had to take refuge in my childhood bookshelf of pony books. In 'One More Pony', self-effacing good girl Patricia and hot-headed sister Jackie conspire to buy a mistreated pony from a cruel member of the lumpenproletariat (whom they also trip up and leave in a gutter) by holding an illegal raffle at their boarding school. After their stern but secretly soft-hearted father relents and allows them to bring the pony home, it undergoes a Cinderella-like transformation (a toothless groom declares it to have "good confirmation" then feeds it "a good bran mash") and becomes the plot device by which sissy neighbouring child Colin (or Kevin? Seems unlikely) finally mans up and is cured of his debilitating wimpishness. Colin, it is briefly mentioned in passing, was injured in the accident that fatally injured his mother but this, it is quickly intimated, is NO EXCUSE. There is very mild peril, a brusque but generous cook providing paniers of supplies, camp fires, jumping of five bar gates and much whickering and whinnying. Highly satisfactory.

Malcom Mackay - The Sudden Arrival of Violence
The third in a trilogy of grim Glaswegian organised crim.. NO STOP, COME BACK, they are really really good. I mean, ok, they are not a barrel of laughs but it's a very minutely observed portrayal of a group of  men - yeah, they're (nearly) all men - in the grips of strong emotions and impossible circumstances. Some GREAT twists and a compelling sense of the way one act leads inexorably to another and how trapped they all are by a code of conduct they never consciously chose.

Denise Mina - Still Midnight and The End of the Wast Season
Two from another series of grim Glaswegian crime. I love Denise Mina. Excellent, but required:

Fortune's Foal - Garland Bullivant
Another one from the pony shelf. I both wish I was called Garland Bullivant and that it were still acceptable to write a book with not even the faintest attempt at a narrative arc. Really, there is no plot at all in this story, just a series of vaguely related incidents. Girl - no attempt at giving girl a personality of any sort - falls for pony (also largely without distinguishing characteristics). Generic uncle benefactor - motivations not explored, could not pick him out of a line-up - buys her pony. Girl rides pony. Sometimes falls off. Tediously lengthy descriptions of hunting. Rides in a race. The end.

Lesley Glaister - Little Egypt 
First of hers I have read, on a recommendation - a macabre, modern Gothic tale of Bacardi Breezers and mummification. Very odd. Very good.

Failed to read: The Luminaries. No surprise there.

What have you been reading this summer? Recommendations?