Sunday, 11 February 2018

Quid pro quo

A lovely lady called Chirping Norton (well, I assume that isn’t actually her name, but) asked me very kindly if I would update the blog and then she said she’d send me some stuff from New Zealand if I did and being an acquisitive weasel I agreed so HERE WE ARE.

It is February. Many months have passed, also many moths. I am fat and idle and pale, well, idle in the physical sense. I am not idle in the paid work sense, which is at least partly why I have not been blogging. I seem to work all the fecking time, yet I also seem not to ever have more money. How does this work? It is mystifying and probably indicates some pretty shoddy negotiating on my part. None of it is long-form pieces for e.g. the New Yorker. Mainly it is editing mysterious legal prose. I did have to present a video last week, though (a job casually tacked onto a job I had previously agreed to and which I could not find a way to get out of). That was quite horrific. Most horrific of all was practising and finding myself transfixed by the hideous spectacle of my sagging old lady neck moving independently from the rest of my upper body. When the fuck did this happen? Shouldn’t there be a bit of warning? I have had to return to my body dysmorphic practice of peeing in the dark to avoid the unforgiving loo mirror. It’s a shame, because I think there were about twelve months there when I was perfectly fine with my appearance. Not because it was good, but because I had hit some sweet spot of not giving a fuck. I hope I get that back eventually.

Apart from the work and the wrinkling, not much has been happening. There has been some fairly full-on parenting for lo, teenagers be teenagers. There has also been lots of compensatory laundry, because sweet, sweet, warm dry clean clothes make everything that feels unmanageable fade temporarily into the background. Other things that help:

- listening to Graceland, for some reason? For a while even podcasts, my usual refuge, became too intense and only the soothing sounds of Paul Simon could calm me. I am now more robust and listening to The Poisonwood Bible on Audible at my friend Fran’s suggestion and my god, it is brilliant. Why had I never read it? Because I am stupid, I suppose. It’s wonderfully read too. Recommend.

- Alcohol, to a limited degree after which it makes everything SO much worse.

- The return of Greys Anatomy to Amazon Prime, so I can enjoy the trademark sweet, sweet idiosyncratic Shonda Rhimes dialogue where everyone says the same thing several times with the emphasis on a different word. The EMPHASIS on a different word. The emphasis on a different WORD. Etc.

- My new “Heat Holders” socks, which are a fluffy nest of delight. They are not chic cashmere socks, but giant synthetic dream clouds. I love them. I also bought myself some furry lined biker boots and even if this kind of bullshit is why I always have no money, I cannot bring myself to regret them because it has been fucking cold for the last month and they have brought my feet MUCH JOY.

- Yeast bakery. This was my main achievement of 2017: conquering my fear of yeast bakery. I have developed a new line in naan breads (Meera Sohda’s Fresh India recipe, the parathas, which don’t even require yeast, are also bloody genius), which are very popular. Also homemade pizza, though this is just my very basic attempt to turn myself into Prog Rock who would make us homemade pizza every Sunday night. Every time I make them they are not right in some minor respect and also I have not magically taken on the deep, wondrous reserves of calm and patience of that secular saint. I keep trying in both respects. Today we are attempting pretzels (my largest son’s idea), a suicide mission of stupidity, requiring both the baking of bicarbonate and the wearing of gloves. I’m not hopeful. They're currently resting in the fridge and they are TINY which I am pretty sure is not right.

- Did yoga help? Hmm. We went a lot. I suppose it got us adults out of the house for a bit which gave everyone a break. I remain agnostic. It's nice when it's over, like most exercise, I suppose.

What else? Poor gentle Ouipette got attacked very badly by a slavering Alsatian psychopath and a month later still has a giant scar and a limp. This was a very bad scene altogether and they were not sure they could save him, but he has rallied with miraculous Ouipette spirit, many treats and me keeping the fire going CONSTANTLY ever since he got home from the vet’s. Surprisingly, he does not seem to have any psychological scars, but I am terrified every time I go round a blind corner with him, in case some kind of dog Dahmer is waiting to rip his jugular out (the dog did try to do that, but it was really fucking stupid and mainly ended up with his leg).

Here he is on first day home (this is after 5 nights at vet, so you can imagine the state of him before then):

And here he is last night, looking very happy with his lot:

I mean, inside that fluffy envelope he still looks like a plucked chicken that has had a horrific accident, but at least he can get in there and refuse to move, which he has been doing daily.

Tiny Fabiola the pekin bantam has started laying, putting the other feckless hens to shame. I am not sure what to do with eggs the size of marbles? Very tiny omelettes?

By way of a small apology for absence here is the most ridiculous picture from when we went indoor sky-diving in Charleroi at Christmas. One of the weirder ways to spend a morning. I look fucking ridiculous, not at all like a sugar glider, which was how I hoped I would look, but like some kind of really fat-faced... no. It's indescribable, I don't know what I look like. One of Alvin's chipmunks? It's bad. It's the kind of thing you wouldn't put on the internet if you had any self-respect or personal brand.

Thankfully we all know that is not the case.

Time to don my rubber gloves and fuck around with bicarb. Greater love, etc.

How about you? I'll probably have to switch comments off after a couple of days as the witch doctor army moves in, but in the meantime, I would love to know what has been happening.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017


1. Escape

Last week I spent a night in a hotel ON. MY. OWN. This was the best night I have had in forever, I am not joking. Beautiful hotel. Just exquisite. Sunny afternoon in Ghent (which is lovely anyway). Went to stare at the Mystic Lamb for ages. Walked around buying myself an elaborate picnic of small delights. Practised my Dutch. Toured the hotel. Two delicious cocktails in the lovely bar. Retired to gigantic, pillow filled bed, watched Drag Race and ate my picnic with a cup of tea. Woke up, ate large delicious breakfast alone with my book, walked back to the station. Literally perfect happiness. Here are pictures. 

Hotel window view with twiddly bits and canal

Room of splendour. Two floors of room! 

View from my chaise longue

Morning view from my chaise longue of beer delivery

Herb garden thingy. 

This is a cocktail. I drank it. It was good. 

This is a dainty bottle of Negroni. I also drank it. Not at the same time. 

This is me, on the chaise longue, at that point intoxicated with nothing stronger than SOLO LUXURY

2. Chicks

I think I’ve decided on names for the chicks, though there were many strong strong suggestions. I think I’m going for Fabiola for the pale one and Simone for the dark one. Here they are sitting on a chair this morning, Fabiola at front, Simone at rear. 

They fell off moments later. I am OBSESSED with them, they are so decorative and funny. They have catapulted me into a whole new level of crazy chicken lady. I have bought all manner of new chicken requisites, inc. hairdryer for their floofy feet, special scaly leg cream, vitamin drops, etc etc etc. Pepper, my old bad tempered hen, still hates/ignores/tries to murder them 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time is night, when she is mysteriously fine about snuggling up to them. I mean, it's progress of a sort, I suppose. 

3. Dark rumblings at the yoga studio

4. Mantises

Have you read this article about mantises? Do you want to live in a deep state of wonder/terror? Read on. If that's not enough mantis horror (IT MAY WELL BE ENOUGH MANTIS HORROR), here is more: 

5. August reading

Is up. Finally. 

That is it. I am very busy today engaged in a battle with a crow over some yoghurt. I know that sounds like a thing Bob Mortimer would say on Shooting Stars, but I promise it is true. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Why I love Belgium

Bake Off, Wednesday night:

Is there not a horse in the aisle, Anne-Mie?

There is indeed a horse in the aisle. A small pony. 


Tuesday, 19 September 2017


It was car-free Sunday yesterday, our eleventh in Brussels.

The first time, we knew nothing about it so we put our kids in the car and drove them to the swimming pool. Back then we were forever on a shark-like drive to be constantly in motion: it seemed to be central to life with two tiny people. They were 2 and 4, a barely controlled explosion of desires and emotions, everything lived and felt intensely. Forever in need of amusement or occupation, we their serfs/butlers/keepers took them to parks and museums, tiny trains and zoos and soft play warehouses on industrial estates. I spent half my life, it felt like, on moulded plastic chairs toying with a cup of terrible coffee in the strip lit, stale fat-scented play areas of Quick restaurants in out of town shopping centres, wondering if the sticky residue on the table was juice or something much worse.

That first Sunday, after a few scolding headlight flashes and a quick burst of Google, we got the message. We’ve known the next ten have been coming. The weather is almost always good - I don’t know quite how they swing that - and we’ve cycled and roller bladed and walked and run, gone to local knees-ups and city ones. We’ve queued for ice creams, petted police horses and collected conkers. I mention this because I’m drowning in nostalgia at the moment: the kind of nostalgia that physically hurts, not the soft-focus, delightful kind. This variety aches until it’s almost intolerable. I usually love this time of year; I land in September with relief, a sense of purpose and a bustle of work after summer rootlessness but this year the work hasn’t come and it seems to have left me open to this weird, achy sense of loss.

Of course our children don’t want to walk or run or roller blade with us any more, so I went for a walk with my husband and the dog on Sunday morning instead. The weather was good, as usual, after a fortnight of relentless rain and everyone was out. We crossed paths with gangs of death-wish skateboard kids, wobbly scootering toddlers, sedate cycling pensioner couples and every shape, size and colour of family on every possible variant of non-mechanised wheels. A winded “oof” of feelings hit me in the stomach on the Chaussée de Waterloo and brought me to a halt. “We’ve been here so long!” I said to my husband, weighing all those years, all the Quick play areas and slow trails around the parks. He agreed. We have. Apart from our respective birthplaces, this is the city we've lived in the longest, by far. It will be here that the boys associate with their childhood, these dozy streets full of lost cat posters, the Parc du Caca, ice cream from Zizi and spectacular Art Nouveau details displayed without fanfare above grubby corner shops.

I actually love having teenagers. I’ve loved every developmental hop, skip and jump. They can make a decent cup of tea and an edible bowl of pasta and the darker and twistier a conversation I can have with them, the better. We laugh together, often and I take a basic farmer’s satisfaction in watching them grow and thrive. But in the last few months, I’ve started, at last, to feel the wrench other parents describe as they fold away the tiny socks and hats. Because they don’t want to spend time with us any more, at least not like this and I miss them. It’s universal; it’s normal. “They’ll come back,” older and wiser people say, and as long as I don’t fuck up too badly, I’m sure they’re right.

But it won’t be how it was: nothing could ever be as intense as those early years. The boys were all-consuming and with each year, they are less so: I think about them as much as ever, but they don’t take possession of me physically now. My body remembers it all: the satisfying heft of a plump baby on your hip or a tantrumming, ironing board rigid toddler to be wedged into a car seat or carried up to bed. How F used to like to pull idly at the loose skin on my elbows. Laces tied, noses blown, pants pulled up and the thoughtless, instinctive sharing of food and space. My hand perpetually solicited and given for holding, for carefully selected stones, soggy tissues and discarded biscuit wrappers (or sick. Sometimes sick. I’m not so nostalgic for that). Hours that felt like days. The endless, spooling, maddening, enchanting flow of talk. Brightly coloured plastic in my pockets and under my feet and the lyrics to the credits to awful TV shows lodged in my brain. All the detritus of a childhood, of a parenthood, feels oddly precious at this moment, as it slows to trickle (it's just chargers and washing now, mainly).

I’ll get some work in eventually (I hope) and I’ll stop mooning around, nostalgic for Bakugans and paying €4 to watch a child scream through a 2-minute ride on a migraine-inducing technicolour carousel. No one in their right mind could or should be lost in a fog of exquisitely painful elegiac nostalgia for a foot and urine scented soft play area or Jay Jay Le Petit Avion and I’m sure my right mind is around here, somewhere.

Partly I think my nostalgia is preemptive: it’s for Brussels. We’re not leaving, not yet. We have no concrete plans. We speculate, throw ideas in the air, see where they land, then back away from them for now.  It’s just that I’m beginning to think we might be heading towards done. Eventually I want more hens and less saxophone free jazz in my life and my husband wants space and peace. One day, perhaps not until the boys leave, we’ll do it. But this will forever be the place they grew up and it was pretty great, most of the time.

The city was on best behaviour on Sunday, of course. There was a lunatic folklore event on the Grand Place with prize winning moustaches and a woman dressed up as a horse and the man who wheels a portable Manneken Pis around, squirting unwary tourists.

The flea market was packed and sunny and one of the stallholders was wearing a rakish fur stole.

There were made to order Magnums with smoked dark chocolate and salted caramel at Pierre Marcolini and some excellent dogs on the terraces of the Sablon. Even the trams were working, mostly.

It has rained pretty much ever since, but I'm trying to hold onto that sense of whatever it is I'm feeling - gratitude perhaps? - towards this city. Because, it's increasingly apparent, we won't Always Have Brussels.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Natte Onderkant

1. Fatigué de Vivre

Flicking through Le Soir, the Belgian paper, on the lookout for some hidden nugget of Belgiania that I can fashion into a hilarious/fascinating pitch or spurious Belgian life philosophy to repackage for coffee table consumption à la hygge/ikigai, I note the following:
 - 5 hideous grisly and depressing murders (yes all murder is bad but these ones were particularly dreadful)
- several sinkholes
- Ghastly racist ministers Theo Francken and Jan Jambon being themselves
- "7 out of 10 Belgians in favour of euthanasia for people who are 'tired of life'"

I am not sure Belgium is ready for its hygge moment.

2. The Naming of the Pekins

The chicks have now survived 6 weeks and doubled in size and sass, so I think I can finally give them names. The one on my shoulder on the last post is slightly shyer, lighter and paler. Her friend is fearless and fat and darker and has taken to chasing away the pigeons and crows that have the effrontery to try and eat her food. Here they both are up to no good:

Any ideas?

3. Hou je klaar en bakken maar

Dutch class starts again next week and I have been preparing by watching THE FLANDERS BAKE OFF. Characteristics of the Flanders Bake Off:
- Host is a single fat jolly bloke who tells a lot of jokes. I like him.
- Judges: one rather po-faced pâtissier who is very strict and Regula Ysewyn who is a vision of vintage splendour, but also rather strict.
- Contestants: the usual mix. Quite blokey. Their older lady has lasted longer than the British one. There is a nice Columbian man who sometimes wears a hat. There is also one young woman whose every second phrase is in English and I find it disproportionately annoying.
- Key phrases:
"spannend"  = tense, used by all candidates all the time, esp during the spektakelstuk.
"ik ben benieuwd"  = I am curious, used by judges when contestants suggest some outlandish flavour or technique, basically the equivalent of that stare Paul Hollywood does.
"natte onderkant" = soggy bottom

I am wondering how to work these into Dutch class.

4. Home Baking to Prove to Myself I Am Not A Deadbeat: A Journal of Failure, Fatness and Diminishing Returns

Day 1
Make a 29 minute chocolate cake (Twitter rec).

Looks pretty good. Tastes great. Children come home.
E: Look! I made a chocolate cake.
F (humouring voice): That's nice!
Eats a small slice then quietly goes and gets some biscuits out of the cupboard.
L: I'm not hungry
Eats crisps for rest of day.
I eat the rest of the cake.

Day 2: 
Make Mary Berry's fast jam buns.

"I asked a 12-year-old girl to try this recipe for me," says MB, who doesn't give a shit about my attempts to make myself feel less of a deadbeat. "She had no problems and thoroughly enjoyed herself." Mine come out slightly too salty and quite unattractive and are nothing like the jam buns of my childhood.
Children come home.
E: There's these ... jam things?
F: Just goes silently straight to the biscuit cupboard
L: Ooh!
Eats one. Never mentions again. Spouse eats one. Never mentions again. I eat 4 more - they are edible when warmed - then give the rest to the birds. 

Day 3
Make chocolate chip Chelsea buns (because my family are awful and hate spice and dried fruit).

Children come home.
E: I made some of those chocolate bun things?
F: Oh, right.
Eats one, eats peanuts for remainder of day
L: I'm not hungry
L: Are there any biscuits?
E: There are these chocolate chip buns I made!
L: Not those
I freeze the buns, sadly. 

Day 4 (today)

I made cinnamon buns which no one likes but me. Fuck everything.

No, there is no pearl sugar or glaze or icing on the top because I PREFER THEM WITHOUT and they are MY BUNS.

5. Reading 

I set myself a target of no despair before midday and have failed at it today BUT I have updated the reading page for July. July was long ago so the descriptions are ... brief?

Friday, 8 September 2017



Everything is shit. I mean, it isn't, probably but it feels like that today. And yesterday. And most of last week. What? Also, in the wider world, it is clearly shit, so actually, let's stick with the initial statement.

Ingratitude Journal (with apologies/thanks to Ganching who did it first)

Faced with the Reichenbach Falls of translation, I am doing nothing more productive than staring at the grey sky (I'm fine with grey sky, I welcome it, that is not part of the shitness) and occasionally quietly whispering "I hate everyone" and "fuck everything".

Family Life I will not go further, much as I might wish to because Family Life Omertà must be maintained except when Insta-messaging one's best friend from the lavatory in the dead of night whilst cry-laugh-crying.

Just spoilered myself for Fake or Fortune - the thought of which is the only thing keeping me going many days - because of following my fantasy husband Philip Mould on Twitter (no regrets though).

Quoted very punchily for a couple of jobs on my spouse's advice and as a result have no work or money (I still think he was right but I have €8 in my bank account before my (holiday) credit card bill goes through). I genuinely can't quite see how to earn a living at the moment. I can't be entirely unskilled, but my skills such as they are are not highly valued in monetary terms in 2017.

Regarding the above, I have resolved to pitch more, but what this means concretely is a momentary feeling of achievement followed by hours of feeling shit, when my tentative pitch ("here is something you might possibly, conceivably, be interested in?") is met with a big fat horrified no ("why are you offering us the decomposing corpse of a subway rat, what is wrong with you, you fucking halfwit, also we covered decomposing rat corpses frequently this year, why the fuck didn't you do your research", this is how it feels to me anyway). This is ... emotionally challenging. I will persist. I have it in mind to try and be more male about work stuff.

Quite fat after Yorkshire holiday of Tunnocks Teacakes, gin and crisps so have Tight Trouser Gloom/Rage.

I note also, that on closer examination these trousers are covered in weird brownish green stains. Bird shit? Yorkshire gunk?

It's the time of the year where everything bites me so I'm scratching like a flea-ridden dog.

My scrubby old hen has decided to make it her life's mission to kill my new hens. Every time I think things have calmed down, there's a flurry of screeching and feathers and I have to run outside and make peace with mealworms and cardboard boxes.

New tinyhen:

Ok, this is only one of them, but I can't get a decent pic of the pair of them together and the other one is squeakier and faster. I love them.

As you can see, I have nothing funny or interesting to say which is why I have stayed away. If that changes, I will be sure to let you know. I will probably let you know if things continue to be shit too.