Saturday, 18 July 2015

The enchanted quarter

I have taken the afternoon off after a really intense week of law and translation. I mean, intense for me, the most chronically lazy being in Uccle, lazier even than the cats in the cardboard boxes outside the corner shop, lazier even than our hen, Tabasco, who spends her entire life collapsed into a puddle of feathers on the floor, listlessly hoping the food will come to her, somehow.

I have not had a very ambitious time. I went to the choux shop, bought some choux, bought a falafel sandwich from the beardy hippies, then came home, took my bra off and watched Fake or Fortune on the sofa with three choux, after instagramming them like an insufferable wanker. You cannot imagine the pure animal delight of it all, or perhaps you can. Fake or Fortune is excellent and I am now obsessed with the faded, terribly British beauty of art expert Philip Mould who is like a Jilly Cooper hero, if Jilly Cooper ever wrote about art (oh, apparently she did) (I bet PM was in it).

What is happening in Uccle, Emma, you do not clamour, not even one or two of you. Well.

1. Our neighbour claims there is a pole cat living in the next street. I wonder what pole cats eat?

(a) Chickens
(b) Frites like everyone else, fool

2. She also nearly got arrested for feeding the foxes, but ran away and someone else got in trouble instead. She is an outlaw.

3. My eldest son has been regaling me with texted tales from his summer gulag. For the first day he was mistakenly enrolled in a group of younger children.

I like "taped my solder" especially.

4. There are major, quartier-wide roadworks as a new and pointless roundabout is crafted, which is causing widespread disruption to all road and public transport users and generalised irritation. Someone has decided to deal with public resistance by means of a series of BATSHIT CRAZY rhyming slogans placed all over the area. It is the work of a creative agency, obviously. An agency that needs to go home, because it is drunk.

These are my favourites.

Exhibit One:

"Quartier en chantier, quartier enchanté
The area's a building site, HOW FUCKING ENCHANTING

What you can't see is that this is basically in the middle of a massive heap of rubble. This is a brave statement.

Exhibit Two:

Dans le chantier, on s'arrête pour bronzer!

In the building site, take a break to tan! 

The state of my tan is always prominent in my mind as I cross building sites. I don't know if you can tell but that's a sort of tanning chair behind the window. So you can sit in the highly public tanning chair and look out at the devastation. Naked, presumably. I live to see someone doing this.

Exhibit Three:

"Dans la poussière on fait des affaires"

There are bargains to be had in the dust

Doubtless. Cables. Corrugated iron. Fluorescent tabards. That kind of thing.

Exhibit Four:

Du brouhaha, cela ne nous arrête pas! 

The noise doesn't stop us! 

On a hearing aid centre. Very good.

Exhibit Five:

Dans les travaux, c'est rigolo!

The building works are fun!

No. This is just a lie, isn't it. Obviously they never watched that terrifying public information film about building sites they showed us in primary school in which a child was repeatedly killed in terrible and unlikely ways (crushed by falling masonry, drowned in pothole) and which blighted my tenth year.

There is still a reflex twitch of life in Uccle this week, next week, with the arrival of the fête nationale it will close down completely, leaving the probably fictional pole cat in charge. This is the point at which I usually give in completely to my summer psychosis, so that's something to look forward to.


10% pizza disappointment
10% vicious mosquito bite on knuckle
20% dissatisfaction with my tops (or rather with my own fatness preventing me wearing them)
60% shit I have to walk the dog now because he's whining at an unbearable pitch.


Saturday, 11 July 2015


I was quite prone yesterday. I had to hand in my edits - very minor indeed but nevertheless causing me to question every single part of every sentence in the manner of a crazy person - and total hysterical collapse stalked me all day. The exhibits:

1. Got a letter addressed to our tortoise. "Big Mama" then our address. She's not going to pay her own vet's bill, mate! She's notoriously mean! (also: dead)

2. This exchange with my son.

I want to respond to everything with "it's life" now.

3. This story and more particularly the man's face, at which I could happily stare for hours.

4. Subsequent conversation with M about the possibility of my father punching a cheetah in the face.

5. Extensively quoted in an article about tortoise sex. My father would be so proud if he knew. No, hang on, he wouldn't. Maybe he'd punch a cheetah in the face.

6. My friend F is reviewing Purity and her descriptions of it have left me slack-jawed. Oh man, it sounds so awful. Loads of bad sex.

7. My friend B invented personalised Ru Paul's Drag Race lyrics for me ("may the best whippet win" featured) in the middle of a long email conversation about getting your face impaled on railings.

8. Tried to take a picture of my new glasses but I look like I've had a stroke in all of them. This is the best of a horrible lot:

God, I look as old and tired as the mummified remains of Ramses II (we went to a barbecue last night and my main food groups of the evening were gin and Kettle Chips - I don't even like Kettle Chips). I need an infusion of virgin's blood and a mouse placenta shot and five pints of botox, straight into the eyeballs.

9. Got trapped watching a circus display by six year olds (much face planting and dangerous low flying diabolo action) after my son's "parkour" (= jumping over benches) class display and also discovered the man in charge looked exactly like Karl Ove Knausgaard, then spent ten minutes trying and failing to take a covert picture of him, then several further fruitless hours imagining a parkour class narrated by KOK at interminable, self-loathing, masculinity-questioning length. If I had a tenth of a brain, I would attempt to actually write it, but this morning we have already got lost in Ikea and been to Decathlon (ugh, Decathlon, the place where performance fabrics go to die in rustling melancholy) so I am pretty much a spent force, creatively.

As is evident from the foregoing.


10% Nurofen Plus
10% insufficient concealer
20% Tea
10% Ikea straw hat regret (should have gone for the black ribbon not the white)
10% compensatory Daim pieces
10% Pâté ("summer pâté" from the cheese shop which sounded dodgy but turned out to be delicious. Incidentally the cheese shop are looking for summer staff. The only criteria on the sign is "Doit aimer le fromage", which is pleasing).
30% supine parental abnegation (I am the top three hits on the internet for this phrase, which was stolen from some sociology book of Prog Rock's, I believe).


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

What Is Happening Today

Tuesday, heavy, overcast, close. Uccle has already sunk into its traditional summer torpor, broken only broken by occasional visits from chuggers, red-faced and insistent men from Flanders trying to sell me sacks of potatoes and DHL delivery operatives bearing Rubik's cubes. The children have been out at their mandated improving activities all day and now they are back, furiously internetting to make up for lost time. The dog is lying very flat and very still on the tiled hall floor. I tried to lie down next to him earlier, because it looked cool and restful, but he pushed me quite deliberately in the face with a paw, then, when I didn't move, got up and stalked away.

I should probably think about dinner, because we have no food (apparently gin and Picard gougères isn't a meal, which seems a very myopic attitude to me) and I fear I must go to the depressing shitty Carrefour down the road for some grey slice of animal, but I am stranded on top of my bed in a tepid stew of aimlessness. I have done the easy bits of my editing, only one tiny and two small bits that require thought remain and thought seems to require aimlessness, so that is what I am doing: fuck all. That is fine as long as I don't think about all the other, more productive humans out there. If you've achieved anything this week, just don't tell me, eh?

Current domestic flashpoints

The opening and shutting of windows. Do you live in a house where every resident is in agreement on the optimum temperature and circulation of air? You are fortunate.

The bowls of plastic beads submerged in water dotted around the kitchen and bathroom, like so many clusters of frogspawn. I do not know what the point of these is. I have chosen not to enquire.

The dismantled Rubik's cubes, left in pieces on every flat surface, then placed in freezer bags by a disgruntled, well, me, then abandoned on the stairs.

The chickens, who are raucous, from early in the morning. The plastic bag in the chicken coop which no one has removed despite my requests.

Children's apparently lack of familiarity with basics of plumbing, esp. flushing lavatories.

Socks, discarded everywhere, in crumpled balls of squalor.

Current notes on my phone

Wikipedia link to the entry on the Gold Standard.

"Murderous single-minded shotgun"

A text for translation that contains the phrase: "ignite a relative radiance in the cosmic funkitude".

"I have such a strong muscle memory of this house"


"Arab stallion -> jokes"

"Moustaches bristling syphilis fermenting"

"Monkey riding deer"

"Enright tea hot cross bun"

"VSM frites"

"Aspirateur et sac - Home and Away"

Current anxieties

Why do I have no money (I know the many and varied reasons, but somehow this does not help)?

Saw a picture of myself from the weekend and I look very fat even though I thought I was looking good (reverse body dysmorphia strikes again).


Everyone is getting older and I do not like it.

I have ordered new glasses and they are more of a Statement than the current pair and I do not know whether I will still like them when they arrive.

Current delights

A new series of Ru Paul's Drag Race has reached Netflix.

The children are gainfully (or possibly not gainfully, I am indifferent) occupied for the next 2.5 weeks and after that it is only a few days until we go and hide in Yorkshire for a fortnight.

Many promising books hoarded and ready to read (you know that even when I don't update my blog I update my reading list, don't you? I do.).

Chameau/Chat mort hilarity.

It is now time for gin and Picard gougères.

You? Any contribution to any of these categories?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Top Ten Summer Emotions

I definitely said this last year, or possibly the year before, or maybe regularly every year since I started writing this blog, but the thing about summer is that it has such great PR, with its cloudless blue skies, honeysuckle and frozen lemonade with candy-striped paper straws that it fools me into believing I must like it, but actually I HATE IT. Every year I forget how weird it makes me and every year I think I am going mad, falling down a rabbit hole of anxiety and paranoia.

I am not going mad, I just hate summer. I should put a sodding diary reminder in my phone in mid-June or something. "YOU ARE NOT GOING MAD YOU JUST HATE SUMMER".

(I have definitely said that before)


(Who knows, maybe I am going mad)

My top ten summer emotions, all listicle like and irritatingly capitalised:

1. Everyone Needs To Go Away So I Can Sit In the Dark.

2. Something Terrible Is Going To Happen.

3. I Have Been Away From My Email For Too Long And Now I Have To Look At It And I Am Overcome With Sick Dread (Even Though When I Do Look It Is Just 137 Generic Mailshots From Travel PRs). (I call this one the Holiday Special.)

4. We Are All Going To Die.

5. Nighttime Frustrations: Includes Stop Breathing So Loudly, Bedmate And Take Your Unbearably Hot Arm Far Away From Me. The Duvet Is Too Hot But The Sheet Is Too Light. Fuck You, Mosquito, A Million Times Over. No Hang On Bedmate Come Back With Your Unbearably Hot Arm For The Existential Terror Is Upon Me. Shit, Not You, Mosquito.

6. The Fact I Am A Terrible Person Will Be Sickeningly Revealed In Some Mysterious and Inexorable Way Now.

7. Aesthetic Frustrations: Includes Fucking Fake Tan Fail, Suncream-Induced Chin And Nose Spots and Why Have My Ankles Swollen Up To Ressemble Suet Puddings.

8. Alcohol Will Definitely Help With All These Feelings.

9. Oh, It Didn't.

10. Everyone Needs To Go Away Again.

What are your dominant or recurrent summer emotions?

Monday, 29 June 2015

The black flight of the crow


I haven't updated this for ages because it would have just been whining about how sick I am - SO SICK (some kind of vicious summer flu) - and as my family can attest, that is super boring. I am still sick, but I have reached the point where even I am bored of talking about it. It transpires I do not have anything interesting to talk about at all, actually, but that will not stop me. Onwards!

The school year is dawdling to a close - L has already been sitting in front of a laptop/the TV in pyjamas wrapped in his duvet for so long I think he has bedsores - and Uccle is quiet (apart from the angry bit around the colossal tram/roadworks up the road) and dusty and hot. F has two more days to go, but has a full programme of slo-mo recordings and ill-advised science experiments on the go. Actually, this may also be part of the reason I have not updated the blog: my laptop and phone are in constant use for weird slo-mo shit.

Good Things That Have Happened:

1. Watched our friends' baby have her first taste of ice cream. This isn't the first time I have seen this happen - many years ago, long before I had my own babies, my mum and I very much enjoyed watching a stranger's baby tasting its first ice cream in the Framboisier Doré ice cream parlour here in Brussels - but it's always magic. The suspicion, the surprise, the funny pouting, tasting faces. The reflection. The urgent need for MORE. After five minutes, this one was clutching five of those little plastic spoons and barking her displeasure that the mango and passion fruit had dried up.

2. Had lunch in the Vieux St Martin - always a delight - and my younger son said "look, that man has a schnauzer and a miniature schnauzer" and I thought, a couple of years ago when they spoke virtually no English that would have been impossible to imagine and it made me very happy. Now he has his own (English) You Tube channel doing very serious slo mo science.

3. Went to the scary bat caves and watched the hippos playing:

 and the new baby elephant:

This guy had just given up and was lying on the floor, exhausted, giving very few shits about anything (new spirit animal):

4. Went to London Zoo with my father and step-mother to listen to Helen MacDonald giving a talk, complete with a RAPTOR DISPLAY. It was a completely gorgeous event on a warm English summer evening with herons and blackbirds and squirrels flitting around and some moderately uncooperative raptors (particularly Cyril the Seriema who must be the least dignified raptor in natural history) making us laugh, followed by HMD reading the most beautiful passage from her beautiful book about the first time she gets Mabel the goshawk out of her cardboard box on the quayside and how she watches her taking in the big wide world for the first time, which gave me goosebumps.

5. Went to see Jurassic World. HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA.

6. Attended last gulag prize giving EVER (F has a year left but for the last year's prize giving they go to the town hall). It did not disappoint, with a stirring performance of the resistance anthem, Le Chant des Partisans. This is a jolly number featuring death, tears and black blood drying on the roads. This YouTube rendering, complete with scenes of executions (and terrible English subtitles), was playing on the big screen. Happy holidays!

7. Finally well enough for the healing power of gin.

8. Everyone Did Good in their exams, school reports, etc. so no punitive holiday measures need to be imposed and they can be allowed to continue soaking up unlimited broadband and getting bedsores.

9. Escaped from the dentist without any Work and now I can open my mouth in public again.

Bad Things

1. Sick

2. Galloping, sick-stomach anxiety

3. Managed to get ridiculously sunburnt yesterday despite overcast skies and low twenties temperatures and now look, well, ridiculous and must wear high necked Victorian blouse at all times.

4. Already bored of holiday catering. Surely children could feed themselves at their ages?

5. Work, when really I just want to go and hide in Wifi-free, drizzly, perfect Yorkshire Dales isolation.

6. Have run out of Ru Paul's Drag Race on Netflix.


35% headbanging translation frustration

45% irrational summer dread

10% wishing to watch Strange/Norrell rather than work

10% La Roche Posay Lipikar applied to raging hot Celt-flesh.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015


1. Pastoral care
My eldest son is on exam leave this week. Practically, this means that he leaves the house at 8:10 and gets back at the horrifyingly early hour of 10:30 (him yesterday morning on the doorstep, faced by my narrow eyed and baleful expression of suspicion: I stayed for the full 2 hours of maths! Me: the only way you could have stayed 2 hours and still be home less than 1 hour and 50 minutes after you left the house would involve TIME TRAVEL, so do enlighten me Stephen fecking Hawking).

By this point I have usually done nothing more strenuous than a little light opening of browser windows and brushing my teeth (perhaps) (some days). This would not be at all problematic were I inclined to let him just mooch around on the internet watching other people playing video games and so on for the remainder of the day. I am not, since some puritanical streak in me believes study leave should mean JUST THAT. Also, he was in charge of finding his own lunch today and I came down to find he had bought me a large bag of chips. Whilst this was very welcome, if it continues, I will be 35 stone by the end of the interminable school holidays (and broke, because obviously he used my money).

Next week is more of the same but without even the pretence of having to revise and the whole thing is cutting gravely into my sitting and festering in silence time, which is essential for my mental health. The LOLcats can take him. Upside: there is now always someone in to sign for yet another letter from the tax authorities about my €200 VAT rebate (I am, without a shred of exaggeration, now up to four of these in the last month).

You might imagine Oscar would be delighted to have more congenial company around. You would be quite wrong.

I don't think I have learnt anything in this current round of exams, though I did get a solitary percentage maths question right yesterday, to my great delight. My head is still full of misremembered level 3 Chinese from last month (I could probably tell you your brother was fat, but I might be saying he's cold). I'd like to think this stuff is helping delay the onset of dementia, but I think we all know it is rapidly replaced by a whirling cloud of social media chaff and capybara fantasies and no lasting neural pathways have been formed in the last 10 years.

2. Chicken news
I looked out of the window yesterday and a large grey cat was sitting in the chicken coop sizing up the chickens. It had obviously concluded that it could not eat our hens today (perhaps it had had a large breakfast), but I have no confidence it won't give it a shot eventually. I tried to send the dog out to chase it away but the dog got confused and chased a pigeon instead, allowing the cat to slink away in its own time, dignity intact, doubtless to return.

Predictably, the chickens did not seem to have noticed they were being sized up for amuse bouches. One of our hens is so lazy she seems disinclined even to get up but merely flops out of the nest box to arrange herself in an untidy pile of feathers on the ground in the sun for the rest of the day. She is definitely the grey cat's best bet. I am far from confident she would react to an attack by anything other than obligingly dying with minimal fuss.

3. Travel PR emails
Hotel promotional trolling continues to clog my inbox, though frankly the illusion of activity these emails bring is something of a relief, since I have never been less in demand, professionally. I really ought to do something about that. Today: a hotel in the Maldives suggests you dine in a NEST. This email included the deathless phrase "Leaves dance in an ecstatic shimmy" which suggests to me a copywriter pushed past the point of no return, sanity wise. I recognise this state having attained it myself on a piece of South African hotel copy two years ago.

4. Retail
My €200 VAT rebate has gone to my head and I have bought a new funereal COS sack dress, as recommended by those deadly sirens on The Women's Room and some foundation and have taken to spending odd half hours lost in wonder among the blandishments of MiH, The Outnet, &Other Stories et al.  This is a great shame because I had managed to attain a hermit like state of absence of desire in the past 6 months or so and now I am back to spending all my money on boring monochrome garments that look like all my other boring monochrome garments.

5. Waterloo shame
A more resourceful, dynamic or indeed halfway competent Belgium-based freelancer would have capitalised on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo (this Thursday) many times over. All I have done is order two of Belgium's famous fuck the French €2,50 coins and watched the Napoleon themed Horrible Histories.

6. Specific to Brussels-dwellers
My younger son's violin teacher is rightly insistent I tell you that the truly amazing - he is, I've seen him twice and he's breathtaking - Roby Lakatos, the virtuoso violinist who looks like Balzac, is playing a series of FREE concerts in Brussels in the next couple of weeks. They are:

Friday 19, Saturday 20 June, 8pm, Café Java, 22 Rue de la Grande Île (near Bourse).

Saturday 27 June, 8pm, Chez Franz, Avenue du Haut Pont (Ixelles).

He loves playing small venues apparently so expect to nearly get a bow in your eye and have your mind blown by Hungarian Dances, like so:

My son's violin teacher will be accompanying him and he is not exactly shabby himself, plus there is an amazing old man who plays that thing you hit with hammers (a dulcimer? Is it?) at warp speed, all in all an amazing night of entertainment is guaranteed.

7. Percentages

30% Completely over-excited for Helen McDonald and live raptors at ZSL next week.
20% Onset of traditional summer irrational dread.
20% Piriton, what the fuck, pollen.
10% Oppressed by catering (this week: bad ribs, pasta, more pasta, frietjes, and "freezer surprise").
10% Weird, unsightly leg rash.
10% Longing for gin and silence.

Shit, I've just wasted 10 minutes trying to think of percentages and my son will be back, well, basically now.  Eff my elle.