Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pining




(highly debatable)

Hello. I have been back for ages (well, since Saturday, it just feels like an eternity), but was immediately sucked into the post-holiday maelstrom of overdue bills and overdue work and overdue washing and renewed lamenting at the builders. Also, until today when I despatched F to NerdCamp (the Jeunesses Scientifiques or Scientific Youth, which sounds faintly terrifying, or like a post-punk band), the children had no gainful activity with which to occupy themselves (L still doesn't, he hasn't dressed or washed for 3 days, I think he is turning into a sort of pre-pubescent Father Jack Hackett: "JUICE" "MINECRAFT" "SNACK") and instead spent their every waking minute being complete dicks towards each other. It is awful to be back, I am not going to try and spin this positively. You'd expect nothing less from me, I know.

From this:


And this (view from house):


And this (house):



To the usual Uccle reprobates, exploded binbags, pervasive aroma of chicken shit, upside down wallpaper, misnumbered invoices, godawful November weather and seventeen irate letters from the social security.

House still looks like this, but with more builders and a gathering atmosphere of impotent fury:



Memorable holiday incidents:

1. Accidentally roofie-ing the dog. We gave him the vet's recommended dosage of sedative to deal with twelve hours in a metal box on the Hull ferry, but when the time came to put him in the metal box, his legs had given way entirely. Even on arrival, he was stoned out of his tiny mind and staggered around the house in a state of loopy, paranoid confusion, running from room to room, collapsing into chairs then throwing himself out of them, peeing on curtains, burying under covers then emerging wild-eyed, a state which continued until the next morning. He did very much enjoy the rest of the trip - rolling in unspeakable things, chasing rabbits, climbing hills, and we did not give him the recommended dose on the way back. He is fine, well inasmuch as he is ever fine, ie. he is morose and unfriendly and spends his every waking moment plotting to get onto the sofa from which he is banned.

2. Arrival of a HERD of tiny ponies in the field down the road including 8 ridiculously little tiny pony foals and two exceptionally curious and friendly tiny ponies even closer to the house who would come for hugs and carrots. I have no pictures, sadly, perhaps because I was hyperventilating every time I went to see them.

3. Knitted garlic in the window of the Leyburn hardware shop (along with a knitted bike, Tour de Yorkshire oblige):



4. The dog attracting the close attention of a curious herd of bullocks and not noticing until the last minute. He was begging for sandwiches as we sat on some rocks and did not notice he had been cornered by a rapidly encroaching semi-circle of fascinated giganto-bovines. In this picture he is juuust starting to sense that possibly something untoward may be happening somewhere? He did not actually react until one of them touched him with a vast damp muzzle, whereupon he scrambled onto the rocks faster than a rat up a drainpipe and with less dignity.

This goes down in the annals of unfair amusement at the expense of my domestic animal (big, fat, annals those) as one of my favourite pictures of the weepette:







5. Ant and Dec live at the Leeds First Direct Arena, the boys' "treat" for the holidays (that, and a much anticipated trip to Poundland). Twerking. Castleford tattoos. Foam fingers. Keith godawful Lemmon. Indescribable. Best enjoyed completely half-cut on regularly replenished warm gin and tonic in plastic cups. I will give Ant and Dec this: they are impressively energetic and amiable and can eat a family sized packet of crisps between the two of them in less than a minute.

6. My favourite passage in all my holiday reading (of which a great deal more in the next post, when I will compare and contrast Eimear McBride's A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing and Hilda Boden's 'One More Pony'), regarding Sarah Bernhardt's menagerie:



7. Regular encounters with these guys, usually on the road and having to be removed, politely, giving the giant horns a wide berth:




(Note more typical Yorkshire August attire here, including fleecy hat)

8. An eccentric but delightful meet up with ex-Brussels, now Edinburgh, much missed friend B and his husband in Pickering at a pleasant if wholly dysfunctional pub.

Otherwise our two weeks passed (for me at least) in a delicious haze of gin, Dairy Milk and crisps, vicious vertical bogs, dead and dying things (bird, sheep, rabbits, the electricity), long naps, hours of reading and peace, total peace (even the landline was down this year). Returning to the viciously awful state of the world has been grim and the temptation to surf the internet looking at cheap dilapidated barns enormous.

Three positive things about being back, just because it is good for the soul:

1. Can resume vital for emotional well-being regime of daily light complaint with M.
2. The cheese shop reopens tomorrow.
3. It was briefly quite beautiful this morning and at least I don't have as many sulky teenage children as the family of swans I saw at the Ixelles ponds this morning:



Have you been away? Would you like to fill the comments box with your lamentations at your return? I have missed you! 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Good blogkeeping

Oh god, all I do at the moment is eat and drink. Roll on two weeks of wholesome Yorkshire outdoorsiness* (*constant crisps, pubs lunches, bacon every morning, gin), so I can hide my lumpy shame in the forgiving embrace of a waterproof poncho. Yesterday I had lunch about 10 feet from Idris Elba, which was incredibly distracting. Idris was wearing a blue jumper despite the intense heat and ate a fish and drank some beer. This concludes my report from the frontline of celebrity lunch.

I have been to London, mainly because the builders have forced us to leave so they can get on with covering every inch of the house in thick, possibly toxic, dust. It was steamy there, I think more so even than Uccle (Me to my dad's cleaning lady, who I have known for twenty years and who is amazing: "How are you finding the weather Grace, awful isn't it?" Grace: "DISGUSTING").
The oligarchs had all deserted their Notting Hill mansions for, I suppose, their yachts. The tourists walked slowly and stickily up Regent Street in unmanageable herds. Sitting on a Central Line train was like being swallowed by a giant, sun-warmed anaconda and then marinating helplessly in its unsavoury digestive juices. On the plus side there was night scented jasmine and gin on pub terraces and green tea frozen yoghurt.

Now I am back and whilst the number 4 tram is glacially air conditioned, the house looks much as it did when I left, ie. full of toxic dust and equipment. I am writing this sitting on the bathroom floor. In my eyeline, a very orange pine chest of drawers which has no business being there, a ladder, a plush tortoise, a basket containing a novelty ghost, a pillow slip, an infant's toy and a length of cable, a plush shark and one of those super bright decorating lights. To my right seven lever arch files, more pillow slips, some books and a copy of the European Cartel Digest, as co-authored by me in a far distant lifetime.

Nevertheless, this is better than the rest of the house.

Hall floor: collapsed.

Chickens: escaped.

Garden: comprehensively fucked over by chickens.

Builders rubbish: also filling garden.

Walls: grey (this is correct, but not I think, a great success. Yet again I have succeeded in making aesthetic choices so poor the house looks like a mid-level provincial accountancy firm in the mid-1990s).

All rooms: filled with crap and dust.

Look, this used to be a sitting room:


Expressing misery through the medium of hindquarters

My weekend will involve walking from room to room with a binbag, muttering furiously. I can't do tidying by halves, so mainly I don't do it at all, but when I do fall off the slattern wagon, I go pop-eyed crazy and have to be forcibly restrained from eg. washing all the light shades and sorting Lego bricks by size and colour.

On a brighter note, my post:

200 pairs of Laser Lite earplugs (£21.99 for 200!) bought in a fit of extravagance. There is something wildly indulgent about a vast box of new pairs of ear plugs into which you can just plunge a careless hand at will, no, you'll just have to trust me on this.

A bag of Epsom salts.

The blagged copy of the new Tana French, which took forever to arrive and which I feared lost, OH MY GOD HAPPINESS. I am saving this for Yorkshire.

There is no point whatsoever to this post, but I suppose you are used to that. Oh, no, hang on there IS a point. In the autumn I am teaching teenagers Humorous Blogging for a week (YES I AM TERRIFIED) and I have a couple of requests.

First: are there any funny blogs (or posts) you particularly like that I might not have encountered?

Second: what are the 'rules' of good blogging? And are there any that are actually not total bollocks? Whenever I try and research this I get assailed by dismal SEO fanatics' posts about, I dunno, core brand values or 'engagement' or similar and fall into a coma before the end of the first paragraph, which, SEO experts, seems to rather undermine your points.

I realise I am basically asking you to do my work for me here. Sorry.

Percentages:

25% as overfed as a foie gras goose
20% acting as a mysteriously powerful lint magnet
20% tight sausagey warm weather skin
20% dust
5% alarming fish scented facial moisturiser
5% desire to rip off wig on public transport
0% Va va voom

You?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Weekend roundup

Jesus, people, you have said such lovely things about the book, thank you thank you thank you. I am constantly astonished at how lovely this corner of the Internet is and I'm immensely touched, sorry if that sounds sappy, but it's true.

Given my natural tendency to pessimism and peasant superstition and my ability to make happy events a source of Eeyore-ish angst, I have been feeling a bit Funny about the book (it's years away! It's far too personal! Who would want to read it anyway? FLEE TO THE HILLS), but your kind thoughts and words gave me a huge boost and now I am all galvanised to woman up and make it as good as I humanly possibly can (ie. cut lots of the boring bits about Zola, work out how to write the final unwritten 1/4).

In the face of the awful, unbearable state of the world, I can offer nothing meaningful. Instead, I bring you the soothingly tedious chronicle of my last few days, which has mainly been eating things and drinking things and staying out of the house to avoid the builders. Personally, I prefer to scour the internet for soft rock soundtracked goat/donkey reunions or animals on capybaras when I can't bear too much reality, but if someone else's pleasantly uneventful long weekend is your valium, read on.

- Thursday*: a steamy evening walk through the city centre as dusk fell and even though neither the ice cream parlour nor the mojito van was open, thwarting all my plans, it was still like being on holiday somewhere foreign, the city completely transformed by the heat, tourists in Gore-tex thong sandals, lounging dogs, picturesque drunks. Being dressed like a 60-something gallerista (long Cos sack, Birkenstocks) also makes for no street harassment, which is a bonus. On the way back I went to the Lebanese for takeaway calamari, and there was a hot, busy, multinational queue of falafel loving people and they were giving away free namoura at the till for no obvious reason and it was one of those lovely reminders that I do actually live in a big city, even if it doesn't much feel like it out here in Uccle, which is currently like a deserted village ruled by cats. (*I've just realised this was Wednesday. Days are bleeding into each other)

- Friday: 34°C peak temperatures at cowering space leading to total brain implosion by 11am, zero productivity and hours of staring into space/occasionally walking slowly barefoot along corridor to splash water all over myself, followed by wilting dog. Early evening pink prosecco, then a cool bath with Epsom salts and a book, then spring rolls and a small gin in front of Celebrity Masterchef, which was terrible, but in an enjoyable way.

- Saturday: Ikea (boo), crêpes and cider (yay) at Le Crachin, which I love mainly for its caped weasel logo, pillow buying (bof, necessary and aïe, so expensive), Pimms (yay) and fish and chips (double yay). Dog arrived on bed in night scared of impending storm, and spent hours wriggling and fidgeting and overheating. There was no storm.

- Today: NO BUILDERS. Lie-in, finished book (reading, not writing, ha ha. It's been an all-women July, I note from my reading list), breakfast at home, pottered to eclair shop for coffee and free samples, purchased enormous monstro-Millefeuille, afternoon trip to the new Fin de Siècle museum which has some absolutely beautiful individual pieces (gorgeous Vuillard, some lovely Félicien Rops, a perfect Bonnard, a nice, moody room of Spilliaert, various other treats) but is not, I think, a success overall. It is located deep in the newly excavated bowels of the Beaux-Arts building (you get down to MINUS 8, which is like being in a deeply buried multi-storey car park or something), there's no signage and some of the lighting just doesn't work at all. I did very much like a portrait of the artist Anna Boch, who looked like a handful, in the best possible way. Also, look at the lifts! They have COMFY SEATS.


Who the hell makes a gigantic lift with ten enormous comfy seats but includes no explanatory signs whatsoever in their museum? Go home Belgium, you are drunk, but you are a nice, affectionate, confusing drunk.

Then we went, briefly, to check out the Bal National on the eve of the Belgian national holiday, which was like a cross between a massive village fête and the audience participation bit of the pantomime and I dunno, a medieval joyeuse entrée, since we all had to learn a dance and series of bows especially to perform to the King when he arrived (to sit on hard chairs on a small plastic covered dais in his dress uniform in front of thousands of his catastrophically inebriated subjects in tricolour plastic wigs, an event to which I'm sure he looks forward all year).

These ladies were enjoying it:


Meanwhile, our Prime Minister, a man who truly knows how to have a good time, was at the famous EDM festival (is that what they call it? Who the fuck knows, I have lumbago. You can't have lumbago and understand EDM, it's the law), Tomorrowland, having his picture taken with boozy, cheerful youths. Look, un selfie! (masc? fém? "L'usage hésite", apparently, but I'm assuming it derives from auto-portrait rather than photo) And look again! Another! I could look at these for hours. Sigh. I love him.

It is the Fête Nationale tomorrow. Vive la Belgique.

Percentages:

50% Grateful for Internet loveliness
20% Crème Chantilly
10% Bal national earworm
10% Sweat pooling in bra
10% Surrendering to new moth overlords who have taken over house.

You?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Cowering

I promised M I would write something, but then I promised myself that I wouldn't write anything gloomy, so after some inevitable delay HERE I AM, ready to blind you with sunny positivity.

The builders have taken over the whole house which now smells of cigarettes and wet dog (they seem to be using plaster made out of mashed up wet dog hair, or indeed mashed up wet dog) so we have retreated to the cowering (this was M's auto-correct for 'co-working' and I have adopted it) space. I have been telling myself for approximately 3 years that I should go to a cowering space regularly, but inertia always gets the better of me. Only now, with 4 chainsmoking, garrulous builders, plastic film over all doorways in manner of a Dexter kill room, no light switches and repeated electricity outages, have I finally forced my sorry arse here and guess what, it is very good indeed.

Pros of the cowering space: 



Garden. Also features an aubergine with a face (or penis).

Silkie hens.

See faces of people I am not related to occasionally. Sometimes even speak to them.

Break from the terrifying screaming old lady in our street.

Vicarious coolness as cowering space full of mismatched vintage furniture and cool start ups.

Free breakfast on Thursday mornings (ie today) with cool start up people and mint tea using mint from beautiful garden.

An ice cream van parks outside in the afternoon.

Absence of distraction.


Cons of cowering space:

Absence of distraction = forced to face own shameful inefficiency.

Tedious luxembourgeois in loafers with no socks in next room SHOUTING.

Silkie cockerel also SHOUTING.

Ambient noise from trains, aeroplanes and enormous lorries as cowering space in light industrial hinterland easily rivals builders sanding walls.

Coolness and youth of fellow cowerers makes me feel like hideous resident crone. Thankfully, I have brought dog along, which gives me bonus eccentricity points.

Dog functionally insane due to Change. Does not deal well with Change. Also, tendency to pee on organic cowering space strawberry plants in full view of other cowerers.

Only lunch choice is the lady in the garage across the road who thinks hard boiled eggs are a crudité.

Plastic table hurts my delicate lady elbows.

Cannot take wig off when it gets unbearably hot (now) and air conditioning costs extra.

Have to drive there, which causes my habitual sweaty panic, even though I can actually now find my way without GPS. The car started beeping at me this morning and I became rigid with terror and had to pull over and call for help, only to realise that the noise was because the dog had set off the seatbelt sensor. I am forty this year.



On balance, I am in favour, if only for the sheen of social integration it brings to my essentially feral hermit's life: I am forced to (i) wear clothes without food on (ii) apply some basic make up (iii) sit at a desk and look like I am working, even if I am not, all of which are undoubtedly good things. Also, a kick-boxing social media type has just given me the details of a good osteopath.

Apart from that, I have little to relate. The sun has come out, the children are at a campsite in Normandy being theoretically supervised by their Sudoko-ing grandparents, and the opportunities for drinking gin on the sofa watching terrible television are numerous, if only I can peel the plastic film off the doorway to get in.


Percentages:

20% toeclaw shame (cannot find nail polish remover, cannot bear closed toe shoes in this heat)
20% Cos sack
20% Pain au chocolat
20% Sun-induced torpor
10% Ongoing horror at finding squashed flying ant in my bra last night
5% Caudalie Eau de Beauté
5% Holy shit my book, it's official.

You?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Those in peril on the street

Up:

- The sauna was actually great, well, apart from the entirely open, mixed communal changing rooms where you could study the baggy greying underwear of half of Belgium (I include my own, regretfully) if you were so inclined. There were all manner of delights: a peculiar subterranean pool as hot as a bath, several jacuzzis where you could eavesdrop on conversations about colleagues who are too stupid to work the till, a giant person-sized barrel filled with glowing red elements on both sides so you felt you were sitting in a toaster, and a peculiar witchcraft 'sauna' which was not remotely hot but apparently healed you with magic rays. We stuck to the clothed side of things, although a woman in the toaster made a most persuasive argument for going to the late night ... something session in the hottest naked sauna:

"So, a man comes and whirls a towel around so all the hot air goes in your face. Then afterwards everyone just spills out onto the lawns completely naked and unembarrassed". ("à poil, sans complèxes")

Yes. I see. Have you ever met a British person?

I was being a bit unfair for comic (debatable) effect on the last post since I actually have a long-term obsessive habit for hammams and turkish baths and weird, cheap municipal thalassotherapy pools. I love them. It was just the mixed, communal, nudity aspect that was new. Give me a couple of months and I will totally be getting the towel whirled in my face late at night. That sounds obscurely unsavoury already, which is a good start.

- At around two this afternoon IT STOPPED RAINING for the first time in well over 72 hours. Honestly, it has been torrential. The chicken favela is knee deep in filth and the chickens bedraggled to the point where they appear to have lost half their bodyweight. The tortoises are caked in mud, like relics from an archeological dig of a Viking latrine. I lit a fire yesterday. Anyway, this is supposed to be the 'up' section. There was a brief break in the clouds. I appreciated it. Chickens roamed, tortoises grazed, I managed to get to the Post Office and remain dry.

- Excellent discussions with my friends (for whom I am even more grateful than usual on a bit of a shit day) on the following subjects:

(i) How to craft a Visit Scotland slogan around a picture of a squirrel eating a Tunnock's teacake; and

(ii) What to do if an elephant is drinking out of your plunge pool.

- After talking for several days about my intense need for a bath full of Aromatherapy Associates oils and a gin and tonic (not in the bath, down my throat), I finally got it together to have said bath and it was as good as I anticipated.

- I have recorded the impenetrably confusing The Honourable Woman so I can watch it at my leisure tomorrow, listening for chinks in Maggie Gyllenhaal's accent, which is unnervingly perfect.

- "Mon ami Dave et moi nous avons cuit son oie en 2011"

- By sheer dint of pathetic internet pleading I engineered a swap of Marcolini chocolate for the new Tana French book. Best swap EVER.


Down

- As of 5pm, the rain returned. It is never going to stop again, it is the Fludde, and my current earworm is "Eternal Father Strong to Save", the hymn for those in peril on the sea (or other expanse of water, surely, by extension). I cursed summer by saying I didn't like it and now Uccle has become a watery wasteland populated only by me, a handful of angry damp cats and the violently shouting old lady, who is not put off by so small a thing as weather. It is all my fault. Also, I have become a person who talks endlessly about the weather.

- Today was just generally awful, I have no words and no ideas and no faith in my ability to generate any ever again. NO IDEAS AT ALL, not a single spark of a neurone, my brain is empty empty empty. I listlessly wrote about 500 dreadful words, which, if you were to read them, you would assume to be written by someone who has only a sketchy grasp of the English language and it was like slogging through a treacle distilled from my own stupidity (yes, that makes absolutely no sense, SEE? I TOLD YOU. NO WORDS.) Then I sat and stared at them for a while with the intimate conviction that I had completely failed at life. Then I went to the Post Office which has never helped anyone feel better about anything. Then, thankfully, my lovely friends cheered me up by sharing their own despair and poking fun at mine. I'm not sure despair shared is halved, exactly, but it's magically transmuted into something quite - temporarily - funny. Oh look, that ended as an 'up'.

I have no money. Again.

The builders are returning next week. They have already taken all the doors away, leaving the house reminiscent of the apartment where my friend Kate and I stayed in Florence when we were 19, which also had no doors. Lying in bed horribly hungover of a morning, we could hear the lady of the house coaxing her precocious faecally retentive toddler (his catchphrase, aged 2, was "Mama is being ironic") to perform. On one occasion, we also heard the immortal words "Oh, Ambrogio, that's a terrible place to be sick" followed a fraction of a second later by the door slamming as they left. We never discovered where Ambrogio* had been sick, but were haunted for the remainder of our stay.

A picture




I am slightly saddened that this, in a shop nearby, is not in the sale. 

Percentages

45% self-loathing
20% have now watched and read everything on the Internet, help me, or at least reassure me that I will have some ideas again one day, please?
20% glad I am not in that apartment any more trying to eat baked radicchio that looked (and possibly tasted, who knows) like a stewed mouse.
12% gin
3% Essie Clambake (ie. 2 little fingernails only, painted as ever more desperate displacement activity)

You?

*Ambrogio was the cat. I can't decide if that helps.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Vlan aux droits

Down: 

Paid €20 at lunchtime for, basically, a precise replica of what my mother and her hippie friends would have eaten before heading off to protest about something in 1979. Hippie food is very modish in Brussels at the moment, but if I needed a bland, underseasoned, brown, vegetable curry accompanied by a jar of carrot flavoured baby food, I could summon one up pretty accurately from my childhood memories, thanks.

Very sore eye.

Achievements today limited to some regretfully light invoicing, admin and about 150 words.

It has been raining solidly for about 24 hours and I am cold and out of sorts and have agreed to go to a BELGIAN SAUNA tonight. I am full of fear, because when I used to work in an office (ah, the halcyon days of antitrust), my office mate told me repeatedly that she and her husband "had great sex" after visits to the sauna, so now it looms large in my mind as a hotbed of unbridled eroticism and I don't really do eroticism or nudity or even saunas. Will there be men who look like Peter Stringfellow in tiny thong underwear like at the Porchester Turkish Baths "mixed" sessions? What if I enjoy it? I haven't been this repressed for nearly 40 years just to throw it all away in tepid jacuzzi in a Brussels suburb.


Up: 

Two minor work anxieties evaporated.

Bought, and ate most of, a gigantic tiramisu. Also bought some dark chocolate and sea salt cookies (if you are Brussels based, can I advise you in the strongest terms to acquire some of these?). Hopefully this will make up for the hippy food and stave off muesli malnutrition.

Prog Rock brought my attention to Steve Bell's delightful coverage of the Sarkozy affair (here and here, I hope there will be more)

An excellent gchat exchange with my friend F about my nudity fears and Pokemon (it always ends with Pokemon, with us), culminating in me reciting the Pokemon theme tune to her in French, to her great enchantment. "It's like Racine!" I reckon I could recite the Pokemon theme (actually, any one of the three Pokemon themes) by heart in the manner of Nick Cave era Kylie reciting the lyrics to I Should Be So Lucky. As performance art.

Not having a day like the Reluctant Launderer, holy christ.


Neither up nor down: 

Very peculiar dream about trying to take a horse on an extremely delayed Metropolitan Line train. On the basis of my dream reality (and indeed basic common sense), I don't recommend it.


Percentages: 

45% tiramisu
25% ongoing mutinousness
10% leaking boots
10% Should I watch Common? I hear it's grim as a baby animal burial ground in the Siberian tundra.
5% pearls
5% no desire to learn to make "salsify kimchi", thanks

You?