Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Adulthood audit

So I have been forty two for a while now. The big stuff is as ever: I have nothing you could realistically call a career and not a whisper of a pension, except whatever it is I pay €360 a quarter to some emanation of the Belgian state for (unknown, but it says "pension" on it, I can't see this translating into regular aperitifs with a small dog on my lap in the bar of my choice in 30 years, but I live in hope).

I had a book published which in some secret part of my soul I thought would change my life, but it did not do so in any way other than to make me even more grateful for my kind friends who bought it and reassured me it wasn't totally shit and pointless. Also, it didn't change my life for the worse which might have been the case, so I'm basically ok with it all.

I have played some role in ensuring my children are still alive and in possession of a full complement of limbs, though apparently not the ability to leave their socks anywhere other than on the table. Hillary the Hen has escaped from every prison I have devised for her and the dog still hates me. Bilan mitigé, as they say in French.

What, then, of the small stuff?

Adult behaviour

I think I now have a “signature style”, of sorts. Basically, it involves dressing like a 40+ heterosexual man. Shirt, usually. Jumper, always (today I received my newest purchase which is an actual man's jumper, black, fine gauge cashmere and it is the plainest, most perfect thing in the world). Jeans/plain comfortable trousers. Trainers/flat shoes. The end. I also have a 40+ heterosexual man’s grooming regime, ie. no grooming whatsoever, beyond basic hygiene necessities. My skin looks exactly the same as it did when caressed lovingly with snake oil unguents 2 x daily. I don’t really know what to think of this.

Also (this cannot be included under "style") I own a high performance, expensive waterproof garment and wear it with pride in appropriate circumstances, which are numerous in Belgium.

Exception to grooming, above: I also have a "signature scent": Frédéric Malle Portrait of Lady (crème de corps, not actual scent) in winter, Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche in summer.

I indulge in regular non-disastrous baking, including with yeast. For instance, I made salted caramel brownies yesterday. God knows why, I have an exam on Thursday and a limited grasp of how to use passive sentence forms in Dutch, there were clearly better things I could have been doing. The recipe was stupid but they tasted ok. You can’t really go wrong with that much fat and sugar.

I always have the following in the house: scissors (5 pairs, 3 large, 2 small), envelopes of three different sizes, a selection of greetings cards, both European and Belgian stamps (my stamp profligacy is legendary), packets of tissues, dog shit bags, nail clippers.

I know where all the important paperwork (passports, birth certificates, health insurance docs) is and I’m not telling anyone else in case they move it.

I go to the dentist regularly (only because of a recurrent stain on one of my front teeth that needs to be removed at least once a year to avoid descent into Shane McGowan territory, but nevertheless, I'm adding it to the positives list).

Haven't lost a mobile phone for 2.5 years and a wallet for 4.

Learnt how to darn properly.

Non-adult behaviour

Have not applied darning skills to any of my mothbastard eaten jumpers since learning, instead preferring to just put them in the freezer and hope for the best, removing as required to wear,  avec holes.

There is something in a small dish covered with silver foil in the door of our fridge that has been there for, ooh, at least six months and I am too scared to look inside. I will probably end up just throwing the dish out without taking the tinfoil off.

This post-it note has been on the landing for months:

(isn't that wallpaper good though. It wasn't even very dear)

These are the Christmas decorations in the corner of the sitting room and I have lost the will to do anything about them. Whatever. *limp shrug*

We still eat off robot motif melamine plates dating from our gigantic children’s infancy.

House still smells of fish, from the time I accidentally melted a fish oil capsule on our toaster approx a month ago.

Home first aid kit/pharmacy consists of following: 800000 Nurofen, 18 long-expired French remedies for long-forgotten gastric ailments, some dried up worming syrup, my tiny, beloved, extremely well-hidden stash of Xanax dating from my summer 2015 mental health crisis and a bottle of Reptoboost (tortoise vitamins).

Still only cook 6 things (pasta with peas, spring onions and lardons, pork fillet with mustard and pilau rice, dhal, pasta with béchamel and spinach, pasta bolognese, old el paso). 3 takeaways a week, every week.

I would still far rather my life partner intuit my needs and desires from tiny body language cues, passive aggression and talking to him inside my head rather than actually expressing said needs/desires out loud. Obviously.

3 years late getting a mammogram.

Repeatedly overdrawn. Only consult online banking in extremis. All non-interesting post still sits in pile at bottom of attic stairs until I get angry or anxious and hide it in my desk drawer.

Signed up for some kind of stupid heating insurance thing last month because the woman kept calling and I couldn't work out how to say no.

Still using the same towels that were pensioned out of my dad’s holiday cottage business as too worn in 1997.

Found out I was paying for a safe deposit box (don’t ask) unused since 2008 last week.

How are you doing, adulthood-wise? What do you consider your greatest adulting achievements and failures? 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Rat apocalypse

Happy New Year! The world is a roiling pit of terror and awfulness. However, here are a few things that are ok over here. I very much hope you have some too.

1. I have a new salad spinner after years of fighting with a really shit, broken one and it is a thing of wonder. You pull a string and it’s a total sensual pleasure, what, shut up, that is a fully legitimate source of pleasure and anyone who says otherwise is kink-shaming.

2. My children also purchased some new kitchen scales for me for Christmas (no, they did not come up with that on their own) and there is great joy to be found is scales that:

(i) do not switch themselves off arbitrarily when you are halfway through measuring something
(ii) have a non cracked bowl (actually, they don't have a bowl at all, that is the modern way, apparently)
(ii) have not been used to weigh tortoises (everyone is still hibernating in the fridge, bodyweight loss is stable at an acceptable 2%, so I am not getting my crisper back anytime soon).

3. The degree of gratification I experienced when our Alpine Air BnB lady wrote “appartement laissé en très bon état” is… well, quite honestly it’s a little disturbing, but I’ll own it.

4. We all got on relatively well in a tiny confined space in a snow-bereft ski resort over New Year with no feasting on spinal fluid, which is little short of a miracle. Although I feel bad for the people who like skiing, I myself, as a ski refusenik, was perfectly content with walks in the mountains (we saw chamois! And put up a black grouse! According to the mountain guide, a genial man who did not stop talking for five solid hours, god help us all, if that happens twice in really cold weather, the black grouse DIES, because it no longer has the energy to fly and just gives up and expires #teamblackgrouse), reading, goggling at the profusion of terrifying fur garments, testing various types of tarte aux myrtilles, etc. Here is my elder son totally enjoying that five hour hike for which he was not bribed with the offer of actual money, no that definitely did not happen.

This walk was organised by, I dunno, the Megève tourist board or something and there was only one other participant: A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY. ON HIS OWN. I keep trying to imagine my children volunteering for a five hour hike with strangers, participating cheerfully whilst asking questions on local flora and fauna, then choking on my own tongue laughing.

5. My sister gave me the perfect woolly hat (large, soft, plain, colour “bramble”) for Christmas and it fills me with love and makes my head cosy without giving me the full Benny from Crossroads vibe.

6. Brussels, in its wisdom, has given us a fourth colour of rubbish bag which we are instructed to fill with a mystifying selection of household waste. As a person wholly committed to slavishly following arbitrary instructions to the very letter, my new orange bag is filling me with joy. Who knew, before the orange bag, how much kitchen roll we use? No one. And now I do. And no one else wants to hear about it, but never mind. (So much. So much kitchen roll)

7. No Offence is so great. I hadn't realised it was back and am thrilled.

8. I have totally mastered making proper, fluffy, delicious cinnamon rolls, even though the dough (Felicity Cloake) is a right sticky, ornery bastard and terrifies me. My freezer is now full of cinnamon rolls, individually shrouded in blue bags. When I get anxious and have no recycling to sort obsessively, I can open the freezer and count cinnamon rolls. I am flooded with calm and satisfaction. It is good. Here are my cinnamon rolls pre-freezing:

(ndlr: no one else in this house likes cinnamon rolls, they are mine all mine)

9. Having been hideously sick over New Year (réveillon meal: 1 stick of chewing gum, 1 cup of tea, half a plain yoghurt) and thus missing out on four days of good eating and drinking, I feel fully justified in eating cinnamon rolls whenever the mood takes me.

10. Belgium is its usual insane self, as poorly represented by this random selection of pictures I have taken recently:

(I also have a picture of a man on my tram talking on the phone to someone listed in his phone as "Pigeon", but sadly "Pigeon" was illegible in my stealth pic)

My New Year's resolution is to engage more deeply with Belgian culture. Let's see what that brings.

You? What tiny bright spots are softening the rat apocalpyse for you?

(PS - What can I do about all the fucking witch doctor spam comments? Z is being driven mad by them, but I can't see any option to allow anonymous comments yet still banish witch doctor testimonials. Help!)

Friday, 16 December 2016

Reading (and York) update

A further Christmas in York update from my sister:

"There has been a turning on of the second fridge which is 'full' of 4 jars of mincemeat. this is the only sign of crimbo my dad is full on bah humbug every time the doorbell rings he is shouting FUCK OFF haha and every time i ask to put my crib up he goes very thin lipped. I had to strong arm him into letting me open his christmas cards which he did last year in January."

And a picture of Oxford Street yesterday, which looked completely beautiful while actually, on the granular level, being seventeen simultaneous cycles of hell. I got very sweaty and anxious and failed to buy anything until I ran away to the Japan Centre which was a joyous wonderland of mad sweets and excellent packaging and I am really REALLY regretting not buying myself a matcha panettone because MATCHA PANETTONE.

Also, this, which travellled from Marble Arch to Notting Hill Gate with me on the bus, to my amusement:

Finally, this post is an excuse to say I have finally added a (brief, it was a month of falling asleep with my Kindle on face) November reading list, long overdue. Though of course, you should all buy your cake, France, Zola, tragedy, romantic disaster and Belgium LOLS loving family members MY BOOK if you are stuck for a last minute gift, hem hem.

I'm going to lie on the sofa now because I only got 4 hours sleep and the typhus stew of the overheated Central Line has given me a deathcold. What are you reading? Would my dad like it? So far I've only got him a bottle of "Belgian Owl" whisky and that only because the name amused me...

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A large spleen

I've been keeping updating the blog as a reward when I finish my various tedious tasks, but of course I never finish them, so there is never any updating. Anyway, Ganching has shamed me by telling me she can't bear to see the words "c******y p*s" whenever she clicks, so I have moved it up the to-do list, because I am nothing if not a craven people-pleaser.


I got some brilliant late birthday presents.

Madevi drew me my own angry pony card AND got me a small vintage goat smallholding.

My sister got me The Yorkshire Vet's Yorkshire Vet BOOK and not only that, she got it dedicated for me, I die (actually, she apparently got Prog Rock to go and get it signed, he is so saintly and the thought of him doing this is really making me laugh).

The book is everything I could have wished for, featuring Julian examining testicles with intense concentration and bashfully holding a giant tumour. Also sentences such as "Blimey, that's a large spleen". 10/10, would buy for whole family, probably will.

I do know you are almost certainly entirely indifferent to my tales of Yorkshire Vet, I am sorry, there isn't much happening in my life and I have become very boring and cotton-wool headed so I have to rely on veterinary distraction. The last few episodes have been excellent in numerous ways - tiny tiny tiny tiny minipony foal, mass mini horse castration, whippet puppy, cute kitten line-up, OWL (tawny, concussed, happy ending) and the next one on Christmas Eve looks cracking, featuring a tiny stripy piglet in a blanket (if this makes you think of dinner, my beloved exclaimed "suckling pig!" at the first sighting of it, so you are in good company).


Things that have attracted my ire recently (yes, apart from the hideous state of the world, which is unbearable):

1. Study leave
My children either do not leave the house at all or go to school for like, an hour or something then return to sprawl on the sofa consuming all my bandwidth and expecting to be fed and mansplaining to me the many things I am doing wrong, or why they OBVIOUSLY don't need to be revising.

2. Clementines
I love you, clementines, but why are so many of you shit? It is very simple: you must be juicy, tart and not impossible to open. I tire of you being flavourless, flaccid and bitter. Get your house in order, citrus fruits.

3. The hens
We spent most of last weekend construction Hen Alcatraz, because Hillary the Hen and her tiny sidekick spend most of their time luxuriantly shitting on my back doorstep and cackling at me. They both escaped within about 3 hours of being released into their new improved captivity.

4. Belgian customs
Who are holding my birthday present from F hostage and who sent me an incomprehensible, lengthy document asking questions about my tax status, none of which contained the option "this is a low value gift, you fuckers, let me have this shred of joy in my life".

5. The disappearance of the "compress" function from my computer.

6. The shrinkage - not my doing, of course - of my beloved cashmere bedsocks, which are now the correct size for a (very lucky) three year old.

7. Constantly having to delete witch doctor spam. I get it, Dr Unity. The next time I need a love spell, I know where to come.

8. My total inability to put on my new Tamagotchi, sorry Fitbit. Nothing makes you feel more like a bewildered pensioner than your own inability to close two small plastic fastenings.

9. Tracking the paltry handful of things I have ordered for Christmas online and impotently watching as they sit, immobile, in far-flung depots.

I know there were many more. Angry muttering is now my main hobby.


This is such an odd time of year, I do love it, but it's an intense ball of FEELINGS and EXPECTATIONS and MEMORIES and SADNESS. My heart feels like it swells up like a gigantic sponge with the weight of Christmas past, the fact that my children no longer have any desire to ride the giant cockroach at the Christmas market and now know that Jesus is called Jesus and not Nathan, the absence of the one person in our family who was properly brilliant at Christmas, the strange loneliness of being the only one in my family who would even contemplate the consumption of a mince pie and the desire to be in a chilly chapel singing something very, very old. It's weird for loads of people, though, this is hardly news. But if that is also you, I found this podcast (Episode 3, Happy(ish) holidays) very cathartic. It is so so sad - it made me weep openly on public transport (people often weep openly on the STIB but usually it is because they have been stuck in a tunnel due to a derailment for three hours) - but it's also funny and reassuring and hopeful.

Alternatively, take comfort in my sister's take on York christmas:

European christmas is so classy i am realising. York is flipping mobbed with people baying for presents. and pissed. i went to station at 8pm the other week it was like when u go a club and they turn the lights on at the end but there were more people and they had 1000 bags of shopping. They were doing the flipping hokey cokey on my train. hahaha There were also some intense conversations i heard a pep talk from one drunk lad that included the phrase 'Your Mum IS CAPITALISM' (like in a good way) and a totally sober woman that telling this young lass she met literally 2 minutes ago that at age 46 she didnt feel ready to nurture another human being, she seemed pretty happy about this state of affairs. I forgot how York York is.


Very much enjoyed our shopping trip this weekend (we managed to buy ONE present).

Oh yes this is perfectly comfortable. Don't you worry about me. 

You young folk just enjoy yourself. This hard tiled floor is perfectly comfortable.  

I'll just be here, waiting for death.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Worm burden

I really have no time to write a post, but I can't bear that sad, sad, last one to stay at the top of the page any longer, so here is my Yorkshire Vet email conversation with B last night (parts in " " direct quotes from last night's episode).


B: "Worm burden"

E: Worm burden is actually my stage name.

B: I would like to be clear that because my birthday is next Monday and you have already had your birthday you have to let me have Julian.

E: Nope nope nopety nope.

B: Birthday. Penumbra*. *mic drop*


B: DUELLING PENUMBRAS. RuPaul would know what to do.

E: Veterinary themed runway and lip snynch!

E: ps. I would watch the hell out of a "cat rodeo"

B: I am currently of the opinion that separating "cat rodeo" from animal themed lip synch for your life is a mistake.

E: I realised that as soon as I pressed send.

(*Birthday penumbra, B coinage, the days preceding and following your birthday during which everyone is obliged to be super nice to you. Can be extended at will. Obviously.)

Other thoughts:

Current weather (-3°C, beautiful winter sunshine) is my absolute favourite even though I am wearing a woolly hat, origins unknown, possibly left behind by Prog Rock, in the house. I don't think it's his favourite weather though:

I've just been made aware of this delicious salad and it has made me wholly hysterical. Something about the jaunty music + horrified comments + huffy replies.

New Belinda Bauer (The Beautiful Dead) = extremely gripping and also I am hoarding that new Scandi BBC4 number, so I am sorted, crime-wise.

You? Any small salvations in the ongoing garbage fire? I would like some comments for my birthday penumbra, please.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

I am having one of those days where I miss you especially. It’s not any special anniversary, not a notable year (13) or a significant day. It’s just a wintry Friday and I wish you were here.

Quite frankly, you are well out of 2016. It is a catalogue of horrors and you would have been so sad and so angry. You would have been marching almost constantly, I think, assembling outside the Minster with the usual suspects, all the university and Quaker stalwarts, older and wonkier but still just as indignant at the lack of compassion in the world. Everything is a grotesque mess, a garbage fire, my friend Benjamin calls it, even dad is depressed by it and you know how ebullient he usually is. But even so, I still wish you were here to commiserate and to galvanise me into action.

There are good things. Of course there are. I wish, God, I wish, you could see my babies. That plump, delightful, drooling creature who was just learning to walk when you died, just starting to put together short sentences featuring dogs and cars, is a giant. He wears Chanel Sport perfume, which makes his dad apoplectic and proud all at once and shaves and can lift me up like Mrs Pepperpot, which I do not enjoy at all. I adore him like Judith Starkadder adores Seth: he’s confident and maddening and funny, a gorgeous reprobate, his presence in a room gladdens my heart. I worry about him, of course. There's always worry, you knew all about that. The ever-lengthening list of bad things that might happen and the ways I might have inadvertently facilitated them. It’s hard to be a parent when they reach this age: this comes as no surprise to anyone who has met a teenager, but I feel the truth of it every day, feel lost, feel my own ineptitude.

And that baby you only knew as a bump, barely even a bump, lord, how I wish you had met him and how I wish you had been able to know him through all these years. He would have made you laugh so much, with his stubborn premature independence and his headstrong naughtiness and his insistence on being a parrot for several months in 2008.  At nearly-thirteen, he’s dryly droll, often sarcastic, always kind. He plays the fiddle, mum, you’d love that and Julia is playing hers again. At last, some musicians in the family! And he decided he wanted to learn Chinese four years ago, so he does and he’s brilliant, I’m in awe. I worry about him sometimes too, of course. He’s hard on himself, a perfectionist, and he holds things tight inside. But he's sound: he has good friends and laughs a lot with them and plays stupid killing games I disapprove of on the computer.

I wish they both had you, too. More, almost, than anything.

You’d love our stupid dog, too, so elegant and vacant.  And we have chickens! I’ve discovered a passion for chickens (I’m watching our fat white hen chase sparrows around the garden indignantly, as I type). I know you would like our scrubby little back yard with the maple tree and the lilac and you would like the excellent frites the Turkish men in the chip shop round the corner make. I’m learning Dutch, too, which would amuse you after that year you spent in Ghent when you didn’t realise that half of Belgium is Dutch speaking and had to live off oranges and liver pâté. There are books I know you would adore (Tana French’s Dublin detective novels and H is for Hawk, how you would have loved that book), television programmes you would have laughed at, restaurants I want to take you to (the one near here which is all smartly dressed pensioners tucking into oysters and vast steaks, especially). Oh, and we got married a couple of years ago and it was tender and right and lovely and we all missed you. I’m angry on your behalf at all the joy you have missed, this family stuff but also the stuff that was entirely your own and which I knew nothing about. You should have had all of it.

But selfishly, I really want you here for me.

My friends are good. I did well on that score, there are people I love in my life and we talk, really talk, about the barest, least prepossessing bones of our characters and our lives; the dark 3am thoughts. Women in mid-life can be wonderful for each other, can’t they? It's the special consolation of this time of life. Les and I are friends now too, which I think would please you. I think we both feel a little bit of you in the other when we speak, a connection, across time and space. When I drink a mug of tea in her house in Appleton, sometimes, I feel closer to you than anywhere else (your grave is beautiful, we did well when we picked that spot and the stone Joe had made is perfect, Love and Be Loved. But you aren’t there for me). My friends all live far away, though, and I’m cautious of boring them, wearing out their kindness.

I want to tell you how lost I feel, sitting here in the selva obscura in the middle of my life, still not quite sure what I am supposed to be doing with it. I’m 42 tomorrow, the answer to life the universe and everything and I have no answers, none at all. I want to talk about courage, and why I seem not to have any and how I wonder if I will ever find a reserve of it. How consumed I am with envy at others’ achievements and loathing of my own shortcomings. How my brain feels useless, insipid and flabby, like a blancmange. You were so impressive, so determined, but I know you had tough patches too. I remember the years after Julia was born, the leggings years, the saggy jumper years, the tiredness. I’m right in the middle of my leggings years now, without even a new baby to excuse it. I wear make up once a month, if that, and all my clothes could, without inconvenience, be worn by a working farmer. I want to understand how you came through the leggings years, maybe get some clues about how I can find a way through my own.

It’s not that I think it would be easy if you were here or that you would just clasp me to your bosom and tell me I am wonderful (I’d like that, though). I don’t actually think you’d be too impressed with me right now. I’m pathetic (I just said that out loud to myself as I wrote it. I do that most days). You’d find a way to tell me I’m selfish and self-absorbed and there are plenty of things I could be doing that are better than sulking in the attic. There might be some stern words, some shaming words. I give myself plenty, but yours would carry more weight. Because I would want to show you I can be an OK person, eventually.

Of course, if you were here, I would be taking you for granted. I wouldn’t be telling you any of this stuff, I expect. I’d probably be being prickly and dismissive,  insisting everything was fine. But eventually you would soften up my defences, because you were good at that. And I might have cried a few angry tears and you would have told me some hard stuff and some kind stuff, then we could have had a nice lunch, because we were always good at that. Afterwards, I would have tucked my arm, gratefully, into yours and we would have huddled together against the cold of this bright, hard winter day and for a few minutes everything would have been right with the world.

Everything is right with my world really. It will be fine. We are fine. But I miss you.