Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Sleepless in Ukkel

Of course there are some good things about summer. Our cool, dark house makes more sense in this weather, for one thing. Also, when the fret and the panic recedes, which it usually does eventually, I like the slow, empty aimless way days spool out, measured out in abandoned cups of tea and breaks to watch the chickens and trips down to the cellar to look at the washing machine: suddenly it's eleven, then suddenly it's three, then suddenly it's seven and you're not quite sure how, but it doesn't really matter because there's tomorrow and tomorrow looks much the same, everyone in Belgium is on holiday, so no one needs to go to get up early. We can sit on the sofa, thighs rubbing on the scratchy stupid tweedy fabric, watching bad TV and eating Picard imitation Cornettos under the intensely pleading eye of the dog, who can hear the rustle of a Cornetto wrapper at 500 paces and who knows he has a decent chance - if he stares hard enough for long enough - of getting the tip.

I like the swifts screaming and swooping low in the street out front and the tortoises trundling purposefully around the yard out back, far faster than you might imagine and the chickens lying companionably in the deep dustbowl they have scratched out, occasionally shuffling a wing to create a little cooling dust shower.



I like riding the streets on the back of my beloved's motorbike in the evenings, teenage boy style, holding onto the bars at the back, feet dangling off the footrests, enjoying the momentary illusion of insouciance that brings even though we are old and fat and bits of us ache and niggle and we're thoroughly souciant - we're perpetually worried about one thing or another and often several things at once.

I like the hats round here at the moment, my god the hats. The guy with the bench - remember him - favours a leather cowboy hat, but he has a new rival in the form of a woman who wears a Napoleonic tricorne. Even more puzzling was this guy, spotted yesterday:


I like my mate, Bin Duck, always there, every morning when I walk the dog:



I like the much greater acceptability of weekday drinking, spritzes and some kind of cheap "natural" wine at the bobo market out of one of those thick glass school canteen tumblers, or watery mojitos in plastic beakers, all sugar and ice and two mint leaves that stick to your teeth.

I like my first cup of tea of the day, sitting outside in the shade because it's already hot, with all the smells of the garden: chicken and cut grass and a forgotten half cup of coffee and a soupçon of someone's last night's barbecue. Also, I wrote in my book about how there's a week in the summer here when the whole neighbourhood smells of honey and it's now, right now, even my basement smells of honey when I go down there to stand in the cool and slowly fold clothes, which I do a lot at the moment (#we'llalwayshavelaundry).

Sleep, though. Fuck, who can sleep in summer?

Last night's attempt.

Read until hit heavily on face by Kindle, dropping off. Turn out light. Attempt to sleep. I just fell asleep! This will be easy!

Some unhappy attempts to resolve the duvet or no duvet dilemma. I need the weight of the duvet but of course it is stifling. Duvet around knees? Around waist? One leg under one leg out? There is no satisfactory solution.

First pillow flip.

Usual sleeping position - I favour a left sided recovery position but with top leg really high - hurts hip. Shuffle. Find something vaguely comfortable. Knee starts hurting. Turn over. Try on other side. Whole body feels WRONG.

Second pillow flip.

Watch is too close to head and ticking disturbs me. Move hand. Hand goes numb. Shake hand around.

Something on my face clicking, like, my nose? Or mouth? Moving around to stop the clicking. Clicking continues. Why is my face clicking? What the fuck?

Find a non-clicking head position. Loud ticking watch problem recurs. Move hand. Pins and needles. Shake hand. Get over-heated.

Third pillow flip.

Toss.

Pick at brexitfoot.

Turn.

Fourth pillow flip.

Sudden surge of existential dread. Try to think about tea towels. I don't know why I decided this might work, but it is actually quite effective. No surge of dread can survive the listing of all the tea towels in the house. "The red stripe. The red and green stripe. The green checks. The pigeons. The weird Anthropologie one. The Betty's one." Can't you feel yourself starting to drop off?

Jerked out of near-sleep by EVIL DEATH MOSQUITO. He/she who has taken it upon him/herself to bite each one of my fingers in turn. Hide under duvet. Get too hot. Come out. Mosquito has been waiting. Get up. Find insect repellent. Lie on back in a citronella smear for a couple of minutes. Remember I can't sleep like that. Back to the side #1 recovery position. Switch to side #2.

Nine thousandth pillow flip.

Sleep for five minutes. Woken by one of: mosquito, husband thrashing, one of those dreams where you're falling off something and wake with a violent start.

Chest area (I'm being coy, you know what I mean) fills mysteriously with hot-cold sticky river of sweat.

Give in to despair. Review every terrible thing ever done. Examine deepest fears. Contemplate own death. Try to think about tea towels again.

Pillow flip.

Become distracted from despair by obsessively thinking about some minor logistical problem.

Scratch fingerbites and pick at brexitfoot in manner of rabid dog.

etc etc etc etc ad nauseam or ad finally fall asleep and have florid dreams about competition law (true).


Percentages: 

30% Ammonia scent (bite remedy)
30% Unabated itch
10% Wig sweat
10% Nails of Shame
10% Rice paper roll addiction
10% Yes, I have succumbed to Pokemon Go and I am sorry, I love it. I used to work for a Pokemon card producing company in my law days and my knowledge of Pokemon circa 2001 is UNRIVALLED.

You? Sleep solutions, summer consolations, Pokemon addictions?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Moping Estivale

Bonjour, parlez-vous useless bastard?

I have the Summertime Blues, big time. My self-diagnosed, probably made-up, reverse seasonal affective disorder is in full, mopey swing.

Viz:

1. I have tidied my office - actually, I have tidied everything, it seems to be some kind of fucked up new coping mechanism, though the crap is piled so high in certain areas it has made no difference whatsoever - and now I do not have a single thought in my head. I am starting to think that maybe the two things are linked and the squalid piles of paper/old teabags/abandoned soft toys/old CDs/lengths of dusty cable were some kind of creative talisman. I can't write a sentence.

Fuck it, I like having a clean office though.


*Listens to brain crickets*

*drools, gently*

The dog looks like I feel, however. Twisted-defeated.

2. I went out for a walk to try and .. I dunno, it's supposed to help, isn't it. Anyway, I ended up first at Bastardpost and then sitting in the park crying and I can tell you I had literally no ideas in either of those places other than "cor, you are really pathetic Emma." On the way home I saw a dead blue tit and shouted at a man for failing to stop at a zebra crossing. What have I become?

3. I keep thinking "maybe this is the doldrums before the redemptive twist" but seem incapable of doing anything that might assist any such putative redemptive twist to happen. Can you get a redemptive twist from lying in a ball on the floor eating Marks and Spencer salted milk chocolate? It seems unlikely. Note on the chocolate: it is nothing like as good as the salted milk chocolate from the hippy shop round the corner, but I have banned myself from buying that stuff, because it is physically impossible for me to have a bar in the house for more than 30 seconds without shoving it in my mouth.

4. I know the Internet is making me even crazier, but in these times of fast-moving political farce-tragedy it is very difficult to wean oneself off the dispiriting, unhealthy, queasy-making churn of it all.

ANYWAY. This is not very jolly, is it. I mean, come on, I'm not in a Nigerian sawmill. Let me try and think of some good things:

- As of this afternoon I have only ONE child at home, the other is on its way to Normandy for two weeks of bracing sea air (desired or otherwise). This has halved my screen time guilt, result.

- I found a copy of the magazine for which I did this cover interview whilst tidying and awww, I was so proud of it. Still am.


I had to run and buy that bow tie AND do his make up and this picture was taken in the back room of a Belgian-Congolese radio station in Matonge which just happened to have a throne in. Fun times.

- I know I shouldn't be pleased to hear about a miscarriage of justice, but I am excited about the new series of Undisclosed. Also, in it, I discovered Napoleon was not short! I did not know this!

- Eating. Very enjoyable. I am currently enjoying an afternoon snack of rillettes and chicory, JUST BECAUSE.  I am trying to walk more to limit The Fattening, but I would have to walk to Scotland daily for it to have any effect.

- Corvid ballet (and if you scroll down WOMAN IN A PADDLING POOL FULL OF SWANS, WHITHER HEALTH AND SAFETY. I've just got lost down a rabbit hole of mad swan based contemporary dance, if you speak French, this clip is fantastically mad, even if you don't it's quite something):



I love the idea of someone looking at ballet and thinking "yeah, these slender limbed ladies making beautiful fluid shapes to music are ok, but what this is really missing is some GIANT FEATHERY KILLERS." Then deciding to add birds to ALL his ballet.

I'm going to stop here because these are more words than I have managed to put in a sequence for about a fortnight and I don't want to overdo it, eh.

Percentages

20% Goose fat
20% Other fat
20% Brexitfoot - I haven't told you about Brexitfoot! It's my disgusting summer foot maiming nervous tic, currently ramped up due to Brexfuckery. I can barely walk.
20% Tidying insanity
20% Tortoise pimp ambivalence (we are having to acquire a couple of really burly 1kg females to deal with the distasteful orgy of sex-fight-sex-fight our two males have been indulging in all summer, I could probably have got a whole post out of that, now I think of it)

You? Is there anyone else (apart from the lovely lady I met a while back in the Portuguese custard tart cafe) who also gets weird in the summer? Would you dance with a swan in a paddling pool? Do you believe in salty chocolate? Talk to me.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Life Hygiene




It has been ages. I have no sense of humour left, also my house is full of children (there are actually only two but they seem to be everywhere, partly because they are playing mass slaughter online with a bunch of strangers and that is loud, also one is about 30 cm from my face idly scrolling through my Instagram) and the long-awaited builders (months of shattered promises, insert your own topical political reference here, nb they will probably fuck off leaving the job half finished to make the laboured topical parallel even easier) are making a massive sawdusty meal out of building five shelves. I haven't managed to focus on one train of thought for more than three minutes for the last fortnight.

How are you all holding up as our political class descends into infant school farce? My ongoing strategy for dealing with the impending apocalypse is as follows:

- regular overeating

- lots of laundry

- nightly gin

- small administrative tasks that are easy to complete and give an entirely illusory sense of control. I have invoiced the fuck out of everything, done my VAT, purchased many pointless stationery items, ticked off next year's book lists and if the world doesn't stop spinning off its axis soon I may even book the mammogram I have spent the past 18 months failing to organise.

I have also been doing some comfort reading, cue an effortless segue into telling you that my June reading (or in fact, mostly rereading) is now up.

What are your coping strategies?


Up:

Everyone passed their exams to my satisfaction, so no one is locked in the basement/required to attend some kind of teenage delinquent dude ranch in the Ardennes to do extra Dutch and penitence. I have discovered in recent years that beneath my "successs is illusory, plough your furrow and just be happy, man" hippy facade, I am in fact an utter arsehole about academic results. Self-discovery, eh.

We have been watching the entire box set of 30 Rock (second time for me, first for boys), which provides us with a precious truce for a couple of hours every evening. Any ideas what we could watch when we run out? We've done Kimmy Schmidt and Flight of the Conchords already.

L is enrolled in a holiday gulag from 21st and F is off camping with his grandparents in Normandy next week, which leaves me with a full SIX child free days, during which I plan to go to London, see M, eat Gail's cinnamon rolls and generally not cower in the attic avoiding all human interaction.

At some point I will have shelves. SHELVES! I have dreamed of this moment.

My neighbour, no not the hairless cat, took this amazing picture over our house during the pre-Brexit apocalypse storm (embiggen it upon your screen for full effect):




Down

Worst ever Belgian teenage shopping trip on Sunday - torrential rain, teenage appallingness, shouted at by salesbastards in Foot Locker, no stock in any of the FOUR - FOUR - H&Ms on Rue Neuve... So bad it became hilarious. They can make/buy/beg for their own bloody clothes, henceforth.

The Fattening is out of control because I have eaten all my feelings, plus all everyone else's feelings and there are a lot of feelings swilling around.

I managed to spend all my tax rebate without even noticing what I had spent it on (cakes for my party? New eye shadow (no regrets)? Eurostar tickets? Pointless (or pointy) virtual weapons purchased by boys without my knowledge?) and am flat broke again.

Everything else.


Percentages

40% Ongoing Brexit paralysis
20% Inactivity and related guilt
20% Esmeralda's Milk, well on way to becoming my new chocolate weakness
10% Enjoying this
10% Earplug gratitude

You?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Ugh

Well. Here we are, preparing for the world's greatest rat barbecue. Isn't that nice? My rat trapping skills, honed over weeks sitting in the bathroom waiting for Houdini to emerge from out of the skirting, will stand me in good stead soon.

I have entirely lost my sense of humour over the past week, though Toby did manage to make me laugh today by evoking, accidentally, the visual image of a nun entirely covered in choux buns. I don't have anything of value to add to the whole sorry business, so instead here is my suggested new cabinet and shadow cabinet, based on Saturday night's Owl Evening. They would sort this shit out. I mean, sure, their head cavities are about 78% eye and their brains are consequently tiny, but they would still be better than the alternative. I mean, it isn't called a parliament of owls for nothing, is it? #votestrigiformes

Flint:


Just furious right now. Don't try and talk to her. Not going to take any more of our shit.




"Just hand me that chickmeat and fuck off out of my sight," says Flint.


The Scops triplets (can you see the one hiding in the hole? He can't even):


Have no time for this and have had it up here with us all. Want us to go away and think about what we've done.

Thumper:


Hopes we understand it's our own time we're wasting



"You must be so proud," says Thumper. "Well done, no, really."

Nick:


"Fuckery," says Nick. "Utter fuckery"

Grace:


Is not angry, she's just disappointed. 

Desmond:



Is over it. "Are we done here?" says Desmond.




"Ugh"


"Ugh"

Going to Bastardpost now, while it's still standing. Actually, Bastardpost will probably survive the coming end times. Bastardpost and cockroaches. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Pillows of chicken cartilage

I will attempt a write up of the wonderful Books That Built Me shenanigans last night soon, but in the meantime I needed to share two things which have amused me.

Flocon the cat
The first is that L's external French exam has become the subject of great controversy in the Kingdom of Belgiana. A reminder that he is 14. One of the questions involved reading a short text about a cat, Flocon, which was described as "black with a white mark on its neck", then the students had to study 4 photographs of cats and say which one was the cat described. This was not a trick question. You genuinely just had to find the picture of the black cat.


(this is the only photo of it I can find, the candidates had a fuller view of the cats but you get the idea)

The French teachers of the Kingdom are up in arms, for understandable reasons, some were reported as having "cried" whilst marking. The minister has defended the exam, basically by saying "there were other questions". L's exams are now finished and I am not sure which of us is more relieved. I no longer need a secret cache of set squares among my unused cookery books or to provide a constant flow of soft drinks, cartridges and wholly ignored advice. The next 10 weeks (JESUS FUCK TEN WEEKS) will be devoted to.. I don't know. Prayer? Feasting on each other's spinal fluid? Learning to mix a decent martini? Hacking the Pentagon?

Ain't no party like a Belgian school party
The second concerns my other child, who has also been taking public exams and who also finished yesterday. "So what did you do today?" I asked him when I got back from London. "In the morning we had a puberty information session," he said, gloomily "And in the afternoon we watched a film about the holocaust." Belgian school knows where the party's at. YEAH!

Cake
I decided we had to have cake at the post TBTBM belated book drinks last night, because of course we had to have cakes, so I located a place that sold choux in - of course, where else - South Kensington, the 21st arrondissement (until tomorrow, at least). They were very charming and the choux were both delicious and GIGANTIC and I met a beautiful Italian greyhound in there and one of their eclairs looks exactly like a Ferrero Rocher still in its wrapper:



So there you go. Maître Choux is the place to be if you are (i) in London and (ii) looking for a choux pastry based French pâtisserie treat (I am not sure about the pink one which is horribly reminiscent of calamine lotion).


M and I ended up speculating on what would happen to South Kensington if the unthinkable happens tomorrow.

M: This time next year South Ken will be a wasteland. The Lycée will close down and some sort of religious academy will take its place. Petit Bateau will be replaced by branches of Barbour.

E: It'll be a smouldering post-apocalyptic nightmare. Maje will be replaced by British Home Stores.

M: BRITISH HOME STORES IS DEAD, EMMA

E: THEY WILL BRING IT BACK TO LIFE. ZOMBIE BHS. No more bars à vin or little bistrots. Just pubs. Shit ones with red swirly carpets.

M: Small plates will be banned and replaced with PIES. All pies, all the time. Those weird ones with creamy sauces.

E: "Chicken". It will be mechanically recovered poultry substitute but now they will be allowed to call it chicken because NO MORE EU REGULATION.

M: NO RULES. Pillows will be made of chicken cartilage.

E: Everything will be flammable. Everything. People will just spontaneously combust as they go about their business with no fire retardant anything. No more maternity leave either.

M: No more roads for Scotland. Fuck the skirt-wearers, they don't need roads.

E: All the pregnant women who would have been on maternity leave can just scatter stones across the moors instead.

M: What will happen to the Eurostar?

E: Oh god. It will be operated by Virgin Trains and only go ... to Folkestone.

Rhodri's riff on the whole sorry business was funnier, did you see it?



Percentages:

90% hungover (30% headache, 20% sweating, 35% fatty salty foods, 5% regret)
10% THE HUMIDITY

You?

Thursday, 16 June 2016

That's Not My French Style

Something different today.

The only fashion blog I ever read is Alyson Walsh’s That's Not My Age. It’s beautifully written, full of amazing grown up women and features clothes I might actually wear, were I ever to branch out from these grey & Other Stories boyfriend jeans, which, let’s face it, will never happen. I bought two pairs for a reason. But if I did ever branch out, it would be Alyson I would turn to. Actually, I already have: I bought two of the most brilliant Uniqlo plain cashmere mix sweatshirts on her say so and they were 1. Very cheap and 2. Perfect. I'm currently staring at these sandals and wondering if I could pull them off (no) (maybe) (not with these nails).


I mean, look. Here she is wearing a bloody JUMPSUIT and looking amazing and managing to make me think "actually, yes. That is not in fact insane at all and maybe I could wear something like that."

It is for this reason that I turned to her for advice on FRENCH CHIC and why the fuck I will never have it. I asked her some stupid questions and she, poor woman, did her best to answer them (you can read my guest post for Alyson here).


1. Icons
We are all sick of seeing pictures of Emmanuelle Alt, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Carine Roitfeld and, well, I'm not sick of seeing pictures of Catherine Deneuve, I could look at her forever, but could you give me your verdict on these alternative French style icons?

Arielle Dombasle, wife of pop philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy


Maïté, legendary cook



 La Laitière, producer of delicious yoghurts and crème caramels


Yes, this is a Vermeer or something. NEVERMIND. 

Véronique et Davina (France's answer to Jane Fonda. Side note: I discovered that one of them had become a buddhist nun whilst looking for this picture! Amazing.)




A: Interesting bunch. With icons like these we can all pretend to be French. The thing is, not all French women look like Carine/Emmanuelle/ Charlotte and not all English women look like Kate Moss/Sarah Harris/Jane Birkin. It’s all a bit of a cliché. C’est la vie.

PS I’m not sick of seeing pictures of Emmanuelle Alt


2. Scarves 
Is there any way for a non-French person to wear a scarf and not look like a Home Counties matron on gymkhana day or pottery teacher? 

A: Yes. Avoid chintzy fabrics and dip-dyed felt and go for a neckerchief style instead. Just fold the scarf in half and keep folding until you have a neat band, tie in a knot at the side of the neck and leave the two longer ends. Or wrap around twice for more of a choker effect – though you might want to wait until after the summer to try that. Another option is to go for a long, skinny scarf a la Jamie Hince, he’s my scarf style icon, by the way…


3. Breasts
Do French women even have a proper poitrine? Can you do French style above a B-cup and if so, how (with particular reference to shirts)? You're a fan of French bras, aren't you - any recs for the ample chested? 

What bra size is Catherine Deneuve? I expect you to know that… Also, Brigitte Bardot must be above a B-cup?  I’m a fan of men’s shirts in pale blue and white but That’s Not My Age readers with ample bosoms have told me they prefer more fitted styles in navy. French bras for the ample chested: Panache and Fantasie sound French and definitely come in larger sizes, I can also recommend Laure Sokol’s lingerie shop in Le Marais (Rue François Miron 84, 75004).


4. Footwear
What flat shoes can you wear and still look acceptably French? My best French chum wears Church's brogues and looks amazing, but she has tiny feet and when I tried on a pair I looked like a police officer. 

Looking like a police officer is fine as long as it’s Laure from Engrenages (Spiral). Loafers, ballet pumps, Church’s brogues all look acceptably French. I’m not French but I’ve got big feet and I wear them. Just add a pair of cropped wide leg trousers to make your feet look smaller – or wear them with Capri pants and a looser top, something bigger on the top half will balance the proportions whatever your hoof size.


5. Philosophical
Should we even be trying to look French any more - is it not all about Scandiwoman now? What enduring French style elements are worth hanging on to? 

The Fabulous Femme needs to keep on her Vivier-clad-toes, there’s some cool competition blowing in from northern Europe. The Scandinista has her own laid-back style, her own fashion week (Stockholm) and an array of fabulous homegrown brands to choose from (Acne, COS, Day Birger Mikkelsen, Ann Sofie-Back). French style is quite classic and French women tend to stick to the basics, which to be honest can look a bit boring. I’d say the French style element that’s worth hanging onto is only washing your hair once or twice a week. This’ll make replicating the nonchalant, slightly ‘undone’ look much easier. Hair is gently tousled, the shirt or silk blouse has one too many buttons undone. It looks effortless and sexy but it’s all carefully contrived.


Alyson’s book, Style Forever, is fantastic too, full of wit and good advice, and is available from all good bookshops and also the bad bastard bookshop on the computer.