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)

(Sorry)

(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

Hello.

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.



Percentages

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.

You?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Humdrum


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.

You?



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Minor complaints





Happy as a Belgian panda


I very much enjoyed Alexa's Ministry of Grievances post yesterday and wish to emulate. I have very little, substantively, to complain about at the moment, but I do not see why that should stop me. I'm pretty sure unjustified moaning about minor inconveniences is good for the soul, or something.

My grievances (mainly self-inflicted):

1. Uniqlo fuckery
I ordered this cheap and delightful sweatshirt from Uniqlo recently, as recommended by Alison, who is my oracle in all things 'how the fuck should I dress'. After considerable delivery toing and froing and frustration, I finally took possession of my cheap and delightful sweatshirt yesterday (£10,90! A small percentage cashmere!), wore it, loved it, realised I was too warm in it, took it off, then apparently dropped it in the street. Noooooooooooo. NOOOOOOO. I tried to get another one (financial responsibility remains an alien concept in this household), but was stymied by the death of my online banking access thingy, see 3 below. And now the medium has sold out, FML.

2. Is it a cold or is it hayfever? 
It's both, you're welcome.

3. Obstructive financial services harpies
Oh, I have to order a replacement for my broken online banking access thingy via the online banking thingy? But hang on, it's broken so how can I ACCESS online banking? You don't really care about that? I see, thanks. I've enjoyed our chat.

4. Credit card statements
HOW MUCH ON CUBES? My child does pay me back regularly for his Paypal-stravaganzas in cash, but as we all know, any amount of cash other than coppers vanishes via some strange alchemy like evaporating dew. Coppers, of course, hang around forever, annoying the hell out of everyone.

5. Exam season...
I know more about the fucking pulmonary circulation now than when I did biology myself. The correct use of niet and geen remain utterly mysterious, however. And Latin revision starts tonight, tristitia, I never got past Caecilius being in the fucking horta, so this will be ugly.

6. .. closely followed by 'that's your lot for education this year, kthxbai'
Once more, the eldest will be released into the community (= his fetid bedroom) as of this coming Monday, first to "revise" (bitter laughter), then for a whole week when the teachers have "conseil des classes" (which in my mind looks something like a Belgian version of spring break, with bikinis, barbecues and beer) even though the school year nominally ends on 26th June. The calendar I was relying on is a tissue of lies.

7. Chelonian woes
One of our surviving tortoises has been injured by something - a crow? The hedgehog? - and I am worried for it and concerned we will have to go back to the tortoise vet in Leuven at great expense and also have to tell the vet its name is Tortank.

8. Summer grooming ennui
I need to deal with my feet. Ugh. Also, I bought some body oil recommended by Margot Leadbetter in the comments recently but whenever it comes to putting it on, I am filled with weary futility. It's so sad I no longer believe in cellulite/firming treatments; it's a painful loss of innocence.

9. Teenager policing... 
.. is hard work, no one with teenagers, or indeed anyone who has been a teenager, will be in the least bit surprised to hear. I actually mainly love teenagers, who are funny and sharp, but christ, the responsibility, it's as bad as those awful first few weeks when you realise that your newborn depends on you for survival. Mine is pretty great in all sorts of ways, but he is still a teenager and I feel lost and confused and haunted by too much reading of Times Online articles about the awful things teenagers are watching/doing/taking.

10. Emails from travel PRs
The arrival of a new email in my inbox gives me a little shiver of adrenalin that is not entirely pleasant, because well, I am weird and anxiety-ridden. Sadly I get this shiver 870 times a day currently and they are all capital letter-studded nonsense missives such as "Hire Your Own Private Island At Conrad Maldives Rangali Island", "Swing Away With Hastings Hotels Northern Irish Golfing Breaks" and worst of all, "Park Hyatt Pays Tribute to Families With Sons + Father's Book Inspired By U2's Bono". These are all real examples from the last hour.


Lay your grievances on the comments box in their droves. No complaint is too petty (as I believe is amply demonstrated by the above).

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Saved by Jeans

As you may recall, I turned forty six months ago in a blaze of tedious daily posting. There was also an incident involving a horse and a lovely trip to Venice but I did not tell you about those. One has to preserve some corner of one’s jardin secret even if it makes life very boring for you, reading.

Anyway. The accepted narrative of turning forty these days is a little intimidating: you are supposed to rise like a self-actualised phoenix from the ashes of your youth with new reserves of strength, wisdom and body confidence. I know this from reading loads of magazine articles illustrated with pictures of Christy Turlington, looking serene and bronzed as she bares her beautiful teeth, saves some starving children and runs a marathon. Once you have stopped marvelling at Christy, these articles will instruct you on all the things you are supposed to have mastered by forty. At forty you are supposed to:

1. Know how to dress for your body/have some species of ‘signature style'. I will - sort of - return to this.

2. Be financially independent and stable - ha. I think this is outdated, actually, in our current economy, or so I tell myself. And anyway, things aren’t so bad. I mean, we’ll be fine as long as the children decide to go to free Belgian universities and no one gets sick, ever.

3. Have an innate confidence in your own abilities. I am interested in this and I am not at all down on confidence. I love and admire it in others and wish I could get it to rub off on me. The right kind of confidence is incredibly attractive and appealing, but where on earth does one acquire it? It sounds like it is just supposed to descend upon you, magically, as you open your fortieth birthday cards, so I fear it may be too late for me now. If anything, I am less confident, in the sense that I am more aware now than ever before of how little I know. I would never presume to tell anyone the things I have learned at forty because what the hell have I got to tell anyone about life? I spend most of my own sitting in the attic, fretting.

Related to this, you are also supposed not to care much about the opinion of others.  “I don’t give a shit what people think of me,” I keep reading newly forty celebrities announce and I wonder how on earth that happens, because I care just as much as I ever did. Truly, the only way I can imagine not caring to excess about the opinion of others is beta blockers.

Confidence, then, is not so much a work in progress as a work abandoned and shoved to the back of a drawer. Perhaps that is why I watch so much Ru Paul’s Drag Race? In the hope of acquiring some of that fuck you bitchez drag queen chutzpah by osmosis?

5.  Be able to cook, and host, confidently. I keep coming back to this one because I really, really want to achieve it, but I keep fucking up. We had some people round a couple of weeks ago as part of my ongoing attempts to acquire a social life and I cooked a Jamie Oliver macaroni cheese so awful we all just stared at it in horror. They are never coming back.

6. Love yourself (cf Ru Paul, again), inside and out. Hmm. For the last three months, I have had the worst skin I have ever had in my life, even in my teenage years and I have hardly been able to bear to look at myself in a mirror, instead preferring to pick and worry at my spots until my whole face looked like a medieval syphilis sufferer’s. “You have so many spots!” the youngest said a few weeks ago, wonderingly, when he saw me without my kabuki mask of mineral powder. I have not found this lovable. It is more or less better now (cod psychologists might relate this to finishing the damn book, but it may simply be because I totally gave up on personal grooming including cleanser whilst finishing book), but I do not find many other aspects of my person and character lovable: cowardice, thighs, insecurity, lack of eyelashes, disorganisation, teeth, tendency to hide my favourite foods from other family members, weak ankles, laziness, double chin… I don’t loathe myself as a regular thing, but if I were writing myself a school report on my character, it would definitely be a B- at best. ‘Could do better’.

7. You may also e.g. start a floristry business, have twins or retrain as a doctor according to these articles, but these seem - thankfully - to be optional.

I suppose it is a good thing that we are no longer supposed to put on a pair of M&S Classic slacks and give up on life in our fifth decade, but the corollary of this new orthodoxy is that against these redesigned performance indicators, I am plainly failing at forty.

There is, however, a bright spot. Because it turns out that all I needed to do in order to access the new reserves of body confidence and self-esteem forty was supposed to bring - thus ticking off at least one of the items on the list - was to buy a pair of & Other Stories cropped grey boyfriend jeans.

You will not be particularly impressed when I show you a picture of these jeans. You will just think they look like a slightly baggy grey pair of trousers and I cannot disagree, but for some reason they have effected a strange and wonderful alchemy on me and my wardrobe. They go with EVERYTHING (or rather, everything I still fit into, which is a much smaller subset of clothes), even the weird, too pale boots I bought online and could not be arsed to return and the tops that are slightly too short and midriff exposing when paired with other, lesser trousers. They are comfortable. They have got me wearing shirts again, which I love, but usually fear. Everything seems possible; I remember back when I had hair, that having a really great haircut had a similar effect. I have capitalised upon this feeling by going out and buying some new foundation and clearing my bedside table both of which would have seemed impossible a few weeks ago.

I had a near-identical experience two years ago with a pair of Gap Skinny Minnies (aka the Prozac Trousers) that also saved me from wardrobe ignominy and general slump-age, so it appears that my salvation mainly comes in trouser form. I don't really know what to make of this, but I am happy anyway and attacking the remains of forty with marginally renewed vigour. ALL HAIL THE JEANS. I have ordered another pair.

Here they are:



I am not showing you my face, because of the medieval syphilis/chins etc. Instead you can admire my new phone case which I love beyond all reckoning. Isn't it lovely? Cressida Bell.


What, if anything, has made sense of forty for those of you who are as decrepit as I am?

Friday, 5 June 2015

Livestock

If I waited until I had something interesting to say to update my weblog, we would be here for years, so here I am.

I have just come back from delivering a slow painful death by legal powerpoint to some people. I got home and crammed three choux à la crème in my mouth in quick succession and now I feel more human. But also remorseful. Fat, incompetent, remorseful, but human. I'll settle for that.

My main preoccupation today is Sven the Luxembourgeois capybara "free to a good home". I am pretty sure I could be a good home. I have an enormous bath and well, ok, our track record on rodents isn't stellar (my search history may contain some variants on "how to humanely home euthanise a rat", but it was with the rat's best interests at heart) but surely it is meant to be? A capybara? Free? In LUXEMBOURG?

(starting this again a day later due to indolence and Ru Paul's Drag Race)

Now my main preoccupation is Bismarck who we are babysitting. This is Bismarck:



He is a sweetie, soft and cuddly and playful (= the anti-Oscar), but SUCH a heavy breather. It's like having a pervert sitting next to my chair all day making sex noises. As soon as his fevered panting calms, I spoil it by getting up and eg. going to the loo or making a cup of tea and he has to follow me round anxiously, hyperventilating. When I open the fridge he comes to stand next to me and look in at the contents, rolling his eyes and panting. He could become quite an effective diet aid actually. Oscar is sitting in a corner glaring at both of us disgustedly. He has also stolen Bismarck's bed tonight, the arsehole:




The chickens are also behaving like dicks, pretending to be frightened of Bismarck who is then terrified of their loud chickens-being-dicks noises. The tortoises keep coming into the house to steal dog food, causing further confusion. As usual, the only well-behaved one in the household is the hedgehog who has the good grace (a) to be nocturnal and (b) to keep itself to itself. Ok, fine, maybe I shouldn't get a capybara. Bismarck has now stationed himself by the front door and is waiting to be rescued, whimpering lightly. His owners aren't back for 2 days, and there's an insane thunderstorm brewing over Brussels. Poor Bismarck, I think he might have a heart attack. I need one of those plug-ins full of Valium they advertise during Supervet (incidentally, when are they going to invent those for humans? Surely this is overdue).

I have spent the day with M who is in Belgium for the week and it was brilliant. Belgium is an unseasonal 31°C so we have mainly hidden in the shade and eaten stuff. We have eaten choux and superior Pierre Marcolini Mr Whippy ice cream, drunk several pints of lemonade and laughed ourselves sick at the hideous treasures in the flea market (M's Instagram will reveal several of them to you, including the worst pictorial representation of a shark in art history. Is it a shark? A flat fish? A creature from a nightmare? Who the fuck even knows). We have also discussed our career indecision and decided to revive Old School Facegoop, the pre-Guardian version where we were unreservedly rude about stuff. This means I need to source some cosmetics to be rude about, or even like. Has anyone used anything excellent or indeed terrible recently? As you know, I have become a sordid hermit in recent months and personal grooming is a foreign language for me, but I am on the verge of succumbing to the siren lure of a very expensive hammam mit as recommended on St India of Knight's website. That woman could sell me anything.

Time to go, I have a hyperventilating dog to calm.

Percentages:

35% delicious, awful sugar and choux overdose
20% head sweat
20% Perpetual Paypal mule for children's ridiculous purchases (spitballs, jelly beans, miniature Rubik's cubes)
20% watching Koh Lanta out of one eye and feeling extreme scorn at its feebleness compared to Bear Gryll's brutal island.
5% irritation at my childrens' method of watching Koh Lanta (and indeed anything on telly), which involves constant commentary-slash-argument. Dear lord, can we not all stare at the screen in silence in the time honoured manner of our people? Is nothing sacred? HUSH NOW and watch the well-fed French people argue on the desert island.

You?