Monday, 23 November 2015

Huis clos

#BrusselsLockdown, day 3. Banish all despondency and pessimism, this is a time for family togetherness and creativity, sharing our hopes and fears, uniting in laughter over a board game or a jigsaw, cooking nourishing meals and really taking the time to talk to one another.

Is it fuck.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibits C and D

Main observation: it is really dark in our house, except up in my attic lair where no bastard may venture unless they are (i) me (ii) a very silent whippet or (iii) bearing tea and biscuits.

Supplementary observation: I could probably be finding something witty and intelligent to say about this whole situation if it was not so damn LOUD here.  If L doesn't stop honking at his mates like an enraged goose I will not be responsible for my actions.

Further observation: Is there a danger that the feckless, playstation obsessed school children of Brussels will see this whole lockdown scenario as a good thing (yes there is)?

Yet further observation: the nonsensical comments on Le Soir's live blog are squeezing my head like a vice, yet they appear in the main liveblog so I cannot avoid them and this is a terrible, terrible thing.

Other observation: This really has to stop soon or my liver will give out. We tried to make martinis on Saturday and ended up drinking pints of gin, then we perfected our technique on Sunday and there is plenty of gin left and oh god, my head.

Linked observation: My sensitivity to noise/internet stupidity may be in some way related to this, I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Wholly unrelated observation: HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THIS. Do you like the cover? I do.


95% Lockdown
5% Nurofen


Friday, 20 November 2015


I have now been forty for almost a full year (it's my birthday next week, groom the pygmy goats, pile the choux high) and I think I have only learnt three things, all negatives:

1. If you value your sanity, don't write a memoir.

2. If you disregard the first piece of valuable advice, don't use any song lyrics in your memoir.

2. Don't take a picture of your own neck. WHOA. I only learnt this one yesterday. I had trapped my neck in the zip of my coat for the second time in a week and wanted to commemorate this high water mark of idiocy, but then I saw this picture and now I know that death is imminent, so I don't need to worry about working out how not to trap my neck in zips.

What the fuck? Whose neck is that? The crêpey, creepy texture! The age spots! Who the hell knew? I could quite happily have gone on not knowing, thanks.

Other news:

I have filled the garden with fat balls and nuts and now I can't go anywhere or do anything because I have to stare at tits like a pensioner during all the hours of daylight. WITH BINOCULARS. Mostly the tits sit on the wall and watch as a persistent crow tries to untie the half coconut and carry it away, but I enjoy that too. Ooh! The jay is back! Now it has gone again. Etc. until it is time for the children to come home from school and F says "what have you done today?" and I have to make up something about, um, law?

I am wearing red lipstick today in a fit of .. something. I never ever ever wear red lipstick and have twice caught sight of my reflection and not recognised myself. Thankfully the massive spot on my nose tipped me off.

If I hold a tissue against it, you cannot see the giant nose buboe, impeccable logic there.

I'm experimenting with lipstick because to my sadness, I simply cannot wear eyeliner any more, it brings me out in hideous itchy spots along my inner lids that make me want to put my head through a shredder. My thinking is that I could essay a "strong lip" and style it out as a positive decision rather than having fool eyes, but lipstick is much higher maintenance than a quick swoosh of gel liner so I may just resign myself to looking like a potato.

Now I have to go out and buy tiramisu because last weekend a whole family sized one accidentally fell into my mouth and I have been deeply and lengthily shamed for this by my family, who are insisting I buy new one for each of them. My only real regret about this is telling them about the existence of the tiramisu in the first place instead of sneaking off to bed to eat it in glowering, blissful silence.


50% Not at all sorry about the tiramisu
50% Spiritually a sea toad

You? What have you learnt in the past year? And do you have any red lipstick recommendations for a woman with awfully British teeth?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


I feel like the only thing I can do when something terrible happens is shut the fuck up, so I did.

On my radar this week:


This chocolate:

I had a very disappointing trip yesterday to the newly opened health food/organic shop up the road. This has been touted as some kind of Whole Foods-esque paradise, and I went in hope of freshly mutilated kale, green juice, chia pudding and whatever else the fuck the ill-fed children of hipster health foods are eating these days, but er, nope, it looks like Alligator Whole Food Co-Op in York circa 1982, complete with staff who might indeed have worked in Alligator in 1982. I walked round twice in growing disappointment then bought this and I must say, it is very tasty and really salty, in a good way. I thought it might turn me into one of those "one square of top quality dark chocolate" women, has it fuck, I have a square of this THEN one of my dwindling reserve of mocha KitKats.

Advent Calendars

I had a highly regrettable wander through the Amazon advent calendar section yesterday (even though OH HAI DID I NOT TELL YOU we are actually going to Thailand on the 18th December for 2 weeks, my delayed 40th birthday present, holy shit, terror and delight in equal measure, more about this doubtless anon.).

I love advent so much. Despite having not a religious bone in my body, advent hymns (Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending, Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, On Jordan's Banks The Baptist's Cry) do something astonishing to me and the whole spirit of advent - the real spirit, awe, anticipation, wonder - fills me with shivering delight and painful nostalgia, bringing back the ghosts of advents past: choir practices, hymns with Mr Hastie, end of term excitement, the freezing Wadham chapel, mist and frost and mystery. Sadly, advent 2015 style is a whole unseemly international buffet of wrongness and these advent calendars typify that. O tempora, o mores.

 I am pretty sure we have already been over my extremely presbyterian taste in Advent Calendars several times, I mean, I bore on about it enough. Basically, apart from our home crafted matchbox calendar of incompetence, usually stuffed by the boys with plastic spiders and Nurofen, only paper is acceptable,  ideally paper featuring small, boring devotional scenes or a robin at a pinch. Do not tempt me with your £200 beauty calendars, gin calendars, Chupa Chups calendars etc etc etc, not today, Satan (I swither between Ian Paisley and Bianca del Rio from S6 of RuPaul's Drag Race when I say this).

Chief offenders:

1. Dog advent calendars

Your dog is not awaiting the birth of our Saviour in awe and wonder and devotion. Your dog could not care less. He is waiting to lick his balls, oh hang on, he isn't even waiting for that.

2. Erotic advent calendars

"24 tasty bums, boobs and willies!"

OUR LORD DID NOT GIVE  HIS ONLY SON SO THAT YOU COULD PLUCK A PENIS SHAPED CHOCOLATE OUT OF THAT MAN'S ARMPIT. OR OUT OF HIS CROTCH FOR THAT MATTER. This is definitely a sign of the imminent apocalypse. Dr Paisley would have had something to say about this.

3. Personalised Gail from Corrie advent calendar

"Do you know someone who would really love to date Helen Worth?"
A: No, or if I do, they are keeping it quiet.

I don't feel personally affronted by this, just deeply puzzled. Who is this for? Who? "THE STEPS TO A GLITTERING COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS NEVER BEEN MORE SIMPLE..." reads the text beneath this, in overwrought and grammatically puzzling capital letters.

A surprising number of the remaining offerings featured German football teams, several different ones, who knew that German football advent chocolate was a thing, eh.

As for me, I am hesitating between Altarpieces:

(This would really get the kids' hearts racing in the morning. "Look! A detail from the Wilton Diptych, mummy!") 

This one screams P.A.R.T.Y

I considered and rejected this pleasant RSPB one, because chocolate, but perhaps some of you godless sybarites might like it:

It hasn't been the same since the SPCK bookshop stopped doing the ones that only had bible verses in. 


I am reading Julian Barnes' book of art essays, Keeping An Eye Open and oh my god, they are so wonderful. The first one on Géricault's Raft of the Medusa had me actually breathless, it is SO GOOD. *pretentious interlude ends*

I am going to stop here because I have nothing else to say, which seems like a good enough reason.


65% faintly martyred by Wednesday
20% cracked lips
15% concerned that wine 3 days in a row is a bad precedent, but disinclined to do anything about it.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Belgium Toosoo

Yesterday in Dutch class we all had to sing our national anthems. Not in Dutch, maybe the teacher was just sick of the sound of us massacring her language. My ranking:

1. Somalia "Soomaaliyeey Toosoo" (Somalia Wake Up) - super catchy. Apparently it's not the national anthem any more, which is a big mistake.
2. Venezeula "Gloria Al Bravo Pueblo" - pretty good, would be excellent for marching.
3. UK - at least easy to sing and succinct if frankly dull.
4. Belgium "La Brabançonne"- even the PM can't remember it, it's hardly a reference, also easily confused with Here Comes the Chief, I mean Hail to the Chief or whatever it's called. This version sounds like it comes from a Christmas album by some second rate tenors.
- Morocco (refused to sing)
- Rwanda (didn't know, hummed the Star Spangled Banner instead)

We were studying things that you can (kunnen) do (eg. sing your national anthem), things that you are allowed to do (mogen, we couldn't think of many of these in Belgium though I think we came up with "in the police station you may consult a lawyer") and things that you must (moeten) or must not (niet mogen) do (eg. "in the town hall you must not ask questions during the lunch break", well obviously).

On my radar:

La Force des Choses
I am reading the third volume of Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography. The first two volumes are among my very favourite non-fic books ever - the second especially, which covers the war, is gripping - but I am finding this arid. There is a lot of JPS falling out with various Communist groupuscules and everyone keeps launching competing "revues". I did enjoy a brief cameo by the crustaceans who chased JPS through volume two after a mescal experiment misfire, and am hoping they will return.

New Lives in the Wild UK - Channel 5 
I have been looking forward to this glimpse into my future - crazed Britons living off grid in cobbled together shacks antagonising their neighbours and speaking mainly to goats - and it did not disappoint, although the crazies were not that crazy in this episode. I say that, but the four of them were living in a converted horse box and they had some of the worst hair in Britain. Next week's episode is definitely Future Me - wild haired (ok, not this), toothless Oxford graduate crone lives in mud hut in Wales.

Those pork buns Nigella made on telly last week
They looked so easy! I love pork buns! Did not involve many weird ingredients! Likelihood of this going horribly wrong: approx 98%. I am so happy N is back on the television, I could watch her endlessly, even though her hand gestures are weirdly over-emphatic.

Trish Deseine on The Food Programme
So enjoyed listening to this.

Our Mutual Friend
I am listening to this as I trudge the grey streets with the ouipette, using my under-used Audible subscription (any tips?) and very enjoyable it is too. Silas Wegg has just gone to see Mr Venus, Preserver of Animals and Birds, Articulator of Human Bones, to find out whether his amputated leg has been sold (it hasn't, though it might turn out valuable as a Monstrosity).

Jesus, they are everywhere at the moment, there are hundreds in the park. I'm not complaining, I love crows and will happily submit to our crow overlords.

Scented Origami horses
I did a small job relating to these recently (€62 for 4) and now I am fascinated by the idea. How long, realistically, does a paper horse hold scent? Wouldn't it be like one of those little paper tester thingies, ie. barely a week in your pocket? Still, compared to the "scented pebble" (€200 for a single pebble), I suppose they are a steal.

Lunch is on my radar. Time to hack my way through some more of the chard forest, chiz.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Eleven Eleven

Armistice Day is a public holiday in Belgium. My family have honoured the war dead by playing Call of Duty: Black Ops for a large number of hours. I have honoured the war dead by making and then scanning a number of manuscript mark-ups intended to stop people suing me and by walking the dog at length, holding up Chinese flashcards and drinking a not very nice cappuccino (why will I never learn, they are all not very nice in Belgium). Later, there will be fish and chips, not to honour the war dead, but because it is Wednesday and we always have fish and chips on Wednesday.

Random shit: 

Installation trousers

This morning I was idly browsing black trousers (what, shut up, this is a valid public holiday activity) when I came across this marvellous piece of copy "The Devoe Pants offer a relaxed fit inspired by handmade ceramics and abstract art objects." Um, how, exactly? Because they do not look to me, the casual trouser observer, to be greatly inspired by abstract art objects. I mean, sure, some of the crazy three-armed Rei Kawakubo garments they sell in the Mad Japanese corner of Liberty looks like they are, but these trousers just look like.. trousers.

Lucky Men 

I walked past this earlier:

In fairness, there was a stack of bottles of Evian in one corner. The lucky men are occasionally allowed something other than beer. Men reading: what else would you like them to provide in this shop for you to feel really really lucky? Perhaps a Lazy Man Mug? The Lucky Emma shop would sell: super-cheap cashmere, even cheaper British industrial confectionery, pygmy goats and live owls. Admittedly, I can see some logistical difficulties with getting these stock lines to co-exist peacefully.

Buffet of wrongdoing

Conversation earlier with M:

E: (redacted) sit on a throne of lies

M: Yes. Lies woven together like coconut fronds.

E: A beach hut of lies. A lounger of lies.

M: A rum arrangé of deceit. An international buffet of wrongdoing.

(infantile virtual laughter)


20% Courbatures (I love that word)

20% Really really need a new moisturiser, have been using nothing at all for months now, it's not really working out for me

20% Puzzled by tone of contemporary discourse in many spheres

20% Sugar after asking my son to "surprise me" with a drink, which he duly did

10% Nederlands huiswerk, both mine and F's, which are of similar degrees of difficulty

10% Pavlovian Wednesday wine anticipation, mmmmm fritkot wine.

You? What would be in a shop called Lucky (Your name)?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Magnesium matters


I cut my fingerclaws too short and then had to fight with the blocked washing machine filter and now every one of my fingertips is red and painful and my knees are soggy with blocked washing machine water, also STOP LEAVING WRAPPERS IN YOUR POCKETS INGRATE CHILDREN.

Current work options: doing impossible and thus frustrating legal research, attempting to resolve intractable Belgian administrative tangle I have already made two very creditable yet failed stabs at resolving, working out who is most likely to sue me re. book. Wow, this last one is fun and not at all likely to lead to 4am dark night of the soul moments, nope. I am taking a lot of magnesium, since francophones believe it to be a kind of natural Xanax, I have gleaned this from my many years of pharmacy window observation. No discernable impact yet but I am keeping the magnesium faith.

My long, long fringe is getting in my eyes and giving me an itchy forehead and I have lost the "product" the hairdresser gave me to help with this.

Glimmers of hope:

I secretly like unblocking the washing machine filter because it makes me feel powerful and competent.

L has his phone back after 3 weeks somewhere in the sous-directeur's bureau (for about 12 hours until I confiscate it, probably, but it's something).

Very satisfactory, if weird, lunch. All freelancer's lunches are weird, I think, or at least I hope. Leftovers, things that need using up, occasional off-piste packets of biscuits, cobbled together deadline-desperation snacks. Sometimes I take pictures of the worst offenders, such as this, recently:

WTF Lunch

(that artichoke had been in the fridge for literally a month before we were guilted into cooking it and I can tell you that it was a very long way past its best)

Or this:

Yes, 90% of that meal was M&M cookies and the fish fillet was tepid

Or this:

I hope you admire my commitment to a token vegetable, even in culinary extremis

Today's: spinach and courgette soup, leftover peas and rice in mustard cream sauce, a head of chicory (Belgian national obligation at least 3 x weekly) half a Picard frozen bagel (= bagel only in name) and half an avocado. This will be a high point in the week since I have about 5 kilos of chard from my father to get through, also all the world's apples (containing most of the world's earwigs).  

It is my birthday this month and I have been compiling a fantasy birthday list for my own amusement, mainly composed of Macon et Lesquoy brooches, Elemis bath-crack and cashmere "leisure wear". The anticipation is by far the best bit about my birthday at this advanced stage of decrepitude, that and I have inveigled my father into agreeing to take me for a gigantic boozy meal at Rules, if I can sneak out of Belgium. 

I know this is all thunderingly mundane, but I have decided that rather than just writing about books or stopping altogether, I can get away with being un-fascinating if I post frequently. It's quality or quantity, people. Or I can probably manage 'neither'. Neither is well within my reach. 


20% Facial blemish
20% Head itch (10% scalp, 10% face)
20% Mad desire for a Bogato Mont Blanc, the one that is shaped like a ball of wool with a cassis centre (this is highly specific, yes, but no, I am not pregnant)
20% Obliged to fall back on pâté instead, since Bogato is in Paris and no fecker in Uccle can make a Mont Blanc that looks like a ball of wool
20% Non-specific irritation 

You? What grisly lunches do you indulge in when home alone?