Saturday, 19 April 2014

Tout est super génial*

Despite my fine words about treasuring the slow, mouldy, under-occupied holidays, I am currently hiding from my children in bed. F has decided, stubbornly, to be as bored and obstreperous as he can. L has a friend round and they are marauding like pre-teen hyenas. The jigsaw is stalled, perhaps terminally so. The children have eaten all the foods, so in desperation I made "Mexican spaghetti" for lunch, which was, I think we are all agreed, a new low. This is the only thing we've agreed on all day.

Ambient aural landscape:

- babyfoot (violent banging, like an enthusiastic unskilled demolition crew at work, punctuated with pre-teen shrieking).

- noodling plinky plonky jazz from arsehole neighbour.

- CBBC song about, I think, jam (telly).

- "En Apésanteur", dire French pop song (radio someone has left on and no one can be arsed to turn off).

- Incessant clacking of F's newest purchase, one of those awful Newton's Cradle executive toys.

- Oh, someone has just found the toy accordion. That's nice.

You can see why the bag of earplugs next to my bed is my most prized possession.

I just took a moment to remember my absolute worst Easter, to cheer myself up (not that I really need it,  I have finished half of my outstanding work and soon it will legitimately be time for a gin). It was 2004, a few months after mum died, and we went to Tetanus Towers, just me, CFO, my sister and the boys. We had to take seventeen cubic metres of plastic crap and baby paraphernalia, because F was about 6 weeks old and L was just shy of two: that dreadful time when there is always some absolutely vital thing you must not forget, because without which all is lost, and which you forget.

It pissed with rain the whole time, often accompanied by glacial winds, which insinuated themselves into the gaps in the ancient windows. We spent all our time in the kitchen in borrowed fleeces, barring one trip to the Spar to buy nappies, because the Aga gave off some faint semblance of warmth, but the kitchen was a toddler deathtrap of uneven flagstones, fire, loaded mousetraps and other pointy and terrifying things. F was wholly nocturnal so I got approximately 12 minutes of sleep the whole weekend and my baseline mood for the weekend was delirium. L rampaged around breaking stuff and being a danger to himself, no one was really old enough for an Easter egg hunt, though we did make a disastrous, muddy, cold attempt. The only good thing I can remember is that we didn't fight because we were all too unhappy and exhausted to bother. I practically wept with gratitude when we got back to London. It's quite strange to think how much they love going there now and clamour for it, how little thought I need to give to packing and how totally I can disregard their safety on arrival. Yet again, I think how very much I like having big children (even when they have hounded me to my bedroom). Also, my father has made huge improvements to the insulation and heating, for which, much gratitude.


30% disinclined to get out of bed
15% outstanding legal work dread
10% experiencing unhelpful, narrow-eyed stubbornness.
10% trialling some very crap make up (of which 5% M&S gel liner disappointment and 5% creepy No theatre foundation)
5% Miller Harris Vetiver Bourbon
5% hideous fingerclaws
5% Obsessive repeat purchase of St Honoré eclair plotting
20% Looking at pictures of Herdwick lambs.

(*this is the French version of 'Everything Is Awesome'. At some point this week we finally went to see the Lego Movie, but I cannot give you much of my considered opinion on it, since I rapidly fell asleep. As, indeed, did the man next to me, but his snoring was way louder)

You? Memorably awful Easter? Percentages? Recommendations for low rent chocolate products I should try and acquire on sale after the event?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014



Filthy, filthy mood, impotently and utterly fecked off. Not child related at all. Work related.

Just had to go through the bin to see if Roomba had swallowed any jigsaw pieces (it hadn't) because the bottom edge totally refuses to yield to us.

Before 10am I had unblocked lavatory, cleaned out rat's cage and taken rat back to vet.

L has been complaining about my restrictive repertoire of meals, though his main request appears to be 'more grilled meat'.

Spilled my therapeutic gin all over the floor and was too past it to get another one.

Impossible to find a plain white piggy bank with a cork for a snout.

Getting quite behind on work, predictably.

Couldn't find a quiet spot to cry in for love nor money whilst walking dog tonight, constantly interrupted by joggers, dog walkers, dogs, etc.


Half an hour battling with the evil jigsaw tonight has left me strangely becalmed. I was in actual (if repeatedly interrupted, as described above) tears of rage earlier this evening. Now I just wonder what's going on with the bottom edge with all the different sized leaves. I don't know who I am any more. We are about 3% done. F will have finished university before we finish it.

Only got lost twice on museum trip. Museum was strange but entertaining and highly Belgian. I especially like this sign, which admittedly was nothing to do with the museum:

Vet not too worried about rat.

L touchingly careful and lovely with rat, including extensive hoovering to protect him against dust.

Prog Rock sent me a box of four, very comprehensively packaged, home made hot cross buns. He's a prince among men. I had one this afternoon in a particularly low and grumpy moment and they tasted like home.

I simply can't resent or regret a minute of this lazy, luxurious empty time. I like being around for these mouldy, pointless weeks. I love their company. I like sitting on the sofa and watching CBBC and going to the cinema at 11 in the morning and baking crap cakes and doing the worst jigsaw in the world. I sometimes wonder if I take so much pleasure in it because my professional life is so fucked up, but really, does it matter? They're lovely. Maybe I can have one of those late flowering careers I hear about, actually, I pretty much have to because it's not as if I have a pension. ANYWAY. I'm enjoying my week, even though it is intermittently tiring, boring and expensive and sometimes all three at once.


45% post-rage exhaustion
15% hot cross bun
15% fucking freezing, where did the nice weather go? I am back in opaques and multiple jumpers.
10% edge pieces
10% oppressed by livestock
4% wishing for a golden eagle
1% aware of contradiction between last 2 percentages, but not caring.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Vacances scolaires


I will be bankrupt by the end of the week attempting to amuse/clothe/feed my children during their Easter holidays. Today was already ruinous. We went to the toyshop so they could each buy a thing to amuse themselves over the next week so I could, you know, work. Unmolested. For the odd twenty minute stretch. L chose 2 DIY "fun" kits both of which require extensive adult involvement. One is a "space age garden" for which I have to boil up my own agar agar or something equally sordid. The other is a "make your own sweets" kit which, it transpires contains no sweet making ingredients at all, just a crap plastic rolling pin and some optimistic recipes. I suppose I should be grateful he spared us a rerun of the dreaded triops. F got a 1000 piece jigsaw of, I dunno, an Austrian lake or something. It looks exactly like the kind of jigsaw your great grandparents did in the 1970s and why on earth this is what he wanted eludes me entirely. Unfortunately, enormous jigsaws are the weak spot in my otherwise entirely balanced and reasonable personality, ahem, and I have been unable to leave the fucking thing alone all day. It is SO HARD: basically it is 50% water, 45% leaves and 5% "what the fuck is that fuzzy blob". I have been trying to match leaves for about 5 hours and F had to actually physically prise me away from it this evening. There is no guarantee I won't go back to it now he's in bed.

I have eaten 3.5 eclairs today, no, that's not an 'Up', it's disgusting and I feel a bit sick.

The dog was violently ill all weekend after a night staying with a neighbour and it has been unspeakable and there is no kitchen roll or bleach left in Belgium.

The rat is not recovering well, though he has recovered enough strength to fight like a banshee and hate me with the heat of a thousand suns when I try and administer his twice daily antibiotics. Also L is getting pre-emptively very sad about his future/fate/sad life and there seems to be very little comfort I can offer. Pet ownership, eh.

I have to find stuff to amuse the boys for another 4 days.

I just flailed around at the table and broke F's piggy bank, like a thieving, piggy bank raiding feckless bastard.

I should definitely be working, not writing this, and it's twenty to 11 already, because of holiday bedtimes.


We were compelled to go to the commune (town hall/administrative centre of torturous crapness) today for L's new ID card and it was bewilderingly speedy: in and out in about 2 minutes. This has never happened before.

The boys are lovely company and haven't even really bothered to fight today.  I may be achieving nothing, but there's a daft satisfaction in just being around them, exhausting as their boundless energy is, not to mention the fiendish games of the Evil German Trio Memory (a jolly game in which you must match impossibly difficult to identify animal body parts, invented by sadists).

I had a lovely night in Spa at the weekend and rode an extremely old yet feisty and excellent looking Norwegian Fjord horse through the woods, along tiny paths and through streams and cantered around in the sunshine and it was everything that makes me happy. Look, here I am being happy on a small and sturdy horse called Caramel:

(it's vanishingly rare that I'm gleeful enough to show my teeth like that)

Another view of Caramel's magnificent coiffure:


45% eclairs, of which 20% remorse, 25% nausea
45% jigsaw jitters
9% Passive CBBC consumption
1% Tortured by phantom, untraceable smell of dog shit.
0% gainful employment.


Sunday, 13 April 2014


Spring in the city, though it's not really the city, not here in lazy Uccle, where everything smells of lilac and honey and the reluctant charcoal of overly-optimistic barbecues. Where there are kids playing with a football outside the ice cream shop, kicking it through dusty piles of fallen cherry blossom and cats lazing in the chicory crates outside the corner shop. Everyone knows everyone: a woman I don't even recognise stops us on the doorstep to ask if it's true we have chickens, and can she have the eggshells. I can differentiate between the unmedicated shouting of the terrifying angry, mad local old lady and the other shouting mad local lady from the top floor; everyone knows where you shop and who does your hair and what you recycle and the hairdresser notices when you've got a new coat. The strange, brilliant man round the corner with the multipurpose bench has rigged up a new invention: in his corner flat above the shop, he's rigged up a weird system of projectors and screens that project a huge image, visible from the street. That's how he watches TV now: standing on the opposite pavement, looking up at the scrolling image.

The sun came early and stayed and we're all a little giddy with it, the foxes have been taste testing the bin bags of an evening, strewing mussel shells and gnawed-clean chicken bones down the street. There's a snowstorm of dandelion clocks blowing across the garden and down the street. bouncing across the grass, floating over the back wall, collecting in the plant pots and silting up the spiders' webs in the ivy. The hens have dug themselves a dust bath and are stretching their wings out and preening. Last night one of them got over-ambitious and escaped from its enclosure: when I got back late at night, we had to search the garden to find it, crouched, confused, under the nest box. The tortoises trundle, purposefully across the garden of an afternoon, following the narrowing band of sun as it slides up the wall and away. The dog stands by the back door in an agony of indecision: asks to go out, sits uneasily for five minutes like Marcel Proust worrying about chills, asks to come in again.

Inside, I am desultorily tabbing between the Betty's website, where I am torturing myself by provoking intense Easter homesickness (Easter fondant fancy cakes, giant hot cross buns, the easter eggs with the sugar flowers mum would get us every year...) and the Brussels falcon cam, which B and I are also discussing.

E: WHERE HAS THE MOTHER GONE? I am calling social services.

B: Time to go fetch one!

E: She wouldn't miss one. And a peregrine falcon would totally keep the menagerie in line. Ideally by eating key troublemakers.

B: I want to see a peregrine v weepette fight, please. Do you think the chickens will step in and defend him?

E: I'm thinking... no. Maybe peck over his corpse?

B: Good enough. Please arrange.

The mother returns, dismembers something furry for the babies, then sits on them. 

E: As a parent, I find that "enough now, I am going to sit on you" wiggle she does immensely charming. If only you could do that to human infants.

B: This is a Daily Mail story waiting to happen. I'm currently imagining that as she pokes at their heads she's saying "Get back under there. Shut up. Mommy needs a drink."



That evening as we let the dog out to pee, it darts over to a dark corner by the window and growls. After nearly 2 years, look who came back:

Where has she been all this time, hedgie Lazarus? She's well past her allotted hedgehog lifespan and we don't think it can be another one, because the walls go down a good half metre underground. I can't quite believe I saw her; was it a spring hallucination?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A morning with Prog Rock

I am running slightly late, of course, when I get a text.

"I am in the Great Court Café. You nearly here?"

I am going into the British Library. There isn't a Great Court Café in the British Library. I call him up.

"Where are you?"

"Well, you go up the main steps and into that glass covered bit..." he explains very carefully.

"British LIBRARY, I said! Not British Museum. Library!"

He laughs, delightedly. "Oh, sorry Em."

We reconvene on the corner of Tavistock Square: I see his rangy form coming towards me, sly cigarette, rucksack, big smile. We hug, and head to a café where he hands over 4 packets of Hula Hoops left over from Christmas and a giant box of Yorkshire Gold teabags.

We sit in the sun and talk about:

Hot cross buns (I have been dreaming of hot cross buns through this long, barren detox of hell)
French teenagers
Sick pets
Dead pets
The death penalty
My sister
Boiled eggs and soldiers
Lenin's blue plaque
What chickens eat
The social composition and political leanings of Montreuil
Our prospects of success at the ludicrously bureaucratic financial operation we have come to attempt: still, ten years later, fall out from my mother's death. At one point, in this context, he brings out his favourite Heinrich Böll phrase: es wird etwas geschehen ('something will happen', I think?). "But the etwas may not be the etwas we were hoping for."

We head to the bank. As we are about to go in, he makes me stop outside and look at the trees in Tavistock Square, which are indeed very pretty, and in full bloom. As he finishes his cigarette, he tells me about a stype of chestnut tree you apparently only find in London.

We go into the branch, where Prog Rock has recently made a very specific appointment with a specific man to do a specific operation. At the information desk, they tell us man with whom we have an appointment no longer works there. Prog Rock starts cackling. They eventually find someone else to see us.

In the stuffy customer booth, he gets unreasonably giggly at this sign:

"That's like one of those jokes, 'the Italian book of war heroes' or something."

Then he launches into a monologue about how poorly British banking reacted to the sub-prime crisis.

The woman isn't sure about one of Prog Rock's folder of papers. She disappears for a very, very long time. During her absence he tells me about:
Maria Miller
The shift in portrayal of civil service - politician relationships between Yes, Minister and The Thick of It.
Dutch pronunciation.
Money: the unauthorised biography and the story of the giant rock currency on the Pacific island of Yap. Apparently, on this  island which used giant, impossible to move rocks as currency, one of the rocks was sunk in transit from the island where it originated to the island that used it as currency. But it was still owned, transferred, in 'circulation'.
The Irish banking strike.
Our chances of success, again. "Still better than 50:50" he opines, optimistically.

He's wrong. The woman returns. The piece of paper is ok, but it turns out she needs to get us to fill in a form and she doesn't have the form, and cannot obtain it, other than by post from Head Office (can we all take a moment to contemplate that someone could utter such a sentence, in 2014). Even though we have come here specifically to sign this form. We have failed in our mission. We must return at great expense in a few weeks. The etwas was very much not the etwas we were after.

Predictably, Prog Rock finds this both unsurprising and funny."I've done a lot of this trustee business" he reassures the Natwest lady as he puts his folder of papers back in his rucksack and we prepare to leave. "And you are far from the worst."On the way out, he stops to admire the ceiling rose in the entrance to Tavistock House. Then we part, laughing at our failure, and he heads off to the bookshop to find a grammar primer for my sister.

I should be annoyed, we both should, but Prog Rock - eternally curious, eternally amused, eternally gentle - has rubbed off on me, just a little. The sun is shining. I still have a few hours do find a nice etwas to do.

(Thank you so much for all the webcams. You saved my webcam bacon. Mmmm, webcam bacon)

Thursday, 3 April 2014


I am not dead, though I thought on a couple of occasions I might be close. I have finished the ghastly juice cleanse THANK GOD. It was not as hard as I feared after the first day (which was truly hellish), and I had the odd burst of energy/mental acuity but juice did get very very boring, and globally, my IQ definitely took a hit. Also, I will not be adding "nut milks" to my normal regime and I cannot wait to go back to consuming no liquids other than Yorkshire Gold and gin. I am an unrepentant fluids sinner. Also, I am relieved that it didn't make me nostalgic for the bad old eating disorder days or send me back down the path of crazy, which I slightly feared. As it turned out, I was delighted to break the fast of hell with rabbit rillettes and warm baguette, because, well, you might as well do these things properly. Now I feel a bit .. anti-climactic (no choirs of angels accompanied my first tartine), but relieved. Also, the joy of having my TEETH back is amazing. Why juice gives you such foul, furry teeth, impervious to brushing, is a disgusting mystery I do not wish to investigate further.

I have to confess to feeling quite energised and composed today, however. I am praying it's just coincidence, because there is no way I am ever doing that again. EVER.

My eldest child got into the bleeding Jesus secondary school all his friends are going to. This is neither a surprise (it's the nearest state school and it's all based on location) or a particular joy (it seems ... fine, if somewhat Jesus-y), but it's one less thing to worry about and he's pleased. I intermittently wonder if I should have been a bit more helicoptery about this education business, but I'm opting out of that particular fount of guilt. He reads books and has Japanese classes at his own behest (tangible signs of any progress: nil, but who cares). He'll be fine. All the Jesus will be good for his general cultural education. After all, this is the child who believed Jesus was called "Nathan" for several years.

The garden is looking much better after resolving the chicken ravage problem (larger chicken enclosure, supervised outside time only). This is a very low bar, but I am childishly delighted.


There isn't very much, actually.

Seriously, let's hold that thought for a moment: I cannot think of much to complain about, indeed I am outlandishly perky. This is unprecedented. Maybe the juice has readjusted my perspective? I no longer need to drink "The Hulk" so really, how bad can anything be?

(Retrospectively, crying on (i) a contentious phone call to which I overreacted violently; and (ii) the shoulder of a woman I barely know during the juice fast definitely qualifed as downs, but I was too weak and defeated to write about them)

Oh, I still need to find two animal webcams by next Tuesday since the tiger cubs AND the Norwegian puppies have gone offline. Woe.

Pinterest Easter crafts are breaking my brain (it's for work). Yeah, I definitely want to make an easter egg out of some pastel dyed yarn, a balloon and wallpaper paste. Or a miniature crucifix garden (L can make that next year in Jesus school). WOMEN OF PINTEREST: put down the glue gun and make chocolate crispie nests, if you really must do an Easter craft. Or you know, get drunk.

Getting a rat to ingest 0.04ml of antibiotic twice daily is ... interesting.

Phew, I found a couple.

A picture: 

Everyone is enjoying the clement spring in their own, unique ways. Some are shitting on the doorstep and stealing dog food. Others lie in the sun until they are deeply confused and pink of nose. The neighbour mainly barbecues mackerel and shouts. I feel filled with the milk of human kindness towards them all. FOR NOW.

40% bizarre euphoria
30% rillettes
10% horse scent
10% Good Wife anticipation
10% forgotten to put the children to bed again