Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Limited capacity


I escaped from my own kitchen table for a brief, thrilling foray to London, which was filled with people I like and foods to eat and some kind of BASTARD tree making my whole face dissolve into a late period Picasso of tears and snot.

I ate a piece of CAKE made by Frances from the Bake Off, which is my new claim to fame (delicious, contained walnuts). Then, emboldened by wine, showed her a picture of my brownie owls, Jesus, that poor woman, I bet people are always thrusting cake pictures at her, if not actual cakes. She was beyond charming and I now love her even more than I did when she was on Bake Off (when I was fully rooting for her).

I also managed to take a picture of the back of Nick Hornby's head.

Nina Stibbe signed my copy of her wonderful wonderful book (you will die of laughing, I did). She is my actual heroine. I loved this piece about her experience with the TV adaptation of Love, Nina. The bit in this Guardian piece about 'blueberries and line-caught coley' also really made me snort.

In exchange I brought her a small Mannekin Pis and some speculoos, proudly, in a dog eared paper bag, like your cat depositing a pile of vole entrails at your feet. Oh dear.

I ate a black forest gateau this morning in the Wolseley whilst enjoying the catharsis of shared copywoe with my friend Grace and lo, it was wonderful.


Afterwards she emailed me she had spotted "JimNighy" and we had a fun few minutes trying to decide which mash-up of Jim Naughtie and Bill Nighy we would like best.

Mrs Trefusis and I had dinner in Fischers (I'm sure I remember a really dull vegetarian café of some variety on that site previously, this is much better, with beautiful dark wood and gilt and fine pictures and a boar's head) which was delightful - so much so that I even recommended it to my severe and bearded father, whose criteria for an acceptable restaurant narrow yearly - and plotted for our UPCOMING EVENT (come, please come, renewed begging. It will include Simone de Beauvoir and PG Wodehouse and chocolate).

My father told me an excellent story involving a disgraced politician, some ferrets and a branded hoodie. I am making that sound juicer than it actually is, but it was still funny. My stepmother had won a corncrake release in an auction on the same occasion, which sounds both wonderful and entirely insane.

There have been some truly excellent entries for the competition, which is ongoing and which you may still enter. Priesthood, poshness, Pilates Woman and many more.

It is only a month until my, sorry, I mean my son's owl experience evening. Not that I am counting off the days, sweatily on my calendar whilst fantasising about which owl I might get to nuzzle, nope*.

*Legal notice: owl experience insurance does not cover injuries incurred during unauthorised nuzzling. All nuzzling is outlawed.


I have a mountain of (unglamorous) work and very little brain capacity (back in my legal days we used to have to submit a report about how busy we were to the Powers in weird, firm-specific language. The categories were something like "some capacity", "limited capacity", "no capacity" and "frantic", I think. By law standards/working practices I am basically at "more capacity than you could believe/likely to be sacked imminently for poor work ethic", but for the purposes of my flaccid, atrophied pea brain, I am definitely at "no capacity, apart from for staring into space and thinking about owls").

I am back in Uccle and will speak to no one but my own family and livestock for weeks. A woman has just shouted at me about dog shit (which I was in the process of picking up, I think she was just mad) and the children are utterly indifferent to my return except for the purpose of extracting money and British crisps from me. I have told them several times about my Frances from Bake Off - cake encounter and they aren't even pretending to care.

Dishwasher is making a noise like a wounded walrus.

Boiler is definitely on the brink of death. Its preferred going into the good night routine is to turn itself off discreetly overnight, so that when you get in the shower in the morning it is freezing, then when you go to turn it back on, it sort of WHOOMP semi-explodes in your face. No good can come of this.

I tried to get everyone to watch The Yorkshire Vet again but it was THE WORST EVER for grossness: no castrations but the most repulsive alpaca abscess and a cow afterbirth, erm, incident so grim even I had to turn away and I am cast iron in such matters. They will never trust me again.


30% antihistamine

30% whipped cream and kirsch laden cherries

30% Once more on the search for Audible recommendations. I went to see Audible yesterday to record some free "bonus content" to promote the audio version of my book. They were terrifyingly professional, whereas I was a sweaty inarticulate mess (also, no one told me there was a video element, thank fuck I wore some eyeliner). When there is a link to me trying and failing to answer the question "why is storytelling so important to us" using a series of batsqueaks and irrelevant anecdotes, I will post it here, of course, for your delectation. But what should I listen to now? I want something huge, a collection of letters or a vast novel or history book.

10% Genuinely concerned I may have contracted heavy legs (wore my fancy new shoes for a whole hour last night, it's their fault).


Friday, 20 May 2016


I'm not even going to dilute this post with loads of complaints (even though GOD KNOWS, I have plenty I could be diluting it with). I am going to get right to the heart of the matter.


I am offering, to three lucky ("lucky") winners:

1. A copy of my book - hardback! Not fucked around with by BastardPost! - with the dedication of your choice or no dedication.

Book. Yours will be clean out of the box, not grimy from our floor. 


2. A (large) bar of Côte d'Or's legendary Chocolate Lait Amandes Caramélisées avec Une Pointe de Sel, which (a) features in the book and (b) is amazingly delicious. If you are dairy free, I will endeavour to find an appropriate substitute whilst also feeling very sorry that you cannot eat this wonderful stuff.



3. A drawing of the animal or internet meme of your choice by my son who is good at that kind of thing, cf here and here. I will have to pay him for this service, he does nothing for free unless he is in lots of trouble he hasn't told me about.

Child art (optional)

All prizes will be despatched using BastardPost's least unreliable delivery method (heron? drone? sheepdog on a horse?) anywhere in the world. All elements of the prize are optional. You can just have the chocolate if you like.

All you have to do is tell me about a time where you tried and failed to be something you aren't. This is a big theme in the book: the daft pursuit of an identity that doesn't actually fit, but which takes on a weird importance for a time. It might be a lie you got caught out in, or a ludicrous temporary identity you tried on for size, that time you thought you should become a nun or the time you tried to convince everyone that you were actually the national junior dog grooming champion. We've all done it. Haven't we? Surely?

You can enter with a comment on the blog, with an email to me (address in the right hand column over there) or an entry on your own blog (let me know if you do this though, so I can find it). Closing date for entries is Friday June 3. I will pick my favourite entry as one winner, then draw two at random for the other prizes. I will publish a selection of the entries in a blog post, an act which I hope will in some tenuous way serve to promote the book. God knows.

It will be super humiliating if no one enters this, so don't feel you have to spend too much time and energy on it. Just enter! What do you have to lose? Less than me, probably.

(Speaking of super humiliating, can I please persuade you to come along to this on 21 June if you happen to be in London and can spare the ££? Poor lovely Helen has taken a leap of faith and friendship putting me forward for it and I don't want her to be embarrassed because no one comes. I will be eternally grateful and will also endeavour to be amusing. THANK YOU)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Purse first


Playing "hayfever or summer cold" full time now. Tonight's variant: hayfever, summer cold, or far too many chilies? (update: it's a cold, a bastard cold, a cold of all evil)

Accountancy snarl ups (sample note to accountant - translated from mardy French "this balancing transfer relates to a random part payment of an apparently random sum by a client made - for reasons that are entirely opaque - into the wrong account"). Eff my elle.

Brain atrophied to size and texture of dried pea. Only accessible emotion now: irrational fury. Unable to write anything longer than a two sentence complaint. I don't know what's wrong with me, some kind of post-book syndrome? Cold symptom? Ugh.

Made the worst soup in the world:

To be clear: I had no expectations that it would be anything other than horrible. I made it to stop myself going wildly off piste at lunchtime, which keeps happening since stupid Picard decided soup was only for winter and replaced all my favourite punishment variants with .. who the hell knows actually. I saw a cucumber gazpacho in there, nope. Anyway, it is worse even than I expected since the kale adds a particularly unpleasant note of stringiness, giving an overall flavour of "angry swamp". Can a note be textural? I believe it can. Come and fight me and my furious dried pea brain if you disagree.

The soup has not slowed me down even slightly in my quest to put every food in Belgium in my mouth this month.

Frustrated by my continued inability to access any seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race after 6 on Belgian Netflix. Drag Race hunger acerbated by current round of Season 8 final commentary and B sending me this most excellent video.

The TV has taken to turning itself on during the night. I lie there thinking "WHO THE FUCK IS WATCHING TV AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT" and cursing the neighbours, then realise it is coming from our house.


2 near simultaneous messages from 2 different people about 2 different capybaras.

No more random wildcat school holidays until The Big Ones.

I am in bed.

Garden is looking good (by "good" I mean "less chicken scarred"). This is not something I take any pride or sense of ownership in. The garden does what it likes, I do not intervene. It's better than way.

I have found a t-shirt I really love. It was moderately expensive but I feel like it is worth it because I hardly ever buy clothes and it is GREAT, loose and soft and flattering. It only comes in grey, oh no, what a shame, right out of my comfort zone. Its name is 'Pulasky' which means that I have a permanent Pulasky at Night earworm.

I have booked tickets for this Denis Meyer's installation thingy which looks amazing. He has taken over the huge abandoned Solvay building and covered every inch of it in graffiti.

Downloaded new Maggie O'Farrell which has had rave reviews and v much looking forward to it.

A lot of my ups tonight seem to involve me spending money. Ah well.


40% Rhinofebryl, which is a crap substitute for a proper cold and flu remedy whose only redeeming feature is having a name that makes it sound like a Pokémon (speaking of Pokémon, this via M made me laugh)
40% Self-loathing
20% Flan pâtissier


Friday, 13 May 2016

London report

Annual Report

I see the lady who does my eyebrows, S, once a year and have done since 2000. What I really like about this is that you get to condense a year's worth of news (or the absence thereof) into an hour.  There's something quite interesting about having to squeeze what is happening in your life into a ten or fifteen minute lowdown - I find it gives me a perspective on stuff that  I do the same thing with my hair(wig)dresser, who I see even less frequently and who is extremely quidsworth in the matter of celebrity anecdotes, dramas both professional and personal, etc.

There is less of this high drama with S, but we have both had years when we have spent the hour relating a shitstorm of upsetting and stressful life events  - partners, children (her daughter and L were born within days of each other), work, health - sometimes to the point where we both become hysterical with laughter at the awfulness.

This wasn't one of those years. No triumphs, no tragedies. Some health issues for her, existential work uncertainty for me, groaning at fourteen-year-olds for both of us. Then she turned to very insistently instructing me I HAD to watch Game of Thrones. At the end of the appointment after I had said that it was fine and hadn't hurt and she had called me a liar (correctly, it stings like a bastard), S looked at me very sternly and said "What do you have do to Emma?" and I was a bit puzzled and said "Not go in water? I never do, I hate swimming."


"Put the special cream on?"


"Oh! Watch Game of Thrones"

"That's right."

I wonder what will be happening this time next year.


I only had two spritzes early evening (actually, more like late afternoon, I was meeting Alyson and I railroaded her into joining me in booze) and a glass of wine later and I feel like shit. I attribute this to dehydration due to great and fulsome WEEPING at a screening of Me Before You.

I met Jojo due to the great and wonderful democratisation of the Internet that was 2009 Twitter. I imagine 2009 Twitter will be someone's cultural and social history thesis one day - it was a fascinating moment, a mad effervescence, chatting with people you would never have imagined would give you the time of day. Jojo was one of mine and when we actually met in person for the first time, she was working on the book that would become Me Before You. She wasn't really sure that quadriplegia was going to enthuse her publisher/agent, I remember, but of course it was absolutely stratospherically successful, quite rightly because it is beautifully written, incredibly moving and warm without ever becoming marshmallow-y. I think Jojo is now the second most famous person in Germany after Angela Merkel, not that she lives in Germany, just the Germans are particularly wild about it. When we were in Thailand about 1/3 of sunloungers had people reading either Me Before You or its sequel After You in a variety of languages and I kept annoying everyone by nudging them and going "MY FRIEND WROTE THAT!"

Digression over, now the stratospheric book is about to become a stratospheric film and having seen it, all I can say is JESUS THERE WILL BE WEEPING. They should probably hand out packets of tissues in the manner of those 3D glasses when you buy your ticket. It was quite funny at the end of the screening because everyone was totally verklempt whilst also remaining British and a bit pink and embarrassed about their own emotional incontinence. I look forward to walking past the cinema in Brussels and annoying my family by going "MY FRIEND WROTE THAT" once more.

Parental guidance

Back at the W8 ranch, my dad presented me with a neatly clipped cutting of my review in Saga magazine sent to him by my auntie and my stepmother nagged me lovingly and insistently about what I needed to do to ensure more book promotion and sales. It is very wonderful to see that they have my back like this. I mean, I know they love me and they have always supported me above and beyond, but I am weirdly conditioned to assume my book is in some way shameful (you can see why I am so great at promoting it) and brings dishonour to the family, so when they say things like "X emailed me to say you could really write" or "Y went into Hatchards and harangued them about stocking it", it is extremely heartwarming.


Grace, who cleans my dad's house (and used to clean our flat and who basically saved me from rank insanity a million times), is one of my favourite people in the world:


30% Gchat nonsense
30% Warhorses of Letters hilarity (you can get it on audible now!)
20% Sneezing
20% Imminent futher Spritz action


Thursday, 12 May 2016


I listened to your kind and helpful advice and have started by making a BOOK PAGE on here, which I have crafted with my monkey paws and many hyperlinks. Next step... I don't know. Competition perhaps? I will plot.


E: Please can we watch the Yorkshire Vet tonight? I promise it isn't just castration.

Voiceover on telly: Julian has a busy morning ahead of him. First he must castrate...

Children: .... NO.

Instead we watched Very British Problems which they came to regret mightily since it was all about adolescence and we endured discussions of pubic hair and losing virginity in the traditional silent mortification, being indeed, despite them being half French and me being failed French, entirely British in such matters. I won't talk even about sex to the person I'm having sex with. One of the major advantages of raising my children in Belgium was supposed to be the top notch sex ed they get at school from an age early enough to have Britons clutching their pearls, dispensing me of any responsibility in this domain, but sadly this does not seem to have happened, I feel cheated. On a slightly related topic - not really, but sort of - have you listened to the first story on this week's This American Life? It's extraordinary.


I am in London today, currently in my usual London haunt, the (Belgian, natuurlijk) Pain Quotidien on Notting Hill Gate. The special of the day is 'Roasted asparagus with cashew "cheese"'. If you tried to pull a stunt like that in France you'd be eviscerated by a mob of angry dairy farmers, not to mention Meilleurs Ouvriers de France and your remains would be dipped in molten Comté. It is the usual mix of very elderly cut glass persons eating eggs, hedge fund widow philanthropists and bone broth delivery start up entrepreneurs all of whom are female and very thin. I am trying to eat a beetroot hummus tartine whilst wearing a white shirt, which is high-risk behaviour when you are this physically inept. Even the simple act of putting a piece of bread in my mouth seems to be eluding me, I am flailing at it like a caveman who has never encountered bread before.

(OH MY GOD, the barista has just started doing a complex series of squats. The apocalypse is coming and none of us shall be saved)

I am getting my eyebrows done shortly which is apparently long overdue, given that F - A TWELVE YEAR OLD MALE, FFS - asked me last week when I was getting them done. There is no dignity in parenting, or indeed in baldness. After that I will stagger around with greased up Groucho Marx brows at several social engagements, because that is how I roll. Perhaps I will have interesting things to tell you tomorrow as a result of this, perhaps not. I may just get drunk and forget everything. Now I am off to pretend to look at my book in shops whilst making convincing noises of delight and amusement.


45% 5 am wake up symptoms (30% uncontrollable hunger, 15% constant pratfalls)
25% Trying to remember what I still need to buy in England now we have an M&S in Brussels: cheese and onion crisps, Migraleve, chocolate buttons, what else?
15% Piriton
15% Facial hummus, almost certainly


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Grosse Fatigue

I can't write any of the intelligent thoughtful posts I meant to write because I've been awake since half 4 and cannot function in any meaningful way, or indeed in anyway except to shovel food into my mouth whilst crying. This will not stop me posting something however. Onwards! With wholly non book promotional complaining! Because that is Brand Waffle.


4:30 wake up, again.

I think there are spiders nesting in my spine following long, insect-ridden walk on Sunday.

Multi-faceted teenage bullshit.

Lumpy like a toad all over, thanks pollen.

General emotional wreck and ended up crying next to the washing machine yesterday and it wasn't even because the washing machine filter was blocked with Twix wrappers and small change and foul smelling skeins of blue mystery fibre like it usually is. Totes emosh. Maybe current audiobook of choice, When Breath Becomes Air, was also unwise.


It's LILAC WEEK (p314 of my book) and the whole of Brussels smells amazing. Mine (p338 of my book, I do love lilac) is in full, heady flower. You can just see it in the background of this seemingly idyllic scene of chicken sunbathing, which was in fact a precursor to a vicious bout of feather pecking.

I cracked open my Christine Ferber jam (raspberry and violet, cf here, p303) at a low point this afternoon and man, is it good. Say what you like about France, Christine Ferber makes the best jam in the world. Would Britain get it post-Brexit? PONDER THAT, Leave campaigners. NB Jam is definitely a gel for airline reg purposes, M and I checked on our Paris trip.

I haven't cried next to the washing machine today.

I have two properly fun things lined up over the next couple of weeks involving leaving the house (indeed, the country).

Dutch class cheered me RIGHT up (temporarily, but at least reminded me why I go), especially our halting discussion of family feuds.

B sent me some top quality owls.

I didn't get caught (accidentally) fare dodging this afternoon.

The desk for whose delivery I have been waiting in for some three weeks has been located. In Germany. Is this an up? I don't even know any more.

My father just sent me a blurry picture of a new baby giraffe.

I absolutely love these shortish World Service programmes called Where Are You Going?


I have some spare books I could give away. Should I have a competition? I could, I dunno, add in some Côte d'Or Lait Aux Amandes Caramélisées avec Une Pointe de Sel as featured on p301 and get my son to draw Dr Capybara (p.269). Does anyone have any idea what form the competition should take that might in some way assist with selling some sodding books? Anyone? Book promotional #winning right here.


65% Thirst
35% Bedtime