Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Unsuccessfully seeking hermitdom

Shitty self-knowledge

The two things I like best about la rentrée do not reflect well on me, I fear.

The first is alone time. I physically, mentally, emotionally require a great deal of it to function. It does not, it transpires, actually make much difference that my children, when you aren't asking them to do anything like dress or pick up their socks, or attempting to restrict their screen time, are undemanding and congenial company. Their mere presence is enough, like it alters the molecular what-the-fuck of the house or something and my foul, evil brain can't process it. This also happens when my spouse decides to work at home as he did yesterday: by 4pm I am losing my shit and muttering under my breath. How did I manage in an office? That must be different somehow, or I have just gone a bit wrong in the head since I stopped having a proper job. Anyway. I am a loathsome human being part 1.

I am a loathsome human being Part 2: la rentrée gives me the opportunity to Do Things Right, ie. acquire everything I am supposed to acquire, label colour code and align it neatly. Fill in forms in quintuplicate in neat black biro. Top up the canteen cards with ample monies. Renew the travel cards. Then I get to feel like I have achieved something and am also on some level a proper grown up. I don't know what it is: I mean, yes, I am a craven approval seeker in all aspects of my life, but I am not normally (ever) hung up on tidiness or order, quite the opposite indeed. Yet for a few weeks in September, I want everything to be perfect and I will do anything in my power to make it so. UNFORTUNATELY within minutes of me achieving this state of grace, entropy does its thing and my children do their thing and it all gets fucked up. Yesterday we already reached peak 'everything is broken', with many things lost, not working, forgotten, destroyed, instructions disregarded, appointments missed. I found this so upsetting I had a little strop and had to do three loads of washing and be allowed to watch University Challenge to calm down. My father was not a question this week, which he was last week to great familial excitement.

Soon, my desire for perfection will fade/be crushed and I will be reconciled to everything being a bit broken and late and shit again and I will stop being an absolutely unbearable person again, hopefully. Until then, I will be locked and bolted in here ALONE, lining up my felt tip pens and muttering.

Chinese poetry

F's current Chinese book comes with a poem a chapter. I have studied them with interest.

1. Good title

2. This seems to be a Chinese version of "think of the starving children in Africa"


4. I am maybe over-interpreting this one. Maybe the smoke is just from chimneys?

Or maybe not.

5. I like the Ode to the Goose

He had to read a Chinese book over the holidays called "Two Children Seeking The Joy Bridge" which sounds like a euphemism for something I don't even understand. The process of deciphering it was long and painful and I was involved more than I would ideally have wanted to be. The story featured a talking cow that said things like "Soon I will die and you can use my skin to make shoes," which was bracing.

Tuesday in the park with Oscar

A woman turns her baby in buggy round to get a good look at Oscar who is sniffing around in the grass, baby points in delight. Oscar turns his back on mother and child, squats and shits at hideous, unseemly length about 20cm from them.

A man is eating his breakfast in the sunshine on a bench out of a tupperware box. Oscar frolics up, rests his head on this total stranger's knee and whimpers repeatedly until dragged away.

A woman tries to stroke Oscar. Oscar feints to escape her, then pees on a tree stump just by the woman's feet, splashing her in ouipette urine.

Ouipette, bringer of joy.


50% This kind of nonsense


30% Imminent heat fear. It's THIRTY ONE OF YOUR EARTH DEGREES here today, which is hotter than it got all summer. We are all going to perish and then it's parents evening. Make it stop.

20% Sangliers on the beach


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Summer reads as promised

My summer reading, with sketchy, brief, thoughtless reviews, now available on my reading page.

How was yours? Give me your TOP READ in the comments. I am on the lookout for good stuff since there are still 12 days until the new Tana French is out and woman cannot live on true crime podcasts alone.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Back in jug agane

OK, this is it, I've cleared the post-rentrée decks* of rolls of self-adhesive film, defective home banking devices, moulting hens, translations about architecture, listing writing for exhibitions about Albanian identity politics, demands from the VAT authorities, demands for €7,83 for "photocopies" and a special A4+ notebook, demands for half the inventory of H and M (why does Blogger hate the ampersand so?), demands that I pull my trousers up, etc etc etc.

*** pause while I deal with another wave of work. It's work whack-a-mole around here this week***

Ok, quick, before anyone else tries to make me do anything. I will write down some stuff here, then I will go and do my reading list for July-August, because it is grossly overdue.

(*I've actually done more shoving under the carpet than deck clearing and I haven't covered a single damn thing in self-adhesive film yet but no matter, let us proceed.)

1. An illness, like chickens

Thank you so much, firstly, for your thoughtful and extensive comments on the death or otherwise of personal blogging which were in and of themselves proof of why it's worth continuing. I have written my piece and could easily have written twice as much, I seem to have many thoughts on the subject, none of them very articulate. Like, is there actually a 'community' now? There are certainly people whose lives I feel I have followed online for years, but it's quite a passive process now, since I very rarely comment or link, so I suppose I just hope they intuit I am reading (this is the kind of thing that gets me into trouble in RL relationships constantly)? I mean, I know I wouldn't bother writing a diary, so obviously there's something necessarily interactive about it and I do love comments, I do, I do, so what I suppose I am saying is I should go and comment on other blogs more. Also, I kept wondering if all blogs have a life cycle and whether you just wear yourself out eventually listening to yourself talk about the same old shit and if, having worn yourself out, you then reach some point of zen acceptance with your churning out of the same old shit? I have no answers, but I have had some very satisfying and funny conversations about it all with Jane, who concluded "it's a illness, like chickens".

2. Menagerie

Speaking of chickens, all my animals are on mysteriously good form. It won't last.

- A few hours ago I threw some roast potatoes for the chickens (actually one accidentally hit a chicken, which surprised it and wrongly pleased me) and since then the ouipette has been trying, desperately, to get his head under the chicken fence to reach the potatoes, which has been enjoyable and ridiculous.

- I bought the chickens an "anti-boredom, anti-pecking seed block" on our holiday visit to the Domestic Fowl Trust (yep, we know how to party on holiday, pure hedonism), because they were looking lank and threadbare and I had already treated them with a profusion of mite sprays. It has had mixed results. They view it with terror and intense suspicion, which although I imagine not the intended result, does at least perhaps alleviate their boredom. The neighbourhood crows, however, know exactly what it is for and have been trying to get at it for days. Though bold, they are quite scared of the chickens, so they have embarked upon a long game of avian grandmother's footsteps, which I am greatly enjoying.

- The tortoises keep deciding to sleep in the hen house, god knows how they get up that ramp.

- Also, there is one under the table right now, because as soon as I leave the door open, in they come to try and eat dog food.

- The hens have decided they enjoy eating fuschia flowers and do this ridiculous little ungainly hen jump to try and reach them. I could watch this for hours.

3. Ligger

Inevitably, I became very fat during the holidays, because there is not enough hill in Yorkshire to work off all the crumpets, gin, Tunnocks Teacakes, and cheese and onion crisps I consume in a fortnight, not to mention the obligatory visit to the buttery fleshpots of the Wensleydale Heifer. The remedy to the fatness is as boring as it usually is, and we have vowed to forswear alcohol and puddings as usual and all is misery and chaff. HOWEVER, I have noticed that what happens when I agree to give up alcohol is that I just accept all the random invitations to PR events I get, in order to drink other people's alcohol, which apparently doesn't count. You are launching a new range of door handles? An insurance policy for dogs? A new networking club for young professionals in financial services? Marvellous! I will attend! Thankfully I don't get invited to many PR events, but I have been drinking budget prosecco out of plastic flutes in the last couple of weeks like it is going out of fashion (which of course it already has).

As a result of extensive grape-based research into new openings, Team #Belgium, I can recommend this new ice cream parlour to you wholeheartedly. It is truly beautiful and delicious and on the site of that really weird ice cream parlour at St Catherine that only opened for 1.5 hours a week and was run by a furious old man who shouted at you if you dithered over your ice cream choice for more than 2 seconds (remember? Ah, good customer service times). I was "paid" several warm cinnamon financiers and three small glasses of champagne to tell you this. Well, I wasn't really, but full disclosure and so on.

4. I am, I'm not, am I? 

My eldest son is now learning English. He is gleeful about this (= good marks for absolutely no work) but we are both very dubious about his English book, a cursory glance over which has revealed: grocer's apostrophes, "potatoe" and the word choice spelled "joice". I probably shouldn't talk about it. I probably won't be able to stop myself.

5. Pokemon No

I am still addicted to Pokemon Go and I disgust myself. L renamed all my Pokemons while I was out of the room a few days ago and now they are called things like "Get in my van", "Derren Brown's mum", "Just a cat" and "Do u lift". He is now so tall he amuses himself by coming into the kitchen and PICKING ME UP, which does not please me one bit. There is not a scrap of dignity left in my life at this point.

6. Simple Hipster

F and I spent ages pointlessly riffing on a magazine which would be called Simple Hipster yesterday ( a reaction to some decidedly non-simple hipster translation I was doing).

page two:
page three:


F: page four
page five

E: I would purchase this magazine. There would be a goat of the month. Captioned: GOOD GOAT. Or BIG GOAT.

F: We could interview the goat. Every answer would be BAAAAA.

7. Watch my Holiday Slides

Look at this beautiful photo of Yorkshire.

This is the view from the house and the reason I fantasise more and more insistently about moving there. The little specks are just-fledged housemartens whose nest was attached to L's bedroom. Obviously he was not in the slightest bit interested but I watched them, rapt, for hours. They are fucking loud. I have a picture of one peeping out, but it's just a black and white blob, so I'll spare you. The bird situation generally was out of control, so I spent quite a lot of time lurking with binoculars and the bird book trying to identify various warblers and finches, oh how the Wanstead Birder is going to laugh about this.

Here we are very lost up a hill. I think our facial expressions/general demeanour/posture convey this well.

At this point, on or other child had said "this was a stupid idea" at least 300 times. I don't know what they were complaining about, it wasn't even sleeting. It was sort of my fault and sort of the fault of the torrential rain of the preceding day making the river impassable, but I just blamed the river, of course.

I LOVE this one, mainly for the sky (it was horrible, we got lost trying to get off the top of the mountain due to low cloud/pouring rain) and for the dog's look of mute desperation, caught on the hoof. 1 purposeful strider, 1 sulky dawdler, 1 MIA, 1 appalled sighthound.


That will do for now, I am off to write some pithy (=short) book reviews and stare at jumping hens but I WILL RETURN. 


50% insect bites, this has been the worst week of the year for biting insects
20% Hating our new boiler, which I imagine as a sanctimonious sandal wearing type, since it will only dispense a parsimonious dribble of lukewarm water at any given time. 
20% Aching in every joint of my middle aged being. What do I need? Fish oil? Shark cartilage? A transfusion? A shark cartilage transfusion? Tell me your secrets. 
10% Furious I can't get Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Belgian Netflix. What are you FOR, Belgian Netflix? And why do you keep emailing me about stupid macho films called things like "Man Apart" and "I have a huge gun"? Tsk. 

How are you? How was your summer and are you as thrilled as I am that it is OVER? 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Estivation, 2016

I know, I know, this summer - as with so many summers - has not been my finest hour. I have spent hours staring into space, wondering if I still have any idea how to earn my living (no). I have reached level 20 on Pokemon Go and lost any respect for myself in the process. I have watched hours of crap TV and earned the sum total of, I think, £300 in the last 6 weeks (outgoings approx a million euro, due to constant child blandishments, alcohol and consolatory cakes). I WIN AT SUMMER 2016. However the good news is that I am going on holiday in literally TWO HOURS. As a result, I thought in a shoddy, better late than never gesture, I would use this time that should doubtless be spent remembering dog passports and finding keys and shower gel to do a brief, picture heavy update.

Here are some pictures of my summer:

Idiot, waiting at station for child to return from "X-treme Adventure" (sic) camp, which was a great success, despite its unpromising name and spartan style of sink or swim fun. Child has been on antibiotics for a fortnight due to infected foot incurred X-treme Adventuring, but thinks back on it fondly.

Watch the birdie.

I love that he is carefully eating from the "perruche" section, rather than going off-piste with rabbit food, etc even though that was actual self-service and he wouldn't have had to wait for spillages.

I spent a long time at the vet's waiting for Oscar's "going to England" appointment and learnt vast amounts about the auricular hygiene of cats, which may stand me in good stead in some parallel life. I mean, I don't think I would have dared approach a cat with a cotton bud anyway, but it's useful to know it's "fortement déconseillé".

Also, this guy is totally a Pokemon vet.

Why yes sir, you are.

Tortoise bathtime is the best bathtime

Tortoise stroking time is also the best stroking time

Dutch never fails. Eeltknobbels!

(Ed's note: I do NOT have eeltknobbels. I took this picture in the shop, whilst shopping for NORMAL blister plasters).

It hasn't all been domestic drudgery (well, it mainly has). This weekend I drank a cocktail which came with its own pot plant and layer of smoke, which was ridiculous but also tasty:

We also went for a walk in the deepest Ardennes. This stream features its own trout staircase ('un premier mondial') said the signpost, proudly. There were also trout rest areas, presumably for trout picnics.

I liked the crowd at the friterie last night, a good Belgian mix:

I will be back after the holidays, I absolutely promise. I can already feel my synapses starting to lurch into life again as the days get shorter and the supermarket aisles fill with STATIONERY OH GOD ALL THE STATIONERY.

I am also here to ask for your help, because I am a dick like that. I am in the process of writing something on old school personal blogging, the kind with no sponsored posts or theme or giveaways, about how it seems to be fading away and about why (and about why I love it and miss The Fallen, particularly Antonia and Miss Underscore).

So I wanted to ask: did any of you previously blog and stop (I know you did, some of you *points wildly into the ether*)? Why? If so, do you miss it? If you're one of those of us who keeps slogging on, what makes you do it? I don't really have an answer for myself (though I think it's something to do with living outside of my mother tongue so much of the time), so I am hoping you will supply me with one, or indeed several.

If you're a reader rather than a writer, I wonder what makes you read personal blogs and what you get from it (in the case of this one: shit photographs of number plates, apparently). Are there fewer, or is it just my impression, because my generation/community of bloggers is getting old and tired and busy?

Any thoughts you may have on this or related subjects very gratefully received and repaid in RENEWED BLOGGING FERVOUR on my return, I promise.


50% Out of office;
10% Unfortunate fridge emptying lunch regret (so much puff pastry! So many old tomatoes! Perfect for a 12 hour ferry across the North Sea!);
10% IQ of a pigeon, still, despite synapse claims above;
10% Debating when to give the dog his dogxanax for the boat. I also want dogxanax, but mine would be for the journey during which (i) we usually realise we have forgotten something essential precisely halfway between home and destination; (ii) spouse becomes INSANELY uptight about traffic despite the fact we are 7 hours early (iii) I annoy everyone by complaining about all possible music choices (iv) We all realise we hate each other, before finally reaching the boat and its sweet cargo of gin and Walkers Crisps and being reconciled;
10% Should I clean the fridge?
10% Nah.


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.


Pick at brexitfoot.


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).


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.


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.


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.