Monday, 30 June 2008

In which I mine a rich confessional toilet seam

As a bulimic, you get very familiar with ladies loos. One of the many reasons I am again finally resolved to kick this (and doing good! It's been about three months I think! Yay me. I think it's the blogging.) is the amount of stupid wasted time spent in small cubicles when I:
a) could have been doing more interesting things
b) more importantly SHOULD have been doing other things. Like, er, my job. Just for instance.

This blog isn't about the minutiae of eating disorders and I'm not planning to give you some blow by blow account of my lowest barrel-scraping moments in the style of a best-selling confessional memoir. It is emphatically not part of my master plan to draw you in with amusing trivia about turbans and trams and the like and then spew my inner torment at you. I have plenty of shallow still to offer! The sales start today and everything! And tomorrow I go to London where the streets are paved with bagels and Heat magazine and cheery Cockneys whistle merry tunes.

I was just reflecting as I lay on the floor of the 19th century ornately tiled cubicle on the corridor of ennui today (stomach thing. For two days I have thought that this was a hangover, but I've finally concluded I am actually sick, rather than suffering karmic punishment for going out and enjoying myself with my new friend Mr Mojito. Ms Dodgy Falafel may be partially responsible though) that I have probably spent several whole years of my life doing this by now.

It's not only the bulimia, actually. Ladies loos are my refuge when nausea or tiredness, or inadequacy or some euro-ego or work fuck up gets the better of me. Lock myself in, lie on the floor and rest my cheek against the cool tiles, cry a little, close my eyes, prop my legs against the cistern and recharge. Those of you who find this disturbing from a hygiene perspective are almost certainly right, but I have the constitution of an ox, and any child of 70s hippies hosts some of the most impressive gastric fauna in the known universe what with all the hideous parasite-ridden 'health'foods we had to eat. And our belief that housework was a bourgeois construct.

As a result, I can recall with pinpoint accuracy the toilets of all my workplaces and homes. And most were rather inadequate.

The Corridor of Ennui certainly has a certain historical grandeur, but horrible plasterboard paritions spoil the effect and er, no hot water? Is this legal? I doubt. Also, the signage, dear god the signage. If your grasp of English is insufficient to make comprehensible passive aggressive signs about the state of the cubicles, shutting the door, not using excessive water and so on, I suggest you do them in your native language. It will enable me to learn interesting Dutch words, and you to fully express your supressed rage in faux-politeness. Ok? Ok.

London Corridor of Ennui: Probably the best quality of my regular bathroom haunts. Nice marble floors, hot and cold water, proper partitioning. Probably lots of cocaine residue what with this being the glamorous, edgy City if we can believe what we see on tv. Space was however an issue as it always is in London. Either I had to balance the bin on top of the loo and lie with my head thrust into the resultant space at a slight angle, or lie with my legs up the cubicle door at 90°. Neither tremendously comfortable. This, by some accident of timing, has always been more of a weeping/pregnancy tiredness cubicle for me rather than vomiting cubicle, but it would have been ideal. My office was however stationed directly opposite the gents. That was nasty. Do the adjusting BEFORE you open the door gentlemen. I thank you.

Spitalfields flat saw a lot of action, due to coinciding with the 'extreme madness' period. Good toilets. Distance from living quarters very great, enabling me to evade suspicion. Plenty of space to sit and/or lie without suffering injuries. I have no instructions to issue to the new occupiers of the flat on how to behave in this loo. Which is big of me I think. Though if I remember rightly, the eurospawn took the flush button to use for a craft project, so you have to use a pencil to poke the flush down.

College toilets. Oh, so very very bad. Like everything at the dreaming gulag they were medieval and very very very far away. And cold. Seriously, three floors worth of splinter-tastic wooden stairs to descend to go pee in the night? Enough to give you some kind of bladder condition. Do they know the prevalence of eating disorders among bonkers perfectionist over-achiever girls at these places? Do they not think we might need a little comfort and convenience? No. Oxford - get better toilets. Seriously. Gazillions of pounds of donation and all you buy are LIBRARIES? You have enough of them! More loos.

Belgian toilets - oooh I haven't even told you about Dames Pipi have I? They sort of merit a whole post of their own, but tant pis. Belgium has solved the problem of isolation and unemployment in women over sixties in inner cities at a stroke by making the Dame Pipi an obligatory feature of Brussels culture. She is a crone who sits outside the loo in any public place with large empty margarine tub for your mandatory coin. Think 20 to 50 centimes. Some of them are lovely, most are terrifying, but I generally think it is a rather fine idea. I sort of feel I should be exploiting the system a bit more by asking them philosophical questions about ageing, long term relationships, loss, the female condition and so on. Or at the very least, recipes. They must be a hell of a repository of wisdom, you would have thought. But they are mainly too scary. They also pop up where you least expect them, not merely in fine art deco Brussels bars where they seem to fit in perfectly. They have them in Macdonalds, if you can believe it. And the cinema. Hospitals. Pizza Hut. Underground garages. Basically, never go anywhere in Belgium without a pocket full of small change, or face the consequences.

This is getting a bit strident isn't it. Sorry. But I have another loo problem - the vocabulary. It's just fraught, isn't it? I mean, 'toilet' is supposed to be a bit non-U and déclassé. And 'loo' and 'lavatory' are a bit posh for me, and despite all signs to the contrary, I am in fact a hardened class warrior in Louboutins, oh yes. The prog rock step dad says 'bog'. The belle famille say things like 'les water' or 'WC' ('waysay'). I need a new word. Suggestions?

Oh, and update: This article today isn't me, despite a number of similarities. If it was there would be more jokes. But I am all about the zeitgeist doncha know.

Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits

When Lashes was about six weeks old, I had to take him for his hearing test. No, don't worry, this isn't some parenting witter. It's an elaborate extended metaphor. Stay with me.

The hearing test required the baby to be asleep, but after about fifty fruitless circuits of Soho Square, Lashes was still emphatically, balefully awake, so we gave up and went anyway, my mother holding my arm and wiping away my despairing tears, yet again.

The nice hearing lady stuck several electrodes to his scaly newborn head which were attached to a machine that measured his brain activity. Really! This sounds very sci-fi, but I promise it wasn't a puerperal psychosis hallucination. My mum saw it too. So, the machine was reading about 600 whatevers (thoughts?) as Lashes thrashed around and grumbled and none of us was very sure quite how we were ever going to get the test done and I was thinking FAILURE! FAILURE! in big red capitals in my head.

But then the hearing lady did something absolutely magical. She held out her right arm in front of Lashes' face, and wiggled her fingers in a sort wavelike motion at him. She kept wiggling, and within seconds his little limbs stopped thrashing and he stopped grumbling and became very very still and we watched amazed as the figures on the machine dropped away 400 ..... 300 ... 280 ..... 160 .... 80 ... 45 ... and finally, 0. His eyes were still open, but he was hypnotised into a state of total absence. It was very very funny, and also amazing; the physical manifestation of that expression "the lights are on but noone's home". It lasted for the two or three minutes, the utterly still, absent state, as she did the test, wiggling her fingers all the time. When she stopped, Lashes sort of shook himself, came out of the trance, and started thrashing around again. Of course, we tried to reproduce it at home repeatedly with no success at all (it was after all an awesome trick with a small rage-filled baby. I would have used it constantly had it worked. We also speculated about kidnapping the nice hearing lady and holding her hostage in the flat.).

So. That eyes open, zero brain activity state? That is me, today.

Worth waiting for? No, I didn't think so.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Belgian Fashion Clinic

- Good morning Fashion clinic, Action Man here. I have been despatched on a top secret mission to Belgium and I need to fit in with the local population. Can you give me some pointers?

Elleke van Boucheron writes:

Welcome Action Man! I am sure we can help you out. First thing, we need to do something about facial hair. You need more of it. For a young, handsome man like you, a subtle moustache/goatee combo would be typical.

See? You look better already!

Of course, you need a turban. Not only does it look great, but also, I am thinking, it could be good for concealing any secret things you need for your mission. You see? Practical and stylish!

Next, I'd recommend some Belgian trousers. We like our trousers loose, maybe with a slightly dropped waist, and some kind of a cheerful pattern. Just a word of warning though - be careful getting on and off trams. There have been some sad incidents where young men have been hurt getting their trousers caught in the automatic doors.

Your shoes are already good, nicely foot-shaped. But I'd recommend a few more straps. Like this:

Of course, with any fashion project the accessories are crucial! This is the finishing touch.

Now you look truly Belgian. My work is done, and I must say, you look really sexy. If you have any time to drop in to my Overijse villa for some hot, no strings sex, you've got my number...

Saturday, 28 June 2008

In which it will end in tears, mark my words

Along with my new friend alcohol, I feel like I am rediscovering this 'fun' thing too at the moment. I'm really not very good at it, but I am slightly improving. I have failed to have fun throughout my teens and twenties by virtue of various character flaws and circumstances, viz:

- being a morose and introspective teen with horribly heightened self-consciousness. Yeah, this does sort of describe all teenagers, but I think I cornered the market in doomed crushes and being tongue-tied and despairing for a couple of years in North Yorkshire. People were always shouting "Cheer up you miserable cow" at me on the streets, anyway.

- deciding that my main aim as an undergraduate was to seem remote, mysterious and alluring. And possibly mad. I had been very struck by Betty Blue aged 17 and from thenceforth modelled myself on Béatrice Dalle. You'd have to check this one with my contemporaries, but I like to think I was moderately successful. I spent my first year having hystrionic telephone arguments in French with the CFO in the corridors, my second year losing all my hair, sporting a mysterious ginger wig and going to therapy, and, yes, actually that pretty much summarises my third year as well but with better pharmaceutical assistance. I reckon I could get a certificate from my tutors certifying that I had categorically NO fun during my degree. They owe me that much; If I wasn't weeping by a phone box or self-harming, I was trying to block out the sound of my roommate having theatrical sex while I wrote about medieval ecclesiastical history. It was less dreaming spires, more gulag.

- spending the early post-graduation years in London (where you would think some fun would be pretty much unavoidable) as a City zombie, constantly being commanded to sit all night in a basement room putting coloured flags on fifty million pages of documents. Hating myself for getting into such a ridiculous job. Still doing the baldness, therapy, obligatory post-Oxford eating disorder thing. If you really put me on the spot, I suppose I would admit to a couple of pleasant afternoons at the cinema and some great solitary but happy times discovering London. And hell, I loved bombing around town on our gorgeous red Piaggio scooter. But misery was still very much my bread and butter. Not that I would have allowed myself any of that. Misery was my steamed broccoli, let's say, rather.

- Having Lashes pretty young. Again, full disclosure, I loved the pregnancy bit, but the shock afterwards, and the total erosion of any sense of self I had was scary. Being alone with a baby I sort of thought I loved but didn't remotely understand or have any instinct of how to cope with in a fourth floor flat in the middle of Fitzrovia was a challenge. A challenge I compounded by my own natural ability to be sad and miserable and isolate myself from anyone who could have helped out. I did a sterling job of it! Yay for me and my prolonged post-natal grimness. Yay for the sad, endless afternoons walking round Selfridges with a grizzling baby feeling alone and desperate. Pushing the pram round Regents Park in the summer sun, with tears streaming down my face, scaring the dog walkers. Allowing the demonic Gina to rule my life. (She'll sue me if I say that, won't she? Oh well).

- Losing my wonderful mum in an accident when pregnant with Fingers when Lashes was only a year old. Dealing with tonnes of resultant crazy. Moving to Paris a couple of months later. Having an outrageously bad time. Moving back to London again. Going back into the 'fifty million coloured flags by tomorrow morning' business. Going proper crazy this time.

You get the picture. Partly events, and partly me, but fun has really not been much in evidence. And yet, here I am in this beautiful, funny and surreal city with my endlessly patient CFO, in a house I love and have to pinch myself everyday to believe is ours, a garden full of reptiles, my wonderfully wicked boys and friends and laughter and alcohol and ice cream and all the things I have never quite managed to put together before and really enjoy.

I mean, it's just not right is it? This is a disaster waiting to happen. There are days when I just want to shout "For god's sake just send the thunderbolt NOW the waiting is killing me!". But there are other times, like last night, dancing to Erykha Badu (dressed in a bacofoil toga! with her hair disguised as a religieuse*! Clearly had no idea what Belgium was, but still very foxy and amazing!) in the warm dusk and the dust in a giant crowd of cheery stoned Belgians, drinking margaritas and laughing, laughing until it hurt at the CFO's terrible dancing, when I can sort of enjoy the good bits while they last, before the plague of locusts arrives. And that's about as good as it gets, right?

* The two tier choux bun kind, not the nun kind.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The tattoo question

Question, internet. Answer from the heart.

Would you consider the parent of a child with a Pokémon tattooed* on its scrotum to have failed to set appropriate boundaries?

Hmm. I feared as much.

*Temporary! He is only six. But still.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Temperley-ing fate

I have to attend a book launch on Thursday (ha! not that kind of book, with a picture on the cover. This one comes in a funereal black ring binder sort of thing and looks a little like a two volume book of condolence), so I decide that 11pm on Tuesday night is the ideal time to decide what to wear. I get out my best dress and stagger down stairs with it claustrophobically wedged around my shoulders.

- Do you think you can get this zip up?

I say to the CFO. Ever the man for a challenge, he weighs in manfully. We get the dress down over my body with a few well placed tugs and he examines the zip. The dress is beautiful, my most expensive piece of clothing ever. It is a black, short, flared silk and crepe Temperley dress with lovely silver appliqué patterns and very light, transparent flared sleeves. I love it. It is however, part of the "mad period" wardrobe, and thus very small.

The CFO gives the zip an experimental tug. I try to put my arm above my head helpfully.
- No! Don't do that! It's going to give!
- Ok, what should I do?
- Just hold it here. And here.
says the CFO tugging at the fabric and giving the zip another yank.
- Ow! You're pinching me!
- No I'm not. Stop moving.
- But I'm scared you're going to hurt me.
- Well I will hurt you if you don't stand still.
We dance a crablike pas de deux around the kitchen with me shying away from him as he tries to defy the laws of physics. I fear for my flesh.

Eventually, by dint of me holding my arm at precisely 90° while the CFO holds the bottom half of the dress in place with his knee, the zip grinds reluctantly into place.

We stand back and he surveys his handiwork.

- That looks fine!
he says, ever the optimist.
- Hmm. As long as I consider breathing to be optional, yes indeed. How come it's too tight over the ribs? How can my ribs have got fatter?
- I suppose they must have a slightly larger coating of, um, flesh than before. Or else it has shrunk!
says the CFO latching onto what he considers a genius explanation with enthusiasm.
- It's never been cleaned, CFO. It can't have shrunk. I suppose it's just about doable? If I take really shallow breaths?
- Of course mon amour, you look beautiful.
says the CFO, and edges backwards out of the kitchen with the expression of one who has narrowly escaped death at the hands of a savage wild animal.

I take the dress off, very carefully, without getting trapped. There are a couple of sticky moments with the sleeves, but I escape without incident. I examine my feelings. Hmm. I don't actually care that much. The thought forms in my head that to lose sufficient weight on my ribs to wear this dress with comfort, I would have to be mad again. I decidedly do not want to be mad again. Fuck it, I think. I'll try and get someone to move the zip somehow.

I do not want to pummel the offending ribs with my balled fists, or scratch my recalcitrant flesh until it bleeds. I am not planning a two day crash diet eating nothing but prawns and spinach. I do not even slightly want to cry and I do not feel that this tight dress makes me a failure. How can this be? Is this sanity?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Things of no consequence

I am tagged! Wow. Oh, and also, internet, I am still alive.

So, the idea is, you answer these questions and then make some other people answer them. And tell them about it in their comments. Right? Right. Ok.

1. Where was I 10 years ago?
Ah, at law skule. Friends, do not go to law school. It is full of lawyers. Also, the aim of the exercise is to get you used to the mind-numbing tedium of being a lawyer, day in day out. There is one advantage however, and that is that they attempt to cram so many would-be lawyers in there, that they could only accommodate us for about an hour of lessons a day. I spent the rest of my time wandering around London and continuing to fall in love with it. I also met BMF and we were united in our loathing of our own lack of imagination in becoming lawyers..

We were living in a flat just north of Oxford Street, with prostitutes on the first floor and L Ron Hubbards ex-nanny just down stairs. I discovered all sorts of treasures like RIBA on Portland Place for its secret café and handsome architects, Bayswater ice rink for falling over, the Porchester baths for cheap and fantastic massage, Lina's Stores, Berwick Street market, the Wallace Collection (pre-refurb, when it still had the most magnificent Victorian plumbing), the Curzon cinema in Shepherds Market, all the Bloomsbury squares. I learned to rollerblade ineptly in Hyde Park and went to Barcelona to eat custard with a law school friend. The CFO was working in Cricklewood, the poor thing, and permanently bewildered. It was half magical, and half rather boring. An odd hiatus from real life.

2. What is on my to do list today?
The same thing as yesterday, day before, three weeks ago. I am an eternal procrastinator. Most weeks I cannot even open the post. It just sits reproachfully. But I MUST book train ticket to see the Space Cadette graduate - with a first! Yay Space Cadette! Oh and another train ticket to go see Jack Johnson in Hyde Park next week. If I try to add anything else to the list I will need a little lie down to recover, so I am stopping here.

3. What would I do if I was a billionaire

I want a giant Galapagos tortoise and a baby elephant for starters. If the baby elephant is not an orphan, I suppose it ought to bring its mother too. I am not entirely heartless. The tortoise must be trained to bring me small cakes when I snap my fingers.

Then I want a little light surgery. Laser eyes, and some lipo. And some new eyelashes. At a clinic in Switzerland with excellent food and celebrities to stare at from behind my bandages.

Next I will pay someone to kidnap David Sedaris and I will keep him to amuse me and be my friend.

I will also be buying art. I would like a lovely decorative Vuillard, preferably an interior. One of those rainy Pissarro Paris street scenes where he gets the quality of light so absolutely right. Something restrained but beautiful by Ben Nicholson. A Matisse litho that I once saw but of course couldn't afford of a girl looking at a goldfish in a bowl.

Clearly, there must be shoes. Maybe Christian Louboutin could join David Sedaris on my staff of kidnap victims.

I will stop now, but I could go on. You get the picture. Lots of stuff. I am grasping and materialistic like that.

3. Five places I have lived
York - Vikings! Old stuff! Dull. Good cake.
Rouen -Vikings! Old stuff! French.
Oxford - Old stuff! Self-satisfied public school (that's private, American readership) idiots!
London - Mmm lovely.
Paris - Please don't hurt me, I promise not to touch the lift buttons again without my gloves on.

And then here.

4. 3 bad habits
Phone phobia
Total absence of organisational skills

5. I can't do the job one Léonie did, because eurodroning has occupied me for too long, so I will do the snacks one Marianne did.

5 snacks I like
Cake, especially fondant fancies from Bettys.
Cheap chocolate - Galaxy Caramel is nice, or mini Snickers. It has to stick your palate to your tongue. This comes from being born and raised in the shadow of the Rowntrees (now Nestlé, booo) factory.
Café tandem - this is an invention of the ice cream shop up the road. It is a cup split in half, and half of it has espresso coffee in, the other half hazelnut mousse. Of course, this being Belgium, you also get a biscuit on the side.
These Belgian biscuits:

they have nothing whatsoever to recommend them except their smallness, but for some reason are irresistible. I suppose they probably have crack cocaine in. That giant bag in the picture? Gone now.
Deep fried crispy children.

Right! I nominate the woozle when she gets back from her travels, VLiF, and ParisGirl. I would love the minky to do it too, but she doesn't like this sort of thing. Anyone else who does like this sort of thing, consider yourself tagged too.

Brussels Chainsaw Massacre

I'm just checking in, internet. Because I am alone in the house with men with chainsaws. They come from the 'social gardening' initiative which I assume is shorthand for "we have recently left prison where we served time for crimes of violence. But we like power tools".
I hope my cynicism does me a disservice, but just in case, if you haven't heard from me by, say, midnight, could you send someone round to tidy up my dismembered corpse?
Thank you. I love you all.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Hazmat Monday

You know a great start to a Monday? I do. Dropping an open bottle of Vietnamese fermented fish sauce all over the kitchen floor. Trust me, it's a winner.

It goes like this:

6:45 Wake from dream about stealing make up from Marks & Spencers (and really, WTF? Has my subconscious sunk so low?) by nagging feeling. Ignore.

7:00 Nagging feeling becomes overwhelming. Shite! Packed fucking lunch week! Fuck that. Whoever invented packed lunches should be burning in the hottest fiery furnace of hell, while being smote (smited? smitten? smut?) with scorpions. I hate packed lunches so much. They just exemplify all that is futile and soul-destroying about parenting. I hate every single thing about them, from my total absence of inspiration or enthusiasm, to the losing battle with the demonic cling film to clearing out the untouched sandwiches and smeared repulsive yoghurt afterwards. And anyway, I fully remember we all used to just tip them straight in the bin when we got to school. I'm right, aren't I?

7:15 Stagger downstairs and open cupboards. Stare in blank despair at mountains of non-packed lunchable foodstuffs, like spaghetti and olives and cocoa covered almonds. Sink to knees to rummage around the bottom of cupboard. Knock over the fish sauce, which helpfully has no lid. Yes, no lid. What a brilliant idea of mine that was, to fashion a cling film 'lid' to put over the top when I threw away the lid in an excess of zeal. Not at all a ticking, fermented fish time bomb.

7:16 Fish sauce! Everywhere! Going into all the gaps between the floorboards! Coating every surface of the kitchen! Fish sauce emergency! I start to hyperventilate and search around for mopping up equipment. There is no kitchen roll. I seize a yellow rag, but realise just in time it is the Space Cadette's t-shirt. In despair I take off my pyjama top and use that.

7:18 Topless cleaning. Mmmmm, sexy. I take out all the deadliest cleaning products I can find and mix them into a toxic slurry over the fish sauce. It creates an interesting yellow foam. A bit like the scum that floats in polluted waterways portrayed in geography textbooks. I throw a tea towel over the top and ignore it.

7:20 Assemble a mini mars bar, a packet of Eurostar toxic pretzels and a bottle of isotonic nuclear blue rehydration fluid. Smear Nutella on a fossilised pitta bread. Add a black banana. Hide in school bags. Figure that this many toxins will give children excellent bargaining power. Last week Lashes swapped ONE CRISP for a keyring. Maybe this week he will come home with an MP3!

7:30 Become overcome by fumes. Weep gently.

Repeat every day this week.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Hair Sunday

Hey, you want to meet the hairdresser? Of COURSE you do.

The hairdressers is next door. I have risked life and limb taking a pic I think. It is Sunday, so he's shut, but what if someone tells him? It's that kind of area. And he's a little, erm, unstable. But it was so worth it. Ok, he's not really sepia toned, but he should be. What do you think? Better in colour?

The hairdresser does a monthly themed window. Sometimes more frequent, even. I will be recording them for you. I think this audacious number is probably intended to represent 'hairdressing through the ages'. Though actually I think he still uses all of these equipment displayed. None of us was terribly sure about the lemons, but I'm sure it's coherent in his grand decorative theme.

Equipment and lemons:

Implements and stuff in bottles. The pink thing in the corner is a stuffed bird, obv. Look out for it featuring in the 'easter' window too.

More implements and more lemons:

The hairdresser can only do one of two things - cut your hair savagely short, or not cut your hair. Binary hairdressing. And only if you have the requisite chromosomes. I was once in there when a woman tried to get a haircut. It was as if she had stripped naked and rubbed her crotch against his faux-leather chair. Stark horror. 'Mais non Madame, I do not have the .. equipment' .

Apparently, if you're a guy he's a fount of local gossip too, but all I ever get when accompanying the eurospawn is terse monosyllables. It's like being in the wrong sort of bar in Southern Europe, or going out on your own in the souk in Marrakech. You get the strongly conveyed non-verbal message that This Is Not Your Place.

The CFO has found out all sorts of dirt about the neighbours, apparently, but being the CFO has forgotten it all by the time he gets home. First he'll say 'How do I look?' and I will say 'Like you have allowed that frightening man next door near your head with a sharp instrument. Possibly while he was having some kind of seizure". Then he'll say tantalising things like 'he told me someone has gone bankrupt, and someone likes wearing women's clothes'.

'Who?!' I shriek. 'The judge? The desperate hausfrau? Damien from the shop?! Tell me tell me'. But he has already been distracted by the siren song of a tantalising spreadsheet and wanders away, brushing off clumps of hair and scalp.

I was astonished to see the price list implying he does more than one thing.

Completely untrue. The CFO, Fingers and Lashes all get the same treatment, as do all his other customers. The streets around here are full of slightly dazed Belgians all wearing the same assymetrical buzz cut. When Fingers was little, he was a mass of blond curls, in the manner of Fotherington Thomas. And often mistaken for a gurl. I tried to ask the hairdresser to spare the curls, but he gave a wordless grunt and powered up the razor. .. Thirty seconds in the white heat of creativity later Fingers was wearing the shell shocked expression and hairdo of a just sheared sheep that has fallen victim to a particularly hungover vacationing New Zealander.

Best not to mess with him in any event. He's so cross. I don't think I've ever heard him say anything except 'bouge pas!'. We don't dare go anywhere else, because I am sure he would find out and torch the house. It was even worse when he broke his leg and had to do the business with his leg in a bin bag, wheeling himself round with the aid of a borrowed zimmer frame, vibrating with barely supressed rage. I mean, it's hardly Nicky Clarke is it. I hardly ever go to the hairdresser, but when I do I want head massage, hot drinks, and high class gossip, preferably featuring people out of Heat magazine. Or at least vicarious enjoyment of torrid tales of hot sex, recreational drugs and lovelife angst. My London hairdresser 'did' Kylie for a while and I dined out on that for years. Though of course I would boastfully tell people that and then realise in the slightly too long gap before they replied, that they were thinking 'so why does your hair look so shite?'.

The 'tondeuse' sounds good though. Isn't that a lawnmower? I'd love to see him wielding that.

Oh, and the missing fifteen percent of my weekend? Laughing at the new tortoise getting stuck in a rubber boot. Ha!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The weekend in statistics

Le weekend! A break from eurononsense. I imagine it will break down something like this.

Shouting 20%

I have lost my voice. In all logic this should be some obstacle to shouting. In reality it just means huskier shouting. There is so much to shout about! I can't just, you know, not. I have fairly expressive (or 'scary' as others have described them) facial expressions but nothing quite conveys "PUT THAT BLOODY FISH BACK IN THE TANK" quite like shouting exactly those words. I mean, seriously. Even Marcel Marceau would be hard pressed to convey the necessary urgency. If, however, anyone thinks they can think of appropriate mute routine, I am all ears. And more importantly, eyes.

Sitting on loo floor as poo midwife 40%

Neither of my children is prepared to go to loo unaccompanied. I spend all my time sitting on the loo floor making appropriate comments. Fingers uses his loo time for meditative exchanges on topics of general interest. It's a bit like Thought for the Day but with more violence.

F: When I was punished, Madame made me think about why I hit Edouard over the head

J: Is that right sweetheart? You know hitting is wrong and all that, remember, blah blah. Did you decide why?

F: Edouard is vilain.

J: Um, ok.

Lashes is all about the act itself. Live. Blow by blow. Slowly. Think back to those Komodo dragons. The full, slow horror.

L:The caca is coming. I can feel it here [gestures to waist area]

J: Um, Lashes, that might take a while, no? Can I come back in, say twenty minutes?

L: No. It is coming quickly.


[sparing you ten minutes of graphic nonsense]

J: Anything, you know, happening darling?

L: It's coming! Out of my zizi!

J: Christ I do hope not.

L: Yes! It is! Can you see it?

J: Er, yup. Just, you know, concentrate eh? On the, um, doing. Push and all.

I wouldn't be much of a birth partner would I. Note please, any of my friends who are planning to spawn.

A variant today involved all three of us sitting in there together listing all the things that had ever crapped on me.
L: The toad at the zoo!
F: And me!
L: That seagull!
F: And me!
L: The tortoise in the pet shop last week!
F And [struggles to find the word] ... that ..
L: What? You?
F: The .... bat.
L: No, that was pipi

Digging for tortoises 20%
So many missing reptiles. So many giant turdlike slugs lurking ready to make me writhe with disgust. Which stupid bastard told us tortoises were low maintenance? Ak ak ak ak.

Being rudely awoken 5%
6am, tiny scratchy nails. Tickling my feet. I mean, seriously.

Eating Jane Asher chocolate chips directly from the packet 10%
Importing these into Belgium could get me into serious trouble. This is why I have to eat all 750g now, in one go. Before the Belgian chocolate police come for me. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth with British chocolate. Here's hoping the neighbours don't denounce me. It would mean instant deportation.

This leaves me fifteen percent to play with. Any ideas lovely internet? And what are your weekend stats?

Thursday, 19 June 2008

What do you wear to a Brueghel party?

So your appetite for tractor based reportage and social commentary is limited. Too Belgian? I hear you, internet, and being the craven people pleaser I am, I promise to abstain from agricultural machinery in future. Sorry Léonie.

The picture above is posted on the lift to the corridor of ennui, with the following seductive promise:

'Brueghel themed bar night! Tomorrow! On the seventh floor! Fresh baked bread and a selection of beers!'.
I am finding the whole concept a little challenging. Being the Eurodrone I am, my questions instantly took the form of a numbered list. Yup, you really wouldn't want to be in my head. I'm sparing you the sub-paragraphs and roman numerals, but trust me, they're there.

1. Why
2. Why
3. Why
4. Why lord, why
5. How?
6. Look! They wore turbans back then too! This custom has deep roots! I should show Belgian turban wearing more respect.
7. Fresh baked bread? From the canteen? Those people shouldn't be allowed to handle live yeast.
8. What will they be wearing? I really hope there isn't doublet and hose. Oh god. Pantaloons. Knee britches.
9. What am I doing in this country
10. What should I wear?

Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

In which I test out a new career as a fearless news reporter

Gather round, internet. Today you are in for a treat. I am planning a day of fearless, investigative live blogging. Of current events. Eh oui mesdames!

Today Brussels is being invaded by two protesting interest groups, the farmers and the truckers. Protest at the Euro institutions, is hardly novel, but I have it on good authority from my Belgian colleagues that in the league of most most destructive and exciting demonstrators, farmers and truckers take second and third place respectively. The top spot is apparently occupied by the metal workers. I dread to think what would happen if they joined in. I am thinking Viking style razing of the whole city, leaving only the charred carcasses of trams and frite vans, the odd hideously mutilated Eurozombie weeping over a smouldering directive. There may be an element of wishful thinking in this, I am having some rage issues today.

So. I will be recording events as they happen for you.

The story so far:

8:30 The CFO and I walk to work. I outline my project for him. He is sceptical. 'You are going to take photos of farmers? They will casse your gueule. And what about getting a cobblestone in the head?'
I tell him that this is what fearless investigative journalists do. We both look around for signs of protest. There are none.

8:45 We reach Place Stephanie. There are tractors! Lots of them! One particularly brave one is parked in front of a tram.

I am awed by their bravery. The CFO is disdainful. 'Call this a manif? It is pathetic. In France schoolchildren do it better. They have not even blocked the road properly, and there is nothing burning. Look, with a couple of minutes effort they could have had those lamposts down and blocking Avenue Louise'. He leaves in disgust. I snap a couple of pics, gleefully and head off for a coffee. When I get out, the tractors are gone. I assume the tram won. I see no other signs of protest on the way to work.

9:10 I arrive at work. The building is still standing. Contrary to my hopes, everyone has managed to get to work. All the usual suspects are here, and none of them are nursing hideous head wounds. I try to hide my disappointment.

11:14 I hear a siren in the street and peep out. The emo film school students next door are having another fag break, but otherwise all is quiet. I check out the internets. Apparently there will be a thousand tractors! I admire a picture of them congregating on the park.

12:30 I am chatting to Matilda about whether either of us will ever escape the corridor of ennui (conclusion: no), when I hear a sound. Horns! The siren song of horns!
'I have to go' I tell Matilda 'tractors'.
I rush out into the street and follow the sound. It is the truckers! They have blocked off the giant boulevard and are doing a sort of operation escargot thing. I take some (piss poor) pictures.

Some of the trucks have very silly pictures on. I especially take pictures of those. It is very loud, but actually quite boring.

Mmm. Your lorry has eyes.

Et le vôtre, Angelina, the Billy Bob years.

12:45 I go to meet the CFO for lunch (ndlr: this is NOT normal. We are not joined at the hip.). As I walk towards the sandwich bar, I see them! Tractors! And riot police!

Now you're talking. I plead with the CFO and convince him to get a sandwich and sit on a bench to watch.
Close up it is a little less exciting. The riot police are very hot and bored, and there are about 15 tractors in total. However, this is apparently where the 'action', such as it is, is taking place, as there are lots of other fearless investigative reporters taking pictures of stationary tractors. I take some pictures of them taking pictures.

It is all getting a bit nombriliste. The farmers are standing in the middle of a ring of tractors. They look disappointingly peaceful and are chatting to the riot police. Clearly the dress code has been firmly regulated, and checked short sleeved shirts are de rigeur.

One elderly casanova is breaking the mould in a long sleeved model. As the CFO points out, he appears to have acquired two groupies. I am impressed and try and take his picture, but he is too fast for me and leaps into his tractor. Sporadically someone lets off a crow scarer.

1:15 Nothing has happened and we have finished our sandwiches. 'You are a strange woman.' says the CFO 'and this manif is a joke'.
'Well what would you be doing if it was your manif?' I counter. 'Drinking' says the CFO and leaves.

1:45 I get back to work. There are still no head injuries.

4:50 Nothing has happened all afternoon. I feel cheated.

6:00 I walk and tram home. There are no scenes of devastation, no heaps of cow carcasses, no burning effigies, nothing. The most notable thing I see is this:

Now I am really worried for the farmers. A farmer who can't summon the spirit to dump pig shit outside the European Parliament is a farmer whose spirit is broken.

So here, to cheer the farmers, a few more gratuitous tractors. Tractor porn!

Yeah baby.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Group therapy part I

Obviously I didn't want to do group therapy. I mean, who would? Mad people oversharing. Talking about feelings. I am British dammit! We don't do that stuff, it's unseemly, and emotionally incontinent and generally not on. We didn't get through the Blitz by hugging each other.

But the psychiatrist made it a condition of my rather delightful lunacy leave, which was otherwise agreeably spent wafting around London buying clothes for my new 'insanity diet' figure, sitting in cafes writing loopy lists and generally being self-indulgent. I think he felt I should go somewhere other than TopShop and Patisserie Valerie occasionally, though I think he could have equally successfully sent me to a knitting class with a little additional imagination. Anyway. It was my get out of jail card. I was willing to try anything to prolong the lovely parenthesis. Or rather, I wasn't, but I was equally unprepared to go back to work. I mean, Jesus. I had spent three weeks stuck at my desk barely able to move for paralysing anxiety. If I went back there I might actually turn to stone. They would have to put me on the wheeled trolley they used to deliver the post to remove me from the building, my hands still grasped clawlike around some giant document.

I turned up to the first session, in a fairly innocuous Victorian basement in North London sick to my stomach and completely pumped up with fight or flight hormones. A wafty, wispy woman allowed me to peep through the porthole window at a session that was already in progress. I felt like I was at a Soho peep show. With a similar amount of tissues. I was seriously in two minds whether I wouldn't just run. I mean, I could totally take her. She was tiny, and obviously non-violent. How in God's name did she end up in a position of responsibility in a psychiatric hospital? I could have just rolled her up in a ball with all the dangling loose ends of cloth she was trailing. So short sighted; unless possibly she was armed. I couldn't exclude that possibility. There were plenty of places she could conceal a weapon under her many hemp layers.

Of course, inevitably, like the good girl I am, I stuck around to take my punishment. The first session was almost a pleasant surprise. I mean, obviously it was ghastly, but I liked the way it started. Everyone drifted in and sat on plastic chairs. The average age was probably 50, my first surprise. Weren't you supposed to have things sorted out by then? God. How depressing. An overwhelmingly bland man in a blue sweatshirt, possibly the one who looked most like an in-patient in a mental hospital, was apparently presiding. He had a very, very hittable face. I already hated him.

Sweatshirt: Ok people. I'd like you all to really be in the moment, get in touch with what's going on with you right now. Shall we all just go round the room, and say how we're feeling right now, in the moment, and what we want to take from this session?
[My inner teenager was already sticking its imaginary fingers down its imaginary throat about now.
After a moment of silence, an elderly gent, rather finely dressed and handsome, started waspishly. ]
Elderly gent: - I am feeling a great deal of anger right now, and some disappointment.
Sweatshirt: Oh really Maurice. I am sorry to hear that. That makes me feel very sad. Would you like to tell the group a bit more about what you are feeling?
Maurice: I am very disappointed you are taking this session Barry. I feel you are a very poor therapist, and your presence makes me very angry. I dislike your banal platitudes.
[My inner teenager perked right up at this]
Girl in fluffy jumper: I agree with Maurice. I am also very disappointed to be in this session with you today Barry. I do not like your approach. I felt I was doing good work with Irish.
[There are murmurs of assent all around the room. My people! I embrace you!]
Barry: [looks slightly crestfallen] Well, group, I hear what you are saying and I hear your anger. And that makes me feel quite sad. I feel I am failing you as a therapist and as a man.
[The clear feeling of the room is that this is indeed the case. There is nodding.]
Desperately sad looking woman in forties: You make me feel a lot of rage Barry. I do not want to hear about your sadness. You are making this all about you. Irish never does that.
Barry [getting slightly uptight]: I'm not sure this is productive for the group. And Irish is not here today. Shall we try and take the energy back to a more healing place?
Maurice: This is very productive for me, Barry. I need to express this anger I feel towards you. I think Sad Woman also feels that need, don't you Sad Woman?
Sad Woman: Yes Barry, why are you trying to make us supress our feelings?

It went on in this vein for about twenty minutes. It was GREAT. I felt an instant kinship with these sad people who still had reserves of resourceful cruelty about them. I barely had to speak, there was so much Barry bashing. I left slightly buoyed up, though clearly not remotely less insane than when I went in there.

In the following weeks I also had the pleasure of several 'Irish' sessions. On one level it was easy to see why they preferred him to blundering Barry. He was rather handsome in a Daniel Day Lewis meets John Malkovitch sort of way. And blessedly silent most of them time. But on another level, whole sessions passed without me having a bloody clue what anyone was talking about. I mean, all the words they were using were ostensibly English ones, but there was something about the arbitrary way they strung them together that left me reeling. There was a total fluidity about the whole verb, noun, preposition thing that caused me near physical pain. On top of that, there was always some kind of meta-soap opera going on that I couldn't grasp because the rest of them were in-patients. I mean, there were issues, but I had no fucking clue what they were. A whole session might be spent on 'that Tuesday problem'. Or 'Margaret's issue with John'. I would try to arrange my features into a sort of sad neutrality and hope noone picked on me.

Irish started each session, and punctuated it frequently with an exhortation to 'sit deeply back in your chair, feel your spine and connect with your reality'. Right. My reality is orange moulded plastic. It is causing considerable pain to my under-upholstered buttocks. Where are you going with this and when can I escape to spend all my non-existent money and drink coffee. It was impossible to hope to get through a session without him turning his brooding gaze on you to say 'and you, Jaywalker, how do you feel about this?'.

As a relatively quick study, I had already worked out the basics. The absolute worst thing you could ever do was say 'I don't want to talk', or 'I have nothing to say' or 'I don't know what I am doing here'. This was like therapist crack. They LOVED that and would nag and nag and nag until the reticent individual spewed up some hideous dark inner torment. Nor should you cross your arms, look away from the circle or move your chair backwards. Don't. touch. the. chair. First rule of group therapy.

Initially I would - truthfully - reply with 'I feel as if you are all speaking martian. I do not understand a word any of you says'. This met with some initial success, in the form of being left alone. But it was not a long term solution. Eventually, someone would explain the 'Tuesday problem' to me at a coffee break, or I would work it out. So then I developed a cast iron 'leave me alone' strategy. I would say this, or variations of this, session after session, week after week:

"I am having a fairly OK day today, I think I'd like to just be with my feelings for a while in this session, and concentrate my energies on taking what I can from the group".

See what I mean? It's another language isn't it. Words, but no meaning. It was a dead cert. Say that, sit back and engage my spine with the damned chair, and keep the body language suitably open, if sad. I would also make sure I was wearing nice shoes. It gave me something to look at when things got particularly acrimonious.

I could go on. Did it make me better? Hell no. Did it give me something else to think about? Hell yes.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Hard shell tales

And today, we have another tortoise. And two more fish. If the CFO is having a mid-life crisis, it's the weirdest one I've ever encountered. I should be glad he hasn't bought a Porsche or run away with a nineteen year old I suppose. Or taken to wearing lots of leather. That would be the worst, wouldn't it? And all too likely in Belgium.

I think really he is trying to fill the Julius shaped hole in our lives, but nothing ever will. He can buy reptile after reptile until we can rival Antwerp Zoo but that empty feeling is not going to go away. Julius was our first tortoise. He was awkward, stubborn, undemonstrative (not in itself astonishing in a tortoise) and borderline malevolent. Here he is. I could not find the picture of him very deliberately pooing on my plate, sadly. But here he is, off to defecate on someone's Christmas present, so also fairly typical.

He was smelly, cantakerous, aggressive; he terrified builders and bored the children (his only party trick was eating cashew nuts whole), but God we really really loved him. He would lumber up behind you when you least expected him and try to attack your leg. Or mate with your shoes. And despite his great size, he would frequently get lost and we would track him down a couple of days later in a cupboard, quite by chance whilst looking for sellotape. Above all, he was oddly devoted to the CFO and would sit under his chair, chasing away (slowly and unsuccessfully) anyone who tried to approach.

Even in death, Julius was embarassing and indelicate and rather phenomenal. Those of a delicate disposition should stop reading now. Really. We went away for the weekend and when we came back he had got an enormously swollen penis (this is going to do wonders for my stats isn't it?!! Vast throbbing tortoise members! Here! Live in colour!) while we were away. Like, huge. Grotesquely so. We came back to this freakshow penis attached to a grumpy but otherwise unchanged tortoise. It was extraordinarily disturbing, I can tell you. And repulsive. I had to take a sleeping pill that night, and the nightmares, Jesus! It was a miracle I ever had sex again.

So. Next stop, a ground-breaking penisectomy (a Belgian first! the vet is writing a paper on it. I have made that word up, however.), which he survived despite the vet giving him pretty poor odds. And then, for weeks, the CFO and I had to take it in turns to spend 20 minutes morning and night massaging the, ahem, 'stump' with iodine solution. And believe me when I tell you that twenty minutes massaging the remains of a tortoise penis while the pissed off upside down tortoise fights you with every ounce of his strength makes you question your life choices quite profoundly.

He was never quite the same though (well, you wouldn't be, would you), and succumbed to an infection a month or so later. We were devastated and about €800 down in vets fees. The house felt empty without the ever present risk of stepping in tortoise faeces.

Too much information, no? I'm sorry. But I did warn you.

So now my life is full of these small, characterless ersatz Juliuses. Although I couldn't tell you where most of them are at any given moment. Buried in the mud? Kidnapped by an ambitious cat? It's just one more source of constant nagging anxiety, and I can generate plenty of that all by myself without small reptiles. I shove a plate full of endive in the garden and hope for the best. Maybe they are at least preparing me for the boys' teenage years. I am sure that this combination of foreboding, impotence and inadequacy will be staying with me for a while to come.

I still miss the old bastard though. The slow click clicking of his nails on the kitchen floor. The sound of his shell scraping against the door frame as he clambered into the house. The hissing. Dammit.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Nouvelle Star - c'est fini

I have been very remiss about updating you on Le Grand Final. Not that I feel you need to know about the ins and outs of Amandine vs Benjamin. They were both disappointingly competent. Amandine won. I approved because apparently Benjamin has already started proceedings against Voici magazine for invading his private life (a French sleb rite of passage), which I felt was a little presumptous. The upstart!

But. Andre. Gave us this gem to Amandine:

"You remind me of a Romanian folk legend about a goddess who turns the milky way into cheese and then divided it into four parts"

Ah, André. I will really really really miss you. I will have to watch more 'TV Brussels' to find a similar level of surreality and erudite nonsense.

Sinclair, you are a short arse but an attractive one. However on Wednesday you were wearing so much foundation that I was repeatedly distracted by the idea of scratching it off gently with my fingernails in a semi-erotic fashion. Also, the footwear (big fat white spongy hi-tops)? No. You are 37, not 12.

I wonder if Cedric is back on his boat yet. I suspect not. For his semi-final elimination, he had at least acquired one of the trappings of micro-celebrity in the form of a vacant blonde WAG style girlfriend. Six months or so of appearances in the party pages of Public and Voici seem inevitable before he sinks into alcoholism and depression, and then, finally, inevitably, turns back to the welcoming embrace of the sea. Surely?

Very poor hangover cures devised by my children today

Putting a large defecating snail on my mouse (computer, not yet another pet). A mouse coloured, camouflage snail.

Enlisting me to locate and listen to several hundred different varieties of the Pokemon theme tune on Youtube until I could feel my ears starting to bleed.

Making me handle ketchup repeatedly until I started retching.

Repeating my name at ever increasing volume and shrillness, oblivious to any attempts I made to reply, until the noise was reminiscent of the CFO's new cat deterrent machine. Not being able to remember why they were calling me when I crawl up three flights of stairs moaning gently to respond.

Leaving a length of cable stretched across the room for me to trip over, landing on my knees and breaking an enormous tea cup into a million razor sharp shards.

Giving me a bemused glance as I lay prostrate and cursing in a pool of cold tea and going straight back to fighting over strident games on the computer. My computer. That they have hijacked and will not give me back to self-medicate with large doses of internet therapy. "It's ok darlings, I'm FINE, my knees just hurt a bit, don't worry, I'll get up very soon. Just as soon as I can move" I said in my rah rah middle class mummy voice that makes me want to beat myself senseless. To a roomful of total indifference. At this moment I had an avant-gout of my not-so distant future in their lives as a hystrionic irrelevance.

Weeing all over me when my coordination and zizi holding abilities let me down in delightful, oh so hangover friendly, fluorescent fast food venue Quick.

Detecting with their bat-like hearing the very second I sat down in a convenient and dark cupboard with a can of Coke and a blanket, and engineering a bad falling downstairs episode, complete with wounds and recriminations.

But about twenty minutes ago as I was sitting hunched on the sofa wondering how it could possibly only be 5pm and hoping that a family sized box of matches and a can of kerosene would keep them out of trouble for thirty seconds, a small but long fingered paw (on its way from one domestic atrocity to another) came and slid itself up my pee-stained sleeve to give me a small pat. And that was nice.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

In which I am invited to Paris Colleague's housewarming

Today I received a long and convoluted email from PC, inviting me to her housewarming in a glam part of Paris where bouffant haired philosophers outnumber viciously psychotic old ladies (in itself a rarity).

The other addressees (hundreds! I can probably muster about 8 friends and that would include family members and clinically insane people met in therapy) had exotic names and email addresses, like and and . There was a light smattering of other Eurozombies, though I assume they were French ones, with good hair.

The message, which MBF described as "the lewdest housewarming invitation I have ever seen" started with a gratuitous anecdote about persuading a team of builders to move her claw foot bath by wearing mini shorts and pretending to drop and pick things up. There was a lot of talk of filling the bath with Veuve and some mention of dates and times, but then came the killer phrase.

"Dress code: Something you look good bending over in".

Well. Internet. I am somewhat at a loss. Clearly mere clothes will not cut it. My initial thought was one of those individual one person saunas that jockeys use. Comme ceci:

And by the way, this picture? Making me laugh like fool.

What inspiration does Belgium offer (it has a heavy responsibility, since I hold the entire country responsible for the state of my arse)?

This, possibly?

Or this?

(yes, I have 130 photos of the damn parade, you can expect to see them reused at every tenuous opportunity)

I am open to suggestions. Possibly I will showcase some outfits tomorrow. I may even have to convene an emergency session of Belgian Fashion Clinic! Watch this space. If you dare.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Paris, London, Brussels

The Jaywalker is a cosmopolitan soul, who has graced all three capitals with her fragrant presence, and thought you might appreciate her precious insights into the axis of Eurostar. She will, however, stop talking about herself in the third person as it is slightly disturbing.

So here is my score out of 10 for various key criteria. This test has been compiled sous contrôle d'huissier. Of course.

London: However you want it, as long as you like the taste of hamster poo. Antipodeans will bemoan the lack of 'flat white' until you wish to club them to death with a Gaggia. Sight of pasty commuters queueing for giant cups of milky slop may cause death of soul. Coffee geeks (numerous) know that only Monmouth does it right.
6/10 on the strength of milk frothing alone
Paris: A binary experience that can be summarised as café or pas de café. Cultural significance enormous, however. Opportunity to wreathe oneself in Gaulouise smoke and glower alluringly from behind your copy of Le Monde Diplomatique.
Strike a pose, 7/10
Brussels: Weak and tasteless. Makes up for lack of taste, however, in provision of free snacks. No coffee complete without chocolate or speculoos. Or both. Greatest and most creative stretch of the definition of a "cappucino": Au Vieux St Martin where it comes as a black coffee, a bowl of whipped cream, a large chocolate cigar AND a palmier biscuit.
8/10 for add ons.

Public transport reading matter
London: Evangelical Christian tracts, Metro, Harry Potter, Captain Corelli.
Yawn. 2/10
Paris: Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Houllebecq, Public.
Eclectic but predictable, 5/10
Brussels: Harry Potter in Swedish, food safety Directives, Lady Chatterley in Portugese, rabid Flemish newspapers, mechanical engineering textbooks in Greek, Horse and Hound, What Turban.
All human life is here. Unlikely to get bored if tram breaks down. 9/10

London: supermarket heaven. Some minimum wage lackey has been forced to chop your mango into bite sized chunks and put it in fifteen layers of packaging for your convenience. And then labouriously deseed a pomegranate and do the same. Really, what's not to love. British supermarkets should be required to take over the entire world.
Marks & Spencer and Waitrose to form next governing coalition in Belgium. 10/10
Paris: Abandon all hope, ye who enter G7. Or Monoprix. Extraordinarily small and seedy, and staffed by basilisk-eyed harridans who hate you and everything you stand for. The experience is fraught with danger, from trying to get a trolley, to paying. At any moment a member of staff or an elderly shopper is likely to subject you to verbal or physical assault. All this for a few out of date yoghurts? No no no. Picard, however, king of frozen goods, is a whole world of wonderful.
1/10, would have been 0 but for Picard bagels and mini icecreams.
Brussels: Hardly a thing of beauty, but relatively well-stocked. Beer aisle impressive. Eccentric aisle arrangemnents may drive you to distraction looking for aluminium foil. It is with the stationery, newbies. Queueing may prove hazardous, particularly on Mondays. Bring a book; or even better, two. War and Peace would be good, all seven volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu even better.
It's called Delhaize for a reason.... 6/10

Crazy street people
London: Religious nutters outside TopShop, wildly overdressed trannies in Hoxton, bonkers gentlewomen in tweed in Knightsbridge, ninety percent of the population of Glasgow along Tottenham Court Road, warring with the Scientologists and their free personality tests.
Run, run for your life! 9/10
Paris: Classic clochards only. Accessorise with plastic bottles of vin de table, smell of wee and call you "salope".
Boooooring. 3/10
Brussels: At first sight they look completely normal if a little froissé. Then you see they are wearing one slipper, and carrying three ferrets. Exquisitely polite.
I like your style! Though your pet chicory is a little intimidating. 7/10

Civil disobedience
London: I should think not. Form an orderly queue!
We would be grateful for a moderate amelioration of conditions, in the fullness of time. Many thanks. 0/10
Paris: key curriculum item at every infant school. The CFO estimates that by the age of 18, the average French youth will have been on strike at least three times and can discourse knowledgeably about the relative merits of cobblestones and flags as projectiles.
Vive la révolution! 10/10
Brussels: Mainly the preserve of visiting interest groups, like fishermen, and French farmers on coach trips to the European Parliament. Except for the 'free' public transport system. Ahem.
Meh, we have beer to drink. Why so angry?! 4/10


London: 27
Paris: 26
Brussels: 34

Brussels triumphs! How astonishing.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Belgian Fashion Clinic

Qu: It's raining again. I feel like running amok on the Grand Place with firearms. More importantly what on earth can I wear?

Jaywalker writes:

God, darling, I know, I know! And just when I thought I had summer all sorted out, for once. Ineptly slather on some St Tropez, put on a big frouffy skirt and a t-shirt, and go. But then summer fucked off. What to do? You know what, I honestly don't know. It's damn depressing. My hair is channelling Barbara Bush and the tortoises have gone mouldy. I found one yesterday with three snails on its shell. Sweetest, I don't even have the strength to body brush. Pour yourself a double hemlock, and let's turn to a native for some advice. Elleke?

Belgian fashionista Elleke van Boucheron writes:

You anglo-saxons, always complaining. You don't have enough sex, no? You should go to the sauna more often. Weed is good too. Relax!

You need cheerful things. We like turbans. Keeps the rain out, looks good, is biodegradable. Is easy to make yourself from materials you find around the house. Good for men and women. Perfect for work, shopping trips, even a dressy night out. So easy! Let me show you, my anglo friends.

This is a nice everyday model to wear for a relaxed weekend. Those tentacles are so useful, you could hang your recycled hemp shopping bag from the front.

This unisex model works for vrouwen and mensen and just screams authority, I think it is good for meetings. Don't mess with me! I am from Charleroi!

I think this one would be good at the disco. Especially if DJ Snake is playing. That guy plays hot tunes, wow! And so sexy. Also maybe good during the soldes. They only last a week, you want bargains, you need horns!

This is the ultimate party turban. Also maybe good for a modern rainy-day bride. The whole outfit is rocking that 'Miss Havisham savaged by vampire bats' vibe that we love. So practical also, that turban could hold a whole crate of Vedett and still leave room for your lip gloss.


Next time on Belgian Fashion Clinic: Elleke demonstrates how to make your own turban in five easy steps, and we feature guest fashionista, Big Mama the tortoise.

Cucumbers, apparently

Fingers 'Nostradamus' Jaywalker:

When there are no more cucumbers, the world will end. And we will all be dead.

Er, ok. Thanks for clearing that up for us.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Bite me, countryside

I hate the countryside. With the heat of a thousand suns. Really.

When I read the following I knew I would have to stalk the author to the ends of the earth and ask her whether she had been hiding in my head:

"I think axe murderers live in the countryside. I think I've read that somewhere. Maybe in my book"

"I think that's probably right. Axe murderers. Gun owners. Hat wearers. Cows. It's a terrible place. And do you know what else? They don't have shops".

Kate thought for a moment and then said "They must have some shops. How do they get things?"

"No, they don't have shops. They have these things called Spars. They look like shops but they don't sell anything except maybe some swede and a packet of custard creams. The owners pull a gun on you if you ask for anything else".

(Catherine O'Flynn, What Was Lost. I love you, Catherine.)

There are a couple of reasons: my mother and father. Yes, we're back to the seventies childhood misery memoir. Although separated, both pursued a sustained campaign of country holidays, stretching over a decade and more, in the bleakest and most remote corners of the British Isles.

Look, internet, where I spent my summer holidays aged 14:

The Isle of Eigg

Fourteen! And looking at this site, let me say it is a masterwork of creativity, implying that there is a shop, a tea room and a craft centre on the island. Sneaky self-publicists. They are all the same place. Study the photos, you will see I speak the truth. Note the absence of settlements. Roads. Anything. It is a lump of rock in the middle of the North Sea, visited once a week by a small boat. I remember standing staring at the phone booth for several hours one day, wondering if a 999 call would do any good, and concluding it was unlikely.

Also, the sunshine on that picture? Photoshop. It rained solidly for three weeks.

I feel I can say with total honesty that staying with my family in a bothy without electricity on the Isle of Eigg at the age of 14 was the closest I have ever been to suicide. If it had been possible to die of boredom and despair, I would have done so.

This was not a one off. It was a pattern of abuse that lasted from early infancy to the age of 18 when I finally broke free from my abusers, in places like the Lake District, Ardnamurchan, the Yorkshire Dales. The Bearded One still likes to get out the pictures and laugh merrily at images of the infant Jaywalker, propped in a gorse bush, swathed in layers of cagoule in driving sleet. Or, wiping tears of mirth, to tell the tale of how I used to eat sheep droppings, thinking they were chocolate. He gets mildly hysterical when he tells the tale of the walk in the snow and driving wind where my elder brother asked what the symptoms of advanced hypothermia were. Or when he and the Oma took us up a mountain with nothing but a packet of coarse oatcakes, intended, according to the Oma 'to separate the hungry from the greedy'. Not funny. Child cruelty.

Now, I never leave the comforting embrace of the city. My sole criteria for selecting our Brussels dwelling was: can I walk to a café. I kept saying so, with singleminded crazyness, to the bemused estate agents: Est-ce que je peux aller prendre un café à pied? No wonder they sacked us. It's not as if I did a tremendously good job of it, ultimately. I could indeed walk to a café from Casa Jaywalker, but it would be full of 8am beer drinkers. Starbucks it ain't. An ice cream, though, now you're talking. Two of the best in Belgium feet from my front door.

So why the fuck am I now fantasising about St Job. OK, it's not the real countryside. It's a village within a city, and it passes the café test better than my current house. But still! There are fields. And cobbles. And sheep. And a whole lot of fuck all. But we went there last weekend for a wander round the artists colony and I fell in love. It was a rural idyll full of pissed hippies and feral children wandering round from house to house and garden to garden. And what gardens! Giant fields more like. I bought bowls, was offered booze, pondered sculpture, while a precocious 8 year old asked Lashes and Fingers to estimate the size of the world's largest bat. The CFO and I looked at each other moist eyed and wondered whether we could organise some kind of vicious land clearance to steal their houses.

Ok, so I'm genetically conditioned to warm to aged hippies. So far, so predictable. But seriously? Must I reproduce the sins of my elders? Condemn my children to a bitter, empty childhood hanging around the bus shelter with the other rural outcasts? It's biological determinism at its cruellest.

I think I need one of those advanced life directives.

Internet, if I ever purchase anything made of Goretex, or talk about vegetables, or use Dubbin, you have permission - nay you are obligated! - to kill me. Ok? Ok. Glad we've cleared that up.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Nouvelle star haiku

Oxblood leather suit.

Heartfelt 'Eye of the Tiger'.

Cedric, André will miss your odour.

Tram wins

To the American gentleman having the following conversation on his hands free (aka barking into thin air like a lunatic) this morning:

- He just drove straight at me on a pedestrian crossing! Didn't even try to stop. He even gave me a dirty look! You would think there was a law saying he has priority or something!


There is a law. In fact, it is the only law of the road in Brussels that anyone has been able to detect, and it is this:

Tram wins.

Firstly, and for your comfort and safety, understand that the black and white road markings are purely decorative. We think they look pretty. We understand that in your culture they have some other significance, but we are unsure what this may be.

Secondly, imagine the rules of the road as a game of Stone, Scissors, Paper, as follows:

Tram vs car - tram wins
Tram vs bike - tram wins
Tram vs human - tram wins
Tram vs elderly human - tram wins
Tram vs pregnant human - tram wins
Tram vs human infant - tram wins
Tram vs dog - tram wins
Tram vs ambulance - tram wins
Tram vs police outrider and important head of state delegation in unmarked Mercedes - tram wins
Tram vs Crown Prince Philippe, Princesse Mathilde and their three tousle headed adorable blond children - tram hesistates momentarily. Then wins.
Tram vs beer lorry - beer lorry wins.

All clear? Thank you.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Belgian Waffle personality test

It's almost summer, the womens mags are all at it, so I though Belgian Waffle should have its very own multiple choice quiz. So here it is.

Could you be a Eurodrone?

1. What is your view on enlargement of the European Union?

a) An economic inevitability but a political challenge.
b) Meh.
c) Turkish men, so sexy. I am in favour.
d) Will it mean more bananas?

2. Complete this sentence. Jose Manuel Barroso...

a) ...the President of the European Commission, has pursued a policy of cautious reform.
b) ... makes my skin crawl.
c) ... is a very virile and attractive man.
d) ... has tasty fleas.

3. How many EU member states are there?

a) 27 following the most recent round of enlargement in 2007 embracing Bulgaria and Romania.
b) Lots. Most of them end in "ia". If you confuse them you get into trouble. Generally best to avoid saying their names.
c) So many, carissima! So many handsome men! I love!
d) None that grow bananas.

4. The Lisbon Treaty

a) Is a workable compromise, though there may be clashes ahead between the forces of economic liberalisation and the new protectionists.
b) Is the bane of my life. The mere words make me want to stick red hot skewers in my eyes.
c) Makes me hot. Grrrr.
d) does not contain enough bananas

5. When you hear the Ode to Joy

a) I feel uplifted. And sing along in German
b) I retch involuntarily
c) I feel like getting nekkid
d) I want another banana. Or possibly to expose my genitals to you.

6. How many stars feature on the European Union flag?

a) 12, the number of perfection
b) Oh god, still stars? I thought we were over that micro-trend. The Chanel prints were nice, but the rest is soooo derivative.
c) Check out my ass, I've had it tattooed on there
d) Those aren't stars, they're bananas.

How did you do?

Mostly as: You are Peter Mandelson. Fuck off. You already have a job.

Mostly bs: You are me, well done, you are ideally suited for life as a Eurodrone. Just don't expect to enjoy it.

Mostly cs: You are an Italian porn star. Your place is in the European Parliament.

Mostly ds: You are a monkey. With minimal training you could be me.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Seriously considering making myself a cocktail with this

I would quite like to be green and scaly. And I definitely need a pick me up. Goodness, he looks perky doesn't he? Ready to go and mate with David Attenborough's ankle.

I'm was quite inclined to leave it there for tonight, but then I came across Lashes' speech therapy notebook and thought we could have some Belgian elocution lessons. And marvel in the peculiar universe of the speech therapy phrases. I think it feels a bit fin de siècle, no? A little bit Proustian?

Altogether now:

En ecrivant à ma maîtresse je me suis trompé d'addresse
(That happens all the time when you are six. And can't read or write. So many mistresses, so little literacy)

Sébastien danse la salsa
(I bet he does, the carefree devil)

Suzon caresse sa petite soeur Lucie
(If I was called Suzon I would be dismembering my petite soeur with an axe, personally)

Maurice achète six saucissons secs
(phew, about time a bit of normal Belgian behaviour reasserted itself)

And my personal favourite, which I am still trying to crowbar into conversations:

Serge deguste une Crêpe Suzette

I have to confess I make him say this ALL THE TIME, like a performing seal. No wonder this week we have been rewarded with the unprecedented comment:

"Bonne amelioration de l'articulation de s-z"! Truly, this is a triumph, and I would like to thank Serge for his sterling work with the Crepe Suzette.

This post is complete nonsense isn't it. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have taken Reptoboost. Now please excuse me, I am off to swallow a water buffalo whole and perfom an elaborate mating ritual with my ear flaps...