Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Scenes from a 70s academic childhood - no. 1

My sister is about 2. She looks like a bloke. A cross, ginger one (now she is exquisite and auburn and feminine - yes, you are Space Cadette, don't argue - which just goes to show something, but I am not quite sure what). She specialises in fits of screaming heeby jeebies that often require my mother to warn the neighbours that we are not actually removing her fingernails with pliers. Since next door is the HOUSE OF STONER STUDENTS, this is quite something. She rarely sleeps, and lives on baked beans and juice boxes. We are a little bit scared of her.

Prog rock step dad, however, with his saintlike patience, is unmoved. Thankfully, he is her primary carer. He wears bunches of nappy pins hanging from his jeans, carts her around on the back of his bike, glowering, to playgroup and to gym club, and gets her to sit in the kitchen banging stuff while he cooks elaborate curries. He plays her lots of Tom Waits and gets her to bellow along to "Let your bucket down" by the Blues Band. Given he also has to deal with me, sulky ingrate adolescent silently hating him, it is a wonder he does not go mad and kill us all. But this is not his way. One day, when one of her tantrums hits fever pitch, he starts reading to her from Skidelsky's biography of John Maynard Keynes. The effect is magically soothing. Her brow unknits fractionally. He finishes a complex paragraph on formative influences in Keynes' thinking. There is a brief moment of silence.

"More Keynes!" she demands imperiously. Prog rock stepdad complies with a chapter on the knotty issue of the abandonment of the gold standard.

Really, what hope did we have. Doomed, I tell you.

Monday, 29 September 2008

In which I turn into Mary Whitehouse

We are in the car. A jaunty reggae-lite tune comes on the radio. It's everywhere at the moment, a cheerful, summery ear worm. The boys start to jig along in the back. Suddenly, the CFO's hand snakes out and switches the station. We are plunged into dirge-like French wailing.

"Why did you do that?" I ask. "I like that tune. Ooooh rayon de soleeeeiiiil"

"Have you listened to the lyrics?" he hisses.

"No - why?"

"My hand on your little arse*?"


"Trying to find the way?"


"In the flowers of your garden?"

Filth! Filth I tell you! Apparently they say fuck on Eastenders too now. That's it. I'm going to live in a survivalist commune in the Ardennes where we all dress like sixteenth century religious nutters, stockpile guns and have really elaborate facial hair.

*Cul is ruder than "arse" though. Comparative swearing is a fine art isn't it? I got into terrible trouble from the CFO once for calling him a connard, which I always assumed is something like bastard. Clearly not. Also "ta gueule" (a sort of "shut up") is way ruder than it should be on the face of it. I know the kids are not allowed to say "dégueulasse" instead of dégoutant (disgusting) and ought, apparently, not to say "ça pue" (it stinks) but I can't conjure up any English equivalent. I've pretty much given up on stopping Lashes saying "merde" and I heard one of his most well-behaved contemporaries telling his mum something was "chiant" (means a bummer, or annoying, sort of, but derived from verb 'to shit') and not getting told off. Eh? The CFO inadvertently invents his own English swear words, like shite-os, jaysuus, bollacks, fuackass. Maybe I should do the same in French. Cultrou. Putainouze. Zacouilles.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Oliver James bad parenting scoreboard

Continuing on the fruitful theme of how lovely Oliver James is, I thought we could inaugurate:

The Oliver James Bad Parenting Scoreboard

Consider what you've been up to this week. Would Oliver approve? You don't have children? Doesn't matter, Oliver disapproves of you anyway. Score yourself against the following variables and let's see whether Oliver needs to take your children, pets or indeed you yourself into care. He'll do it, you know, but he'll do it For Your Own Good.

I've scored myself. La la la.

Absence from parental nest of slavery:

1 night

Collection of spawn from school:

1/5 days


Daily short outbursts.


Moderate, constant. 2 "fucking hell Lashes"

Trailer trash meals :

Uncle Ben's microwave rice with frozen peas, "Pizza" (ready roll dough + Dolmio), 2 Apéro dinners (Doritos, cucumber, ham). Urk.

Parental threats to cry complete with trembly voice and lip:

One incident - weebly voiced Jaywalker "I know you're very sad about the Yu Gi Oh cards Lashes BUT I FEEL LIKE CRYING TOO! I am very very tired and my feet hurt*". Boys look blankly at me for a nanosecond in a sort of "and your point is?" fashion, then start bickering again.


1 pretend toaster, 3 Makka Pakkas, 1 Matchbox car, 1 plastic dragon

"Oh shut up":

40 per child

"Your father will GO MAD if he sees you doing that":


Hours in front of TV:

Children - 15; parents - 25

Meals in front of TV:

Children - 3; parents - 7

I'm giving myself a sort of thin lipped moue of disapproval. Like this:

(I know, I know, the picture is terrible, but look at his expression! Priceless).

To celebrate the restoration of the internets and a surprisingly positive score from Oliver (no, really. This was a good week.), I am also offering you this photo of Lashes (3/10 for behaviour at school this week) yesterday, deciding what else to cover in red paint.

Quick! Get that child his cortisol smoothie!

* The person (curlywurlyhifi) who told me about the evil MBT trainers drawing blood within seconds - you were right. You were so so right.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

People who make me cross - #1 Oliver James

"Yoo hoo, I'm over her, judging you"

"Stop torturing those children Mme Jaywalker. Just hand them over to me. Don't you think they've suffered enough?"

"Look at all my books. You really don't want to argue with me"

This is a new, occasional series, in which I reveal to you that I am not merely the cheerful imbecile who shows you pictures of vegetables. I can be really really cross and unreasonable too. There are many many people who make me unbelievably squinty eyed and baleful, and not just the people whose jobs I am really jealous of. Here is the first one. Feel free to join in with this rant-fest.

Oliver James is a psychologist who wrote a column for the Observer Magazine for a number of years. Those years just happened to coincide with the years my children were really little and my mental health was somewhat shonky. Oliver James, despite writing for the "knit your own aura" friendly people at Guardian Newspapers, has Strong Views. Worse, he has Strong Views and Statistics.

To paraphrase Oliver's Strong Views briefly (feel free to correct me, OJ, if you happen to be off googling yourself):

1. Children who go to nursery* are DOOMED. They will turn into violent sociopathic lunatics. They will be unable to form emotional attachments. Shortly after their tenth birthdays, they will kill you and all your family. Oliver has several interesting clinical studies to confirm this for you.

2. Mothers who suffer from stress or depression DESTROY THEIR BABIES LIVES. These babies become crazed, glue sniffing asbo happy losers. There are percentages, and chemical compounds to make this conclusion compelling. Yes indeed.

3. Pregnant women who suffer from stress or depression DESTROY THEIR BABIES LIVES TOO. These babies come out and instantly turn into rabid wolves. The University of Poppleton double blind test study proved this beyond all doubt.

So. I had a baby. I got quite depressed. My baby started nursery at 6 months. I got pregnant again. My mum died, various other bad and strange things happened in rapid succession, we moved to another country and moved back again, all within a year. Second child started nursery at a year. I had a raving breakdown around this time had to do therapy, take drugs and spent a few months fairly bonkers. More cortisol with your shreddies, les enfants?

As I read these columns compulsively, unable to stop myself, it appeared quite plainly to me that Oliver James had been watching my life via webcam, and he didn't like what he saw. I would have pathetic little conversations with my Observer Magazine, asking Oliver to explain to me how exactly I was supposed to prevent my post natal depression, or my mother dying in an accident. Each new column was like a knife through my heart.

Now. Oliver. Did you think that telling me how badly I was fucking up was going to make it any better for my cortisol junkie wolf child and asbo hoodie? HOW DOES MAKING ME FEEL GUILTY MAKE IT ANY BETTER. Oh yes doctor. Thank you. I feel much less stressed and depressed now that you have told me that I am a despicable, unfit parent who has stunted my children's emotional and psychological welfare irreparably. Thank goodness I read this!

Oliver James. You genuinely made me cry a fuck load of times. I hate you. So there.

I have to go now. I am off to bake cortisol cookies for my animal torturing, mute, alienated chickadees. Pulling the wings off butterflies gives them such an appetite!

* I particularly love this title "Blind feminism has hurt our children". Yes indeed. I am off out to go kick some children now.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Brief encounter

"Dulling, dulling London, you must be terribly terribly brave."
"I shall, my sweet one. But, oh, ghastly ghastly Boris."

I am still in employment, sadly. More accurately, I continue to come to the office since it is the only place I can access the internets at the moment. I am continuing with my attempts to resign, but Euromaster is going for the "La la I can't hear you" approach. I will try again next week - so more on this soon. MBF has promised to shoot me if I am still here in three months, so I have something to aim for.

WARNING: The following post contains scenes of a historically inaccurate nature (I have a modern history degree, do not argue with me) and an irritating extended metaphor.

My agonisingly brief reunion with London is over. Leave has been cancelled, London and I have had a chaste farewell on a Central Line platform, all clipped accents and supressed emotion, and I am back in the trenches of Belgium, looking after the Maginot Line and trimming my moustache.

As Sigfried Sassoon and I share the last sausage in the Officers' Mess, however, dark thoughts start to prey on my mind. London was looking awfully, I don't know, smart, wasn't it? All those new shops? I can't help wondering if the slut isn't putting out for the GIs in return for nylons, tinned meatloaf and Lucky Strikes.

Exhibit 1 : the Brunswick Centre

Previously a barren concrete dustbowl populated by lost TOEFL students with matching backpacks, feral cats and a lone branch of Iceland. Now a heady mix of Baby Gap, Carluccios, Starbucks and .... Waitrose. Say no more.

Exhibit 2: Coram Fields café

Previously: Hole in the wall serving Nescafé and Fruit Shoots. Abandoned bench to sit on, if you like pigeon shit.

Now: Paradise of Austrian themed jollity, with unheard of luxuries such as chairs and tables. Linzertorte, two kinds of strudel, giant pretzels and Milka chocolate squares with your coffee.

More generally, the level of goat deformity was unchanged. The one with goitre and the one with the overbite have been replaced by one with a giant shaggy academic's beard and one with terribly problematic horns. This was reassuring. The sheep are still darkly drawn to sit on the stairs and look gloomy.

Ok, this is all the evidence I have, but still, dark dark suspicions prey on me. I may have to take my service revolver and go and shoot myself in full dress uniform, with my pipe still clasped between my manly teeth.

In other news, I got to play with Antonia, Esme, and their yellow Peloop. It was great. Antonia attracted a series of peculiar people, many with luxuriant facial hair. Esme was wonderful company and I was allowed to feed her juice with a dirty medicine dispensing tool from the bottom of my handbag just for kicks. Yes, I am a shining example of motherhood. The whole experience made me want to go and pinch Stephen Hawking really hard to get him to fiddle around with time and space so that I could be friends with Antonia and Esme when I was bored off my head wandering the streets of London with Lashes circa 2004-2005. Jesus, it can't be that hard can it? Get it together, cyberguy.

I am back in Belgium with a heavy heart, 3 Makka Pakkas, and no luggage (yay! Terminal 5-tastic! I only checked it in so that I could keep all the stuff I had stolen from my hotel, so once more kids, incontrovertible evidence that crime doesn't pay). Hopefully the internets will be returned to me this weekend and I can stop being so completely fucking useless and we can finally have some FUN round here. Yeah!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Birthday letter to the CFO

Dear CFO,

Happy birthday!

Your birthday was a bit shit, wasn't it? Sorry about that. What with your flu, dull presents, dinner of chicory and sausages on sticks and "poo cake" as the children hilariously called it. Oh, and your parents completely forgetting. You were even feeling too feeble for birthday sex with your lumpen snotty spouse type person, who was prepared to put out, though not with overwhelming erotic enthusiasm.

I am sorry you got four jumpers for presents, and a Wii game chosen by the children on the basis that it came with a free mercenary dolly. You were not even allowed to keep the mercenary dolly, though we did leave you the CD of Bulgarian chanting. It must seem a little ironic to you that I bitch endlessly about how rubbish you are at buying presents, but have been unable to get it together to find you a good one for, ooh, at least 5 years now. I am sorry that when you say how old 39 feels, I agree heartlessly that you are, indeed, very old indeed. And speculate about what I will do with the extra twenty years I will have after you die, and what breed of misanthropic small dog to get.

I am sorry we had your poo cake a day early so as not to waste it, and that Fingers whispered to you that "the poo cake has chocolate brownie in", giving away any shred of suprise. I am sorry I did not manage to shove any of the filth away to allow you to enjoy some semblance of order or cleanliness for your birthday. I am sorry I did not even get it together to transfer all our money under your mattress to quell your galloping anxiety at the financial crisis.

More generally, I am sorry that I am such a prickly, difficult person to live with, that I yawn openly when you try and tell me about work, that I get to be the "fun" parent while you do the discipline, that I bitch tiresomely about your family and that I am an unenthusiastic cook and crap at cleaning and tidying and paying bills. I am extra sorry that I make out that your concern for basic hygiene standards means you are unbearably bourgeois, whereas I am a Free Spirit. I am sorry we make you read The Big Wide Mouthed Frog aloud so we can laugh at your prononciation. You bear all this with great fortitude. Even when I take pictures of your ugly shoes and mock them openly on the internets.

You have been endlessly tolerant of my fucking insane family stuff, my mental health wobbles, eating lunacy, post natal gloom, incredibly repressed inability to talk about sex, or indeed, do very much of it. Not to mention my baldness. Yes! You have a bald partner! Glamorous. You still, mysteriously, find me sexy, which is frankly deranged since I wear jumpers and socks to bed. There is no accounting for taste, I suppose.

I will never ever forget and am endlessly grateful for how amazing you were when my mum died. You fought like a Rottweiler to get her body back from Italy when I didn't have any fight left in me, and you managed it. You found, and arranged, the most beautiful, wild, isolated spot for her in the cemetery, surrounded by brambles and long grass, a small but perfectly formed tree, and a couple of rather dashing sounding first world war casualties. There is even a bench. It suits her perfectly. You did that. When I took Fingers to meet her just after he was born, I laid him down on the little mound of grass in the spring sunshine under the tree, had a little cry and thanked you yet again in my head. I hope I thanked you out loud too, but I'm not sure I did.

You spent endless hours in the back yard smoking and drinking to keep prog rock step dad company as he raved on and on, mad with grief. You probably understood about 3 percent of what he was saying (we didn't understand much more), but you hung on in there with him. Seriously, that was amazing. It was fun when he jumped over the wall to run away from the neighbours and rang us up to tell us he was in hiding behind the Portakabin, wasn't it? There was plenty of dark humour to be had then, and you were around to share it with me. You listened to lots of raving mad Scottish people and wordy academics with enormous politeness, when the Space Cadette and I were too mental to string a sentence together. You were perfect company throughout the whole shit storm.

You are way nicer to the Bearded One than I am, and sweet and generous and tolerant to the Space Cadette. You are amazingly lovely with my brother's kids and you hate his bastard brain tumour so much. You are properly angry with it, and this translates into fantastic feats of entertaining and loving my (and your, truly your) nephew and niece. You can hypnotise pigs by scratching behind their ears. You are a fantastic father, sweet and funny and loving and not adverse to putting pants on your head. Your boys are beautiful and funny too and when you gave Lashes a huge hug yesterday for getting 15/15 in his maths test, I watched his face and he was incandescent with pride. Fingers adores you. Whenever you go away he adds up in his secretive little head how many days it will be 'til you return, and counts them down, feverishly. He isn't quite himself until you come back.

Happy birthday sweetheart. You could have done a whole lot better than me, but I'm very glad you didn't.

Here's a picture of some tortoises for your birthday.




Monday, 22 September 2008


Prog rock step dad stayed for the weekend. He is so erudite and unwordly, he makes me feel like Kerry Katona. He's like a medieval ascetic, self-sufficient, simple living, free from desire. All he wants is knowledge. Whilst he doesn't literally live in a cave and eat bitter herbs, he comes pretty close. He can live for several months eating nothing but lentils, he cycles everywhere, knows how to darn, bakes his own bread, has taught himself French, German and Russian and knows about everything. Science, economics, birds, mushrooms. My abiding memories of him growing up are:

1. Hunched on the sofa reading a Giant Hard Book. From the library. Sometimes with a dictionary too if the Giant Hard Book is in foreign (it usually is).
2. Disappearing during dinner to go and get find a Giant Hard Book to read us long screeds of it. Until we shouted at him to stop.
3. Reading us five miles of poetry. Until we shouted at him to stop.
4. Cooking elaborate from-scratch meals that would try the patience of a saint, what with one vegetarian, one meat eater who didn't like dairy or, you know, vegetables (or eggs), and one who only liked potato waffles and baked beans.
5. Teaching me thankless, dismal things like parallel parking, micro-economics and chemistry. Without hitting me over the head repeatedly.
6. Wearing false moustaches. And sometimes (temporary) tattoos on his forehead if we were insistent.
6. Generally displaying extraordinary tolerance in a house full of prickly, demanding women needing things fixed, refusing fruit soup, dropping their dirty clothes everywhere and weeping.

I look up from where I am crouching, sweaty palmed, trying to coax the internets out to play, while the children sit slackjawed in front of Extreme Dinosaurs and see him squatting peacefully in a corner of the garden, reading Eugene Onegin. In Russian. From the library, naturally. I made this man bring me Heat and Grazia! And fondant fancies! Hula Hoops! Hot shame attacks my cheeks.

For many years, he has shamed me with his incessant questioning on topics of geopolitics, history, architecture and local culture wherever I have been living.

"So, Em" he asks, innocently in Paris "What do you know about this Léon Cogniet your street is named after?"


"What do you know about the Batignolles area? Is it traditionally working class?"

"What's the political history of south Brussels? How does the linguistic divide sit geographically?"

"Was this Haussman block purpose built for mutiple occupation? What kind of person would have lived here originally?"

"What's that big basilica on the hill called?"

"Is the automotive industry still economically significant in Oxford?"

"STOP IT!" I tell him, squirming. "I don't know! Please don't humiliate me into making something up. You must understand that I am culturally and intellectually barren. Surely? By now? Remember how I like make up and cheap chocolate and buying clothes and popular culture?"

Then he smiles beatifically and goes off and finds all the answers to his questions and tells me them. And then I forget because I have got distracted by shiny shiny shoes.

This weekend, he and the CFO spent a long time discussing the collapse of global capitalism using an extended metaphor involving a cupboard that totally escaped me. The CFO made everything up using extra special shoutiness and self-belief. Prog rock step dad quoted extensively from Le Monde Diplomatique (subscription is one of his small extravagances) and tried to elicit my views on the bankruptcy of the Spanish crown in the 16th century and the role of the Fuggers of Augsburg. I pretended to be asleep and wondered what I was missing in Star Ac.

He's leaving today and I will really really miss him. Actually, I want to keep him. I want to have a corner with a sofa in for him to sit and read big books in all the time and for there to be endless pots of tea and discussions that make me look stupid. In return we can force him to watch In the Night Garden, feed him decadent food without pulses, tease him mercilessly, and allow Lashes to jump on his head. Surely that's an OK deal? No?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Quick! Before the internet dies!

Sudafed and Nurofen biohazard brownies with a despair topping.
A Nigella fave. Nigella recommends you serve this delicious treat straight from the cooking tray with your filthy hands, accompanied by the prescription pharmaceutical of your choice.

Darlings, it’s been a trying weekend. Three cases of man flu and one heavy cold, a trip to a medieval fayre (complete with authentically medieval facial deformities, dentistry and drunkenness) do not make for domestic harmony. Also WHERE ARE MY FUCKING INTERNETS. Let’s gloss over this nest of ridiculousness however and instead, let me give you my Easy Living-esque tips for ‘simple’ ‘delicious’ birthday brownies (not approved by the Health and Safety Executive) for the malingering snorer in your life. Lucky, lucky you!

Two days before intended recipient’s birthday, get really really sick. Snotty, disgusting sick. Decide to make cake anyway. With two small snotty fellow sufferers.

Look at Nigella’s book of domestic badness. Choose brownies on basis that they don’t need to rise. Rising seems way, way beyond you at this point. Also, malingering snorer likes chocolate. Result.

Take snotty hordes to corner shop for supplies. Realise on arrival at corner shop that one of you is wearing snoring malingerer’s white plastic thongs, and the other two of you are in socks. Buy supplies from Damien. Usual sleazy “compliments” conspicuous by their absence. Go home very quickly.

Get out shit loads (that’s an imperial measure. 375g, metric people) of butter and chocolate. Marvel at quantity. Realise there is slightly less than there should be as a large slab is wedged horizontally in smaller child’s mouth. Allow small children to heat – yeah yeah fire, bad. Fall into reverie at smell of chocolate. Mmm. Chocolate.

Remember noone has washed their hands. Fuck it, too late now.

Realise that, improbable as it seems, you do not have enough sugar (500g). Inveigle prog rock step dad into going for sugar. He, at least, is able to locate his shoes.

Send snot monsters outside to ‘cool chocolate and butter mixture slightly’. Smaller monster has bright idea of using Lightning McQueen mini fan to cool the giant vat of hot buttery chocolate. Immersion of Lightning McQueen mini fan in giant vat of hot buttery chocolate gives interesting spatter patterns all over walls and windows. Catch smaller child licking walls, whilst larger child licks fan. Admire own prescience in deciding this should be an outside activity.

Set older child, slightly wiped, to breaking walnuts (300g). Arm larger child with rolling pin. Put nuts in plastic bag on tray. Stand back. Start mixing (six) eggs (attempt to remove larger pieces of shell where possible) with sugar. Fall into a trance once more, hypnotised by the whirring of the Kitchenaid. Remember how much you love Kitchenaid (inappropriate Christmas present from malingerer, falling into the outlawed ‘domestic appliance’ category) even though slightly dull silver finish. Wish Kitchenaid was pistachio green. Or almond.

Shocked back to the present with a bang, as walnut fragments spatter all over kitchen as plastic bag bursts. Older child zealously decides to stamp on them all with feet. Mysteriously, older child now has his shoes on. How did this happen? Wipe nuts hastily and add to mixture, along with eggs/sugar/eggshell mixture.

Allow elder child to add (200g) flour. Approximately 140g falls down front of elder child’s jumper. Brush elder child’s front into bowl as best as possible. Remainder goes on floor, to join walnut fragments, sugar, chocolate and residual filth.

Pour mixture into tin, aided by small children, using their hands. Fail to prevent small children from sinking hands into mixture and swirling around. Keep them at bay with large wooden spoon and give them giant pan to lick.

Whilst your back is turned placing deliciously simple brownie cake in oven (190°, 25 minutes), small children have managed to coat their entire torsos in chocolate mixture. Smaller child in particular now appears as two malevolent eyes in a mass of brown goo, reminiscent of Père Fouettard (of whom, much MUCH more later).

Wrap upper bodies of chocolate coated children in several rolls of kitchen towel. Escort upstairs with the aid of a large wooden spoon poked in small of back when either appears likely to touch something. Place children in bath. Hose down with shower. Remember, whilst hosing, that you have forgotten the teaspoon of salt.

Fall into another somnolent trance in corner of bathroom, dreaming of Sinutab and hot water bottles. Fail to see small children have emptied two bottles of shampoo in bath. Once children are de-foamed, remember brownie cake, which has been in the oven for considerably longer than 25 minutes. Remove slightly blackened (‘crunchy’) cake. Remove smallest child’s fingers from centre of blackened cake. Scrape blackened bits off with fingernails.

Coat with nuclear pink sweets. Squabble over number of candles; decide on sparklers instead. Foil larger child’s plan to bite holes in all the nuclear pink sweets in order to accommodate sparklers. Replace nuclear pink sweets eaten by smaller child in meantime. Supply larger child with exact same number of nuclear pink sweets to ensure fairness. Listen to lengthy dispute about relative size of sweets.

Short circuit argument with FIRE! Fail to coordinate lighting of sparklers. As each dies, the next whooshes to life. Give up on synchronised sparkler display. Rouse grumpy malingering snorer from afternoon of sitting in chair listening to Squarepusher and dreaming of spreadsheets and dancing tortoises. Sing. Eat sweets. Discard cake. Fall into sugar coma.

Later, find five walnut halves down bra.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Solipsism corner

Hello! If you are looking for actual entertainment today, I suggest you set a new course to the more reliable waters of the Non Working Monkey, Cakewrecks, or Lovely listings. Better still check this out (thanks Zoe!). Here be nothing but shark infested self-absorption. (This maritime metaphor is brought to you courtesy of 'Talk like a pirate day' AND the office sailing trip which I am not attending, despite the admittedly seductive promise of "medicines on the coach". ) Not even the closest members of my family have managed to feign an interest in this topic, but I am not allowing this to put me off.

Ok. It goes like this. I think I am living my life backwards.

Ten years ago, I:

- Started every day with green tea, berries and porridge;

- Worried if I ate less than ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and regularly had twenty;

- Did not drink alcohol at all, ever. In fact, drank nothing but water and tea;

- Moisturised, body brushed and got massaged religiously;

- Never touched chips or red meat;

- Exercised - properly in one of those 'gym' places - a minimum of three times a week, did yoga and roller bladed.


- Breakfast is a coffee and a pain au raisin;

- Lunch is often made up of several varieties of Celebrations. I try to ensure I include Snickers for protein though;

- Sometimes I have to eat chicory at 10 o clock at night to get anywhere near my 5 a day. Sometimes I can't even be arsed with late night chicory;

- I rarely get around to washing my face - I mean, why? It hasn't got dirty, seeing as I can't get it together to put any make up on. The CFO uses my body brush to brush his hair. Lashes gives me the odd 'massage' when he is short of money. It hurts. I really should cut his nails.;

- I have a new enthusiasm for vodka and Diet Coke (though not together, that would be really wrong) and drink horrible coffee from the machine at work all day, even though it tastes like crap;

- Chips - yum;

- "Exercise" is twenty minutes ridiculous wobbling twice a week to the hits of the early sixties, with ladies who lunch in leotards (they don't lunch in the leotards, obviously. They wobble).

I mean, isn't it supposed to be the other way round? I raised this with the CFO recently, to his dismay. Stifling a yawn, he told me that this was probably ok, since I had already fulfilled my biological destiny. He didn't use those actual words, but that was definitely the gist.

"So basically, you're saying that now that I have reproduced, the next step is death? It doesn't matter what I do any more since noone is living in or off my body?? Jesus! Thanks man"

He ran away at this point.

I blame Belgium. I mean, what chance did I have in a country that considers beer and waffles an appropriate breakfast? Where chips are a national symbol? Where proper serious gents in Homburg hats and Loden overcoats queue up on their own for large ice cream sundaes in the middle of the working day? This country is decadent, I tell you, decadent.

On the upside, I am also less of a miserable anxious joyless bastard than I was 10 years ago. Here's hoping this will counteract my new Belgian (or 'stupid') lifestyle.

Now go and generate your own Sarah Palin baby name. Ha! My name is Tangle Jig Palin. Thanks Peevish/Krinkle.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Fondant anarchists

So. The end of the world is still tiresomely nigh. Bo-ring. But! I have been prompted to wonder what skills we can all bring to the post-capitalism world by a punctuation free email from the Space Cadette:

"yea i see global capitalism is collapsin! morrisons is still standing so i dont think its hit york yet. is now not the time to jump ship then? plus u have many craft and cake baking skills that will be very useul under anarchism, no joke man those anarchists they love their knitting and cake i have observed".

I think we should start planning, and make this blog the new epicentre of self-sufficient anarchist living (says Mme Jaywalker du haut de ses escarpins Louboutin) . Especially with my ill-advised plans to jack in my lucrative but dull eurojob. Seriously! Let's grab the zeitgeist by the balls and do bad things to it with icing sugar. It's going to be a brave new crafty world, patrolled by marrowdiles, angler fish and angry balls of mohair and we have the resources to make it work for us.

Peevish should obviously spearhead this movement with her superlative crafting skills. The Mountainear and Livesbythewoods have free access to vegetable matter, what with living in the country and can forge it into terrible creatures in the white hot furnace of their deranged creativity. Kate makes frequent claims of knitted diapers but we have yet to see proof (seriously Kate, sort it out. We're losing faith). Lulu knows how to catch wasps and feed them to spiders. Persephone can make cakes out of lice. Helena turns crafty ineptitude into an art form. Zoe (I can't link to her because the corridor of tedium BARS ACCESS to her blog on grounds of it being filth. But her boyfriend is a twat. Yes, I am blogging from work. What of it? I could resign at any moment!) is quite frightening in possession of paperclips which I think will count in our favour. When the world governing classes crumble away, I can craft us some more out of fondant. And then we can eat them. What do you think?

I have been taking a wide and interesting variety of pain meds which may explain this frothingly nonsensical post. Top Belgian tip, folks: tell your Belgian GP you have a migraine and you get temazepam! Result! I will have fantastic personal pharmacopeia to barter for firewood come the end of the world. Really, you want to be on my team, I'm telling you.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Aurélie's coming, look tidy

I'm standing in the kitchen, somewhat at a loss, holding a long stick with bristles on the end. Some kind of long buried folk memory has enabled me to locate this item and I am ineffectually poking it at the piles of filth and icing sugar on the floor. If memory serves, my mum used to corral the filth into small piles, and then forget about it, so that the Space Cadette and I could then tread in it and spread it around again. Maybe I should try that? I have aready shoved all the dirty clothes I can find under the duvet in my room, prepared a meal not involving crispy crumb coating on any of its constituent elements and shut the tortoises in a cupboard. Lashes' stinky rag, 'Vieux Doudou' is hidden under his pillow. I can't do anything about the glitter explosion in the back room. Damn, that glitter is tenacious. I've been coming to work for a week looking like I've spent the night at Studio 54.

This can only mean one thing - the babysitter is coming.

The babysitter is lovely. She really, really is. She is blonde and beautiful and seventeen; clean and wholesome and well brought up. She can't babysit on Fridays because she has hockey practice (that's real hockey practice not "hockey practice" that means going secretly binge drinking whilst wearing not many clothes). When we come home, the kids are in bed, the house is peaceful, and she is always doing her homework. She makes me want to be a worthy babysittee, or at least for my children to be. Hence the flurry of inept domesticity.

Unsurprisingly, the eurospawn adore her. Lashes surgically attaches himself to her side and puts his head on her chest in a studiedly casual fashion. He does this with all female babysitters, admittedly, but Aurélie is the prettiest, even if ideally I think he would rather she had larger breasts. God, that child likes bosoms (no, rest assured I do not breastfeed my six year old. He just seems a bit fixated). I am telling myself that perhaps this means I have a future Rufus Wainright on my hands. Wouldn't that be great? Though maybe it will be more Benny Hill. Hmm. Fingers flirts mutely, dancing, fluttering his eyelashes, and putting his head on one side like a small pixie geisha. They wave me off indifferently without even looking up, snuggling closer to her compellingly shiny Timotei hair.

It's a humbling thing when the 17 year old babysitter seems more together than I do. When did young people get so neat? And sensible and articulate? I am sure it wasn't like that when I used to babysit. In fact, I feel confident in asserting that I did not form a whole sentence between the ages of 13 and 17 except "I hate you". My abiding memories are of how cold and dark it always felt in other people's houses, how the damned children would never go to bed and how rubbish the food was. The hazards of babysitting for hairy academics in the early 80s included snacks made from carob and hemp, and feral children with incredibly filthy, precocious vocabulary. At least there wasn't much scope for incurring parental disapproval - none of the children had bedtimes, and the parents always came home hours later than promised, stoned and smelling of home brew.

Tonight, I am not even going out for fun. No, it is parents' evening, a time to marvel at how long it is possible for a group of seemingly rational adults to discuss whether plastic water bottles should be allowed in the classroom. All this cleaning, just to drink wine out of a box and listen to the headmaster (my wrong, wrong crush - he's like a tiny, spiky goblin) tell us (like every year) that this year is the most important in our children's lives EVER and that my failure to provide the right brand of crayon is condemning my son to academic failure, alienation, criminality and an early death.

I'm back after a couple of hours to the children's disappointment. Aurélie takes her modest fistful of Euros, kisses us all and heads home. The charmed hiatus of peace and order she brings dissipates instantly. Do you think perhaps I could pay her to actually move in?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Ceci n'est pas an antique petticoat

I have a home internet connection, however briefly, so I thought I would put it to good use by introducing you to the new 'Sausage tail bee tiger' foreshadowed in a recent post. It's made out of tights and entirely useless for all practical and aesthetic purposes. I'm thinking, best not to give up the day job to make soft toys, right?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Houskeeping, but not in a real house thankfully

Bonjour mes saucissons bien-aimés and I do apologise for the poor level of pretty much everything round here presently - is the black thing in the dishwasher filter in fact a roach, or merely a teabag? Why is the entire house covered in a fine layer of icing sugar? Are my internet providers malevolent or merely incompetent? Why do my sinuses still feel like they are soaked in amaretto? What can we possibly do to combat the invading army of pant spiders? Is Heroes merely "Pokémon for grown ups"? * Why have I used 'merely' twice in one paragraph making myself sound like a ball of pretentious twattery? Who knows. Certainly not me.

Lack of the internets has pushed me variously this weekend to Matilda's (lovely - pasteis de nata and her new Nespresso fancy schmancy babykilling coffee machine), to Dominique and Olivier's (cat hair and Fruitella) and quite quite mad. I am sorry, but it seems that however much I beat the CFO over the head with pointy things, he cannot quite get it to work. I am having my feet gnawed to death by Iggy the homicidal tom cat as I write, so I must be brief. I'll confine myself to some village fête housekeeping.

First, the divine Antonia who is quite the funniest thing to ever roll around in horrible thigh shrinking footwear has given her verdict on the Soft Stuff. However, since she insisted on awarding the prize to the wrestling tortoises, I have had to ignore her. Instead I am awarding prizes as follows:

Third prize goes to ...

Bob the Builder! Well done Paris Girl. Let it never be said that we discriminate against those missing extremities on these pages. Even really trite, moralising, envirodullards who talk to heavy machinery and take advantage of their staff are welcome.

Second prize goes to Eddie Cantor! Antonia gave him extra marks for having no genitals. Which seems fair, until you start thinking, late at night when you should be sleeping but instead you are grinding your teeth and convulsing gently (that sounds rude. It wasn't rude.), presumably Bob has no genitals either? I CERTAINLY HOPE NOT, because that would be just, really really nasty.

First prize goes to ...... the Mohair Monster! And you all know what that means. Peevish wins ultimate super duper Village Fête champion Best in Show type person of 2009 and we must cover her in prizes and treats and small pats on the head. Peevish, you are horribly talented at this outsider craft business. Let's just remind ourselves:

"Those eyebrows" comments Antonia, and I am sure we can all agree.

I think that draws fête proceedings to a close for this year. I'm sure we can organise some kind of new seasonal badness soon. I can hardly wait.

Ok, the cat is really starting to hurt now. Maybe he can smell tortoise on me? I dread to think.

* A smidgeon of context for this one. The CFO made that observation this weekend. I invited him to expand on his theory and he said "Look, that one [Elle? Is that it?] is Pikachu, she fires electricity out of her fingers". I could not fault his logic.

Friday, 12 September 2008

La chanson française, oh yé oh yé

Hello! I promised fun didn't I, and let me say that this rash promise has preyed on my every waking moment. 'Fun, fun' I have been muttering to myself 'Fun'. Noone in my immediate entourage has any helpful suggestions. The eurospawn would direct you to 'Extreme Dinosaurs', a sort of lametastic gang of dinosaur dude superheroes. The CFO has some pleasing lengths of cable he could show you, coupled with further discussion of whether his rogue nylon pants have caused a flea infestation. My colleagues here on the corridor of ennui are frothed up into skittish excitement by an upcoming judgment on Greek pharmaceutical wholesaling. I think I'm on my own here, aren't I?

So, I thought we could have a little French music quiz. This was prompted by a discussion recently with ParisGirl - so you aren't allowed to answer PG. Let's see how much you all know about French music! Yay! (Sorry, this was the best I could come up with on short notice)

UPDATE: Now with shiny possibly wrong answers!

1. Which of the following is not a genuine Jacques Dutronc lyric:

a) I put cactuses in my underpants

b) I like girls from blast furnaces

c) I have dreamed of being an air hostess all my life

d) My umbrella has holes in like my heart

A: As Kate says correctly, the answer is (d)

2. Which famous French cinema personality had hits with songs entitled "I smell bad", "Ok cockroach (I am black)" and the English language thriller "I'll strangle you" (ah ah let me penetrate your memories / woman who can bind you hand and foot/ I'll strangle you) ?

A: Gérard Depardieu

3. "Tonight it is raining in Knokke le Zoute

Tonight like every night

I'm going home with my heart in disarray

And my dick under my arm"

Who? Why (there isn't an answer to this bit. It's existential/rhetorical)?

A: Jacques Brel. Yes, he is Belgian. But FrancoPHONE. It's my quiz. I can include Belgians if I want.

4. What is Johnny Hallyday's real name? And was that collagen a good idea?

A: Jean Philippe Smet. No. It was not. He looks like a bearded duck.

5. What is French rapper MC Solaar's ghetto fabulous first name?

A: Claude. You just can't see it anywhere but France, can you?

6. Who are these people, and do they fill you with the same cold dread they do me?

Please highlight all sexual and narcotic references in their songs "La Merguez Party" and "La Fête au Village"

A: Les Musclés. They had their own sitcom for most of the nineties, which is a frightening thought. I preferred "Classe Mannequin" on M6 though (does anyone know what I'm talking about? No? Thought not. Probably better that way) The Wikipedia entry is bizarrely detailed and claims there is a lot of subtext in songs about sex and references to the pharmacists daughter giving them pills. Odd. Horrid. Yeesh.

7. How did disco queen Claude François ("I have a bigger appetite/ Than a barracuda / I'll drink all the Nile / If you don't hold me back") meet his untimely end?

A: Some controversy here; we all know it was electrocution in his bath, but the actual equipment varies. Zoe: hairdryer; Kate: light bulb; Me - "vibromasseur". Wikipedia "appareil électrique defectueux".

8. The following describes the video for which song, by which artist, in which a young girl falls in love with her hospital nurse?

"The video begins with a portrait of Sigmund Freud in close-up, then shows that of X's mother. The song's lyrics are subtitled. X sits on the floor, wearing a white and transparent nightgown and makes faces. When the chorus begins, X turns blue and begins to jump ; the moon and the stars can be seen in the background. Afterwards, she participates in a demonstration with three children holding some placards. Then, her decapitated head is served at the table on a plate, and the children are going to eat it. Finally, the singer cries, and is slapped in the face."

A: Mylène Farmer. Again Kate triumphs, even though she slightly cheated.

There are no prizes. Do it for the love of knowledge alone. Go on. Answers tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


Ok, I am prefacing this with the doubtless unwise promise that tomorrow we will have fun. Today I am whining again. You might want to just skip the following and go cackle at this. Or, better still, go and read about what Léonie has been getting up to.

You remember how I drew my brain ineptly a while back?

Well it seems to have shifted slightly. Now about a third of it is consumed by: wondering about the film they seem to be making in an empty car showroom on my route to work. Yesterday there were about 50 pallets of apples. Today there is a stuffed fox, and a stuffed duck as well as the apples. I want to just leave this office right now and go and stare open mouthed at the Belgian artistry on display. I mean, I would TOTALLY watch that film. I reckon it might be as good as the "Yoga for vegetables" film the CFO cruelly wouldn't accompany me to see last year.

The rest of it goes like this:

1. How do I get rid of Tony?

2. When can I resign?

Yes, I think I have decided to resign. I mean, it will probably take a while. I have to save a little money so we don't all have to eat stones or send the Eurospawn up chimneys. Lashes is getting far too big and objectionable for that, sadly. I also have to pay off various items of frightening footwear discussed recently on these pages.

I broached the subject with the CFO earlier in the week. He was euphoric about not having to go for dinner in Ghent with a group of tractor salesmen, so it seemed like a good moment.

"Can I stop working altogether and write a book?"

"Of course" (see, this is why I love him)

"Really? I promise to chop up all my credit cards and I'll fill in a spreadsheet of my spending if you want".

"You mean, we could have a BUDGET? Like normal people? Not, just you randomly throwing money around on BOWLS with no regard for the future?"

"I don't want to promise something I'm not capable of, but I promise to try".

I am mutating into one of those women from the maturer ladies' glossies, who have a little breakdown in their thirties, stop being ball-breaking financiers and go off fill a gap in the market for antique petticoats. But without the petticoats. I did make a "sausage tailed bee tiger" this week (photo to follow when my home internet providers STOP BEING STUPID BASTARDS, as an aside, this is also why I am not replying to email at the moment. Sorry. I am trying to sort it out. ) but I don't think there's much of a market for them.

The idea of stopping work makes me feel very odd for all manner of reasons. Raised and schooled in 1970s feminism, the idea of relinquishing financial independence makes me feel uneasy, even guilty. I did it once before when we lived in Paris, and it was hell. It does odd, and difficult things to the balance of power in a relationship (do you like how romantically I put that? Yes, the CFO and I are squaring up to one another for a geopolitical squabble over the price of bowls). I think, and hope, we are both a bit more grown up now, though. But will that be enough to stop us killing each other?

The Bearded One certainly won't understand. I think I might have to just pretend I still have a job for a couple of years, like those men who put on their suits every day and go and sit on a park bench. 'My daughter the lawyer' trips off his tongue unbidden all the time. If you listen to him, you could be forgiven for thinking I am the lawyer empress of Brussels, sitting astride a mountain of EU Regulations with my feet on a small heap of crushed eurocrats. A Belgian Patty Hewes, possibly with marginally less murder. He wouldn't mind if there was a little bit of murder though I think. As long as it was, you know, totally essential to the case and he could brag about it. "Yes, my daughter is a very important lawyer. She ripped a man's throat out with a staple remover you know, she's that dedicated".

It makes me think guiltily of my mum, too, who was fiercely independent. And awesomely high-achieving. But dammit, she really loved her job. She was passionate about it. I'm not - I can barely tolerate mine on a good day. I drifted into it for all the wrong reasons (fear? stupidity?) and I only stay because it keeps me in fripperies. It seems a waste to do something so dreary. I know I am in an extraordinarily privileged position to even have a choice - and in a way I think this makes it even more important that I exercise that choice to do something that actually makes me, and by extension, those around me, happy.

"But think of the shoes!" says Matilda, who is a ferociously good and dedicated lawyer.

"God, just do it. It will give me panic attacks, but do it anyway." says BMF

"We just got trapped in the wrong job and now we can't get out" says my friend Sue.

"We could both go on this icing course I'm googling!" says Violet.

"I have a great opportunity in Bratislava" says Tony.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

I hate myself

"I'm going to do it" I say, putting my head round Matilda's door, where she and Alice are doing real work.

"No. Really? Are you sure. Have you thought about this properly?"

"Yes. Totally. I've been talking about it, and thinking about it so long, I really think the time has come".

"God. Emma. How are you going to live with yourself?"

"I really don't know. Will you still speak to me?"

"I don't know. Probably not. Certainly not when you're wearing them".

I am going to get a pair of MBTs.

You all know what they are, right? Hideous, hideous orthapaedic looking footwear offering the quixotic promise of thinner thighs. They really are among the nastiest things you can put on your feet, but god, the promise of thinner thighs merely through wearing ugly shoes, mmm, it is seductive. I have been wavering for ages, but after a transitional FitFlop phase, which has prepared me for the shame and opprobrium of people staring in blank horror and dread at your feet, I feel ready. (Belette, this is your fault by the way, for being the acceptable, nay, delightful, face of MBT wearers) Also, because this is Belgium and not London, I feel like most people will just assume I have really really bad taste and not know that in fact I have sacrificed my sense of shame and propriety on the altar of groundless promises of thin thighs.

Alice is shaking her head.

"You do know that J has some?" she says


J is a senior Eurodrone. He looks exceptionally like Danny De Vito playing the Penguin in Batman.

"Yes, it's true" confirms Matilda, gleefully. "I've seen him wearing them. They're brown lace up ones, like ornithologists and people who visit National Trust properties wear".

"Jesus, people, you're ruining it for me! Really? Truly?"

"Not only that" says Alice "but last week I saw him FALL OVER in them. He sort of lost his balance and rocked backwards and forwards like one of those wobbly man toys. He had to grab on to the photocopier to get himself upright again"


"I couldn't even laugh, he was deadly deadly serious. But now, when I'm having a bad day, I think about it"


"Yup. He'll see you in them and want to talk about thighs. And firmness. And your 'core'"

"From one user to another"

"I am not listening! La la la la. I'm going anyway. You can't stop me"

"You have to show us when you get back. If we don't approve we'll make you take them back"

I run away and go to the MBT shop of shame. It is, mercifully, a normal running shoe shop staffed by 2 super relaxed Belgian guys. They don't judge me for my insane vanity. I scan the display, blushing fiercely, and desperately select what seem to be the least 'special' looking ones.

"Have you tried them before?" asks the nice man with the goatee.


"Ok, well the important thing is not to look down"

"Why? Because they're so ugly?"

"No, so you don't fall over. There. That's right; just look straight ahead. There's a mirror over there if you want to check out how they look"

"Er, no. No thanks. Best not I think"

It turns out they don't have the ones I can live with in my size, but I go ahead and order them anyway. They arrive in a week. There will be photos.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Scornful lady - my new crush

We have a new tv. One of those newfangled flat ones, with English channels. It is a strange and wonderful thing. Last night the CFO and I watched a programme about a man with a fruit and vegetable phobia. He was required to hold a spear of asparagus for five minutes and kept retching. Actually, that could have been Belgian, poor example. I squealed with excitement, though, since it featured the office GP who first sent me to the hilarious "I specialise in lawyers" psychiatrist I used to see. She was looking very fetching in a lab coat, pouring curry sauce over a pretend liver made out of a sponge. Clearly, the last 3 years have been good to her, since I tottered into her basement surgery with my tale of death, abortion, hair loss, eating disorders, panic and inability to answer the phone.

The tv is good though, and saves me from the sycophantic and insular doom of French tv news, where the choice is between a man with Brillo pad hair plugs and a man with alarming eyebrows telling me exactly the same 'news' story about some venerable maker of shoe laces fashioned from Camembert rind in his workshop in Larzac. Or reporting on whether goats in Brittany are depressed. Or which farmers have been dumping pig shit where this week. When we lived in Paris, there were two whole weeks devoted to counting down to the opening of a new viaduct. I watched in mounting incredulity.

"This is not news. In what way is this news? A change in the diet of wild partridges in Lot et Garonne is not news." I tell the CFO daily, snatching for the remote, but he has been brought up on a diet of such nonsense, and an evening without le journal de TF1 is inconceivable for him. It is no surprise that there is no content, as the drama all happens off screen, where they are busy having affairs with each other and in-fighting, as heavily featured in the French tabloids. Brillo pad man is being replaced by a woman called Ferrari. His weekend stand-in is fighting back by reading the news with no bra. It's cut throat, I tell you.

Hair plugs



Gravitas - ur doin in wrong.

The best bit of the new tv is accidental though. It is, mysteriously, set to some kind of visual commentary, I assume for the blind. We don't know how to turn it off, and frankly, I am starting to really like it. At first, when it came on during children's programmes, I thought nothing of it. The eery and disapproving female voice seemed an odd addition, admittedly: "Makka Pakka takes his sponge and washes the Ninky Nonk"; "The tellytubbies fall to the ground, waving their legs", but I was busy trying to pick glitter off the tortoises whilst trying to stall Tony's plan for me to achieve world domination through the medium of eurotedium. Later, however, as I zapped around, I happened on Scornful Lady commenting on the credits to Friends.

"The five friends cavort in a fountain" she sneered "to a medley of scenes from previous series".

Wow. I think she's my new girl crush!

Next, I came across her on Holby City. Holby City, non-British people, is an absysmal and incestuous hospital drama. Everyone has already slept with everyone else in this West Country hospital and all that is left for them is to start again, or possibly die. Sometimes, to mix it up a little, they get off with patients instead. It is most notable for its lightning-swift promotions of favoured characters. If you are pushing a trolley or emptying bed pans one week, but you wear a turtle neck well, you can confidently expect to be performing a high risk craniotomy on one of your colleagues the next week.

She is the perfect foil to the clunky clunky acting and woeful plot."Jac, who has overheard Faye and Joseph, looks shocked, then determined" she says with heavy irony. "Rick stares wistfully at the photo on his desk". I can hear the arch of her eyebrows. "Elliott squeezes Ric's shoulder in a gesture of solidarity". She enunciates every word with glassy disdain.

Hee! I am gleeful. Now I want to hear her do all sorts. Films with Tom Cruise! Show jumping! Eastenders! I would hate to hear her commentary on something I really enjoy though. She could spoil it for you in one well chosen phrase. Actually, that could come in handy. I might introduce her to Pokémon.

Monday, 8 September 2008

A twist of fête

The wonderful Ms Pickard, in the midst of emigrating to San Francisco, fretting about her kittehs and experiencing her first mini earthquake, has rendered her verdict on the veg. Thank you so so much for this Anna! I can do no better than to give you her unedited words, since they are extremely funny.

"Third - Talulah does the hula; beautifully executed, bizarrely sexy (for a spring onion)"

"Second - Insalata; I've seen a half-naked vegetable lady. Now I have truly lived. Though I might not be able to eat a carrot ever again the same way".

"First prize - The Angler fish. Not only is it damned well executed, there's a whole story going on there - and there's not just the fish - there's his prey as well and ... oh I don't know. It takes a special kind of talent to make a watermelon scary. "

(The angler fish celebrates with fresh goldfish kill)

"SPECIAL OOPER DOOPER PRIZE goes to the bee. Man, I LOVE that bee. not only is it the cutest of the whole lot of them, and the most edible looking, but it has a killer screw for a sting and, in a true moment of abject failure, no wings. It's a rolling bee. Watch out, it's rolling after you, really slowly, leaving a little grapey trail! It might sting you with its little hurty screw! Oh No!I love that damned bee. Actually I should just come clean about me and bees. I wish I was a bee, and ... Screw it, the bee would get a prize anyway. It's a GREAT BEE. "

Anna, you are wonderful.

Winners, email me at belgianwaffling@gmail.com for Belgian prizes! Go on go on go on. Losers, throw your produce on the compost heap and cry.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Office supplies - the verdict

The CFO is nothing if not obsessively thorough when given a task. I assigned him to judge the office supplies and this is the result:

He was slightly disappointed not to have weighted the scorings but in general he feels it's a good methodology. Entries were judged on the following criteria:

1. Value of stationery items used

2. Difficulty of sourcing stationery item (desk vs cupboard vs special request from stationery department)

3. Function ('how useful it is' he said, when pressed - I am dubious how this applies to the items below)

4. Aesthetics

Based on this criteria, here are the results:

In third place, Zoe's 'Paperclip Earring' with a score of 11. Yay Zoe!

In second place 'Quick, take me to the madhouse' (aquarium scene) by Violet with 12 points

And in first place.. with a grand total of 13 ... Amaretto mouse, also by Violet!


I am unilaterally disqualifying Amaretto mouse due to its main constituent element not being available in any workplace but Violet's.
Instead, I award first prize to 'tragic remains of Robopony' by Léonie. Because it is my fête and I can be as arbitrary as I want. Also, Violet can't get two prizes.

Also, I am sucker for a hard luck story and the destruction of Robopony made me unspeakably sad. Well done Léonie.

Email me for top class Belgian prizes winners. Losers, weep gently into your hole punchers.

Tomorrow - miscellaneous!

Bare faced

"Two people have already asked me if your eyebrows are pretend" says Lashes staring intensely into my eyes, winding his sharp and pointy limbs around me in a suffocating embrace whilst sticking one finger up my nose. It's repulsively early and we are sharing the spare bed. It is a 'treat' for Lashes who has been asking for months if he can sleep with me. Paging Dr Freud? The CFO is extremely disapproving. To his satisfaction it turns out to be an excruciating night, at least for me. Lashes, surprisingly for one so sanguine when awake, sleeps with all the stillness of an epileptic gibbon and spends the night heaving himself around on top of me, throwing out limbs and clicking his tongue like a dolphin. Also, the spare bed is apparently made out of rock. I am feeling a little delicate this morning, like someone has been rubbing my face and most particularly my eyeballs vigorously with wire wool. I have not have the lie in I was hoping the blackout blinds would give me.

"Really?" I say, surprised and a little wounded. I think my eyebrows look fairly natural. Well, for tattoos. At least enough to fool six year olds with presumably little cosmetic expertise or interest? Surely? Time to call Sophie for a top up. I shift over so he isn't crushing my chest completely with his elbows. "Did you tell them about my hair by any chance?"

Lashes looks shifty. "Yes, but I told them it was a secret and not to tell anyone".

I shouldn't be surprised. Last year I overheard a conversation between him and a gang of his fellow reprobates outside school.

"I have 2 papas" says one of them.

"I have a new puppy" says another.

"My brother has a [Nintendo] DS!"

"My maman can take her hair off!" says Lashes, trumping them all.

Most of the time I don't really mind about being bald. I like the fact that Lashes thinks it gives him some kind of gross out kudos at school. My fake hair is nicer than my real hair ever was. I absolutely hate having no eyelashes - it makes me look like a mournful pink eyed mouse - but I think my fakey eyebrows look ok even if Patrick and Alexandro don't. I do, though, occasionally catch myself thinking 'what, forever?' Especially after a night where I have my recurrent dream about my hair growing back, enough for a cute gamine fluffy crop, like post-chemo Kylie. I can't remember what it feels like to have real hair anymore. It's been 12 years since it started falling out, covering the whole of the floor of the CFO's Normandy bedroom one summer, like a whole freakish carpet of hair. For a while it felt like the end of the world. Now, I can barely pinpoint the moment I stopped thinking it would, or might, or could conceivably grow back, but I think I have, finally, realised it won't. It's just alopecia, which is probably the best way you can go bald. My brother's hair is now growing back really well after his radio and chemo, and god knows, there's nothing to envy there.

I don't mind who knows, really but I don't want everyone to see my bare head, like Gail Porter. It feels too exposed, too naked. I couldn't cope with the staring. I tried for a while but it was like not merely going out without clothes, but going out without my skin on. On top of that, people would give me meaningful, sympathetic looks that made me feel like a fraud. Once, in the changing rooms at The Sanctuary, a girl came up to me, shook me gently by the shoulders and said "Keep fighting it, yeah?". I don't think she just meant hair loss.

I don't particularly want to be the freakish parent everyone runs away from, but hey, at least Lashes is still proud of me and my amazing removeable hair. It won't last. I remember weeping with humiliation everytime my mum came to pick me up wearing her cycling cape. "They all say you look like a witch!" I would wail. For now, at least, my son rates me as one of his most favourite people, with or without hair. It's brief, and precious.

"You are a bad bugger Lashes" I say "Now take that giant plastic grasshopper out of my ear" .

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Judging starts!

Hello everyone, and by the way you are lovely. Thank you. The squid is off weaving its tentacles into Sarah Palin's hair at the moment.

The wonderful Jen from Cakewrecks has rendered her verdict on the cakes. Read and weep, bakers:

"In THIRD place, a cake so well crafted, I actually felt concern for the swimming kitty - where's his snorkel and mask?!" It's .. Aquarium Cat!

Well done Vetmommy!

"In second place is Guy Verhofstadt, whose sugar lips will no doubt haunt my dreams for at least the next week or two"

(I award myself a prize of a large dose of lithium)

"In first place, for its eye abrasive color choices, abstract yet disquieting design is ..... [drumroll] ... The Stomach Cake!"

"Kudos" says Jen "To the baker for having the guts to make a cake of the very organ where it is heading".

Peevish - you win!

But wait, there's more. A special award for "Most interesting backstory" goes to the Lice cake. Jen says "This does have an explanation behind it right? Er, right? Anyone?" Persephone, over to you!

Many many thanks to Jen. Winners - yes everyone gets a prize - just email me your postal address for terrifying Belgian recompenses! belgianwaffling@gmail.com

Later this weekend, the CFO will be setting out his verdict on the office supplies.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Ghostwritten by a giant squid, with compensatory dollies

Something large and gloomy seems to have taken up residence in my head today. I think it might look a bit like a giant squid. One of those ones with a domed forehead and tiny inscrutable eyes deep set in its rubbery temples. It is squirting black stuff into my brain like a cuttlefish and putting its tentacles everywhere. As a result I am consumed with melancholy. Oh, and it seems to have rubbed off several of the outer layers of my skin, because everything is making me cry, even lyrics about horses getting struck by lightning.

It's reminding me of the advert in the pharmacy I pass on the way to work that reads "Are you sad for no reason? Perhaps there's a very precise reason!". It's advertising magnesium. French and Belgian people are obsessed with magnesium. They believe it stops you from getting tired, and makes you thinner, and, apparently, happier. I only remember it gave off very exciting white flames when we dropped the tiny fragment parsimoniously doled out by Mr Dobson into the bunsen burner in chemistry. But hey, it sounds great! Mine's a double magnesium with a magnesium chaser. Though are they not perhaps confusing magnesium and amphetamines? I wouldn't particularly trust them. They believe that "heavy legs" (jambes lourdes) is a medically recognised condition. "Ooooh, my legs are so HEAVY!" I used to mock the CFO "I can barely stand! This is a medical emergency!".

So. Yes, I am sad for no reason. No, it is not my hormones. Nor are my legs particularly heavy. No heavier than usual. I'm just angsting - caught in the trap of working parenting. Oh woe, I have become a big, dull,overprivileged cliché. If you just scroll down past the next few paragraphs however, I have some reaaallly scary dolls to show you!

I am horribly bad at my job, because it bores and irritates me, so most of the time I do nothing, then feel anxious about doing nothing. I'd love to have the guts to give it up and try and write, but I feel like everyone in the whole universe believes they can write a novel at the moment and it fills me with despair. The thought of becoming financially dependent again too - brrr. It was nearly the end of us last time when I took a year's maternity leave with Fingers to move to Paris and get shouted at by old ladies. To say the CFO and I have differing ideas in financial matters is like saying Robert Mugabe can be a little grumpy occasionally.

I love my children but am really bad at most of the parenting business. All I really do well is the fun stuff, with cutting and sticking and glitter, and speculating about the best way to preserve a dead bee, and the holding very very tight and squeezing on the sofa watching tv (this is especially sensually gratifying at the moment, as Lashes has become all tall and smooth and bony, which I find fascinating and Fingers has crazy curls, a round soft belly surrounded by sticklike limbs and long, long digits that find their way up my sleeves and under my tshirt. It's like an 'all you can eat' buffet of child body parts. No! That came out so terribly wrong! I don't mean it like that at ALL).

I find it desperately hard that they are off at school learning that the world is frequently unfair and boring and harsh and that sometimes drawing a rocket when you are supposed to be colouring in the outline of your hand will get you sent to the headmaster. I want to try and make up for that by being around more to do fun stuff, and domestic stuff, and merely being together stuff. I have the strongest, and happiest memories of my stepdad being at home when I got back from school every day, tea in the pot, dinner cooking (even if it was cauliflower curry, bleurgh, trip to the Spar for chocolate needed), Radio 4 on in the background. At this time of year I am always knocked sideways with nostalgia for that time in my life and I do so want my children to have that, to take that for granted the way I did.

But at the same time, I know that if I don't work, I will turn into a crazed harpy. Nor do I even have the confidence that I could provide that kind of home. I don' t think I'm that person, as I'm frequently reminded when I hear myself shouting "WILL YOU JUST STOP SHOUTING !" for the nintieth time this week. And I want to talk to my mum about all this strangeness and guilt and frustration and delight that being a parent involves but she is dead which is extremely inconsiderate of her. Stop being dead now mum, I am really sick of it . And I can't even teach my son to write his name in joined up writing because I can't do French joined up, which is demented.

I think I am homesick too. Hmm.

Right, enough of that. Here. Take a look at this. There were lots and lots of things I wanted to say about them, but the burning of my retinas keeps distracting me...

Goodness, what a strange shop window. What could possibly be in those brown paper parcels? Let's come closer...



Eeeew.. (My favourite)


Clunk [head falls off at the horror. note reflection of my hideous FitFlops as if the horror weren't great enough already]

My final word to you is - originally these things moved around the window in a jerky ghostlike motion on invisible strings. Want nightmares? I have them.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Late entry

A late, but too marvellously terrifying to ignore, entry from Peevish in the soft category. Meet Mohair Monster. If spotted do not approach.
As Peevish herself says "A little felt is a dangerous thing". A maxim we would all do well to heed.
Tomorrow, tune in for 'Belgium's most disturbing window display'.


Fragment 1

BMF and I are emailing.

E: So, I have the glasses, I have the bondage boots and I'm wearing the shroud dress with the pouch. My desk still has a box of men's thongs on it. AND STILL THEY COME. Asking me questions. Making me do their tedious, tedious bidding. Droning on, interminably and stealing my chocolate. What more can I do to make myself scary and unapproachable?

BMF: A hat. You definitely need a hat. Or, and I am quivering with excitement as I type this, Daphne Guinness-esque Shaun Leane knuckle dusters. Go on go on go on.

E: I like. Yet again, you confirm to me why we must always be friends.

BMF: I have a better idea! Go and look at Roisin Murphy's video for Overpowered. I defy anyone to question you dressed like this.

E: Oh yes. Yes yes yes. Now that would SO WORK. But where, do you suppose, one sources a giant padded fabric chess board?

BMF: It could be your next craft project. I am thinking you might need to tone it down a little for work. But not the hat. The hat stays as per video. And the enormity of the clothing item. The rest you are free to do whatever inspires you.

E: Maybe I could incorporate my rolls of sticky plastic?

Fragment 2

The CFO comes home with a bunch of flowers for me.

E: What on earth have you bought me flowers for? You never come bearing unsolicited gifts. Not since 1996.

CFO: I am SO SO SO proud that Tony says they've cancelled your interview because they thought you were asking for too much money*. This is my proudest moment ever.

E: I did it for you, you know that?

CFO: I never thought this day would come. I had given up hoping.

Fragment 3

The Euromasters are dimly aware that the mumblings of discontent among the basement zombies are getting near deafening. They can barely hear themselves think to count their money. In order to raise morale they have organised a day trip for us! I am quoting verbatim from the invitation here:

You are cordially invited to a One day sailing which will take place in Holland "Oosterschelde".The Oosterschelde is a river, we are not going into the open sea.
If you are still not confident and think you will get seasick, we will have medecines with us to distribute in the coach.
[sic. oh so very sic all of it]

Particular highlights hidden away in the invitation include - the four hour coach trip. A "regatta" - this is hidden away in a tiny font. Regatta - that's like, a competition right? Argh. The leave time - 8am - and return time - 10:30 pm.

I forward to BMF. He is gleeful.

BMF: I am actually crying real tears of joy here. They are running down my cheeks. My intern is really worried about me. The throwaway reference to the regatta! How much do you want to bet there will be branded T-shirts?

E: Oh yes. And caps. And shouting. Don't forget the shouting.

BMF: "We are not going on the open sea". Oh go on. Please.

E: If the choice is between this and death, I choose death.

BMF: You are pathetic. Remember I endured the work ski trip IN A SHARED BEDROOM.

E: I still can't quite believe you did that. Were 'medecines' provided on the coach?

Fragment 4

Violet: The shoes are great, but I had a terrible shot of cold panic when I saw you on the bath. That is a total DTI statistic in the making.

E: Ridiculous. I have checked. 308 accidents in 2002 involving photographic equipment. That makes it less than HALF as dangerous as air freshener (902 accidents - you must go play with this tool people). And even less dangerous than 'cake or scone' (492 accidents).

Violet: Never underestimate a scone.

*Never fear, I have another interview. Tony is tireless.