Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sandy Claws

"It doesn't matter WHO he is, just tell him you've been good, alright? That ring looks sharp"

Pity, my friends, the confusion of the children of Belgium around this time of year, when not one, but two formidable white bearded gentlemen in red costumes are bandied around to threaten them to behave.

Yes, in Belgium, in defiance of their common origins, "Saint Nicolas" and "Père Noël are treated as two entirely different red-garbed benefactors, who just happen to look similar and rock up at the same time of year.

I have a LOT to say about this, it makes my brain melt (a whole new festival at which I have to buy my children presents? From the same guy in a red suit but under another name?), so will almost certainly return to the topic this week in the run up to 6 December, but for today, I thought I would assist anyone with bearded gift-giver confusion with my handy cut out and keep guide. David Sedaris does it better than I could though.

What are you wearing?

a) I am wearing this lovely red bishop's dress with white underskirt. I have a nice red pointy hat with a cross on it, and a curly ended stick, white gloves, and a big fuck off red ring. What I'm trying to convey with this outfit is do NOT fuck with me. I see you when you are sleeping AND when you are awake. I know if you've been bad or good and I have a big stick.

b) A cosy red knitted suit with cotton wool trim. Very cuddly! Hop up here on my knee and stroke it.

How do you get around?

a) On a white horse. Or sometimes a donkey. Accompanied by various accolytes, sometimes jingling their chains or cracking whips at passing children. You might get an orange thrown at your head if you're really lucky.

b) In a sleigh pulled by reindeer, yo ho ho.

Where do you live?

a) In Spain. That's where I get the oranges from.
b) In Lapland of course! That's where the reindeer are happiest.

Christ to the fuck - who or WHAT is that next to you?

a) Who, him?

That's the Père Fouettard (literally, whipping father). Or Black Pete. His job is to whip bad children. Or, alternatively, to put them in a sack and kick them to Spain. Or hit them with a stick. Whatever. It depends on his mood. Why is he blacked up like that? Oh, that's the soot from the chimney. Possibly. Or not. He might be a moorish slave, but generally we try and skirt around that these days.

b) Just a minimum wage elf. No need to be alarmed.

What do you give good children?

a) I put nuts and stuff in their shoes. Speculoos, chocolate money, oranges. Maybe a little coal.

b) Oh, you know, Nintendo, Littlest Pet Shop, whatever.

And how about bad ones?

a) See above. I get Père Fouettard to put them in a sack and kick them to Spain. Or in other places, I might beat them myself, or put them in a sack and drown them in the river. If I am in a good mood I might just give them coal. Or a stick. Whatever. You've got to use your instincts in this game.

b) There are no bad children!

Anything else I should know?

a) I collect children's dummies from them and put them in giant Nutella pots

b) I was only joking about sitting on my knee.

Mostly (a)s - Probably St Nicolas. Approach with caution. Make it clear that you have been VERY good before engaging in dialogue.

Mostly (b)s - Probably Father Christmas. Safe to approach unless in Selfridges.


Yes. I know. NaBloPoMoFo big fat FAIL. I didn't post yesterday. The twenty fucking NINTH, one day away from being covered in marathon posting glory, and instead all I have to offer you is seven hours in the emergency room and a giant comedy bandage. I can't even show you a picture, because the CFO has confiscated the camera as an excessive blogging penalty. I will just have to use my words.

The knee of death put in another giant, freakish appearance on Saturday and I couldn't move or walk or do anything except scare children at the work St Nicolas party (of which MUCH more later) with my disturbingly elephantine limb. So the CFO dropped me off at the hospital in the manner of a gangland shooting victim on an episode of ER, stopping for just long enough to roll my body out of the car then screeching off again. I don't begrudge this at all. The only thing worse than sitting for seven hours in casualty would be sitting for seven hours in casualty with two fractious children using my leg as monkey bars and an increasingly irate and squinty eyed Frenchman.

I think the hospital must have known I was feeling a little homesick because it put on a five star British casualty experience. Hour in the hall in the dark; bemused intern poking, going off to "ask my superior" and never being seen again; eventually getting an x-ray, then being abandoned in the room they use to put casts on for three hours weeping on an ever more insistent note in pain while occasionally people would try to come in and use the room, look puzzled at me, and go away again, pointedly ignoring my whimpering. More poking, mystery blood tests (never explained) and a catheter (is this the right word - I mean one in my arm, not to make me wee. It's catheter in French but I'm never sure) inserted, an ice pack, sheepish delegation of three doctors coming to say they couldn't actually do anything about it today, but I could go to orthopedics on Monday. More weeping from me. Asked for catheter to be removed - nurse went to "ask my superior", never seen again. Another hour waiting for prescription and appointment. Wheeled to the front desk to wait in dark for a taxi. Realised still had catheter in and had to ask receptionist to take it out. More weeping.

I will say one thing for the Belgian version of British casualty - when you've been waiting four hours and cry, they give you a consolation MORPHINE shot. Mmmm. This almost made it worthwhile. There were a couple of almost pleasant hours in a fuzzy, semi-catatonic state listening to the gibbering woman next door rant on about how she had been poisoned and she was going to tell the media as soon as she got out. It was a bit muddled, something to do with cats and sponges, but it was mildly distracting. Sadly, however much I pleaded for more, they weren't having it and chucked me out with a prescription for, uh, paracetamol. I still can't move my right leg, or sleep, which is mildly inconvenient to say the least.

I don't know what the moral of this story is. Don't hurt your knee on a Saturday? Don't assume NaBloPoMoFo is a good idea just because you usually manage to post everday? Don't boast about the superiority of the Belgian health system on your weblog?

I do have proper post for today if the CFO ever gives me the camera back. It has pictures of Père Fouettard collecting old dummies in a giant Nutella pot and everything. But I'm not promising anything or I'll probably get electrocuted by the kettle or cut my fingers off with an axe. Clearly I've displeased the blogging gods. They demand a sacrifice! I'm not sure what it might be, but I'll get back to you when I find out.

Update: now with added pathetic picture

Boo hoo poor me.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Desert Island don'ts

I've got nothing tonight. Nothing. But NaBloPoMoFo oblige, so I'm doing Katy's Desert Island discs Meme. For those who didn't spend their dismal, seventies Sunday mornings listening to Desert Island Discs and wishing they were dead, it's was a radio programme where a celebrity (fairly widely defined - on really bad days it might be a cricket umpire or similar) chose the 8 pieces of music they would take with them to a desert island, along with one book (excluding the Bible and Shakespeare - provided) and one luxury item (no humans or escape oriented tools, or, I think, anything permitting you to communciate with the outside world - correct, pedants?).

Firstly, let me say the first thing I would do on a desert island would be fall into a deep and impenetrable depression because - oh my fucking god, give me the sweet oblivion of death. That's worse than the worst kind or rural outrage my parents used to perpetrate on me. Well, maybe not worse than the island of Eigg, because really, nothing could be. It was a living death. But definitely worse than, for instance, Ardnamurchan, or the Lake District. At least there was some prospect of escape, fudge and the odd tea room. I hate places with no shops. And cafés. And pollution. Oh, and do you remember I hate sand? So, my musical choices are correspondingly upbeat, in general. To snap me out of it. Ha. As if.

I've assumed we're talking singles for pop. Albums is too easy, and also cheating.

1. The Primitives - Crash. Perfect 2 minute bouncy pop. It's a bit wasteful to choose something so short but it has this fantastic opening that you just can't help flailing around to. It reminds me of being, like, fifteen or something, but the good bits. The bits about spending every Saturday in Rough Trade records on Goodramgate looking at obscure EPs and feeling terribly grown up and having all that hope and crazy ambition and thinking that something AMAZING is on the verge of happening to you (but in fact spending the day - and, indeed, whole years - slumping around the house and eating custard in front of Casualty).

2. Pulp - Common People. Again, it's up-tempo pop with an bit of an edge. And I love Jarvis Cocker's voice. And it's so very English. It's the kind of grubby, sarky English that I worship.

3. Bob Marley - African Herbman I agonised about what Bob Marley to take. Every one in my family loves Bob, three generations worth of us. I warn you, I'll probably come back and change track, like, five hundred times. The CFO had a crappy old bootleg tape with just the best early Bob Marley on it when we first me, and sadly we've lost it and I can't find a replacement with the same track listing. Dammit! Anyway; even though the Space Cadette hates this one, it reminds me of finally having something in common with this bizarre small French person who kept insisting on taking me out on bizarre non-dates to DIY shops and for lunch with his Grandma and speaking to me in appalling broken English.

4. The Strokes - Sometimes. There had to be something from Is This It. They're all great for thrashing around your bedroom/desert island to, pretty much, but this just edges it over New York City Cops.

5. Joni Mitchell - Carey Blue is the album, the piece of music that reminds me most of my mum. I couldn't listen to it for a long time after she died, and the CFO put it on one day in Paris and suddenly I heard Little Green blasting out and I just collapsed in a heap. It's funny - it's not what she listened to most; she listened to more classical music, but I think it reminds me of when she was younger and I was tiny and she listened to Joni, and Joan Armatrading and Emmylou Harris and the rest and was full of youth and optimism and free lurve whilst still being my mum. She would have been about my age, I think when she was listening to this, so it's resonant now, but it's also my childhood wrapped up in a song. So I love it.

6. Regina Spektor - On the Radio Just because she's great, and mental and funny and this is fantastic song. And the Space Cadette introduced me to Regina Spektor. AND Vampire Weekend. Yes, without my sister I would still be living in 1986. Vampire Weekend just lost out here. It was such a close call between this and Walcott, but I've got loads of thrashy guitar pop already.

7. Jack Johnson - Damn, this was hard too. Mudfootball, Taylor or Flake? Something from Brushfire Fairytales anyway. Argh. Bubble Toes. Maybe. For that lyric that goes "When you move like a jellyfish, rhythm don't mean nothing you go with the flow you don't stop'. Again, this is going to keep me up all night. The CFO is already tutting and saying "they aren't REALLY sending you do a desert island. Unfortunately".

8. Nina Simone - Ain't Got No (I got life) live. Incredible voice, incredible energy. It's got this totally irresistible energy towards the chorus and it just builds and builds orgasmically. I haven't found a version as good as mine (Lady Blue In Concert) to link to and I think without this version you just won't get it. I sound like such a wanker don't I. This is the song, but without the mad energy.

Obviously, I could agonise over this for ever. I am forcing myself to stop. And I keep saying "energy" don't I? I think I am hoping that if I type the word often enough I will get some by osmosis. At least enough to get up off the sofa of evil and go to bed.

Ok. Um, book. Yeah, that's going to be so much easier. Bollocks. I want a Nancy Mitford anthology. Yeah, I might as well get real. I'll want descriptions of frivolous nonsense on this stupid island and not a dissection of nineteenth century anomie ( The Man Without Qualities, I'm looking at your dusty abandoned form).

Luxury. My bed. I'm going to be catatonic with despair, I might as well do it in comfort. I love my bed. Mmm. Bed. Imagine me in my island hell, alternating between ineptly moshing around to guitar based pop and weeping in my vast comfortable bed, made out of luxury marshmallow fluff. Bed. Now there's a good idea.

I nominate anyone who fancies it, as ever, but Marie, I think you should because of being into music and all, innit. Belette? You might enjoy it too.

Please, let this never happen to me. Please?

Thursday, 27 November 2008

In which the CFO has a trying day

Love my faketastic hairdo.

My birthday, then, was fine.

The jumper from the CFO was exactly the sludge coloured jumper with a bow I had requested.


It's getting to know all the other sludge coloured clothing with bows in the cupboard. They are probably trying to establish some kind of a pecking order, maybe based on bow size. I tried to self-censor my second-guessing, 'it's all an elaborate double-bluff in a minute he'll come out with a PUPPY' thoughts, with moderate success. The CFO apologised for not surprising me, with a hangdog face, about fifty thousand times. And got the spawn clothed and to school.

Lashes made me a jellyfish mask and a circle of plastic cut from an Actimel bottle with a face on, and regifted me a Halloween plastic bat. Lovely stepmother sent a teeny tiny tortoise on behalf of the Bearded One.

Jellyfish mask, teeny tiny tortoise, and jumper.

Fingers refused to make me anything at all, but drew me one of his characteristic long fingered 'bonhommes'.

The MRI was short, and the spawn haircuts painless.

My birthday cake, albeit chosen and bought by me, was delicious.

Violet and the Space Cadette got me lovely things. Thank you Violet, thank you Space Cadette.

There was lunch with a Kir Royale and about five desserts.


At spawn bedtime, as the CFO poured himself a much needed "steeff dreenk" as he calls it, Lashes kept calling pathetically for me to come up and look at stegosauruses. On my third trip up, I slid down the last ten stairs onto the tiled floor, causing terrible injury to my pride and a very sore arse. I burst into tears like a histrionic infant. The CFO looked nonplussed and patted my arm. He was having a less than excellent day, juggling tending to my every whim and sulk, feeding and coralling the spawn and preparing a complex presentation. With no phone battery. Or help. Tears were not part of his plan for a pleasant evening.

A matching wailing noise was heard from the second floor. The CFO started getting his cross face ready and preparing his menacing shouty voice.

"What's he saying?" I whimpered pathetically from my foetal position on the sofa of evil.

The CFO went into the corridor and listened briefly, frowning.

"Je ne veux pas mourir ... He says he doesn't want to die"

I uncurled, clutching my sore arse, and went up. Lashes was drooping on the top stair, weeping inconsolable real tears.

"I don't want to diiiieee"

"Oh, but you aren't going to die, sweetheart! Come here". I squeezed his limp pyjamaed body.

"Yes, I am. Everything dies"

"Well, yes, but not for such a long long long time"

"But I don't want to ever! WHY do we have to diiieeee. I don't want to be in the dark FOR EVER"
"Oh, Lashes"

I manhandled him back into his bed and held on with both arms around his fuzzy fleece-covered belly, resting my head on his shoulder.

"It's horrible when those thoughts come, isn't it angel. I get this ALL the time. You poor poor thing. Have you tried thinking about something nice?"

"I can't. I have so many questions! My head is full. Why can't I be one of those fish from l'epoque des dinosaures*? The ones that NEVER DIE? Why do things have to die?"

"I know sweetheart. It's awful and scary for you isn't it? But someone told me**, and it sort of helped me, to think that when you're old and you're body is all worn out and tired and broken, you'll be ready to die, and it won't be awful and scary then at all. It wil just be ok"

This set off a new round of wailing.

My voice was cracking by this point. I remember so well how terrifying and alien yet compelling I found the "Old Age and Dying" chapter of The Body Book at his age. It was even more irresistible than the pages about how to make a baby. That feeling of being TRAPPED simply by being alive. The 'no escape' feeling. The panic. I still get it at least two or three times a month. It's no fun being six and having an existential crisis. It's no fun being thirty four either, but at least you have the odd coping strategy.

"I don't want to be without my maman. I don't want to be alone in the dark without my maman".

Here, I collapsed into a soggy heap on his shoulder. I am not sure this is the recommended approach in the parenting manuals, but it is traditional on birthdays.

"I knooooooow! It's so hard darling! You poor poor thing. Life is soooo haaard to understand! Oh god, let's go and see Papa and see if he can help. "

Gulping and snivelling, a two headed ball of misery, we headed downstairs for bright lights and rationalism. The CFO looked at us with a sort of disbelieving outrage and tiny squinty eyes. I just wept louder and clutched Lashes' hot, snotty hand.

"We need you to cheer us uuuupp. Lashes is scared of dying"

Lashes wept harder. I gulped.

CFO gave a stare full of recrimination and future trouble at my snotty form.

"You're not going to die, Lashes"

Lashes stopped crying instantly and adopted his sensible arguing voice. "Yes I am. Everything dies; you know that"

The CFO rolled his eyes. "But only when you're body is old and tired and worn out.."

"We've done that one. No good." I interjected, hoarsely, gesticulating a throat cutting motion.

The CFO sighed deeply.

"Lashes. Are you going to die tonight?"

"Noooooo, but.."

"And are you going to die before this weekend?"

"Noooooo, but..."

"Well then. We can talk about it this weekend. Now come on, off to bed."

Lashes looked aghast, but stopped crying. I pulled myself marginally together. "The best thing, Lashes, is to think about something REALLY nice to take your mind of it."

"Yes" said the CFO briskly, with the determination of one whose whisky is singing a silent, but compelling song to him. "Père Noel is coming! Think of that!"

"Yes, and St Nicolas" (more about the TWO red suited bearded present-bringing men in Belgium soon).

"They don't exist" said Lashes, smartly, tears still smudging his cheeks, but voice much recovered.

"No, but the presents do. Think about presents! And think about lizards, and riding dolphins and Pokémon and Nintendo".

We bundled him upstairs in a litany of Pikachu and Ben 10 and science experiments and giant friendly lizards and metal detectors, his mood lifting fractionally with each. By the time he had reached his bed he was serenely asking for pet kimodo dragons and nuclear fission kits.

We went back downstairs and I burst into tears again.

"He said he didn't want to be without his maman! In the dark!"

The CFO supressed his urge to get an axe and kill us all, but sighed meaningfully. He sat down cautiously next to me on the sofa of evil and patted my hand like it might contain live ammunition, while turning on the tv with the other. Then he fixed himself another large whisky and we watched an episode of Mad Men. I cried throughout, and for about another hour after it finished, big silent tears plopping down onto my new birthday jumper. The CFO sat and held my hand silently, wishing he had never met me, probably.

Eventually he turned to me and held my face in his hands, wiping snot from around my chin.

"If you're very good I'll make you a hot water bottle"

It seemed like the best offer I was getting, so I took it. In the nineteenth century he'd have probably sent Lashes to boarding school and had me committed as hysterical. Poor CFO. Born in the wrong century.

*I think this is what he meant. But I think he thinks there's only one of them and it's been alive since the Cretaceous era.

** Grief counsellor actually. Very nice, if not tremendously helpful.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Birthday affirmations

I am a beautiful, desirable woman.

I am in my prime.

My body is like a beautiful machine.

I exude a mysterious, sophisticated sensuality.

Nothing is as beautiful as a confident, self-assured woman.

Did I mention that I am the same age as Kate Moss? And Penelope Cruz?

I am maturing like a fine wine, opening like a beautiful flower. This is my time!

Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

How many half eaten waffles fit in a birdhouse?

Looking for legal advice? Run for the hills

I arrived in my office this morning to find a piece of paper (there are several million others, but no matter, this one has drifted to the top of the heap), in my handwriting, prominently on display.

It said:

What is state aid?



-legal basis

Oliver James idiot

housecoat sex

fucking small camera

Oliver James what are you doing

dead crow

fluff fondant

weapons vikings need for a successful invasion

Can I Compeed my Pokémon?

upsy daisy housecoat

what do belgium people wear?

we enjoy others misfortunes

how many half-eaten waffles fit in a birdhouse*?

They should SO have let me resign.

*Yes, these are all google searches ending here. I had noted them down in the hope of doing something amusing with them, but Katyboo does it better.

Pre-birthday gloom-fest

I had a nice pre-birthday tantrum this evening. The eurospawn were being exceptionally uncooperative, I spilled a tray of crappy foodstuffs all over the rug AND the household god, the flashing box of wonder that gives me internet connectivity and them the healing balm of Playhouse Disney had a wobble. I said lots of bad words. And stamped my little foot. And then I had to lie down on the bathroom floor for a while muttering "I HATE my life" like a fourteen year old. Lashes kindly covered me with a sleeping bag and patted my hand, which was shaming. Hopefully with that out of the way I will manage to behave as a birthday girl should tomorrow.

During my Eeyore moment, I found a morbid and horrible little project for that I am obscurely delighted with, anyway. I wanted to take a picture of the unbelievable fucked-upness of my lips, which have mutated into cushions of peeling, ripping pain. The result was so freakishly ugly that it delighted me, so I have taken pictures of some of the ugliest parts of me (NOT RUDE ONES) in the most unflattering light imaginable. It was an oddly enjoyable activity and I will display the results tomorrow in a gruesome hommage to myself as I turn 34. I know, you're thinking, oh, the odd crow's foot, a little sagging. But no. My body is particularly cruel at the moment and it is a true freakshow, I assure you. You might want to give it a miss.

Don't go yet - I want to make you buy Japanese stuff

Oh! Also I have news for you. The nice people at Shinzi Katoh are offering you all a 15% discount on Japanese loveliness if you put the code BELGIAN in when you checkout, until 30 November. Their wares featured here in a particularly unsavoury context on cocktail night, when the CFO got hairy hand disease from a Porto Flip. Their stuff is fricking lovely, not obscenely dear and oh fuck, they are now doing bowls, fuck, there go the last few euros of my salary.

They aren't paying me to say that. I wish they were, maybe I could afford the 3.1 Philip Lim blouse if I mentioned them, like eight thousand times. Anyone want me to mention your product eight thousand times in return for a blouse? I'm yours.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Belgium explained - with toys!

Hey, you know what time it is, internet ? It's TOY BELGIUM time! Pochyemu, I hope you are taking notes.

Look closely at the following scene.

This, internet, is Belgium.


In the South, la Wallonie, the French speaking region, represented by a cock. I mean, in, like, heraldic terms. I don't actually know any Walloon politicians by name, and even if I did I wouldn't be so rude. Not unless they really, really deserved it.

I didn't have a cock, so it got a turkey, but personally I think the resemblance is impressive.

In the North, Flanders, the Dutch speaking region, represented in heraldry by the black lion. A very very small black lion according to my stolen image. There will be fighting about the relative size of stolen heraldic images if this post ever reaches the provinces, I tell you.

I got a bit confused and thought it was a dragon. And yellow. Not that I actually had a yellow dragon, so I went for a yellow stegosaurus. Eh, what's the difference. It looks good.

The yellow stegosaurus of Flanders, rampant!

Next, if you refer back to our Belgium tray, you will note a small interloper on the far right hand side. This is the German speaking region of Belgium, represented by this Pokémon figurine. Mrs Kennedy might know what it's called. She's President Obama's special advisor on Pokémon, you know.

We need not concern ourselves unduly with the German bit, since it basically keeps out of trouble and is the size of a medium family saloon car. So I've given it a saucisson to keep it happy.

Ok? Ok.

Back to the serious bit.
Historically speaking the Walloons (turkeys) were In Charge of Belgium. This is why they get to have the impressive facial hair and armour. They spent History, both before and after King Leopold created Belgium out of one of his ribs and some waffle dough in 1830, crushing the faces of the Flemish poor into the soil, eating Flemish babies for breakfast and generally poncing around. The Belgian aristocracy is all Walloon and the Belgian gentry have ridiculous medieval names like Godefroid, wear tweed underpants and think it is still thirteen hundred. There are normal Walloons but we need not concern ourselves unduly with them, since as we know, history is written by men in tweed underpants.

The Walloons, however, had their comeuppance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, due to deciding that industry was fearfully common and non-U and they would have nothing to do with it. Consequently, they all now live in a sort of marshy wasteland filled with cows and are very poor and unemployed.

"Baudoin, it's your turn to spread the slurry!"
"No Godefroid, I distinctly remember it's your turn. I am busy tending to Fabiola and Paquerette. Do you have a couple of Euros you could lend me for new underpants?"

In contrast, Flanders is the preserve of honest sons of toil. They spent History labouring in the waffle mines and building larger and larger breweries, and now get to enjoy the fruits of their labours; Flanders is RICH. Not only is it rich in monetary and resource terms, it is also rich linguistically, with words and phrases like 'snotvallen', 'hevige snurken', 'witloof' 'schildpad' 'slagroom' and 'krulekes'.
Oh, they get to run the government too. Whether this is an advantage remains a moot point.
Flanders considers itself to be paying to keep the feckless Walloons in tweed underpants and out of trouble.

Flanders: industry, money and Good Words.

So far, so clear. But wait! What is that head of endive doing? And who are the strange figures that surround it?

The endive, my friends, is Brussels.

Brussels is conveniently situated in the middle of Belgium, allowing the turkey and the stegosaurus both to claim it is theirs. The stegosaurus frankly has a better claim geographically, but the turkey has the upper hand linguistically, since everyone speaks French (badly) in Brussels and only some people speak Dutch.

"Get orf my land you oik!"
"No, you"

This might be awkward. However, help is at hand in the form of this figure:

Can you guess who the Euro wielding diver is? Yes! It's the European Union! Well DONE Pochyemu. The giant swilling pots of cash provided by the the European institutions have, for some time, kept the stegosaurus and the turkey playing nicely, if in parallel rather than actually together.
Comme ceci:

Hoorah for Eurotedium saving the day!
Unfortunately, the stegosaurus has in recent years decided to get more and more officious about the correct name for a head of endive and refuses to let any turkeys live anywhere ruled by the stegosaurus unless they learn to say 'witloof'. The turkeys refuse. They are standing firm for 'chicon'. This has caused the breakdown of pretty much all government in Belgium. Interestingly, noone has actually noticed the difference.

Onoes! The giant lizard of intolerance and bigotry is threatening to gobble them both up! What will happen?

I don't know. Neither does Belgium. But tune in for another episode of Belgium - with Toys! soon..

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Stop laughing, Canadians, I can hear you

Now then. I had a Plan for today. I thought it up in the small hours of this morning between tooth grinding bouts. It will be fun, involve toy mutilation, help Pochyemu get her thesis written and will teach you more than you could have ever imagined you wanted to know about Belgian politics. However it will not be happening today due to the whole of Belgium grinding to a halt due to snow! A moderate dusting of snow! It must signify the apocalypse. Let all the roads be filled with swirling masses of over-cautious Belgian drivers settling in for the night with their blankets and speculoos biscuits and thermos flasks of terrible coffee! Let Johnny Halliday be airlifted in to entertain the displaced hordes! Helicopter drops of waffle ration packages and beer!

It was, undoubtedly, one of those days I think we will all remember. Not, necessarily for the morning trip to the deserted black light mini golf which I would not necessarily recommend as a fun family day out (oh, the places you'll go, etc). But in the grey, ordinary afternoon we went to the circus in a strange far flung field in the shadow of the Atomium. That wasn't necessarily the day to remember part either, though I don't think I will forget in a hurry the ponderously underwhelming display of four large cows walking in a circle and stopping to graze on abandoned candy floss. We spent two hours in a brightly lit tent to a soundtrack of pumping europop, with the CFO muttering "Seventy euros" in shock and Fingers' pointy arse bones sticking into my knees like knives as he asked me querulously every two minutes "when it will END, I don't want any more, how many more minutes, too much music, I'm hungry, why don't earrings hurt". In fairness, some of it was rather wonderful, and a lot of it was oddly affecting and made me quite weepy* and Lashes, at least, sat with his mouth open in wonder as children are supposed to do in the circus, and even Fingers conceded that the three motorcyclists racing each other in vertiginous circles around a ridiculously small spherical cage were "très fort" and there was an elephant which remains an astonishing, almost miraculous sight everywhere, but especially in suburban Brussels.

The most memorable bit was that at the end we all shuffled out and the sky had taken on that strange reflected luminescence it gets in a snowstorm and there was that peculiar quality of silence snow brings and it was like those fantastic days when you wake up and open the curtain and the world has gone WHITE. Beautifully, magically white. And it was still snowing! Ok, North Americans, I can hear you sniggering from over here. Yes, and you Scandinavians, and all the rest of you that get proper snow. Shut up, ok? Let us enjoy our paltry covering. And all around us small children oohed and aahed and scooped up snow and put it down each other's necks and stuck their tongues out for flakes and the sound of 400 people looking at something a little bit wonderful echoed around the car park.

After that, we were stuck for two hours in jams and on blocked roads, slithering around and pushing other cars and going backwards and swearing, while the spawn chorused unhelpful things like "you PROMISED we could build a snowman!" "a promise is a promise!" "Are we nearly there?" and "I tried to pee in the Coke cup but I missed!" and waved a stolen flashing light-up stick thing from the circus in an unhelpful fashion. After various heroic exploits we found somewhere to abandon the car and struck out for a tram, across the frozen steppe. It was tremendously exciting. Especially since the trek didn't last long enough to get old, and because the tram arrived promptly and whisked us back home fast enough to make a small snowman in the garden.

Then, because perfection isn't supposed to last forever, or even a whole afternoon, the CFO and I had a bad tempered squabble but we decided to pretend it didn't happen and watched and commented rudely on Antiques Roadshow together in a conciliatory fashion. Magical, memorable Sundays don't happen that often.

How was yours?

* I think because of reading this not so long ago, which is rather magical itself.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

This isn't because I am. I'm not.

HEALTH WARNING: I warned you I was planning something a bit different, and it won't be to everyone's taste. If you have strong views or particular sensitivities on reproductive matters you might want to head somewhere else for today. I'll be back on the nonsense tomorrow, I promise.

First time
In our flat in Newman Street in the middle of London. I was twenty six, I'd only been off the Pill for about two months, but no period, so I thought it was worth a shot. My hands were shaking so much I screwed the first one up and had to use a second. I peed in a cup to make sure I didn't screw it up again. Negative. Anticlimax. I had about five or six more negatives in the next 8 months. By then, my hands didn't shake anymore. I could pee on a stick with my eyes closed.

Next time
Still twenty six. My first day on secondment to a pharmaceutical company in the arse end of nowhere. I barely even knew where the loos were, but blundered my way there with a test bought on the way in at Waterloo Station, hidden in my handbag. I was definitely feeling a bit strange, though I had long since stopped trusting my own judgment. I had an intense desire for pretzels though.

It was positive right away, a bright, definitive blue line. I couldn't stop staring. I kept opening my handbag and staring in, in case the line would disappear, or in case it was an optical illusion. My new colleagues must have thought I was bizarrely cheerful, in those early weeks - I felt like one of the Readybrek kids, glowing nuclear orange with happiness. I'm not normally like that at all (you may have noticed). I didn't tell the CFO for 2 days. Not because I was at all conflicted, but because I wanted to keep it just for me for a while. I took out the test and stared at it a LOT and kept it in my knicker drawer like a relic until we moved house four years later.

At work. Aged twenty eight. Two pink crosses, this time. Blasé, I had downgraded to the cheaper tests. I had been feeling headachy, but not much else. I had had a negative the week before, so didn't really believe it. I can't even remember where I bought this one, it was such a long shot. Maybe on Holborn? I called the CFO straight away, this time. We'd been trying for six months.
"Yeah! Brilliant, isn't it?"
That one joined the knicker drawer reliquary too.

Not so long after that
Just turned thirty, which I reckon, on balance, was the worst year of my life, to date. In the basement of a crappy bar in the 17th arrondissement. In stupid, officious Paris you can't just pick a test off the shelf, you have to ask the pharmacist. Went about five miles looking for a pharmacy I'd never have to go near again, with a pharmacist that didn't scare me silly. Ended up near Lashes' nursery. Fingers (8 months) was with Charline, a girl who was supposed to mind him for a few hours a week while I interviewed for jobs. Ordered a coffee, went off to pee, came back with the test in my handbag (it was one of the slow ones) to drink my coffee and watch. Two lines.


Paris was full of mistakes. We shouldn't have been there in the first place (we moved six months after mum died, three months after Fingers was born, the Space Cadette was still living with us). We shouldn't have been in that area (kids didn't wear Bonpoint, I looked like post-natal shit in the chic-est, most BCBG neighbourhood imaginable, the neighbours complained about us, the concierge thought we were trailer trash), I sure as hell shouldn't have got pregnant. I really hadn't wanted to believe this. Sure, I'd been feeling sick over Christmas, but who doesn't? And then, when in dragged on and on into January, this pervasive, continual nauseau, doubt began to set in. I can't remember who first suggested it. The CFO, perhaps?

But I was so conditioned to look at that positive as, well, positive. Told Violet straight away. Took about a week to tell the CFO, nervously, sick to my stomach, as if sharing it with him would finally make it real. Spent days barely coping with boys, constantly, debilitatingly nauseous (to think that with Fingers I had been so freaked out by the lack of nausea I had pleaded with the obstetrician to get an early scan, convinced the pregnancy wasn't viable). Evenings spent mute, staring at each other, trying to work out what we thought, what the other thought, and what to do. Neither of us able to articulate. Half horrified, but still, despite ourselves, half excited.

We went to the doctor, all four of us (no babysitter). Went through the motions for a une interruption volontaire de grossesse , booked in for a dating scan, the CFO started ringing round clinics. It's not easy to get une IVG in Paris. Like everything in Paris, it's oversubscribed, busy, crazy, the law of who shouts the loudest wins out. The CFO finally found a date in a far flung clinic, that seemed like an outlandishly long time away, oh, and the clinic insisted on general anasthetic (which I was, am still, insanely phobic of). We didn't particularly feel we had committed to it. We were "keeping our options open", or at least I was. I went (alone) for a scan with a technician who didn't seem to have read, or didn't care, or perhaps even did care, that this was a grossesse non-desirée, who turned the screen towards me, showed me the blood vessels, the umbilical cord, the heart, beating. Came out, reeling, thinking there was no way I could go through with it, not after that.

Went to the hospital and got lectured by the doctor, like a feckless teenagers. We deserved it. We had been stupid - I had thought that breastfeeding, virtually never having sex and sub-optimal fertility would be sufficient protection. It had taken plenty of planning to have our children. I just couldn't conceive of getting pregnant accidently, after all that. Saw the anaesthetist, who told me I ought to lose some weight (I must have been an outrageous 55 kilos, 120 lbs - ah, Paris!). Right up through the shower the night before, ritually, harshly scrubbing with the prescribed special anti infection soap (ah, France), cutting my nails, planning the metro route (the CFO had to stay with the kids, we were completely alone in Paris), I wasn't thinking I'd really go through with it. How could I? I'd desperately desired my two boys. Desperately. Had felt nothing but delight, joy, at their conception. Did not regret having them for a second. Why should this be different?

Yet suddenly, that last night, a wave of self-knowledge came crashing through my defences. There was no damn way I could have this baby. Just, no way. We were barely coping, barely speaking, barely surviving. Racked with grief, and isolation. Due to move back to London less than a week later. Even without the mess of circumstance we were tangled in, I finally saw with a little clarity, that I was emotionally incapable of caring for another child. I barely had the slightest idea who I was anymore.

I don't think I cried. I just felt crushingly sad, and stupid. I took the cervix softener, and the antibiotics (ah, France!). No way back from this. Slept a few hours, and sent off for the hospital in the grey dawn, Etoile to Chatelet, and then out to the suburbs. Sat in a small room in a gown and paper shower cap and special socks staring fixedly at the ceiling, not allowing myself to think at all. Just staring at the ceiling and willing time to pass. When they finally came and put the needle in my hand and wheeled me down to the basement I couldn't stop shaking. In fact, the general anasthetic turned out to be the most benign, gentle experience imaginable. I was treated with nothing but kindness and compassion, for the first time in nearly a year in Paris.

After all that thinking, agonising, reasoning ourselves into knots, an abortion takes a matter of seconds. I was in theatre for no more than a couple of minutes. When I was wheeled back to my room, the CFO had arrived, with a thermos of tea, just as he had for me the morning after Lashes was born. The symbolism didn't strike me, though the kindness of the gesture did. We were home within a matter of hours, hiding the plaster on my hand from Charline, who had been looking after the boys. I didn't know for certain what Seventh Day Adventists think about abortion, but I doubted they were whole-heartedly in favour. I spent the day with the fuzzy, deadened sensation of being an invalid, without feeling deserving of invalid status.

And two years after that
Thirty two. I was lying on the sofa in my father's house, recovering from abdominal surgery. It had been way more painful than I had imagined it might be, three days in hospital, morphine, unable to move unaided for nearly a week, sick to my stomach with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, painkillers. I had put in a nano-appearance at the CFO's Christmas party, trying my hardest to stand up with my giant nylon and velcro corset to hold me in, wincing in a particularly festive fashion. Twenty minutes later I couldn't bear it any more and called a taxi. On the way back, nausea swept over me in an insane wave, and back at my father's I developed a singleminded obsession with making a tuna melt - that, and only that, would stave off the sickness (I never eat cheese. I hate cheese).

Hobbling around the kitchen, I fixed myself a makeshift version and sank back to the sofa. A sick realisation turned my body cold, right to the tips of my fingertips and this time, I just knew. For certain. A slow, agonising limping trip to Boots at Notting Hill Gate and back the next day confirmed it. There was no reason - I was on the Pill, no accidents to my knowledge, and to this day I have no idea how or why.

The CFO came with me to the family planning clinic full of teenagers, who referred me to another clinic on the Chaussée de Wavre, one of the poorest areas of Brussels. There were people in the waiting room with cans of beer at 8 in the morning (not in itself exceptional in Brussels, admittedly) and a number of the clients were quite disturbed. The infrastructure was rudimentary and run down, though the staff were lovely. For some kind of Calvinist reasons, I didn't think of going somewhere "better", even though this reasoning, with hindsight, is ridiculous. It would have made more sense to go somewhere and pay more for it than to take a "cheap" slot from someone who needed it more. I wasn't thinking straight. Again.

Belgium is different. I had to see a psychiatrist, not that she questioned my motives particularly. For my part, I was trying to keep myself on autopilot. I had been through the wringer emotionally and physically, the last time. Since then I had spent months off work and in therapy (not, I should say, directly related in any way to that first abortion), lost ten kilos, and I was on anti-depressants. My mental health was just as shaky as it had been back then. The "excuse" section of my brain told itself about the major surgery, and the morphine and all the other drugs and their unknowable effects. But in reality I didn't even feel I could allow myself to think about this pregnancy. It had to just be over. I couldn't even allow myself the luxury of considering it. It had to not be real for me.

I saw a warm woman in her 50s, who called me tu and gave me a date a week later, a sleeping pill and a scan (no ultrasound theatricals this time). This time, it would be a procedure under local, in the clinic.

Despite the fact that this is only 2 years ago, my memory of the preliminaries is fuzzy. I took something that made the whole process definitive the night before, again, I am fairly sure, I didn't use the sleeping pill she gave me, and slept fairly well. Autopilot is a magical thing. The CFO took me in early the next morning in the car and we sat in the gloomy waiting room with the winos, reading five year old magazines, silently.

In Belgium, you get an accompagnatrice who is a non-medical person, a woman who is just there to hold your hand, to be there, and comfort. It seemed very enlightened to me. The CFO was there too, but I must say, having her there on the other side to hold my hand was a huge comfort. Imagine if you didn't have anyone with you? How good would it be to have someone whose only role is to support you? I haven't thought of it in the last two years, but now that I do, I wonder whether I could, or should, volunteer. It's not seriously painful, but it is very unpleasant. The injections in the cervix that stung like hell. The sensation. The noise. I remember that there was a wooden seagull mobile above my head and staring at it to make sure I didn't look down. And the compassion, and kindness, again of the doctor and the accompagnatrice. And how pale, and pinched, the CFO looked.

It felt longer this time, being conscious throughout. They think, here, that it helps you come to terms with the abortion better if you're fully present throughout. They are probably right. There was less of the surreal binary 'pregnant' : 'not pregnant' of the Paris experience. Next door there was a bed to lie down on for as long as you needed. There were two beds in the room, but thankfully we were the only ones in there. Twenty minutes later we were out, and I was walking down the wintry Chaussée de Wavre, shaky but ok.

And now
No regrets, for the decisions I made. For me, for then, they were unequivocally the right ones. I regret being idiotic enough to get pregnant at all (at least in Paris). And I'm radicalised - I'd fight like a banshee for a woman's right to screw up like me and be able to get a termination. There's nothing like personal experience to politicise, is there?

And no, I'm not pregnant now. Thank God. My knicker drawer has nothing but greying knickers in it. And I don't want to go down any of these roads again, ever.

I don't really know if I should press publish, but I'm going to do it anyway.

There was something else I forgot to say and it is this. People fought to give me this right and I am so grateful. Thank you to those women. Thank you Simone Veil. Thank you David Steel. Thank you, truly, to anyone who marched, or researched, or wrote or protested or litigated for our - for my - reproductive rights. I will never take these achievements for granted.

Friday, 21 November 2008

I hit the NaBloPoMo wall. With my axe.

Ok, so I had it in mind to write something semi-serious today (straw poll - interested in the entrails of my life, or should I leave well alone and stick to amusing vegetables like a latterday Esther Rantzen?), but, oops, it's Groundhog Day in Brussels, and here I am at home with a sick child again . This time Lashes, who sounds like he has swallowed a tractor, or possibly a donkey but is in all other respects hale and hearty and horribly up for a day of moderately violent animated combat courtesy of Pokemon Revolution on the Wii, complete with the most tooth-grindingly tedious dialogue and music that is liquefying my brain until it dribbles out of my ear. Another few minutes of this and I'll be taking an axe and heading off on a killing spree down the street, probably, ooh, all the way to the monk mural (100yds). Well, I should imagine axe murder is a pretty punishing cardio workout and my apathy would almost certainly win out over my bloodlust.

Now the other one is home and Lashes has just pinged a rubber lizard's tail in his eye and Fingers is trying to skip using my extension lead and climbing everywhere in search of an elusive marble and there are Playmobil warriors in all the water glasses and all I want is SLEEP. It is all very boring and leaving me in a state of semi-paralysis in which nothing but unconsciousness seems appealing and my eyeballs are receding further and further into their sockets to hide from the brightly coloured assault. I imagine the tedium will seep into here too. Sorry.

You know what? Let's have some photos. I am so sick of the sound of my whiny little voice.

This is a present from Red Shoes. She thought I would like him, and I did, just SO much. Would you not feel much happier about monarchy as a concept in your sovereign was a yam? I would. Look at him!

Red Shoes and I also shared our scepticism about Gwyneth's newest missive. Gywneth's Thanksgiving recipes are, frankly, implausible. Gwynnie would have us believe she makes a "not scared of butter" Martha Stewart turkey, giblet gravy and caramelized sprouts followed by pumpkin ice cream pie with maple syrup whipped cream. Mmm, macrobiotic, much?

First I had to I get past the post-traumatic shudders at the words "pumpkin pie". Violet and I had an extremely disturbing ouzo hangover pumpkin pie experience in Florence staying with the gloomiest family on the planet when we were 18. There was a morose English woman, a largely absent Italian man, and a precocious three year old with fecal retention problems whose catchphrase was "Mama is being ironic". The night before had involved me finding it unfeasibly hilarious to leave a baked potato on her pillow and vomiting in the corner of our bedroom because in the FLAT WITH NO DOORS it seemed like a better bet than the bathroom with no door. The pumpkin pie came out the next day after we had been left, in disgrace, to do all the clearing up with only the incontinent cat Ambrogio for company and we both had to hide the hideous pie under the sofa and flee, retching all the way, for pizza and white chocolate. But I DIGRESS. A LOT. After that I was all "As IF Gwyneth eats that. Any of it. Is she even allowed to look at that stuff? What would Dr Joshi say! Or that other one with the 'no white food' dictat?" Red Shoes agrees. I said her best bet for a happy Thanksgiving was to eat Chris Martin, but Red Shoes astutely pointed out how stringy and dry he would be, and that he would need a good week's simmering to be edible. Then I decided that instead, he should be force fed like a foie gras goose, but with Big Macs and KFC and other unethical foodstuffs. This mental image was the high point of my day.

Next, we (the spawn and me, not Red Shoes) made some monsters out of kits. Here they are intimidating Makka Pakka.

I recommend these fervently. They come from Magma, my favourite shop in the universe (apart from all the other ones) and if they want to sent me several free, well I wouldn't mind compromising my principles at ALL (I have never been offered any free stuff, ever, not even a Peloop. Bah.).

Ok, I think we've all had enough of me tonight. I certainly have. Imagine me banging into the NaBloPoMo wall at high speed, then sliding back down, shedding biscuit crumbs and despair. Pretty no?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

I am quite pathetic

So, I felt like yesterday afternoon I was teetering on the threshold of being just sick of work rather than actual sick. You know, when you've broken the automatic 'wake up, go to work' reflex and suddenly the prospect of going back there seems outlandishly stupid. Why? I can just sit here in this nest, can't I? I'm not doing anyone any harm just lying here, and occasionally making a cup of tea, am I? My bed was starting to look like Tracey Emin's. But with more socks (I have been trying to sort them out. I feel like the Sisyphus of socks. The CFO had to move about 8000 off his pillow to get to bed, because I became consumed with existential despair halfway through the task) and less sex stuff. And a laptop, because I am a sick junkie.

So this morning, I felt like I could swallow properly, which was progress, so without letting myself think about it at all, I got up and showered and put my clothes on, wrestled the spawn into theirs, took them to school. Back in the routine. You can see I've had cognitive behavioural therapy can't you? But then I got on the tram of death with the CFO, and about halfway I said "I think I might have to go back. I don't feel great. I can't see..."

Clunk. Darkness. Then the strange roaring noise and the confused images and the strange sensations (I remember something to do with a small box that was irritating me - maybe that would have been the tram?) and then a babble of voices but still darkness and then "Bébé? Ca va bébé? "

Bleugh. Wipe dribble off face. Sight gradually returning. I'm on the floor of the tram. It doesn't smell great. Fainting in the tram. Not recommended. Though, I have to say, we had a very merciful driver; he only went on another 4 stops before he stopped. I've seen tram drivers either dump the fainters on the pavement and go on, or just wedge them upright and keep going. I think in some corner of my mind I remembered this, because I could not be persuaded to try and sit up.

So then the cursing commuters climbed over me and out and some lovely ambulance men came and pricked my finger and took my blood pressure and strapped me on to one of those trolley things and put me in their ambulance and drove off with the flashing lights. I was sufficiently recovered to be quite excited by this. Flashing lights! Pin pon pin pon (that's nee naw nee naw in French). Cool. The CFO also enjoyed the ride now that I was no longer scaring him by pretending to be blind.

It gets quite boring after this. I am fine. Just, you know, normal sick. It is probably a "grippe intestinale" said the eight year old doctor. But the CFO and I had fun learning all about avian flu from the posters in the hospital (you are allowed to detect avian flu in both French and Dutch, but you can only "Protect yourself" in Dutch. Veeerrry interesting. Also the CFO's chicken sandwich in England on Tuesday puts us in the high risk category but we decided to keep this to ourselves) and playing the famous expat game "in England".

"In England, you wouldn't be in an actual room with a door. A door! Did you see, that doctor KNOCKED before she came in"

"Ha! A curtain, more like. No, no, I'd be propped on a chair in Casualty. And they wouldn't see me til tomorrow, in the hope that we'd get sick of the chair and just, you know, leave. Or get chased away by the winos."

"That's if they actually took you to hospital at all"

"Yeah, they'd probably have sat me in the back of the ambulance and given me a Mars Bar"

"No way, they'd have sent me to buy the Mars Bar"

"Actually, there wouldn't be an ambulance at all. There might be a London Underground first aider if I was REALLY lucky. Or, just, someone who did a course at school."

"Yeah, with a cup of water. No, a half drunk can of Red Bull"

"Noone would have actually noticed I'd fainted anyway because I'd have been kept upright by the crush"

"True. Probably someone would be tutting about you dribbling on their shoulder but not actually saying anything"

So then I paid my €4,90 (!) and went home and slept 'til school hometime. Hooray for Belgium. I was horribly tempted to leave them in the Soviet after-school club to dig salt mines for the directeur's retirement fund and sew jute sacks and do mass calisthenics in front of a smiling photograph of le Roi Albert. Even though they are both poorlyish. This should be a no brainer for a mother, shouldn't it? I should drag myself down there for my cherubs even after a double amputation. I am selfish. I compromised with my conscience and allowed myself an extra half hour of gentle moaning, but bought them both a Kinder Egg. That did the trick.

Next problem - corralling them. I really can't bear to be jumped on, I'll vomit (yeah, selfish, bad mother). I'm hesitating between PAYING them not to jump on me, and BMF's suggestion to "cover myself in knives like a hedgehog". Playhouse Disney is just deferring the problem. Any other suggestions before I lock myself in the loo and call social services?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Gmail - in ur inbox pidginholin ur intrestz

Dear Gmail

Thank you for your efficient free mail service. It is very good. I am however experiencing some confusion with the targeted advertising you believe will interest me and my email correspondents. Let me give you some examples.

Violet - "can you live on $1 a day?", "why does my hand go numb?", "tingling finger worries" "pigculiar news on pigs"

I do not believe we have ever discussed hands or pigs. The answer to question one is "no". We require ribbon. And ginger shapes.

BMF - Flemish dating websites. Why? When the word "partnership" appears in his email footer it is not That Kind of partnership. BMF is happily married.

Pochyemu - "lead guitar secrets scam", "the subconscious mind".

I would draw your attention to the fact that this is the woman who is trying to give her husband away on this website. To date she has sent me pictures of him, passed on his kind offer to show me his penis AND provided photos of a Mussel Hospital he constructed at work. I fail to see the relevance of either topic you suggest.

[Hmm, yes, I suppose you're right, I can't just tell you that then not show you. It wouldn't be fair. Behold! Mussel Hospital!

WHAT IS IN THAT "DRIP". I would really like to sleep tonight but with that image in my mind it is going to be veerrrry tricky.

Léonie? You still want him? ]

Persephone - "food extrusion consultants"

Expateek - Fuerteventura golf trips, "persistent group chat"

Kitschen Pink - "Tomahawk deluxe rat traps"

FourStar - "Why didn't he call? How to understand men and beat them at their own game".

LivesbytheWoods - "eliminating head pressure"

Mountainear - "need a private jet?", "chemical stationery"

ParisGirl - "Replica Johnny Depp cuffs"

Peevish - property in Jakarta, "sheep/goat slaughterlines", "your facial symmetry", "sheep wool insulation", "flame resistant Indura" (this latter is, apparently, safety clothing made from glass. Marvellous!). Ms Peevish does not possess sheep. Or indeed goats. Her facial symmetry is not in doubt, she is merely hiding behind a plant.

Barbara Card Atkinson is mystifyingly labelled with - "daily cow cooling" (oops, no, that should be "dairy", I like daily better), "got manure wastewater?" and "easy microbial detection". To my knowledge Ms Atkinson has no over-heating livestock or hygiene problems.

Not to mention Dani at Kitchen Playground, who, I believe has not expressed a particular interest in "learning how to sculpt babies".

I should also mention that the banner advert at the top of my inbox currently reads "Learning to live with multiple personality disorder". I really cannot see how this is in any way relevant to my correspondence.

Any further clarification on this subject would be most gratefully received.


Mme Jaywalker

PS - I challenge those of you mentioned above to write a post on the topic Gmail has assigned you. Anyone else requiring a project, or merely the verdict of Gmail upon you and your email composition, can email the waffle mail box at

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Now we are sick

Fingers is sick. He looks like a mournful Renaissance putti watching some unfortunate saint being disembowelled from his perch on a Zara Home duvet cloud. I'm sick too, but less so. He isn't eating, but I have managed to force down two pieces of toast with lemon curd and six Fig Rolls. I am a brave, brave heroine. Most of the time we've been sitting on the sofa in front of the fire and wriggling to try and get comfortable on the sofa of evil, while Fingers refuses to let me shut my eyes for even a second during Wall-E, The Night Garden and various offshoots of the Disney empire. If I try, he sticks a querulous finger under my eyelid and wails bilingually.

Eventually we got cabin fever and decided to take an invalid's tour once slowly round the block, just as far as the Post Office. Come! Join us! You saw enough the last time? Surely not. Did these guys put you off?

Now, I love Brussels. Really. But nowhere does grey wintry and depressing quite as well as my corner of Brussels. You would never in a million years think you were in a European capital, the veritable nerve centre of the European Union. It could be, um, Darlington. You know that Morrissey song "Every day is like Sunday"? That's how it feels round here. Every day is like a grey Sunday in the provinces. In the 1970s before Sunday trading. You need proof?

First, get your outfit right.

Got your trolley, your headscarf and your sensible coat on? Ok! Let's go!

My street. Wow. I know, I'm hitting you hard right from the get go. Apart from the Rusty Spoons cat, it also contains this peculiar exhibit:

Need to look a little closer? Hell, yes!

So, that's a monk, in terrible foot shaped sandals beloved of Canadian backpackers, giving an old school Brussels tram (like the ones the bastards put on my route with special anti-obesity miniature doors) some kind of offering, presumably to placate the gods of public transport, in a mysterious mountainous region. And:

Another monk sitting on a bricked up window in Canadian sandals with a duck on a tray. Welcome to Belgium.

Let's continue!

La Poste:

Yes, Makka Pakka winners, your happiness is but a thorough search and poking from Belgian customs away. I have braved La Poste for you. That, my friends, is devotion.

La Droguerie, for all your moth killing and shopping trolley needs. A wickerwork trolley! Audacious.

The butchers - those feet! Perhaps one day I will have shoes that sensible.

The pharmacy - toy horses and pumpkin/gourd themed windows are de rigeur at the moment.

Look at this lady in the ladeez hairdressers. She is not happy to be sharing a window with a grimacing faux pumpkin. The expression! Priceless. I know how she feels.

La Frite Dorée, with its vibrant orange frontage, scenting the street with pre-war cooking fat. Here, if you are very good, you can have a cold sausage made out of BRAIN with your chips. Really, does life get much better than this? No, it doesn't.

Looking to shop? We have everything you need!

Audaciously bucking the autumn orange trend, the underwear shop goes for timeless pink and padded.

Just very occasionally as I walk around, I think of our flat in Spitalfields market, with the 24 hour supermarket, the delis, the bars, the evil cappucino pushers. The clothes. Hmm.

Anyway, Fingers and I completed our totter round the block, bought me a giant flan and retired to the sofa. Really, there is a limit to how much excitement it is possible to cram in to one short day.