Thursday, 30 October 2008
1. I went to a Quaker school in York. This included a requirement to attend a one hour silent Quaker meeting on Wednesday mornings, which was precisely the torture it sounds - a room full of hormonal adolescents forced to sit still and in silence for a whole hour. On one memorable occasion, a peacock's head appeared at a high window and tapped insistently on it throughout, reducing me and Violet to silent convulsing hysteria. Occasionally we would mix things up a bit by singing the rousing tune "Old leather breeches, shaggy shaggy locks, you are pulling down the pillars of the world, George Fox". I got shit hot marks on my papers on religious non-conformism in the eighteenth century in my history degree, despite spending my second year basically insane, speaking to noone and driving about in my much loved Renault Clio in a ginger wig. I consider I have Quaker school to thank for this.
2. Wednesday afternoon classes at Quaker school following the silent meeting included yoga, poetry writing, managing your finances (filling in cheque book stubs), recreating famous works of art (the bar at the Folies Bergere comes to mind) by dressing up as them and the notorious 'condom on a cucumber' class. There were no academic or sporting prizes given at school, however there was an annual prize for the best decorated egg cup.
3. I failed my cycling proficiency test by falling off my bike into a rose bed at the part of the test where you are supposed to look over your shoulder and read out a letter someone is holding up. I still can't be trusted on a bike. Or in a car. Or walking for that matter. I am fatally attracted to skips (the big metal ones you dump old mattresses in in the dead of night - no? Just me then) and have lost several wing mirrors being drawn unwittingly too close by their siren song.
4. I finally lost my virginity aged NINETEEN (yes) after a Christmas party in a corrugated iron Bavarian themed inn in Poppleton. There was a Yorkshire oompah band and large, stabby serving wenches in lederhosen. He was called Nick and we worked together processing data on families with severely disabled children who were applying for hardship grants. It was depressing and boring, and he and I were the only employees aged under 50. It was totally inevitable and entirely lacking in sentiment. In a good way.
5. After my first love (a trainee teacher at the Quaker school - bad man!) chucked me unceremoniously in "Britain's most flooded pub", I stalked him around the pubs of York, appearing wraithlike and accusing in the window of, variously, the Spread Eagle, the Lowther, the Punchbowl, the Cross Keys, the Black Swan, the Judges Lodgings, the Star Inn, the Blue Bell, etc etc. York has more pubs per head of population than anywhere in the world (I made that up but it could totally be true), so it was a true act of crazy dedication on my part. Bastard. I am still a little bit in love with him.
6. I used to look like this, at my most physically unfortunate.
Getting glasses was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I cried for a week when they told me I had to. Getting my hair cut short was definitely one of my better decisions. Pity it all fell out when I was twenty. Now I look like this (don't judge me, all the clothes I am wearing were borrowed from family members):
I also know a great deal about degenerative bone diseases in the Viking era, and the prevalence of various intestinal parasites, thanks to the Jorvik Viking Centre, where I got to try on, though not run away with, this helmet.
7. I don't have a York accent but the Space Cadette does. When she tells people from outside North Yorkshire where she is from, they ask her politely where "Yark" is as they have never heard of it. Is it, perhaps, one of the lesser known Channel Islands? I don't think I have any kind of accent, really. I have hard northern 'a's, mixed Scottish/Gloucestershire parentage and speak French most of the time. When I hear my voice I think I sound like I have some horrible sinus condition. Lashes sounds London and Fingers like Inspector Clouseau.
Ok. I tag la Belette, Lulu, Nappy Valley Girl, Katyboo and anyone else who wants to join in. It doesn't have to be about York, sadly.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
However, none of us is called Frigga.
Whether I look like this after 4 days of stupid clock change child-infested mornings, no hair straighteners or cosmetics is less clear.
I really wanted a Viking beard for Halloween but have not thus far managed to find one. You can't even mention horned helmets (Victorian construct! No basis in fact!) around here without getting smote by a broadsword. The insistence on historical accuracy at the expense of stupid fun is most tedious.
Teasing prog rock step dad continues to provide cheap laughs however. We are trying to persuade him that his spartan self-sufficiency skills will make him an ideal guru for the post-financial apocalypse world.
"You can be the new Martha Stewart!" I enthuse. "You could have a ten minute daily podcast where you show people vital new self-sufficient skills, like repairing punctures, darning, making your own pizza from scratch and making soup from boiled dishcloths!"
"Who is Martha Stewart?"
"Never mind, you are way better than her anyway. Can I be your manager? What other skills do you have?"
"He sews patches on his jeans" interjects the Space Cadette. "And stews fruit. And makes his own falafels. Whilst reading aloud from Le Monde Diplomatique. Oh, and do you remember when he gave my piglet a total skin transplant with new pink felt? It took him weeks."
"I think you need to learn to weave. Could you learn to weave? Maybe weave some Russian poetry onto a sampler or something?"
"We'll have to make sure they never see the terrible red pub carpet.
That would destroy your credibility totally."
"Unless perhaps you dyed it yourself with beetroot. Did you?"
"You women are so bossy" he says looking hunted and skulks off to conjugate some German irregular verbs.
It is wonderfully comforting to be back here, pretending to be 14 again. I never eat as much, laugh as much, drink as much tea or lie around and do nothing as much as I do here. With all three of us on psychiatric medication, Prog Rock Step Dad battling chronic fatigue and the Space Cadette coughing like a nineteenth century consumptive, it feels a bit like sheltered housing, but in such a soothing way. Will anywhere ever feel as much like home as this place? There's still a groove in the kitchen wall where I used to curl myself against the radiator. I know every creaking floorboard and every light switch. I could walk around the whole town, let alone the house, with my eyes closed.
It's a truism to say it isn't the same without my mum. Of course it isn't. She died five years ago this week - this time five years ago we were just embarking on a sickening rollercoaster and I feel like we're only just starting to slow down. There is a massive hole where she should be. She would not approve of that carpet. Or the taps in the bathroom, or Prog Rock Step Dad's demented approach to hanging pictures, though I think she would like the new curtains. I hate that she never met Fingers. I hate everything about her being dead and I don't accept it at all. But I love what the six of us have made since she died. Space Cadette, Prog Rock Step Dad, me and the CFO and the boys. We bicker, and sulk and moan and drive each other crazy; we drink tea and wine and eat crisps and laugh until we ache all over.We're tied to each other with all the tangled bonds of love and grief and responsibility and shared history and stupid, stupid jokes. It's proper family. She should be here to see that, but given she isn't, it's a pretty fantastic legacy.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Things for which York is notable:
Pervasive smell of chocolate from three (THREE) resident chocolate factories. When the wind is in the right direction it feels like you are walking around in a giant After Eight.
Historical reenacters lurking around every corner in their woad doubloons and hemp tabards, grooming their beards with oversized chips.
Slow moving tourists clogging its main arteries marvelling at the quaintness (even the sex shop, or sex shoppe as it is known here, has a half timbered frontage and olde worlde font. I will document this for you tomorrow because fun is a scarce commodity this week).
Barnitts. Just, Barnitts. We will create our own wipe clean handy hommage to Barnitts this week I think. Lashes' first Christmas present from his adoring parents was a length of dog chain from Barnitts. Barnitts bears witness to the lives of York residents from cradle (dog chains to chew) to grave (spades?). It's the ultimate York institution.
Disproportionate numbers of one time residents are bloggers, or rather bloggeuses of note. I cite Petite Anglaise, Antonia, the Non-Working Monkey. I could probably put together a theory on this, centring around the fact that there is fuck all to do in this city if you don't like shouting viking curses whilst dressed in a hemp shroud and carrying a giant replica skull splitting tool, and we are forced to create our own entertainment.
The National Railway Museum, a cavernous, gloomy hangar filled with pieces of obsolete machinery where gentlemen ranging all along the autistic spectrum rub shoulders with excitable, soon to be desperately disappointed small children.
An Archbishop who sleeps in a tent in the cathedral. Or did I dream that?
Faced with this smorgasbord of stimulation, we went to Sainsburys and bought pumpkins. Yes, it is a week early, and your point is? I give you: clock change, extreme cold and darkness, sleep deprived uber-brats. We take our entertainment where we can, my friends.
The spawn carved pumpkins in their own likeness:
When I look at this picture I can almost hear the smaller pumpkin wail "He scribbled on my picture!" as the big pumpkin unconvincingly maintains "It was an accident!".
Then we decorated pumpkin biscuits (my god these photos suck, apologies, but I know it's been a while since we had a wrecktastic display of ill-advised home baking). I love how the ones with the orange faces look like clowns who have suffered third degree burns, but one of the burns victims seems incapable of learning his lesson since he seems to be smoking a green pipe. Could you match the biscuit to the person? Lashes did 2, Fingers, me and the Space Cadette one each.
Then we teased prog rock step dad about our childhood Halloweens.
"Emma says you carved her SWEDE" says Space Cadette "I'm sure you never carved ME a swede. Also, why a swede? WERE YOU ON DRUGS."
"There were NO pumpkins to be had in York in 1980. They just didn't exist. I am not even sure they had any even in London in 1980" protests Prog Rock Step Dad.
"Did you try Leeds?" says the Space Cadette incredulously.
"Hmm", I say, sceptical. "I always assumed it was some kind of conscious, anti-Halloween stance on your part. Like, 'we don't buy into this gross American consumerism with your grotesque giant easy cut pumpkins. This small swede makes a perfectly serviceable lantern, and look, I can mash the insides up and turn it into a joyless soup'. Your act of Halloween protest, if you will".
"You don't think I did it voluntarily do you? Have you ever tried to cut a swede? Have you? Can you imagine anything harder to carve into a lantern?"
We reflect for a minute on the act of love involved in making a swede lantern for your child. Not even your biological child. It is awe-inspiring.
"Celeriac would have been harder" I say cruelly.
Monday, 27 October 2008
I had this rosy vision of how this half term visit to England would go. This was, of course, my first mistake. Anyway. The vision went something like: remind eager ruddy cheeked boys of their favourite infant haunts, enjoy the magnificent free museums, catch up with old friends and meet new ones over civilised pots of proper tea and sponge cake, experience the wonder of wintry London. Find the odd hour to go and buy paperbacks and Fresh cosmetics and decent yoghurt, blah blah. I am not sure what drugs I was on when I conjured up this idyll but I really wish they had not run out. I seem to have spent the last 72 hours in a state of fuddled exhaustion, ceding to my children's increasingly ridiculous demands, whilst going to the exact same places as the entire population of Europe. The horror, the horror of half term London is vampirically sucking every last drop of my brain out through my nostrils, whilst emptying my wallet and leaving only a trail of broken plastic behind.
I think this morning has finally finished off my happy illusions and also my will to live. Suffice to say that at one point we had to hide in the geology department of the Natural History Museum while I hyperventilated and even THAT was packed to the gills with knowledge thirsty families having jolly debates about sedimentation. I quite liked the bit where we sat on the steps of the Science Museum shop in the middle of a swirling mass of consumption, while Fingers wailed at the lack of replacement Wall-E parts and I tried to construct a 40 piece skeleton pterodactyl and Lashes vanished. Fingers and I have watched Lashes' back speed away from us on a random trajectory at a million miles an hour so many times that Fingers remarked we should call him Sonic the Hedgehog. That I still have Sonic in my custodianship at all this afternoon is a testament only to the power my wallet exercises over him. Soon I will have to resort to laying a trail of five pound notes back to the house if I ever wish to see him again. And also, the Rainforest Cafe. Just, the Rainforest Cafe. If Dante had been to the Rainforest Cafe, the Divine Comedy would look veeeerry different, and with many more animatronic snakes, cheerful youths mussing your hair with crocodile hand puppets and hour long waits for chips and the once in a lifetime opportunity to bleed more money through your nose to the sound of robotic cicadas.
There is a horrible silence downstairs where I have corralled the spawn on pain of "a long trip to a shop where they sell nothing but bowls" (as IF I could carry through). The last time that happened they were smearing chocolate pumpkin novelties over a cream cushion. I had better go and wave fifty pound notes in front of their jaded faces.
Tomorrow, York. I'd say it can only be an improvement, but I have learned my lesson and will not be tempting fate so blithely again.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
No matter. I am sure the "six is the new five" thing works perfectly well for those not living in their father's shoe box with two children set an hour fast even BEFORE the clock change. And once I conquer the mouse that makes me lick my fingers before it deigns to work, the printer that has decided to print out my entire oeuvre that I now have to shred before my father discovers I tried to quit my boast-friendly eurojob, and my own gloom, it will all be fine. Won't it? Please?
One more hour. That's more time to:
- Wonder why my body's version of "intuitive eating" goes Cakegivemecake.Biggercake.Nowgivememore andnowfillmewithtransfatstilIEXPLODE. Intrinsic flaw - why I thought my body would have any more sense than the rest of me is anyone's guess. It does not. If I continue to give it this freedom it will have me on a diet of crystal meth, bleach and Krispy Kremes within days.
- Worry about Antonia not liking me (yes, I am that fucking pathetic, and basically still thirteen in my head).
- Repeat myself at increasing volume to my father until I lose the will to live and have to shut myself in the loo to bang my head rhythmically against the wall until I lose consciousness.
- Regret my packing, over and over, especially during the four rainy hours at the zoo. One pair of suede Lanvin ballet pumps, one pair of Rupert Sanderson red patent pointy fuck off heels, no socks and one APC cotton blazer does not sensible outdoor wear for late October make. I have had to make myself over with the contents of the house, and am wearing a cagoule that smells of pre-grooming era male and size 46 walking boots.
- Wonder how someone so much richer than I am (Bearded One) could live such a spartan existence. There is no food in this house. They must be like those giant moths (names, reading entomologists? lepidopterists? moth people?) I learned about this afternoon sheltering from the rain, that are born with no mouths, because they don't live long enough to need them. Or they eke all necessary calories out from whisky. Possible.
- Bitterly regret not taking my camera to the zoo to document the existence of a book called "British mousetraps and their creators" and also to show how LARGE it was. Clearly, Great Britain has an august heritage of causing pain and death to small rodents. A heritage to be proud of, truly!
I am now throwing this open to the rest of you. How did you spend the extra hour? How would you have liked to have spend it? Cheer me, please, it's still only 6pm here, and miles to go before I sleep, etc etc.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Never fear, however. This realisation is unlikely to lead to any less posting. We are in England for a week which will doubtless inspire me. I am meeting up with Antonia (who I idolise above all bloggers and love creepily - she is a brave woman agreeing to see me again), tormenting Violet, invading the Bearded One's zen palace with brightly coloured plastic, crap food and strident tv and then going to York on a nostalgic trip to my birthplace with Lashes and Fingers. Actually, I fear I have probably over-estimated the amount of entertainment it is possible to squeeze out of repeated trips to Barnitts, the hardware store to end all hardware stores, feeding the vicious geese and the smellovision delights of the Jorvik Viking Museum. By Wednesday I will probably be sitting catatonic on a bench around the fountain in Parliament Street with all the teenage mums, eating a pasty and drinking WKD (is that right? The alcopop? I sound like a high court judge) as the boys go shoplifting in Woolworths.
Must go, the CFO's eyes have shrunk to the size of currants. I sense an uncomfortable conversation approaching.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
"I don't want to die like this! In a fiery ball of death with a bunch of lawyers! I don't want my children to grow up wearing 100% acrylic rollnecks and slacks! And eating Knacki sausages and powdered mash every night! And only reading non-fiction! And becoming engineers or mathematicians!"
It's exhausting. So in case I go down in the metal box of death in a giant mass of flaming lawyers, here are my last thoughts:
CFO: I am sorry about the last few transactions on our joint account, but they are really nice shoes, and maybe you can bury them with me. Or instead of me more likely. I cannot resist buying more felt tips every time I go to the supermarket, but I have hidden them in the cupboard so the children do not use them to draw faces on your socks. Please check that I am really dead before giving my organs to anyone, though I realise that this is unlikely to apply in the fireball of death scenario. Do not let anyone in my family make laminated mass cards cum bookmarks with unflattering photos of me on. I really love you, you are ace. When you find another woman, please ensure she is nicer to you than I am. Maybe choose someone who can cook this time? Do NOT allow the children to wear clothes chosen by your mother all the time. If in doubt, ask Violet. Eat some fruit occasionally.
Lashes - Please continue to challenge your father in lots of ways with your bizarre creativity and argumentativeness. It is good for him and you will have to do my share of screwing with his head too now. He will shout at you a lot because they do a lot of shouting in his family but he loves you so so much and all he really wants is for you to occasionally give him the odd cuddle. He loves that, I can actually see him physically relax when you are next to him. Try and remind him that he does have a sense of fun when he is not busy being sensible. Put pants on his head and make him pretend to be a koala.
You are the most beautiful, delighful, clever, hilarious child. I was rather in awe and frightened of you when you were born, in all your animal perfection and I wish I had been better able just to enjoy your wonderfulness, your tiny hairy lorry driver shoulders, your slowly unfurling lashes and your silky black hair, but I was too young and a bit mental, really. But I feel we have grown up together, and the days when I used to want to put your dinner on your head (and indeed the one shameful time when I did) are long gone, most of the time. It feels like an outrageous privilege that I get to have someone as funny and independent and confident and kind and all round amazing as part of my life - how did we make you?! You are bloody amazing. I love how we can tell each other jokes and get up to badness. I recommend prog rock step dad for bad jokes, Violet for crazy cutting and sticking projects and the Space Cadette for ridiculous surreal games. All my love darling.
Fingers - Wonderful boy. You are so deliciously eccentric and serious. Even though you are way too old for my clingy fingers and lips constantly trying to stroke and groom you, I truly cannot keep away from you, you are a total physical delight to be around and you have been ever since you were born. Even though you looked like a squinting tomato, you were my squinting tomato, and I felt a completely visceral connection with you that has never weakened - you are part of me like nothing else ever has been. Your papa thinks I am a bit casual with you, but if I am, I am casual with you like I am with my leg, or my ear. You are part of me. It's a wasted day when I can't squeeze you until your pips squeak as you gravely explain some matter of vital importance to me. Please try not to worry so much. The world is basically a benign place, and you are surrounded by people who think you are bloody fantastic. If you have to hide secret stuff, I recommend the spare bedroom on the top floor, since noone ever goes up there. If your papa tries to make you eat omelette, try putting it up your sleeves, then dumping it in the bin afterwards. Amazing parrot. Be happy. Try to eat something other than biscuits now and then.
I will look like a tit tomorrow when the plane doesn't fall out of the sky, won't I?
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Me: It's Halloween soon! We'll be in England and we can go to Woolworths and get you a really disgusting mask.
Lashes: And I can say "A sweetie or I hit you with a stick!"
Lashes: A sweetie or I hit you with a stick! "Un bonbon ou un coup de baton!"
Me: Hmm. Actually, in England we say "Trick or Treat"
Lashes: Tit or Treat? Why?
Me: TRICK or Treat.
Lashes: I like the stick better.
Me: I suppose you could go with "Stick or Treat"?
Lashes: No, a sweetie or I hit you with a stick. They might think I was giving them a stick.
Me: Fair enough.
Me: Did you have gym today Fingers? Sorry, Rockettheparrot?
Fingers: Yes. There was a new big ball, like a bowling ball. But with no holes. Mme Pascale wasn't there.
Me: Oh, is she sick?
Fingers (gravely): She is veeeerrry sick. She has a giant verucca. She dropped an enormous bowling ball on her foot and it gave her a verucca as big as my head.
Me: What's that you're reading?
CFO: Hibernation instructions. I have to give the tortoises weekly baths and starve them for a month before they hibernate. And smell their poo to make sure it isn't "offensive".
Me: It always seems pretty offensive to me. Anything else?
CFO: I have to make sure their ears are flat and there is no discharge.
Me: They have EARS? I have never seen ears. Tortoises don't have ears! Do they?
CFO: They are more like holes I think.
Me: So, do we have to hibernate them in the fridge again? Won't it be a bit crowded now we have six?
CFO: Yes, the fridge is best. But they won't take up much space. Apparently the box shouldn't be much bigger than the tortoise. I was thinking we could go to the ice cream shop and ask them for some spare polystyrene boxes.
Me: Polystyrene ice cream hibernation pods. I'll add that to my to do list. So I have to start emptying the vegetable crisper?
CFO: You have a couple of weeks while I complete their health checks. Now get off the computer I need to check the shell length:weight ratios again.
Weer in ur fridj hopefully not daiyin in ur crispur.
Then I went into the kitchen and found this intriguing tableau:
Some kind of 'things in glasses' competition perhaps? Let's look closer.
Glass 1: "an experiment". No further explanation was forthcoming. Oh yes, we are all about exploring the physical universe through the medium of messy, staining, coloured fluids.
Glass 2: avocado stone
Actually, just one is fairly encouraging. The CFO has some long hidden folk memory of growing avocados from stones. I expect it dates from when his parents lived in Guadeloupe. There are always one or two in a state of putrefaction around the house.
Glass 3: crocodile
I have no comment.
What does it all mean? Any theories?
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Nah, didn't work, did it.
Poor fugly shoes. They have a hard life in my house. The cute shoes are always ganging up on them, flushing their head down the toilet and stealing their dinner money. Peer pressure is a cruel thing isn't it? And the 'in' shoes are merciless. Mean, mean girl shoes!
And as if that wasn't bad enough, I am now doing my best to blame our underwhelming, ahem, intimate life recently on them. They are profoundly unerotic, I think we can agree. They make my legs look like giant lumpen sausages. They make me walk like a duck in wellingtons and fall over even more often than I usually do. They are really, really heinously ugly. They may be combatting my cellulite (debatable), but cellulite is probably preferable, from an erotic standpoint to this footwear.
Might I, conceivably, be being a little unfair? If I am brutally honest the erotic temperature round here is rarely unbearably, electrically scorching. Not only did the CFO and I meet when I was nineteen but I'm a fantastically uptight, repressed English person. Yes, we really exist. It's a reaction against my progressive upbringing I think. Poor, poor CFO. Fifteen years of this. The man deserves an affair. Several, even. With gangs of incredibly nubile twenty year old Swedish girls.
But seriously, how could any relationship keep its spark when I heard myself saying the following as I got ready for bed last night:
"Help! Jesus, help me! My Compeed is stuck to my pop sock! Fuuuuck!"
(This was the best pop sock picture I could find though let me say mine are NOT flesh coloured. I have some limits. I find it unfeasibly amusing.)
Fugly shoes - this is your fault.
Oh, and while we are on the ratings boosting topic of HOT TORTOISE SEX, I have a subscription to Bust magazine. It was a consolation gift from sadly missed Czech colleague, who has gone to New York, leaving me to maintain the Tedium Files on my own. He and his fantastically cool artist wife are off doing cool and amazing things and I am still researching seamless steel tubes. But! They got me this subscription to Bust, hipster magazine for fierce young ladies. It's pretty fantastic and full of ambitious craft projects for me to fuck up, though I don't think I get all of it, since I'm too old and Belgian. But the most recent issue left me in a hysterical heap on the ground with its fantastic female friendly erotic story (or "one handed read" as they called it) about .... a librarian. A guybrarian! Is this, in fact, the erotic fantasy of choice of hot young New York hipsters? Is it? I am even more out of touch than I realised.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Seriously. Over the last few weekends, we've been to the 'family fun' pool (stretching the definition, I think) twice, to the wildlife park and bowling. I have glue ear, a sore shoulder and a new found respect for the capybara. It's not that I don't enjoy it. Seeing a grimly determined child 80cm off the ground refuse all help and wrestle a bowling ball is its own reward. But it's a far cry from my own childhood. As the child of a non-driving single academic in '70s York, this kind of thing was totally foreign. Prog Rock step dad brought me some of my school notebooks and they are full of inappropriate anecdotes about what I did at the weekend, often involving sitting in pubs and eating crisps, going to conferences, and mystery trips to stay with various bearded academics in their lairs.
I did occasionally go on outings with the after school deprived kids club, I suppose. I was a member of the deprived kids club (a terrifying new build bunker smelling of builders' dust and wee) due to my 'child of broken home' status, and presumably also because it allowed my mother the odd hour to work on her thesis. I lived in permanent fear of getting my head kicked in, but at least we did 'proper' trips. I definitely remember a coach trip to Mother Shipton's cave* where they dumped us all in a forest for a few hours and left us to fend for ourselves, and there was the trip to Bradford ice rink where I fractured my cocyx. Most exciting of all, I once got my picture in the Yorkshire Evening Press sitting next to the pantomime dame at the deprived kids Christmas party. My mother was mortified, but I had won the deprived kids raffle fair and square, and the fact that my only deprivation was not being allowed a pony was, to me, neither here nor there.
Anyway, this was the exception. Most of my 'leisure' time was spent:
i) At gatherings of junior academics (my mother's stoner colleagues). Mud everywhere, cheap wine, horrible food and terrifyingly rude, filthy children initiating me into their evil ways. Just possibly it might have been the other way round.
ii) In the hideous depths of the Yorkshire countryside walking up vertical bogs with only a packet of Rolos for sustenance.
iii) Lurking in my bedroom reading PG Wodehouse and pretending to be a horse.
Even when the Space Cadette was born and Prog Rock step dad moved in, we weren't big on family fun days out. Brisk walks, certainly; the odd garden centre too. But there was no way Prog Rock Step Dad or my mother would have taken us to Flamingo Land and Macdonalds. They would have been more likely to take flight.
I raised this with the CFO as we sat in the cactus-filled gloom of Chico's Mexican Cantina, overlooking Mini-Europe as I toyed with my vegetarian fajita (an audacious mix of frozen mixed veg - broccoli, cauliflower and crinkle cut carrots) and wrestled with temporary deafness.
"These children have way too much fun. Not only are we a nuclear family, but we take them to child friendly venues for child-centred activities. How are they ever going to grow up interestingly fucked up? Did your parents do this kind of 'fun' activity with you?"
The CFO considered the question at length, toying with a Dorito.
"We went ice skating a lot. But we had to skate for a full hour before they let us have a hot chocolate. And sometimes, for an extra-special treat we went to Flunch. There's nothing wrong with having a stable childhood is there? "
"Hmm. You're hardly qualified to judge anyway. Your parents are in their mid sixties and they still HOLD HANDS in the street. Anyway, I'm not actually proposing we split up. Just, maybe we shouldn't do so much, you know, stuff with them. Boredom is supposed to be good for children. All the papers say so. And stuff."
The CFO cast a jaundiced glance over at Fingers, intently emptying the pepper into my handbag, as Lashes squeezed ketchup sachets into his water glass.
"I absolutely agree in principle. But whenever we actually try it, they drive us fucking crazy within minutes"
"Or" he said, getting into his stride "You get sucked into some ridiculous project that causes untold mess and devastation"
Or even this
"Hmm. Ok, not boredom then. "
* For those of you unfortunate enough not to have visited this haut lieu of Yorkshire tourism, it's a grotto which petrifies stuff. Unmissable!
Sunday, 19 October 2008
The CFO has been hit hard by the financial apocalypse, as I may have mentioned several times recently. It keeps him awake at night, when he spends long lonely hours listening to me grind my teeth, watching the tortoises try to wedge themselves in small wellington boots, and weighing up his options. His is a lonely furrow. I have made financial irresponsibility an art form and the swiring mass of doom that engulfs western capitalism seems to me only to vindicate my wise decision to place my 'assets' in bowls, paperbacks and shoes. Even if it weren't for that, I am all about the total fatalism in pretty much all walks of life and money is no exception. Demonstrating once more the triumph of hope over experience, he tries to engage me in fruitless discussions.
"I think we should get life insurance, sell our pensions and buy some dirahms"
"You think it's a good idea? Really? Because I wonder if we shouldn't think about squirrel futures. Or do you think book tokens might be better?"
"Do you have a clue what I'm talking about?"
"No, but I agree with you. That one you said. "
"I give up"
Sadly, I am not allowed to relinquish all financial independence due to Belgium's tiresomely enlightened rules on not defrauding your spouse through the medium of joint bank accounts. The CFO's attempts to have me made a ward of court have been thwarted at every turn, so he was forced to take me along on his bank account emptying expedition. Three banks. Five accounts. Eight million signatures, no coffee, no free pens, no nothing. Times are really hard*. If anyone tried to talk to me, I gave them my best Benny from Crossroads smile and licked the desk. Then we put it all in envelopes (no, it's not like, a really big amount. He's just really REALLY paranoid) and trotted down into two separate basement rooms in two separate banks to hide it in a little metal box. Both smelled of dust and very very old people. The process of using the damn box is despair-inducingly complicated. There are about five different wobbly movements you have to make to get the box to open, a code to remember, and a key.
Now. I don't pretend to have any sense at all, really I don't. But - a box? That locks with a KEY? Has he forgotten my kryptonite-like powers over keys? They break, disappear, throw themselves out of my hands and down the gutter. Also, locks. Mmm. Because, that would be the ideal solution for a woman who can't lock her own front door. Not to mention a code! One that isn't my birthday. Ha!
However, having abdicated the right to object by alternating between mockery and boredom in all discussions on the subject, I sucked it up and amused myself in other ways, chiefly by picking up all the pension, savings and investment leaflets with amusing pictures on the front of happy families and relaxed retired couples frolicking on endless holidays unaware of their impending DOOM. Amalah did a funny riff on something similar recently, and the Belgian ones are equally good. Seriously, they cry out for captions. Sadly, I am stupid and low tech, so I did them with cutting and sticking. Yes! It's Sunday evening craft satire time! We didn't bake this weekend but why should I spare you my total ineptitude.
These photos are terrible. But you expect nothing less from me by now, right?
People, go to your banks and take their leaflets, and you will see what I mean. the subtext is just crying out to be retold by us, the people. Go forth!
Now you should go and read about Katyboo's cousin Tom because it made my stomach hurt laughing today.
*I had managed to grasp this finally, when BMF told me, horrified, that his work Christmas party is at a bowling alley ("not one of those ironic posh bowling-fabulous ones" he emphasised) with two games and a "one course hot meal in a basket". This is a city law firm - our last one was Claridges. You get the picture.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
You thought that was a joke didn't you?
I will though. The next time he leaves the house. Honestly, the lack of support for my artistic endeavours is a burden, really it is, but my spirit cannot be tamed. Ha! Watch this space.
Friday, 17 October 2008
This week, internet, Gwyneth has turned to a range of spiritual advisers to assist her with the following question:
"I have a friend who sees the world in a pessimistic light. This person is highly suspicious of people and situations, and sees, as well as experiences, negativity at most turns. Why is this and what does it mean? What can be done to help someone of this nature?"
Ooh! It's like one of those 'blind' items in gossip mags! Who could she possibly mean? Her muesli knitting husband? Madge, Stella? Posh? P Diddy? My money is on Stella. Has anyone ever seen that woman smile? No. They have not. A childhood of veggie burgers and Wings will do that to a girl.
Sadly, my defamatory musings were killed stone dead by the next ten paragraphs of god awful aura weaving tosh from Gwyneth's gurus.
Deepak Chopra, eastern philosophy media whore to the stars opines as follows (I paraphrase):
"Imagine your friend is a rusty old steamship. You are on the top deck, wearing immaculately styled pieces from the Chloé cruise collection. Steer her into more fabulous waters with your tiny but toned arms!"
Next, with wearying inevitability, comes a Kabbalah mystic. It is frankly too tiresome to even satirise. He does a great job himself:
"There is an exchange of energy when we judge someone. Kabbalah explains that focusing on someone's negativity actually brings that energy into our lives!"
After that, an episcopalian and visiting teacher at the Contemplation Society, then a Sufi, then a psychologist, all of them basically saying "sadly, Gwyneth, not everyone is as radiantly beautiful on the inside as well as the outside as you are. Pity them".
Can, perhaps, any of us add some alternative advice for poor Gwyneth, assailed by negativity?
The bit that left BMF and I in a hopeless heap on our respective floors was the trailer for the next week (coming after this spirituality shmaltzathon) "we'll be enticing you to MAKE some utterly delicious vegan pancakes!". Be still my beating heart and stock up on the soya curds.
Now, let's have an obscene photo of Makka Pakka. This is what happens when you put his head on backwards.
*Yup, Lost in Showbiz is already on the case. Hadley - I was there first beeyatch.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
(Professor Jaywalker Beard, October 2008)
Synopsis: This paper seeks to identify and categorise the range of immediate (defined as within 180 seconds of log on) responses to maternal and co-habitant internet usage among respondents in the 4 - 39 age group. The sample group is composed of three caucasian males, F, L, and C. Behaviour was observed over a period of 6 months.
Conclusion: Response patterns show striking similarity to previous study sets (Primary carer sits down at piano - Response mapping patterns, Beard et Chinwhisker 2008 Journal of Insular Research ; Adults seek to discuss topics of moderate to high importance Beard, Sideburn et Toupée 2007, Oxford Review of Banal Observations).
Response category 1: "Self-destruct"
Respondent F takes extension cable and places it in his mouth. Removing cable from mouth, he moistens fingers and stretches them towards socket.
Respondent L returns from kitchen with paring knife, kitchen shears and a Kitchenaid chopper attachment between front teeth.
Respondents L and F joust with sharpened metal skewers in their socks on wooden floor.Response category 2: "Mutually assured destruction"
Respondent L repeatedly refers to Respondent F as "minus poo poo caca bébé". Respondent F retaliates with an elbow to Respondent L's solar plexus. Both Respondents fall to floor in flailing heap.
Respondent L chews pellets of paper and disgards in Respondent C's slippers. Respondent C responds with extensive aural assault (see response category 3). Respondent F dances gleefully drawing retaliatory action from both L and C.
Response category 3: "Aural assault"
Transcript of a sample of Respondent L's speech sequences:
Maman look; maman look you aren't looking, MAMAN look at this maman maman what is your favourite Pokémon, maman, you aren't listening, maman Fingers is leaning on me he stuck his finger in my eye he wiped his nose on my sock my snot tastes good can I have a pony can I have a Nintendo can I have a circular saw he started it maman maman why do ladies not have zizis, where is my bee tiger maman maman what is death maman I am hungry maman but why why why maman maman look maman look at me talk to me maman maman
Transcript of a sample of Respondent F's speech sequences:
EeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehAIIIIEEEEEEEEAIEEEEEEEEWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA no he did it he started it eeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeee can I play cbeebies games why not why not why not aaaaaa nononononononono not Fingers I am Rocket the parrot aeeeee maman maman maman maman maman aieeeeeee
Transcript of a sample of Respondent C's speech sequences:
We must transfer this money to my secret underground cave we must deal with these bills we must tidy the hall table why is there playdoh in my shoe if we don't book the train we are doomed have you transferred the money have you phoned the phone people what do you think of peanut futures what do you think about buying venezuelan zlotys what do you think of coating the tortoises in gold leaf why are the children so bad ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME AT ALL?
Response category 4: "Physical assault"
Response category 5: "Shock and smear"
Respondents F and L source a range of foodstuffs on the granular, liquid and staining spectrum. They carry around in a range of precarious vessels unsuited to food transport.
Respondent L conceals playdoh sausages on a range of soft furnishings. Respondent F coats curtains in black poster paint. Both L and F fill pencil case with red glitter glue and place internet user's keys and credit card in glue-filled receptacle.
Professor Beard's full study is available on request from the Journal of Advanced Study of My Boring Life (subscription only).
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Warning: the following somewhat overwrought post contains so many adjectives it will almost certainly induce migraine.
Je suis in Paris, ville de dog caca et vielles dames violentes, for le French launch of the Tedium Files, which kicked off to a batsqueak of lukewarm acclaim from four elderly messieurs avec beards. My role at these events is to get drunk in the corner and fail to make intelligent conversation with the guests. I am becoming quite accomplished at this - I am on my third such event, and each is less dignified than the last.
Paris and I, regular readers may recall, have Issues. There was unrequited adoration, infatuation, rejection, disillusionment, and a really ugly break up. We are estranged. I would like to say I am over Paris, but I am not. It was looking as alluring as ever with the autumn sunlight filtering hazily through the plane trees in the Tuileries and kicked me in the guts comme d'habitude.
Stepping off the train in the Gare du Nord to the obligatory manif and a maelstrom of swirling, angry Parisians, is always daunting. However, long experience has taught me that dressing right is half the battle. To stave off the worst of their wrath I wore the origami shoe boots and a severe black dress (with sleeves, Plum Sykes would presumably approve). It worked, there was definite respect afforded to me as I elbowed my way onto the Métro and hobbled across the gravel to go and see Paris Girl (hello Paris Girl! The full body Johnny Halliday disguise please?), but at what cost? The cost of pain, and of not being able to breathe. Pff. A small price to pay for the joy of towering disdainfully above Parisians in the metro and meeting their gaze with a basilik (oxygen deprived) stare.
It was lovely to meet Paris Girl - I have now met three bloggeuses, and none of them has made the slightest attempt to cut me into slivers and place my remains in black plastic bags (though Zoe promises she will rectify this next time we meet). My faith in human nature is restored. Paris Girl's deliciously imperious Fille told us we talked like "brigands", which I like to imagine might be a little like pirates, but with more base cunning.
Next up, Paris Colleague in a John Rocha acid yellow skating skirt and pink Brian Atwood platforms, who kidnapped me and forced me to the Ladurée bar (a beatiful Alice in Wonderland fantasy room of mirrors and green roccoco lattice work) against my will where I underwent appalling, degrading exposure to champagne and macaroons. After these assaults, I had to have macaroon crumbs brushed off my blotchy red face and be propped against a wall gripping a glass of Badoît for the duration of the speeches, before being reimmersed in a whirl of Fauchon canapés and Taittinger with my exuberant Flemish euromaster, frequently sighted throughout the evening with multiple flutes of champagne grasped in both giant fists. The canapés were fantastic. I regretted not having the foresight to bring a tupperware box to fill with teeny weeny eclairs, macaroons, sashimi, prawns wrapped in daikon and brioche this and that. I nearly fell over however, when offered a canapé involving TOFU. Tofu? I thought tofu was on the list of banned imports in France? Surely the Académie Française has something to say on the subject?
Next, dinner at the Plaza Athénée (though not the 3 starred Alain Ducasse part). More champagne. Remind me why I decided to resign?
Emma twittering inappropriate conversation:
"I think my toes have actually been severed by these fecking shoes. I'd take them off but I'd hate to inflict my bleeding stumps on you. Ooh! He's off the tv isn't he? And that skeletor woman with him, my god, she's wearing a single fingerless leather glove like Michael Jackson! Yes, I love French slebs. I read Voici ALL the time. So do you hate your boss? I hear she eats broken glass for breakfast and uses interns as occasional tables. My face is numb. That's not good, is it? I'm new to this alcohol thing. Please don't leave me alone with Euromaster, there's no way I can carry him. Even rolling him would be hard unless its downhill all the way."
Euromaster taking inappropriate to a whole other level, or indeed to a whole other decade (say, the 1950s), to the discomfiture of the more conventional attending eurozombies:
"The girl from the publishers was gorgeous, wasn't she?"
"Why are all the women in this firm ugly?"
"God, the women in this city are beautiful"
"X needs to get laid"
"Y needs more sex"
"Why don't we hire cuter girls?"
Tell me, people, what I am supposed to do as the sole female these situations, because it always bothers me. I like Euromaster very much, he is a sweet man with a good heart and his incorrigible, and very Flemish, outbursts are a tiny aspect of what makes him so exuberant and entertaining. Believe me, in these circles, that makes him rarer than a chocolate capybara. But I shouldn't let him get away with it, should I? My mum will come back to haunt me and beat me over the head with a copy of the Female Eunuch! I feel like whassisface. The appeasment guy. Yes, I have a history degree, what of it? Chamberlain. That's the one.
I have gone swithering off topic and failed to form complete sentences due to being terribly hungover and having eaten 8 macaroons this morning. But I will attempt to drag myself fruitlessly back before falling asleep in the enticingly womblike hollow beneath my desk.
Paris survival - Leçon 1*
- M and Mme Dupont from Tricolore do not live there. We're not in La Rochelle now, Toto. Do not on any account say "Ca va? Moi ça va bien, et toi?" to shopkeepers. Fix them with a squinty glare and ostentatiously say Monsieur or Madame a LOT.
- Wear your best clothes. They aren't good enough. Get some better ones.
- Sharpen your elbows
- Useful phrases part 1 - Le Menagerie:
Cette tortue, c'est un obsédé sexuel, non?
This tortoise has sexual compulsion issues, no?
Votre alligateur est empaillé, j'en suis sur
I am sure your alligator is stuffed.
Monsieur, auriez vous la gentillesse de ne pas faire pipi sur mon pied?
Would you be kind enough to stop weeing on my foot, sir?
Ce perroquet a volé mon carré Hermès!
That parrot stole my Hermès scarf!
Y a t'il des capybaras par ici?
Are there capybaras round here?
L'âne afro est décédé? Alors j'exige un remboursement complet!
The afro donkey is dead? I demand a full refund!
- C'est tout
*I am being quite unfair. Parisians have totally learnt that they have to be nice to tourists now, and the vast majority of them are. But like I say, we have History; I am not unbiased.
Monday, 13 October 2008
Firstly the place was teeming with escaped capybaras. We were sitting drinking horrible coffee as the children tried to push each other off wooden structures when the first capybara wandered by. For those not brought up on the zoo tales of Johnny Morris, the capybara is the world's largest rodent. Esoteric fact fans will enjoy this gem courtesy of the Belette Rouge: apparently in the sixteenth century, the Catholic church declared that the capybara was a fish and could therefore be eaten during Lent.
The capybara looked around the playground, thoroughly unimpressed. Then it hopped over a surprisingly high fence, swam across a pond and went over to a small island to tease the flamingos. Shortly thereafter a small herd of them wandered over with a studied casualness, like a gang of self conscious adolescents.
"That's a lot of free range capybaras. Capybari?"
"Should we say something?"
And thus, I found myself having a conversation I never thought I would have. French phrase books are totally lacking in the vocabulary for these situations I find.
Excusez moi, Monsieur?
Vos capybaras se sont evadés. Ils se promenent partout.
Your capybaras have escaped. They are wandering around everywhere.
Alors, c'est normal, que les capybaras soient en liberté comme ça?
So the capybaras are supposed to be wandering around free range?
Non. Mais ça arrive souvent. Ce sont d'excellents grimpeurs.
No, but it happens quite often. They are very good climbers.
Suitably reassured, Fingers and I went off to find the giant tortoises, leaving the CFO and Lashes lazing in a field of conkers. The giant tortoises were awesome, and several of them were rutting with great concentration and lots of noise. Paris Girl, you will doubtless be delighted to hear that I thought instantly of you. Others among them were fighting, so close to us we could touch their shells to cheer them on. On our return, having crossed paths with what appeared to be dozens of small capybaras frolicking around a hot dog stand, the CFO's eyes appeared to have shrunken to the size of pin pricks. This is rarely a good sign - when his eyes shrink dramatically I know I am in for a bollocking, though in fact this was not the case in this instance.
"It was great!" I said happily. "They were having sex and fighting and I touched a leg AND Fingers got pecked by a large blue pheasanty thing but he didn't mind. What did you get up to?"
"Lashes chased butterflies" said the CFO wearily "With sticks."
Visions of visiting my eldest son in Broadmoor flashed in front of my eyes. We need to talk about Lashes.
"Lashes! It's horrible to try and kill things!"
"I didn't manage to get any"
We continued this conversation in the car, when the sight of a group of hunters awoke his boyish blood lust again.
"I want to hunt things"
"Yeah, hunt them to look at them. But not with guns, right?"
"Yes. With guns. And to kill them."
"But Lashes! I thought you wanted to save animals, not kill them?"
"I have to eat!"
"Hunters don't usually shoot cows, or sheep, or pigs, or chickens you know. They shoot stuff you don't like eating."
"But what about moths?"
"We don't eat moths and they would be very hard to shoot, I should imagine. Oh! You mean, why do I kill them when I say we mustn't kill animals?"
"Well ... they eat my clothes. Which isn't very nice. And hide in the cupboards waiting to jump out at me. And I can't find any other way to get rid of them. But you're right. It's bad, I shouldn't kill them. I just don't know what else to do".
Fingers, silent up until this point, had obviously been thinking deeply on the subject: "We could strangle them!"
"You what? Strangle MOTHS? You do know how small they are?"
"Not with our HANDS" he said scornfully. "With string!"
Moth crime - apparently hereditary.
Sunday, 12 October 2008
We weren't actually able to do that one, due to the corner shop not having Bourbon. But! We did the others! I don't know why I'm saying 'we'. I did them; the CFO drank wine and sat on the sofa looking disapproving. But it seems profoundly sad to think of me on my own in the kitchen making cocktails, so let's say I made them with my imaginary friends. Goodness we have fun.
First, assemble your ingredients:
No. The eggs are no accident.
Now start mixing!
1. The 'Apple Jack' (4 Calvados: 4 Pear liqueur, : 1 Lemon juice: 1 grenadine)
We swapped the pear liqueur for pear vodka. It didn't help much. Look:
Note that our tester appears to be suffering from hairy hands syndrome à la Father Jack. I am looking for a place for him in the home for bad hairy priests. Juxtaposes nicely with dinky Shinzi Katoh glass, no?
Our verdict: Tart doesn't quite cover it. It has an acidulated Haribo nose, but launches a vicious, toilet cleaner attack on your throat. "It's treacherous" says the CFO "It looks like a girl's drink but it's vicious".
2. The Sidecar ( 2 Cognac: 2 Cointreau: 1 lemon juice)
The role of Cointreau is being played here by Triple Sec. Is it even glancingly similar? Who knows. Voilà:
Yes. It is sideways. But also, it is a Sidecar! It could be deliberate?
Note the pleasing 'bile' colour. Our tester is giving it the sideways thumbs up, but it might be ironic. I have no tasting notes on this one. It was nasty, clearly. But at least the lemon juice contains some semblance of nutritional value. Why did all these cocktails contain lemon juice? Maybe the shaker was free with a bag of lemons?
3. Gin fizz (4 gin: 1 lemon juice: I tsp sugar: sparkling water to taste)
You're kind of expecting this by now, but I had no sparkling water, it transpired. So I used tap. There goes the fizz. Oops. Maybe someone could think of another name for it?
4. Porto Flip - this is the one that totally inspired me to do this ridiculous excuse for a project. Half and half Port and Cognac : AND AN EGG YOLK. Mmm! It's a meal in a glass! And doesn't it look pretty? Look at the lovely bit at the bottom!
The photo has been, ahem, 'flipped'. Sorry.
The CFO thought this wasn't quite as bad as he was expecting. I could only swallow it if I closed my eyes, because that yellow, separated dreglike residue was just soooo DELICIOUS. Yes, that's definitely the word I was looking for. That ectoplasm is chasing me through my dreams.