Saturday, 31 January 2009

Chanson d'amoooour (ratatata) - Part II

Ou étions nous? Ah yes.

So after the Mexican meal of egregious lying, I imagine he dropped me back in my metal box. I don't actually have photographic recall of even these momentous events. I forget to say that when he invited me back to his seventies hovel with Kiss wallpaper, I did - in deference to my mother - consider whether he was likely to be planning to cut me up and put me in bin bags, but concluded that I could totally take him if it came to hand to hand combat. He is fairly short, and had starved himself for months so the army would reject him.

We saw each other on and off, at school and out, for the next week or so in a sort of "better than watching yet another carjacking" fashion. At some point, in another café (which felt tremendously sophisticated. Me, a French man, an espresso! It was everything I'd been dreaming of for the last 5 years in York, brooding over copies of French Elle in my bedroom), he asked me in his atrocious English if I wanted to be ''eees girlfreind'. I was too polite to say no (truly, this is the story of my life) and we had an awkward - really awkward, almighty clashing of teeth - kiss and he dropped me back off at the metal box. I instantly regretted failing to say no properly, and chucked him, equally awkwardly, the next day. I can't imagine what I found to say. It was probably complete rubbish, but he got the message.

He took it tremendously well (he didn't seem terribly wedded to the idea either) and continued chauffering me around and chatting amiably to me over the Aromex and the drug busts and the weeping of the profs. Since he had started talking French to me I had had the chance to realise:

1. He was not an earnest half-wit and had a rather dry sense of humour.

2. Behind his giant eighties glasses he was actually rather fetching, with deliciously long eyelashes.

3. He was IMMENSELY useful. He had a car. He had a house - albeit a disgusting hovel in a tragically boring village - that was not made of metal and situated in a hotspot of social tension. He had found, and plugged in, a TV for me. I was in awe at this feat of practicality. Noone in my family has ever known how to handle a screwdriver. It was rather erotic.

One day, just about this date, actually (I think it was 2nd February. It's the only thing we have that passes for an anniversary and neither of us quite remembers when it was), he asked me if I wanted to go out for choucroute. I couldn't think of many things I would like less than choucroute, but it was a testament to his slow-acting charms that I agreed anyway. The choucroute was as horrible as I expected. Giant slabs of greyish meat and the pervasive smell of vinegar - ideal for a vinegar hating vegetarian (a concept I was forced to abandon, being dependent on the school canteen for sustenance, and the school canteen not being big on vegetarian, or indeed any, options) . Thankfully there was also an enormous quantity of Riesling.

Lots of Riesling, and almost no choucroute later, he suggested we went on to the cinema and I happily agreed. This seems a million miles away, in another life - a FILM at eleven at night? With the man who now gets edgy if he isn't in bed by ten and won't see a film if it's on after 4pm? But then, I remember I spend a long time beautifully putting my make up on back then too. And of course, I had real hair; and eyelashes. And I wore contacts. Ok, he's the one who got the dud. We drove across dark and rainy Rouen to the cinema, only to discover that the only thing we could still get into was Aladdin. We went anyway. We were the only ones in there, and I don't think we got much beyond the trailers before we jumped on each other. We went back to the hovel, and in the immortal words of Mrs Trefusis "his lips came down on hers and there were no more words, only the moonlight, blah blah blah".

I never really left, after that, returning to the metal box only to pick up clothes occasionally. I can't say it was absolutely idyllic - we fought All. The. Time. He got stoned a lot with his cousin Christophe and I sat bored in the corner. He was jealous of every man under the age of seventy five who glanced at me. But in-between fights we managed to have lots of fun. We drank a whole bottle of gin between us and went to a drumming concert in a village hall, and he had to carry me back home after ten minutes. We were extras in a film set in an S&M nightclub. He took me to school on his motorbike and introduced me to tubes of Nestlé Lait Concentré on sponge cake (quatre quarts) as a breakfast food. We had a steamy, erotic holiday on the Brittany coast with an economy pack of turkey thighs, gallons of wine and Alexis de Tocqueville (not in a 9 1/2 Weeks way, the turkey thighs. Or, indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville who was, and remains, a boring bastard and the bane of my first year at Oxford). We stayed in bed all morning on Sundays, then went for lunch at his granny's for our only proper meal of the week. I secretly threw away his Demis Roussos CD and his brown gardener's shoes. He sneaked in to meet me for breakfast in the Pavillon de la Reine (crazily extravagant! A present from the Bearded One who was feeling guilty about something) in Paris when I went to visit my mum and sister, then he took the Space Cadette up the Eiffel Tower. He helped me hide the true, grisly nature of Canteleu from both my parents when they visited, by not letting them anywhere near it at night. Or, indeed, during the day. Or at all.

It was always a holiday romance for me though. I really don't know how, or when, it shifted. The only turning point moment I can think of is perhaps when we were staying in a grisly B&B that summer in the south of Ireland, in the kind of small town where people have vestigial tails and eat their young. With no money and nowhere to go even if we had any, we were sitting in bed one evening in a halo of static from the nylon bedspreads, observed by fifty three bleeding Jesuses, looking out of the window. A tiny light flickered in the fields on the far side of the lake.

"What do you think that is?" I asked him idly.

"Quelqu'un en train d'enterrer son fils" (someone burying their son) he said, deadpan.

It made me laugh a lot.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Lurve storee Part I

Interest has been expressed (yes, I am overstating it; Juci is mildly curious) in how the CFO and I met and our 'unforgettable' first date in a wood store.

Well. Settle down for a slightly (very? tell me in the comments) dull story.

I am nineteen and am assigned a job as a French "assistante" in a school in Normandy in my gap year. Normandy sounds like the arse end of dullness to me. It is full of cows, and rain, and offensive dairy produce. I know this from my A Level French project on Normandy where we studied nuclear power stations and cheese until we begged Mme Cockroft for mercy. I had rather been hoping for Nice, or Biarritz or something mildly glamorous. I look up the location of the school assigned to me in an atlas (this tale takes place, children, before the advent of the interwebs. Reference will also be made to something called a 'public telephone box'. Ask your gran.) - it is near Rouen, which is at least a city of sorts. Some consolation.

I call up my predecessor in the post. He tells me that he was held up at knife point in the supermarket car park by two of his students whilst buying vodka. I choose not to tell my parents. Actually, it sounds rather exciting. Things are looking up!

I arrive in Rouen on a Friday night in January after a two day induction during which I learn nothing, except that red wine is fantastically cheap in Paris. The train rumbles through several miles of flat industrial wasteland. Fetching. The English teacher, who is a wispy and sad looking woman in her fifties, picks me up at the station and we share my first Lipton Yellow, which is horrid. I make the mistake of adding milk. Worse. She drives me to my new home, a metal box on a hill outside Rouen. On the way, we are overtaken by ten vans full of CRS (the French riot police), sirens blaring, pin pon pin pon pin pon.

Inevitably Prog Rock in his research found out that Flaubert had written a short story set in my new home. He did not find out, however, that modern day Canteleu was one of those cités that the French media go all alarmist and Daily Mail about. Tower blocks, 45% unemployment rate, a thoroughly, and understandably, pissed off immigrant population. Visits every night from convoys of riot police with shields and CS gas and batons. The road outside the school, it transpires, is a prime joyriding spot, and every evening my tiny room is filled with the sound of exuberant handbrake turns. My room is about 6 square metres. The walls are made of metal and are in fact the outside walls. There is only a sheet of metal between me and the rioting populace. There is an interesting second room that combines kitchen, toilet and shower in 2 square metres of space that would give the Health and Safety Inspectorate enduring nightmares.

I put up lots of posters (Take That, but ironically, of course), take up smoking Gauloise Blondes, and listen to Nina Simone hanging out of my metal window smoking, watching the joyriders and feeling tremendously sophisticated, but also bored and lonely. When I visit the scene of the near-knifing, I find the supermarket is aptly called "Atac". I eat radishes and ice cream and nothing else, just because I can. It does not stop raining for the whole first weekend (in fact it does not stop raining until April but thankfully I do not know that at the time). I take my life in my hands and take a trip to the phone box where I am surrounded by youths shouting "hello! fuck you! pussy!" in a cheery fashion as I assure my mum that everything is FINE and I am taking my vitamins.

Monday rolls around and I head across the yard to the staff room, passing a small man in a giant red Puffa jacket manning the gate (DID YOU SEE ME FORESHADOWING THERE???? I am marvellously subtle, no?). He appears to be frisking pupils before he lets them in. This is both comforting and, paradoxically, not at all. The staff room has bars on the windows. Ashen faced, resigned looking men and women huddle around the cafetière, smoke and talk about their most recent bout of industrial action. Noone talks to me. Eventually the headmaster gives me a timetable, which indicates that I will only be needed for 8 hours a week, to run lunchtime clubs and assist in two lessons. I am about to head back to the metal box with a sense of anti-climax when someone offers to introduce me to the surveillants.

Surveillants are students who work in schools for money, doing the discipline, lunch duty, récré tasks that the profs aren't paid for. There are four of them - Laurent, Nathalie, Marie-Laure and the CFO. The CFO isn't in fact a student. He has weasled out of doing his military service and is doing 'civic' service instead, confiscating knives. Later he tells me how he didn't eat for a week and took loads of drugs before the army medical, then refused to speak for the whole 24 hours they kept him, so he wouldn't have to stay. Determined. They have a tiny cupboard where they sit and share war stories, drinking unbelievably bad coffee (Aromex it is called, and it is impressively cheap) between confiscating flick knives and grass, and patching up head wounds. It is a TERRIBLE job, especially in a school like this. In my six months, one pupil gives another second degree burns by holding his hand against a radiator. Several are arrested. Drug busts happen weekly. Needless to say, English conversation classes are not wildly popular. After a couple of weeks I give up on pretty much everything, and just bring copies of Smash Hits with me and hand them out and get them to ask me questions about lyrics if they have any. The wispy English teacher has a nervous breakdown about a month after I arrive. She is something like the fifteenth teacher to be put on sick leave that year.

In the midsts of the chaos, the small man in the red puffa jacket stalks around looking severe and squinty eyed, telling people off. I don't pay him much attention at all. I can't say there is any particular attraction as we sit in the staff canteen at 11h30 (surveillant meal time! ridiculous) toying with tongue and drinking red wine. Laurent is probably more my type. I am, however, HEINOUSLY bored. Canteleu is possibly the most boring place on earth, when there are no riots to watch. When I walk along the rain sodden streets to the supermarket and back, I am surrounded by youths from my class practising their swearing. It is not even fun the first fifty times. Eventually even they get bored of it.

So when the puffa jacket man stops his ancient Peugeot outside Atac where I am wrestling with my shopping bags and offers to take me into town, I accept with enthusiasm. He says portentously that he can practise his English, while showing me the sights of Rouen. It doesn't sound like the most exciting offer I have ever had, but it has to be better than Canteleu and another evening staring at the walls and practising smoking.

The CFO has a treat in store for me! First, we go to the Prefecture (administrative centre) so he can file some papers. Then, we go to Normandie Bois et Matériaux where he spends an unfeasibly long time haranguing them to give him free wood for a woodwork class he teaches. I have never been in a wood shop before but the novelty soon palls. I start pining for my metal cell. Finally, he takes me for coffee in the Café de la Poste, where he talks at me in impenetrable, awful English. I have my limits. I tell him that he cannot practise his English on me any more. He accepts fairly gracefully. He takes me back to his hovel (NO. NOT LIKE THAT. WHAT KIND OF GIRL DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?) in a grim industrial suburb. It is unbelievably sordid and ugly and he has the most awful seventies droning music. I remind myself how boring Canteleu is and stick it out as we chat, now in French, about god knows what. In the end, we go out for a Mexican meal, which is a nice change from radishes and ice cream and I tell him a pack of lies about myself (I love clubbing, have my own LandRover, have had fifteen boyfriends), telling myself that none of it matters very much, since I will certainly not be seeing him again.

He still thinks I used to have a LandRover, fifteen years on.

La suite? Or too boring?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Blogging kills kittens, destroys families

So, it would appear, from today's Times, that blogging about my family will bring the four horsemen of the apocalypse galloping across suburban Brussels to knock on my blue front door. They're long overdue anyway - it's been ooh, days, since the last Waffle catastrophe. Bloody horsemen, you just can't rely on them, terrible timekeepers. I suppose they're always stopping off here and there to wreak carnage or spread pestilence or some such.

I can't, try as I might, get as paranoid as perhaps I should be about blogging. I don't know, maybe it's the drugs. I seemed to lose all my inhibitions about sharing the various ghastlinesses that have characterised the last few years as soon as I started taking anti-depressants (again). I'm exactly the same in real life as I am on line - I've lost the ability to self-censor. I tell my boss that my job is boring and that I don't work hard (and also that everyone assumes he has a mistress - OK, I was also drunk at this point and there were other things said that even I will draw a veil over). I told Matilda what my bonus was yesterday, which is supposed to be the kind of information you guard with your life on the corridor of ennui (I got it terribly wrong, nearly causing a terrible scandal. I don't do numbers. I ended up scrabbling around in my desk drawer bleating "I'm sure I can find you the right number! It was on a post it note in here somewhere!" as Matilda, scandalised, plotted her resignation). I told my other boss when I got pregnant two years ago which he REALLY didn't need to know.

I kind of welcome this new openness and vulnerability. I shared nothing, and I mean nothing, for the first thirty odd years of my life, despite several bouts of therapy. I would have lengthy, knotted dialogues in my head about all sorts of stuff, but none of it was ever articulated. I was virtually mute. The CFO was frequently driven to distraction by my monosyllabic utterances, from which he was supposed to parse whole torrents of tortured emotion. It's good to be able to say "no, I am not fine, I am not coping", even if many unfortunates who were only asking out of politeness find themselves edging away after a few minutes with a wild desperation in their eyes. It's a sort of Emma perestroika and it makes me feel a whole lot saner. Not to mention the extraordinary, thoughful and supportive things that people have said. Especially people here. I've said it repeatedly, you're way better than therapy.

Why am I not worried? Firstly, because I honestly believe I am serving the welfare of my children and my partner by expressing myself here. I have not chopped anyone into small pieces. No duct tape has been used for nefarious purposes. I shout less. This is all a direct result of blogging. Part of the reason blogging is such a release (yick, that sounds sexual, sorry) is tied up in the fact that the CFO is french and we speak french to each other, and my children still, damn their eyes, talk to me in french most of the time. Ok, I can do it. Actually I love it most of the time, but this is not my mother tongue and there are concepts, jokes, verbal gymnastics, shared cultural references that are part of who I am that get no outlet in my immediate family. I express that stuff here, and god, it does me good. I'm not as frustrated. I might still get tongue-tied when I want to talk to the CFO about something a bit nebulous and abstract, but I can show myself that I know what I mean by writing it down here.

I think all this boils down to: better in than out. Poor long-suffering readers may disagree. But how can I regret something that has brought me friends, sanity, endless laughter (and, uh, forty odd suggestions on how to rehydrate)? The things I want to read, moreover, tend to be those that draw me in with some kind of personal, or emotional content. I put myself at the very open end of the blogging spectrum, certainly (though I always hold up Motherhood Uncensored and Lisa, and a handful of others as franker even than me), and I know I cross boundaries that many have set for themselves in the way I use this space. What do you think? Do you have a set of rules you follow in what you write about and what you don't? Am I DOOMED (cue Beethoven's Fifth)? I am, aren't I. Go on, you can tell me. I've already put the kettle on for the horsemen anyway.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


You know sometimes you buy stuff (vitamins, socks, other things that are not coming to mind) and they have those small sachets of silica gel in them? To keep them from getting damp? I think someone must have put enormous ones all over the house and in my bed and in my handbag and in the office. I am SO DRY. I am parched. My skin rustles when I touch it. My nose and eyes and mouth feel papery. Let's not even mention my lips. They would make small children cry.

The problem is I hate water. It's so cold. And boring. And wet. It makes me feel queasy. Blah. Do not tell me to squeeze a lemon in it to make it more 'interesting'. That does not work. It just makes it sour and bitty. Everything about water is so unappealing to me; the water cooler is an exhausting ten yards away. The plastic cups feel hellish against my dessicated face, and if I bring a bottle, like proper girls do, the cleaners spirit it away overnight, leaving me exactly where I started. If I want the water not to be so cold that I sob when my mouth touches the cup, I have to mix it with the hot water (quaint, Belgian water cooler, dispensing only cold and 'semi-hot' - not hot enough for tea, not cold enough for drinking. If I wanted to take a bath in the office, it would be perfect), invariably getting it wrong and turning the cup into a fetid stew of carcinogens.

I have tried to address the water thing. I got myself one of these:

A magnificent moustachioed pint glass (from here). It worked for a couple of days, but now it sits empty and reproachful, with a ring of dried white residue around the middle.

Home is ok because I can drink tea (or grenadine if I'm feeling retro), but here on the corridor of ennui tea is a vexed question. Firstly, there is no properly hot water. The coffee machine proposes an option it describes as "heet water", but it is a lie. It spits out the dregs of the last person's coffee, then coughs up a couple of spoonfuls of pond slime. The water cooler, as described above, dispenses bath water.

Secondly, the 'tea' on offer is the scourge of expat Brits everywhere, the dreaded Lipton Yellow.

Lipton yellow tastes like pencil shavings, with a top note of bile. They probably serve it at Guatanamo. There is a reason British people throughout the world travel with suitcases full of PG Tips, or Yorkshire Gold, or in my case Bettys Team Room Blend nestling next to their jars of marmite and packets of Ginger Nuts, and the reason is Lipton Yellow. Moreover, there is no milk on the corridor of ennui. There are small tubs of stuff called 'koffie slag' or "koffie room" or similar. It is vile. You can't put it in tea. Once, just after I started work here, I made the mistake of getting "tee met melk" out of the old coffee machine. It was lemon flavour powdered, sweetened tea with this scummy mass of yellow koffie room in it. I nearly resigned on the spot.

There are also a limited selection of unwelcoming herbal teas on offer; but herbal tea is the work of the devil. I drink it sometimes because I brainwashed myself so effectively in my twenties that I thought I liked it. I don't. The ones here are so unappealing I just can't make myself. The only herbal-ish tea I do like is Rooibos, because it tastes like tea and comes in glorious packaging. Of course, they don't have that. They have rosehip, and lime flower. Pouac, as the CFO would say (and he would, you won't catch him dicing with herbal beverages).

You are perhaps wondering why I do not bring in my own tea. I would direct your attention to the car crash heap of incompetence that is my life. I haven't got around to clipping Oscar Scissorhands' claws, collecting my parcel from the Post Office, paying my credit card bill or cancelling our internet subscription from September. Tea is waaaay down the list. Sometimes I do go to one of those beautiful tea selling shops full of civilised individuals and baroque music, and allow myself to be seduced into believing that I am the kind of person that drinks rare leaf teas that sell for €12 for a hundred grammes; "un séduisant mélange de thé vert Sencha de Chine parsemé de fleure de bleuets". I am reading that off the - untouched - sachet on my desk. You know I do this - I've shown you my tea shelf:

There is a reason it looks so clean and neat. I never touch it. I am too busy drinking endless pints of builders' tea.

The way it goes with my rare, expensive, leaf teas is this. I make the tea once; it is nice, I am smug. I drink a pot of it from my nice glass teapot. The next day, I come in and am faced with an inch of cold tea and eighty million tea leaves in my now scummy, dark brown teapot. The effort of getting the invidious leaves out of the pot (with my hands? banging hard against the bin? blocking the sink in the ladies? There is no solution. The leaves get everywhere. They are clammy and disgusting) is too much for me. I give up. The teapot sits on my desk reproachfully getting more and more foul. I hide it under the desk. It continues to fester. Eventually I wash it, and its delightful bouquet of mould, out. It is arduous and disgusting. The last thing I want after this is to make tea again. I have accepted I am simply not the kind of person who can live up to nice tea. I am not worthy.

Coffee is fine. It's not great, it's tasteless Dutch koffie, but it's drinkable. Coffee I got. It's not helping with the DRY though. Does anyone have any tricks which are not culled from the pages of Zest magazine and its frankly implausible 'zest of lemon' or 'handful of crushed fresh mint' ridiculousness to up my fluid intake? Before I dessicate entirely and turn into a heap of dust, à la vampires in Buffy? Thank you; I know I can rely on you. Hurry!

Monday, 26 January 2009


Ten honest things. Given the recent screeds of squalid oversharing on these pages, I might be hard pressed to find things you don't already know about me (baldness, eating disorder, abortion, cosmetic surgery, etc etc). Here's something I didn't think I could write.

1. The first conscious thought that went through my mind when Prog Rock called to tell me my mum had died was "but she was supposed to be helping me find a hairdresser!". I still wonder what the unbelievable selfishness of this thought means about me. I try and tell myself it was the shock, but it just doesn't go away. I hate that we didn't take her to the station on her way to Rome, because it messed up my totalitarian baby schedule. I think she knew I was selfish. "Emma's ok" she would tell my sister "She's sorted. She knows what she wants". I think that meant selfish. I can't shake that thought. I want her to see what happened after she died, that I was capable of so much more. That frustrates me.

2. I hated the coffin I chose for her. I felt ashamed when they carried it in. I wanted something simple and Quakerly (she was a semi-proper Quaker, what they call an "attender' but not a "member'. Kicking Catholicism entirely was hard.), but it looked cheap, shiny and orange and I felt I had let her down. It looked like it came from some kind of Pine Warehouse you see stridently advertised on local TV. Although the funeral was beautiful, I still get the sweats thinking about the burial. Horrible. Too many people standing around. No intimacy. All wrong. It makes me angry we had to do that terrible, painful thing with fifty three assorted relatives lurking around. I can't let go of it.

3. I felt like we had to get her home as quickly as we could. I needed her body back. It was visceral - I couldn't rest until she was back. After the burial, I spent the first few weeks worrying about how cold she would be. I had to actively distract myself not to get driven insane thinking about it. I don't know how I managed to dispel it, but eventually this fetishising of an empty vessel faded away.

4. Consequently, I never go to the cemetery. It's beautiful. She couldn't have a better spot; it's wild, overgrown, surrounded by dashing WWI heroes. There's a tree for shade, and a bench. It's a million miles from the usual manicured cemeteries. But it just doesn't mean a thing to me - I feel empty when I go there. Marylebone High Street feels more redolent of her than that place. She loved Durrants Hotel, Divertimenti, Patisserie Valerie. Happy times.

5. I have recurring dreams where she's dying (of illness in the dreams) and I can't get near her. She won't let me, or Prog Rock won't let me. I spend hours in these dreams shouting and pleading and crying to be allowed to get near her. I wake up exhausted. I hate these nights.

6. I don't know the date she died, or mark the anniversary. I know it was end of October. I know I went to the Austrian café at Farringdon with BMF at lunchtime, and to some kind of arts sponsorship open day thing in the morning. I know the CFO and I were fighting. But I don't know the date. Near Halloween though, and less than a week before her birthday. We went to Bettys on her birthday, and the people she was in Rome with told me she had been planning to go and buy baby clothes the day she died (I was five months pregnant). That was probably the worst moment of that first week.

7. I hang on to my mum's best friend Les for dear life. She's the closest thing I've got - not that they were similar, but they knew each other inside out. We can not speak for a year and pick up exactly where we left off. I love having Les in my life. It feels like a tiny relic of my mum. We have rituals - she gets a hardback book for her birthday. She buys me a Moleskine diary every year.

8. Bad days, sick days, sad days, ugly days, I want to call her up. There's noone and nothing that quite fills that hole. Violet helps a lot. My sister helps a lot. My sister is amazing. She's also a fragment of my mum - she has that boundless kindness and compassion that I inherited none of. Having her more intimately part of our lives is the best thing to come out of it. I love our little lopsided family gatherings. I love how peaceful we are together - her, me, Prog Rock, CFO and the boys.

9. Six years on I still feel numb. Not resigned or accepting, numb. My brain shuts down when I try to think about her. I didn't get angry, even though the men responsible for the accident that killed her were criminally negligent and tried to hide the evidence of their negligence. I cried, sure, but nowhere near as much as I thought I would. I even wrote in my birth plan for Fingers' birth that I feared I might be totally overwhelmed when he was born and not be able to cope. I thought I was just 'hanging on' until after the delivery. Apparently I wasn't. I feel like I'm still hanging on. I just don't know where the grief is hiding, or if it will ever emerge. Occasionally I get a flash of it, listening to a piece of music (Joni Mitchell, Cosi fan Tutte). Or I think about kissing her, and how her cheeks felt. Once at another funeral (Step-grandmother) I really felt it. Bearded One's wife gave a beautiful beautiful oration for her mother. She was incredibly affecting and wonderful. I was a wreck.

10. I've just seen that she's in Wikipedia. That's bizarre. I can't decide whether to link to it. She was completely amazing and I want so show you how, but I don't want to invade my sister and step father's privacy so I won't. Suffice to say she was totally fucking fantastic. Learned, determined, compassionate, funny. She had such a strong sense of herself (beliefs, fears, griefs and passions and there were plenty of all of these) that I feel like a blank, bland cypher next to her.

Ten honest things. I feel a bit wobbly now. Back to skimming the surface tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

How very different from the home life of our own dear Queen

Trailer-trashy day. Seemingly endless hours of terrible glaringly bright and loud children's tv. Lashes hunched in front of the laptop cruising YouTube for Pokémon novelties, and wailing in frustration when he ended up with Japanese cookery demonstrations. CFO necking cough syrup straight from the bottle and sighing deeply. Taking Oscar to the dog shit strewn park of despair in my pyjamas and watching him eat cigarette butts. When we get back, he bites me hard on the nose. Suggesting, unheeded, that licking the dog's TONGUE might not be entirely a good idea. Lashes eating supermarket cream horns for breakfast.

Ill-humoured trip to Waterloo "Kids Fun Factory" ("I don't WANT to go!" "Moi non plus!" "Well NEITHER DO WE but we're going so shut up and enjoy it"). I imagine them squeezing the fun into children with a giant industrial sausage filling machine. Soft play is supposed to wear your children out. It certainly wears something out, but I think it was my patience this time as the CFO twitched around on his laptop and I did his proof reading ("Er, this thing here 'Freshhole'. Do you perhaps mean 'threshold'?") and the children begged for coins and feigned death and lay, wilting on the floor. Look! See the fun! It's almost palpable, no?

Inevitable trip to Macdo on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Waterloo ("Noooon! Pas Macdonald! We want Queeeck!" "Don't like it!" "Well NEITHER DO WE .. "etc etc). Several terrible close encounters with my arch-nemesis, ketchup, leave me a shuddering heap of neurosis. In an impressive, but ill-advised economy drive, the man on the next table orders fifteen special offer €1 cheeseburgers and sits contemplatively working his way through them. The CFO toys with his Filet-O-Fish and looks pained as children crash into his chair. The spawn flick pieces of plastic crap and straw wrappers at each other until one of us cracks and buys ice cream. It's the wrong kind. I eat it.

Trip to the pet shop with Zoe. Half of Brussels is out there on its Sunday outing, buying diamanté collars and rhinestone studded skull and crossbones neckerchiefs for their rattes. The pet shop smells bad. It is full of liver flavoured cat treats, bird shit, smelly sad puppy dogs and DOG NAPPIES; punters eating burgers. We weigh up shoplifting Zoe's birthday tortoise to avoid the queues, but decide it probably has a security tag secreted somewhere about it. Stare in wonder at the garden gnome in a decorative glass cage.

Remove assorted reptiles from Lashes' pockets. Find Fingers who has mistaken another woman for me and is hanging on to her leg grimly. Go home. Clear up dog shit in the yard with a children's trowel. Lashes goes back to watching You Tube Japanese cookery demonstrations. Fingers hits his friend over the head with a length of wooden train track. I shout. It makes everyone cry. We watch more tv. The dog craps in the corridor and bites a hole in my jeans. I call him a shithead. The CFO sits in the kitchen with Oscar on his knee looking simultaneously wretched and censorious. His attempts to elicit sympathy from the children ("Je suis TRES malade! Taisez vous!" I am very sick, shut up) are greeted with blank stares and renewed squabbling. Bagels for dinner again. Remove dog's muzzle from Lashes' mouth. Wrestle shrieking children into pyjamas. Wipe bottoms. Locate toothbrushes under pile of dirty laundry. Consider wisdom of vodka. Decide in favour. Spot dank, algae ridden fishtank on way downstairs. Am I imagining pleading glances of pontypines? Shudder. Shut door.

It isn't supposed to be like this, right? There should be board games, and roast dinners, and bracing walks, and bike rides and cake baking and tousle headed children around the crackling fire poring over their stamp collections. Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong. Send in the crack squad from Easy Living! I need a women's magazine life makeover.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Bearded cat

I am the only sad bastard on the internet that posts on Saturdays, correct? There's some unwritten rule that Saturday is for real life. Everyone else is out doing stuff. Sexual gymnastics, shopping trips, going to galleries, seeing friends, doing "sport", "brunch" and other things I can scarcely imagine. So I hear. Well I'm not, so I'm afraid you can just suck it up. Or not. Because you are probably out doing those things.

I am wondering today why terrible news does not make me a better person. Because right now, the CFO and I are being so loathsome that I am very glad the only people that are around to witness this shameful display are our children, and they are pretty good at being annoying too. The smell of burning martyr is becoming overwhelming. Bystanders could die from smoke inhalation at this rate.

"How are you feeling?" [Like I need to ask. Your ostentatious coughing can be heard for miles]

"Oh, you know. I'm coping" [No thanks to you. Would it kill you to offer me a Lemsip? I am SICK"]

"No, don't worry, you just go back to sleep, I'LL put the children to bed" [poorly supressed sigh]

"No I'll be fine don't worry about me, I am slightly dizzy but I'm sure it will pass" [hacking cough hacking cough]

"I'm just going to light the fire, NO DON'T GET UP you're obviously too poorly" [eye roll]

"No, I'll do it, just give me a minute to stop SHAKING" [theatrical shudder, judder, teeth chatter]

We sat in Café Belga this morning waiting for the spawn music class to finish (Yes, I am a pushy middle class parent.Well, I'm not really, but an hour without both of them on a Saturday? Are you kidding? Yes please. Lashes mainly sharpens pencils, as far as I can tell. Fingers, as a signatory of the Official Secrets Act, maintains a judicious silence on all activities). Eyeing each other sourly, while he sat hunched in twenty layers of fleece, fastidiously sipping juice like a ninety year old and I jabbed at my cappucino stabbily.

"It's weird how I'm totally not hungry" [See? See how sick I am, you heartless bitch? I can't even eat and you COULDN'T GIVE A SHIT]

"Mmph" [Shut UP. I need to know that like I need a hole in the head as I sit here stuffing my face with cramique.]

"What? Why are you looking at me like that? What's wrong? Is it MY FAULT? It's not my fault I'm SICK" [Even you, you irrational, rage-filled medusa, you cannot pretend it is my fault I have the flu]

"Of course it isn't, don't be stupid" [Yes. It is.]

"I'm doing my best" [you unsympathetic witch]

"I know" [THIS is your BEST? Jesus]

Goodness, we are vile. Especially me. But having sadistically trailed him round Comptoir des Cotonniers, Rue Blanche and Isabel Marant, then all the way down rue des Chartreux this afternoon (GREAT street, featuring the dog companion to the Mannekin Pis), I feel better. He feels better because I didn't buy anything. Of such concessions are good relationships made. Ha! No, I can't write that with a straight face. Basically, we are too defeated by this foul month to sustain a grievance. We would rather just collapse with shitty tv and shitty food from the freezer and sit in companionable balefulness. I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but it works - just - for us. The secret to a successful long term relationship - maintain exhaustion levels high enough to preclude vigorous fighting. Oliver James? Your thoughts?

In other news, I tried to take a photo of a cat climbing over the back wall with a beard like Captain Birds Eye. Or Santa. It's not terribly successful, so you might have to take my word for it.

Cap'n Birds Eye:

Santa Cat:

Enlarge it! I swear the cat has a beard.

Um, that's all. Totally worth posting on Saturday, right?

Friday, 23 January 2009

Some days are just rubbish

Today is not a funny day. Grace in Small Things was HARD today; because today is a bit crap really. Not just for the rain, and the wind, and the gut wrenching, heartbreaking news, though all of that is wretched. Last night the Bearded One rang me to say that my brother had just got his latest scan results and they are not good.

My brother - that brilliant, kind, crazily hard-working man - has a brain tumour (grade 3, tumour watchers). All brain tumours are bad, but his is towards the very bad end of the spectrum. It's big, malignant, inoperable; the prognosis is poor. He found out in October 2007 and promptly decided to jack in his crazy high pressure city job for a lovely relaxed life as .... a hedge fund manager*. Yes. This is my brother. Why face one challenge when you could be facing two ridiculously hard ones that would send a lesser mortal to the asylum?

Since then , he has had brain biopsies, radiotherapy, chemo and more chemo and then more chemo. All the while running his new hedge fund. And being a superlatively wonderful father to his 6 year old daughter and 3 year old son. And celebrating his fortieth birthday with a huge party. Then he and his wife went to the Manoir aux Quatre Saisons for a birthday weekend while I looked after the kids and wrote my dead crow poem and my nephew amused us all by telling us that he hated farmers and that pigs did not make sausages, they made dirt. They really enjoyed it, even if my brother had to go to bed quite early. They are good at having fun.

After a short period of inactivity in the autumn, it appears the tumour is growing again. Fuck off, stupid fucking bastard tumour. My brother and his wife, being the kind of people they are, were going out for champagne, before screwing up their courage for another round of chemo. I wish I could at least have been there to babysit my wickedly funny niece and nephew. At times like this, the distance is such a frustration. I want to live down the road and be able to drop round for a couple of hours to do the washing up, or take the kids to the park. I go over whenever I can, and whenever they want me to, but it never feels like enough. It's too far to be a proper support.

So my father and I sat in silence on the phone for a while. There isn't much to say. We knew it was coming. - these kinds of tumours don't discreetly fade away - but we hoped the stupid fucking thing might give him a few more months respite before it going on its pernicious way. Worse, none of us really believe in anything, so we can't pray or do anything much but rally round and keep each other close. I wish it was closer though.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bobbly wool is so sexy

I mentioned yesterday that I never get chatted up, propositioned on the street, whistled at by builders. Like, ever. I don't have the looks for it. BMF got scouted to be in a FILM at the supermarket. Paris Colleague, predictably, gets chased up and down the street, receives unsolicited phone numbers and enslaves most of Paris with her gorgeous blonde waves, diminutive height and giant blue eyes. I look dark and shrewlike and , with a big heavy fringe covering most of my face. I wear mean glasses. The few inches of face you can see are usually frowning, I'm dressed in black, and frequently talking to myself. I am probably shedding old tissues and small fragments of paper. I mean, it doesn't scream sexy. I get it. I hope it screams 'slightly frightening, may evolve into dangerous ninja', but I fear I just disappear into the ambient Brussels greyness.

However there is one item in my wardrobe that invariably excites comment and I JUST DON'T GET IT. It doesn't look that good, it doesn't do anything for me, it makes me look sallow and grey and it shows every lumpy bit. It's a blah, boring, sale impulse purchase. Why? What subliminal messages is it sending?

I look like I have a strangely distorted torso here. Not a hunchback; more a hunchside.

Is it because the colour is a bit like FLESH? Yuk.

Look! The deformity has switched to my camera holding hand. Bizarre wrist lump now.

Men at large, however, are less peculiar than the CFO. Let me show you the only thing in my wardrobe that has EVER excited positive comment from him.

It's just horrid. I mean, look. Too tight, lumpy, scratchy woollen jumper. It looks like I have fourteen nipples (cheers, Rigby and Peller for your cheek-gougingly expensive bespoke bra making service. 'Fourteen nipples' was exactly the look I was going for). It puzzles me. Does it awake some atavistic childhood memory of comforting things knitted by his grandmother? Does it make him think of the beautiful colours of, um, tanks? Or tortoises? Even so, how could this be equated with 'sexy'? My best guess is that he is confusing 'nice' with 'not black'.

Does this happen to other people? Mystifying, unappealing things that excite compliments? Things you love that everyone else hates? Comments that make you doubt your own aesthetic sensibilities?

I might blog later. The CFO is so sick I can get away with it (how come HIS flu comes with days of peace and lying in bed and sleeping and grown up dvds and wearing his unfortunate monk dressing gown and mine came with feverish spawn, mass outings to the office, existential crises, Hayden Pannetiere and a zebra?). This post is frankly sub-standard. I am sure I have more to say but the death rattle from the sofa is killing my thought processes.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Tory shoes, Chekhov puppy, the Turkish Ethan Hawke

Shut up about the damn dog

Oscar has found himself a regular perch on the chair in the kitchen.

Here he sits, reflecting on the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius. He finds the stoic philosophy one that has many lessons for modern life. He often considers the celebrated maxim:

'Does aught befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny the universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web*'

He finds this of particular comfort when he realises he is able to get up onto the chair, but not back down from it.

Here he is thinking of Moscow, so far away. Sometimes he sighs.

More often he farts.

I overheard a Dutch builder sneeringly refer to him as a "ratte" today. You can see why he looks so pained.

Cosmetic improvements

I have added some stuff down the sidebar. Rubbish looking stuff, but I felt the thirst for novelty. if anyone has any clever ideas of GOOD STUFF to put, please can they tell me? This blog looks like crap. Not as bad as my house, but still. I WANT A SHINY BLOG. Other people have aesthetically pleasing blogs! I want one. You deserve one.


They have multi-storey bike car parks. Wow. This was about all I saw in my three hours there, though there were some interesting gummy menthol sweeties handed out free at the conference of doom, and miniature eclairs which were a nice distraction. I wore the people's choice Reiss dress with the red shoes and felt rather glamorous and Hepburn-esque, despite the cold sores, handbag full of detritus and wrinkled opaque tights. Red shoes will do that for a girl**. I asked the CFO how I looked and he said "très rouge" in a sort of censorious fashion, pursing his lips. I ignored him.

My presentation was dull and aimless. The Kong Arthur man was less dull, but more impenetrably weird. I resisted the temptation to use the excellent powerpoint slides Pochyemu prepared for me from her bed of pain, even though they were way better than mine, and included the following line:

—"You’re all Dutch anyway, so what have you got to cry about? You’re tall and thin and can smoke weed until you fall over stupid. And you’ve got prozzies running around everywhere...So fuck you! You think you’ve got problems, try living in Belgium!"

Well, quite.

Excitingly on the return journey, I thought the taxi driver was trying to chat me up when he said "my shift ends now, shall I take you out to the airport", but then I thought perhaps he was just asking me if I wanted him to drive me all the way to there because he knew I was on expenses and wouldn't care. Either way, the moment of quite possibly imagined erotic potential was lost when he hit a large seagull. We tried to decide whether it was stupid, broken, or drunk but inadequate language skills on my side cut the debate short. I still feel we shared a moment. Like, Before Sunrise but with a seagull instead of Julie Delpy? I feel this is worthy of note, since the last time anyone spontaneously made overtures - even imagined ones - to me, it was the dishevelled looking chap on Avenue Louise who told me I had "magnifiques seins .. mais je dis ça uniquement parce que ça fait 5 mois que j'ai pas couché avec une femme" (magnificent breasts, but I'm only saying that because I haven't been with a woman in five months). Er, merci?

*PG Wodehouse fans will know that the correct rejoinder to this is "He said that did he? Well you can tell him from me he's an ass"

** As with the silver Anya Hindmarch shoes last year, however, these Rupert Sanderson beauties are now causing me problems of conscience. She holds Tory FUNDRAISERS and he's friends with Samantha Cameron, so I learn in Vogue this month. I cannot be subsidising the Conservative Party with my shoe purchases! Say no to Tory shoes! Argh.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


Late, and in bold defiance of the blogging embargo, I give you the contents of my handbag inventoried on the train back from Amsterdam (I kicked ass! If, by kicked ass, you mean 'spoke incoherently and too fast, whilst getting progressively redder as a room full of bearded mittel-Europeans dozed peacefully'):

Packet of foul-tasting "slimming" sweets from pharmacy

Miniature plush teddy bear dressed as Père Fouettard whose cheeks light up and who plays Happy Birthday to You when squeezed

4 Kinder Egg toys in varying states of dismemberment

Linda Grant - The clothes on their backs (very good!)

Elderly Heat magazine

King Julian from Madagascar Happy Meal toy as featured previously

2 packets of Wall-E themed tissues and many loose used tissues

Several broken "Petit Déjeuner de Lu" biscuits

Packet of Sinutab Forte

Sponge tipped painting tool

Pink felt tip pen

2 Calpol sachets

Enough make up for an army of drag queens in unsavoury condition (the make up, not the drag queens) - 2 powder compacts, 2 bottles of Benetint, 2 eyeshadows, 2 tubes of foundation, all essentially unused.

Final coup de grace - the severed leg of an elasticated chicken

No money. No credit cards. No passport.

I have this business travel thing Totally Nailed.

Monday, 19 January 2009

A three day old copy of Metro, wrapped around a London Underground bench*

I have decided that I have been blogging long enough to allow myself the indulgence of a post about all the things I miss about the UK (yes, my life is full of arbitrary self-imposed rules and censorship, it's tremendously fun). When I started blogging, I vowed to myself not to stray into whining for Boots and Marks and Spencer on a weekly basis. Internet, you can take my longing for Boots and Marks and Spencer as read. I defy any expat not to miss them and their seductive promise of free access to embarassing quasi-medical products** and decent knickers/sponge cake.

Here, instead, are some of the more obscure and personal ones.

1. The Evening Standard ES magazine on a Friday. Walking home on Friday night and picking up the Standard magazine was the official start of the weekend for me. I hate the Standard. It's dreadful. The magazine is not much better - it's full of hedge fund millionaires and vapid women standing around at fundraising parties for David Cameron. But it's the ritual of the thing, dammit.

2. Carluccios in Fenwicks basement on Bond Street with Violet. Violet works at an august (and deranged) institution nearby. We would often meet up here for tea and biscuits, after Violet had dragged me kicking and screaming out of the wrapping paper and presents section, clutching ill-advised purchases. We did this especially often when I was off work and in group therapy. Poor Violet has put up with a hell of a lot from me over the years, including hideous group therapy tales to put her off her Earl Grey and macaroons. Sometimes we would mix it up and go to Liberty, or to Postcard Teas, or even Sketch or Yauatcha if we were feeling really festive, but Fenwicks was our local. I miss her so much. I want tea and macaroons and giggling, and mooching around the shoe department with my best friend.

3. Russell Square. Russell Square holds so many memories for me, misty cold winter ones, and fountain splashing summer ones. Non-Londonders, Russell Square is a small patch of greenery very near the British Museum full of mature trees, ninja squirrels and a great modern fountain. It has a no frills café for English breakfasts, or tea or coffee. It's a great mix of students from nearby UCL, tourists, and Bloomsbury eccentrics, and it feels like a place where things should happen. You often overhear good conversations, or see people reading fascinating books. It used to be a prime spot for cottaging, but I don't think they've left enough greenery for it still to be.

Lashes learned to walk here and drenched himself in the fountains over and over again. I often brought both boys for breakfast here with baby Fingers in his pram. I met my mum here, heartbreakingly, one of the last times I saw her alive, and Lashes staggered towards her grinning. She brought him a wooden Noah's ark that day; I still have the odd animal kicking around that I can't bring myself to throw away. He's nearly 7. She died when he was 1. That seems impossible when I type it.

The Space Cadette and I have sat in the grey wintry cold outside the café and talked hopelessly about the mess our lives are many many times. Prog Rock Step Dad has joined me for plenty of espressos. The CFO would have a bacon sandwich and Lashes would follow the gardener around trying to steal his tools. I love Bloomsbury and Russell Square is the epicentre for me. I whiled away two lots of maternity leave, bored and lonely around these streets but this place always cheered me. I want to go back and have time to waste drinking strong tea out of styrofoam surrounded by buses.

4. The Tuesday lunchtime magazine crawl. Ah, happy Tuesday. Grazia and Heat both come out on a Tuesday, and I would hole up in Patisserie Valerie in Spitalfields in my lunch hour with a giant cappucino and my magazines. Bliss.

5. Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street - the BEST book shop. Just, the best. I love the smell of it, the staff, the excellent selections they put out on table tops, the old crazies that wander around in the back room. Everything.

6. Brick Lane. Generally, the fact of Sunday trading seems extraordinary from here in the 1970s (uh, Belgium), but Brick Lane seems like a miraculous shiny beacon of wonder. Bagels! Ten pomegranates for a pound! Knock off Balenciaga! Stuffed owls! Packets of biscuits stolen from hotels! Stolen everything, actually. Mar Mar Co. Labour & Wait, Shelf and the rest of Cheshire Street. ON A SUNDAY. A Sunday. Here, you'd be hard pressed to find bread on a Sunday. Sigh. Sigh sigh sigh.

7. Paul at Academy Framing. Violet and I had a terrible crush on him. He was small and sarcastic and full of clever ideas for framing pictures. Apparently he has now left. Sob. No more withering looks.

8. Pre-packed, environment-flaying fruit and vegetables. I know this is treasonous, but oh, lord, the convenience of pre-packed stir fry, and mango, and sugar snap peas. Shit, I said I wouldn't start weeping for Marks & Spencer.....

Do you live away from home? What do you miss?

* This came from a discussion with Zeno about what represents London for us. He said a pigeon with a withered foot. I said a crushed Benjy's styrofoam cup. We both agreed on the old copy of Metro.

**Seriously, a country where you have to ask at the counter for pregnancy tests, athlete's foot treatments, pile lotion and Nurofen, is a country which has its priorities ALL WRONG. Less beer, more open shelves, Belgium. SORT IT OUT.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Wake up

Hibernation is now entirely over. I do hope this is A Sign for the end of winter as a whole, though the imminent February holidays stuck in a orange and brown cupboard teleported from 1976, dressed head to toe in fleece with Mamie cooking audacious stuff from tins and evenings spent around a roaring Sudoku book suggest otherwise.

The CFO left Big Mama, the last tortoise to be released from the crisper, on the draining board to thaw yesterday while we went to the shops. When we got back she was wandering around the worktops rather perkily, risking life and shell. Big Mama is our champion tortoise, liberated from the den of evil that is Animals Express (In a country with notoriously lax animal sales laws, Animals Express rivals a number of zoos in other countries. You can get a Wallaby with baby for €500, an albino peacock, a snowy owl, any number of endangered and terribly dangerous reptiles. It's insane.). Some previous owner has written '6' on her in pearlised pink nail varnish, but she is way harder than that suggests. What she lacks in personality, she makes up in .. actually nothing, come to think of it. But she's slightly less dull than the others.

The house once more resonates to the monotonous sound of shell banging against plastic container. The graphs derived from the tortoise weighing spreadsheets are showing a cheering upward trend. Endive consumption is at a record high. The CFO, however, not content to bask in the warm glow of his successful tortoise husbandry, is fretting about parasites, and the shape of Tortank's beak.

"When you take Oscar to get his nails cut, will you take Tortank along too?"

"What, you want him to do some kind of two for one? Don't you think he'll be a little surprised if I pull a tortoise out of my pocket?"

"That beak needs looking at"

"'Bonjour Monsieur Vet, does this tortoise's upper lip looks ok to you?' I mean, what do you think he's going to do about it? You saw what he did with the penis.. He hardly has an unblemished record with our livestock"

I am thinking of happier things, like names. The CFO refused to name the baby tortoises until they had survived hibernation. Although we mainly ignored that directive, it does mean we now have two tortoises that need names.

This one:

is currently "number 4" (that's endive on its chin, not a growth), I had sort of tentatively thought of naming it Hadron Collider, but I'd be keen to hear any other suggestions.

This one:

"number 5", is entirely nameless.

I would offer prizes for the best names, but my current track record is chequered. Grit, who won the Advent Calendar STILL hasn't received it. The Belgian postal service is a bunch of thieving bastards. So, I will try and send the winner a prize, but with no guaranteees. Go! Name my torts!

Inspired by this saga of rebirth and reptile genitals, I had a bath this morning with my new Korres shower gel (discovered stocked in one of our recent pharmacy trails! Result!), and took a long hard look at myself in the mirror. The one at the end of the bed, not the bastard evil mirror in the bathroom. It wasn't that hard a look. I'm not a total masochist.

Good points: thin arms and shoulders. Abdominoplasty scar now almost totally healed. Yes, I had cosmetic surgery! Smite me with scorpions if you feel inclined. When I'm feeling coy, I say that I had an umbilical hernia repaired, which is true. Except they only found out about the umbilical hernia when they were doing the tummy tuck. It hurt like a bastard, but it was totally worth it, hence good point four: flat stomach.

Bad points: terrible, terrible arse, flat and saggy. Giving up Power Plate was perhaps not the greatest idea I have ever had. Stretch marks. Serious disproportion between top half and bottom half. General grey-blue, loose, tortoise-esque skin tone.

None of this distresses me greatly at the moment, I find. I think I've lost the intoxicating physical memory of how it felt to be really thin. It's a couple of years away now, and I don't miss it so much. When I play 'would you rather' with myself ('would you rather be ten percent thinner and ten percent stupider' or 'would you rather be ten percent prettier and ten percent fatter' or 'would you rather have your hair back but huge calves'), I seem to come out happy to be me (unless the bargains involve eyelashes. I'd give up a lot to have those back..). I often wonder whether I will be a wasted, bony elderly lady, or a plump one. I still can't tell. I hope I continue not to care.

Just, in the immortal words of Fuck You Penguin, MOISTURIZE, TORTOISE. Goes for me AND Big Mama.

Saturday night is all right (for fighting)

Sorry about yesterday's hiatus. The CFO and I were fighting. Now he has the plague and is too weak to fight. Sorry? Schaden-what? No, not me. I'm too busy biting my tongue to stop myself saying "All THREE of us were like you feel now! NOW DO YOU SEE WHY THE HOUSE LOOKS LIKE A HURRICANE IN A LEPER COLONY??? AND WHY I WAS NOT RECEPTIVE TO YOUR SEXUAL OVERTURES IN THE MIDDLE OF WEDNESDAY NIGHT???"

It's a strange thing, fighting, when you've been together as long as we have. The choreography feels so well worn, we need the same kind of notation they use in newspaper reports of chess matches. I almost feel we could just exchange a written game plan before a fight gets underway to save time.

CFO: silent disapproval

E: inflammatory statements

CFO: self-righteous accusations

E: burning sarcasm

CFO: pomposity

E: Sulk

CFO: Sulk


CFO: neutral overture

E: neutral response

Fight over. Draw.

(actually, and with dismal inevitability, this sounds more like a Pokémon combat than a chess match)

However formulaic it is, most times it feels like the end of the world while it's happening; like we we were never meant to be together at all and like we can never make each other happy. We're a holiday romance that's fifteen years past its sell-by date. We don't agree on ANYTHING - music, discipline, education, money, relationships, how to cross the road, how to make scrambled eggs, where to live. Even how to argue. Neither of us is prepared to compromise. We're both bloody minded and determined. It's a fucking disaster.

Yes, by the same token, as soon as we start fighting, however good the reasons, however strongly I feel I'm in the right, I just want it to be over. I don't really care anymore what it's about. I want to be able to sit on the sofa with him and watch crap tv and snark about French journalism and share chocolate orange sticks. That's a good sign, right?

Back later. The children are being painful. I have just promised Lashes that if I haven't stopped typing by the end of Bottletop Bill, he can kill me. It seems fair.

Friday, 16 January 2009


This week has had no shape at all to it. It is ameoba week, smock dress week, jelly week, post-natal waist week. Apparently today is Friday but what exactly does that mean? I have worked on non-work days, moped and nursed children with bad grace through the working days, slept fitfully and answered questions relating to death hourly. Nothing is as it should be. I am four days late returning dvds (fuck OFF Hayden and your zebra). The plumber came this morning when I didn't have my hair on, so I had to hide in the cellar. I haven't eaten a meal since Sunday, relying on out of date yoghurt, clementines and pannetone - and today's efforts, out of date pea soup and chocolate orange peel, are making me nauseous. We noticed this morning that Fingers' hair is so dirty it's standing up by itself. That dispiritingly chaotic five minutes just before we leave in the morning, as people try to find lost shoes, and books, and twenty three euros, and a tram pass and the door keys? It just seems to go on all day. Messy.

Friday does mean early release from the gulag for the spawn, certainly. It's the one day a week I make like the proper parents and go and stand out in the wind tunnel in front of the brutalist yellow-rimmed box for twenty minutes making dismal small talk, while the teachers sit in their heated staff room rejoicing and drinking gin. In theory it is a nice idea, to see my lovely boys while they are still relatively fresh and cheerful, but in reality we are sick to death of each other after a week's promiscuity, sharing tissues and squabbling. Last night, as Fingers teased the dog for the ninety eighth time, and Lashes argued me into a corner over his undone homework, I snapped and told them I was going to bed because (violins) they were being HORRIBLE. Then I slammed the doors satisyingly and stormed upstairs like a fourteen year old. I went to bed. They didn't notice. I came back down and emptied the dishwasher. God only knows what we will do this afternoon. None of my offers of ice cream and pancakes or trips to the bookshop seem to entice them. They would rather moulder in the house fighting and placing Skinny McStupid in cardboard boxes.

Next week will be better, I am determined. There will be forays out of the house lasting up to several hours at a time! I am even going to speak at a conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday*. Yes, speak, rather than snark endlessly. I do not 'do' public speaking. I mumble, and make strange clicking noises and go blotchy. I compulsively tell the truth, when I am supposed to be speaking in furtherance of the greater glory of the corridor of ennui. It is going to be a complete train wreck, or so I thought until I saw my Norwegian co-presenter's paper, which appears to draw from Arthurian ("Kong Artur" it says in his Norwegian speaking notes) grail legends, table tennis and horse racing in a way that makes no apparent sense at all. Perhaps, on reflection, it will be ok.

I am making some resolutions for next week. I mean, a whole YEAR, that's crazy. A week is just about manageable. Keep me to them if you can, won't you? Next week I will:

1. Cook a meal for someone other than Oscar. Without oven chips. AND eat it.

2. Wear clothes out of the wardrobe, and not off the chair or out of the bath at least twice.

Exhibit #1: the chair

Exhibit #2: the bathroom

(These are like something off Lovely Listings. The clothes! They're staging a sit in! They have demands!)

3. Do NOT check blog compulsively whilst looking after children. They notice. And do whatever it takes to get my attention back. Like, biting the dog (truly).

That's it. Not too ambitious. Anything you'd like to achieve for next week?

*As a bonus update to this dismally boring post, can you offer me some outfit advice? Which would you go for for this spectacularly eurotedious event:

A. APC blazer and miniskirt with Sonia Jumper

I'd wear this with the Orniron boots featured here in my infamous bathtub pics.

B: The same blazer and skirt, but with the 3.1 Philip Lim top?

Probably also with the boots, or these:

C: Reiss super severe dress

With these:

It's not like anyone will notice, but hey, I try to have standards.. Thoughts?

Ps: These clothes and shoes are brought to you courtesy of The Law: Boring but Lucrative TM.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Small things

The flu has me tight in its phlegmy grasp. Moscow is still far away. The spawn have been packed off back to the gulag, weeping and protesting at the wateriness of their eyes, but their father is back dispensing briskness and resolve, where before there was nothing but appeasement and crisps. The call from the headmaster would be imminent if anyone over there actually noticed their weepy eyes, and mournful countenances, but the gulag is vast, and the number of French joined-up letters to be drawn with florid extraneous loops legion.

Thankfully Oscar has stepped into the breach. The sweet creature was clearly worried how I would cope without someone to claw at me and whine all day, and is behaving like a tasmanian devil with separation anxiety. Since he is preventing me thinking, working, or sleeping, here is a picture of him wearing a tea cosy. Blame Red Shoes, it was her idea. Well, sort of. She wanted him to wear this, I said the tea cosy might do the trick.

Given how low things have sunk, I though I would borrow Schmutzie's very fine project - the Grace in Small Things - for today. The explanation of the project is here. Here are mine for today. (YES. I can do positive. Shut up.)

1. The man from Picard (frozen food for the demanding French) came today, so I have a freezer full of Tarka dahl and bagels. I had a toasted bagel with Beurre de Noirmoutier with big, crunchy salt flakes in for lunch. It was hard to fit it in around my cold sore and glum expression, but I managed by nibbling small squirrelly fragments. Mmm. Perfect with a chaser of Betty's tea room blend tea in my favourite mug.

(Shit picture, nice mug)

2. Nurofen 400

3. Tickets to see Mariam and Amadou in February.

4. My Christmas present camera is like a fantastically clever new accomplice for getting up to badness.

5. Oscar is currently playing with a Happy Meal toy of King Julian from Madagascar. Every time the toy starts singing "I like to move it move it" he jumps backwards and falls over. It's just not getting old for him or for me.

What - if anything - is keeping you from going to fetch the axe today?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

For all I know I could be sleeping with a family of killer porcupines

Bed audit (Tracey Emin peut retourner se coucher)

Things I found in my bed this morning:

1 hardback, 2 paperback books

Wooden tortoise

Glass bottle of scent

Pokémon limbs (assorted)

Packet of anti-inflammatories


3 t-shirts (dirty)

Two extra children's duvets

Vanessa Bruno dress

Packet of Sinutab

Seventeen stuffed animals including near lifesized crocodile


Pen knife

Stick on cossack beard

1 pair children's socks (dirty)

It's a big bed, admittedly. But still. Also, I saw a large spider was living in my water glass last night but could not bear to deal with it. It is not there this morning. I probably drank it.

Photo sickness check


Has it totally nailed.


Not so much.

E: Do me a sick face, Fingers

F: Mais je ne sais pas comment faire

E: This is precisely my issue with you being here today AGAIN

Me? Why thank you for asking! Here I am in the capacious Bed of Death:

We shall never get to Moscow.

(nb. Inadvertently displaying birth control pills very prominently. The universe is telling me something and I TOTALLY AGREE)

The best Freecycle ad ever, discovered by Violet

Wanted: Mouse cage for rescued shrew! Please help! :) SE4

E: I would suggest a colander. Or perhaps a sock?

V: Indeed. A cage would never hold something that small.

E: This advert raises many questions for me. Like, how?

V: Moving very quickly, I imagine.

Fridge Crime

Those of you who enjoyed Grit and my Savoy cabbages are going to LOVE SueBob's canteloupe. I have suggested we make this a regular feature. Anyone else who wishes to expose the shameful contents of their fridge to the world, just let me know. It will be like a carnival of shame!

Today, I give you this:

Though also, obviously, this:

Tortoise beats rotting veg. Any day. Bring it on, fridge criminals!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Bite me, Florence fecking Nightingale

It was going fine (by fine, I mean, desire for death was only intermittent) until I ran out of Nurofen. Now my halo has been swallowed up in a cloud of sulphur and swearing; I am sick as a dog and I want everyone to go away and leave me in a dying hole. I have started shouting; the dog is cowering in a corner looking at me folornly with its reproachful eyes and Lashes has told me to stop being horrible. Fingers has gone all silent, which is even worse.

My adored eldest son is on repeat today. He started at half five this morning. It goes like this:

- I hate the eyedrops.

- I am having scaredness about dying again.

- I don't want to DIE. I don't want you to die. Ever.

- Why do we have to die?

- Death is so unfair.

- I never want to die.

- How about if I get the eyedrops only in one eye?

- I never want to grow up I want to be six forever.

- I am still sad about dying.

- But this eye is better! Look! I don't need the drops.

- Will they make a magic potion to make me live forever? Will it be when I am 33? How old will you be when I am 33? That is TOO OLD.

- I am having bad thoughts about death again.

- Why do we die? It is wrong!

- How about I let you do one drop for each new dvd?

- How about when I am twenty? How old will you be? Ok, we will have to take the magic potion then. But are you SURE they will find one?

- I do not want to get old. I am scared.

- I am still having the bad thoughts.

- How about drops only two times a day not three?

- Death - waaaaaah!

On and on he goes, alternating between eyedrops and death with equal mournful intensity. Death is actually starting to look like a pretty attractive option. Initially sympathetic, I have started getting shorter and shorter with him ("Yes, dammit! I get it! You don't want to die and death is unfair! How about we just get on with being alive right now, eh? Now let go of my leg. I need tea."). In desperation we went out to get him another dvd. Instead he chose some stupid Pokémon game that requires me to read every stultifying detail to him. I keep snarling "You HAVE to LEARN TO READ". with the thwarted frustration of one who had hoped for an hour of stolen silence, lying in the dark. Fingers is pushing me over the edge by trying to get me to watch a film about a racing zebra featuring Hayden Panettiere. I have already had to watch it once this morning with Lashes, when Fingers categorically refused to watch, of COURSE. I could happily break the zebra's spindly legs and Hayden wouldn't be far behind. As for the talking pelican, really, don't tempt me.

I am horrible. I am a sucky awful shithead of a mother. Apparently weepettes hate tension and shouting too, so I am a shithead weepette owner too. Seemingly oblivious to what a bitch I am, however, they have all gravitated around me - Fingers is on my knee stopping me typing, Oscar is on my feet and Lashes surgically attached to my shoulder. Children and dogs - amazingly, shame-inducingly forgiving. So, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with Hayden and a pile of dog shit.

PS: If anyone has any clever ideas about these goddam eyedrops I would be so damn grateful. He is totally refusing and he's too big to force now...

Monday, 12 January 2009


Lashes arrives in my bed at about 3am muttering about bad thoughts and headaches. I offer to share my hot water bottle with him, and we go back to sleep, more or less, with requests to check what time it is approximately on the hour, every hour.

7h. The alarm goes off and Oscar starts warbling. I let Oscar out and meet Fingers coming downstairs.

"Ma têeeeeeeteeeeeeee" he wails.

Oscar comes back in and craps on the kitchen floor. I do not notice until Fingers stands in it with his Special Socks on. I will draw a veil over the kind of nuclear meltdown this causes.

A faint moaning sound starts upstairs, getting progressively louder. Lashes.

"Aaaaaaahhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaiiiee" it goes.

"What is it darling?"

"Ma têteeeeeeeeteeee"

I feel foreheads. They are hot and clammy and they both have that slightly fetid, ill smell to them. This is good. This is really good. Monday is one of my work days. Last week I couldn't get in either, godammit. They are paying me to work two days a week but they haven't actually seen me once since my new hours started. I try to take their temperatures, but the thermometer is out of batteries. I estimate "hot".

"Ok, both of you" I say hopelessly "Just lie on my bed while I have a shower".

7h30. I shower and put my work clothes on in some attempt at magical thinking. Ha! I put the children's clothes on. It is long and arduous, since all their limbs have gone heavy and floppy. They wail in outrage for most of the process. Lashes is totally burning up. I surrender to the inevitable.

"Ok, I don't think you can go to school Lashes, but we do have to go and get your stitches out, then go to my work AND we'll have to go to the doctor to get you a note. And you have to let me do my work."

Despite all the conditions, this perks him up no end. I get The Doubt, but it is far too late to backtrack. Fingers starts ululating about the horrific pain he is in. I evaluate this. He is less than convincing, but frankly, what difference will one more make.

"Ok, you too Fingers".

8h00 The good thing about this, is that now I can put the goddam tv on and give up properly on today. I do so, and even get a cup of tea and a giant piece of ladybird cake (arbitrarily requested on Sunday and made by me in some elaborate attempt to get them to be nice to me using the power of sugar and red food colouring. Noone has eaten any of it but me). I email work, promising to give up my Thursday and also to come in and collect piles of Eurotedium.

8h45. The hospital is minutes away. We should have plenty of time to get to our 9h00 appointment.

"Come on boys! Time to go!"

They move at glacial speed towards their shoes and coats. I fidget round in circles looking for keys and cards and all sorts. Oscar, driven wild with bloodlust at the sight of me dressed like an actual member of society, impedes all progress by repeatedly sinking his teeth into my Wolford Velvets. I call him bad names. He enjoys it and does it harder. In this way we waste a good 10 minutes.

9h00. Already late, I locate the car and shove children into it. We set off and hit appalling traffic. It would have been faster to walk. When we get to the hospital hundreds of cars, taxis and ambulances are doing an elaborate gavotte in the narrow street. There is NOWHERE to park. We drive round in circles for ten minutes as the boys suggest I park in front of a wide range of garage doors, and sing along to Just Jack ("It's just another one of those glory days / Step out your house and prepare to be amazed". Ha fucking ha.). About the only thing that is going right is that when I eventually do find a space, I have good parking mojo for once, and do not destroy any cars or bollards and do not have to cry at all.

9h15. We run/limp/drag each other into the hospital. The desk zombie directs me to the second floor. The second floor desk zombie directs me to the fourth floor. The fourth floor is apparently a cupboard. We walk around the cupboard in confusion looking for exits or entrances. Eventually we discover we have used the wrong lift, and go down the bottom to start again.

9h25. We are nearly half an hour late for our appointment, but kindly noone mentions this as they direct us to a waiting room, which appears, confusingly, to be the fourth floor cupboard from earlier. Lashes takes advantage of this downtime to tell us repeatedly that he has TOO MUCH WATER in his eyes. He also asks why we bury dead people and we start an interesting anthropological debate on burial customs. We are interrupted by the nurse.

"I am very scared" Lashes tells her, frankly. She is, mercifully, nice about it, not like the bitch doctor from last time who told him he was a wet chicken (poule mouillée = coward). However, bitch doctor from last time is still in the room in spirit, as the stitches she has put in are so tight, it takes three nurses to hold Lashes while they tease them out. Afterwards, he is outraged that I told him it would not hurt and tells me he will never believe me again. I do not blame him.

10h15. Stop off at the hospital café (lovely) for rewards. Order hot chocolate and juice, spend ages cooling hot chocolate only for Fingers to say he doesn't want it anymore. Lashes has a few half-hearted sips of juice. I start to rant about THE WASTE but stop because they look so feeble and pathetic. We head back to the car and off to work. On the way I impress on both of them how important it is to look ill at work.

"If anyone asks you you have to say how SICK you are. Because if you are running around stealing bulldog clips and eating chocolate, they will all say you are not sick at all and then I will be in BIG TROUBLE. So: no laughing, no running around, no cheek".

"Like this?" Lashes makes a tragic clown face.

"Sort of. Keep trying."

10h40. Trying to park near work is even worse than the hospital. I take what I fear may be a diplomatic parking space outside the foreign ministry and whisper my goodbyes to the car, just in case. Lashes seems to be declining fast, and even the hundred yards to the office is almost too much for him. The sick face is coming along nicely with no artifice at all.

In the office they sit huddled folornly in total silence. At least they actually ARE sick I think to myself. I print of screeds of documents while they ask when we can leave. I try to offer them chocolate but they just shake their heads mournfully at her. Lashes is crying about the water in his eye; I suggest crying will not help with getting less water, but he gives me justifiably short shrift. Euromaster puts his head round the door and recoils at the viral fug they are creating.

"Er, no, no, don't bother coming to talk to me. We'll speak on the phone later".

11h10 Back to car (still there! Truly, the gods of parking are on my side if noone else is today)and back to house. Lashes is the colour of putty with an angry red watering eye. He can't even bear tv and goes to languish in bed and wail. I try to read judgments with no success. The wailing and homicide-inducing sounds of Playhouse Disney are too much for me, and Oscar is attacking my Rupert Sanderson red patent heels with venom. He has never seen me in anything but trainers. I think he thinks I am some kind of well-dressed evil double.

12h30 Noone is hungry but I have to cook for the FUCKING DOG. I make the dog spinach tortellini with ham. This is unlikely to be quite what the crazy dog breeder woman who insisted I must cook for him myself had in mind. I add some chicken, and specially purchased tinned carrots. It looks revolting. The dog agrees. I eat the rest of the ladybird and rest my head on the kitchen counter to weep gently. The children summon me back to tell me about their heads and eyes, and refuse Nurofen.

1h45 We head off to the doctor. Although it is a five minute walk, there is clearly no way either of them is walking anywhere. I get the damn car out of a tiny space and drive it two minutes down the road, where there is NOWHERE to park. I park illegally. We get to surgery (no appointments on a Monday) minutes after it has started, but there are already 4 determined and robust looking old bags waiting. Shit. I curse myself for choosing this doctor. What was I? Homesick for the NHS? It is almost as bad as Dr X in Fitzrovia, who dismissed ante-natal visits as unnecessary and whose desk was buried under 3 inches of fag ash and surgical support garments from the mid 1970s.

3h15 We are still at the doctor's. There are still two old bats in front of us. Lashes is full on screaming about his eyes. Fingers, not to be outdone, says "TÊTE" whenever Lashes stops to take a breath. The old bats are made of extremely stern stuff however, and are not minded to let us go ahead of them. They would rather expose the entire waiting room to the wailing.

4h00 We get in to see the doctor. Lashes has a 40° fever, Fingers only 38.5°. Lashes wins the special prize of THREE DAYS off school. The mention of eye drops sends him spinning over the edge into hysteria, however.

"Nooooooon, pas les gouttes! Aiiiieeee!"

I tell him that "gouttes" do not hurt at all. He reminds me of my lies regarding the stitches. I shut up.

Fingers gets on with breaking the scales. The doctor suggests Lashes wears sunglasses to stop him rubbing his eyes. I have to bite my cheeks not to burst into hysterical laughter.

16h30 The doctor charges me separately for each child, total of €45. Yippee. We head off to the pharmacy. The first one doesn't have anything we need. When I try to put the "gouttes" in at the second, the whole pharmacy gathers to watch the amazing levitating screaming child. His eye is puce. Fingers, in the midst of breaking another set of scales, mentions that his eye has too much water now as well. Obviously.

16h45 We go to the video store for consolation dvds and finally get home. Oscar has mysteriously managed to let himself out of the back room and is in front of the fire savaging my shoes. I am starting to feel seriously flu-y myself. The rental DVDs do not work. I sit in front of my laptop and try to think of a way to tell the Euromaster that my child is off school until Thursday with no alternative child care options, but I come up empty. Every two minutes I have to repair a dvd. The dog has stolen all the duvets I brought down for the children and made a nest of them. Presumably somewhere therein is the lens cap from my new Christmas camera. I ache all over.


I know this is not remotely entertaining; but I am living it, so I thought at least you could read about it.

Postscript: then entirely by chance, I clicked on this (attached to an email from a lovely weepette lady - you know who you are, G) and, just, exactly.