Saturday, 28 February 2009

Belgian proverb: when life gives you end of days angst, make cake

So here we are. The house bears no signs of the diligent attentions of my imaginary housemaid, regrettably. There is a lingering scent of eau de pipi de tortue with a top note of dead rotting hyacinth that says home. The weepette appears to have doubled in size and smells different. I tried to explain this to the CFO, saying it was the same with the children when they went to stay with his parents, but he looked blank and said he didn't sniff the dog. Oscar has apparently been a paragon in our absence, teaching Fatima's dog the path of righteousness, walking on water and healing the sick and lame. On the strength of this, I do not yet despair of teaching him to lay a fire at 5am and prepare my morning tea. Oddly, Scrabblyclaws, as the spawn now call him, appears to have had a manicure at Fatima's, which is a good start to his career in service. I was reading an article in Vogue on the plane about some outrageously fabulous Highland haute couture taxidermist type person who has a French butler in kilt and tartan waistcoat. I think Oscar could carry that off rather well.

I would say I digress, but how can you digress from a post you haven't even really got around to starting? Where was I? Ah yes. We are HOME. The weepette is home. The CFO was immediately commandeered by Fingers to build a giant Lego crane, cruelly gifted by Mamie and Papy, even before he could check the tortoises. The dishwasher, left shut and dirty for a week, has developed its own ecosystem, or possibly circle of hell. The mothbastards are thriving. They seem to have had some kind of moth conference in the kitchen, presumably swapping notes on where to lay the best class of larvae and where the good cashmere as opposed to the M&S stuff, is kept. I have trodden on several Bionicle claws and Fingers has thrown a domino at my head. All is as it should be.

I cannot pretend that everything is kittens and rainbows, which I am sure you will find thoroughly astonishing given my usual relentless optimism. I dropped into the corner shop for supplies earlier this evening; Damien recoiled slightly with what looked like mild disgust and did not even call me 'jolie voisine', which he normally does as reflexively as breathing to anyone under ninety five. I told you, it's been a tough week. I had to buy moisturiser at the 'Sherpa' super-ette and a diet of cocotte minute cabbage, vin chaud and angst is not the obviously skin brightener. The spawn emptied the shower gel down the loo on the first day. My eyelids look like someone has sandpapered them. Every time I stepped in the lift my ninety five year old reflection whispered 'booootooooox' pleadingly back at me.

More importantly I simply do not know what is going to happen. My head is oddly empty. I will try not to make these annoyingly oblique references a recurring feature. Suffice presently to say noone has done anything terrible and nothing is decided or definitive. If I were a pretentious twat, which occasionally I am, I would say we are in a bit of a mezzo del camin/silva obscura type situation. Ok, now someone has to come over and slap me. Hard.

Thankfully, where all else fails, there are feats of extreme baking to accomplish. Nothing, I find, says "I know exactly what I am doing with my life" like coating the entire kitchen in a layer of edible glitter, toothpicks and icing sugar in the execution of impossibly ambitious and ill-advised birthday cakes.,I have twelve eggs and half a kilo of butter. I have my KitchenAid. I have ready made fondant (admittedly several years old and possibly fossilised). I need two cakes by tomorrow evening and I have some inspired suggestions. Will it be:

1. The Women's Weekly piñata cake recipe (referred to by Ali), with its tricky 'chocolate outer shell' detail and hammer bashing potential?

2. Vanessa's 'glitter outline of a parrot and tell him there are crushed up ladybirds in the cochineal food colouring'?

3. Pochyemu's 'Parrot on a mountain of worms/eating them by the mouthful'?

4. "Other" of my own devising (say no say no, the child deserves better than Herman Van Rompuy rendered in flesh coloured fondant)?

If you need any further information on which to base your choice, I give you this: noone will eat the actual cake except me. Only Lashes will eat the icing, and then only if it is water icing (noone likes fondant or buttercream except me). Fingers will pick off and eat any sweets and discard the rest. The less time I spend on stupid cake decoration, the more time I will spend being agonised and miserable. I have poor hand/eye coordination and if it's possible to fuck it up, I almost certainly will.

Go on, give me some ideas. Because last year, Lashes got this, and it tasted even worse than it looks.

Friday, 27 February 2009

No time for a title

Dear Internet,

You have gone and made me cry in the corner of the Office de Tourisme and there is a surly teenager with an arm in plaster sitting looking over my shoulder willing me to finish and picking his spots with the other arm. I have had to pretend I am choking, possibly on a Chausson aux Pommes. Mamie made some kind of peculiar bakery error which has left us with eighteen Chaussons aux Pommes to get rid of before tomorrow. Any leftover food is treated as a personal affront, so there will be a lot of pastry and apple purée heading my way in the next 24 hours. And although nearly everything improves for being encased in pastry, apple purée seems to be the exception. I have finished the boil in the bag fishies, so heaven only knows what tonight will hold. There are a couple of sachets of Knorr powdered soup left I think. The CFO has tried to persuade me that this is Mamie's hommage to Cuisine Moleculaire and that Ferran Adria does something similar. I have resisted kicking him. But I digress. The choking/weeping is a great look. Thank you, though, for your lovely words and thoughts. There will be no rashness. After fifteen years, noone is in a hurry to do anything and I am already getting vertigo from looking over this particular cliff.

The holidays are drawing to a close and I have been granted a day off throwing myself down mountains, crying in terror and drowning in my own semi-frozen snot. I am too slow for the CFO in any case, so Papy has stepped into the breach to do dangerous unpleasant things with sticks tied to his feet. Papy is a hero of the revolution and must be fêted with melted cheese and wine in a box and long, long afternoon sleeps with the Sudoku book resting on his chest. I am relishing the peculiar sensation of being able to move my legs relatively freely, and have taken them down to the Office de Tourisme again, to hog the single internet terminal, glaring at the broken limbed youths who come too close. The sun is glittering on the snow, sending shimmery darts of light off the walls of the faux wood chalets. Jaunty fleece hats topped with fake multicoloured dreadlocks are bobbing around in the nine hundred strong queues for the lifts. It is all quite picturesque, if you like that kind of thing. Can we take it for granted I don't? Yes, I think we can. I am wearing hiking boots. The words send a shiver down my spine. HIKING BOOTS INTERNET!! This is not good. We still haven't located any non fleece garmets, clean underthings, or deodorant. I am hallucinating Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair, cappucino, Grazia and Miu Miu shoes.

Strangeness continues, certainly. It is terribly obvious, in this confined space, how much Mamie and Papy love each other. They have been married for forty two years and they still hold hands when they watch tv or go to the shops. They go everywhere, do everything together. The CFO and I have often pondered what would happen if they did not have the other. Mamie barely dares go to a down the road alone, and Papy would starve to death unless the tin cans of ravioli had ring pulls. I wonder what it must be like to grow up with that kind of model. I don't remember my parents ever being together, and even in their subsequent relationships, they valued time apart quite as much as time together. Does it matter? I suppose it shouldn't, but I do think it makes for very different expectations of what being 'together' is. These thoughts go around my head late into the evening as I listen to the jolly Dutch family above playing wholesome games and pretend to be asleep. I am getting nowhere. My brain is befuddled by altitude and powdered soup and lack of drugs and I cannot quite think through any of this.

Tomorrow we head home. Home to the weepette, and the filthy house and a cake baking marathon for Finger's birthday, which has crept up on me and is, apparently, on Sunday. There must be a ladybird that he can hit with a hammer, a parrot, and a 'surprise'. I am game, but any inspiration, gratefully received.

Two minutes connection time left, the spot picker is hovering closer and closer. Must go.

Adieu, cruel Office de Tourisme!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Postcard from the edge

Dear internets,

Hello from my holidays. The weather is nice. Except when it is freezing fog and visibility is reduced to approximately twenty centimetres. This usually happens when I am teetering on the edge of a cliff, I find. The children are swathed in ninety three layers of fleece and nylon, so I can only hear them complaining intermittently, which makes a pleasant change. They look much less like epileptic dogs when skiing than I do which is also welcome. Their training at the gulag has prepared them well for the Ecole de Ski Française and its 'sink or swim' approach to learning.

As promised, Mamie has kindly taken responsibility for all the cooking. We have enjoyed a delicious selection of treats from the gaping mouth of the cocotte minute and the cosy appartment is filled with the mouthwatering smell of cabbage boiled to the point of disintegration. Since Mamie believes me to be vegetarian (well, French vegetarian, ie. ham and fish do not count), I have had the same boil in the bag fish three nights running. I am not particularly singled out, however, as the spawn have had steak haché three nights running too. They, however, are allowed to cry about this. I must smile. I have promised to be on my best behaviour this week. It is a little unfortunate that I have forgotten my antidepressants and am having to eke out 4 tablets over 7 days, interspersed with temazepam. And vin chaud. And wine in a box. I am religiously following Kate's advice to get quietly, unobtrusively drunk each evening and it is proving most effective.

The skiing is bracing. Crazed Dutch teenagers lurk round every corner waiting to trip me up as I flail past them. There is plenty of opportunity to practise my already superlative British queueing skills. I have showcased The Tut, The Sigh, The Pained Look, The Pointed Remark, with their usual lack of success. I have moved up to the superior level of muttering "Wanker" under my breath which brings a little relief. The CFO pushes effortlessly past everyone leaving me politely allowing over sixties and under tens to take my place. We are repeatedly separated in this fashion, but over the years I have grown used to looking out for his grey and white coat many miles ahead of me. Sometimes I feel like I have spent most of my holiday, or indeed most of my life, following the grey and white coat.

The CFO and I are being extremely nice to each other. Careful, thoughtful and kind. This is because we are in the midsts of the kinds of discussion one does not showcase on the internet before actually concluding them one way or another and talking to, you know, flesh and blood type relations. Suffice to say it makes the whole thing, the tiny appartment, the following each other down ridiculously steep hills, the slavery to the cocotte minute, quite surreal. It also makes forgetting all my pharmaceuticals particularly unfortunate. Since the discussion has been thrashing itself backwards and forwards since well before we left, neither of us has managed to remember to bring any clothes either. We look like survivors of a natural disaster where fleece was mysteriously spared.

Wish you were here, if this is your kind of thing. Otherwise, not. Obviously. Please send drugs. And wisdom and stuff. And the weepette.

Missing you more than is appropriate, or sane.



Friday, 20 February 2009

Things that would improve today*

1. A really good dry cappucino from Patisserie Valerie in Spitalfields, where they pile the foam so high it falls off the sides of the cup. Actually, TWO of those. With a giant fat doughy Pat Val croissant. And a new book by Elinor Lipman or Curtis Sittenfeld or similar.

2. Making the last chunk of yesterday vanish. 6pm onwards should do it.

3. Someone to go to Decathlon for me. Someone who, unlike me, will not get lost on the way and end up crying hysterically in an industrial estate in Mechelen as the GPS barks incomprehensible instructions in Italian.

4. New lips that don't invite me to destroy them.

5. A body double to go on holiday for me. One who will be nice and smile and say the right things and enjoy the potage and herself, while the real me hides out in a warm dark cupboard with the internets being horrible.

6. One of my friends here, within hugging distance. Someone to say "well, you might behave like a shithead, but you are our shithead and we like you very much". Then maybe I would cry on their shoulder for a while, but hopefully not in a snotty way, because I know BMF would hate that. Violet might be ok with it, but still. It's not very considerate, is it.

7. A meal not entirely composed of white food.

8. A very softly lit human sized nest made out of the softest goat belly hair. The nest will have WiFi, many duvets and pillows, the complete oeuvre of PG Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford, limitless tea and small cakes, weepette fired heating, and an electric fence preventing entry.

However, if I have to choose just one, it would have to be erasing last night.

And since I can't have any of them, I'll have to just have these photos of the robot dance:

What would improve your day?

*We must of course take world peace, end to hunger and disease, reversal of global warming as a given in this list. Because otherwise I might seem petty and self-absorbed! And we couldn't have that, my goodness no.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Having something of a dark night of the soul at the moment, precursor to skiing trip, I suppose. I'm just finding myself such irritating company. I am so STUPID! Like, mind-blowingly, head slappingly stupid.

I mean, seriously, what would you call someone who does the following?

.. eating something horrible because the bin is too far away to throw it out.

.. playing football in muddy back yard in Lanvin suede ballerina flats because too lazy to find trainers.

.. having to go down three insomnia compounding flights of stairs to check the time in middle of night because they have hidden the alarm clock in the basement for making such an obnoxious noise.

.. expecting a six year old to be able to keep a secret.

..keeping cheques until they are too old to cash, not claiming expenses because too lazy and/or embarassed, allowing luncheon vouchers to expire unused.

.. not checking work voicemail ever because the the way the red light on the phone winks is inexplicably scary.

.. deciding that midnight on Sunday is the perfect time to clean the kitchen cupboards.

.. Never leaving until the last minute something vital that could just not be done at all, whatever the apocalyptic consequences.

.. Missing talking to someone but being unable to conquer irrational fear of the telephone.

..Being so late to collect a much-wanted parcel that it has been returned to sender.

.. Failing to notice dog eating cash card, Anya Hindmarch silver shoes, ticket to get trousers back from menders until whole lot buggered. Why? Because busy staring into space and self-flagellating for lack of productivity.

.. Worrying at cold sore on lip until it bleeds, making it look even worse.

.. Owning an annual tram pass but buying tickets anyway due to having lost said pass and being incapable of going to replace it.

.. getting too low and tired to cook as a result of eating crap and staying up late. Not cooking. Eating more crap and staying up later. Wishing to beat self to death with packet of biscuits but not having the energy and all biscuits already eaten.

I have probably just tipped over from 'mildly entertaining eccentric' to 'OMFG sad, crazy woman', haven't I? But before you tiptoe out, shaking your heads, could I ask you to leave me one stupid thing you do in the comments box, anonymously if you prefer. Imagine me looking at you pleadingly with my stupid stupid eyes. Whilst picking at my cold sore.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


C'est Carnaval! C'est quoi? Carnaval! Ill-defined Belgian holiday in which:

1. Your children must go to the gulag in fancy dress. However possibly not on the same day as each other. Noone will explain to you precisely how or why this works.

2. Headmaster sets fire to a large wooden effigy in the exercise yard and the pupils stand round behind crash barrier to watch it burn. Effigy is referred to as Monsieur Hiver (Mr Winter). Ceremony often ends with mad dash for fire extinguishers and mass evacuation when wind turns.

3. There may or may not be crêpes. Noone will tell you when.

Fancy dress discussions start thus:

"What are you dressing up as Fingers?"


"Oh? Ok" [secret rejoicing]

"How about you Lashes?"

"A robot, no a dinosaur, no a bat, no a monster, no a Dracofeu, no a velociraptor, no the Loch Ness Monster ....."

Days pass. The issue becomes pressing.

"Fingers, it's Carnaval tomorrow. Are you still not dressing up?"

"Of course I am dressing up. As a parrot".

"[Bollocks] Oh. I'm not quite sure how we will do that. But, er, we'll have a go. Lashes? You don't dress up tomorrow do you?"

"Yes! I do! Of course I do. I am going as a monster robot Pokémon".

"Are you SURE? Because usually it's not on the same day as Fingers. And there wasn't anything in your journal de classe".


The evening gets off to a bad start when psychotic tram driver #518 drives into a car and I am stuck on tram as they fill in eight thousand forms, making me late for school. Then on returning home, realise Oscar Houdini has escaped from his room and has spent the day careering through the house eating Anya Hindmarch shoes and pissing on carpets. The remaining hours pass like a sadistic scavenger hunt, with children sending me this way and that to look for false fingernails, glasses of water, crepe paper, soft toys and bat masks. We eventually retire to bed. Several bodies join me in the course of the night. There is lots of wriggling and fidgeting and the dog tries to bite a hole in the hot water bottle. I wake up drained.

No rest, however, for the exhausted, as the team that gave you Tuesday night are here to present Wednesday morning! More requests, running around, pleas to put clothes on under robot suit, or at least pants, abandoned bagels underfoot. I must find the end of the sellotape, and the robot mask, and make shoes shiny. The dog, apparently, must also be "déguisé".

"But he's not going to school Lashes".

"C'est Carnaval! Everyone has to dress up! Help me put these bat wings on him".

Differences between the children are highlighted in this process. Lashes is all overkill, hysteria, more is more. Here, I must have this box of nails to carry with me as my food, I must talk like a robot, where is my oil to drink, how can we make this bigger, better, more spectacular? He is like me. Fingers plays it cool. He has confidence. I am trying to work out how to attach his wings to his 'body'.

"They don't need to be attached. I can just hold them like this" he says, calmly.

He accepts my offer of tail feathers graciously, but is not carried away. I warn him they are likely to fall off, which does not cause hysterical sobs. Refuses beak as overkill. He is like his father. Who has the great good fortune to be in Stockholm at the moment.

Finally everyone is ready. I am the only one not wearing pants. Photo time!

The photo is awful, but too late, the robot has already run away, off down the road. The parrot and I set off at a more sedate pace. The robot comes running back to us, crestfallen.

"Noone else in Primaire is dressed up!"

We reach school. He is right. We take off and shove the robot costume in his bag before anyone sees and laughs at him. Kiss. Goodbye robot, er, Lashes. Noone need ever know. Presumably we will find out in some oblique fashion that the whole sorry business must start again for you tomorrow. Why did we not know this? How could we not have known that page 83, subsection (f) of Vol 4 of the Gulag Rules stipulates different days for dressing up for maternelle and primaire?

Goodbye parrot, standing out in a sea of Spidermen and pirates and princesses. The parrot shines with inner satisfaction at his costume. He is parrot. The parrot's mother wonders if it is too early for a small Scotch.

Happy Carnaval!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Les holidays arrivent! Youpi!

After yesterday's discussion of the varying types of fear, let me admit to a very real one. I am scared of next week. Next week is half term. Where will I be? Let me tell you, internet.

I will be locked in a nylon lined concrete bunker with CFO, spawn AND mamie and papy. In a ski resort. I have mentioned some of my more delighful skiing adventures before. This trip takes place in peak French holiday season, when the Parisians have sharpened their ski poles to a fearsome point and are out to trample the rest of France to death. Needless to say, there is no WiFi connection in this bunker, which will look like it was set in amber in 1976. Previous trips suggest that furniture will be brown and orange, and the appartment will be bathed in an otherworldly glow of static electricity from all the man-made fibres. Someone has to sleep in what is described as an "alcove". I suspect "someone" will be me and the CFO. I can barely imagine the scenes of devastation.

Firstly, mamie has volunteered to cook. Long time readers may recall that mamie's cooking is focussed around two poles: tinned goods, and the mighty cocotte minute (pressure cooker) in which any substance can be reduced to mysterious, grey, anti-matter in minutes. This is the woman who brought these:

to Brussels. Need I say more? Mamie was an early convert to the convenience food movement in the 1970s, and the CFO was brought up on a diet of tinned ravioli, tinned petits pois et carottes, Knacki frankfurters and the occasional trip to Flunch. On special occasions she calls in a traiteur and then we are treated to enormous mystery proteins in aspic, or the infamous pie with twenty charred quail skulls poking up through the pastry.

Recent additions to the repertoire have included the 'couscous apple tart' (no, that granular stuff you used wasn't sugar, Jacqueline) and lots of potage. Potage is the dregs of the fridge thrown in the mighty cocotte, with water and no seasoning. One might find, for instance, a few potatoes, some tuna, half a tomato, a head of lettuce and a lone frankfurter. The potage is then served with cream, because the rules of Normandy require that every foodstuff be pimped up with gratuitous dairy produce. Even if she weren't such an, ahem, individual cook, I am scared of baguettes and their razor sharp shards of crust that stick in your palate. And cheeses. Cheeses, which must be preserved in optimum conditions, such as, perhaps, sitting on the table of the coin salon, rather than out on the balcony freezing themselves into Camembert popsicles as I would prefer. The bio-hazards ripen gradually over the week, allowing the CFO and les beaux-parents to say mysteriously Norman things like "boudou, il est fait celui là!" (approximately, 'this cheese is lively enough to be running Belgium').

Secondly, skiing. Blah. I don't exactly hate skiing, but I do find it quite boring after a couple of hours. Boring and cold and all too reminiscent of the many cruelties visited on me by the Bearded One in my childhood on desolate mountainsides. Except even colder, whiter, and surrounded by cruel, psychotic teenage boys intent on death. It used to be fun when we had money and only one very small portable child, and could stay in Les Fermes de Marie, and take stealthy pictures of Cliff Richard and Mike Read sharing a hot tub (TRUE STORY - they even asked the CFO to take their picture!). Now we're consigned to credit crunchy concrete doom and endless queueing. I blame Léon Blum and the Front Populaire. All that insistence on the French getting out and taking possession of the countryside and discovering leisure and so on. All very well in theory but did he ever have to queue for a chair lift with eighty thousand snowboarding teenagers? No. Send me back down the Camembert mines please.

I predict, confidently, that Lashes will decide he hates it after the first morning, as he did last time. I am praying to be proved wrong, but I bet this is how it goes. Thereafter, each day will be a catalogue of fighting and sulking; exasperation from CFO, wailing from Lashes, hopeless attempts to mediate, drawing the wrath of both camps, by me. Fingers should enjoy, but presumably once he sees his brother creating dramatic capital out of hating it, he will decide to hate it too.

Thirdly, the clothes. Woe! I am not opposed to comfort or warmth. They are good things as my love of hot water bottles and pyjamas will testify. But in skiing clothes I look like a hunchbacked oompah loompah. A scared, hunchbacked, oompah loompah, careering down a hill with all the grace of an epileptic dog and whimpering. This is emphatically Not A Good Look. I will ensure there are pictures to prove this to you.

I know. I am a whiny, miserable cow. Poor me, going on holiday! You are now permitted to kick me long and hard (or you could just allow the Parisians to do their worst next week. They are very talented). Tomorrow I will regale you with tales of sunshine and roses and perfect, magical rainbows.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Morale disorder

I am still curious as to what Lashes learns in his 'morality' classes at the gulag. As I have explained before, at Belgian school, in a uniquely Belgian take on creating multi-faith harmony, you have to select your religion and have separate classes with only your fellow believers. Presumably the idea is that you get together and talk about how all the other faith groups, and worse, the heathen, eat babies for breakfast. Coming from the house of heathen, Lashes is in the godless group, which is called "Morale". The Dutch system is better, I think, since they call the heathens "free thinkers" and when they are twelve they get to have a special "free thinker" ceremony (intended to be a substitute for Communion/bar mitzvah) for which parents get an official day off work. How magnificent! A day of holiday granted by the State for bringing your child up to believe in NOTHING. But you know, slag room, krullekes, snot vallen. Phlegmish is hardly la langue de Molière and the idea of Fingers and Lashes having a secret language they can use against me is less than appealing.

Lashes is not happy with morality, he tells me, and would prefer religious education. His position on God remains fluid, thanks to the tension between Mamie's guide to the Old Testament and my own "you die and then that's it; endless blackness waaaaah" approach to spirituality. However apparently the religion classes get to watch more tv.

"But Lashes, I know for a fact you watched cartoons for the whole of the first 4 weeks of term because they didn't have a teacher!"

"Now we have one" he says brokenheartedly "And we have to do exercises". He injects the word with impressive pathos.

I take every opportunity to rifle through his school bag and check out the irreligious education folder. Morality seems something of a mixed bag (I am sure Kant would agree, innit?). There is a lot of colouring of Disney characters, a picture of Lashes trick or treating with his cousin (remember that? Green & Blacks and exquisitely hand-stitched costumes in the fleshpots of Chiswick?) and some gibberish about politesse (I am not sure what the stick people are doing that is polite. I will take a picture next time the folder comes home and hopefully you can assist). The bit I like best is the section on FEAR.

Apparently, there are two types of fear. Real, and imaginary. Lashes has been asked to provide an example of each, complete with drawings.

"Real": I am scared of being squashed by a car

"Imaginary": I am scared of being eaten by a monster shaped like a brain

So. Leaving aside the question of where this fits into 'morality', if I analyse Lashes' most recent fears, presumably I should place ohgodI'mgoingtodiewe'reall goingtodie in the "real" category and eery button eyed puppets coming to get me! in "imaginary". I am not sure what the point of making this distinction is. I mean, are brain shaped monsters less scary than death, when you are six and a half? Are we saying it's ok to be scared of real scary stuff but not pretend scary stuff? Who knows.

I would however like to know more about this topic please, Morale, since I if there is any advice out there on how we, the heathen, are supposed to offer comfort to existentially tormented six and a half year olds who have quite understandable difficulties with the idea of ENDLESS NIGHT (as previously mentioned on these pages), I would love to hear it. So far, we have reached the morally dubious position of me suggesting that conceivably someone might invent a 'cure' for death by the time he grows up. I am a coward, and he knows I am bullshitting him, but it gives momentary comfort. Now he spends his dark nights of the soul deciding what would be the optimum age to take the elixir of eternal life. It's an improvement.

As for those terrifying button eyed animated ghouls, well. They're almost harder than death. Take last night. Small quivery voice comes down the stairs. Can I come up and talk to him. I drag my Ian McShane style withered legs up two flights of stairs muttering Goop friendly parenting mantras*("listen, listen, even if child is driving you fucking crazy..". I paraphrase.). Am greeted by woe-fillled bush baby peeping round its bedroom door.

"I can't stop thinking about the scary button eye marionnettes that we saw in the cinema"

We sit down on the bed for one of our hopeless, circular therapy sessions.

"I know. They were really really horrible, I agree. But you know they aren't real, don't you?"

"Yes, but they are in my BRAIN. Right here behind my eyes".

"You need to try and push the thoughts away by having lots of nice thoughts, like baby chameleons, and Pokemon theme parks, and Japan, and swimming with dolphins and breaking walls with your bare hands, and baby koalas in the bath looking hideous but also terribly appealing"

"I can fit all those things in and there is still lots of space for the BAD THOUGHTS. Look" he gesticulates to the left side of his head. "All the good stuff can fit in here, and here" he points at his right eye "I can still see the marionettes with buttons for eyes".

This is terribly familiar from the last time we talked about death. Apparently, however much Julie Andrew's style loveliness I attempt to shove in his head, there is always space for existential doom. Part of me wants to tell him that this is what being alive is like and that I am there for him and we all love each other and the good stuff outweighs the bad. The rest of me thinks I need to kill the hippy claptrap and find a quick solution so I can go back to eating Mini Cornettos in front of repeats of Grand Designs.

"Well you need to think of more and more nice stuff!" I think desperately. My own nice stuff (crumpets, mild sedatives, cashmere blankets, hot water bottles, spa breaks in Bordeaux) will not do the trick. "Couldn't you think of the best, rarest Pokémons you'd like to get? Or what you want for your birthday? Or thousands of baby lizards dancing techtonik with you?"


And once more, we are getting absolutely nowhere. Time to bring out the big guns.

"Would you like me to get Papa to come up?"


Jesus! It must be bad. Papa is like, the nuclear solution. When he is called in, everything blows, in a mushroom cloud of threats and peasant brusqueness.

I pad downstairs sheepishly.

"I need your help. He's scared of the button eye people".

The CFO sighs but heads off with surprisingly good grace. Two minutes later he is back downstairs. There is no wailing or gnashing of teeth to be heard. The CFO settles back down on the sofa, adjusting the robe of doom around him.

"What did you say?!"

" I told him to think of all his Karate moves. Then I told him that the longer he stayed awake, the earlier he would have to go to bed tomorrow".


Morale, I need your help. Send more exercises.

*Belgian Health Warning:
Goop kills
Goop nuit gravement à la santé
Goop is dodelijk

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Hallucination keeps couple, 34 and 39, together for fifteen years

A magnificent Saturday of low level bickering, culminating in cheese on toast in front of an interesting Belgian programme about cement. I cried a couple of times in a hopeless, slightly hormonal fashion at the bathos of it all. Not that cement doesn't have many uplifting qualities as an interior decoration material. And the report on Albert and Paola's "lovematch" courtship on 'Watch a bunch of obscure royals on a Saturday night and bemoan the emptiness of your existence' was very moving.

Eventually I pulled myself together and we went to sit upstairs in the 'good room' (yes, it's like the nineteenth century here, we have a good front parlour where noone ever goes, where the smell of seed cake mingles with the hair oil that stains the antimacassars and we sit in half light on uncomfortable chairs and contemplate the aspidistra) in an attempt to Talk To Each Other in more than monosyllables. I was banned from the internets after spending the afternoon making a Valentine's cake for someone else's boyfriend. For future reference: this is NOT an appropriate romantic gesture for one's life partner.

CFO: What are you thinking about?

E: Whether we've changed in fifteen years.

CFO: So, have we changed, do you think?

E: You're definitely less .. Mmm .. impulsive (read: terrifyingly irrational). In a good way. Mainly.

CFO: We were very very young. We have definitely matured.

E: That makes us sound so boring.

CFO: Yes. Fifteen years. (Shakes head)

E: I have always thought that I just came along at the right time for you. That, you know, there I was and you were ready for a long term relationship and you decided, in your stubborn way, that I would be it.

CFO: Really? I don't know. I wanted to learn English mainly.

E: No, not RIGHT at the beginning. But the first couple of years. I mean, they were TERRIBLE. Really really awful. But you never even considered the possibility of us splitting up. You just kept plugging on however miserable we made each other, and however many times I locked myself in the bathroom and slept in the bath.

CFO: Hmm. It's my peasant side. We were in a 'long term relationship' (he says this in English, weirdly), and there were highs and lows.

E: Yeah, but the lows were SO low. We were wretched.

CFO: (looks mildly surprised). You think?

E: Hell, yes.

CFO: Oh, I don't know. You had exoticism on your side. And I didn't actually ever go out anywhere where I might have met someone else.

E: That's true. What with living in Saint Aubain Les Elbeuf.

We sit in silence for a while.

CFO: But there were highs. I remember how touched I was when you came to visit me in hospital just after I had the second operation to have the melanoma removed. That was really special. I'll never forget that.

E: What??? I didn't come and visit you in hospital!

CFO: Yes, you did. I remember you coming, vividly.

E: I guarantee you, with my vastly superior memory, that I didn't. Really. I have never been to see you in hospital. I don't even know what hospital you were in.

CFO: But I'm positive! Really.

E: Not only that, but I remember speaking to you on the telephone from my room in Oxford when you were coming round from the anasthetic. You cried.

CFO: (triumphantly) Ha! But you didn't have a telephone!

E: Yes, I did.

CFO: No you didn't!

E: Yes, in the third year I did. Otherwise there is no way we would be sitting here. I would be dead in a ditch or in residential care.

CFO: Hmm. I was so sure.

E: You were on a tremendous amount of drugs, CFO.

CFO: Hmm. I suppose that's true. Are you saying I hallucinated the romantic moment I cherish?

E: It would appear so.

We sit in silence for a little longer.

E: But, you know, I'm touched you imagined me so much nicer than I actually was.

CFO: No problem.

Then we went to bed.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Spot the inadvertent Cakewrecks homage..

Oh lord. This is just horrible. The spotty bits are clumps of edible glitter. You should see it in real life - it GLOWS. I cannot be trusted with glitter. Or, it would seem, with the spelling of basic one syllable words.

However! Razzamatazz's boyfriend,


And then the enfants got hold of it. Their version is actually better.

That is all.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Show me your Belgian Wardrobe!

Jesus, internet. You know what this was like? LIKE PULLING TEETH. First, the CFO decided he didn't want to show his face. Ok, as long as we don't mention that his face has already featured here, ahem ahem. Then, I couldn't persuade him to actually take any of his clothes off (so the more eagle eyed among you will note that trousers and slippers never change). Or move from the sofa (so sorry, Screamish, the CD collection was out). Or, you know, anything. And by the time I had taken four pictures he was asking insistently about dinner, so I had to leave it there. Then, if I asked him to take any of my pictures again, he sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes. I tell you, internet, the life of a cutting edge belgianista is hard with support like this.

However, I give you ...

'Show me your Belgian wardrobe'

Go and look at the original first, or you won't get it. Let me say that I LIKE Show Me Your Wardrobe. It is entertaining and shiny. Ours is not. It is sort of gloomy and Belgian, but that was sort of the point. It was sort of a good idea, but then I thrashed it to death. One of the photos of me makes me want to cut my legs off. Now, I am sticking with the original format and not putting commentary, but if you feel you really need to know something, that is what the comments box is there for.

CFO, Consultant, Tortoise specialist, spreadsheet lover, Brussels.

Emma, legal zombie, Brussels

Now I'm crawling away to my dying hole. And I'm leaving my legs in there to rot.

For "pram in hall", substitute "dog in tea cosy"

The weepette is my 'sombre enemy of good art*'. I have told him so repeatedly. How can I sit in the cold, cold tortoise room, writing bollocks, when next door there is a fire and a silky, stupid puppy? I can't. I end up lying on the floor having my ears chewed and dozing. It is hopeless. Beyond my ill-formed plan to become the Belgian Amy Sedaris, presumably through the operation of black magic, I am largely without purpose. Also, I wonder, how many times can I write round and round in circles about the fact that I am doing absolutely FUCK ALL? Very many indeed it would appear. But how long will your patience last? I promise to write about other stuff soon. Stuff that involves me removing my head from my own deformed navel. But, you know, puppy, fire, rain, Belgium. Things are conspiring against me leaving the house. The spirit is willing, but those ears are silky.

I am only here because I have some administrative matters to attend to. "Proper" posting will resume later this evening.

Agenda item 1 - Romance is not dead and this radish proves it

From a very strong field of Valentine's messages (and particular special mentions to Pearl and to Indigo16 whose entries really struck a chord with me), the winner is Razamatazz, with:

"When my drunk best friend* who you think is hot jumped you (twice), you said no, even though I would never have known. Thanks. No, a threesome is not on the cards."

Congratulations Razamatazz! Now select your medium (vegetable or cake/biscuit ideally) and I will make a beautiful tribute to your loved one and display it here tomorrow on "disco ball danse le techtonik all nite" day. Well, if you get back to me in time, that is. Otherwise, not. Obviously.

Agenda item 2 - I see your Scandinavian detective fiction and raise you Montaigne's Essays

Look out for the imminent replacement of 'What I am reading' (middle brow modern novels basically) on the sidebar of gratuitous ugliness with the FAR more exciting "What Prog Rock is reading". He has promised me the inaugural list this afternoon. Expect your brows to be yanked skywards by his various esoteric selections from York Public Library! Ask him follow-up questions! This could be a whole new direction for Belgian Waffle. It will be like the South Bank Show, but with more moths and hosiery and mercifully, less of Melvyn Bragg's hair.

Agenda item 3 - Show me your Wardrobe comes to Belgium - tonite

I have been trying to inveigle the CFO into doing this all week. He refused last night as he was "too cold" but there is no escape today. I have thrown a whole packet of firelighters into the grate and am painstakingly crafting him a cocklewarming frozen pizza. He is MINE ALL MINE. So if you have any particular looks or outfits you would like to see me or the CFO sporting, or places you would like the 'shoot' to take place (IN the house, remember the "cold" factor) do stick them in the comments box. And remember to tune in later tonight.

*Hey! It turns out that Cyril Connolly died on the very day I was born. This seems somehow fitting. Screw you, Connolly, a child is born this day in York and now you are dead. Talk about sombre enemy. [evil laughter]

Thursday, 12 February 2009

In which I am reminded I am not an ambassador's wife

This story does not have a happy ending. You have been warned. So here's an inter-species love-in to comfort you.

Actually, I think it's more of an inter-species indifference-in, no? But indifference, in this context, is good. Very, very good.

So it got to about lunchtime today and things were going nowhere. Oscar was emphatically not learning to shit behind the tree (why indeed, when he can do so in comfort behind the piano?). I was not writing. Pressing 'refresh' on twitter is not a good use of anyone's time. And, really, I have been SO GOOD for the last few weeks, eating stones and dust and not buying anything (except books which never count, house rule #1). Various administrative tasks of enormous dullness had been done.* The voices in my head were whispering at me more and more insistently.

"You deserve a treeeaat, Emma" they said.

"No, head voices" I said sternly. "This is simply normal life on my new reduced income. I must learn to accept it. And what are you looking at Oscar? You're a dog, you ass. You can't complain if I talk to myself. Come back when you don't eat your own shit and plastic bags and then we'll talk".

"Oh go OOON" continued the voices. "Just a teeeny one? A food treat?".

"Hmm. I suppose I could go out and play 'ambassador's wife' for an hour or so. I have the CFO's cashcard after all. And food, well, it's a necessity, isn't it?"

And so, internet, I went out to play 'ambassador's wife'.

There is a square not far from where I live, full of lovely, one-off desirable shops and cafés. London dwellers, it's a bit like Fulham Road used to be before the chains moved in. Like Fulham Road, it is full of rich expats, and fabulously over-dressed eurotrash. We're talking lots of fur, unfeasible heels, and shades in December. When I need a bit of escapism, I go and wander round. I would love to be able to tell you that I only wander around, but I confess I often buy things too. Small things! Usually food. I queue up in the food shops with the beautiful blondes with the perfect highlights and lives of leisure and pretend that I too am just stopping off for a moment to stock up for dinner for the ambassador before heading off for coffee with my copines and then dropping in to Rue Blanche to look at the new season's stock which has some nice ice cream colour pastels, and maybe popping into Francis Ferent (this sounds like ferret, so I have never been much tempted to buy my Miu Miu from them) to check if they're FINALLY stocking Lanvin. I am a bit intimidated by these ladies and also, I quite want to beat them to death with a packet of Knacki frankfurters (I bet they have never had to handle such things. They should know the full horror!). Mainly I am terribly jealous.

So off I go. I stop in Gaudron, where, sure enough, some magnificent ladies are lunching on quinoa salads (this being Belgium, thankfully, they are also having éclairs for pudding) and I can buy a whole white truffle if I (and my bank manager) so desire. One day a week they even have a special Flemish loaf cake that costs, like, thirty euros. Even I blanch at this and I have no equal in my devotion to nice plain loaf cakes. I choose scampis au curry, artichauts farcis, a slice of pissaladière, some muesli and homemade raspberry jam. Altogether it comes to €HOW FUCKING MUCH?? but money is no object! I am an ambassador's wife! I drift out, paper bag dangling daintily from my wrist and head to the bakery. I toss my hair like I am in a Harmony hairspray commercial and smile around me graciously. Look at me! A vision of cosmopolitan fabulousness! The bakery is very important, as it is the only place in Brussels, to my knowledge, where you can buy bagels. I get a bag of sesame bagels, and then in a fit of ambassador's spousal extravagance, get some Kusmi Lapsang Souchong tea bags (yes, bags, floor sweepings, blah. I KNOW. But I know my own limitations and that is a good thing). And some muffins! Lovely. I swan out feeling spoilt and privileged and light-hearted, and head home, swinging my bags. I am SO sophisticated.

Just then it starts to sleet, lightly at first, but then more and more heavily until it is wet and miserable and disgusting. I get about halfway when the first bag splits. Splatch! There go the scampi, swimming around on the pavement. I try and scoop the remainder back into their container. I look like a lunatic. I crouch on the pavement and transfer everything to the other bag. A few more steps. Splatch! There goes the other bag. Muttering to myself I try and sort out the swamp of curried prawns and muffin and pizza. It is disgusting. I shove it all in, as best I can, to the small canvass bag I am thankfully also carrying. The pizza has to go in my handbag. I am sure Sonia Rykiel would be delighted.

I do not feel much like an ambassador's wife at this point. My hands smell of curry. I am splattered with various foods. I am still getting fucking sleeted on.

I have to go to the bank on the way home. Ferreting around in the canvass bag of doom, I find the paperwork. Inevitably, it is covered in curry sauce. I have to go though, or the CFO will not agree to do Show Me Your Wardrobe with me. The woman in Fortis is contemptuous. She picks up my piece of paper between thumb and forefinger and looks at me blankly.

"Désolée mon sac a éclaté sur la route" I say, humbly (sorry, my bag exploded on the way here). She doesn't reply, though surreally, she does ask me if I have considered opening a savings accounts with them. HELLO? You are FORTIS. You are falling to bits day by day, and yesterday marked the absolute low point yet, when your shareholders voted no** to the deal that might just, conceivably, have dragged you slightly out of the shit. I get that you think I am a crazy bag lady, but even crazy bag ladies aren't investing in Fortis right now.

I try not to laugh. I finish the transaction and limp home with pungent orange sauce leaking everywhere. When I arrive, Oscar is driven wild by the scent of curry and tries to lick me all over. In the confusion I step in yet another puddle of wee.

Decidedly, I am not an ambassador's wife.

Thankfully, there is an 'and finally' part of this sorry tale. I have photos of Alan Measles for you. Katyboo, who is mad as a bag of ferrets, but in a creative, outsider art, sort of way, has crafted him for me. The full explanation, such as it is, is here. You may still have questions. I did. My fellow eurozombies were utterly puzzled, though someone suggested maybe I could fill him with lavender and put him in my wardrobe. Ha! The mothbastards enjoy lavender like a tasty appetiser before their main course of acres and acres of cashmere. Little fuckers. No matter.

Welcome, Alan Measles!

Really, we need a picture of me wearing the Grayson Perry dress and carrying Alan. That might happen. Also, you may wish to know that Alan has a penis. Made out of a flower.

*The. Internet. Is. CANCELLED. Only six months late. Round of applause!
** A link to the FT! Enjoy, higher brow readers, because tomorrow we will doubtless be back to Grazia.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The horror, the horror

I really feel for anyone who has moved to Brussels in the last couple of weeks. Sorry, in-comers! Stick with it, won't you? There, there. It won't always feel like the greyest, wettest, most dismal place on the earth. Just, you know, have a waffle (Liège are better than Bruxelles) and wait it out. OK, the wind tunnel on the Place Bastion is always there, but sometimes it doesn't actually knock you over into the path of oncoming traffic. And yes, the STIB are sadistic, peverse bastards all year round, but in summer you can just flip them the finger and walk if they decide to reroute your tram via Charleroi without explanation. Give it another month or so and Zizi's reopens and life regains some semblance of meaning (naming your ice cream parlour after child's word for a penis = enormous respect; being on the corner of my street = lifetime of devotion). I should perhaps warn you, however, that the supermarkets will remain resolutely shitty and depressing however long you stay and whatever the weather.

Anyway, cheer up! At least you don't work on the corridor of ennui, where this afternoon holds the heady promise of a morale raising talk from Le Grand Chef de Londres, who will be explaining to us, with interesting verbal gymnastics, how lay offs and pay cuts are A Very Good Thing For Everyone. I am preparing the corporate twaddle bingo cards and cultivating an expression of studied neutrality as I type.

I do not claim to be immune from a touch of Seasonal Homicidal Disorder. I have had my own moments recently, particularly as I stand in the back yard in the rain in shoes with holes in, trying to explain to Oscar that the CFO would like him to crap in the minute fenced off area he created this weekend out of baler twine and sticks, as the idiot dog whimpers in confusion and tries to shelter under my coat, before running off on a trajectory that defies the laws of the physical universe to trail shit around the house. Or as I run for my tram and my shoe falls off, leaving me with one wet foot, no dignity and an overwhelming desire to grind the smirking tram driver's face to a pulp as he speeds off leaving me weeping in a puddle. Or as I wait, bat ears twitching, for the cries of "SHAKASS! Putain de chien!" so I can dash to the rescue, detergent wipes to the ready, to erase the traces of Oscar's latest crimes. Or as I search the house high and low for a functioning pencil sharpener, six yoghurt pots, a picture of a juvenile sand warbler and a fragment of the thighbone of Christ to assist in the gulag's latest homework request. I am going to draw a veil over Sunday's visit to the swimming pool. I think we have all suffered enough.

Yes. I too feel the strain. I have been spending no money, barely leaving the house, and subsisting on credit crunch gruel and freezer scrapings. We are all out of DVDs and having to watch repeats of Grand Designs and the French tv news. After France 2 gave us twenty minutes of minute, village by village coverage of the ravages of a slightly windy day last night, I am nearing breaking point. I know that virtue is supposedly its own reward, but you know what? I want an actual reward. Maybe a pygmy hippo. Or some Sergio Rossi platforms.

How are you getting through the long dark night? Books, films, food, sex, crime, pulling your own fingernails out? Help me out. Help us all out. It's starting to sleet and I've just had to disguise an involuntary sob as a hiccup so the eurozombies don't start asking awkward questions..

Monday, 9 February 2009


Me to me

Dear Emma,

The reason your head hurts is because it is 3pm and all you have eaten is a large number of 50% off cheap chocolate balls. They aren't getting better with each fistful. You are in a chocolate induced sweat and incubating a heinous migraine. Go and get some food. Proper food with green bits.


Your body.

(ps - take the stairs you lazy fucker. It's only 2 floors and that old "ow, my knee" excuse is wearing very very thin)

Me to CFO

Dear CFO,

Thank you for informing me that whenever you find money "lying around" the house as you put it, you take it. I now feel able to take said money back from where it is "lying around" in your wallet without compunction. Please take this letter as giving due notice that I will do so from now on without further warning.

Yours affectionately,


(ps - I have not done anything about your parking ticket)
(pps - I still haven't cancelled the internet subscription)
(ppps - the dog is not living outside on Mondays and Tuesdays. Ever.)

Me to Observer Woman magazine

Dear Observer Woman,

Being at heart, a deeply shallow person with a love of the shinier, more expensive things in life, I have not thus far had a particular problem with your brand of breathless fashion and beauty journalism, interspersed with insights into Polly Vernon's life of thinness and cocktail drinking. I can cope with the American Psycho style brand name dropping interviews. I can cope with Kathryn Flett's sex life, and Lily Allen's views on men. Well, sort of. I confess that I did rather love Observer Woman Makes me Spit, but it did not stop me looking forward to Observer Woman Sundays. The Food thing has that horrible sanctimonious John Biffa trying to make us eat quinoa and bitter herbs, Sport is beyond the pale, Music is too blokey and anorak oriented.

This week however, your pieces on why women with children are ghastly, boring, stupid and unfabulous were quite uncomfortable reading. The tone of both articles was glib, vituperative and tacky. Yes. Parents can be boring and self-obsessed and smug. They should not assume that anyone wants to hear about the minutiae of their children's lives. I get that. But these were horrible pieces of journalism. If you have truly met many women who are so singlemindedly determined to talk about their children to the exclusion of all else, who are not interested in "books, or Michelle Obama or Mad Men", then I wonder quite where you hang out. Seriously, girls, you might want to avoid Baby Gap and Tumbletots. The cocktails are lousy anyway.

I am conflicted. Mainly I want everyone to get along and be nice to each other. I used to go to the Woodcraft Folk. I went to Quaker School. I am a peace loving individual. I think people - women especially, for crying out loud - should damn well respect each other's choices. I may be a lentil knitting hippie -it is, after all, my birthright. But I believe there are plenty of battles still to be fought for women, and not - for fuck's SAKE - with each other. Respect. Empathy. Consideration. These things are important on every 'side' (There should not be SIDES! It says so in the Woodcraft Folk handbook! The warring villages must make friends or they will never rebuild the bridge!).

Part of me thinks I should just ignore it; not rise to the bait and give you more publicity, since this, presumably, was the whole point of the piece. I am waiting for Zoe Williams to respond at length, given she gets the whole back page of the tabloid section of the Guardian every week to tell us about the minutiae of raising her infant son. I am sure Alpha Mummy and its army of rabid commenters will be weighing in to fan the flames any minute. This one is bound to run and run. Why encourage it? Another part of me is worried that the responses your piece will bring will just confirm your worst fears - that parents are humourless monomaniacs with a deluded sense of entitlement.

But part of me also wants to snap your legs like twiglets, Vernon, for allowing this provocative dross to go out. You are the editor. I blame you. And I'm not alone. You better run fast in your £1000 Balmain jeans because every woman with a buggy in central London has read your piece by now (Yes! They read! Sometimes whole books without pictures!), and they are all gunning for your ankles.


Brain dead of Brussels

Me to Liberty

My dearest, darling purple one,

Please stop sending me emails and letters suggesting I check out your new online service. Please, when you send me my new store card, do not titillate me with descriptions of the Hall of Shoes, new deliveries of Anglomania dresses and vintage treats in the jewellery department.


You know I love you. But right now, we cannot be together. We must be strong, both of us. One day, we shall be joyfully reunited but until that day I must not allow myself to weaken and listen to your siren song.

Yours always, broken heartedly,


Sunday, 8 February 2009

The reason why the French invented existentialism

There is a distinct note of panic in the CFO's voice as he calls me in from the kitchen.

"Bébé? Please hurry. Don't leave me here alone".

There is a very good reason for his terror. In a minute "Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde" is starting on France 2. The remote control is not in his hand. If I don't come back, he might end up seeing a few seconds of it.

French tv is terrible. Saturday night tv the world over is terrible - a hideous, biblical punishment for anyone who is pathetic enough to be home on a Saturday night. But, oh, the worst thing in the whole world ever, is Saturday night on France 2. Saturday night on France 2 is designed to make you feel so bad about yourself and the fact you are at home a Saturday night, that after a few minutes, death seems preferable. You will question, despairingly, the series of choices that have led you to this moment. But there are no answers, only the menacing sound of an accordeon starting to play rugby songs.

The evening is hosted by this creature.

Patrick Sebastien for whom no evening is complete without a pair of false breasts, seven hundred off-colour jokes, some spandex and a multitude of joyful rugby songs. "Patrick Sébastien, toujours prêt à faire la fête" says the official commentary on France 2's website. Well, yes. To our eternal torment, yes. Reader, I do not believe in hell. But if it exists, Patrick Sébastien is running it and he wants us to get up and dance. I like to think, grand visionary that he was, Sartre was imagining Patrick Sébastien when he wrote "l'enfer, c'est les autres". If he were alive today, I am confident he would be lighting another Gauloise, getting Simone de Beauvoir to find his socks and intoning "l'enfer, c'est le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde".

Your evening will feature ALL of the following:

- an accordeon solo. Actually, make that five or six accordeon solos;

-clowns doing their immeasurably disturbing clown stuff. But French style (WORSE! Marcel Marceau didn't just appear out of nowhere, you know);

- several "risqué" circus act with bare breasted ladies and men in leotards;

- hilarious cross-dressing antics;

- communal singing of ribald rugby sounds to collective hilarity;

- surreally unfunny comedy duo "Shirley & Dino";

- a singing piece of sponge (I know - that could be good! Trust me. It isn't.);

- a wide range of French comedians. French comedians are the reason why existentialism was invented. The French needed a vocabulary, a discourse, if you will, to deal with the horror of their comedians. Yes. It is true. I will write you a thesis on it if you so wish.

The CFO and I are made of fairly stern stuff when it comes to television. We have not gone out on a Saturday night for very, very many years and we bear the scars. The weirdly immobile face of Charlie from Casualty holds no fear for us. We can watch Antiques Roadshow with equanimity, even a modicum of enjoyment. The CFO in particular has an endless appetite for bizarre Channel Five shows in involving large pieces of exceptionally dull machinery ("The World's Greatest DAMS/DUMPER TRUCKS/CORKSCREWS"). I have seen my share of Australian soap opera and I love something called "C'est du Belge" where you get to see around the hunting lodges of the Belgian aristocracy, and find out about the best way to prepare your speculoos. We aren't what you would describe as 'demanding'. But Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde is a quantum leap further.

I am telling you this as a public service. If you are ever invited by a French person to watch anything described as a "divertissement" or featuring Patrick Sébastien, just say no. Listen to this and you will no longer doubt me.

I defy you to tell me about a worse tv programme than this. Go on, go on, go on.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Belgian Waffle teen abstinence lecture, first draft

I did not think I would have children. Throughout my teens and early twenties the memory of my vampire younger sister, non-sleeping demon that she was, smeared in baked bean juice with peanut butter in her hair, burned brightly and indelibly. I remained stony hearted in the face of babies; I would far rather touch a dead pigeon, or deadly spider, than a baby - they seemed a bit gross to me, and invariably ugly. I did not see any up side to babies, unlike dogs, or horses. Disturbed sleep, filth, incontinence, deadly boring non-conversations about some or other biscuit, or puddle. No. Decidedly it was not for me.

And yet, by some weird alchemy, I got ecstatically, deliberately pregnant at twenty six, by far the first person I knew to go down that road. That story is for another day. For these purposes, I will only say that my younger self was quite correct. Disturbed sleep, filth, incontinence and deadly boring non-conversations were all indeed part of the process. They weren't the hardest parts either (anyone else have a total, intractable clash with their partner on vital aspects of parenting? No? Just me then). But it was right, and wonderful (and awful) and mercifully, very funny. Funny is important. I had not realised that babies and small children could be such a lasting, ever-changing source of hilarity. They are funnier and funnier. I am ridiculously privileged to have them.

However I am not here to sing the praises of my children. I have just squirted ketchup on my foot and ketchup is my least favourite thing in the world ever. I have had to take my sock off and am risking my toes with the weepette and still shuddering in a post-traumatic fashion. It has made me want to list the worst things about having children. The small things that suck my will to live from every pore simultaneously.

1. Ketchup. I would never have imagined I would live in a house containing ketchup, let alone handle it. It makes me retch, even touching the bottle. And yet here I am, face contorted in a rictus of disgust, wiping ketchup off my big toe and wishing to erase the last five minutes from my memory forever.

2. Sand. I hate sand so much. Oh god, how I hate sand. I have mentioned this before. Why must small children like sand? Whenever I step into a sandpit, I get goosebumps all over. The sound of flesh against sand is simply the most hideous noise ever, worse than unglazed china. Wiping sandy feet, ugh. I have come face to face with so much sand in the last seven years. I am praying for the day they don't like it anymore. Please can this be soon?

3. Putting socks on. Why must children's socks be so small and unstretchy? And their feet so unyielding, and always facing the wrong way? Why do they still make me do it when they are old and in perfect control of their limbs for the purposes of playing Mario Party Eight? Why do I give in? I have no answers. But there is a design fault.

4. Public swimming pools. Children love splashing in that delightful soup of old plasters, bleach and verrucas. I hate it. Hate hate hate. And then, adding insult to injury, the icy changing rooms. The lost pants. More of the cursed socks. And then small children, giggling delightfully, opening the door to the changing room and running away as you stand wearing a grey bra, one sock and no pants. I'm going again tomorrow morning. Pray for me.

5. Splitting up fights. Siblings. You are boring. I don't care who did what to who or who had the larger crisp. It makes me die inside. Again, I have said this before; but this is exactly what the worst bits of parenthood are; repeating the small things that drive you insane over and over and over.

6. Packed lunches. You will not be surprised to hear that this too, I have mentioned before. More than once. It goes like this: you never remember you have to provide the packed lunch. You either have no bread, or nothing to put in the bread. Sometimes you have neither. You fight with stone cold butter and lack of imagination. You cram it all together. It comes back wholly uneaten, but thoroughly messed around with, so crumbs, yoghurt, old pieces of ham, banana and jelly are all mixed to an appealing slurry-like texture. You must then clean the mess out and like Sisyphus, start again. It would be quicker, cleaner and equally nutritious to fill the lunch box with stones. I might do it next time.

I could go on, but I'd much rather you did it for me...

Friday, 6 February 2009


I had half a mind to post something mildly pretentious today. I was going to highlight my all-time favourite bits from my all time favourite books. I don't know why. I mean, does that sound entertaining? Maybe a little. But it could also be very dreary. Let me know if it sounds like something you might like to read, or more like something you would gnaw your limbs off to avoid. They aren't terribly high brow, I can reassure you. I was going to include a bit from Daniel Deronda (I think I am a bit like Gwendolen, looks wise - she's described as having a very long snaky neck and scornful green eyes), but I gave myself a slap instead and ate a bar of chocolate.

It isn't happening today though, because I only have an hour before gulag time (gulag pancake day too, which will be tricky since they charge you about €5 for a sphere of dough, I have no money and Oscar ate my cash card) and it would require me to face all sorts of insuperable obstacles like, going up two flights of stairs when my legs have wasted away to Ian McShane matchstick dimensions (large man! tiny legs!) from inactivity, and trying to locate books that are probably in the cellar or still in York anyway. Also, the CFO happened on a noise that makes Oscar behave like a rabid monkey and it is very amusing (it's a sort of ghostly whooooooing noise), so I have spent much of the day doing that and falling about laughing.

Instead, and sort of continuing on the theme of confessions, I am going to go the absolute other extreme and telling you all the books I haven't read and films I haven't seen. It will be like the bit in a David Lodge book where all the dons play this game, Humiliation, and one of them admits he hasn't read Hamlet and is instantly doomed, whilst also winning masterfully. It's also a bit like the meme Persephone sent me way back - a hundred books you had to say if you had read or not - that I got halfway through doing and gave up .

So. A sort of cultural confession if you will. The films bit is quite jaw dropping so expect to be shocked. I have nothing to say in my defence. Your job is either to advise me whether to read or see the things on the list of shame, or alternatively, to give me your own list of shame.

Here goes. I can't decide if this will be good or searingly embarassing. Probaby searingly embarassing. Tomorrow, I show you my verucca! (No. I do not have a verucca. Though my son does and he's had it for months, because I am a very bad, neglectful parent).

I have not read:

War and Peace. I own it. I love Anna Karenina. I really should like it, but oh sweet baby jesus, too many battle scenes.

Ulysses - ha. I am not alone and I know it. Also, I claim to have read Dubliners, but I am not even sure if this is true, or if I only read five pages. I suspect the latter. I sure as hell haven't read Finnegan's Wake.

Any John Updike.

Or Philip Roth.

Or Hemingway.

Or Faulkner.

Or John Irving.

Or John Steinbeck.

Basically, if you are an incredibly revered male American author, it is likely I have not read you. Especially if your name is 'John'. No, don't cry.

Lord of the Rings - fantasy - bleugh

Nineteen Eighty Four - futuristic, nope.

Crime and Punishment - title distinctly lacking in fun and escapism, sorry Fyodor, and also, sorry Gwynnie.

One hundred years of solitude - magical realism also out.

Love in the time of cholera - ditto

Heart of Darkness - this is Stowmarket's fault.

Don de Lillo's Underworld - gaaaah. So many pages. So little appeal.

Belle de Seigneur

[Also, I pretend to know all about collaborationist literature in France, but have not in fact read Céline's Voyage au bout de la Nuit, aaargh. Ouch. That one hurt.]

I have not seen:

Citizen Kane


Star Wars

Lord of the Rings


Schindlers List

It's a wonderful life

Apocalypse Now

Easy Rider


Cinema Paradiso

Some like it hot (I know I would love this. But I haven't seen)

Eeeee. I'm cringing at what I've just admitted. Go on, put me out of my misery or prolong it by mocking me.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Confession - February edition

I'm opening the Belgian Waffle Secular Confessional again. I know, it isn't Friday, but I have a lot to get off my chest, and I am sure you do too. (First confession - I love confessional because it gets lots of comments and I am a shameless comments whore). As always - I confess, you give penance, you confess, I give penance. Ready, steady, sin!

1. I am fucking awful at this 3 days at home to concentrate on writing 'thing'. The way it goes is this.
- take children to school (in pyjamas, bien sur) after chaos crunch breakfast shift. Dog breathes sigh of relief after hour of intense molestation and tail pulling. I breathe sigh of relief at blissful silence. Dog goes back to sleep. I play with the internets.
- around ten I get washed. Maybe. On good days. Then play with the internets some more. Make a mental list of all the important administrative things I should be doing.
- Goodness, it's already lunchtime! I have done nothing on list and no writing. Stare into space and eat biscuits.
- It's around 2. Too late to do any of the list things. Tidy kitchen half heartedly and revel in vast sense of achievement. Play with internets until spawn hometime.
- between spawn hometime and CFO hometime, flit backwards and forwards between low rent parenting and checking internets. If pressed, tell spawn I am "working" and will change channels/provide snacks "in a minute". Look up to see they have left a trail of biscuit debris all around the house and are encouraging the dog to chew the sofa. Feign mystification when they are not hungry at dinner time due to biscuit consumption.
- When CFO asks how things are going, tell him pompously that there is lots of thinking time required before he will see any actual output. Imply that playing on internets is all part of my grand plan, and he couldn't possibly understand.
- Get crippling anxiety late at night and get up to fritter more time on internets.

I have written three pages. I can see my entire life skittering away from me as I look out of the window at Aisha the bearded cat and rationalise my way out of going to the Post Office.

2. See point two here. Still not done. I KNOW! Holy mother of Nathan, what is wrong with me? I have a blocage. In my brain. A blocage preventing me walking ten steps down into cellar, noting down number of modem and filling in a form. I am heartily sick of myself. I wish to be made a ward of court, and have all administrative and financial tasks removed from my feeble hands. They could pay me a small allowance, say €3 per day to buy flan. I think it could work.

3. I am trying to work out if I can change working hours again to spend more time with dog. I would totally do it if I thought I could get away with it. I am obsessed with the goddam dog and his silky, silky ears and scrawny body. On work days, when I am heading home, I agonise about who to go and rescue first - puppy or children? Puppy or children? Sometimes I vary this with puppy, children, or cake shop? To date the puppy has not won, but only because it would break his heart if I were to come, give him a stroke, then disappear AGAIN to go get spawn. The cake shop has won twice. I am not a good person at all.

4. I may have implied to several people (boss in particular, who finds it pleasing to refer to me now as 'hausfrau' and ask me how the queues in Delhaize were) that I am in discussions with an agent. This is simply untrue. A nice man emailed me once offering to read what I produce. BUT I HAVE NOT PRODUCED ANYTHING. Aaaaagh! How long can I maintain this charade?!

Ok, enough. I am blushing as I type. Over to you. Anonymous confessions are positively encouraged; ridiculous fake names also. Please don't leave me here all alone with my nest of sin?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Status report - RAS*

I was up in the night getting overwrought and pointless, so there is very little of note likely to come out of these fingers today. Instead I thought I would update you on what everyone in the Waffle household is up to.


No longer suffering from galloping consumptive man flu but still deaf in one ear. The "can we have sushi tonight?" ear. Went for expensive medical to celebrate imminently turning 40 and got clean bill of health, barring one thing.

"Look this up for me, will you?"

"Hmm .. benign .. usually asymptomatic ... accidentally detected.. FOIE GRAS?? You have a foie gras! Your liver is fat!"


He remembered, as we sat on the floor beside the dog's cushion last night (dog is not allowed on sofa, so we have to sit on floor. What is wrong with this picture? Hmm?) that it might very well be our anniversary.

"So shall we turn the tv off?"

"What, and have to talk to each other?"

"Come on. There's only Grand Designs. It's boring."

"Ok, but only if you promise not to ask me about: money, whether I have cancelled our old internet subscription, why I haven't discussed reduced working hours with the Bearded One, or anything else that might make me feel bad"

"It's a deal"

"And don't go trying to make me have sex, because I saw this picture of a duck's penis yesterday and it just won't leave my head".

"Maybe I could make you forget the duck penis?"

"Do you want me to show you it???"


"Well then. Take my word for it, I won't be forgetting it anytime soon. Did you bring me an anniversary copy of Grazia back from London?"


Fifteen years on, but the magic is still there.


Now able, but entirely disinclined to read. Has a new hoodie which has encouraged him to start making gangsta hand gestures, part of his ongoing campaign to become a mec (defining characteristics - artfully spiked hair, rolling gait, lots of girlfriends). Still much preoccupied with death, and the optimum time to take the elixir of eternal life I may conceivably have suggested someone will discover before he gets old (I don't believe in God, ok?? I had to offer him some crumb of consolation! Listen Dawkins, what would you suggest?). Persecuted by dictéé and trying not to lose crayons, but perhaps not quite as sad and squashed as before Christmas. Has built himself a desk for "expériences". Like, mixing shower gel, triops food, chocolate coins and moths (lured in with Weetabix, died of natural, or possibly cereal, causes) in a sock. Mix, stand back, wait for cries of "JESUZEMANN!".


New Pikachu, purchased at flea market for €1 has its very own dreamcatcher, made from disembodied heads of family members attached to a coat hanger with raffia.

Vague. Chaotic. Silky. Wickedly manipulative.


Mysterious. Not given to eating. Dispenses information in tiny, grudging dribbles. I have learnt recently, for instance, that he has an amoureuse, called Mélanie. And that Eléonore likes eating handfuls of sand. That there was a tiny goat with tiny horns on the recent trip to the farm, and that bread is made with a LIVE ANIMAL. A live animal that hates salt. He told me this morning that school made the sun turn slowly. I can quite imagine it would feel like that in the gulag. The corridor of ennui has much the same effect on me.

Christmas presents still untouched in placard secret (refuses to play with them as risk others might SEE). I snuck in, in defiance of house rules, to take a picture.

Enigmatic. Filthy laugh. Gorgeously strange eyes. Reminds me of his papa (who is/has none of those things). Soon to turn five.


Idiotic, but charming. Has grown enough to leap onto forbidden furniture, and climb halfway upstairs, get stuck and cry. Vet could not be persuaded to cut his scissorclaws, so still lacerating everything. Mmm. Delicious dog though. Mmm. Understands "bon bon". And possibly "Putain Jesuzemann Oscaaaaaar!". Debatable. Nothing else, for sure. I tried to take a decent picture of him, but he licked the bloody lens. Duh.

The herd

All defrosted successfully. Sitting on top of one another to get closer to the heat lamp. House smells of tortoise wee and burning shell. Boring.

The pontypines

Still alive despite CFO's frankly shocking suggestion we "dry them out" ("We have too many pets! Something has to give!"). Partner, reptile lover, engineer, FISH MURDERER.


Still present, despite purchase of what spawn are terming "tape-moths" (fly swatters). Fuckers obviously like biscuits.

*RAS = rien à signaler