Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Thankful 'hysteria' no longer an accepted diagnosis

All I have for you tonight (it's late and I watched Nouvelle Star and did homework until we both cried and watched the weepette make craven love to an admittedly BEAUTIFUL Mexican young gentleman in the park), is a few snippets from my recent conversation with my new mystery penpal, who is probably going to do a guest post soon. She's lovely like that. (M, jump in if I misremembered anything).

E: Lashes expressed a desire for a Komodo dragon this weekend.

M: Well that would sort out the existential angst problem.

E: What, you mean with the eating alive thing? I suppose. Kill or cure.

M: Kill THEN cure.

E: It would look great on a lead though.

M: There was a man in Edinburgh who took a baby hippo for walks on a lead.

E: Well, there, now, you have spoilt my evening ENTIRELY. Why does he get a baby hippo? Not fair.

M: I imagine them to be very symmetrical and smooth.

E: You think? Have you ever seen Monifa? Look her up on you tube. Monifa, baby pymy hippo


M: Leathery. And she looks like she would definitely chew up your shoes.

E: You think? I might be cured. BMF thought she would probably smell very bad too. I am reminded, I was going to offer you the weepette to eat.

M: Why? Bad things?

E: Constant acts of low level stupidity and destruction. It is a very annoying creature.

M: The silkiness must be frustrating.

E: Oh, exactly. So hard to get angry with something that curls itself into a small, submissive, silky ball and stares at you so reproachfully.

M: Those eyes. So cowardly! So loving.

E: Less loving, more craven.

M: When my sister sees a pink millepede on a screen, she can't move at all. She is totally immobilised.

E: That could be SO useful if you were having a ninja combat with her. Just, flash her the millipede and take advantage of her frozen state to deal a deathly blow. I watch too much Pokémon, don't I?

M: Waving arms. Funny.

E: What is your sister like?

M: This:

E: The eyes! I am fearful. Mine more like this:

Small, lots of hair. Sleeps a lot.

M: But eyes are open! Surely wrong. Or at least, very rare.

E: That is quite true. Perhaps contemplating a cabbage. Will search for something more accurate. This?


I am sorry. I was just starting to write something else entirely when life caught up with me in various turgid ways and now it is midnight and the OCD says I must post, but the brain says 'nooooo, not with the thinking and the words and the typing and the giant cake shaped like a tiger pen to be made tomorrow'. I will do better tomorrow, I promise. Sorry! Sorry! Going to self-flagellate with extension cords and twigs and Portugese ribbons. The latter should be quite pleasant.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Poll: chat up or not chat up?

I am on a blissfully, bizarrely empty 92 tram. The yellow orb is making a rare appearance in the sky so I decide to look out of the window rather than read my book. At the Sablon a man gets on and drops his packet of tissues at my feet. I move my legs out of the way so he can pick them up. As he thanks me, we make eye contact and smile at each other. He is about my age, and reminds me a little of Prog Rock, very gentle looking with gingery hair.

I will transcribe and translate our conversation exactly, because it is so very Belgian.

Ginger Man: you look distraite (preoccupied).

E: No, I'm just enjoying the sunshine; I thought I would try and look out of the window rather than reading my book for once.

Ginger Man: Yes, it is a beautiful day, I want to look out of the window too.


Ginger Man: those orange rabbits are very ugly.

Me: You think? I don't mind them.

Ginger: Yes, they are so industrial looking. We are destroying nature, and replacing it with plastic effigies of animals.

Me: I think they are agreeably surreal. Very appropriate for Belgium, a bit like the giant blue brain.

Ginger: What? The giant blue brain?

Me: You do not know the giant blue brain?

Ginger: I haven't been taking this tram for long.

Me: There was a giant blue brain above the museums, but now it has gone.


Ginger: The rabbits are better than the cows, I suppose.

Me: You think?

Ginger: I have a problem with cows. They are so .. industrial.

Me: You find cows industrial? Interesting.

Ginger: There are dairy products EVERYWHERE. Everything has milk in. You cannot find food without dairy produce. Cows are a symbol of our industrial society.

Me: An interesting perspective. So the rabbits are better? Less 'industrial'? We don't exploit them so intensively?

Ginger: At least we don't milk rabbits.

Me: Milking rabbits would be very difficult (then I mime milking a rabbit. Ginger nods seriously).

More silence

Ginger: I love nature.

E: I don't. It is the fault of my parents.

Ginger: Why?

E: They made me go to la campagne all the time.

Ginger: I campaign for the preservation of green spaces. I make the children do paintings and draw on carrots (I swear he said this).

E: There is no hope for me, but I have a weepette who obliges me to go into the green spaces sometimes.

Ginger: Ah! I have a Shitzu.

E: The small things with lots of hair?

Ginger: Yes. She makes me walk a lot. Even in the rain.

E: The weepette does not like the rain. The weepette is not very courageux.


Ginger: What would your book have been if you were reading?

E: (getting out and holding up Revolutionary Road and The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam): this one is depressing, and this one is just light and not very sérieux).

G: Ah, you read in anglais.

E: I am anglaise, it is no achievement.

Ginger (holding out his hand) My name is Pierre Paul.

E: (shaking it) Emma.

Ginger: Like Emma Bovary. Though that is not a very felicitous comparison.

E: No, she is not an ideal model. I am named after another literary Emma, from Emma by Jane Austen.

Ginger: It is an English name?

E: Yes. I was luckier than my sister. She does not like her name.

Ginger: Oh?

E: Yes, she is called [Space Cadette].

Ginger: But [Space Cadette] is nice?

E: She does not think it suits her.

Ginger: Pierre Paul is not a good name. People forget and get confused and call me Jean Pierre. We should be able to change names as we change and get older. Our names are just like a reference code, like a bar code in a shop, to label us.

E: Emma is fine. It is simple.

Ginger: I would not say 'simple'.

E: This is my stop. Bonne Soirée!

Ginger: Bonne Soirée.


So? Your verdict?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Entertaining the painfully awkward way

I feel I have a lot to say at the moment. Seriously, I could DROWN you all in humourless introspection, but (thankfully) it is a little tangled and keeps getting overtaken by:

1. People getting in the way, usually bodily, between me and the laptop. Small ones with long pointy fingers and endless demands and large ones with technical and medical and administrative questions, tortoises to find and spreadsheets to adjust. Violet did not get in the way, but I did want to spend all my time sucking her essence out, vampire style, leaving only an empty husk to send home to London, so I could keep her and take her out and stroke her as necessary. That came out far more disturbing that it sounded in my head, where it seemed like a perfectly reasonable proposition.

2. My failure to deal with the proofs of The Tedium Files - The Revenge (newer readers: this is not an actual book, but a Eurotedious looseleaf work of endless references and tables. It has sold a staggering ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN copies to date, allowing my Euromaster to bust out and buy himself a new C&A suit), due, um, tomorrow I think. Untouched. In one of those free bags from a WTF magazine. Not even sure which one of the thirty five bags that lie around the house filled with biscuit debris and expired tram passes and unpaid bills. Eh. (imagine that said Greek style with a fatalistic shrug).

3. The guilt and need for subterfuge when blogging after my recent designation by the CFO as an "addict". I keep having to find plausible activities that could take me into the room where the laptop lives, an enterprise complicated by the fact that apart from the computer it only contains the tortoise house, the crayons and cutting and sticking cupboard, and the piano.

"I was just, er, playing the piano. Really really quietly".

"Yeah, just a bit of colouring in. Look! I barely went outside the lines at all on this, um, blob?!"

"I've been observing the torts. Do you not think number 4 is looking a little off colour? Oh? That's not number 4? It's a piece of bark? Sorry".

So for now, and for the greater good of all, I will limit myself to one piece of Eyeore-esque musing tonight.

Does anyone else do this Thing?

The Thing is as follows. Let's have a picture first to break things up a bit.

A Betty's Fondant Fancy Celebration Cake (yes, please, Betty's a free one would be very welcome indeed):

Another? Ok.

Some baby naked mole rats:

Well you did ask.

Moving on.

I am a shit host. A REALLY bad host. And it's not because I don't care, or I believe my visitors should take me as they find me (because then they would all get toxoplasmosis or a tapeworm or something, and even I, hospitality retard that I am, know that isn't nice). I'm good before they arrive - I can change the bed and buy flowers and provide towels and ensure that the dog hasn't done anything unspeakable under the spare bed. I am gleeful that they are coming (except OCD brother in law). But when they arrive, I become weirdly, paralysingly shy and anxious and unable to act in anything remotely like a normal, welcoming manner.

Things I cannot do:

- Suggest - or even think of - pleasant activities for us all to do with the Unfortunate Guests. Everything I can think of seems unutterably lame, or doomed to failure (what with entirely incompatible interests of a surly martial arts Pokémonomaniac, a mildly obsessive compulsive secretive dancing biscuit fan, the monosyllabic CFO, me - consumed with anxiety - and the Unfortunate Guests). I don't even want to suggest things in case they think it's a terrible idea but feel compelled to come anyway. I am hunched with embarassment and awkwardness if I have to proffer something as innocuous as a walk in the park. 'Nooo!' say the voices 'That's a stupid idea! They'll HATE it. Shut up'.

- Offer food and drink appropriately. Ok, we have established over the past 11 months that I am pretty weird around food, but when people are staying I seem to project my neuroses onto them in an unhelpful fashion. Things I can do: make cups of tea. Buy food and place it on the table in a pleasing configuration. Things I cannot do: ask people what they would like and make it for them. Sit and share meals without agonising about whether it is ok, whether they are eating to be polite and whether it would be pushy and unbearable to offer them dessert. BE NORMAL. I am just so lumpenly, cringingly awkward. Sometimes I just have to leave the room because I can feel my own loomingly unnatural presence becoming unbearable. I am a freak.

- Accept that if people have come to see me, they must to some degree want to actually see, or spend time with me. Instead, I sort of mutely offer my children forward as a nicer, more entertaining, decorative version of me. And now, of course, I can mutely offer the weepette too. Look! I have nothing to offer you, but here are some moderately entertaining small children and a very strokable dog.

- ACT NORMALLY. I become this twitching, eye popping mass of self-doubt that lurks in the corner of the room scuffing one shoe against the other and elaborately over-thinking the simplest of things.

I think I always hoped this would come with age, and I would mature into one of those people it's a pleasure to come and stay with, where you can be entertained or not, fed or not, and looked after in a low key but lovely fashion. It has become apparent that I am not. Noone will ever want to come and visit me, because I will just loom, google eyed at them, and blush and make strangled noises as I try to ask if they want a biscuit.

That is all. I am not going to beg you to tell me I am normal, because I know I'm not. Just, if I invite you to stay, you might want to consider other options.

Note to self: delete this self-indulgent dross in the morning

I really, truly couldn't cope with today. I was wrenched awake at just the wrong time from a lovely, elaborate hyper-real dream that made real life seem pale and harsh and unrelenting. I have been trying to get back there all day.

No luck.

So here I am, and it's midnight and I'm churned up and homesick and missing lovely Violet before she's even left. And lovely Violet is six months pregnant with her first baby and it makes me wistful for that hopeful, magical time just before Lashes was born. I feel like a grubby, broken version of the person I was back then, seven years ago.

Oh, and I'm wishing I had never decided to read Revolutionary Road.

Shut up Emma. Here are some pictures. I'd give them captions if I had a brain left.

(Seconds after I had to remonstrate with Fingers for smacking Oscar's bottom. I swear, they are both mocking me)

(I think I like his Harpic legs best. )


I love the challenges you offer, Dave the Dinosaur. Working on the last one, but in the meantime, here is the requested weepette sizing guide. My glamorous assistant got slightly carried away with the fork, inevitably.

(I love the look of terror here as the ketchup balances, sword of Damoclese-like, above his head)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Bonus act of self-inflicted stupidity


It was a stupid idea anyway

I thought I would instigate an occasional feature where you could ask the Holy Tortoise TM questions that are troubling you morally, ethically or emotionally and, in the manner of a spiritual agony aunt, the Holy Tortoise TM could reply with reptilian wisdom and doctrinal rigour (the Holy Tortoise TM makes the Pope look like a bleeding heart liberal). Of course I had failed to take into account the fact that the Holy Tortoise TM is a complete dick.

Come here, you bastard and put this mitre on.

Stay still while I put you in your holy robes! Look at the set of that jaw. Is the Holy Tortoise TM planning to cooperate? No, it is not.

Come back! And what's that in your holy robes and all over the sofa? Holy Tortoise TM you malevolent little shit.

Clearly I need a plan B.

But tell me honestly, does this look like a viable Plan B to you?

He doesn't give a shit about your problems. Are you a pig's ear? No? Well then. The weepette could not care less.

I suppose you could ask me, but I am broken. Look! All I care about is admiring my new moustache. I think it is very fetching indeed. I have spent too long here, and singing this song.

Also, I have only just realised I am wearing my new moustache UPSIDE DOWN.
I think we can conclude that I spend far too much time alone with only the Holy Tortoise TM and the weepette for company.

So I am leaving it up to you. You may ask any of us a question and we will answer it. Or you could just back away slowly. I would totally understand.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Fuck you, Wednesday

Wednesday, you asshole. You make out you are oh, so damn relaxed and family friendly. You are all, 'Yay, school's out, do your chores and then have fun with your gorgeous kids! Partaayy! '. Yeah, right, Wednesday. Do I LOOK like a taxi, Wednesday? Well, do I?

No, this isn't working, is it. You see what I tried to do there? Crap, wasn't it? Start again with the normal Belgian Waffle whiny wordiness about my terrible, terrible first world problems.

Wednesday is totally hateful. Some stupid bastard (probably Napoleon) decided that children in continental Europe should have Wednesday off. EPIC ADMINISTRATIVE FAIL, NAPOLEON (god, I can't shake it, can I?). In Belgium this leaves parents with three choices:

1. Ignore it, leave children in gulag, prepare yourself for The Soulcrushing Guilt as you arrive at 6pm to find your children, alone, sitting at a sad little wooden desk with a four piece wooden puzzle and 2 brown crayons;

2. Pay some feckless arse student to collect them and rummage through your knicker drawer, then sit around eating your food while the children dismantle your house and kill each other;

3. Take Wednesday, or at least Wednesday afternoon off.

So here I am, as a long time proponent of option #1, testing option #3. Newsflash: it is pretty awful. First I do the shopping, which always casts me into a soup of expatriot despondency. Oh, Belgian supermarkets, so sad, so strip lit, so full of offal, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. No, let me not. Today I amused myself by trying to find the worst meat product possible after the fanmail Thierry the Tapeworm received. I think it has to be the neat rows of greying tongues packed in polystyrene trays, though the stir fry packs of gizzards were also appealing. Next time I take the camera.

Of course shopping also means driving, and I drive with all the skill and road sense of a crackhead spider monkey. I cannot judge my own width (a little like being pregnant, I find), I often get the sides of the road confused, and priorité à droite sends me into a terrifying spin. Add into the mix my fatal attraction to skips (they exert a magnetic pull on me when I am behind the wheel. I have lost three wing mirrors to their siren song), and you have a fairly terrifying scenario. The CFO has been watching 'Belgium's Worst Drivers' recently, a programme which gives him considerable amusement, but which is squirmingly near the knuckle for me.

Qui dit driving, dit parking. Ha! Just, no. Not ever, and especially not now when the Belgian Hole Digging and Filling Committee have designated the whole of my area a "Big Fuck Off Hole Zone" (yes, that's the technical term). Even when I am the only sober person in a car, the drunkards will not let me park, and I agree with them. Last week a complete stranger outside the bank stopped traffic to assist me parking. I have no spatial awareness at all and my bumpers are testament to that.

Then, add in the spawn. Two choices: allow them to run feral at home, or corral them into some improving activity. Clearly, the second option holds out the enticing possibility of child free time, and so I seize at it. Only, the spawn cannot agree on a single activity, and must do different things at different times. Cue MORE DRIVING, this time to the accompaniment of helpful commentary from the back seat. Things I must do, apparently, while driving:

- mental arithmetic courtesy of Lashes (douze fois trente deux maman? MAMAAAN?)
- constructing Kinder toys courtesy of Fingers
- explain why the man whose route I am blocking is making that gesture with his middle finger
- provide a constant supply of in-flight refreshments
- remove packaging from said refreshments
- select music (particular tracks, not merely albums) even when passengers are not remotely in agreement over which tracks they want.

Add in today's freak hailstorm and you have a recipe for endless joy. You might, just for variety, add a dog that trails its scrabbly claws in puddles making a noise like a slowly deflating balloon and then leaps all over you when it (sensibly) takes fright at the sight of a tram. A CFO who comes home early in order to hide in the attic complaining about the noise and send you emails requiring translation and asks you what day the 20th April is and where the Yellow Pages are and how the conditional tense works as you try and write your goddammed blog post (that, in a fit of OCD self-imposed cruelty you have decided you must do every single day UNTIL YOU DIE). You should almost certainly have leaking shoes and cold icy feet. Your children are skreeeking and shrieking at each other over their expensive video games until your ear drums puncture. It is nearly 7pm and you have not thought about dinner and your 1950s spouse is standing over you pursing his lips and narrowing his teeny tiny eyes as you type, and type, and type.

This, my friends, is Wednesday.

Fuck you, Wednesday.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The slattern's guide to faking adulthood

Following the useful, but intensely gloomy advice on surviving long term relationships, co-parenting and compromise (as well as the woefully under-solicited but brilliant advice provided by ME on hamster capture), I have decided that I will share more advice. Yes, this contradicts exactly what I said yesterday. This is a slightly different kind of advice, however. This is advice on how to be monstrously slatternly and not be rounded up on the streets and placed in protective custody. I am well practised in this art.

I would tell male readers they would be bored and should go away now, but I don't think there are any, are there? Except G, and he plays badminton and deserves everything he gets.


Oh no! It's the morning, you are running late and there are no black opaque tights without holes (if you are wearing coloured tights or sheers you are obviously very dangerous and should indeed be rounded up and placed in protective custody. I am not enabling you.). We will leave aside the matter of whether they are clean or not. This is between you and your conscience (just let me say: noone will know. It will be fine). What to do? Two patented methods.

1. Put tights on. Go and find black marker pen (I buy them ten at a time from Hema, the Belgian Woolies. You may wonder why I don't buy ten pairs of black opaque tights at a time while I am there. Shut up.). Colour in the skin around the hole. Ensure you colour a fairly large area around the hole to account for movement/slippage. Voilà.

2. The "Emma's mum special". Put tights on. Put another pair of tights on on top. The likelihood of the holes being in exactly the same place is very low. Enjoy the confusion of anyone whose eye alights on your legs, which are mysteriously defying all physical laws like an Escher drawing. Brazen it out with a challenging, yet slightly flirtatious stare.

Hold ups that fall down

"Hold ups" (named by someone with a sick sense of humour) that fall down are worse than the plague. And leprosy. Combined. There is no way to truly protect yourself from the falling down hold up, and trying to tuck the offending thing into your knickers will only delay the cruel operation of gravity momentarily. Again, two suggestions.

1. Ensure you are wearing something with pockets, so you can, in a pinch, try and hold the hold up up with your hand in the aforementioned pocket. Yes, it looks indescribably sinister, but at least you are not left showing your blue white leg, and the flurry of dry skin flakes escaping from the inside of your hold up to the world. Ideally, of course, wear trousers, so you can allow the hold up to drift downwards until it is bumping companionably down by your ankle, but we must prepare for the worst.

2. Get into nearest loo. Claim you are about to vomit if necessary. Splash elastic top and thigh with water. This usually works., but if not just lie down on loo floor and feign death. Concerned bystanders will send you home in an ambulance, and then you can change your hold ups for a functioning pair. Or, even better, phone in sick and go back to bed.

3. Ooh! I have a third suggestion. Wear Spanx over the top. No hold up can wriggle out of the vice like grip of Spanx reinforced nylon. You will have to give up on breathing or eating for the day though, which is unfortunate.

Beauty 'regimes' for the chronically lazy

1. Do not get around to wearing moisturiser or make up, therefore never need to take it off. This is the easiest approach. Looking tremendously haglike also repels people on the tram, an additional bonus feature.

2. Keep all cosmetics and moisturiser at work. Most days putting on a little make up will seem vastly preferable to working. If feeling exceptionally buoyant and on top of things, consider keeping a packet of unscented baby wipes under your bed for removal of make up (they are also handy on the days that showering seems impossibly far fetched). This is far from essential, however. It usually comes off by itself eventually. On weekends revert to plan 1.

Bad hair days

The answer to bad hair is simple: get alopecia.

I almost never have bad hair days and am frequently praised for my excellent, reliable, shiny hair (almost as often as people as me whether I have cut my hair - why, no! But thank you for asking!). I can thoroughly recommend a wig as the ultimate low maintenance hair care regime unless you are also required to cook spicy food. Wigs seem to retain the smell of Mexican chicken like a bastard. Have two! Then one can be hung out to lose the Mexican chicken smell while you wear the other. If they are slightly different in cut and colour, you can reprise your tights confusion with your colleagues as they try to work out what is different about you. I mean, your hair can't be suddenly longer than yesterday can it? And a different colour? And then change back again the day after? It must be In Their Heads.

Alopecia is also excellent for the slattern as it entirely removes the issue of depilatories. I am perfectly smooth and hairless, like a naked mole rat, 365 days a year, no shaving, no waxing and no Nair.


For those of you not lucky enough to have alopecia, do provide your own suggestions in the comments.

Everything I own has a hole or is missing a button or has a giant chocolate stain right in the crotch so it looks like I am incontinent

Firstly, get dressed in the dark. It's always better not to know how disastrous things are before you leave the bedroom because if you realise you have nothing at all to wear, there is a very strong possibility you may just go back to bed and give up entirely. I am not saying this is always the wrong approach - far from it. Sometimes this is the only sane way to react. But let us say you have got yourself as far as your place of work and looked down to discover your hem is down, you are stained and your underwear is poking out of places it shouldn't be (I speak from bitter experience of this today, as I have found myself flashing most of the office my greying Rigby & Peller Hag Bra of orthopaedic doom). I have two words for you: office supplies.

Hems are easily repaired with a stapler. Double sided sticky tape stuck to the crucial parts of bra can assist with gape or slippage. Scrape off chocolate with your scissors, or if necessary colour over stains with your trusty black marker pen (consider it a slattern handbag essential, far more important than, say, keys or money. Slatterns should, of course, wear mainly black. Easier to colour over stains.). This is what office supplies are for. Also, those staple removers are excellent for last minute nail cleaning.

Anything that can't be fixed with office supplies must be brazened out. I have, with varying degrees of success:

- pretended the rip/hole/stain has 'just happened'
- put on an outrageous pair of shoes to deflect attention
- brazened it out. I rather like this one now. Yes, I am thirty four and my top is missing a button somewhere essential. Et alors?

You are grateful, non, mes petits chipolatas? If you have any additional suggestions, the comments box is waiting, breathless, to receive them.

Monday, 23 March 2009

In which I dispense advice

Cherish this, dear reader, for I will not give you advice again (probably). I have very little wisdom to impart, but I do have this. It comes too late for a lot of us, but trust me, I wish I had known then what I know now.

If you are considering having children with someone, you need to follow my advice, which I will set out below. I am far from convinced it will help, since it is very hard to know the answers to these things in the abstract, and you will probably be all in love, you soppy bastards, and not even care. So you will go ahead and have some babies. And of course, in the early years, the cracks will not show. You will be in turn:

1. In hopeless, Stockholm Syndrome love with a new tiny creature who apparently hates you intensely and wishes you never to sleep again. There are no decisions as such, merely survival. Ethics do not enter the equation; except that it is not ethical to abandon your tiny tormentor in a church porch. This much you know.

Then, later:

2. Dealing in moral absolutes. "No darling, do not hit the cat with a hammer". "Stop biting Joshua". "If you sit on that tiny baby you will kill it". "Let go of Ladybird's hair".

You may even throw caution to the winds and have another child. In which case you will be:

3. Trying to feed one screaming, puce child whilst the other one dismantles the DVD player or posts €50 notes into the waste disposal unit. If you turn your back for a second, one of them will kill the other. This much is certain. It is survival, pure and simple and there is no time for the luxury of debate, or for moral relativism.

Only much, much later, when what you thought was the "hard bit" is over, will you realise I was right and that there are important debates about parenting that you should have bloody well had before you had children. But then it will be too late. Ah, well. At least I will be able to say I told you so, when you come running over here, all "Oh, Jaywalker, my lovely partner has mutated into an authoritarian martinet, and I am all about the lentil knitting and the whale song and the child centredness". And I will be able to laugh with delicious bitterness and pour you a gigantic drink. I love being right.

So, having concluded that I am wasting my time, I will give you this advice anyway. You are so lucky. Watch out, I am going to put the caps lock on now. And bold.


Yes, I hear you. You have done that already, in between bouts of spontaneous sex and laughter and feeding each other snippets of food and the kind of things you see on slow-mo sequences in romantic comedies to a soundtrack of '80s cock rock. You have talked about their first pet, and their first kiss and whether they liked school and all that sort of nonsense. I am not talking about that. Ask them these things.

- What did you think of your upbringing? Too strict, too lax, about right?

- Did your parents smack you? What do you think about smacking? (ensure they understand that this is not an overture to some kind of S&M lite shenanigans, or you will get totally sidetracked)

- Pocket money? Money generally - was there enough of it? Did your parents worry about money, or did they shower you with gifts?

- Christmas - a big deal, or not? Lots of toys and presents? A small car and a lump of coal? Ditto birthdays - lavish song and dance or a fairy cake and a book token?

- Nightime. Were your parents strict about bedtime? Did you get scared in the night and what did they do about it?

- Siblings - where are you in sibling order? Do you feel your parents favoured you, or one of your siblings?

- Shouting - normal mode of discourse, or occasional nuclear option?

- Violence: occasionally necessary or absolutely abhorrent?

Think of yourself as a sort of psychological detective, searching for the seeds of future parenting in their past, because believe me, however deeply buried you believe your own childhood to be, how wholly rational and master of your own destiny you think you are, you will see it lurching out of the dark corners of your psyche as soon as you have your own children. Your partner will be exactly the same. And in some cases, this may lead to the total breakdown of civilisation. Let me give you a very brief and of course, wholly abstract, case study.

X: Raised by her hippie academic mother alone for most of childhood, with occasional lodgers, hangers on, admirers, hamsters. Mother from background of extreme poverty, very concerned not to transmit fear of not having enough money to child. Lovely adult-filled childhood without conflict, boundaries, table manners, authority. Occasional incursions from lavish and slightly terrifying father with shouted instructions on proper use of cutlery.

Y: Child of two French school teachers, married at 19. One of three boys. Traditional childhood with chores, table manners, clean hands, things put away and cared for, Rules, occasional smacking, clear sense of parental authority.

Add to both subjects, if you will, an innate stubborness and belief in the superiority of their own approach. Add two children. Stand back and watch as the fabric of the universe is ripped to pieces over subjects as diverse and fascinating as taking toys to school, how to eat spaghetti or whether to allow night lights. Cower. Children develop interesting schizophrenic personality traits and a gift for subterfuge and manipulation. Super Nanny is called in with a SWAT team to remove children to a place of consistency.

Over to you. What piece of precious advice can you impart? Make it fun if you possibly can, because this whole piece is slightly depressing me and I am beginning to wish I had explained to you how to trap an escaped hamster instead (I can if you want).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The week in Belgium

I am an empty husk of a thing today so I thought I would give you a sort of Belgian Waffle Sunday Omnibus edition, in the manner of all good soap operas (which this is not, sadly. I would quite like to suddenly wake up and find myself being played by someone else, or to demonstrate my mental decline through the medium of no longer wearing make up and having crappy hair, or sleep with every man in the street - actually, no. Not the last one).


The CFO jumps ship for London. The Beast pours a litre of milk on the kitchen floor at around 7am and requires carrying up four flights of stairs in full ironing board/rigor mortis position.

I am called upon (while sitting on the loo, because children don't care) to explain Tampax to the Beast. I do not do a good job of it, though noone could accuse me of being inaccurate or insufficiently graphic. However, I do wish I could have found a better word for the female sex organs than 'hole'. "I understand now" he says, running away in terror, after a couple of seconds. He will never have a normal sex life now. I feel my job is done here.

Dinner: oven chips and cucumber.


Our heroine is forced home early from the Corridor of Ennui with the plague, distinguishable from her usual crushing workplace despair only by throat symptoms making her act like cat with furball.

Dinner: Thierry Tapeworm.

The CFO bring me Vogue Homme back from London, mysteriously. When questioned, he says that he "missed an M", and thought it was Vogue Home. Glad but puzzled he thinks that such a publication would interest me, given state of house.


Nouvelle Star! André Manoukian sends me subliminal messages through the television. Soon we will be together. For a brief few hours I love everyone.

I buy a dress forgetting we no longer have any money. I am then forced to consider alternative money making schemes with the assistance of demented women on Twitter, including the commercialisation of Thierry Tapeworm as a pet or slimming aid, forging the image of Jesus on the shell of one of the tortoises and calling the Catholic Herald claiming it has healing and slimming powers, selling various confessional memoirs (bagel addiction, dog ear sniffing, Nurofen abuse, compulsive bowl buying). I am forced, reluctantly to give up on last idea as William Leith has already written them all. Bastard.

I go to see the GP for plague cures and More Drugs. She asks me how much pain relief I am taking, I tell her 2 Nurofen Plus every couple of hours. "That's nowhere near enough!" she says, shocked. I love my GP.

Dinner: god knows. Something horrible. I have a vague memory of chicken. NOT VIANDE.


Singularly without incident. Words written on Great Belgian Novel: 0 Words written on stupid 140 character messages: 800000.

Check bank balance: €59.

Discuss whether 'juicy bastard' sounds better than 'connard juteux' with my new dinosaur penfriend.

Dinner: Nurofen. Bonne Maman petits pots de crème, which are very tasty indeed. Please send me some free ones Bonne Maman (ha! the delicious irony!). Veuillez m'envoyez des échantillons gratuits.


The CFO takes me for a ride on his shiny red mid life crisis. I squeal like a small primate whenever he goes above 30 mph. Somehow I am conned into paying for more Pokemon cards, which still do not buy me peace. Nothing buys me peace this week. Peace is entirely elusive unless I surrender the laptop to the spawn, a shame since all I wish to do is play peacefully on it. Horns of dilemma very pointy and uncomfortable.

Red Shoes sends me a film of a tortoise having sex with a boot which is impressively disgusting (NO, I am not linking to it, and you should thank me for that. Ask her.). The existence of Holy Tortoise sex tapes makes the idea of a tortoise shrine sadly untenable. We explore the commercial potential of holy mothbastards, but I cannot bear to make them the object of religious devotion, even though suggestion they are 'tiny angels, fallen from Heaven, with dusty wings' is one of evil genius. Regretfully give up on idea of shrine.

The vet syphons all €59 out of my bank account for worming the weepette while the spawn destroy the surgery with great systematic precision.

Dinner: wine, Pringles, Nurofen.


A terrifying yellow orb appears in the sky over Brussels. We assume it is related to the blue brain and try to ignore it. Just as I am about to lose the plot definitively (around lunchtime), I go out in backyard and lie face down on the pebbles with dog and tortoises for an hour. The yellow orb seems to have mysterious healing properties. I no longer feel the need to kill everyone, a pleasing sensation that lasts several hours.

By evening the murderous tendencies are back as the Beast summons me back to its lair five times because the nightlight is not perfectly aligned, I have not said the nightime words in the correct ritual order, the water glass is not in its assigned place and because one of its socks is twisty.

CFO makes dinner. Impressively horrible. Oncle Ben's Microwave rice mixed with AN EGG. Hurl.

Executive summary: No progress, no money, no self-respect, no vitamins.

Please provide an executive summary of your week in a sentence in the comments.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

I didn't think I was posting today, but look

Just to say:

1. I especially loved the bit of today where the Beast chased me through the woods (sounds like a derivative horror film 15 rated by a solemn Simon Bates) shaking its ice cream cone accusingly at me and shrieking NOOOOOON I WANTED THE GLACE AU CHOCOLAT ON MY WAFFLE. Waffle, waffle waffle, waffle echoed round the woods.

2. Searching for six small brown tortoises who enjoy digging in a brown garden full of interesting piles of earth, leaves and organic detritus (an activity which never gets old for me) takes on an extra frisson of excitement now that you might, at any moment, find yourself handling a dog turd.

3. Do not let your existentially troubled six and a half year old read cartoon strips from the 1950s.

Because, quite apart from the constant denigration of water ('pour les poissons!') in favour of le Whisky Soda, characters to whom you have had time to form an attachment (say, an Apache elders called Buzzard, for example) will DIE. DIE, I tell you! From 'une balle dans le dos'. This will be representing pictorially, with the fallen Apache elder slumped next to a cactus. There will be blood. And there you are, right back in the sodding Café Flore with Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus debating whether the inevitability of death renders all life meaningless, or conversely, infinitely precious. When all you really want to do is eat a slice of crappy pizza, take half a temazepam and sleep. Thank a bunch, Bob Morane.

4. However, if he does, introduce him to tektonic tutorials on You Tube and allow yourself to be soothed into a stupor by hatchet faced French youths dancing nonsensically around their grandparents flats/their bedrooms/in front of mirrors. Then because your life is just ridiculous, you might find yourself watching the German equivalent all by yourself. And then, hopefully, you will remember your earlier plan to take half a temazepam and sleep. And you will stop typing and close your browser and go away.

That last bit is important.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Shut up about the damn dog (again)

"This is why I wanted a dog!" I say excitedly to the CFO as we sit, once again, with the dull inevitability of those very set in their ways, in Café Belga.

He looks blank. "Why?"

"So I could do THIS! Sit in cafés with my dog and feed him small snacks!"

Oscar is lying at my feet looking reproachful but elegant, and accepting occasional flakes of pain au raisin. Toddlers keep lurching up and sticking their fingers in his eyes which he seems to enjoy.

"I thought that was when I was dead? When you would wear fur stoles with lots of legs hanging off them, and smell bad, and drink half and half at nine o clock in the morning?"

"Think of this as practice. Anyway, I will need a much smaller and more bad tempered dog to do that properly"

I wanted a dog for as long as I can remember, with the sole goal of sitting in cafés with an espresso and something pleasingly furry at my feet. This is why the weepette makes me so unspeakably happy. However much of a peabrained asshole it is.

However. I was unprepared for many elements of dog ownership. I am reminded of my frankly ill-thought out decision to have a child 'so I could get loads of time off work'. I am not entirely clear what I thought would happen once I had this theoretical child. I suspect I had not really thought of it as a live thing, more as a decorative object that I would place on an occasional table and admire from time to time whilst enjoying my wildly exciting paid free time. Ha! That went well. (Lashes, when you eventually learn to read English in thirty years or so at the current rate, let me say that although you made a very poor ornament indeed, what with the relentless wailing, the insistence on learning to roll jerkily across the floor collecting dust and the smell, we did stare in wonder at you a very great deal, and I wasn't always wondering if I could get to Heathrow while you slept without anyone realising).

Things I did not realise about having a dog

I was prepared to clean up a lot of bodily fluids, which is good, because that is exactly what I have been doing. However, there are other things I was less prepared for.

1. I would never eat unobserved in my own home again. Fuck OFF Oscar. This is my bagel. Seriously, go away. You are not getting any. No. Oh, alright, have this bit of crust. Now go away. What, the bit with loads of melted butter? Argh. Ok, but only if you sod off. Oh, for god's sake, take the whole damn thing, you've sucked all the pleasure out of my breakfast anyway.

2. I would have to make conversation with strangers at 6am. I do not make conversation with my dearest friends at 6am. I can barely muster a death rattle. What could we possibly have to say to each other? We are watching our animaux domestiques defecate. There are no words.

3. Far from my rosy vision of trotting deliciously around the streets swinging expensive paper bags with an obedient furry accessory at my heels, walking Oscar is Living Hell. It is not glamorous. It is not enviable.

First, he attempts to dislocate all joints in my right arm by lurching his disturbingly muscular neck forward in a way that pulls his whole body diagonal. "Heel" I rasp, hopelessly, brandishing snacks. "Heel, you stupid fucker!". He looks up uncomprehendingly and continues, far too fast for me. He is causing irreparable damage to my joints, which were already knackered. We provide comic relief for the innumerable workmen in the area, who lean on their pneumatic drills and laugh openly as the bony twerp drags me in pursuit of an interesting looking shadow.

Next, of course, we must stop at every piece of filth in the neighbourhood, and ideally we must also eat it. I really need surgical gloves to remove the old chewing gum, dead pigeon parts, chip shop nasties from his jaws, but of course I can barely remember my keys.

Finally, there is apparently something inherently ridiculous about Oscar, because he makes men laugh. Women are more merciful, but all the men I pass on the street either smirk, laugh openly, or call him a "ratte".

I cannot even go into the kind of boutiques that would lead me to have expensive paper bags on my arm, because an incontinent weepette is not often allowed. Curses!

4. I would have to demonstrate ceaseless vigilance in defending Oscar from the attentions of Fingers. Fingers loves Oscar very much, but is often to be found "stroking him with my foot" or "not sitting ON him, sitting ABOVE him" or "not cutting his tail off, just trimming the long hairs". I am just waiting for "not crushing his skull with the rolling pin, just giving him a vigorous massage".

5. I would haemorrhage money to the vet, who must be brushing his teeth in Krug. There is nothing WRONG with the dog and yet he has already cost me the price of a pair of Louboutin hot pink Décoltissimos (I do not want these shoes. I am Making A Point. The shoes I actually want are these, but Oscar would have to go to the vet at least once more. Oh yes, I am all about the journalistic accuracy).

6. It would grow so damn FAST. You are three months old, Weepette. I am within my rights to still have a puppy. And yet, here you are, all gigantic and dog like and practising your thousand yard death stare on Fingers and his waffle (yeah, good luck with that, Oscar).

Look! You used to look like this!


7. You would not necessarily love me best. This is the hardest blow of all. When I stagger downstairs in the morning I find you sitting, faithful hound style, on the CFO's knee occasionally staring up at him with quiet devotion. You do not look at me like that. You ignore me unless I say "bonbon". Why, Oscar? Why? €650 should buy me unconditional love, damn you!

8. I would become a sad, dog obsessed bastard, drearing on about my dog and alienating everyone I know and love in the process.

Ok, now I shut up about the damn dog.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Bite sized chunks of stupid

All my posts are too long at the moment. Blah blah blah blah gibber gibber. This one will take the form of small but tasty morsels of nothingness.

1. Ask yourself, Delhaize, what would Waitrose do?

Clingfilm should not be next to magazines, Belgian supermarkets. It makes NO SENSE. Take your clingfilm and your aluminium foil and place it somewhere sensible, like perhaps next to the freezer bags. I see straight through your cunning attempts to make me impulse purchase Flair magazine.

2. Things on top of the piano

A shrunken head made from a potato, a make your own sweets kit, my UK credit card (which must be destroyed, as causes many, many problems), a far too hard dinosaur DVD game thing Linda Grant book, a loo roll, a book called The Bellini Card, ancient pictures of me in my Sylvia Plath phase, plus one where I am wrapped in a curtain with a lampshade on my head and another where I am thrashing Rachel Poole in the beanbag on head race, an ultra violent comic strip drawn by Lashes' friend Talkative featuring someone getting crushed by a 200 tonne weight, bone shaped tripe snacks, 8 miles of cable. 4 mugs. A lint coated slime alien. Lots of sheet music, most of it far too hard for me. Various puzzling Japanese postcards saying things like "I hire the elephant with the red ball. We are going to show someone our daring stunts" and "Even though I look scary I have a tender mind. No doubt about it".

3. Cunning schemes to make my fortune part 817

Working from home has given me ample opportunity to observe the life cycle of the tortoise. It is extremely dull, though restful. I wonder if I should give it a go.

10:00 Wake up

10:30 Eat lettuce

11:00 Have a nap under warm lamp

11:30 Climb over each other

12:00 Nap under warm lamp

12:30 Eat lettuce

13:00 Nap under warm lamp

13:30 Climb over each other

14:30 Bump shell against edge of house repetitively

15:00 Nap under warm lamp

15:30 Fall over

16:00 Eventually right self

16:30 Eat lettuce

17:00 Nap under warm lamp

17:30 Bump shell against edge of house repetitively

18:00 Bed

Given the ardour with which the world observes the lifestyle and diet of the ancients of Okinawa, I think I could write a bestseller based on the secrets to longevity, tortoise style. "Tortoises don't get Botox" perhaps. We will draw a veil over any penis based revelations. Or, save them for the follow up, "Tortoises don't need genitals".

I do not think, however, a book based on the lifestyle of the weepette would have much success, except as perhaps a companion volume to Skinny Bitch. It could be called Bony Twerp, and would detail the healthgiving properties of running in smaller and smaller circles until you fall over, eating tissues (Anorexics do that don't they? So does the weepette. Hmm), bumping into things and becoming transfixed by pigeons.

5. Where was my sponsor in my hour of need?

I bought a dress today. That was a bad thing. The dress, however, is a very good thing. Wait, let me go and take its picture. It is The Same as All the Other Dresses. I will demonstrate.

Old dress

Newer dress

Today's dress (Vanessa Bruno. The detail around the neck reminded me of an ancient Swiss cotton vest I inherited from my mum and still love):

Because, you never know. One day there may be a world shortage of black silk dresses with bows on.

6. The ugliest dinner ever or why if you ever come to stay, we're getting a takeaway

The CFO came home and said "mm! Something smells good!" as he walked in the house. When he saw this, he recoiled in horror and refused all nourishment. I can quite see why.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

In which I am a fickle bastard. Maybe even a bigamist.

I have just been assuming that you all know we moved to Brussels because of me.

You would know, because I always assume you live in a corner of my head and therefore know everything about me. This gives you a tiny glimpse into the CFO's world, where he is expected, magically, by osmosis, to know what I am thinking at all times. If I say "not Tuesday", suddenly, one Saturday morning, him must know that I am referring to a conversation about when the plumber can come that we had last Tuesday night. I imagine psychiatrists have a name for this syndrome, where I expect the outside world to keep apace with my convoluted internal dialogues. Maybe, "fucking crazy".

Where were we? Oh yes. So. In a great act of empathy, I thought I should actually tell you that. We moved to Brussels in the summer of 2006 because I accepted a job here. I was just coming out of my Mad Period of sick leave from work, wandering round London, drinking too much coffee, going to group therapy and buying loads of thin clothes (that no longer fit and are being gradually sent across to Red Shoes), when one of the flesh eating zombies at my old job mentioned the position. I seized on it instantly, even though we had only been back from Paris for just over a year and we had just shelled out - in flagrant violation of my principles - a stupid amount of money to send Lashes to some basement private school in the City for posh trogolodytes with a nonsensical uniform the prospect of which was causing me physical pain. Shorts! A cap! Urgh.

I don't know why it seemed so appealing. We were living somewhere pretty wonderful (Spital Square, one of the only corners of the City of London that is actually lively at the weekend, and an easy walk to work for both of us). We both had good (boring) jobs, and despite my period of frothing craziness, my employers seemed committed to keeping me, which was nice of them. We had friends. But moving to Brussels, even so suddenly, seeming like the absolute right thing to do, for some reason. I mean, not having to send my children to a private school full of bankers' kids was obviously part of it. We both liked the idea of being somewhere that was neutral, where neither of us had to shoulder the administrative burden as a 'native', and take the blame for everything that went wrong. We wanted our kids to actually speak some French (ha - hollow laughter, now I want them to speak some damn English). But more than that, I do love Brussels. I first worked here when I was twenty, so it's the place I associate with some of my first 'grown up' experiences and freedoms. I love the architecture, and the bars, and hearing eight different languages in the queue for a sandwich. I love that we can afford a house I adore here, with a small garden. I love that this place is so laidback compared with Paris, so laidback, indeed, that it's like comparing marshmallow with cactus.

So, I got the job, mainly because they felt sorry for me, I think. The CFO gritted his teeth and agreed that it was a good idea to move before the children started school. I ran backwards and forwards on the Eurostar for 3 months schizophrenically trying to do two jobs at once AND buy a house, and eventually, we moved (third international move in as many years, not recommended). I promised the Belgian state that I would keep the CFO out of trouble and pay repatriation fees if I couldn't. He persuaded his employers to let him set up a Belgian operation (he is very persuasive). Happy end.

But now? Who is homesick? I am. I am so damn homesick ALL THE TIME. Not for England. England can sod off. For London. Oh, London. I miss you so. It's true love, because I miss the bad bits too. I miss the smell of you and the rudeness of the number 52 bus drivers who drive past the stop without stopping and cackle at you and old copies of Metro and horrible cups of Benjys tea lying around in the Tube and the crazy tapdancing man outside Pantheon Marks and Spencers. I miss the Barbican tunnel, which is disgusting, and the Old Street roundabout which is amazingly ugly. I even miss Liverpool Street Tesco on a Saturday night full of crazy drunks. I almost miss Camden Council's parking permit office. We have been here before, haven't we? Sorry. But I have to get out my Oyster card and stare at it with mute longing from time to time. When people (or 'lucky bastards' as they are in my head) make an offhand remark about somewhere they are going, or something they are doing in London, I make them give me every detail with near pornographic thoroughness, from what they will see and eat and do, to how they are getting there, to which streets they will walk down. I am craving London*. I want to be there so much it hurts at the moment.

I still love Brussels, don't get me wrong. I love the surreal, blue brain, orange rabbit element. I love the green spaces with creatures to poke and amazing, curlicued houses; the ice creams for breakfast and coffee at Au Vieux St Martin. I love the fact that the man in the menders was so kind today when I told him I had lost the ticket for my trousers, and that I had brought them in in December. I am getting used to seeing people I know everywhere, and the local policeman knowing exactly what our garden looks like (it's still weird though). It's a gentle, forgiving place to live in the main and I like that.

I think I am a bigamist. Bugger.

(*Things I am not craving, however: strident posh parents in organic farmers' markets, the Daily Mail, Boris Johnson's fat oafish face, the evil hags at Rigby & Peller, Greggs pasties, the Scientologists on Tottenham Court Road, the Disney Store, Leicester Square on a Friday night, trying to see popular exhibitions, the Rainforest Cafe, or the Science Museum on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Other suggestions welcomed).

Monday, 16 March 2009

In which the Beast is back

Fingers wishes to send me to an early grave at the moment. He would not express it quite like that, I imagine. He probably wouldn't say anything, he would just stare blankly in mute defiance whilst feeding the dog a battery.

I don't talk about Fingers as much as Lashes, do I? That will be one for his psychiatrist to try and unknot in a few years time at my expense. I think about him quite as much, if not more, but in general our relationship is very serene, and rarely causes me much anxiety. He is funny and self-assured and stable. I think he's fundamentally All Right. What do you know about Fingers, so far? He is five and he believes he is a parrot. He is extremely secretive, orderly and verging on obsessive compulsive; an odd mix of exuberant and very, very careful. What I have not told you in that on occasion he is replaced by a shrieking satanic demon. The Beast.

This first happened when he was 11 months old. From one day to the next, our cheery blond baby learnt the art of the screaming rabid tantrum, coupled with rhythmic banging of his head against the nearest hard surface. For about a year thereafter he was unbearably cross - attacking his brother, hurling himself to the floor at the least imagined slight, terrorising his peers. The CFO and I were aghast at the monster we had created, if not entirely surprised. We combine a fine set of argumentative, bloody minded, stubborn, aggressive genes. They were bound to come back and bite us.

I was quite scared of him for most of that time, and we were only able to function at all if I made myself permanently available to appease his moods with Carrs Melts whenever the imperious cry of "CRACKER WAITING" rang out. We were living in an open plan flat at the time and the Beast would stagger menacingly over to the kitchen, wrap its small fists round the handles of the biscuit cupboard, fix me with a hard stare and terrify me into submisssion. If thwarted, the Beast's rages were earth-shattering. Often I would lock myself in the loo and call the CFO for moral support as the Beast raged outside the door. This was also the year he perfected 'The Ironing Board', a move he still uses to great effect, making himself flat, rigid and unmoveable on demand. This replaced the headbanging shortly after his mistaken attempt to headbang in the bath. Cue glug glug glug noise, look of intense furious confusion, great adult hilarity.

Somewhere around his second birthday, the fury subsided and the Beast was replaced with a funny small child with gigantic hair. He still had an almighty mutinous streak, and I treated him with a hell of a lot more respect now I knew what he was capable of, but acts of outright war seemed to dry up. Cautiously, we got on with living. I no longer needed to have a cracker in easy reach at all times.

Since then the Beast has meandered in and out of our life with great unpredictability. Right now, it is back. This weekend the Beast tried to cut Oscar's tail off with a very small pair of scissors. Later the same day, I heard muffled noises and came into the room to find the Beast sitting, implacable, on a struggling weepette. "FINGERS!" When taken to task, the Beast goes mute and indifferent. It shows no remorse. You will not hear the word 'sorry' pass the Beast's lips. Rather death than dishonour.

The Beast rivals Kafka in its sinister absurdity. Yesterday I made chicken. The same chicken I usually make.

"I will not eat this" intoned the Beast, thrusting its plate away with exaggerated disgust. "It is viande. I am waiting until you give me chicken".

"It IS chicken, Fingers".

"No, it is viande".

"It's chicken, I promise. I cooked it. It said chicken on the packet. It's chicken".

"No. It is viande. I am waiting for chicken".

Against my better judgment, the CFO muddied the waters.

"Chicken is viande". Fool.

"No. This is viande. I am waiting for chicken".

"Look Fingers. Look on this plate. That looks like chicken doesn't it? Well, that is where your chicken came from"

"That is viande. It is all viande. I am waiting for chicken".

"Shackass. Can you deal with this? He's beaten me. I'm going to lie on the floor of the loo and practise whale song".

He could rival an on-message politician on Newsnight in his single minded determination to be right. The Beast has a will of steel, and is willing to go to bed rather than eat "viande". If I am Neville Chamberlain faced with the Beast, always looking for the face-saving solution, the CFO is not. He fights wilful with wilful. Mexican standoffs are the norm. There is roaring. There are ultimatums. The house resounds with the menacing strains of "Je vais compter jusqu'à trois", a phrase the Beast interprets as a declaration of war, requiring full Ironing Board manouevre. The Beast is manhandled to its bedroom, fighting all the way, hooking its cloven hooves through the bannister and hanging on for grim life to impede our progress. It retires bloody but unbowed, unsullied by the demon viande. The adults require hard liquor.

Again, this morning.

"Fingers, cornflakes or Rice Crispies?"


"No, you can't have biscuits for breakfast. What do you want?"


"No. Not biscuits. What cereal do you want?"




"Shackafuckingjezusemann I need a cup of tea. Call me when you want your breakfast"


"Then what?"

"Papa cereal"

"We don't have any. Rice Crispies or Cornflakes?"

"I am waiting until you get me papa cereal [ndlr Chocolate Weetabix Minis, rare and precious. None left.]"

"We don't have any. It's 7 in the morning. The only place they sell papa cereal is 4 miles from here".

"Lashes can go. I am waiting until you get me papa cereal"

"YOU ARE NOT GETTING PAPA CEREAL. What do you want for breakfast?"


"RIGHT. If you don't want to eat you can put your clothes on"


"YES". Emma attempts to carry the Beast up to its bedroom in full Ironing Board. The Beast writhes and shrieks and hooks its arms and legs around stuff to impede her progress. By the time they get up two flights of stairs, everyone is exhausted. It is 7am.

In an odd way, I sort of like the Beast. I like the way the Beast does whatever it damn well wants. Look how small it is!

Often I look down while the Beast and I are locked in mortal combat and I am just astonished by how small it is. Small but deadly like one of those Honey Badgers. Lovely Beast. I am giving you a cautious pat, wearing thick protective gloves.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

I am a musical moron

I did not post yesterday, and only the truly OCD can understand the trauma that is causing me. Nooo! Voices in my head have been insistently whispering to me that this constitutes Failure, and moreover it may mean that I never have anything even moderately amusing to say again ever, and I might as well go down the bottom of the garden (which, given the size of the garden, will take me 1/100 of a second) and eat worms. Or dog shit. Or both. Or slugs, which are like the bastard offspring of worms and dog shit.

Let us assume that is true for a minute. Not the slug bit. There's enough science nerdery around here without me hypothesising about slug evolution. (Like, this morning, conversation in the car was about whether the Earth or the Sun came first after the Big Bang. Who gives a shit? Has Madonna had a brow lift, or just fillers? Can I afford another Sonia skirt?) That I am a spent husk and have nothing else to say. That lets me off the hook and I can be a boring bastard today and just deal with one of the memes I have been ignoring. The voices are telling me very insistently at this point that I am Selling You Short! Again! But I will soldier on. I have only negotiated an hour hiding from the gardening apocalypse that I can hear taking place beneath me, so I must press on.

Mrs Jones asked me this question.

Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world.

There are NO albums like this in my life. The older I get, the less I want to listen to music, and as the CFO will testify, the wrong music at the wrong time (arbitrarily decided by me) is like unglazed pottery scraping across my soul. I am a freak. Also, I really like silence. Mmm. Silence. It is such a rarity. I do not come from a loud family. For ten years it was just me and Mum, and after a couple of years of the Space Cadette shrieking like a rabbit in a trap, we returned to companiable silence, each in a corner of the house with a book (and the Space Cadette probably out saving whales or babies or trees or giving her clothes to beggars something). Now, to my eternal bewilderment, I live in a loud family. Everyone must speak simultaneously or the world will stop spinning on its axis. Everyone must have the last word, and if the word can be shouted, bellowed or shrieked, all the better. Also, why say something once quietly when you could roar it until your head threatens to fall off? I am sitting on my bed and you would not BELIEVE the cacophony from downstairs. My ears are permanently bleeding.

Uh, where was I? Got distracted. This happens a lot, what with the Mamaaaaaaan woof woof Shackass Bordel de chien Je vais compter jusqu'à trois il m'a poussé waaaaaah mamaaan??? And of course, here comes a child, wishing to sleep quietly with me (ha! ha!) because an hour alone is too much to ask.

Music. Yes. I no longer seek it out and 90% of what the CFO would choose to listen to is aural torture for me for one reason or another. Does this make me fucked up? Probably. But Everything But the Girl, Squarepusher, Chopin Nocturnes IN THE MORNING make me physically ill. Sorry.

So I had to cast my mind way back when music was actually important and exciting to me to think of any albums that made any kind of impression. And even then, it's more about what the moment in time than the music. These aren't my favourite albums, but the minute I hear them (in several cases never because they've sunk without trace) they take me to somewhere utterly specific.

1. Voice of the Beehive - Let it Bee

My god, I listened to parts of this again on YouTube today and it took me right back to being 13, but the good bits (probably about 4% of the total of being 13). I can even tell you it must have come out in the summer, since I associate it with the merciful summer uniform of blue skirt, rather than the cruel winter maroon kilt. We listened to this (on Natural History field trips, in pottery class, in my bedroom) until the tape wore out again and again. It's still quite listenable in a bouncy daft pop fashion. And the outfits! That whole polka dot, tulle, full skirt, black opaques thing they're wearing on that video? It got its claws into me early and hard. I still love it.

2. Bob Marley - Legend

This was our car album growing up (looooong tedious journeys to a field somewhere, Prog Rock with his one legged glasses and a those strange floury sweets that come in round golden tins, with one of us inevitably being sick. I have the dubious claim to fame of having been sick on a live guinea fowl once), and we still have it in the car now. It's the album of long journeys en famille, and better than most at making the bitter recriminations over who was supposed to bring the camera/map/passports dissipate. We had No Woman No Cry at my mum's funeral and it was beautiful and gentle and right. It didn't even make me think of vomiting out of the window of a Citroen BX somewhere in the Scottish Highlands once. I couldn't listen to it for a couple of years after that, but I've got past that now and it's back in the car.

3. Colourblind James Experience - The Colourblind James Experience

Another one I haven't even thought about for years, but all the lyrics came right back to me as soon as I did. This one is from my chin stroking, NME reading, desperately serious muso phase (ages 14-17). It is so obscure that there isn't a single clip on YouTube. Anyway. The music is sort of demented circus Cajun and the lyrics are weird as fuck but I used to love it. It's hardly seminal and isn't associated with any pivotal moments in my life. Um, remind me what I am doing again? Oh yes. But it does remind of actually being fascinated by music, treating ugly black band tshirts like the Turin Shroud and reverently recording every single utterance of John Peel. The other option would have been Shonen Knife, but the bastard boyfriend who chucked me in the Kings Arms pub in York kept it, so I don't remember it quite as well. Asshole.

4. William Sheller - Sheller en Solitaire
Ah, this represents my "Oh god I'm miserable my life is complex and agonised and HAVE YOU NOTICED? I LISTEN TO FRENCH MUSIC because I am unutterably cultured and exotic" phase at Oxford. Especially this song. Gah. I'd rather rip my ears off than listen to it now. I find myself at this age thoroughly ridiculous in hindsight, though I know it was no joke at the time. I should be a little more charitable with my 20 year old self. It's hard being that age and having a gloomy Frenchman living in your cupboard as you try and write a 25 page essay on Henry II in a day that will be dismissed as trite.

5. Joni Mitchell - Blue
This is my mum's album and as a result it's my childhood album. Every track is full of her. There were a couple of 70s female chanteuse type things in a similar vein she listened to a lot. I could have picked Dory Previn's Mythical Kings and Iguanas but then I looked at the clips and they scared the holy crap out of me. That is a hell of a hair/glasses combo. She'll be chasing me through my dreams tonight. Or Janis Ian. But Joni, I actually still love. She has a fantastic voice and Carey is one of my favourite songs ever. Also the introduction to California. Ah, all of it really. Hippy scum that I am.

6. Cerys Matthews - Cockahoop
I listened to this in labour with Fingers. It's a very short album. It was a very short labour - only 2 hours, enough time to listen to Cerys, walk down Tottenham Court Road wincing, get to the hospital and have him (with only time for a brief comedy interlude with a suppository and a medical student, and a brief ER moment when his shoulder got stuck and suddenly 800 people were barrelling down the corridor carrying scalpels and the like. Thankfully averted by immensely cunning midwife.). Funnily enough, in labour with Lashes (late at night, that one) I listened to John Peel. I like this track best on Cockahoop, though I can't really listen to it at the moment. It's another album I associate with my mum, from our last holiday in Dorset, July 2003, when I told her I was pregnant again, and also nearly drowned on Burton Bradstock beach. Cerys Matthews has of course now lost any shred of edginess or mystique she ever had after going on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and dating Gianni de Marco from Eastenders. Fie, Cerys! Fie! Fie!

I have to stop now. I have totally overrun my allotted hour, shouted at Fingers and left Lashes to deal with the Jehova's Witnesses. I encourage you to do this (the album thing, not leave your six year old to reason with two spookily polite young people intent on telling you how the octopus beak is proof of a divine creator). Stick one in the comments and tell me why. It was oddly poignant. Unfortunately now I REALLY want a tulle polka dot skirt but no longer have the legs for it.

Because this post is pretty crappy, I am giving you a bonus quote much favoured by Mr Ross, the Quaker school French teacher who had a nervous breakdown after 2 months trying to teach Tricolor to children called Seth and Silas in hand knitted jumpers with pictures of pigeons on. Those are the ones you need to look out for, Mr Ross. I bet Alfred de Vigny could have taught you a thing or two about the perils of shaggy haired children in handknits. He used to mutter it to himself as the blond twins who spoke their own special language performed ritual sacrifices at the back of the class.

"Seul le silence est grand, tout le reste est faiblesse".

I think it's a bit portentous and crap, but tonight after 18 hour aural assault, I kind of see where he was coming from.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Me? Oh, nothing special

When the CFO comes home tonight, and asks me what I have been up to, I will have nothing to say. Because I can't really see myself saying the following:

Well, first darling, I accepted a very silly, hysteria inducing childish online dare from Mrs Trefusis that will probably get me into heaps of trouble. No, I'm not telling you any more about it, because you'll shout at me. Then I spent a lot of time researching the dare and putting it into action. If I allow it to, it will probably suck up most of my time for the next week or so, and you will hear me childishly snickering from the back room as you watch tv. That will be annoying, won't it?

Then I worked on my dare from We Are Dinosaurs (have meeting on corridor of ennui with inflatable dinosaurs, etc.). Oscar is far from impressed with the dinodog outfit.

We are going to have to do a lot better. Also, did you throw those inflatable dinosaurs away? Because I need them.

UPDATE: And then, the dinosaurs said it wasn't good enough and he needed a tie, so we used your blue Mulberry one. Hope that's ok.

How did we keep him still? Oh, parma ham.

You don't wear it often, do you?

I also entirely failed to follow through on the sentence you imposed on Lashes this morning, that if he stayed off school with "sore throat" he must spend the day in bed. I mean, seriously? You can't say that unless you're the one who has to enforce it. No fair! After the ninety eighth pathetic fluting query as to whether the morning was over, I cracked. So yes, while I wrote a piece of nonsensical fluff about why I need a robot double which will probably earn us about €11, he had tv. Even though he's almost certainly faking and seems fine and was mostly worried about his dictée. Lunch? He had Pringles, 4 chocolate biscuits, a few grapes and some gummy worms. I ate your flan. Sorry. We had lots of fun watching Oscar roll a grape around the house though. You should really try it.

After that, we did Lashes' homework and he was pretty rubbish, but somehow I ended up agreeing to buy him a rare Pokemon card if he read 10 sentences. He did. So we tried to buy the card, but you wouldn't BELIEVE how expensive it was, so I am sort of hoping he forgets, which is never going to happen. So I am pretty much screwed.

What's that? I obviously haven't washed, I'm wearing the trousers of death and no bra? Yeah. That's right. I have no pants on and I haven't brushed my teeth either, actually, because I kept thinking I'd have time to wash, but I was too busy with the stupid dares. It was fun though! Who needs to wash?

Dinner? Um, no idea. Shall we see if there's anything in the freezer? Or, um, there's a tin of tuna I think. Or pizza? Cheese on toast? Can I just leave you to it? I have to see if I can find the dinosaurs.

How was your day, darling?

But the great thing is, today the CFO went to buy a motorbike, so he won't care.

What are you hiding from your loved ones tonight?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Memo: phrases that all readers must use this week

I am partially recycling this from Twitter because it needs a bigger audience than the fourteen people who can bear to hear endless stories of my goddam stupid dog all day, every day. I disapprove of myself in strong, lip pursing terms for doing this. Sorry. But we must all adopt these phrases. It is my will, and I am the Waffle.

The Empress is tired. You must leave her now.

This should be used when talking about oneself in the third person. I consider it to be gender neutral, despite the designation "Empress". I have been fantasising all day about saying this to the CFO, the children, and then, later, at work.

"Qu'est-ce qu'on mange?"

"The Empress is tired. You must leave her now."

"My Torterra is stuck on level 24 and I'm in a cave and I can't find the magic Pokéball and Fingers keeps trying to press BUTTOOOOOONS! Wah!"

"The Empress is tired. You must leave her now."

"Have you finished updating the Cartels Manual Emma?"

"The Empress is tired. You must leave her now."

Not as good as I look

Used in response to question "How are you?".

This was the signature phrase of a tremendously haughty German graduate student called Raphaël at the freak farm for dweebs that passed for my higher education. He did a nice line in complex scarf knotting and rimless glasses and jewel coloured cashmere jumpers. Clearly, this phrase must be uttered with great, weary conviction and a slight, drooping flutter of the fingers to indicate inner trauma. If you can affect a slightly clipped German accent, all to the good.

Ham Lady

This one comes courtesy of the spawn, who insist that this is how to say "I'm ready" (courtesy of their English prononciation tutor, Luigi from Mario Party 8). Ham lady! It's up there with my favourite English mispronounced word, "claws", which must be pronounced "close".

"Will you cut the children's close?"

"Ham lady!"

Ok? Ok. Good.

Legs, the mystery object, ceaseless drilling

Thank you all for yesterday. I am currently dressed, and not in the M&S trousers of shame, which finally went beyond the pale on a trip to the parc du caca this morning, but in an APC black mini (too short, but only Oscar can see that), clean tights with only one visible hole, black smock top thing (I know, very 2007. But so forgiving) black Pierre Hardy patent Gap flats (Outrageously comfortable. Wonder if his 'proper' shoes are too?) with interesting clump of mud on the side. I have brushed my teeth and eaten some fruit. No make up or moisturiser but it's a start, right? And when I moved a pile of papers to think about paying some bills, I found an unread copy of Grazia. Fortune favours the brave, you see.

Better still, Grazia has revived my waning interest in comparative cellulite studies with its entirely believable claim "Thinner thighs in nine minutes!". The answer lies not, as one might imagine, in a shark mauling, but in Adonia LegTone Serum. I have had a crisis of faith in the fanciful claims of fat eating cream manufacturers recently, and a brand new and very medical looking set of phials and syringey looking things from Clarins in the window of Paris XL (crap name for Belgian Sephora-alikey) barely merited a cursory glance. But this comes with all the kinds of nonsensical pseudo scientific nonsense I love and convincing Before and After pictures of mottled real life thighs. Marvellous! I am Very Keen. What with this, plus Mothership turning me on to the apparent magic of Latisse *(not a type of pastry, but a magical product to make eyelashes out of nothing), perhaps the wilderness years of cosmetic doubt are coming to an end?

Enough of that. Competition time! Well, quiz time. I'm not promising a prize because I usually forget, and what with the Post Office phobia, the chances of me delivering on any such promise are slim. Grit's advent prize got returned to me after the bottle of gin broke in transit and the remains are still sitting here, reproachful and gin stained, in a jiffy bag.

Question: What is this? And what should I do with it?

Here, another view for scale (and gratuitous weepette action for Liberty London Girl):

If you all think Oscar's collar is ghastly, I absolutely agree. The weepette breeder sold me it while I was high on puppy crack. 'They need special collars' she told me, supressing a smirk 'because of their small heads'. Riiight. So here we all are with a delightful red pleather collar with small fleur de lys details in flaking gold coloured plastic.

Best answers may or may not win something. Correct answers too. Making me laugh is at a particular premium given that this is the view from my front door right now.

It's like that as far as the eye can see in both directions. We stopped to admire a giant abandoned pneumatic drill this morning on the way to school, and inevitably Damien the corner shop groper lurched by and winked at me suggestively. I pretended not to see.

I might be back later with something else. Who knows? Uncertainty is our daily bread these days. Belgian Waffle is no different.

*This is not an infomercial or a sponsored post, sadly, though clearly my priniciples would melt away faster than orange peel skin if they were to offer me free samples. I am putting the links in purely for your amusement.