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).


justme said...

Bendy buses. You cannot possible crave them!

fabhat said...

Dear Jaywalker,
I spent two months working on a film - first in Birmingham and then in idyllic deepest countryside Wales a few years ago...We got 24 hours off per week, and me and my friend would drive back to London as fast as possible and as soon as we got into London traffic, we would roll down the window and sniff in the fumes like they were perfume. I know how you feel, and bigamy is allowed. Somedays when I have to hump my trolley round town and it's rainy and people are rude and the bus doesn't stop and people tut at me and I'm late for everything - I hate it. Today, when the sun is shining and the trolley has been carried by helpful gentlemen (chivalry is not dead) and the sun is shining and the fumes mix with spring air and green shoots - I love it. I'll send you london porn any day you like...

katyboo1 said...

Hmm. It's a hard one. I miss London too frankly, and I always liked the horrible bits. Although I don't miss the underpass at Hendon Central at all if that helps.

Buckingham Palace was always a bit crap too I thought. Sort of ruined a quite nice part of town.

I'm going next weekend. Do you want details? London, not Buckingham Palace.

Mrs Jones said...

And don't forget the best view in the world, from Waterloo Bridge at night. Heaven.

Anonymous said...

You can't miss Heathrow, you really can't.

Anonymous said...


South Kensington tube station and the tunnel leading to the museums at any time in a school holiday (child trampling) or London Fashion Week (self loathing).

The Circle Line

Walking home thinking 'is this the night I get mugged?'

Knowing that I have no business being in a)Bond Street or b) Hoxton, and c) hating myself for the fact that I know these things (in other cities can get away with it due to being 'foreign'. Or at least I like to think so).

The wind in the tube tunnels which messes up my hair.

Borough Market, Shepherds Bush Market, Prince Charles Cinema, the fact that Bar Italia is a Pulp song, that nobody notices (or tries not to) if I cry on the tube.

Although on balance, I do rather like it here.

wv: embliesq
what a lovely word!

Mya said...

I miss Columbia market, curries on Brick Lane,well dressed people, conversations with tube nutters, clean pavements (relatively), the V&A,statues everywhere,policemen that leave you alone, corner shops that burn joss sticks, supermarkets with good lighting,wedding cake houses,orderly queues,live music in shitty venues.

Don't miss, getting stabbed,gunged up lungs, too many people with miserable faces,annoying cyclists.

Mya x

Anonymous said...

To help you:
dislikes: the weird cloud/fog that seems to live over london, but not say, Reading.

I've suddenly become homesick for Australia, where I only lived for several years. Have started watching Home & Away and Neighbors for the first time, ever, in order to feel more like I'm there. Despite both being set in wrong part of Oz & being soaps, I've found the accents, sun & beaches v. soothing. I went to Brighton to try to get beach-time, but didn't do it for me. Maybe I need sand?

Grit said...

i promise to post the picture of the giant apple core on display at the tate modern. i am moved to say only one thing. twaddle. but maybe you will like it.

La Belette Rouge said...

So Paris is like a cactus and Brussles is a marshmallow? Yikes, I may be loving the wrong city.

Parisgirl said...

I'm right with you and pining for London.

Things I miss:
City parks
Parks with swings
Parks with ducks and grass you're allowed to sit on.
The Thames at Greenwich
Kensington High Street
DIY shops
Battersea Power Station
London clothes' shops
Thai and Indian restaurants
Meals with vegetables.

Things I don't miss:
Oxford Street at any time
The Northern Line
Public transport (or lack thereof) on Sundays
Bugaboo prams (particularly on public transport)
Undrinkable red wine in pubs and wine bars served in glasses containing one third of a bottle.

I could go on...all night!

monk said...

I'm trying really really hard.

I've yet to come across an Underground station that smells of waffles. Or one that plays Ace of Base at 8am.

Nor have I found a chip van in London that will offer you 'cheese crack' with your fries and unidentified meat object. One day I will be drunk and accept and know the time has come to leave Brussels

Expat mum said...

I'm the opposite. I get terribly homesick for England (after 19 years) but not London. I think I've had enough of big cities to be honest. While I love being able to walk everywhere here in Chicago (and the kids walk to school), I would like to be away from everyone for a while. Oh wait - that would be a vacation by myself. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

I know just how you feel. I live in Paradise, California and yet I sometimes miss London so much I could weep and think nostalgically of clubs and bars and how life was often completely different by 10pm than it was at 10am.
But then I remember the traffic on the Old Kent Road and small island mentality and am confused.
WV. exami

Anonymous said...

I miss London too. Unfortunately, I can't pop over for a quick visit. It is so far away. Sob. The thing is. I made the husband and all the children agree to sell our house in oz and move there a couple of years ago - and then I moved them all back here when I got pregnant and couldn't bear to have an NHS birth. It was all about my whims. I am the ultimate bigamist. I suck.

Jules said...

London that was really a lovely place to be..;D

Liberty London Girl said...

Okay. going to cry as I sm so homesick. Eurgh, LLGxx

Helen Brocklebank said...

Not that I ought to rub salt into the wound, but do you remember how lovely the south bank looks when you leave the National theatre and you look up and down the river and see buildings from just about every architechturally important period of the last 500 years. And there's something glorious about hungerford bridge now they've done it up, even though Mr T would disagree because he thinks london sucks. And standing in the members bar of Tate Modern, looking out towards St Pauls over the millenium bridge. And the odd pre-reformationstreet names in the city, like Paternoster Row and Avemaria Lane (did you know Gropec*** lane still existed til the 60's had a fit of sensibility). But then, there's no Grand Place.... X
WV 'emidst' does that mean one's emotional core is always located in the middle of somewhere else: a place nowhere?

Anonymous said...

I feel for you - it one of the hazards of moving around. I still have my London tube pass in my wallet and I moved here in 1987. But having ping-pong from Brussels to UK and back in the intervening years, it seems that wherever you are you miss elements of the other place strongly. I'm saving up for a tiny flat in London so I can run over for a fix more regularly. At least here, when you get really homesick, you can just hop on the train. The streets of Uccle will never be the streets of London.

Asitis said...

Hmmm, very Johnson-esque. Perhaps a visit is required.

Waffle said...

Just me - well, no, but I don't mind them particularly either.

fabhat - ok baby, well I want you to walk veeeeerrry slowly down Mount Street, stopping at every shop and describing it to me. Sigh. That was supposed to sound pornographic, but it just sounded weird. Sorry.

Katyboo - yes, do please. Do agree about Buckingham Palace. Pointless. Spoils the park.

Mrs Jones - yes, yes! Used to be especial treat on getting off Eurostar. You're killing me.

Mud - ok, good point well taken.

Halfwaythere - oh, yes, or Fulham or Kings Road where I always feel totally out of place. So true about foreigners. Know lots of australians who live in parts of London I would not have felt worthy of...

Mya - oh, so yes on the supermarket one; why must Carrefour have such suicide inducing shop fittings/lighting?

Anon - best excuse ever for watching Home & Away..

Grit - oh, please do.

Belette - ah, but Paris very beautiful, elegant, romantic cactus. Brussels grey marshmallow.

Parisgirl - ah, the dreaded "pelouse au repos". Getting flashbacks to Parc Monceau..

Monk - thanks, that did actually help slightly. And I had two boterwaffelen, which was nice. Lot of Rolling Stones in metro at moment, I note.

expat mum - don't cry. One day it will happen (I have to believe)

Mothership - is hard. Even more for you with sun and beaches and WHALES (bitch). Aren't you supposed to be skiing?

Ali - oh, god, you'll end up like my Uncle John, emigrating back and forwards from Oz to UK ten times...

LLG - don't cry, sweetest. We'll get there soon. Have a whoopie pie. And some good sushi, though perhaps not together.

Mrs T - oh, yes, as history geek girl I LOVE those parts of city, esp all the crazy places the Wesley brother preached, and the burial ground near Finsbury Circus.

BathBun - are you in Uccle too (stupid name)? Will they ever stop digging the streets up? High proportion of elderly ladies with shopping trolleys confirms emphatically not London.

Asitis - oh yes. very much required.

Cassandra said...

WATCHA!!! Late to the party, as always. The west end!!! Soho and Covent Garden!!! THEATRELAND!!! Take me back, baby. Have just mentioned you in my new post. (Also, in west London, Julie's wine bar in Holland Park, just across the road from The Cross - FAB).

Anne said...

Bet you're not missing the flat cap and shorts. Further bet you are not missing the working mother guilt which hangs over England (you are not there when your child returns from school? HE WILL BE PSYCHOTIC) and seems not to be much of a feature of Belgium (you are not there when your child returns from school? Good, much better that you should be out drinking coffee with your friends somewhere near the Sablon).

Anonymous said...

I have been away for so long! Sorry, I didn't mean to go back to lurking, bad internettiquette, moving offices and no home broadband are my excuses.

Oh, what can I say about London Town...I've lived here eleven years and love it very much, like a faithful lover who only fancies New York in a work-crush kind of way and would never actually make a move (or so I tell myself). But it's mainly unadulterated love, honest.

I love Stoke Newington on a weekend, all the parks, the Regent's canal, free museums, the Tate (both), the brilliant restaurants, the beigel bakery at the top of Brick Lane, all the glorious old Victorian gin palaces in the east end, soaking in one of said palaces all Sunday. That sort of thing.

However, I cannot agree with justme more - the bendy buses are the DEVIL'S WORK!! Hate hate hate. Also, Shoreditch is a brilliant area ruined by being full of asymmetric twats. Get them out. Plus I would raise almost all of west London to the ground, with the honourable exception of Westbourne Grove and possibly Putney, which I have a soft spot for. Notting Hill, Hammersmith and Ealing can all bugger off.

That should do it.

PS WV is "chorsli", it sounds like an exotic garnish you might get on your sandwich, if you're lucky.

Anonymous said...

That would be "raze" of course.

Stupid English.

Mutter said...

Chantal - I'm glad you would spare Putney, wot with it being my patch. I miss the 22 bus, autumn leaves in the gutter, the Common and its lovely Arts and Crafts church of All Saints tucked away in the corner, walks/bike rides by the Thames down by the boathouses and along to Barnes, Petersham Nurseries and the meadows (does that still count as London?), theatre, old buildings and low rise buildings with green spaces in between.
I don't miss the cold nor the fact that it takes at least an hour to get to see friends on the other side of town.

Anonymous said...

I miss London, all of the things mentioned as well as Patisserie Valerie and Daunt Books on Marleybone High Street and Miss Selfridges on Oxford Street and pre-made Indian food in Tesco's and decent Indian food and the Singing Tree (if it is still there - the worlds greates dollhouse shop). And Skin II and High Street Kensington and Camden and Portobello Markets. And Boots and chemists who mix up lotions for you and this lovely ancient dermatologist who I used to "consult" on Harley Street.

I miss DC too, that is my real bigamy, as I can visit it much easier and everyone section holds some memory and association.

Mrs Jones said...

I love the ancient history of the place and the fact that I know Saxons lived in places that are now Covent Garden, the Sainsburys Wing of the National Gallery and St-Martins-in-the-field, and I used to work in an office at 35 Vine Street, EC3N that had a section of the Roman London Wall running through the basement. And I used to work in Fleet Street where, in my lunch break, I could visit Temple Church (founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century), wander up to Dr Johnson's House and finish with a G&T in Ye Olde Cock Tavern, one of London's oldest and narrowest pubs. I LONG for a house in the country and a pied a terre, or even just a studio flat, in Covent Garden or Soho. Perhaps when I win the lottery...

bonnie-ann black said...

JW: totally understand how you feel. i love and loathe parts of new york with the same intense feelings.

it's a funny thing, but i have noticed that most residents of world-class cities (new york, london, paris, rome [maybe], buenos aires or rio -- the list ends there, i think) tend to think of themselves as residents of that city first, and their country second.

i first came across this phenomena when i went to oxford (my first time in europe). i noticed my fellow classmates from the US, when asked where they were from, would inevitably say, "America" (or the more educated would say "the US" OR "the States."). A New Yorker would always, always say, "New York." as if that explained everything. and it does.

londoners have a similar loyalty i've noticed. and good for them. i love london too, although i haven't been there long enough, i guess, to have developed a fear of physical harm. but then, i don't have fear of physical harm in NYC either.

hope you get back there soon. maryann and i were there in february (where we met up with katyboo and had a great visit. at least, on *our* part we had a great visit.)

Rose said...

What a lovely blog... what a lovely post. Well I am here in London, although admittedly in the not so exciting zone 2 and agree it's wonderful.

Whatever is wrong in my life it's not London's fault and it's always very comforting.

All of those spots are wonderful. Another favourite of mine is walking around St. James' Park and all the streets around there early in the morning when it's virtually deserted except for delivery vans and locals, especially in the summer there is a lovely light and you have time to notice all the eccentric stuff that you normally rush past.

I also happen to love the bus. Although most definitely not the bendy variety.

Waffle said...

Cassandra - oh, yes. And the muffins at muffinskis on Henrietta street. Mmm.

Anne - this is SO TRUE. Best thing about Belgium; I totally agree. Oliver James would have convulsions if he ever came here (which would be fun).

Chantal - hurrah, you are back! Yes, go on, let's raze West London. We will have to rehouse the Bearded One though and he's very difficult.

Wife in HK - I still have the cold. Sob.

Jessker - ooh, the chemists on Wigmore Street are just the BEST aren't they?

Mrs Jones - I sobbed involuntarily at your list, dammit. Hurry up and win lottery.

Bonnie-ann - it's true. It's a component of your identity and an important one, isn't it?

Rose - Hello, and ah, yes. The parks early in the morning are wonderful. One summer job I walked to work across Hyde Park, which was wonderfully soothing.

Make Do Style said...

I think this is a hard one - I'm a south london gal so I list Camden as my number one hell hole! Opps. Boris Johnson is surely enough for you not to want to come back - truly since Ken has gone London is a disorganised mess - who would have thought it!

But then a walk across the hungerford bridge and the view down the thames to St Pauls is a delight. Eating out is expensive and in the main dreadful but the buzz of the London is so wonderful.
I've been no help but you knwo eurostar is a fixer and if you want to get over the 'missing' then walk Oxford street it will drive you Brussels bound in minutes!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, the Bearded One could stay. I would raze the areas around him but leave him a corner shop and a public library (if that's his thing).

I am back, but sadly no longer Belgium-bound - the Australian visitors only stayed three days because - THEY DIDN'T LIKE IT THERE. So we couldn't go out to see them because they stayed with us when they came back. Shackass. I plan a secret summer excursion though - Belgium, I will not give up on you! *shakes fist at sky*

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