Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Albino clawed toad and how to cure bloating

In the absence of anything more illuminating to share with the class (it is Wednesday, after all, the day when Satan roams through Belgium releasing children from school early and requiring them to attend far flung, pointless extra-curricular activities) I thought we could look at today's keywords in a little more detail, and perhaps pair them with the artistic or commercial medium in which they would be best expressed.

"Margaux showed off her voluminous bouquet"

This surely, must be large print romantic fiction, in the Mills & Boon mode. I wonder whether Antonia could incorporate it into her fantasy hard core Mills & Boon fiction project, along with her other treasured phrase, "his icy cold member". I challenge you, Antonia, to do so.

"Dry waffle skin"

I can't decide whether dry waffle skin would make a better pair of medium height, block heeled court shoes, or a better capacious, no-nonsense handbag. Any thoughts?

"Rabbit's milk cheese"

Here we are in an alternative wholefood restaurant run by a bunch of provenance mad food bores. Sustainably sourced rabbit's milk cheese from a Wiltshire smallholding please.

"Penis stump"

Hmm. For some reason I am fixated on this being a good name for a racehorse, but I'm open to other suggestions.

"Belgium fuck the Walloons"

I suppose this might be some form of interpretative modern dance. Or a video installation piece?

"Shiny sardine organ"

I see Shiny Sardine Organ as likely to be a progressive electro-thrash trio. Probably from Leuven, or Maastricht.

"Dog with opposable thumbs Belgium"

This sounds like a dark Belgian fairy tale to me. The people who brought you Moitié de Coq would be quite capable of transforming the happy, edifying tale of a dog who can pick stuff up into a nightmarish dystopian vision.

"Charlotte Gainsbourg clitoris forum"

Obviously this is some kind of on line, edgy celebrity genital discussion group . Or maybe I'm being too literal? I suppose they might be Shiny Sardine Organ's rivals and near neighbours from The Hague?

Ok, now your turn. What ideas do you have for the following, and of course for the title search? If you think I have it all wrong above, do let me know too.

"Tentacle debauchery"

"How to wear your flannel"

"Uncensored yellow dragon"

Monday, 28 September 2009

Dr Capybara speaks

Dr Capybara: he really couldn't care less

I hear your snivelling from over here in my cosy straw lined nest, punks and your feeble squeaks have disturbed my nap. 'Where is the Waffle? She usually posts every day!'.

I don't have time for your puny anxieties, right now. They make a tinny ringing noise in my ears. She is in my Panama City clinic where I am practising a new form of experimental treatment for pathetic whiny punks that harnesses the healing power of kicks in the shins. On this regime I am confident that I will see improvement by tomorrow. As long as the cheque clears.

In the meantime, you may place your feeble problems in the comments box where I will ruminate on them, then spit them out like a particularly tough pampas grass stalk. Now what are you waiting for? Get out of my sight, go on, scram.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Prelapsarian Sunday

Go out, get drunk, have fun. Get two hours sleep. Have a cup of tea. Have a horrible, horrible apocalyptic morning. Have a little cry.


Get in the car. Put spawn in the car. Put weepette in the car. Worry about residual blood alcohol levels. Check number of extant wing mirrors. Exult, secretly, in number of extant wing mirrors.

Drive barely ten minutes through Brussels and arrive somewhere that looks like this:

(I LOVE this place)

Park half on the pavement. Unload children, unload dog.

It's the hippies' special once a year open day. Not only that, in keeping with tradition, the hippies have virtually the best weather of the year. 25° and sunny. Go hippies!

Down the same teeny tiny pathways as the past three years. Push the thought of next year away.

Ooh, this bit is good.

Through the jungle. Watch out for the deadly whitedread snake. Its bite is filled with deadly tofu venom.

Past the accordeonists.

Goodness, two accordeons? How.. piercing. They way they make both my eardrums judder discordantly, shaking my caipirinha sodden brain loose? Special.

Fail to find a polite way to refuse a sardine. Hold a sardine between thumb and forefinger trying to work out how to eat. Assaulted by giant slippery sardine organ on first bite. Gag. Discreetly feed sardine remains to dog.

Show compensatory enthusiasm for pasteis de nata.

Lose weepette in a field as it discovers heretofor deeply buried 'running fast' instinct. Instinct insufficiently developed to prevent weepette from running after, and frightening, horse. Follow the sound of terrified screaming to speedy dwarf dog.

Lose children.

Find children up a tree at a story telling workshop, dropping sweet wrappers into someone's hemp backpack.

Send children off to paint bucolic, hippie friendly scenes.

Lose weepette, lose children. Repeat until overcome. Slink into shady corner away from the jaunty sounds of the tambourine. Children return when they need money. Weepette is eventually escorted back, bedraggled, coated in grenadine syrup and smelling strongly of sardine.

Enjoy, truly.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

In which I need to get a (non-tingly) grip

Health Warning: This piece is intended for light entertainment purposes only. Belgian Waffle does not condone the misuse of psychotropic medicines for cheap thrills. Belgian Waffle is a bit stupid, really. Also, I'm sorry dad, I know this is exactly the kind of post you don't think I should write and you're almost certainly right.

The last week has been moderately to completely chaotic, so I ran out of deliciously crunchy anti-depressants on Thursday and wasn't able to go and get any more. There were always birthday celebrations to fuck up, meetings to be incompetent at, vital pieces of school kit to forget and now, rental properties to go and be bewildered by. The days went by and I still hadn't been to the dusty waiting room of death. There is a - tenuous, admittedly - reason why I am telling you the boring minutiae of my daily life, bear with me if you can.

Because I am having the weirdest withdrawal symptoms. There's the palpitations, whatever, bo-ring. And the galloping anxiety. Blah blah. Breathlessness, yawn. But what I'm REALLY enjoying is the weird fairground ride dizziness. I'll be walking along and suddenly whoooa! Everything is spinning! Sometimes for extra fun I get this bizarre tingling in my right hand. Swimmy weirdness. More tingling! Some of the best bits of today were sitting back to revel in the room swimming. YES. This is how great things are right now; I am enjoying my adverse reaction to Celexa withdrawal. Excellent. I didn't even realise what was going on initially, so I was in that deliciously ghoulish state of wondering if there was something terribly wrong with me for much of the week. I finally googled 'Celexa/Citalopram withdrawal' today and the truth was revealed in long, ungrammatical strings of chat peppered with emoticons, because those are the repository of scientific truth in 2009. I read it somewhere.

Inevitably, relieved gave way aggrieved as I became very envious of some of the other reported symptoms. I want the extremely vivid dreams. AND the "vivid freeze frame sensations". That sounds cool. And how about "brain shaking" and "fireworks"? How come 'Scott1' and 'Bart' and 'JoninDulwich' get them, but not me? No fair.

Today I have finally been to the doctor; I have my pills. She pursed her lips at me and said, bizarrely, "AND it's the autumn. This is all much worse in autumn". I am starting to wonder if she prescribes biodynamically, according to the phases of the moon and the seasons. Maybe that's why we all have to sit in the waiting room for so long? She's taking her cues from the moon? No matter. I have Celexa and no longer need to ride the rollercoaster of slightly crazy inner ear disturbance. But of course now I'm wondering just how it feels to have "someone shaking a box of rice in my head lol ;)". And asking myself, shiftily, whether one more day might be enough to have my very own box of rice shaking head effects.

I should really get out more.

I think next time I'll get the Doctor to write me a special biodynamic prescription for gin and tonic and dancing on tables and shit tv and Real People magazine. She's tremendously holistic you know.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Birthday low jinks

Only a short one after our epic first world problems. Bravo, blogosphère. We are SO unlucky.

Firstly, Mr Houser, my adoptive gay son, has set one of my very favourite keyword searches to beautiful, beautiful montage. I hope it will be the first of a series. I am particularly looking forward to 'tentacle debauchery' or 'albino clawed toad and how to cure bloating'. Over to you, Tom.

Secondly, it is the CFO's 40th birthday today. Probably his weirdest - worst? - ever. God only knows where we'll all be next year but the four of us are most unlikely to spend it together. Happy birthday CFO! Fingers and Lashes have decorated him a selection of garden pebbles. Well, decorated is a big word. Waved some glitter glue in the general direction. I made some shit brownies in an unconscious parallel with last year. It's all been very substandard. But then there is NO direction in the etiquette guides about how one deals with this kind of thing (apart from Mrs Trefusis, who would be the perfect modern Emily Post). We are fumbling our way around here. So he's watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall witter about gremolata and I'm scratching my entire epidermis off, compulsively, like a dog with fleas. Hugh has just said "extracting their horny beaks and pulling off their tentacles". That man is a sick puppy, isn't he? You really don't get that problem with Uncle Ben's Microwave Rice.

If anyone has a hideous birthday story to share, do let me have it. Or, indeed, an inspiring story about winning Nobel prizes and the like after 40. Or even just tortoise photos. We'll take whatever we can get, frankly.

Monday, 21 September 2009

First world problems forum

I want to do something pathetic, but now I can't because I have this disapproving anonymous commenter who thinks I have a really easy life, and I'm worried about their blood pressure and everything. Anon! I had to make my own cup of tea this evening! My Louboutins are scuffed! It's a NIGHTMARE. My life is SHIT. Only teasing, Anon. I am an overprivileged bitch, I get it.

And what does that leave? Well.


Oh fuck it. Sorry Anon, people come here to hear me talk surreal crap about my mildly disastrous life. As someone said to me recently "If I wanted bleak, I'd watch Eastenders". Well, quite. I could do bleak, but you know. I save it for special occasions of which I fear there will be quite a number in the coming months.

In fact, I'd like to declare tonight "whine about your first world problems night". Let it all out! It's Monday too, so I bet you have plenty. Having problems with the broadband connection in your second home? Children refusing the snacks at their organic nursery? Moths nibbling your cashmere? Hopefully Dr Capybara will turn up in the comments box and verbally kick the crap out of all of us.

Let me tell you mine.

1. I am COVERED in insect bites. Every insect in northern France has had a taste of me. I used all our anti-histamines for non-legitimate psychotropic purposes, which makes me the girl who cried, er, Benadryl, or something.

2. My wireless connection is still broken, so I have to share the dog's chair to type. The dog is a total ass about it and tries to push me off. I have back ache. This chair is not big enough for both of us, weepette, and since I have less than no natural authority, you appear to be winning.

3. My new dress with its lovely draped neck is like a crumb magnet. It's a bit like one of those pelican bibs for grown ups, in fact. I could eat for a week from the contents of my drapery. Yes, I suppose that's an upside of a sort. Shut up, we're hear to whine.

4. I am giving the CFO the shittiest birthday yet tomorrow. His brownies look like shite, his presents thus far comprise an address book and some decorated pebbles from the spawn. I keep crying about how shit it is, just to make it all better. Big snotty "uuuugh, your birthday is fucked, everything is fucked" tears. No, Anon, no pain here, move along. Ahem.

5. I have spent much of the day transcribing details of a paraffin wax cartel. Longhand. Yes, the Tedium Files are back.

6. I can only think of five things to whine about without cracking open the hideous Pandora's box of Real Problems.
Right! Your turn. Whiny first world problems.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Miscellaneous, linky, whatever

I am going away for the weekend. We are going to a bed & breakfast in deepest Picardy to celebrate (ahem, as best we can) the CFO's imminent 40th birthday. Here. It looks deceptively smart on the website. It is more ramshackle when you get there. It is run by two brothers who bellow at each other all the time and try and sell you their farm buildings. But they have goats and chickens and ponies and baby rabbits and a donkey you can take for walks. It should be ok.

I wrote this for 4mations if you need something to read. Or you could go and read some of the excellent stuff in the sidebar. New for La Rentrée Littéraire 2009 include the following:

Mr London Street does British male beautifully; acerbic with a heavy streak of self-deprecation. He's funny.

Texts from Last Night swither from horribly funny to repulsive. They make me feel good about my own pathetic transgressions.

And I think we should encourage Gina and Scott with their 'joint blog about bad musicals' idea. Also, I want to freak Gina out by linking to her again. Boo Gina!

I really enjoyed this too this week.

Finally, this.

Red 'circles' (I get more inept by the day) to highlight the salient points.

Point 1: Oh look! An infant school welcoming children aged 2 and a half and upwards

Point 2: Goodness, what's that poster?

Let's look a little closer...

Point 3: Oh look! A poster - no, four posters - for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist! How lovely.

"Cannes' most shocking film ever, eh?" Yes. The one where Charlotte Gainsbourg removes her own clitoris with a pair of rusty scissors.

I'd like you all to take a moment and think of some of the conversations the parents of Uccle are having with our 2-11 year olds about Willem Dafoe's naked arse on top of Charlotte Gainsbourg and a tree full of severed hands and body parts.

Prize for the most plausible PG rated explanation for this poster to be given to inquisitive children. I'm back on Sunday.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Dressing gown

Why the dishcloth photo, Emma, I hear you cry in your ones, and possibly twos. That's no dishcloth, internet. It's my dressing gown.

Why your dressing gown, Emma? I hear the other, er, none of you reply.


Because I love my dressing gown.

I bought it from Liberty in spring 2002, when I thought that childbirth would be all rose petals and kittens and unicorns. It is (was) pale blue and made of the lightest Indian cotton. I bought soft pale blue leather slippers from Penhaligons too and had fond visions of sitting in a cloud of, what's that bonding hormone? I want to say OxyContin, but I think that's wishful thinking. Whatever. Anyway, sitting in a cloud of happy hormones and flowers and tiny muffins with my new baby.


Anyone who has ever experienced, or seen childbirth in even the smallest of mammals will already be snickering at how deluded I was. Sure, I got the natural birth I was so insanely fixated on. Though I might query whether there's anything natural about having to sit on one of those kidney shaped dishes on top of the bed for two hours trying to expel a placenta. Passons. The whole business was protracted and messy and frankly, kind of revolting as the CFO's ashen face testified. Not to mention that the first thing the beautiful infant Lashes did was to shit all over me. The ward was more revolting still, with snail trails of unidentified body fluid snaking around the grey green linoleum. The dressing gown remained in my bag with the pretty suede bottomed slippers, untainted by five varieties of amniotic fluid as I grappled through the night with the terrible realisation that noone was going to DO anything about this screaming infant but me.

The dressing gown came out after a couple of days at home, when I remembered about it, and I never really took it off. It was my constant companion from 4 to 7 am when, hypervigilant and unable to sleep, I would sit in the sofa of our top floor flat and watch the dawn. Those early weeks with a newborn can feel like Isabella and the pot of basil, as the new mother fades away in a sea of tears plopping softly on the baby's head as it gnaws tirelessly on her bleeding nipple, and the infant grows and unfurls, gets more beautiful and demanding. Ok, the analogy breaks down without a severed head, but you see where I'm going. The dressing gown came to feel like a tiny shred of the 'before' me. A sign that I was still in there, somewhere. The person who loved beautiful, elegant things she couldn't really afford, nice face creams and mountains of books. It became very hard to believe I would ever emerge from the fog of fatigue and anxiety and not really caring what I looked like or ate, or being too edgy and tired to read a book. But the dressing gown helped me believe it.

(I am making motherhood sound like the Vietnam war. I always do this. I am ridiculous. But young, cosseted and selfish; used to being in control, it came as an awful shock to me. I was a mess - anxious, resentful and bewildered. I loved my son enormously, but I had fuck all idea how to cope with the long, formless days of early motherhood in the West End, completely alone. I spent a lot of time wandering round department stores, crying )

I've worn, and loved it ever since. It's covered in tea stains and I'm not sure where the belt is. My two pots of basil are huge and beautiful and robust. I haven't broken them yet. I still love beautiful things, nice face creams and mountains of books. I'm still here, somewhere.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wednesday Livestock

It's Wednesday, so some of us may be needing a baby elephant. Ideally one with a small tray humanely attached to its back. The small tray will be loaded with Artisan du Chocolat salted butter caramels, Nurofen Plus, pots of tea, maybe a pygmy jerboa and some light reading. I mean, really. This is Belgium where the pet shops sell owls, and kangaroos. How hard can it be?

In the absence of a baby elephant butler, I can offer you a slightly fuzzy photograph.

Here, finally, is Kai Mook, the baby elephant with the most uncertain gestation period in the history of inept Belgian animal husbandry. This is the best picture Fingers and I managed to get on our epic trip to see him some months ago. We spent many hours on meandering Belgian trains going through places that looked like this:

It took longer than seemed geographically possible. I mean, Belgium is SMALL. I would have thought we could have reached at least, oooh, Austria in the time it took us. Maybe Denmark.

(Fingers tutted like an old lady throughout. He is hilariously prissy company sometimes.)

We arrived in Antwerp in the rain with Fingers levitating with anxiety that we might be too late. I'm still unsure how you can be too late for a baby elephant. I mean, they live a fair while, don't they?

Then we squinted through the drizzle at this:

Fingers examined Kai Mook with intense concentration for about thirty seconds. Then he turned to me.

"Ca y est. Je l'ai vu. On y va?".

(Ok, I've seen him. Shall we go?)

"Oh. Ok then".

So we did. And we had a waffle, and Fingers had a ride in an orange and gold stag beetle.

I don't know where I think I'm going with this, except that it was a fuck of a lot more fun than today.

Go on, how was your Wednesday? Baby elephants, or vomiting on trams?

Why I didn't post yesterday

At 6am I am out in the rain, with spawn, dog and CFO, tracking the local fox. The local fox quite sensibly keeps a million miles away from us. Something about the combination of neurotic yowling weepette, lumpen complaining youths, limping mother, jolly 'morning person' father does not strike the local fox as the greatest of ideas. I can't imagine why.

At 1pm I am consumed by a wave of weird dread but chase it away by looking at houses to rent on the internet. Huh. I am 34 and have never lived on my own. Ideally I am looking for a house that comes with some kind of a childminder. For me. To remind me to pay the bills and go to bed occasionally. Sheltered housing, in fact, is what I really need. There is none available on Immoweb. I compound the weird dread by having a Crème Caramel and two miniature Twixes for lunch, and staying rooted to my desk like the fruit of a Derren Brown experiment, sweaty claws clutching my mouse.

At 3pm I am dragged from my anxiety fugue state for a conference call where we discuss my failure to harvest 'Low Hanging Fruit'. I compound my non-harvesting sins by not even remembering what Low Hanging Fruit I was supposed to be picking. Or gathering. Or feeding finely sliced to the German interns. To compensate for my fruit failure, I dash off a quick powerpoint presentation, like a sacrifice to the gods of eurotedium.

At 5pm I run away and wait for a very long time on the steps of the Beaux-Arts for the 92 tram.

At 8pm - having collected, homeworked, then hustled the spawn into their pyjamas, walked the dog, made some semblance of dinner and shoved all the dirty stuff into a cupboard so Aurélie the babysitter doesn't see it - I am clutching onto a small table for support on my 5in heels (beautifully complimenting my Fat Trousers which I was too lazy and bloated to change out of) on my third glass of free champagne at a late night shop opening thing. I have committed to buy a dress I can't afford and am wondering if I can run away without getting caught (answer: no) . Le tout Bruxelles is there and LTB is very very shiny and amusing indeed, between bat featured facelifts, giant bouffant hair, unfortunate fur items and pink cords on men. All the posh shops are open, plying you with wine and tiny snacks, but you can only go to the one that invited you. In my case this is a WIN on the drink (Moët) but a FAIL on the food, which is ironico-Belge; they have invited a Frikadelkot type thing, the Belgian equivalent of a roadside burger van. I wish I had a photo. It has giant pump action pots of mayonnaise and a variety of grey deep fried meats. I am very much regretting my crème caramel lunch. We brazen our way into a couple of other shops and meet French Celebrity (not really) Julien Leper!

I find this stupidly hilarious and have to hide behind a row of coats.

We get thrown out of our fourth shop and call it a night. Not before I have liberated 5 miniature coffee eclairs though.

At 10pm we are eating pizza out of the box on a street corner debating who is better qualified to drive the car (answer: noone).

At 1am I am still slumped in the dog's chair, dog draped heavily over my keyboard. My fingers aren't working. Nor are my eyes. I blame Derren Brown.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Definitely Nivea*

Oh christ, the state of me tonight. I am quite the catch.

1. Outfit

Sonia Rykiel skating skirt, black with fat white trim. Lovely, apart from the interesting green stains obtained leaning against a mossy bench whilst dog walking in the rain. Footless tights for dog walking in the rain. I took the (shitty, non holding up) hold ups off to scratch my myriad insect bites better.

(Actually, I took them off quite unconsciously whilst having a conversation with the CFO about money, he thought I was suggesting a way to earn more money.

CFO: That's not the answer.

E: What? Oh. No. I'm itchy.

CFO: Hmm. How much would you charge though?

E: Eh. How does €15 sound?

CFO: Very reasonable.

E: Well, there's not much on offer as you well know. Maybe they'd get a half-hearted pat on the shoulder or something for that)

The hoodie of death-by-a-thousand-stains. Black jumper. Beautiful but ill-fitting bra bought in a misjudged fit of defiance. A tartan dressing gown. Horrible old Gola trainers, brown and pink. I actually went out like this, exchanging the dressing gown for a horrible old man coat, to walk the dog. I looked like a vagrant. I am quite surprised the local constabulary didn't pick me up.

2. Body

Knee the size of a bouncy castle (I sense a visit to the Knee Kevorkian of Uccle coming up). Puffed up with the venom of 9 million insect bites. Grey complexion of one who goes to bed at 2 and gets up at 7. Look of dread of one who has agreed to get up at SIX tomorrow to take the spawn to find the local fox. There is no way that fucker will turn up; I've only seen it once in 8 months of daily dog walking. I foresee a morning of tears and disappointment. Well, a morning with even more tears and disappointment than normal. General air of decrepitude and scratchiness. I had to keep ripping my hair off at work to scratch my head. Well, ripping it off discreetly so as not to freak out the interns. Teeth ground to tiny stumps. This, I believe, is one thing the CFO won't miss, the sound of enamel crunching all night every night.

3. Mind

Today is brought to you by the emotion self-loathing and the state of inertia. I would imagine Ross from My First Dictionary could do a nice illustration of this.

4. Fucking ridiculous

As if that wasn't all bad enough, I went to make a cup of tea, and when I came back, the dog was fighting with my hair.

Oscar. It is not alive.

And if it was, you wouldn't dare touch it.

PUT. IT. DOWN. (Once I have taken an amusing picture for my weblog as my priorities are entirely skewed)

Yes, quite the catch.

*The title references the wise advice of Mrs Trefusis, blogging sage and seer, to view oneself as Crème de la Mer and not Nivea. Some days are easier than others.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

I live in Belgium

Sometimes I forget I live in Belgium. I spend a lot of time in the house (yes, I AM aware how sad that sounds, thank you) and the Corridor of Ennui is peopled with a bizarre mix of Germans, Australians and Swedes. I realised recently that Lashes thinks Belgium is a region of France. I've prevailed on him to keep that one quiet if he possibly can.

But then I go somewhere like this, and the Belgitude is inescapable. I live in Belgium, of my own volition, and some of the time I even like it.

I give you Le Petit Train Vapeur de Forest. I have been here more times than you can imagine, but still I love it in all its Dardenne Brothers-esque gloomy glory.

Look! Survey the scene. See, how the Belgian and European flags wave bravely in the glowering drizzle. See how very miniature the railway is, a mere loop of track, and how the parents, backs hunched in resignation and discomfort, accompany their infants on the teeny tiny train.

Ever since we moved to Belgium and discovered the Petit Train Vapeur de Forest, I have nourished a secret desire to do a photo reportage piece on this place. The kind of photo essay they used to have in the Guardian magazine on a Saturday. But I am too lazy and talentless to actually do anything about it, so instead I have laid it out here for your delectation.

Behold! See how very little fun the children are having as they wait for the the Man With The Timetable to blow his whistle and let them go round the tiny loop of track at a breathtaking 8km an hour.

Miniature Steam enthusiasts here fall into two categories. The first, awkward, physically unfortunate youths who like the POWER (paging Dr Freud). They should be out taking narcotics and dancing and drinking and so on. But what are they doing?

They are changing oil, and checking pressure and polishing, always with the polishing of the tiny, shiny trains.

The second, impressively grizzled elderly gentlemen in uniforms.

I was taking considerable personal risks trying to take pictures of them. They are most emphatically not there to have fun. Miniature steam trains are serious business; their child passengers a necessary evil.

Look! It's the real life Fat Controller!

See his shiny whistle! See the long list of regulations prominently displayed!

I got Lashes to take this next one, in the hope that the punishment would be less severe for a seven year old, and also because he is better at running than I am.

I know he looks like he might be smiling but I think that's a trick of the light. Or rather, a trick of the drizzle. You should have seen him reprimand the CFO when he got the weepette to run alongside a miniature replica tram.

I swear, the atmosphere is as sombre and contemplative (and, indeed, male) as a monastery. The few women present are confined to the ticket shack, or serving refreshments. I love the grave way that things are run. There is a signal box and a timetable and woe betide anyone who tries to CHOOSE what train they want to go on. The Fat Controller will tell you where to sit. He has a railway to run, dammit!

Here you can see where the tracks come to an end in the engine shed / bar.

Yes, bar. Not tea room or café. Because you could get a miniature railway in lots of places and some of them would offer refreshments.

But only in Belgium would you have eighteen types of beer to choose from.

Yes. I must face incontravertible facts. I live in Belgium.

Grand Designs

We don't often watch television any more. I am writing, twitching, fretting (mainly fretting). The CFO goes out a lot to do manly pursuits. It feels odd to sit on the sofa, the dog curled between us and watch shitty reality tv singing shows; oddly comfortable. We slip so easily into our old routines.

CFO (tone deaf, listening to wall eyed teen singing a Whitney Houston number): Is he any good?

Me (superior, though without rational justification): No, of course not. Oscar get your bony fucking arse off my legs, would you. Can you make me a cup of tea, please?

But some evenings, when it's all too much and the brave new grown up post-apocalypse world is a bit too difficult, we give in, and, by tacit agreement, watch Grand Designs.

I don't quite know why we end up watching Grand Designs. Partly it's a function of the one hour time difference with the UK, meaning that when we want to watch tv, there's fuck all else on. No, don't suggest we watch French tv. I could give you a million reasons why not, but I'm going to give you one: Patrick Sébastien. And then, Grand Designs is comfortable and unchallenging and follows a satisfying narrative arc. Grand Designs, for the uninitiated, is a show in which monomaniacal people take on huge, unwise house building projects. The show is formulaic but oddly uplifting, and goes as follows:

1. A couple (almost invariably the male partner is the actual monomaniac and the female partner is obviously humouring him) set out their insane plan to build a home, which will be a full size replica of the Petit Trianon in Versailles from scratch, using only their bare hands and organically milled wheat flour. The man talks enthusiastically and at length about sustainably farmed Herdwick wool insulation. The camera will pan across to their partner's face during this speech, revealing an inscrutable expression composed of forbearance, affection and dread.

2. The presenter, the hugely affable Kevin McCloud listens in awe and amusement, points out some of the glaring potential flaws in their plan, and does a sceptical piece to camera about their chances.

3. Over a period of years, the cameras follow the build. With absolute inevitability, it will run into innumerable problems. These include failure to obtain planning permission, money running out, illness, injury, human error leading to the house simply being unfeasible, death or bankruptcy of a key craftsman, fight with architect, measurement disasters and freak weather conditions. Kevin McCloud will wander amiably around pointing out some of the disasters in waiting, anachronisms and potential errors of taste. The monomaniac will ignore him, the light of madness glistening in his weary eye. As a rule, the monomaniac will be involved in the project to the expense of all else, neglecting family, job and personal hygiene to spend every waking hour hand moulding limestone lintels. In the rain.

4. Things will reach some form of crisis when one of the problems appear to become entirely insuperable. During another interview, the monomaniac will bluster implausibly and optimistically about how everything will work out somehow. Again, the camera will pan across to their long-suffering partner (assuming they have agreed to take part at this stage. Sometimes relationships have deteriorated so far that long-suffering partner is only referred to obliquely as 'busy', or 'working'), this time revealing an expression that is equal parts murderous rage, resignation and barely suppressed hysteria. Kevin McCloud will do another piece to camera, setting out the terrible fate that awaits them. At this point there is a commercial break.

5. Everything is resolved with improbable felicity, in the manner of one of the shoddier Shakespeare comedies. I often wonder, cynically, whether Channel 4 occasionally plays deus ex machina, sorting out the intransigent Planning Officer or helping find the missing finance, but forget my cynicism in admiring the end result. The building is wonderful, optimistic, a triumph of the human spirit. Sometimes it is also hideous and appalling, but compellingly so. Regardless, Kevin McCloud will remind us of his earlier scepticism and conclude with the phrase "yet curiously, it works".


So. Once a week or so, the CFO and I watch Grand Designs. And it's distracting and escapist, there's adversity and it has a happy ending. It's perfect viewing. We sit, mid-apocalypse, and watch these - admittedly insane - people build something extraordinary; something for their descendants; something that's an expression of hope and continuity and faith in the future.

And then I wonder why a wave of sadness hits me when we switch off.

Friday, 11 September 2009


I am a bit scared of poetry, in the same way as I am scared of astronomy or theoretical physics - it can be too vast, too abstract. I have a visceral aversion to thinking big thoughts; they spin me into an existential panic and I have to mentally walk my way around the biscuit aisle of Sainsburys before I calm down. Poetry unpicks my certainties. There are exceptions, but not many.

But a couple of months ago, Prog Rock quoted some Auden to me - it was Lullaby, which opens:

Lay your sleeping head my love,
Human on my faithless arm

(I love that)

We were having one of those Big Discussions. Prog Rock doesn't shy away from Big like I do. It was about the nature of love and the meaning of life. Yes, I told you. I can only do this kind of thing once every ten years or so, then I have to go back to being deeply trivial and thinking about face cream and shoes and magazines. Anyway, he was saying that there were two Auden quotes that he had taken a lot of comfort from after mum died. One was from Lullaby, the part that goes:

"but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought
Not a kiss nor a look be lost"

and the other was one that Auden himself changed subsequently, the line in September 1, 1939, that originally read:

"We must love one another or die".

Prog Rock said he much preferred the revision, which goes:

"We must love one another and die";

He liked the sense that both were equally inevitable, inexorable, essential. That they belonged together.

By this point I was twitching and sweating with existential terror and ran away to watch crappy tv and empty my mind, but those lines had lodged in my head, and on one of my London bookshop trips, I bought myself a Collected Auden. It was only at this point I remembered, not only that he was born in York, but also that he wrote that famous poem about Breughel's Fall of Icarus that for some reason, I remember my mum sending me in my final year at Oxford. She sent me a lot of little parcels of encouragement and solace of one kind or another. I particularly remember a huge bunch of anemones, with a card that read "Nearly time to come out Persephone".

Anyway. The poem is called Musée des Beaux Arts, which is precisely where I catch the number 92 tram on my ennui days, and Breughel's Flight of Icarus is still there. Auden visited Brussels in 1938 and also wrote Brussels in Winter and Gare du Midi about the city.

This is The Fall of Icarus:

And the poem, which you probably all know, is this:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

And today it makes me think that this time 8 years ago I was finally, ecstatically pregnant, consumed with nausea and exhaustion and my own trivial anxieties. I was in a hotel room, at a conference, somewhere near Brentford where I was on a boring secondment to a pharmaceutical company. I had made an excuse not to go to dinner since I could only eat pretzels without vomiting, and I sat on my institutional bed, alone, and watched aeroplanes fly into buildings.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Ten Things I Have Learnt Today

It's never too late to learn stuff, as Nintendo would probably have us believe, judging by those adverts for brain training games for the lonely and decrepit (so I know how I'll be spending my old age, then).

Today I have learnt the following:

1. If you're not sure whether something is a flake of tuna or a moth, don't eat it. Just, don't.

2. If a dress made you look like a hunchback wearing a staff canteen tabard a year ago, it probably still will now. In fact, since you are a year older and more deformed, it will probably look worse.

Mrs Overall's bold way with a pineapple was the talk of the canteen

3. The most productive part of the day might conceivably be the bit before you sober up.

4. Walking and opening one of those plastic pots of pineapple chunks at the same time will result in sticky pineapple cleavage and juice all down your staff canteen tabard.

5. Weepettes are not specially keen on pineapple juice.

6. Caudalie Eau de Beauté sprayed liberally all over a drag queen make up makes your face feel minty, making you feel marginally more human; however

7. Caudalie Eau de Beauté stings like a bastard when you get it in your eye. And makes your drag queen make up run.

8. You can't brush your teeth with chewing gum and a cotton bud.

9. But it's probably better than nothing.

10. Just because ten is a nicer number than nine, it does not mean you can think of enough things you have learnt to complete your list.

Have you learnt anything recently?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Wednesday, Again

I am on the phone to a colleague. He is quizzing me about something document related that I really ought to know but it's as if they are asking me about what I had for breakfast on 4 March 1994. Outlandishly distant. Vague snatches of work related thought drift illusorily across my mind as the children shriek in the background and liberate packets of biscuits and sharp knives from the kitchen, but vanish before the words reach my mouth. I imagine this is a little how it must feel to have a minor stroke; I know the information must be in my head somewhere, but I can neither access, nor express it. As I stammer the odd plausible word I can still muster, Lashes takes a purple felt tip and draws all over my left hand. As I notice and snatch it away he takes a sheet of paper (a work related one, obviously) and starts drawing something. Relieved, I try some word association with my long suffering colleague, saying whatever plausible nouns come into my head.

"Er, confidentiality, privilege, corollary, enforcement?"

Once more, Lashes appears in my line of sight, proudly waving his drawing this time.

Gradually my slow, struggling brain processes the scribbly purple mess in front of me.

It says "Maman mor, Aurélie vi" [sic] and depicts me - instantly recogniseable by my fearsome glasses, with a gaping hole in my torso. Purple blood is pulsing out of the hole. Nearby a smaller, grinning stick figure holds a dagger about four times his size. Over on the other side of the paper, Aurélie, our occasional babysitter (discussed here) , wholesome, hockey playing, blonde and beautiful Aurélie, is pictured smiling. He has even used a yellow pen for her hair. *

I put my hand over the receiver.

"That's horrible Lashes".

He smiles, angelically, all huge brown eyes and soft velvety skin, and disappears. The next time I spot him, he and his brother are trying to wrap the weepette in clingfilm. It looks like a particularly long-suffering piece of installation art.

Shortly thereafter I discover a moth larva at the bottom of my cup of tea.

*I don't know where it went or I'd take a photo. The weepette probably ate it.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tram Bingo

I got an excellent score on Tram Bingo this evening with the following:

- Lovely implausibly clean cut Jehova's Witnesses. Where do they find such archetypal Nice Boys? I'm sure they must grow them in poly tunnels somewhere in Nevada.

- A weird set piece: here a crazy lady taking on a gang of da youth for their lack of discretion in sneezing. It included a line that went something like "A retired nurse once told me that the louder you sneeze the more GERMS you spread". The youth did some jeering and the crazy lady said something to her neighbour, by now wishing she had just stayed at work for an extra ten minutes, about "all their orifices working".

- A ridiculous paranoid statement from the crazy lady, really getting into her stride by this stage: "you can get AIDS from those poles". And an instruction, on getting off the tram, to the rest of us "Savonnez vous bien!" (soap yourselves well). Er, yes. Sadly the CRAZY won't wash off with mere soap.

- A very very cross fashiony queen having a hystrionic telephone meltdown. I thought initially it was a break up because he was saying things like "I just can't take it any more, I've had enough, it's over", so I sat down opposite him vampirically to listen, sunglasses on for greater discretion. It wasn't though, it was just work.

"Moi je veux bien mais le Miu Miu et le Prada automne-hiver sont même pas etiquettés! Le Gianfranco Ferré non plus. On a rien vendu du Printemps-Eté - MEME PAS LES BIJOUX FANTAISIE!! Tu sais, on a deux boutiques à Londres, une à la Zoute et deux à Paris et nous sommes les seuls à ne pas faire de profit! Moi je veux bien mais je peux pas faire tourner une boutique pour douze vendeuses tout seul, j'en ai marre Je CRAAAQUEEEEUUUH".

Do you want me to translate that? I will if you want, but it's sort of boring. Imagine a sort of whiny, aggrieved freakout with fashion labels in it, delivered by a very tall, thin, sweating man dressed entirely in far too hot for the 30° weather black with a severe pudding bowl haircut and a giant blingy black and gold watch. It was excellent. The whole tram stopped to watch open mouthed.

- Vest Man. I really need to get you a picture of Vest Man. Vest Man wears his Galliano branded vest and skintight jeans every day in all weathers. He has hair like fifteen grey Brillo Pads in a full Kevin Keegan mullet. And hairy hairy grey hairy shoulders. He is totally compelling.

- A classic novel in a weird language. Dutch Sons and Lovers today: "Zonen en minnaars"

Only missing:
-a person consuming a can of beer (double points for early morning sightings);
-a non-ethnic or religious turban;
-someone (usually parent from gulag) I have mortally offended and now have to avoid in tiny confined space of 92 tram;
- a hideously ugly dog

for a full house.

Tell me about your neighbourhood/commute bingo. Don't give me that, I know you play.

Monday, 7 September 2009


This piece in the Guardian amused me today. Jeremy Paxman views frogspawn as a guilty pleasure? Huh. That's not the rumour I heard.

A lot of the "guilty" pleasures didn't seem very guilty at all. There must be some worse ones we can come up with, surely? I mean, perhaps not me because of the sad absence of anonymity. I will have to give you some tame ones but I am relying on you to give me something a little guiltier.

Here are a few of my more socially acceptable ones:

1. Faredodging, obviously. It's the new shoplifting. I particularly like it in Brussels because:

a) The likelihood of getting caught is so low; and

b) Apparently if they do catch you, they are HORRIBLE, which just adds to the thrill.

2. I did very much enjoy once "accidentally" kicking a man when he barged past me onto a Circle Line train when I was heavily pregnant. Unfortunately he worked out it was me and called me out on it, and, me crazy and hormonal and him just crazy, we ended up trading blows. I quite enjoyed hitting someone in public with pure fury, until the CFO dragged me away, arms still windmilling, shouting "Like hitting PREGNANT WOMEN do you???".

3. Touching real fur coats in public. They're irresistibly tactile, and usually worn by fairly fierce ladies, giving the dangerous act of touching an extra frisson.

4. Teaspoons. Don't make me say it, I could get struck off. Just, teaspoons, okay?

5. Lurking on Friends Reunited and smirking at the updates from Quaker schoolmates in a superior fashion. Married your school sweetheart and running a pig farm? Run over by your own tractor? Still wifeswapping with the same old crowd? Ha ha ha, gloating superior laughter.

6. Wearing different wigs on consecutive days and watching my colleague's faces struggle with the visual and cognitive dissonance. "You look ... different, Emma. Is it your glasses?".

7. Flicking slugs over the wall into the neighbour's garden.

8. The sound of my children saying "testicules" in their sweet pearly voices. Testicules. Try it yourself. For the more proficient in French, you can try "testicules dégoulinantes".

I'm going to add some anonymous ones later too. Go on, let's beat the Guardian with an unspeakable display of pleasurable badness.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

What I Wore Today

India recently alerted me to this very wonderful thing here. Or here, if you don't have Flickr access at work, yes Corridor of Ennui I am looking at you.

You know I just couldn't resist. And I want you all to do it too, please. Er, you also know I am shit at drawing AND technical stuff AND I don't have a scanner, so this is frankly risible. BUT HEY. We'll just call it outsider art, okay (you can click on them to see them bigger, technoretards like myself)?

First, brain twin M did one of me in London (the weepette is artistic licence; the beetle isn't).

Then I did my own in Brussels. Spot the difference?

Go on, do it. You get to play with felt tips and everything.

Fête Finale

It's been a wonderful fête. I have enjoyed every minute and am looking forward to cattle prodding the judges into delivering their verdicts shortly. Before that, though, a couple of last minute entries.

Firstly, this is called "Please Love Me". Its creator describes it as Meyer lemon, Persian cucumber and capers plus half a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Ah, sweet, needy, exhibitionist vegetable sculpture.

And then, the Fat Controller made me almost unbearably happy with the following scenes of model railway golden age of steam CARNAGE today. Now hang on, I have to get this right.

1. The Staplehurst derailment of 1865 (If you look carefully you might see a dazed Charles Dickens in the leading coach).

2. A representation of the untimely demise of the Rt. Hon. William Huskisson on 15th September 1830. The first ever fatal railway accident.

3. The Penistone crash of 1885

4. The Hull, Paragon collision of 1927

5. The incident known as 'Stephenson's Cow'.

I have his assurance, readers of a nervous disposition, that no engines, troublesome trucks or animals were harmed in the making of these tableaux. The Fat Controller is a man of his word.

I am entirely speechless after that. I am going to lie in a darkened room and fashion winners' rosettes out of endive leaves.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Home comforts

- The dog is surprisingly happy to see me and won't take its bony legs off my keyboard.

He is even letting me pull at his silky ears and kiss the lovely smooth bits in the hollow of his slightly dusty doggy throat. Do I sound like a bizarre dog perv? Ah, well.

- If the dog is mildly positive, Fingers is ecstatic. He hasn't let go of me all day. I particularly liked the bit where he asked me, graciously, whether I had had fun in my two nights away, somehow managing to imply in a very adult fashion that his own distress would be worthwhile if I had. He is a very funny child. I love having his bony arms wrapped around me and they have been pretty much constantly. Also he demonstrated earlier that he can do a no arms somersault. I am overawed. Again, again! In return I had to commit to watching several hours of Snowball the dancing cockatoo, but I didn't even mind (though, Snowball, your musical taste is HORRIFIC. There are other things with a strong beat. Branch out! Join the 21st century, cockatoo).

- My giant marshmallow bed stuffed with live puppies. Or something. It was dear enough to be stuffed with live puppies (live diamond studded puppies at that. Or maybe giant sturgeon. Yes. Giant diamond studded sturgeon), but it's worth it. There is nowhere I would more like to curl in a foetal ball with my dressing gown over my head to sleep deeply and dreamlessly for 9 hours. Mm, there's a Pavlovian drool reflex going on at the corners of my mouth right now at the thought of putting my head into its puppy-filled depths and drifting off. Slurp, drool.

- Mamma Roma pizza al taglio near Place du Châtelain for its hangover healing properties and excellent take away facilities (they give you a bin bag to carry your pizza in! Welcome to Belgium!). Any and all kinds. There was even one with broccoli today and it was good. Who would have thought such a thing possible? How wrong does broccoli pizza sound? SO wrong. And yet.

- Miniature green tea macaroons from Fabrice Collignon, Belgium's answer to Pierre Hermé. And apricot/lavender, fig and cassis/violet in a box in the kitchen still to try. Unless the moths have got them. No, moths you are emphatically NOT on this list.

- The huge bath. Ok, the water is a mysterious brown colour and never gets very hot, and the previous occupants chose the most nonsensical Philippe Starck taps that simply do not work. But just the thought of lying in the lukewarm liquid peat bog in our bathroom with the view to the back of the house of trees and rootftops and just possibly the neighbours' escaped parrot, Paula, relaxes me instantly.

- Piles of as yet unread books falling off my bedside table and singing to me.

What, if anything, reliably cheers you about your home?

Penultimate Village Fête Roundup 2009

How do you like your carrots?

Julia has submitted this one:

Which made me feel a little like a latterday Esther Rantzen.

The illustrious Non-Working Monkey and her veterinary pathologist have come up with "Timid Mute", a shy, lentil-eyed Jean Claude Van Damme of a tuber.

Presumably by now you will not be surprised to learn that Mr WithaY has not quite finished with vegetable crafting yet. This entry is entitled "Alien Spaceship".

Lucy with a Y particularly wishes to draw your attention to the alien pilot's clove eyes. I would be happy never to see a clove again, personally but that is a very low probability event, as the CFO's mother has scattered them with gay abandon throughout every cupboard in the house in a futile attempt to discourage the moths. The moths just laugh, shrilly, chew up the cloves and crap out the remains, before turning back to the more important topic of how best to destroy the house. I suppose it would be handy if any of us got toothache. Toothache? Chew an alien eye!

Here's a last one for luck.

Still on a vegetable theme, the Non-Working Monkey has also submitted "Pumpkin Birth".

This piece takes the concept of a virtual village fête to its natural conclusion, since NWM did not make this (though her colleagues did), and it dates from last Halloween. No matter. It is fantastic.

I'll be back later. But, you know, ENTRIES CLOSE TOMORROW. This is your absolutely, totally last chance to win an awe-inspiring 2009 Fête prize. Probably.
Oh, and while I am chivvying, I should say who won that book that I can't quite put my hand on right now. I thought I would give it to Screamish, but it sounds like the last thing she needs is another book. So if Screamish doesn't want it (you have first refusal Screamish!) then I award the glittering suncream stained prize to Anonymous for the review of Sea of Poppies. Reveal yourself, anonymous and claim your prize. Go on, I'm feeling magnanimous, you can BOTH have a prize.