Wednesday, 28 October 2009


We're standing in a large stationers. I am not very far from the end of my tether. I have been to Ikea, to two other furniture shops, walked the dog twice, taken Fingers to art class, Lashes to karate, and then collected them both. Each stage - apart from dog walking - has required me to drive and park the car, an event I consider way more stressful than taking my finals or childbirth. We are trying to decide on Halloween costumes. Well, the boys have decided but I am trying to change their minds, more accurately.

"Couldn't you just go as Ben 10?"

Lashes is adamant.

"No. Fusée"

Fingers drifts by, and holds out a roll of cloakroom tickets and an accounts ledger inquiringly in his fluttering hands. I am momentarily distracted.

"Why Fingers?"

"I like them".

I look hopelessly around the very limited range of craft materials for something with which to make both children into black alien sluglike creatures with green markings. Fingers flirted momentarily with a much more achievable spider, but something about the idea of covering his back with stuffed pairs of tights displeased him, so he also wants to be a Ben 10 character so obscure that the picture at the top of this post is the only one I found in twenty minutes desperate research.

"Noone will have a clue who you are".

They shrug, gallically.

"On s'en fiche"

"You won't win"

"On s'en fiche".

This isn't true. I know Lashes will be terribly galled that noone recognises the obscure brilliance of his choice. Fingers won't care though. He's not competitive, which confirms my suspicion that he is in fact a changeling.

Somewhere, in a foreign country, the CFO would be rollling his eyes if he knew what was going on. Sane people everywhere are wondering why the fuck I don't just say NO. "No, you can be a pumpkin, or a cat, or a skeleton and like it". But at the moment - always, indeed - I have guilt issues. Poor parenting issues. I would make them into a scale model of the Eiffel Tower with Gustave Eiffel dancing on the top if they requested it. I would make a horrible job of it and get cross and despairing, but I would bloody well do it.

I ponder the relative merits of painting masking tape green and attaching felt strips to a black t-shirt with glue. I wave a small sheet of neoprene in Lashes's direction.

"What do you think Lashes? It might work but I don't think there's enough of it. What shall we do?"

He looks at me blankly and turns back to the magazines without a word. He doesn't care what I do or how I do it. His expression says "This is what I pay you for, to sort this shit out without bothering me. Just DO YOUR JOB". Shame Lashes doesn't actually pay me. Fingers is discreetly putting a very small plain calendar with no pictures into my hands. His manner is deferential but insistent. A little like Jeeves advocating soft collared shirts for evening.

I gather an armful of crap, including everything Fingers needs to set up his very own 1950s accountancy firm, pay and we leave.

On the way out, we meet another mother from the Gulag. Irish. I can see she is missing Dunne's Stores as much as I am missing Woolworths at this minute.

"Déguisement?" she says, with almost no hope.

I nod grimly, sending Lashes back to replace a tiny rosette he has shoplifted.

"Don't even bother, it's crap, there's nothing".

Her shoulders sag.

"Let them go as something REALLY scary, like the Headmaster".

(Pictures to follow in the morning. Maybe. )

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Rites and rituals

For the first time in five years I am conscious it's the anniversary of my mum's death tomorrow. I have remained stubbornly hazy on the date and defiantly busy or oblivious up until now. There are very mixed motivations at work here, I think. Partly I don't feel it's a date that particularly merits imbuing with special significance (her birthday falls only 7 days later, and is surely more worthy of marking), partly I am terrible at the rituals, of which more later, partly, oh, I don't know, I just want to avoid feeling bad? My chest gets a tight, compacted feeling when I think about it, and I try to push the feeling away by thinking about whether we need kitchen roll, and if Lashes's eczema is getting worse and if I paid the gas bill. I kind of knew it was the 28th, but I still felt compelled to check.

So now I know. What now? Nothing, probably. I can't ever find a meaningful way to mark these occasions. I've lit candles, many many candles. My mother was always finding a church wherever she was (despite being an exceptionally lapsed Catholic) and lighting a candle for some or other person she was worried about. We went the morning after she died and lit candles in York Minster and though the gesture was absolutely right, one she would have absolutely done herself, it was hollow for me. Everything I've tried feels empty. I've sat in the undertakers with my sister and a Diptyque candle, and a coffin, neither of us quite sure what we thought we were doing, I've been to a tree planting, I've been for ceremonial afternoon tea at Bettys Tea Room, to Quaker meeting once, and several times, uncomfortably, awkwardly, to the cemetery. I feel like I'm trespassing; I hover around uncomfortably for a couple of minutes, my eyes swithering away from the headstone because it makes me feel odd, and leave. It feels artificial if I bring flowers, crass if I don't. I can't connect with any of it. I could read poetry or listen to music; she loved both passionately. I can't. It's not even like I hate all ritual - I treat birthdays with elaborate reverence, mark Advent, Christmas, Easter, with huge enthusiasm. But I can't find a single thing to do on these days that feels right for me. I suppose I still think there's nothing right about her dying; a decorous, fitting tribute feels inappropriate. It suggests a finality I don't feel.

So here I am, this lumpen secularist, atheist, without the tools or the vocabulary to mark days like this. It's a bit bleak - I feel like I'm lacking, somehow. Spiritually barren. I almost wish for the codes of Victorian mourning - full, second, half - with a dress code to match. I'm good at black. Add some Whitby jet earrings, and I could at least feel I had the comfort of a prescribed ritual. Grief doesn't have rules or a roadmap, we hear all the time, but I find myself wishing it still did.

At least I'm not pregnant this year. I can comply with age old Yorkshire custom and get properly drunk. It's what she would have wanted.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Embracing chaos

I am looking for my bank card. It could be absolutely, quite literally, anywhere. Sometimes it falls out of the back pocket of my jeans and into the loo. Several times it has fallen out of my handbag and been handed back to me by shocked passers by. I paid for a flight with it this week, so it might well be somewhere near the computer. But I also remember emptying my bag in the kitchen this week for some reason long forgotten so it could be in there. If it's in the kitchen I'm totally fucked. I actually shudder thinking about it. The dog might have eaten it. It might be at work. I might have thrown it away in a rare fit of tidying on Sunday. Hell.

I try to search through piles of precariously balanced papers without dislodging them. It's like playing Jenga with bills. As I am searching, I am imagining an interview with myself some years hence, in which I describe this moment as the key turning point in my life.

"And I said to myself, Oprah, as I looked in the cutlery basket in the dishwasher, and in the dirty washing basket and the freezer, This Must Stop. And that was when I decided to declutter my life. Now I look back at the person I was then and I just don't recognise her. I mean, who can live like that? "

Oprah and I both shake our heads in disbelief.

My fantasy continues with me showing Oprah round my serene, gracious home, where there is place for everything and everything has its place. It is a warm, light white space with the kind of hidden storage favoured by the kind of couples featured in Architectural Digest. There are no moths, no precarious piles of vital paper, no salmon painted woodwork.

A child wanders across my field of vision, interrupting my reverie. It picks up a length of Portugese decorative ribbon and a plastic dragon from the middle of the kitchen table , then drops them in the middle of the floor when distracted by the tv. Nearby, the weepette sleeps in the debris from a bag of chocolate pumpkins it managed to locate by some act of doggy alchemy, in a cupboard while I was at work. It is also nursing a single shoe tenderly between its front paws. I think back to how I went into MaxMara earlier today to fondle coats. My dirty broken fingernails kept snagging in the cashmere yarn until I had to slink out in shame, the disapproving gaze of several salesharpies burning into my scalp.

Pushing a handful of Pokemon cards and a squashed jelly baby out of the way to sit down, I realise I don't think this is a turning point at all. And I don't even care much. I reason that losing the card at least prevents internet profligacy. I wonder if Oprah would be interested in a self-help regime based around that.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions Part II

You know how museums got quite good at some point in the late eighties/early nineties? I am well placed to know all about this, coming from York, home to the revolutionary Jorvik Centre. In a more innocent age, the prospect of riding in a rickety backwards pod as Magnus Magnusson muttered to you and the smell of synthetic Viking shit assailed your nostrils was so exciting it merited HOURS of queueing around Coppergate with only a half-arsed juggler in a hemp tunic to entertain you.

Yeah, well, not here. With a couple of notable exceptions that I will be pretending do not exist, Belgium is the land that interactivity forgot. Hence my thrilling new series "Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions".

Do not think I am spoiled by my early exposure to the cleverly synthesised scent of a Viking fish market. No. I grew up seconds away from the Treasurer's House, the National Trust's most joyless property where ladies in elasticated waisted Laura Ashley skirts would materialise out of the walls to shout at you if you slumped against a historically important tapestry covered wall. York was FULL of crap museums. The motheaten stuffed horse in the Castle Museum. The endless, dizzying brass rubbing opportunities with the race to the single purple sparkly wax crayon. I know crap museums. You may rely on me.


Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée

Cartoons! Fun, right? Plenty of opportunities for interactivity. Even I, with my atrophied imagination can think of hundreds of things you could do with a Cartoon Museum.

The CBBD would like you to know that cartoons are NO laughing matter. We are not here to have fun. We are travelling back in time to around 1950. Now, come into the first of our seven apparently identical dimly lit galleries filled with glass cases. Peer into the glass cases at, erm, yellowing cartoons. Some of them are coloured in, some of them aren't. Oooh! Look over here everyone! It's a - hang on, what is that? Pig? Mole Rat? No, it's gone - thing called Plunk rendered in ancient pink sponge! What's that, small child? The case is set so high you can't see into it? Oh yes. Sorry about that. Admire the beautiful volumes of the magnificent Horta building, children! No? Ok then, on we go. Look, in this dimly lit cupboard there is a screen showing black and white Flemish cartoons. Don't cry, small boy. It will all be ok. No, don't look at that special exhibition cupboard. It's full of naked people doing.. no, just don't look. DON'T! I'll buy you a pony!

Moving swiftly on, let's go up to the second floor. There are - wow! Large squares of cardboard with pictures of cartoons on them. Um. Small cells intended to represent the typical environment of famous cartoon characters that are barely distinguishable from one another. Largest child gets briefly animated at the sight of a bowling ball and tries to pick it up. It's glued to the floor, of course.

"This is terrible" says the smallest child quietly.

We stand speechless in front of a stack of greying plastic waffles, intended to represent a cartoon none of us have heard of.

"Don't worry!" I say brightly. "There's a library! You can read cartoons! Loads and loads of cartoons"

We head downstairs, down a long, empty corridor. It smells of really old people and dust. We reach a dark, closed door on which a tiny handwritten sign tells us that the library only opens at midday. It's not even 11. We've been in the museum for less than twenty minutes. The CFO and I exchange a glance.

"There is no WAY we can last another hour in here" I whisper to him "someone will get hurt. Hurt in the BRAIN".

He concurs with a thin-lipped nod.

We retire, beaten. Noone complains.

"C'était naze" says the eldest. (that was crap). Neither of us bother to reprimand him.

"I promise you" I say, with some emotion "that we will NEVER come here again".

We have a group hug.

Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée

Tariff: Adults €7,50 Children €3

Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10:00 - 17:00

Better alternatives: Watching 24 hours of Pokémon cartoons back to back, being crushed under a stack of Lucky Luke albums, wrestling Komodo dragons, french kissing Guy Verhofstadt, death.

(The shop is good though)

Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions - an occasional series

In the first of a new series, I will be taking you through some of Belgium's least edifying tourist sites. No, don't thank me.

The Museum of Musical Instruments

The MIM takes unpromising subject matter and hides it in dusty semi-darkness behind a wall of ultra-hostile Dutch speaking staff. Being located in one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in the city is no bar to utter joylessness. A bearded man with a wintry expression hands you a pair of giant headphones like something from a 1950s science experiment as you go in. Actually, that's inaccurate. First you must run the gauntlet of depositing everything you are carrying in the lockers, following an arcane ritual that no one will deign to explain, merely waving you away irascibly if you try and ask.

Finally you are released into the sepulchral gloom of three floors of dusty ancient musical instruments. If you squint hard, you might be able to spot a series of slightly different sets of moth-eaten bagpipes behind the ultra-reflective glass. Then again, you might not. What you can do is try and stand in the right area for your 1950s headphones to assault your ear drums with a selection from "Now that's what I call atonal bagpipe droning Volume 27". Again, this is somewhat aleatory. You might get nothing, you might get bagpipes, you might get plainsong chant. Or a gamelan. Whatever. If your headphones are too loud, a cat's arse faced attendant will tap you on the shoulder and make disapproving gestures.

"Is this it?" whisper your children, their tiny voices quavering with anticipated disappointment after two floors of dusty instruments topped with "Ne pas touchez" signs made of yellowing cardboard. They are cowed by the funereal atmosphere, and slightly scared by a menacin series of clavecins. Their giant headphones have flopped onto their shoulders and are threatening to strangle them like plastic boa constrictors.

"No, it can't be!" you declare bracingly, but with a creeping sense of doubt.

You go down to the basement which tantalisingly advertises itself as "The Sound Garden".

The "Sound Garden" consists of a single guitar string mounted between two blocks of wood, and an ancient piano whose keys are so silted with chewing gum and waffle crumbs it cannot even muster the WHAM PLUNK BISH BASH ZUNK of St Custard's skool piano, chiz. A couple of TV screens show a mystifying pattern of flickering static. The whole place smells of old lecture halls and mouse droppings. Also in the basement and in a startling concession to modernity, the twentieth century is represented by a Moog synthesiser and a waxy looking model of Johnny Hallyday. Shielding your children's eyes, you repair to the shop, as an assault on the parental purse is always guaranteed to lift their mood.

In the chilly, deserted shop, a man with a waxed moustache sits behind the till listening to 15th century Breton folk songs and stroking a selection of eminently breakable bibelots. You gaze wildly around at the collection of CDs by monobrowed Eastern Europeans in rollnecks and the single wooden recorder and make a break for freedom. Yet another unprepossessing man with facial hair makes you produce a vial of blood and a fragment of the true cross, perform a short minuet and sign a seventy page waiver before he deigns to give you your coat back.

You escape. It is raining. You don't even care.

Tariff: Adults €5, Children €4
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10:00 - 17:00
Better alternatives: gouging eyes out with a sharpened twig, being attacked by a swarm of killer bees, chewing own limbs off, death.

Next time on Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions (which may be as soon as this evening, I feel oddly inspired by my subject matter): Mini Europe and the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

In which I plan the perfect weekend

Things really have to improve and quick.

Take last night. After a whole day pinned to my chair by a hot, sick child, I got drunk very fast and very early on red wine (never my drink of predilection), then lay outside in the rain on a green plastic bench under an ancient smelly Barbour jacket to hide from the hideous cacophony of Squarepusher ("a swarm of angry bees throwing saucepans down a lift shaft", thank you Fourstar). I followed that up with a spell of lying curled foetally round the dog watching Grand Designs and worked up to a crescendo of Friday night crapness by falling asleep halfway through House and having the dénouement explained as follows:

"C'était bien les médicaments, mais il avait comme une boule de nourriture dans l'estomac qui lachait les pillules au fur et à mesure".

What? A ball of food in his stomach that released pills gradually? Bleugh. I hoped fervently I was still drunk. I could totally have nightmares about that.

Anyway, I have decided that I shouldn't get that pathetic again. I have Plans. Oh, yes. I am taking my destiny in hand and changing my life.

Tonight I will drink vodka instead.

AND I have a face mask.

Yes! I am rising, triumphant, like a phoenix, from the ashes of Friday night. AND Fingers is busily giving me lovebites as I type. He's getting it a bit wrong though.

E: Are you biting me, Fingers?

F: Yes.

E: AAAAAH! It hurts.

F: Bon, là je ne fais que sucer. (ok, now I'm just sucking)

[Licks arm]

E: [writhing] Now it tickles!

F: Oh, j'ai beaucoup bavé là (I've dribbled a lot there)

[Lashes starts giving me a Chinese burn on the other arm]

E: Ok, maman needs to go and get a drink. Now.

I am sure you will agree that I have the (imminently) single girl weekend totally nailed.

(This is my roundabout way of saying that if you all have to invite me to all your social occasions from now on, or face a string of posts of increasingly bleak insanity, culminating in a post consisting of a row of random characters as I lay my face on the keyboard and die of social shame. Don't say I didn't warn you)


Friday, 23 October 2009

La grippe, la grippe, la post-nasal drip

At home with poorly eldest child. Somehow the dog has claimed the sofa and duvet, Lashes has my chair and I am sitting on the floor, with a hot clammy hand on the back of my neck, trying to get me to concentrate on the finer points of Ben 10 Alien Force. The heating is on full blast and the house smells of clementines.

In a hangover from my full time working days in London, and in defiance of all logic, days like this feel rather cheerfully like skiving. When Lashes was tiny and I was a proper lawyer, the moment when the nursery rang (every couple of weeks without fail) to say he was running a fever, aroused conflicting emotions. Guilt and anxiety were generally outweighed by a sneaking satisfaction that I could have a day, maybe even two, sneaking around the West End with my baby semi-legitimately. Often he would be just ill enough to be off nursery, but not ill enough to be more than slightly subdued - swathed in several layers and impassive, clutching an inappropriate snack in a hot fist. I have happy memories of furtive trips to Coram Fields to poke the sheep, wandering round the African Galleries at the British Museum looking at videos of hippo dances and pottering along Marylebone High Street celebrity spotting. I was 27 and a bit of a rubbish parent, but these snatched moments were actually quite a treat and it was very reassuring for me to realise I would rather play hooky with my boy than deal with fertiliser mergers. Later, when we lived in Spitalfields and he was, what, 3? I remember taking him for ice cream for his breakfast in Patisserie Valerie when he had mumps* a day so special he still talks of it reverently.

It's not the same now - we are 6 hours and counting into a Ben 10 Alien Force marathon and I can feel my brain liquifying and running out of my nose - but I still rather like it. All bets are off, there's no expectation that we'll manage to do anything remotely productive. We can eat whatever we fancy and watch tv and lie on the floor. Do you remember the bliss of being sick as a small child, if you weren't too sick? In my house it meant melon and orange juice and sorbet in bed, and mid-afternoon you were allowed to take your duvet downstairs and sit on the sofa to watch children's tv. Everyone should still be allowed to do that when they're sick. I would totally pay extra tax to have someone motherly come round and make me tea and toast and a hot water bottle, and I bet I'm not alone.

This is very dull, sorry. The unresolved sexual tension between Kevin and Gwen is stopping me from concentrating and everytime the one with a sort of fiery head booms "ABJECT CREATURE!" I think he's talking to me. Then I just turned round and there's some sort of scorpion driving a spaceship. I'm confused and tired, having been up several times in the night doling out Nurofen, or possibly dog worming pills or shampoo, it was dark and I couldn't be bothered to find the light switch. I'll try and return later with something a little more edifying.

* Yes, he was vaccinated, but unlucky. I am not a raging hippie.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


My brain is a festering, tangled nest of rubbish at the moment. It probably looks a bit like the desk in the hall, but pinker.

(Look away, those of a nervous disposition. Or scroll down, there's a puppy!)

Do NOT, whatever you do, enlarge this photo.

Here are some of the tiny crackling synapses that are preventing me from stringing a thought, or a sentence, together in any meaningful way. Do not try to answer them, unless it entertains you to do so.

- Is that thing on my chest a bite, a spot, or a nest of baby tarantulas? It's a nest of baby tarantulas, isn't it? It's going to explode one evening when I'm on my own in the new house and the baby tarantulas are going to crawl out and eat my face and lay new eggs in my spinal fluid aren't they?

- Will I get a place at the Bust London Craftacular in December to sell arse biscuits (please, please please Bust)?

- Will I ever leave the house - this one or the one to come - in the evening again? Would I even know what to do if I did? Am I doomed to sit hunched over a laptop forever in my old man dressing gown, staring sourly at the dog?

- (Hang on, why did I get a dog? Actually I know this one. Because I am VERY STUPID and have no impulse control. And he used to look like this:


- Is there a fridge in the new house? Shall I buy one from the crazed witch down the street who is selling one, along with the rest of the contents of her house, including a piece of furniture so complex it requires a diagram in her shaky old lady handwriting, and incorporates a BED?

- Shall I buy the complex bed incorporating piece of furniture too just for kicks (I bet it would make a good climbing frame)?

- Why the fuck am I avidly watching Masterchef, when I have eaten nothing but leftover child pasta and Cadbury's Mini Rolls all week?

- Why do I feel so dirty when I am in fact quite clean today? Is it perhaps related to diet of leftover pasta and Mini Rolls? Or is it symptomatic of the state of my filthy, slovenly brain?

Place your questions in the comments and I, or the internet, will try to answer them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

I relive a Northern childhood

The very best thing about this time of year - well joint best with opaque black tights - is the smell. I love the smell of autumn, it makes my chest fizzle with a peculiarly pleasurable melancholy. As a York girl, though, it's never quite the same without the alternating scents of After Eights and sugar beet. York is home both to Rowntrees chocolate factory (now Nestlé, but still home to such confectionery superstars as the Aero, the KitKat and the After Eight) and to a sugar refining plant that only operates in winter. Depending on the direction of the wind, and what was brewing at Rowntrees that day, you would get a cocktail of sweetly acrid beets and chocolate.

Actually, just typing that I'm overcome with nostalgia for the smell of York on a cold autumn day - leaf mulch, chip fat, sugar beet, molten After Eight, exhaust fumes and the constant chilly basenote note of damp grass and mud. I'm right back there in my tiny nylon pleated games skirt, running the gauntlet of all the tuogh eggs (sic, Molesworth) and their taunts of "jolly hockey sticks" as we trudge up to the playing fields, sneaking off when Miss Hooley's back is turned to buy Toffee Crisps and Vice Versas from the corner shop. Or I'm sitting on the low stone wall outside St John's College eating Walkers Roast Chicken Crisps, my heart sinking at the thought of another encounter with Mrs Rothwell, the demonic piano teacher, when I haven't even cut my nails, let alone practised.

While we're getting a bit Proustian about beef dripping and trans fats, I should mention I found out that my own madeleine is Lyons - now McVities - Ginger Cake this weekend. One slice, not dipped in tilleul, that would be gross, but eaten with a large mug of Yorkshire Tea, and I was instantly back in the Bearded One's rural torture chamber in the Yorkshire Dales, savouring my hour of peace with a pony book before being dragged on yet another long march across a springy tufted bog full of rotting sheep carcasses. Ah, the exquisite pain/pleasure of times and things lost, remembered. Ha! Hardly. Mainly it made me glad to be an adult, no longer liable to be subjected to "the ascent of Pen y Ghent from Horton in Ribblesdale" in driving rain with only a Mars Bar and a Peter Storm cagoule between me and hypothermia. In fairness, I should say that this vision comes with a very distinct memory of the Bearded One actually bringing me breakfast in bed, so it wasn't all child abuse. And there was always the possibility of a trip to Leyburn auction house to buy mangy stuffed livestock, or of finding a rabbit slowed to catchability by myxomatosis that I could pet. Until it died. Oh, yes, happy times.

Brussels has the leaf mulch and the mist/petrol dampness and it even has a pretty solid smell of chip fat, mingling with the waffles. But you can't ask for scraps (small pieces of extra crispy batter from the back of the warming cabinet, for the non-initiates, served in a small paper bag for 10p, best eaten sprinkled liberally over your chips) from the wall eyed bosomy giant at the chippie on Lord Mayor's Walk who insists on calling you 'Lucy'. Ah, a Yorkshire childhood. Now pass me me flat cap and me whippet, I'm off down the mine. In clogs.

Touching childhood scenes (or smells) in the comments, please.

Monday, 19 October 2009

From Cowley Road to Rue V

I dropped some papers off at my new house tonight. I get the keys on Wednesday.

"My new house". "My house".

It's a bit surreal. The last time I was involved in dealing with a house by myself - and not even then, really - I was twenty and sharing a red brick semi next door to the Mecca Bingo on Cowley Road in Oxford with four other students. That house shared a party wall with a local authority halfway house and on the day we moved in there was a stabbing. I arrived on my own, thankfully, but one of my housemates came with her mother who had to have a lie down and brandy when she discovered her darling daughter was moving into a crime scene, surrounded by police tape and forensic teams. Similar incidents dogged us all year and the residents had a peculiar fondness for playing New Order's Blue Monday twenty times in a row on the dot of midnight and for standing in our back yard throwing cans of Tennants Export at the windows.

None of us had any furniture, obviously, barring our obligatory kettles and toasters, and for two terms I lived in what was essentially a cupboard. Once the child sized single bed was in the room, you could barely open the door and I had to keep my clothes downstairs in the living room, which was mysteriously decorated with pictures of Princess Diana's eyes that followed you round the room. It was so cold I had to wear a fleece hat in bed as well as all my clothes. My radiator leaked and I had to rip the mouldy carpet up and manhandle it out. The trap door in the roof collapsed, disgorging a hundredweight of Islamic tracts. It was cold and dirty and full of brown swirly carpets, possibly borrowed from the Mecca Bingo.

I can't say this is particularly happy precedent. I was on steroids for my alopecia that made me fat and crochety and old generation anti-depressants that made me feel like I was swimming through concrete. I spent my days in libraries full of happy, glowing, hair commercial girls, staring into the middle distance and trying to concentrate, and I ate Marks and Spencer microwaved low fat ready meals every night. I hardly ever went out: my chief leisure activities were smoking, bulimia and driving fast around the ring road in my little car listening to music very very loud. I remember the house warming party where I went to bed at 10 and people kept coming in to sit on my bed and mock our very serious 'Men's Health' reading housemate who kept weights in his bedroom, an activity I had always been very good at before (mockery, not weights). I remember how very puzzled they were that over the summer I had become this ginger haired puffy recluse who had lost her sharp tongue, and how they wouldn't believe me when I told them I had gone bald.

It was a very lonely time; a time when I felt like whatever grand plan I might have had for my life was slipping out of reach at precisely the time when everyone around me seemed to be finding theirs. I felt utterly alienated, vulnerable, stuck in the wrong place, temporally, emotionally, physically as well as geographically. I think some of my love and affection for London comes from it being the place I escaped to from Oxford. We arrived in London in June 1997, just after Tony Blair had won the election. Do you remember what that felt like? How people were grinning at each other on public transport? Imagine that, plus the euphoria of escaping Oxford, and the joy of living in Fitzrovia, a hundred yards from Oxford Street. It was magical.

But I am ready to do it again, hopefully without the ginger wig, smoking, bulimia, loneliness or low fat ready meals. I peeped through my letterbox and the house looked as light and welcoming as I remembered it. I peeped in at the neighbours house too; they have a piano as well, so I can play half arsed, half remembered Chopin Preludes abusing the sustain pedal as much as I want to cover the screw ups. They have six children, so hopefully the sounds of my skreeking spawn will be swallowed up in theirs. There will be an Ektorp, and a table and lots of bowls.

It's going to be okay.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Eat Your Words (TM)

It is becoming increasingly evident that I need a money making scheme. My new landlord is pulling faces about my pathetic income and the spawn are bleeding me dry with their ceaseless demands for Gogos, Chupa Chups and weapons grade plutonium. On top of that I've fallen in love with this dress India put on her WORK OF THE DEVIL, sorry, site full of desirable things destined to bankrupt me.

Thankfully, with assistance from my team of creative thinkers (you know who you are but I imagine you'd rather I take sole responsibility for this particular project, if not, claim your glory in the comments) I have a Plan.

Building on the entirely unexpected success of Arse Biscuits this summer, I intend to launch "Eat Your Words", a range of evil, insulting, mean, homemade, organic biscuits*.

Compose your own message (thirteen characters maxium, which is oddly appropriate) or choose from one of our selection.

Selection 1: the baby shower, birth or christening selection box. Any new mummy will love this unique gift!

Selection 2: the wedding present:

A sensitive, moving single biscuit box for funerals:

Celebrate a friend or relative's exam success:

Or this 'generic insult' selection box is a touching, thoughtful gift for that special someone.

Suggest an occasion and a biscuit message in the comments (thirteen characters or less), and I'll make it for you.

(*When I say "intend to launch", obviously I mean "do not intend to launch at all, but will be furious if someone else does it")

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Holiday guest post

I did a guest post here today. I might be back later with something else. Fingers and I are off on a dangerous navigation mission to the English Shop MILES away in the depths of the countryside, which will almost certainly end in tears even before it ends in Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Lashes has put his pyjamas back on (it's 2pm) for a crappy tv marathon. The CFO, nursing the blackest, most horrible of hangovers, has joined him. We are almost certain to find the pair of them haven't moved a single muscle when we eventually get home around midnight.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Friday night poor excuse for a bloeugh

Having one of those evenings where I feel like I ought to be out wearing something short and black and precarious, drinking double G and Ts and thinking I am scintillating until I fall over. Instead, I am wearing a dirty hoodie and mud spattered jeans and have been watching some kind of vintage Transformers cartoon c1982 for what feels like hours with increasing puzzlement. (E: 'So hang on, Optimus Prime is dead? And the things with tentacles have turned him into, what? An evil zombie?' Children: 'Nooooo!' [eye rolling]). Apart from that, I made pancakes and located the Migraleve. This is the sum total of my achievements for the day.

The remainder of the evening stretches out dismally, much as the weepette and I stretch out dismally on the uncomfortable sofa, watching the moths flutter balletically past us, in search of more jumpers to eat. I have just clicked morosely across to gmail, which offers me the following targeted advertising headline: "Terminal sidekick". I fear weepette may be my terminal sidekick.

I am conscious I mainly whine at the moment. Sorry. Is there anything I can do for you? Would you like me to make a horrible cake tomorrow or something? Rude biscuits? Also, I thought if you would like me answer any questions I could answer them in the comments. I could tell you about Belgium! No? Ok then. I could tell you other stuff. Anything! Go on, validate my sad, empty Friday night or the weepette gets it.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Thursday ingredients

This Thursday 15th October contains:

10% Dog care

(Composed of:

4% Trudging round forest in unsuitable footwear.

1% Irritation at dog depositing toys on my knee despite lengthy trudge round forest.

1% Bellowing "Oh for fuck's sake no I will not throw your ball"

2% Throwing ball in a rubbish fashion around the house.

1% Fantasising about life without a dog.

1% Guilty ear stroking.

3% Bath

(1% realising only thing to wash with is Origins Ginger Scrub or dog shampoo 1% deciding plain water will have to do, 1% remembering I am rubbish at baths)

5% Looking for something to wear

(1% failing to choose, 1% why don't I have any trousers, 2% oh look there they all are dirty 1% I'll just scratch the worst of the bolognaise off)

10% Chapter 3 rewrites

(3% hating Chapter 3 altogether 1% blank despair, 2% self-loathing, 4% inertia)

20% Twitter

(5% keyword nonsense 5% things I want to crush, 10% other pointless rubbish)

10% gchat

( 2% Discussing the downsides of a bed with memory foam (M: a bed with a BRAIN. That's got to be good, surely? E: Think carefully about what you are saying. Are you sure you want your bed remembering everything?),
4% dissing Oliver James gleefully,
4% trying to decide what scent smells of competence AND sexiness and not being surprised I don't like the smell of it).

5% Anxious scrutiny of face for increasing jowliness.

5% Filling jowly face with Cadbury Caramels and shortbread with apparent disregard for the rules of cause and effect.

5% Planning a spoof "What's in your basket" and then postponing it due to camera battery death and general apathy.

5% Bank awkwardness.

(1% wondering how that can be any of your business, bank manager, 1% unfocussed guilt, 1% bored now, 2% recovering).

20% Child wrangling.

(composed of 2% don't do that, 2% stop teasing your brother/the dog, 2% no you can't have sweets for breakfast/a fourth pudding/a machine gun, 5% finding lost things, 3% bellowing, 6% tight squeezing)

5% Crap dinner making

(1% what is there? 1% what will anyone eat without whining? 2% what can I be arsed to do? 1% god I hate this)

Trace elements of wine and itchiness.

Composition of your Thursday?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I have plants

My children are not remotely strange or damaged and even if they are, I have PLANTS in my house. My friend Claire works as a barrister in child protection and she told me that if you have houseplants social workers will never take your children away from you. FACT.


Our dog is called Nicola Sazecosi.

2. This is my mother. She has a luxuriant moustache and a small purple brain.

But when she wakes up in the morning she looks like this:

My brother and I were raised by a stegosaurus. We wish he would come back. Please come back Steve.

Or Dave.

(This reads like I am drunk. I'm not at all, honest. Jo asked if I could put a bigger picture of Nicolas Sarkozy up, and then I got distracted by various other pictures. Anyway it's fine because I have plants and some of them are even alive).

More shit hot parenting

See? I haven't forgotten about my children. Look, here they are. Sweet, resilient, affectionate, maddening. I hate that sofa though, it's slithery and unyielding. I can't wait to have an Ektorp or two all of my own. I like the weepette's expression of gloomy forbearance.

Shortly after I took this picture we had the following conversation:

L: Would Speedy Sexeur [the homosexual daschund in the parc du caca] sex with a hedgehog?
E: I doubt it.
F: It would pique his breasts.
L: Aïe! Ouille!
E: He doesn't have breasts, he's a boy.
F: But why did you say you would cut Oscar's breasts off to stop him sexing too much?
E: Not breasts! Testicules.
F: Ah! Testicules.
E: Actually, I don't know if they cut them off, or just empty them.
L: Maman, I liked it when we watched the rabbit sexing and his zizi went woooooo (mimes detumescence). Wooooo! Wooooo!
E: Mmm.

And all I can think is, "should I tell them that "sexer", "to sex" isn't a verb? Because I don't think there's a satisfactory equivalent.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Capsule house

I am looking for some emphatic and prescriptive help, please.

As of last night, I am the proud owner of a ten year old dishwasher and oven, and a set of orange towelling bathroom curtains (? perhaps). This is a big moment. The house already boasts a washing machine and, er, nothing else.

I own:

Lots of bowls (my favourite is the Gien artichoke bowl seen here )

Lots of melamine plates

Lots of mugs and tea cups

2 teapots

2 tea cosies

2 moustache pint glasses

A 1950s flower patterned tea set (incomplete)

A cake stand

Lots of Japanese tea caddies

A Kitchenaid mixer

A full - absurdly full - set of baking equipment

2 stolen paring knives

A blini pan

1, possibly 2 saucepans

A piano

A tiny, antique two person sofa covered in fragile Neisha Crosland silk, unsuitable for children and weepettes.

A large, ancient armchair, jointly owned by the weepette, reupholstered in unwisely pale fabric.

A Squint armchair (present to self in days when I used to earn decent money)

A reissued blue Eames RAR rocker (33rd birthday present)

Too many books, most of which I will never reread

Lots of pictures (large, sombre Barbara Rae Spanish seascape on loan from Papa Waffle, tiny Keith Vaughan pencil drawing of 2 men, 18th birthday present, Steve Bell cartoon, 18th birthday present, Dufy pen and ink of an orchestra, bought with insurance pay out when my mother died, small Dufy pen and ink of a woman's back, 30th birthday present from CFO, two Peter Callesen works on paper, a Rob Ryan print, etc etc)

A hammer

That is all.

What do I need, except a kettle and a mattress? Every five minutes something else strikes me (ironing board! Rubbish bins!) and it's oppressive. Can we try and establish the capsule house collection? Is there one thing I will not have thought of that I will need, and what is the absolute minimum required to manage?

Monday, 12 October 2009


I am sweating the small stuff.

The things that are putting me into a lather of anxiety are trivial, footling, in the context dealing with the psychic scars I am inflicting on my children, the grave health worries of family and friends, finances that patently don't add up, keeping my job. That properly frightening stuff is hidden behind a smokescreen of lost pieces of paper and the sourcing of replacement wind up aliens.

1. I am worried about how to walk the weepette with a knee the size of the Duchy of Luxembourg and whether I can stand the shame of returning to the Dr Kevorkian of knees, sheepishly confessing that I was TOO CHICKEN to turn up for the series of injections he prescribed me. I'm sorry, Dr Kevorkian. But an injection that requires an initial injection of lidocaine to bear the pain of the injection is an injection too far for me.

2. I am worried that my canines are yellower than my other teeth and look awful. And that I am not sure I can bear the pain of tooth whitening again, so infinitely worse than childbirth (No hyerbole. It was way worse, I have very sensitive teeth and that neuralgic pain is much nastier than an honest to goodness, ripped stem to stern contraction). This combined with my piggy lashless eyes and elephant man knee will condemn me to life as a hideous recluse. Neighbourhood children will dare each other to knock on my door and run away before I drag my limping, gin sodden carcass out to snarl at them.

3. I will be a recluse in an entirely empty house, because I am terrified of Ikea and only own a hammer, three bent picture hooks and a screwdriver set from a Christmas cracker. I cannot build Kinder toys satisfactorily, let alone flat packs. Nor do I have any prospect of seducing anyone into assisting me, see 2, above.

4. I am worried that there will never be a day when Fingers doesn't have at least one verucca. And that I will be too chicken to burn them off myself, so soon his entire foot will be one massive verucca and he will walk like a deformed London pigeon and be taken into care and never become a professional Techtonik dancer.

5. Ditto Lashes and tooth decay. Soon he will be like Alan, the small boy at my childminder's whose parents were in charge of emptying the bubblegum machines outside newsagents shops (mid 1970s) who, aged 4, had barely a tooth to his name.

6. I am inordinately worried at the prospect of having to visit the municipal Service des Etrangers again to change my address. This is what cognitive behavioural specialists would describe as a rational fear, or at least they would if they had ever lived in Belgium. The Service des Etrangers is where hope comes to die. It is staffed by black belt sadists in woefully inadequate numbers. One, two or three visits (each visit lasting in excess of 3 hours, I am not exaggerating, back me up here Belgian residents) are never enough, however many illuminated manuscripts, GCSE certificates, Green Shield stamps, signed photos of Johnny Halliday and fragments of the True Cross you bring with you.

7. I have just agreed to buy various things from the previous tenant for €200. Whilst I know I have bought a dishwasher and cooker, I have NO IDEA what the third thing is, and was too embarassed to ask. All I know is it is in the bathroom and the word "éponge" was involved (towelling, or sponge). Presumably she hasn't sold me a sponge? Or a bathmat? I will not know until I get there, and will probably hate it. What towelling item could possibly be unwieldy enough to have to be left behind? I am getting a olfactory premonition of mildew.

8. HSBC. I can't say anymore because I get sweaty palms.

You get the picture. The comments box is there, welcoming and non-judgmental, for your own trivial worries.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Call me Norm

Back from rainy Scotchland. My place card at the wedding made me wonder just how many members of my family read this weblog:

Hello, family members!

(I have covered my surname with a Gogo to preserve some shred of anonymity, because, like, I am so protective of my private life, hem hem)

This also means I cannot tell you about my hideous wedding faux pas. If you really really want to know and can prove you aren't related to me, email with your family tree and I'll tell you.


1. It's odd to see them en masse, that side of the family. It's like seeing small pieces of my mother spread around various bodies; small dark women were everywhere, giving me agonising double takes. Sitting behind the mother of the bride at the ceremony, her hair and neck and ears looked so like her I almost wanted to reach out and give her a stroke, but then Fingers got himself entwined in a length of purple taffeta and one of my hold ups fell down, and the moment passed, thankfully.

2. Also, going to a beautiful, moving wedding full of hope and optimism when Things are as they are, four days before I take possession of the new house, was not the most sensible thing I could have done, either emotionally or administratively. I don't regret it though. Perhaps the maddeningly obtuse guy at Burger King in Glasgow Central Station does.

3. My children are totally, irretrievably French. I have never seen two children dance quite so seriously. They do whole body French dancing. I was torn between grudging respect and mortification.

4. I wore this dress and hoped noone would notice the magic eye motif. Is this remotely plausible? If the answer is no, lie to me. Remember, Scottish wedding, well stocked bar, many many glitteringly feathered outfits. Man, they dress up. I wish someone had warned me. Not that anything in the Shroud Collection could possibly have looked right, but I could at least have dipped myself in glitter, or worn a bit better make up. As it was, the Magic Eye dress was grubby and crumpled from a trip on Michael O'Leary's magical mystery tour, as was I, and the spawn were similarly coated in a mixture of sugar and ketchup. We looked like the gypsy entertainment but without the, uh, entertainment.

5. I need your help with this one. My sister, the Space Cadette, tried to convince me that people in Britain are now all keeping chickens in their back gardens as an accepted mainstream activity. She's wrong, isn't she? It's because she lives with trustafarian freegan hippies, right?

6. This is utterly disjointed because we had to get up at half past five. We were staying somewhere so primitive it did not appear to have telephones. The wake up call was a whey faced fourteen year old knocking on our door. On top of that, I was sharing a bed with Lashes, who turns into a giant heated elbow at night. I do hope to become more coherent soon, but I will spend most of the week tackling my vomitous phobia of the bank and the telephone so posting may be of the fuckfuckfuckpanicfuck variety.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sexy feet, boring clothes and Kate O'Mara eyebrows

After the gloom comes the shiny. You know how much I like shiny. Shiny, shiny distractions from what on earth a "garantie locative" is and how to obtain one, and how to get to Prestwick airport at 6am on a Sunday morning. Here are the shiny interludes from the last few days.

I did go to Uniqlo to check out the +J stuff. I really have no idea if I actually liked what I bought, or if I was merely dazzled by the shiny promise of rare, limited edition, designer cheapness and the glossy magazine hysteria ('Grazia says I have to buy it! Now!').

The hysteria propelled me to buy a black wool pencil skirt (£24.99) and a black merino jumper (also £24.99). They are unlikely to get anyone's pulse racing, but they are very useful, yawn. In fact, they might be a decent sleep aid. Look:

Look once before retiring, and zzzzzzzzz.

Also, I love how I can make brand new clothes look dishevelled and creased, and generally a bit lived in. I should work on historical film sets painstakingly ageing the costumes simply by eating my breakfast and walking the dog in them.

This gratuitous loo shot - I know you love checking out whether we ever change the copy of The Economist (answer: no) - allows me to segue seamlessly into yesterday, when I found myself sitting on the loo (and in the bath, and on the bed) at Papa Waffle's balancing a laptop and plate of waffles as a lovely photographer not acquainted with my total absence of motor skills encouraged me as follows:

"Could you just throw the waffle up in the air, then look at me and pretend to be typing. Then breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Remember, we're aiming for FUN".

(I'm contributing to an article on blogging. Yes! Blogging is fun! Noone mention the apocalypse!)

I particularly liked the bit where his sidekick, who has threatened to comment on these pages using his over the hill drag queen alter-ego if I misrepresent him, told me I should try and raise one eyebrow like Kate O'Mara.

I didn't like to tell him I don't have any eyebrows.

"Remember SEXY FEET Emma!".

Oh yes, sorry. Sexy feet, breathe through your mouth, Kate O'Mara eyebrows, toy with a piece of waffle, throw one up in the air and catch it AND type. And make it FUN. Easy. Especially when you are 83% white wine after a wonderful Twitter lunch here (mmm pizza bianca) with Mrs Trefusis and a selection of other luminaries (Mrs Trefusis did sterling work trying to persuade the other attendees to take a part share in the weepette, sadly without success).

Incapacited both by the wine and hilarity, I was very bad at all of this and haunted by the fear of leaving waffle crumbs. The Bearded One can be quite terrifying.

"Papa Waffle has a mouse problem" I would wail every few minutes, brushing ineffectually at the crumbling waffle mountain. "I'm DEAD if he ever sees this".

"Mouse! Good idea. Ok, Emma, how about balancing your mouse on top of that pile of waffles like a mouse mat?"

I can hardly bear to imagine what the results will be like. I deliberately didn't ask to see them in case they were crushing. I strongly suspect they will never see the light of day, but will be replaced with an archive picture of a waffle, or Hercule Poirot. They told me I was a "good sport" which sounds suspiciously to me as if I might have forty three chins and look like the village idiot. Perhaps Hercule is the way to go.

I also went from Reading, to Notting Hill, to Wimbledon to Soho, to the Acton Megabowl (for my niece's birthday party, terribly hungover and unwillingly assisted by a taciturn cab driver called Julian), back to Soho and back to Notting Hill all in 24 hours. My Oyster card is steaming, and I think that Boris Johnson should give me a medal, frankly.

I return on Sunday. I will have much to relate, I imagine and might even squeeze something in before then. Prayers, please, for Michael O'Leary's box of metal death not to fall out of the sky.

Not Sponsored by the Belgian Tourist Board

I have been lax. I will probably continue to be lax, because the spawn and I are going to a wedding in Scotland tomorrow on one of Michael O'Leary's iron birds of death. There might be more later today though.

I caught the Eurostar last night with about a minute to spare - I had already rung home and said I had missed it, but somehow I squeezed through check in and skittered all the way up the escalators and onto the train.

I am rummaging around in my many bags for my book, single hold ups and packets of Gogos flying in all directions when I notice a man sitting on one of the fold up seats in the corridor, his body hunched in misery, on the phone. He's in his mid-twenties, wearing his interview suit.

"No, but I'm not staying. I can't take the job, I really don't want to. You don't know what it's like out there".

I already have a suspicion he isn't talking about Rwanda.

"I'm telling you, it's like living in North Korea or something. Did you know that just to LIVE there I have to go and register at the police station or something?" his voice rises incredulously.

[Belgofact #1: Yes, absolutely true. You go round once, and then the policeman pays your house a cunning surprise visit to check that you actually live there. Then you have to go back again and if he's anything like our policeman, he writes your name in a giant copperplate ledger and tells you about your own back garden in alarming detail].

"And, right, I asked at work when pay day was, because you know, it's useful to know and do you know what they told me? If I want to get paid I have to set up my own company and INVOICE them".

[Belgofact #2: Yes, members of the professions - lawyers, consultants, accountants - have to do this. They all make use of a small ferrety man called Jean Luc who comes to your house and hypnotises you into allowing him to sell you someone's second hand company.]

His head slumps backwards against the train wall.

"And it's not even as if I want to live there. It's ok for a weekend I suppose.. "

His voice suggests it is decidedly not ok, even for a weekend

"..but it's so boring and grey".

My jaw drops slightly.

[Belgobias: No! It is not grey and boring at all. Callow child thinks it is because he's barely moved from his serviced apartment to the Rue de la Loi, brutalist superhighway of the European institutions. Brussels is full of beautiful untouched art nouveau houses, squares, bars. It has more disturbing cultural events per head of population than anywhere in Europe - go on, I challenge you to disprove that.]

I don't say anything even though I'm tempted. I'm hardly a glittering advert for Belgian living, and anyway, who says Belgium wants yet another ungrateful Brit sneering at the fact that there's a metro station called Kunst-Wet? I go and sit down feeling mildly affronted for my adoptive city.

When we reach the Gare du Midi it is pouring and my taxi driver doesn't have a clue where to go. My brain is refusing to readjust to French, like when you take the first roundabout off the ferry the wrong way round - I can't remember how to say tram depot . The driver stalls twice going up a hill. Eventually we limp home and I wrestle my bags into the house. Home. The dog greets me in a flurry of clattering nails, his tail wagging his body in a way that startles even him, and I am so relieved to be here, but instantly sad. And It's not the dog's fault, not Brussels's fault, not London's fault, not mine, not the CFO's, not anyone's.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Weekly Review that isn't

I was going to do one of those weekly review type posts, but when I typed 'Monday' the realisation hit me that I would far rather bury this week deep, deep in Satan's compost heap of crap weeks.

So edited highlights it is.

Er. I have not been out and had fun or indeed any entertaining catastrophes. I believe we established yesterday that noone gives a shit about what the weepette and I get up to in the forest in the mornings.

I made a sticky toffee cake. It had the most amazing caramel topping. We ate most of it directly out of the saucepan. I am ninety three percent caramel and the rest is remorse and indigestion.

Oh! And I got a new name. My new name is "le preneur" because I signed the lease on my new house. I am not going to say that again because I get palpitations. I will say, however, that I have rashly committed to put up a fence.

"Oui, oui il n'ya pas de souci" I said, blithely, carried away with delusions of my own competence.

I presume I do not need to tell you that I have no idea how to put up a fence. It falls into the currently vast category of 'things I do not know but need to learn fast' (see also: dealing with Belgacom, the most deliberately obtuse telecommunications company on the planet, building complex toys, budgeting, installing curtain rails, flatpack furniture, obtaining insurance in Belgium, navgiating Ikea solo, etc etc etc until I pass out hyperventilating).

Thankfully there is another category of 'stuff that will stand me in good stead'. Yes, I am all about the positive, sort of. I have found FOUR items in this category:

1. The Superpower of Non-squeamishness. I can deal with anything, however dead, disgusting, regurgitated.

2. The Total Absence of Fear - spiders, mice, burglars, foxes, airborne plagues, bats, moths, illness, the dark. Piece of piss. (er, the phone? not so much a piece of piss)

3. The Complete Acceptance of My Own Company - years of holidays in rural shitholes all alone with only a pile of novels and my parents to ignore have left me with no fear of solitude. I will be talking to myself, unwashed, eating only Bonne Maman Creme Caramel and have fingernails the length of pencils within a few weeks, but I will be perfectly at ease in my own company. Which is an excellent thing as noone else will dare come near me.

4. My Own Hammer. Yes, I only have one tool, but what a tool. It is a compact ladies' hammer from Barnitts, York's hardware emporium to the stars.

Armed with my four super assets (no, we are not talking about my quadraboob) I am ready to stride out and take possession of my new home. Je suis "le preneur!" Hear me roar! Just as soon as I have worked out how to communicate with my landlord using semaphore, because there's no way I'm picking up the phone.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Oscar and Lola

Lola loves Oscar.

Lola is a black pug, the size and shape of a bowling ball. She has the chest of a nightclub bouncer, and bandy dwarf cowboy legs. She has those googly bulging thyroidic eyes and a face like someone has squashed her. Most of the dogs in the park fear Lola and her baleful, unprovoked aggression. She gallops asthmatically after them and bites their ears and tails. You can hear her menacing panting as she closes in for the kill, flopping her whole body on top of her protesting target.

"She doesn't know her own strength!" says her elderly lady owner proudly oblivious. Everyone else rolls their eyes and moves quickly away, pulling their dogs with them.

But when Lola sees Oscar something magical happens. Something about Oscar's spindly limbs and speedy circling, his pharaonic eye make up and cowardliness speaks to Lola. Her googly eyes widen with desire; she wants to fly like Oscar, to defy gravity. She slows to a hunter's stalk, measured, deliberate. Then she pounces, running as fast as her stumpy little legs will carry her, jerkily following Oscar as he swooshes away like a racehorse, half playful and half terrified. She is surprisingly fast, barely seconds behind him as he swerves and jumps and gallops off. She's tenacious. We watch them chase each other around the open space at the entrance to the wood; it's comic but also rather beautiful. Each time they circle past us, Lola is panting more heavily, rasping and sweaty. Oscar's eyes bulge and his muscles ripple. His legs go too fast for his body and sometimes he loses his footing.

When Oscar collapses in a heap, flat, skinny and pale like a crêpe, Lola stands four square on top of him, staring down intently at her prey. She isn't sure what to do with him now she's caught him. She gives his ear an experimental nip; Oscar squeals and wriggles free, and they're off again, palamino racehorse and wheezy black shetland pony.

Eventually Lola's owner forces her to stop, worried she'll give herself a heart attack, burst open that weightlifter's chest with the effort. Lola pulls on her leash and whimpers as I escort Oscar away. We're halfway across the wood when I hear the heavy breathing again; she's slipped her lead and stands a few feet away, squat and intense, staring at us. I can hear her owner shouting, ineffectually for her, but Lola's mind is on other things. She makes yet another dash for Oscar, who easily eludes her, scooting off in a flurry of gangly legs. I catch her, and escort her back, her gaze intently fixed on Oscar, who trots alongside at a wary distance.

I love it when we meet Lola. I'm not sure why, but she makes me oddly optimistic.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Bottom tips

I don't usually recycle from "the Twitter", as Non-Working Monkey calls it. But this provoked such outpourings of brilliance, I had to share.

I have been asked, obscurely, to provide a "top tip". I sat and fretted about this for a while, marvelling at the blankness of that part of my brain. I know lots of things that don't work.

Conkers, cloves, freezing your clothes - none of these prevent moth infestation. At least, not infestation by my super-evolved über-moths.

I thought about advising 'don't buy a dog', but it sounded bitter.

'Don't cook on a gas hob wearing a dressing gown with voluminous sleeves'. I have the singe marks to prove it.

Or "Just because the HSBC offers you £9000 credit on your card doesn't mean you have £9000 of actual money".

Nothing positive though. More a series of life lessons learned, or not even learned, from mistakes. I was looking for something marginally more inspirational, so I threw it open to the floor.

Replies came in various categories.

There were the practical tips:

"Shine up your scuffed patent leather with Windolene "

"If your butter is too hard to bake with, grate it into the mixture, it'll warm up faster"

"Those tiny bottles of false nail glue (bottle w/ brush) better than Superglue for EVERYTHING + easier to apply "

"Non-oily eye makeup remover gets almost any stain out of anything, including carpets".

"Lipbalm = best thing in the world if your shoes are starting to blister the backs of your feet and you have no plasters"

The correct way to peel a banana.

"Keep individual lemon wedges in the freezer. Then you are never more than 20 secs from a cold gin and tonic".

Then there were verging on surreal.

"No binoculars? don't fret, simply stand closer to the object you wish to see"

"Tie a double knot in your shoelaces and make sure your skirt isn't tucked into your knickers"

"Don't waste money on expensive face creams, simply replace all the light bulbs in the country with 20 watt soft tone"

"Pop a magnet in your mouth and dip your chin in iron filings for instant designer stubble!"

"Two walnut shells banged together will give impression of very small horse approaching".

"HEDGEHOGS make unusual mobile cheese & pineapple cube nibble dispensers at parties"

"Use a disposable nappy in lieu of a tea cosy - keeps it drinkably hot for ages"

"On returning from a night out, look carefully at the tubes around your sink, or you might end up brushing your teeth with Veet". (or, let me add, washing your face with Sisley Celluli-Pro).

Dave Yello came up with "Keep your tail close and your enemies closer". I was a little surprised it wasn't the other way round, but you don't argue with a T-Rex.

My BMF said "Always carry a tea tree infused flannel" . "What on EARTH for?" I asked him. "Er, I just feel safer knowing I can always be clean?". It's an abiding mystery how we manage to be friends. It was even worse when my children still liked raisins. He HATES raisins. Of course, now there's the dog, that might be even worse. Dog or raisins, BMF?

M shares my brain, so she was no use. She just flapped around a bit and said "Masking tape?"

The whole process ground to a halt when some one sent me a link to these Top Tips. They are magnificent. I had such a hard time deciding which one I liked best. I have a soft spot for the frozen toothpaste slices as after dinner mints, but ultimately I thought the best tip ever, surely, was this one.

Do you have a top tip? And if not, why not?

Ps: In the end I went for "Lower your standards".

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Disasterchef Belgium

Not for my children, the rosy remembrance of their childhood meals. No Proustian memories evoked by my delicious signature dishes. The spawn had a nostalgic discussion about something I had made this evening.

"You remember that thing we wouldn't even touch?"

"That hardly narrows it down. Which one?"

"It was a like a PIE" (shuddering)

"What, like apple pie?"

"No, like MEAT pie"

"I have never made a meat pie in my life. What was in it?"

"Puree" (more shuddering)

"Oh! Shepherds Pie? Hachis Parmentier?"

"Yes! Hachis Parmentier! That was the most disgusting food ever".

"What worse than everything they give you in school?"


I am a rubbish cook as they well know. I'm sure I used to be ok, when it was something I could do occasionally, just for fun. Now I just circle dully around what we could laughingly call my 'repertoire' until something breaks. It's usually me.

Casting around for someone to blame, I am tempted to alight on my younger son. Not only does Fingers eschew all nourishment, living on rage and biscuit crumbs alone, but he has strong views on the poor excuses for meals I do produce. Anything which might conceivably offend his palate (in the unlikely even he were to accidentally eat any of it) is greeted with a full scale diva meltdown. It's like having a small, French AA Gill in the kitchen.

For instance:

Pasta with tomato sauce or bolognese

Fingers rating: Red. Moaning. "Uuuugh, tu sais que je déteste ça"*

Uncle Ben's Microwave Rice, lardons, peas, sweetcorn (please don't kick me M, I know you have strong views on the subject of Oncle Ben)

Fingers rating: Amber. Toyed with, upper lip slightly curled in disdain. He's judging me, silently.

Sausages and chips

Fingers rating: Green/Amber: "Il est où le KETCHUUUUP".

Fishfingers and chips

Fingers rating: Black. Body flops to the ground and jerks around in apparent grand mal seizure "Nooooooooooooon! Pas des feeeshfinger!"

Soup (probably bought, I'm not stupid enough to make my own when I know it's going straight in the bin)

Fingers rating: Red/Black. Inconsolable weeping followed by "Mais à l'école c'est bon. Celle-ci elle n'est pas bonne du tout. Elle est dégoûtante"**

Roast chicken

Fingers rating: Orange. "Que de la peau! C'est trop seeeeec***"

It's reached the point where I dread putting anything on the table; I feel like I'm cooking for Michael Winner every night, if Michael Winner were required to eat in a particularly unreconstructed Happy Eater. Something must change. At present I don't know what that is. Maybe I will indenture him to some Belgian chef. Or maybe the Belgian authorities will take him into care for neglect. He'd make a good case.

* You know I hate that
**But at school it's nice. This one isn't nice at all. It's disgusting.
*** Just skin, it's too dry