Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Some things about Belgium

I have been remiss. What have I told you about Belgium in the 14 months I have been blogging? Almost nothing. Ok, there was the highly informative 'Belgium with toys'. But since then? I think you need a cultural primer. It might have to be in several parts as I gradually remember stuff about Belgium that I may have supressed.


1. Belgium is not France

Some, including a number of the Space Cadette's friends, doubt the existence of Belgium, or think of it as a large French city. But Belgium is emphatically NOT France. The French would be the first to tell you this. They tell jokes about Belgians like the British tell jokes about the Irish. They are keen to emphasise how un-Belgian they are.

Belgians have special words for croissants (couque) and zips (tirette) and bottoms (pet) that the French find endlessly funny, especially when coupled with Belgian accents. They have their own Belgian system of numbering, that whilst much more logical and faster than the French one, is derided as ridiculous by the French. "Nonante?!!" mock the French, clutching their sides, "Quatre vignt dix, voyons!" . No matter that this is the equivalent of an English speaker saying 'four twenty ten" instead of "ninety". No, the Belgian way is the wrong way because French superiority is beyond challenge.

Of course, only half of Belgium even speaks French. The other half are allowed to use any numbers they want. The French are magnanimous like that. French visitors will speak to them loudly in French regardless.


2. There are plenty of famous Belgians

Si si si. The reason noone thinks there are any famous Belgians is that Belgium was in fact only invented yesterday. If I can just drift slightly off topic for a moment, predictably it hasn't turned out to be such a great idea, plastering a boundary around a disparate group of mittel-Europeans none of whom speak the same language in an aribtrarily created 'country', but at least in Belgium noone kills each other about it. This is ethnic conflict for the terminally laid back and quite right too.

Anyway. There are lots of people who were 'Belgian' before Belgium, like Breughel and um, other people. You can suggest almost anyone is actually Belgian if you do it with enough conviction. Watch.

E: Elton John is actually Belgian, you know.

Visitor: Wow, really?

E: Oh yes. He was born in Charleroi. Tom Cruise too.

Visitor: That's amazing!

I have derived this foolproof technique from my finals, where I tested my theory that as long as you give a date with sufficient conviction, and the event in question is at least slightly obscure, it will be accepted unquestioningly by the examiners. It is not entirely excluded that I may have actually made up some events in non-conformist religious history in the eighteenth century entirely. Plausibility is all.

So. There are some famous Belgians, but in any event it doesn't matter, you can say anyone is Belgian. Try it!


3. They say 'please' when they give you something which is plain weird and when you end up doing it yourself you have assimilated and there is NO HOPE.

I mean in shops and restaurants and so on, when they give you your change or your food or whatever. I suspect this makes sense in Dutch, where you say alstublief. S'il vous plaît already sounds strange, and when they actually do it in English it is WRONG. But soon enough, you find it creeping into your speech patterns until you hand a stick to your dog whilst saying 'please' and then you might as well go and jump off the top of the Atomium for there is no escape.


4. Even the Prime Minister doesn't know the Belgian national anthem

This is absolutely TRUE. The Belgian National Anthem is a plinky plonky piece of nonsense called La Brabançonne. But when Yves Leterme, one of the five or six job sharing prime ministers that spin around the surreal carousel of Belgian politics, was asked to sing it, he sang La Marseillaise instead.


5. The King of Belgium does NOT give you a driving licence for your 18th birthday

I know this because when I googled it the only thing that comes up is this blog. That's fact checking for you, right there.


6. There are so many ministers in the Belgian government that if you throw a stone in any direction off the top of the Atomium you are 100% guaranteed to hit one

At any one time 67% of the population of Belgium is holding ministerial office in one capacity or another. The rest are taking it in turns to be Prime Minister.


I do hope this helps. If you have further questions about Belgium do please put them in the comments box.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Symptom relief

I have been thinking recently, can't imagine why, about the things that help when you are feeling shitty. Not the things that they tell you about in magazines (long walks, baths, calling a friend, laughter, the shining faces of children, the dew on a kitten's paw, etc etc). The things that REALLY help. Though let's be clear, it's all symptom relief. There is no cure, you just ride it out. Advanced pharmaceutical technology aside. Add your own to my list.



1. Friends who are good at wallowing along with you rather than jollying you out of it.


Figure 1

Me: Uuuuurgh everything is shit and I want to live in a HOLE.

BMF: Yes, everything is shit. But I don't think a hole is the answer it will be damp and boring and uncomfortable.

Me: Ok, I don't want to live in a hole, I want to live in a hotel.

BMF: Much better!



Figure 2

Me: Uuuuuuurgh everything is shit. Will you kill me?

M: No. I am too tired to kill you, you will have to do it yourself. I need a nap. Anyway, I am waiting for the swine flu to kill me. Advantage: I don't actually have to DO anything: disadvantage: it could take a while. What could kill you?

Me: Hmmm. I could lie in the garden until the stag beetle comes and pierces my jugular? Or, maybe, I could lie on the tram tracks and wait for one to run me over. Or! I could drop this giant looseleaf textbook on my head? [happily distracted I plot my own death. M returns to her nap]




Figure 3

Me: Uuuuuuurgh everything is shit* make me a virtual cocktail won't you?

Mrs Trefusis: I recommend my special Despair Squid Venom Daquiri. Gentle but effective.




2. Glenn Baxter . Steve Bell. David Sedaris, PG Wodehouse, Molesworth. The phrase 'small but serviceable rubber cosh'. Probably actually having one would help even more.


3. Very, very very loud music with lots of guitars of the kind made by angry young men in their garages. In a confined space, so that your ears ring.


4. Proper strong tea (disclaimer: this only works if you are British)


5. The tiniest threatened acts of cruelty against the dog. Wait! Before you call the Belgian RSPCA I do not wish the weepette any harm and would not do anything to cause it pain. But I do love the look in its eyes when it thinks I am about to turn the hosepipe on it. Or placing something on the Holy Tortoise's back. That is also fun.





(*You can see why I need lots of friends at the moment, can't you? I am giving them all compassion fatigue).

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Cautionary tale

(Click on the photos to enlarge for the full horror)



Repeat after me:



I will not fake tan drunk






I will not fake tan drunk





I will not fake tan drunk






I will not fake tan drunk






I will not fake tan drunk





I will not fake tan drunk










Confessional is still open and will remain open all weekend. The Holy Tortoise will be dropping back later today to clean up Tiger Baps' mess. Honestly. That's the last time I outsource.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Belgian Waffle Secular Confessional: June Edition

This seems a little early for Confessional; it feels only days ago that I was revelling in appalled delight at your sins, but with the way the dates fall, this is the last Friday in June. And anyway, it's hot and sunny and that brings out the sinfulness, whether heat induced fury and rage or, apparently, other stuff. Whatever. It's today.



And!



We have a special treat for June. The Holy Tortoise is AWOL somewhere in the back yard wilderness and I am feeling far too pathetically warm and fuzzy towards humanity so I have drafted in reinforcements for penance. Yes. Today, penance will be doled out by John Knox's mean baby sister, the ferocious Tiger Baps.



Tiger Baps has been watching recent developments on Confessional and she is NOT impressed. The sins have made her purse her lips like a cat's arse, and the penance has been too weak and bleeding heart liberal. Tiger Baps is here to change all that and she's all about Punishment and Pain. Why, only a few days ago when I told her about my new dress, she told me I had to tie the weepette round my thigh silice style and tease it until its jaws clamped around my flesh, every two minutes. She's creative, she's disapproving and SHE'S HERE. And don't bother trying to ingratiate yourself with your Caledonian heritage or Jaffa Cakes. She's incorruptible.



Entirely incidentally, and not at all because I am a cowardly piece of shit and scared of Tiger Baps, I don't have much to confess this month. But I suppose I must. Onwards.

Bless me internet for I have sinned.

1. HSBC. Cough. Um. Me, HSBC, unopened correspondence, bad things. BAD. The threat of EVEN WORSE things. And yet, I still haven't sorted it out, because I think if I close my eyes, it will all go away.



2. Too many people have found out about this blog, or I have told too many people (because I don't want them to think I just sit on my arse and do nothing 3 days a week). And now they are reading it and I can no longer write about them and it's a shame because that was Good Material right there. No, CFO, I am not actually talking about you here, though yes, you too. And of course I do in fact sit on my arse and do nothing three days a week, because a blog is not a full time job by any stretch of the imagination, and I have made much less progress on the Great Belgian Novel than I would like, despite enthusiastically and foolishly imposing a deadline on myself for 1 September.



3. I can't stop pulling at the dry skin on my feet until they bleed.



4. I have had chocolate for breakfast about four times this week. I brought masses of wonderful, transfat laden British chocolate back from my flying trip to London and I am working my way through it. Whenever a meal time comes around and I go into the kitchen and try to think about food, the Cadbury's Caramels in the cupboard start singing to me and they are so easy and so delicious and it is so impossible not to eat the whole bar. Consequently, I reckon I have eaten protein (other than Bonne Maman Crème aux Oeufs - the lunch of champions) once this week, and that was tuna straight from the tin because I was in a trembly chocolate sweat and thought it might help.



5. I bought Lashes a Pokémon Platinum whatever the fuck game for an end of year present solely because I wanted the peace and quiet only Nintendo can bring.


6. I lied to the GP about having been for a smear test. I AM going. Honestly. I have an appointment and everything. Oh, and I told her I was having Relationship Issues in the hope she would give me some really excellent Belgian drugs (sadly, she didn't). Please don't hurt me Mrs Baps.


7. I can't work out whether anyone has a clue what is going on between me and the CFO from what I write here, and I fear it's probably quite annoying to read. But I don't feel I can be much more specific, what with the fact that neither of us really has a fucking clue either.


Ok. Enough about me. It's time to cleanse yourselves in the holy fire of Tiger Bap's wrath.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Further brains

Never one to knowingly underflog a dead horse, I have been busy with my black marker pen again today to bring you MORE BRAINS. Also, thanks to all those who have provided their brains, do please keep them coming with a link in the comments so I can go and laugh - some of them are quite, quite brilliant. I am thinking of installing a slideshow of brain diagrams on my sidebar, but even writing that sentence was more technically demanding than I can cope with so it might take a while.



Today I bring you the brains of Lashes, Fingers, and Oscar in as far as I am able to divine what goes on in there. Clearly, these are subjective brain representations, and for Fingers in particular, it's pretty much guesswork. No matter, it's given me a cheap laugh and I need lots of those. On with the brains!



1. Lashes




2. Fingers











3. Oscar






2 centime coin provided for scale.






UPDATE!!:



4. Following a request, here is the Holy Tortoise TM's brain:





And here is a bonus anonymous brain that delights me too much not to provide.






Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Brain

Someone rather woundingly said to me recently that they would not bother reading my archives because I was bound to end up recycling and repeating myself pretty soon. Of course it was mainly wounding because thus it has proved. IT IS TRUE. Today I am reprising a post from last July. Actually, I have just looked at this again, and sadly I did a much better job of it back then because brain shapes are intrinsically funny. Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself.



Ok. Back then I did a picture of the inside of my brain. I was very pleased with myself and found it amusing, but I was the only one. Sadly this has not deterred me from wanting to do it again, and from encouraging you - there are more of you this time, so I really hope someone takes me up on it - to do the same. It's fun! You can even use colours if you are so minded, or pictures or other visual stuff that has defeated me. I am hiding in the attic at the CFO's desk so am limited to moribund Staedtler Lumocolours. Also, I ended up doing a pie chart because the spirit moved me that way, and because I am sitting surrounded by the debris of a million powerpoint presentations with artfully shaded pie charts on every second page.



I also wanted to see how my brain has evolved in the last year, if at all, particularly with Things being as they are.



So. I sat down with my blue, faint Staedtler Lumocolour and sketched out the contents of my brain in my inimitably low tech and shitty fashion. Then I surveyed the results.



Last year:












This year:



Conclusions:

I no longer care whether I am fat. I consider this an EXCELLENT development and am awarding myself the CBT medal of Marginally Less Stupidity.

Guilt does not currently play a large role in my life. This is strange and improbable. I suspect guilt has been subsumed into the new and shiny DESPAIR section, the Children section and the Unfocussed Anxiety section. It is not absent, merely hiding.

Apparently work no longer figures in my brain at all. Shoes no longer get a category of their own. Cake has become more elaborate and is escaping from the pie chart altogether.

The thundering new entry by inappropriate levity is, I think, to be welcomed. There are few situations that can't be improved by a little inappropriate levity, aren't there? Right? Uh oh, here comes the unfocussed anxiety again.

I am stopping here because it's fucking Wednesday again but go ON. Do it.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Let's panic about babies

No, it's no good, I can't keep you here any longer. You just have to go and read Let's Panic about Babies NOW. Because I keep spitting little fragments of Leo bar over myself when I read it. Any of it.

Dearest and most heavily pregnant best friend Violet, you, especially must read it. And get on with having that baby sharpish because I want to see it now and it's All About ME.

Go. Read it. You will thank me. If you don't read it I will poke you in the eye.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Tired, hungry or mad?

I have a new game to play. I like games. Well, that's a lie actually. I hate most kinds of games. The ones with cards, or balls or running. And Monopoly. I really really hate that - I mean, has anyone ever FINISHED a game of Monopoly? It doesn't end. It either explodes in a blinding flash of resentment and fury and long-suppressed grudges, or everyone gets really bored and gives up because it's SO FUCKING BORING. And I don't like the ones where people have to say what kind of animal you would be because they ALWAYS say I would be a horse and I don't want to be a horse. But I like some other ones like, um, no. Ok, fuck it, I don't like games.



Anyway!



This game is ok. It goes as follows. When an irrational thought or impulse enters my head, when my chest feels like a ten tonne hedgehog is rolling on it, spike side down, when I randomly email people - not even necessarily people I know - gibbering nonsense, when I send poor M a photo of my cleavage (she's a GIRL, it's allowed. Weird, inappropriate, but allowed), when I decide that only lying on the floor of the Ladies for hours at a time with my legs on the cistern will do, when I want to rub my own face off with a pan scourer, when I feel like my head is going to burst open, I ask myself this question.



Tired, hungry or mad?



Because finally, long experience has bestowed a few shreds of self-knowledge on me. Yes.



The world may not be ending. I may not end up alone in a gutter being eaten by feral capybaras just because I am feeling a little wretched.



I might just be hungry! Or tired. Or I may be mad. This one is harder to solve.



Yes, this almighty revelation has kept me from submitting to the sin of despair on several occasions in the last week. I imagine that sensible people know this kind of stuff instinctively. I don't. If the world feels like a black vortex sucking me in, then I assume it is because the world IS a black vortex sucking me in. I don't factor in low blood sugar. UNTIL NOW.



Now, when despair threatens to engulf me, I play my game. When, I ask myself, did I last eat? And what was it? If Bonne Maman Petits Pots à la Crème or chocolate, discount. Eat proper foods including protein and complex carbohydrate and then reevalute just how overwhelming the despair is. Win!



I feel I am condemned to die alone, penniless, in squalor, suffocating on the shedding hair of a thousand badly behaved weepettes. Hmm. How much sleep have I had in the last 24 hours? Up until 2am stroking the dog's ears and playing on the internet? Disqualified from drawing any conclusions about shitness of life until sleep debt paid back in full!

I have stared at the same screen pressing refresh for 5000000 hours? Am I perhaps mad? Yes. I might well be. Ah well, this is the nature of the game. You can't win every time. If mad, the only solution is to up my dosage of every pharmaceutical in the house until some alternative symptom replaces the particularly unpleasant one.


As you can tell I am inordinately proud of my new game for emotional retards. I am thinking of adding several new categories, such as:

- Hormonal (always takes me by surprise after all those years pregnant or breastfeeding or too thin)

- Trousers too tight (this has a surprisingly profound effect on mood, I have found)

- Needing to talk to a real live person.


What do you say? Are there other categories I should include? Am I an idiot with the emotional maturity of a five year old?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Making me laugh tonight, both of them

A miniature photostory.



















Shhhhh...


Shhh. As I type this my children are, whisper it, playing with each other.


As a rule my children would rather be flayed alive than play with each other. This has been a source of some sadness, for I know that in our innocence, we believed having two children less than 2 years apart in age meant they would be playmates. Friends, even! Clearly, with hindsight, this is an outlandish idea, and if I can be forgiven for falling into this trap (10 years separate me and the Space Cadette), the CFO, who spent his childhood in pitched battle with his 3 years older brother, should have known better. Thus far, their attitudes to each other can be characterised as indifference, followed by irritation, followed my rivalry.


You will not believe me, I fear, given the reputation I appear to have given myself on these pages for indolent, lazy ineptitude, but this has been a rod I previously fashioned for my own back. Reader, I used to be Too Much Fun. Si si si. My children's early years were a catalogue of outings and activities, painting, baking, swimming, zoo, elaborate cutting and sticking projects and the like. I had a giant cupboard of supplies and a manic glint in my eye. Even in PARIS, I was a constant hive of activity, trekking miles across the inhospitable Métro network with a pushchair bound infant and a two year old in single minded pursuit of fun. And you try wringing a shred of fun out of the Palais de la Découverte and its dusty Van den Graff generator and stuffed stoats.


You probably don't believe me, do you? Independent corroboration please: friends and family. Honestly, it is true. The CFO was always rolling his eyes about it. Am I sounding slightly defensive? I was a fun mother! Yes! Truly! Pfff.


Anyway, even when my enthusiasm waned, or tiredness became overwhelming, or the fun months of 2005 when I was in the throes of an impressive nervous breakdown, my reputation for 24/7 entertainment meant they would continue to hover round me in the hope that I would entertain them like a performing seal. Being shrewd, and fast learners, they also knew that if I was not equal to the task of entertaining them adequately, the crushing guilt would lead me to lavish gifts upon them.


But just recently, they have started to spend more and more time with each other NOT ripping each other's heads off. Partly, clearly, it is because right now I am terribly, terribly boring. We all know this is true. Things are really, but REALLY tricky. The CFO and I are whispering at each other in corners. My chest is permanently aching and yes, I want to sleep all the time and maybe cry a little from time to time or gently bang my head against the wall. That is just How It Is and I wish it wasn't, but it is (defensive, moi?). I do not feel good about this, for the spawn. I feel wretched about it and I am trying to make it as ok as I can.


But! Right now I am here in my bed, nursing my aching chest and ministering to my ridiculous weblog and there are sounds of uproarious, hilarious play from upstairs. They have not stopped laughing all weekend, mainly at my expense. They keep doing that thing where they catch each other's eye when I am pontificating at them about not feeding the dog dishwasher tablets, or droning on about the starving in Africa and laugh hysterically. And maddening though this is at the time, it is also very, very comforting. I love the idea that they can be allies, share an eyeroll at my expense, make each other laugh. I feel a bit shit about it too.


I have just heard them go past.


"What are you up to, guys?"


"Ben, jouer avec les bagnoles". (playing with cars) And they disappear again.


I've been waiting for this for five years. Shouldn't I feel a bit more euphoric?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Various (pre-chewed)


This is going to be a recycled tweet post. God, I try and avoid these, but the dog is sitting folornly downstairs after a day of neglect surrounded by furry creatures it would like me to throw and it is SO PATHETIC I can't ignore it much longer. It's an enduring mystery to me how something so stupid can be such a master manipulator. It knows even I cannot resist the combined might of a pathetic doe eyed stare and a red plush parakeet clenched poignantly in its jaws.


Ha. However I have just remembered the moment earlier today when I came downstairs, as if summoned by a premonition to find the weepette's sorry, bowlegged form standing shamefacedly over the scattered remains of a whole Peyton & Byrne coffee and walnut sponge and suddenly the iron has entered my soul.


Gah, where was I? Yes! Quick, utilitarian post recycled from Twitter, sorry sorry.



1. Priorité aux imbéciles


It has not been a proud day on the roads of Belgeland. Well, not the ones I have been frequenting anyway. A parking ticket this morning, closely followed by a 'driving into the face of incoming traffic' moment with attendant screaming swearing meltdown (how many of those did I predict? I think I might have already exceeded my total). Then! This evening, la cerise sur le gâteau, leaving General Franco's house to find my car flanked by two police officers and a furious, incandescent, bug eyed man whose garage I had ENTIRELY INADVERTENTLY parked in front of.


Yes, I have the brain of a small vole behind the wheel. It always seems miraculous to me that I am allowed to drive at all, but then I am allowed to parent and then didn't even make me take a test. Hmm.


Thankfully the bug eyed man was so extravagantly abusive that the policemen took against him. One of them took me aside and said in an undertone "I'm going to pretend to take your details, but I don't like that man's tone, so I'm not actually going to give you a ticket. Though.." he qualified with a particularly solemn nod "if he is Well Connected or if he knows the Bourgmestre (mayor), then it's out of my hands". Wow. I didn't even have to tread on the children's toes to make them cry pathetically.



2. Pauvre petit escargot


Fingers and I took a feeble little trip (YES IN THE GODDAM CAR AGAIN) to the bookshop where the notorious "Half a cock" came from. Whilst I know Moitié de Coq is a little divisive, it is a very lovely bookshop run by a very lovely man full of rare and beautiful books. Fingers, however, was a man on a misson.


"I want the book about the snail with the large shell".


The man frowns, thinking about it for a moment.


"Ah! La maison la plus grande du monde? The story about the snail that wants to have the biggest house in the world, so he grows a larger and larger shell? And then, eventually, his shell gets so big it's too heavy for him to move?"


He holds my gaze at this point and lowers his voice slightly.


"And he starves to death?"


I stare at him wide eyed.


"Not that one, Fingers, surely?"


The man gets it off the shelf and shows Fingers. Fingers nods firmly.


"Yes. That one".

And in half an hour of browsing and story reading and bright, slightly desperate parental suggesting, he cannot be deflected. I would expect nothing less from him, it must be said.


And so it came to pass that I now have to read, possibly every night for some weeks, the - admittedly beautifully illustrated - story of a snail who starves to death because his shell is too heavy for him to move.



3. Well played, hippies

The hippies who run the organic veg stall at the market gave me someone else's shopping this morning. This is entirely in character. The CFO maintains that they are perfectly normal people, but when they come to work on the market they have to put on their uniform of shapeless sludgy knits, drop crotch loon pants, ratty white dreads and tie dye. They must also have to smoke industrial strength cannabis for several hours before their shift starts because they are seriously, seriously vague.


It is annoying and slightly fascinating at the same time. Whilst I have no vegetables, and no apples, I have FIVE punnets of strawberries (and two strawberry eaters in the house), 2 grapefruits, a kilo of unripe apricots and 10 kiwi fruits. Somewhere in Brussels a similarly frustrated person is wondering what to do with 12 apples, 4 bananas, 2 cucumbers, 2 red peppers, a cabbage, and 2 punnets of blueberries. It's an interesting break from the routine (will I become someone who eats grapefruit? Is this going to revolutionise my fruit purchasing habits?), though I can't see how on earth I am going to eat all those sour, tasteless apricots, and I can't quite decide who came off worse.

I suppose that some of you, kinder and more domesticated than me, will want to tell me what to do with the apricots, and there will be talk of light stewing, and compôte, and clafoutis. You might as well not bother, I can barely lift arm to microwave right now and I have had a small hillock of the strawberry mountain and the remains of the cake that Oscar destroyed for "dinner". My bed sings its insistent siren song to me at all hours of the day and night and nothing is quite so appealing as lying face down on it drooling slightly into my pillow. I mean, are you coming over to make me clafoutis and frangipane tarts? Because if not, the apricots are staying right where they are. Hmph.

Do help me, however, with what we should all do tomorrow. Ideally something where I don't push my luck with the parking gods any further and if there is scope for small cups of coffee and big naps, so much the better.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dog brains


(Tracey Emin, 'Dog Brains'. Even though apparently she's joined the Conservative Party, godalmighty)

Oh, this is all too hard. So I am writing something boring about the dog. Also, I am sorry about not replying to comments individually over the last week. I will try and start again next week and I wish I were confident I'll keep that promise, but I'm not because, well, you know. Apocalypse and all that.


So. This dog walking business.


As I mentioned once in Confessional, I can't really be doing with the dog walking any more. I had fondly visualised strolls around the nicer parts of Brussels (yes there are some, shut up) with the weepette trotting elegantly by my side, and snuggling under my chair when I stopped for a restorative mid morning espresso with Le Monde Diplomatique, occasionally wordlessly accepting a crumb of speculoos. The reality is, taking the dog anywhere (and particularly anywhere I might be tempted to go into a shop) is an almighty pain in the arse. It sees pigeons or other dogs and gets overwhelmed with the desire to bark boringly and insistently at a high pitch. It pulls me along in a knee punishing fashion with all its puny weepette weight, leaning forward diagonally such is its eagerness to sniff the next pool of urine (yes, I am applying your dog training suggestions to this problem, but the weepette is a slow learner and I have no authority). The result of this is that instead of ambling down the rue des Chartreux, I just take it to the park.



This is not the parc du caca, but the slightly larger foresty park round the corner. At least in the park I can let the weepette run in bouncy, pointless circles and fail to chase sticks. If it barks madly at a particularly provocative dead leaf, noone minds. In the park, the weepette also allows me the illusion of appearing in charge, as it is so cravenly scared of everything it keeps close by, and comes when I call it. The park is dog walking WIN territory. I even concede grudgingly that early in the morning, it can be quite scenic, when it smells of damp mulch and honeysuckle and the sun puts in a tantalising appearance through the canopy.



But oh, the park. The park is full of Dog People. They gather in some pre-ordained fashion and stump across the park together making small talk. I don't have a regular time slot, so I can confirm that there are MANY groups of Dog People at various points through the morning, stomping and chatting. IT IS HELL. They all know each other and I must hover at their periphery while our dogs sniff at each other. I should be able to just make polite conversation and walk with them, or not walk with them, without agonising, but that isn't how the inside of my head works. There must be agonising and awkwardness. It is Required. Is it rude if I don't walk with them? What on earth will we talk about? Should I ask their dogs' ages or something? Should I hang back and let them walk on? Will it be bad form if they see I am still in the park but haven't walked with them? I feel lumpenly awkward and rude and savage. It's the sandpit at the Parc Monceau all over again.



I am reminded of a guy from group therapy. He was really annoying, actually, and I was glad when he left. He was always picking on me to ask how I was feeling, when all I was feeling was the desire to sink imperceptibly into the plastic chair unnoticed. I started to get really quite resentful of him - he was loud and obnoxious and the poor depressives all looked hunted and twitchy when he started mouthing off and demanding we give him FEEDBACK. But one day, caught offguard, he explained about what went on on the inside of his head and it was horribly familiar. He said that when he started talking to someone, or when it looked like he was going to have to talk to someone, his brain would start running on, miles ahead of events. What was he going to have to say next? How would the conversation end? What would they think of him if he said x or y (entirely innocuous things)? How was he going to escape? We got a glimpse of what it was like living in that head and it sounded exhausting.


Um. I should say I am not like this. All the time. With everyone. Just with the Dog People and at conferences, honest. Shackass, I sound like a freak now. Thank god I didn't tell you about my making out with Shakin' Stevens dream last night! Then I really would be in trouble.


Pah. Please tell me some of you also find basic social intercourse overwhelmingly difficult at times? That's why we're hiding on the internet right?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Just eat the damn yoghurt already

I disappeared up my own arse momentarily this morning. Firstly, you must know I am basically stuck in bed. I can't really be bothered with Wednesdays, as fully documented previously, so I thought I would at least delay the start of Wednesday until the last possible moment. So I am in bed, and I have Marks & Spencers breakfast supplies, and the sun is streaming in and I had been reading Persephone's beautiful blog and decided I to could make one of those exquisite, capturing the moment posts. Yeah, stupid, I know.



I wanted it to go like this:





Blueberries and Pomegranate, greek yoghurt, maple syrup, Gien artichoke bowl


Peyton & Byrne builders tea, Nicole Fahri mug


Bed


Sun


Laptop


Or some such sparse but evocative stuff.



I might even have tried to capture the weepette snoozing beside me, but since the CFO now reads the blog, I bloody well can't, can I? I got into trouble for the weepette/bed smuggling. I can't bring the gulag headmaster back to the house for sex either, apparently. NO FUN.


So. I take a picture, above. It looks like shit, of course. The yoghurt and maple syrup in particular look UNSPEAKABLE. You can't see the good bit of the bowl because it is (very) full, and when I hold it up to take a picture of the side, yoghurt spills onto the duvet. I lick it off, obviously.





My nails are probably really dirty too, but I can't even be arsed to enlarge the picture and check.


My lap, in the foreground, looks GIGANTIC, like an enormous patterned cushion. The bowl is outlandishly balanced on my knees looking tiny compared to my cushionlimbs.

That cup of tea? Leaning over dangerously?




The whole thing speaks of imminent disaster.


Pff. I eat the yoghurt, lick the bowl and take a picture of it dirty, accessorising with dirty mug, dirty spoon, Quick tray with magic marker.


Then! I can't even move the fucking pictures around to write the post because my laptop is so buggered by yoghurt and snails and crumbs. I drag myself downstairs to fetch a mouse. My knees have scorch marks from laptop burn. Does this happen to Grace from Design Sponge? I bet it doesn't.


Yeah, whatever, anyway. I had a nice breakfast. Wednesday is in abeyance for another 40 minutes or so. Any lingering doubts we may have had about whether there is a frustrated style blogger hiding withing this moth baiting, Uncle Ben's Microwave Rice cooking, stained shell are now dispelled.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

In which I might be stalking London

Don't think I didn't see you, today London. I saw you. I didn't have long, but I saw you. Yeah, I know. I'm with Brussels now. You're a free city. But must you taunt me so?

I saw you, down the Embankment, flirting with all those other girls in their micro shorts and gladiator sandals and slightly unnerving romper suits, sitting on tiny patches of grass drinking Frappucinos. To think I agonised about wearing my perfectly respectable dress whose seam has only split ever so slightly at the back! When you were off, carousing with half dressed tarts, showing them your giant shiny wheel and your big, oh, so impressive river. You're shameless, London. That was Our Wheel! When it first opened and we rode down on the Vespa on impulse one warm Saturday evening at dusk, and walked straight onto it, no queues. Now you're sharing Our Wheel with other girls? That's sick, London. You have no respect for my feelings at ALL.

I saw you too, from the depths of the Victoria Line, impotently furious at my shameful tourist's Oyster Card, making out of towners cry with the unimaginable terror and heat of your satanic Underground Trains (you should not do that, it is cruel, London. They don't have an underground in Keighley). And the grim stoicism of the commuter ladies, standing, swaying just slightly, in thick black opaque hosiery reading Dan Brown and Metro.

I saw you on the concourse at St Pancras, dodging the physics defying, multidirectional stream of commuters, then on Westminster Bridge with the peanut sellers, the bus tour leaflet pushers, the salmonella ice cream van and even the man holding a small, not terribly impressive brown snake to pose with for photos (Westminster Bridge, earth has not anything to show more fair, except, wait, wouldn't it look better if we put this SNAKE round our necks? Yeah!).

I saw you in Marks & Spencers when I was stocking up on yoghurt and falafels, taunting me, flaunting your gorgeous aisles of open all hours, pre-prepared fruit and vegetables. I might have known you'd be hanging around there. You never change, do you?

I could still just catch a glimpse of you, receding, in the Eurostar terminal WHSmiths, where the lady on the tills told me that she eats her Cadbury's Caramels, bite for bite, with Jalapeño McCoys crisps and I told her she was a very sick individual, and we laughed, and the queueing Dutch schoolchildren and French students did not get it at all. That was when I lost sight of you. You could at least have left me a Peanut Butter Chunky KitKat when you left, dammit! You are so unfeeling.

So don't think you can just slink away like that London. I saw you. And I'll be back, I'm warning you. You and I have unfinished business.

Monday, 15 June 2009

What the well-dressed Eurodrone is wearing






Navy fine gauge cotton top (Vanessa Bruno)

Striped white/navy cotton skating skirt (Sonia by Sonia Rykiel)

Geranium patent sandals (Ferragamo, assisted by disgustingly lecherous Italian cobbler, Porte de Namur)





Leek and coconut soup, worn in bird shit streaks down left side of skirt (Exki)




Winter white cotton coat: Comptoir des Cotonniers, coffee stain by Pain Quotidien



Stupidity: model's own

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Handbag shame revisited

A request from West End Mum to display the contents of my handbag. I have a painful but huge fondness for West End Mum's blog, because she lives literally about a 100 yards from where I used to live. We have recoiled in horror at the same club-footed pigeons, shopped in the same skanky Tesco, watched the same drunks emerge from the Fitzroy Tavern. It's a consolation and a dagger to the heart at the same time. On a slightly less solipsistic note, it's a nice blog to read, full of shiny things and corners of London and other pleasing to read ephemera. I recommend.

Regular readers will recall this isn't the first time I have displayed my shame to you.

But I thought it would be unfortunate if anyone were to think that the last display was exceptionally disgusting. It wasn't.


Last time:





This time:


We can identify some common themes: leaf mulch, old tissues, crumpled but doubtless essential pieces of paper, a work pass that does not actually allow entrance to the office because it is one I thought I had lost but then found after Dirk From Facilities cancelled it, one of those sponge tipped things for putting eyeshadow on (theoretically. In reality to attempt to use this would be to risk a near fatal eye infection).

A further common theme, and positive note: same wallet. I have not lost my wallet between then and now! I should get a prize, like, maybe, I could get a brief reprieve from being made a ward of court due to incompetence. No, actually, I would still prefer to be a ward of court and be given €7 spending money a week in one of those money pouches I would be obliged to wear across my chest. Really, it's the only way ahead.

Anyway, I give you my handbag and hopefully a sense of mild superiority that you aren't carrying a mini basketball, 43 expired luncheon vouchers, several expensive lidless lipsticks filled with sand and half of the flora of Belgium on your person on a regular basis. See? I am so very giving.

Do feel free to do the same yourselves, and if you do, let me know where.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Withdrawing to my sci-fi pod. Again.

Oh, darlings, but the Empress is tired. So tired. This evening I lay down with weak but salutory gin and tonic at 8 and fell deeply asleep, waking myself laughing half an hour later at the ridiculousness of my dream. I knew I ought to write it down, it related to some kind of animal (? or person?) called Didier Calypso (or was it Didier Castor? I have a doubt, suddenly), but then I drifted back to sleep only to resurface when Fingers' insistent requests to be put to bed finally penetrated the fug. By that time Didier was sadly forgotten.



Trauma is so tiring. I am not being flippant. My whole being seems to sag with exhaustion when something impenetrably difficult, or sad, or disastrous arises. 'Too hard' says something deep in my being. 'Now sleep'. The something deep in my being has a guttural Russian accent and tends to eschew prepositions and articles and other non-essential parts of speech. It knows what it wants though. It wants oblivion.



On the day my mum died, we packed up the car and our 18 month old baby and headed straight up the M1 to York. I remember dithering around for a couple of hours wondering what to do and if it was the right thing, but once we got there I couldn't believe I had ever had any doubt. Of course we had to come. But I remember with indelible certainty the physical sensation of total exhaustion that hit me as we reached somewhere around Nottingham and the initial adrenalin of sorting out logistics hit. I was bone achingly exhausted suddenly - exhausted for everything I knew was still to come. The road ahead seemed impossibly hard and unnavigable and I couldn't imagine how I would ever dredge up the energy to get along it. That feeling of exhaustion lasted for about a week, I recall. The exhaustion would hit me across the back of the head like a sandbag, and I would have to crawl away to the attic to lie terribly still with the World Service on in the background to lull me, eventually, to patches of sleep. I would have to walk away from relatives, friends, the CFO, at the most painful and important moments, sleepwalk up the stairs and lie down. Admittedly I was also 6 months pregnant at the time, but I don't think that was it, principally. It was my body rebelling against everything it would have to go through in the weeks and months to come.



Eventually, through the power of Yorkshire Tea and fondant fancies, ginger biscuits, inappropriate laughter and expensive clothes, my body rallied. Some other force took over and carried me through all the events of the next six months and beyond, and they were quite some events, believe me.



And here I am again, and the 'Sleep now' voice is insistently bullying me to lie down, to curl up, to give up. On a bench, in bed, in the park, anywhere is good for me to shut my eyes and zone out. It's irresistible. I simply have to sleep, because whatever lies ahead will be long and hard. One of my favourite correspondents of recent days (oh, ok, it's M. It's always M, she's my brain twin) described it as "trudging through a six foot pit of shit". It sounds about right.


So it's barely ten in the evening, it's still light outside, I've already slept for half an hour, but I simply can't keep my eyes open a moment longer.


Night, internet.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Gardening with abandon: the Belgian Waffle guide




I am often asked by noone at all how I get the Waffle garden looking so marvellously lush and elegant. Given that we all need a little escapism, something aspirational now and then, I thought a spot of learned gardening advice would be just the ticket. You too can achieve this look, with a little savoir faire and a light smattering of Happy Meal toys.


To be a successful gardener, you need a little daring. Not everyone would think that a large grey doormat, some wet dog cleaning rags, a sock, a variety of discarded receptacles, a sword and a Pokemon card would make a charming tableaux with this iconic green plastic bench, but taken as an ensemble, I feel they really work.






If we drill down to the detail here, you'll see that by combining that dead leaf, sock and playdoh container on the dark background, the colours of those highligh objects really pop.







I've also found that an inexplicable pile of rotting wood makes for a good focal point, drawing the eye to the dog shit strewn pebbles.



Gardeners with dogs would do well to follow our example. Firstly, painstakingly construct a fenced off corner for your dog.





(If by some mysterious alchemy this causes your new tree to die, do not despair. Dead trees are very this season. )

When your dog whimpers with terror whenever you approach the fenced off area and refuses to enter it, give up entirely and allow it to pee all over the lawn, creating a delightful chiaroscura effect comme ceci:



(yes, these are my gardening shoes. Suede and satin Chloé flats are ideal, I find).

You will also need to have easy access to a utensil for removing dog crap before the tortoises eat it. We display ours whimsically in the lilac tree, in this, er, thing made from a paper Quick cup, sellotape, plastic piping and small discs of Batman themed plastic.




I am often asked how I choose my plants. It's hard to explain something that is so utterly instinctive. It's almost as if I don't choose the plants, but they choose me.




Again, I couldn't tell you quite what inspired me to place that Marsupilami in exactly that spot. It's instinctive.



Of course, it's a little unfair to hope that you might be able to achieve this kind of mature beauty immediately. After all, how many of you have the great good fortune to have a large wooden tortoise house made from a child's sandpit in your gardens? Sadly few, I feel. Poor dears.







But take heart! The tortoises themselves do not even use it, and can be found attractively displayed all across the garden chewing discarded bones and dog turds.




So, to summarise, instinct, daring, plastic. I do hope that by following these simple precepts, you too can have a fragment of waffle in your own green space.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Kai Mook




I'm all out of words today even though I have, FINALLY, been to Bruges. It rained. But look at Kai -Mook (it pains me intensely to link to the Telegraph, but it was the only English language link I could find)!






Yes. I am a month late showing you photos of this baby elephant. But a late baby elephant is better than no baby elephant at all, no? Believe me, today, a late baby elephant is an achievement. Let us hope for better things tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

... [Wordless groan]

I'm sorry, I'm not going to be able to write anything this evening as my children have unfortunately been possessed by SATAN. Satan is on Twitter so I have written to him requesting he return them, but he does not appear to be big on customer service. I suppose that was to be expected.

The badness was to be expected too. The weather is hugely ennervating, hot and rainy and oppressive, and they have been terribly good for AGES, barely objecting to my fobbing them off with €5 notes to go to the corner shop for confectionery and endless well-intentioned but crap vagueness.

I suppose I ought to also respect the right to a private life and not tell you the repulsive details. But between them they have all bases covered today including wounding personal remarks, maddening insolence AND dog torment. Whenever I sit down something abysmal happens. I am coated in bright green energy drink and chocolate and I have shouted, oh, Nathan, I have shouted repeatedly and it's making no difference, because I have no natural authority and a sore throat. The immortal words "because I say so" have just passed my lips. If there was gin in the house I would be drinking it.


Instead, we could play "where did the Pontypines used to live". Pin the aquarium on the room, if you will.








No, that's quite boring and there are so few places it could have been.



We could look at a picture of the dog?




No, too melancholy.




I know! An archive shot. Proving that I was a much more objectionable toad than my children could ever be. What the hell, TWO archive shots.





My children were much nicer babies than I was. Neither of them looked like a hardboiled egg in a lacy bonnet.



My expression! I am right back there, a ball of hate, outraged to be once again forced to march up a giant boggy mountain when I could be hiding in a corner with an Agatha Christie and a CurlyWurly.

And now I really must go, because they have started raiding the cupboards for glue to sniff, or to stick waffles to the dog's head or something and I may be a 'parent indigne' but I am still British, dammit and dog cruelty cannot go unremarked.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Springtime in Belgium

I am actually very cheerful today, and it's a damn good thing, because look at this:






Uccle looks so beautiful tonight, like a fairytale kingdom. On evenings like this I feel privileged to live in such a gorgeous place.






As I type, the weepette, who has agonised for much of the last few hours over whether it can bear to get wet, dithering by the back door whining gently, is wedging itself under the bench outside to eat a rain softened snout. It is alternating this with flopping like an abandoned crêpe on the chair, its whole body collapsed in resignation. Look!




I wish my limbs did that. So expressive.

The scene in the waffledome is similarly edifying, strewn with the confetti of newspaper the weepette has spent the day shredding, abandoned shoes, fragments of Kinder toy. The kitchen in particular is a thing of beauty and a joy forever in the sepulchral June light:



No matter. The small waffles have foraged for their own dinner of Hula Hoops, tar, toothpaste and Haribo. I have chased them to bed with threats, bribes and promises of Calpol. I am self-medicating with the British answer to everything: toasted stuff and cups of tea. Who needs a kitchen anyway?

Fleetingly, as I shove doughy muffins with very very salty butter mechanically down my gullet half staring bewildered at 'Peter and Katie go Stateside' and half fidgeting on the internet, I am reminded that we have not booked a holiday yet this year.

But then, what could be finer than Uccle in the summer? Trips to the scorched earth of the parc du caca, alternating with tottering to the ice cream shop named after male genitalia? I mean, could it get any better? I defy you to tell me how.