Tuesday, 30 March 2010


I'm about 75% monstrous mutant cold and 25% psycho lady-hormones tonight. It's not pretty, hence the absence of nicely-crafted tales of my empty day. I should have been in bed hours ago, but the dog is just back from dog borstal and bears the signs of some larger animal (possibly one of my children) having tried to eat his face, so I am keeping him company.

Sample conversations in which I have participated today:

X: When will the fun start? When???? TELL ME WHEN.
Y: You're asking the wrong person. I spent all morning crying in the ladies. But I did call your fun customer service helpline. Apparently your fun is defective and has had to go back to the manufacturer. It should be returned during your next lifetime. Or the one after.

X: You know what's wrong with today? We spent Earth Hour watching Extreme Fishing with Robson Green. Our karma is fucked.
Y: Greenpeace will send a hemp wearing, macrobiotic ninja DEATH SQUAD for us.

X: Shall we just cancel today?
Y: Ok. Meet me behind the shed in an hour. I'll bring a couple of trashy novels, a portable hammock and Stohrer macaroons.
X: Is it ok if I bring a goat?
Y: It's not ok if you don't bring a goat.

X: Why do grown ups not get upset? Why don't you cry when something hurts?
Y: .......... Well.. Maybe we've had more things happen to us, so we know the difference between something really really hurting and just hurting a little bit? I've told you - the tetanus jab is just a tiny scratch.
X: What will you give me if it isn't just a tiny scratch?
Y: Er, five euros?
X: Ok. What are you really really scared of?
Y (thinks, but does not say: DEATH): I don't like it when the dentist has to do something really big. Those needles are enormous. I did once cry at the dentist. I had my eyes closed and I heard the nurse say "that's a huge needle!" and I opened my eyes and there was this, this SWORD coming towards me. I cried then.
Y: Then what?
X: Then I had to let him get on with it.
X: Can I have a dog of my own?
Y: No.

X: I might be meeting a gentleman at the weekend. I hope he likes snot and cellulite.
Y: I'm sure he loves 'em.
X: Gets off on them. I wonder if there's a special pervsite devoted to snot and cellulite? Because I would be DA BOMB this week.
Y: I bet there is.
X: You're probably right. The world is a dark and terrifying place. Retreat! Retreat to the snail shells!
Y: Yes. RETREAT. I am moving my antennae elegantly in a backwards motion.

You get the picture. Shall we just watch a tragic, animated insect love story instead?

I will be back tomorrow. I am trying to go to bed before it IS tomorrow for once.

Monday miscellany and test

1. I can hear the rhythmic clinking of a Gogo in both the washing machine and the dryer in tandem. The children are here. I have dozed through half of Fantastic Mr Fox with one tucked under each arm and then sent them to bed. Fingers spent some time reverently admiring the 'present' he requested from London - a box of Lucky Charms - taking out the nuclear marshmallow pieces and debating with his brother how exactly they will use their magical powers. I like it that they call the balloon shaped one "La Mongolfière". It makes Lucky Charms sound elegant.

If you could have a garish marshmallow charm all of your own design, what magical power would it give you?

2. I receive a gloating email from an internet person that reads "Simmer with jealousy, I have finger puppets of the ten plagues of Passover. One of them is a dead baby. Louse is masturbating". She posts pictures of them. I am consumed with envy.

Who or what would you like to see immortalised in a finger puppet and why?

3. I am asked, like a latter day Emily Post, to give advice on the best way to thank someone for the gift of a sausage without turning into Kenneth Williams. I fail.

I will take your best answers to this. Assume for these purposes that there is significant unresolved sexual tension between sausage giver and recipient but that it cannot be acted upon because there are Other Parties.

4. Pictures of the Underground Farmer's Market on Sunday including me channeling elderly lady romance novelist again. The German lady sitting next to me was ferociously hard selling. Every time I would sell an evil fridge magnet she would fix the purchaser with a basilisk glare and say "Und now you have bought something nasty, you must buy something sweet", thrusting a large chocolate covered nougat pascal lamb at them. She was actually very nice, just keen not to go home with 60 giant and slightly menacing easter confectionery effigies.

If you were to attend an alternative market, what would you sell? I will not accept anything involving cupcakes, jute, or hemp. Complete the phrase:
" ....... is the new cupcake"
and win the special waffle medal of valour.

I will add my own answers in the comments I think, once I have had more than three hours of sleep at a stretch. As it is, I am seconds away from falling asleep in an interesting combination of Anglomania dress, tracksuit bottoms and hoodie. Only the howling wind and my unbrushed teeth stand between me and these new sartorial depths.

Monday, 29 March 2010


I have spent the afternoon at an Underground Farmers Market. Sample conversation before setting off:

"You aren't a farmer"

"Indeed, well spotted".

"What, actually underground? In the tube station?"

"No. Underground as in subversive"

"And why are you selling biscuits? You are a lawyer".

"Can we not go into that now? I don't have a satisfactory answer. Or even an answer".

"Is there cannabis in your biscuits?"

"No. But I am beginning to wish there was".

It was fun. I have never seen so much cake in a confined space and now I feel quite, quite sick. I sort of wanted to eat it all and my stomach sort of wanted me to lie in a darkened room with a small glass of Badoit.

This is only a tiny post, since I have to get up in about 4 hours and get the first, cruellest train back to Belgiana. A train so early that only the most hardened and fanatical Euromentals take it. I am a little afraid. They will probably thrust Directives under my nose like Jehova's Witnesses brandishing copies of The Watchtower, and ask me intensely if I have heard the good news about Customs harmonisation and whether I truly believe that Herman Von Rompuy is our saviour. I will be cultivating a hatchet-faced expression of euroscepticism. I probably won't wash either, just to be really safe.

But before I go and sleep just long enough to be properly disorientated when I am wrenched awake shortly, I wanted to show you a picture. It is a terrible, fuzzy picture. But when I saw it, I felt strangely reassured.

That's me on Thursday night. And I look very very happy.

(I am laughing hopelessly at this:

The very very funny man on the left reading bits of Kiss & Ride. In a dour, deadpan Belgian accent. He was so brilliant that on several occasions I just couldn't read my bits for laughing. There were lots of other bits of Tall Tales that also made me make this face. They were all very very brilliant).

That's all. I look happy. I was happy. I am happy, a great deal of the time. Maybe I don't mention that enough. Lots of people write to me, very thoughtfully, very touchingly. They tell me they worry about me from far away, that they want things to be ok for me, often that they too have been through hard things and survived, or that they are going through hard things and get something positive out of reading about my hard things. Those kinds of messages are one of the best things about writing this blog. They are an unsolicited gift, a kindness of strangers and a really cherish them. So look, kind, wonderful strangers. I can do happy. And actually, that's partly down to you. So thank you.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Belgian Waffle Secular Confessional, March Edition

Requests have come from several quarters for Confessional, and it has been some time since we opened the doors to the musty, vermin infested Waffle Confessional. That is because my sins of recent weeks are very very dull. However, confess I must, and hopefully some of you will have been unspeakably badly behaved and I can chastise you with scorpions. First, though, here comes my own faintly depressing set of minor transgressions. I am warning you now, it is just more of the same old shit.

1. Slatternliness (various)

House looks like.. Well. It looks like this, frankly.

I sit in the middle of it, faintly surprised at its reluctance to self-clean. Worst of all, I cannot be arsed to drag my carcass all the way upstairs to the attic, where I know for certain a bunch of tulips is rotting, quietly. They have been there since M came to visit. I forget when that was, but I think it might have been in February. It's reached the point where it seems wiser to just leave them there until they dessicate entirely.

2. Administrative paralysis

4 months since the theft of my ID card, I have still not replaced it. Ditto driving licence. At some point soon this will create intractable problems. I am waiting, defiantly, for the intractable problems before I try and sort it out, at which point it will be far, far too late.

3. Spending

Whilst I think I am being very much more careful at the moment with money, due to not having any, I was momentarily blinded by the softly lit, welcoming DEN OF SIN that is Westfield and bought a Jaeger dress on my last trip to London. I am not even sure about the dress. I think it might make me look like Barbara Taylor Bradford or something. Mutton dressed as, um, mammoth? Hang on, I'm going to take a picture.

Eh. Meh.

(a rare shot of me not featuring the orange towelling bathroom curtains, or the previous decaying collection of Economist magazines, or me standing on the loo seat. I am staying with Papa Waffle. He has a proper house with proper stuff in it, like mirrors)

Also under "spending", Facegoop has reignited my passion for snake oil beauty products, which I can now laughably describe as "research". I am heading for Space NK shortly where I have been reliably informed there is some special offer on which entitles you to many free samples is you spend a quarter of your annual income on tiny pots of make believe.

4. Gin

Requires no further explanation. Gin, gin, gin like a dissolute 18th century parlourmaid. Including on school nights. Interestingly, at Tall Tales last night (I will probably talk about Tall Tales at more length tomorrow, suffice to say I was a bit crap, but people laughed. With, at. It's all the same really, isn't it? Ahem) I ended up talking to three men all drinking gin and tonic. Has gin and tonic butched up, or is this just metrosexual London mores? I am woefully out of touch with metropolitan drinking habits, clearly. Though my head would beg to differ this morning.

5. Mild desperation

I have been considering the personal ads with increasing interest. Mine would be one of the tawdry and unambiguous ones that occasionally pop up on Kiss & Ride, along the lines of "Femme 35 ans, double menton, ressemble a la progeniture illegitime de Barbara Taylor Bradford et Grayson Perry, ne veut pas etre seule ce soir. Vous avez 2 bras, 2 jambes, une tete? Cela me suffit. Ecrivez moi at whatdoIhavetodotogetsomemeaninglesssex@gmail.com". No, I'm not going to translate that for you. That's what Babelfish is for.

Ok, I'm done. Your turn. I am feeling quite filled with the milk of human kindness (I think that's actually 18th century code for "gin") today, so please, tell me everything. Bless you my children.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Unscrupulous Professionals

Not content with my various not-for-profit type activities, I found myself thinking today about another online venture I would like to launch.

It would be called www.unscrupulousprofessionals.com

Unscrupulous Professionals would allow you to access the most venal, pragmatic and unethical members of a given profession for your own ends. I was thinking about it because I feel like I ought to go to the dentist but I don't want to. The reason I don't want to is because the dentist is morally obliged to tut and complain and tell you you don't floss enough and generally fill you with SHAME for your dirty teeth to such a degree that you leave in a puddle of humiliation. I feel that in this day and age, I ought to be able to access another kind of dentistry.
I want my unscrupulous dentist to conduct all procedures - including check up and scrape and polish - under twilight anasthaesia. I want him or her to drop the floss-related nagging and general disapproval, and give me opiates for tooth whitening. In fact, forget about the opiates, put me into a medically induced coma for a week for tooth whitening. It stings. Ideally I want my unscrupulous dentist to come from a culture where potentially shaming topics are dealt with by total avoidance. Ideally they might offer me a mask to wear while they work and they would make no eye contact.

I thought this principle could well be extended to other professions. For instance, I want my bank to stop attempting to provide me with any information regarding my financial status. Instead they should allow me to spend and spend and spend without demurring until they finally come round, and very discreetly and apologetically take away all my possessions. As a matter of extreme urgency, they should also address the issue of allowing my account balance to be displayed on screen when I use cash machines. This is not a good thing and must be stopped.

I want a doctor who will say that having a jaw lift is in fact a medical necessity and will write me a sick note for 4, no maybe 6 is safer, weeks recovery. He will also understand that generalised anxiety is a debilitating condition to be treated with an infinitely renewable prescription for Xanax, and a forest of sick notes.

More generally I want all medical professionals on unscrupulousprofessionals.com to forget about the nonsense of informed consent. I don't want to hear that there is a 30% chance of total paralysis when you treat my ingrowing toenail. What I want to hear is that my open heart surgery will be like a gentle roll in the spring grass, that it will not sting more than the claws of a baby kitten, and that I will rise from the operating table miraculously cured, 20 cms taller and with a nicer nose.

I also want retail outlets to provide camouflage packaging to disguise frivolous non-essential purchases as essentials such as food, loo roll and the like.

I am sure you can think of others. Go on. I have 800 biscuits still to make, you're going to have to make your own entertainment tonight again.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Down the salt mines

Yesterday I:

Lost a child at a packed, boiling hot Mexican fiesta in a museum. Child, as is often the case, had no idea it was lost. 5 men with walkie-talkies and a hyperventilating mother begged to differ.

Cried like a snivelly baby for no good reason as the CFO failed to drill (non-essential) holes in a cement wall for me.

Cried again at this.

Obsessively researched snake massage.

Struggled with 177 photos of Charleroi.

Revised the spellings of "oeuf" and "oeil" with a profoundly uninterested child until my eyes were rolling 360° in my head.

Broke up 177 quarrels. Badly. Impatiently. Occasionally roaring like Uncle Matthew in the Nancy Mitford books.

Changed sick child's sheets twice.

Cleaned out the bath following sick child incident.

Recoiled in horror at the sight of my hideous skin in the bathroom mirror (blame water). Smeared it obsessively with unguents. Recoiled even more violently on returning to the bathroom mirror some hours later to see the gel-type unguent I had smeared on it was peeling off, giving me the allure of a hideously sunburnt, or possibly leprous, mole rat. I am assuming this is punishment from the gods for having the hubris to start a beauty blog. Even a stupid one.

Drank wine and ground my teeth for several hours, stopping to answer a series of profoundly puzzling questions on ageing from child who kept appearing on the staircase, shiftily. ("What is it like, getting older? Do you get more aggressive? Are you still the same?"). Tried not to answer TOO honestly ("You will always feel puzzled and confused and not quite a grown up inside, however old you are, whilst becoming ever more crushingly conscious of your own mortality, darling") whilst not tipping over into Mary Poppins/Enid Blyton "It's a jolly adventure!". Probably failed on both counts.

Wrote about Charleroi until 2am.

Slept fitfully and dreamt horrible dreams of meeting up with old lovers (at cabinet meetings, on delayed trains) with NO MAKE UP. NONE. Nothing to cover the peeling, leprous mole rat skin. No eyeliner. Woke up sweaty with the horror of it all.

Today has been much calmer, thankfully, but now I have to go back down into the biscuit salt mines and make mean biscuits until I dream I am becoming a doughy, tasteless biscuit myself.

What do you think my gingerbread men should say this time? I was thinking just "Fuck Off", but I'm not sure I can muster 3 Fs....

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Apologies for absence

Hmmm. Sorry, blog. I do still love you. But the new baby is so bloody exhausting, up at all hours of the night demanding I opine on Chilean snail goo and squeezed out hippies. Bloody babies. On top of that, I have had shit skin every since we started it, oh, the bitter irony. We will get the baby into a routine soon, I promise. Maybe get Gina Ford round to (... REDACTED FOR LEGAL REASONS...). Until then, blog, I'll be sticking you in front of Cbeebies with a packet of Wotsits and a juice box. Yes, this is your one stop destination for extended metaphors that are going nowhere and should have been smothered at birth tonight.

In other not-even-slightly-news, I am feeling a little ratshit. The high point in self-esteem terms today has been the man cleaning tables at the chip shop smiling at me. Yes, this is how low we have sunk. However I will not draw you into my rat's nest of chaos and self-flagellation, you might catch something.

I found a good Kiss & Ride today.

Chaussé de tes kickers aux couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel, cheveux poivre et sel, tu attends, j'attends que tu montes dans le tram à Rogier, direction La Bourse. Le trajet est court mais intense. Tu es mon rayon de soleil. Veux-tu être mon maître? Je serais ta maîtresse

With your rainbow coloured Kickers, salt and pepper hair, you wait, I wait for you to get onto the tram at Rogier heading towards Bourse. The journey is short, but intense. You are my ray of sunshine. Do you want to be my master? I will be your mistress.

Apart from that, the fastest way to happiness tonight, I guarantee, is to watch this spectacularly underwhelming video of a rubbish skateboarding owl. I love every bit of it. Note particularly that the man pulling him along on a piece of string is wearing slippers. It's the little things.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Field Trip

"La laideur a ceci de supérieur a la beauté: c'est qu'elle ne disparait pas avec le temps"*

Well, that was actually, properly amazing.

I have finally - finally! - been on my Charleroi Urban Safari. Charleroi - voted ugliest town in the world (by the Dutch. Why do they get to choose?). I can't quite gather my thoughts at the moment. I'm exhausted from scrambling through gaps in fences, through holes in walls, up slagheaps, along ghost metro rails.

I have notes that say things like "Sharon Stone Largo Winch??"

"Nuclear slagheap"

"Octopus tentacles"

"Olympic swimming pool - 2cms too short".

I need to lie in a darkened room for a few hours to remember it all.

If you are ever in Belgium (unlikely) and feeling adventurous (possible), I really can't advise you too strongly to go and do this. You probably won't believe me, but it really has to be experienced to be believed and Nicolas, a gangly, lunatic Jesus figure in a white transit van, is a wickedly funny, slightly deranged, touching guide. This was AS GOOD AS MEXICAN WRESTLING. I wouldn't say that lightly, believe me. A lot funny, quite a bit tragic, hysterical and sobering all at once. Look:

There were kids barely older than mine playing in this place. Sparky, funny kids who followed Nicolas around asking him questions and showing him their dens. In the middle of the most chilling industrial wasteland. Brrrr. Goosepimples.

*"Ugliness has one advantage over beauty - it isn't diminished by the passage of time". At one point a canny and very hirsute hobo in this extraordinary place quoted this from Gainsbourg (you can't spend much time in the company of French speakers, especially ones of an artistic bent, before this happens).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


I arrive at school at about half past 5. The gulag infants have been marched to the exercise yard for evening calisthenics, watched over by two moody teenagers in parkas. It's still light and there is a tiny softening in temperature which makes for an atmosphere of decorous Soviet celebration. Fingers spots me and comes wheeling over. As he gets close, he stops to do a careful but modestly showy knee glide. We hug. I love this moment. I am genuinely delighted to see him. He is one of my very favourite people.

"Quelquechose à la machine?" he asks breezily, like one of my more socially accomplished tutors at college offering a small dry sherry.

I acquiesce and hand over a euro for him to select, always, a Kinder Egg from the vending machine while I fetch his brother. Over in the junior bloc, a handful of stragglers are drawing pictures of Stalin and composing pastoral odes to mother Belgium. Lashes is bent low over his desk, absorbed in drawing monsters. A small acolyte is watching, and giving suggestions that he is ignoring. Around him, spread liberally over four or five desks, lie a jumble sale of his possessions. It takes both of us, plus several helpers, to round everything up. Lashes accepts this entourage of assistants as his due, busy explaining why he is wearing a whale on his head on the jetpowered skateboard in the corner of the monster meisterwerk. I give him a surreptitious stroke on the neck if none of his mates are watching. He is another of my very favourite people. We squabble a lot at the moment. He's a smart arse and he has to be right about everything, a bit like me and a lot like his father. But he is funny and full of clever badness, just like all my other favourite people.

After several false starts - coat lost, bag lost, vital papers mislayed, we go and find Fingers. He is sitting on the lost clothes hamper, cross-legged like a grubby pixie, dissecting the contents of his Kinder Egg. Lashes doesn't want anything from the machine - he's saving for another soft toy. I get to carry everything - both their schoolbags, my handbag and big green bag of shoes and make up, a handful of drawings, the Kinder Egg detritus - as they belt down the hill to the tram stop.

"Slow down!" I shout ineffectually. They always manage to stop, just, braking wildly at the last minute. Often one of them falls over. We wait at the tram stop.

"Can I play with your phone?"



"Because you are really, really dirty".

They chat and chat, whilst we get on the tram, both of them always managing to be in the way of, or to bang into, the other passengers. Who to invite to Mexican wrestle, films about dentistry, what qualifications Lashes needs to be a vet slash stuntman. Fingers is anxious. It's his default state. Currently he's anxious about his future career:

"Je sais toujours pas!"

"It's ok. You're six. Honestly, you have plenty of time to decide what you want to do when you grow up".

On it goes - how many times you need to turn the key in the lock, why wheelie suitcases are a good idea, 800 reasons why I should get them a new comic book - we stagger off the tram in a messy caravan of bags and coats and wander up the road. Fingers hangs off one of my arms and jumps. Lashes walks zizagging, stumbling, precariously, his head full of stuff. We walk along the street, lighter and busier every evening at the moment, turn right at Neuhaus. Fingers puts his hands out for the keys and sprints ahead. Lashes ambles beside me chatting. When we reach the front door, Fingers is still struggling with it. He can't quite do the third half turn yet. Give him a couple of weeks. We go in to see what fresh atrocity the weepette has perpetrated on papery things.

And so it goes, every evening, except imperceptibly it evolves.

Over 7 years ago I was rushing out of work and sprinting through Liverpool Street station to pick up a sweetly furious baby up from nursery in the evenings, red and raw with eczema, having to stop as we walked along Chiswell Street to Barbican tube and take him out of his pushchair as he rubbed frantically against it, making his back bleed. I remember carrying him on my hip, pushing the pushchair with one hand through a morass of commuters. All those steps down to the platform, and his instant, Pavlovian demand for a snack as soon as the doors opened. Feeding him pots of jelly until Great Portland Street. His careful intoning of 'Plaistow' a few months later, and 'Royal National Institute for the Blind'.

Five years ago we were just back from Paris and I was collecting the two of them from that same Spitalfields nursery - a cock of the walk three year old, swaggering around with his gang, and a mad fury of a one year old - a child so small yet so imperious, that walking into nursery and gauging his mood would decide the evening for all of us. Him head banging and me in the bathroom crying? Or a festive screening of 'Here Comes A Digger?' A last-ditch ice cream run to Patisserie Valerie, or a roll around the grass in Folgate Street? I never knew until I opened the double doors and spotted him, uproariously cheerful, or flushed and angry.

Three years ago I would walk into the gulag every evening in holy terror of what story of un-Soviet behaviour would be reported to me, praying we could avoid another trip to Stalin's office for remedial parenting lessons.

And now, this. My pockets have been filled, variously, with rice cakes, plush animals, plastic lizards, diggers, Pokemons, Gogos, Xenox warriors. Always a hand snakes out to bestow a gracious fistful of rubbish on me. But always a hand or two sneaks out to grab mine too.

Sometimes routine feels like it's burying you alive. Sometimes, like today, it makes sense of everything.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Upcoming oddness

Scheduling like mad, to ward off the lonely and the bored, and the screeching harpy attacks, all of which are frequent. If this post reads like a dull and worthy listings magazine, it's because I have water on the brain. Sorry.

Wednesday: Keeping everything madly crossed for this, but hopefully at LAST the Charleroi Urban Safari. They are elusive buggers, and apparently climbing slag heaps and scrabbling around rusting factories is a growth industry. Actually, as anyone who watched the rather fantastic Detroit documentary on Saturday can testify, Charleroi isn't the only town making the most of its decaying industrial spaces. But it is the only one that can proudly boast that it will take you to where Magritte's mother committed suicide. Fancy!

Sunday: Fiesta Mexicana at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. I intend to force both of my children to learn how to Mexican wrestle. They are expecting burritos and pinata-making. I may, just conceivably, let them do those things once they have learned a passable half-Nelson. I really hope there are masks for sale. I really REALLY hope.

Then to London again as mentioned on Friday. Why yes, I am still terrified, thank you for asking.

3 April: A pillowfight flashmob in the Grand Place! I love the sound of this. Does anyone want to come? It just sounds brilliant. There has been lots of Flashmob action in Belgium recently - not just the famous Antwerp Sound of Music spectacular:

See also the Valentine's dance troup in Charleroi airport and various others.

This is swiftly followed on, I think, 7 April, by the Verviers heat of the Belgian Air Guitar Championships. Si si si.

12 April: The spawn and I may be going to Butlins. In Bognor Regis. Be still my beating heart.

30 April New Young Pony Club. Shut up. We are not opening any music debates on these pages. Marina and the Diamonds in June too, and I am NOT LISTENING, fingers in ears, la la la.

22 May The Zinneke parade. Bi-annual civic weirdness. The last one nearly blew my mind. Herrings in ice cream cones. Amy Winehouse made from waste. Other stuff.

Any other suggestions of things I could be doing this Spring rather than sitting at home and drinking gin? I will do pretty much anything. Sadly.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

I am not Gwyneth Paltrow and I have photographic evidence

Stung by accusations in the comments box that I am turning into Gwyneth Paltrow, I have decided to provide you with photographic evidence that I am not. This isn't suitable for anyone of a sensitive disposition, or any future boyfriends. Or, really, anyone.

Here is Gwynnie in a coat:

And look, here I am I in a coat on Friday evening. I have a split lip and I am wearing a dressing gown under the coat. I woke up on Saturday morning realising I was still wearing both the coat and a bra. I had, however, taken my shoes off, so good for me.

Gwynnie says: decluttering gives you peace.

I say: Whoa. Is that a FULL packet of Hula Hoops? Gimme.

Gwynnie says: a macrobiotic diet may seem daunting at first, but just wait until you are reaping the health and wellbeing benefits. There are many delicious and simple recipes you can try!

I say: There are many things that are delicious and simple. Most of them are on this picture.

I also say: See that? The shrunken head? That's what happens when I try and eat healthily. No, I don't know what it is. Probably a vegan.

Gwynnie says: Your home is your special space. Fill it with beautiful things.

I say: There's a La Perla bra somewhere in this picture. See? Beautiful things. On the floor.

Gwynnie says: your closet is a reflection of your soul.

I say: that may very well be true.

Gwynnie says: Beautiful, sexy underwear will fill you with confidence.

I say: I do actually believe that. However I often end up wearing this. Go figure.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

I know nothing

Now I have a half share in an amusing themed blog I can post more depressing, whiny, solipsistic thoughtful stuff on here. Yeah. That's you warned. Get out your tiny violins, there will be moaning.

The slightest of "romantic" (a misnomer) entanglements has just evaporated on me. It was doomed anyway, and after the momentary sting of hurt and the wounded amour-propre, it's sort of a relief. An Eeyore kind of relief, but a relief all the same. Being alone is one kind of a thing. A muted thing, but not an awful thing. There are books, music, DVDs, eccentric food for one, endless writing (though not of the right kind). There is (very occasionally) cathartic cleaning and mean laughter with girlfriends on gchat. I know how to 'do' it. But the anxious, sick, self-doubting, emptiness that I have been discovering recently was far more lonely. Liking someone makes you vulnerable to getting kicked in the guts, and all the consolations that have kept me so happy for so long seemed dusty and inadequate - I felt dusty and inadequate.

Because the problem; I think, with the spectral possibility of some kind of relationship was that it highlighted what I am missing. Let's be clear: there are lots of things I'm not missing, and lots of things I am enjoying. I can amuse myself very happily for big swathes of time solo, and even though I am desperately out of practice, I'd say I was improving. I am not looking for Anything Heavy, or really, anything at all most of the time. But there are indubitably things that are much better with someone else. I sound pathetic, but remember I haven't been on my own since I was nineteen, I am fumbling around, discovering things that the majority of the population discovered aged 23. A late developer. A shy late developer in a foreign country, where people of her age are all busy having children and not keen to go out dancing, or even looking for new friends.

Things that are better with someone else (who absolutely does not have to be a boyfriend, except possibly the first part of No. 3, which could get awkward with your friends. So I hear):

1. Sundays - always mildly suicidal, Sundays on my own make me feel 85. Somehow, having a dog makes it even more senior citizen-esque, possibly because my neighbourhood is filled with elderly gentlemen walking ugly dogs early in the morning. 'Bonjour messieurs'. 'Bonjour madame'. A bit of arse sniffing from the dogs, and and we part - they head back to their proper Sunday lunch, I probably head back to my MacBook.

2. Watching shit tv and being snarky about it. Good tv on your own is fine. But tawdry, crap, reality tv loses its sparkle when you watch alone, I think. This would be fine if I was watching the same tawdry, crap tv as my imaginary friends in the computer, but I'm not, because of the Belgian thing. Sigh.

3. Sex - obvious. There have been evenings when I have contemplated answering one of the "cherche femme qui ne veut pas être seule ce soir*" ads in Kiss and Ride. Not for very long, what with the danger of getting chopped up, or imprisoned in someone's basement, this is Belgium after all. But still. I miss hugging too. I often want a hug, and noone (except my children, and they only under sufferance) hugs me in the WHOLE OF BELGIUM. Thank goodness I have a dog who, although too big to fit on my knee, will submit to having his ears pulled companionably.

4. Takeaways. You have to pretend there's more than one of you to justify the amount of food you are ordering. "Yes, 4, no I mean 6 pairs of chopsticks please".

Oh, I dunno. Sometimes it seems like the infinite potential of being single is in fact just the infinite potential for rejection and hurt. Sometimes I think I will sit at this table at this laptop until I fall over dead and get eaten by stray cats. But sometimes the good bits are amazing. Often I am optimistic that things will be ok, probably in a way that I can't even imagine right now. Things have a habit of doing that. But mainly I find myself thinking over and over again that I DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING.

I am going to have some gin now. Because gin is good alone. This much I know.

(*Looking for a woman who doesn't want to be alone tonight)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Friday night, Uccle style

Whoa, I'm a mess tonight. Weird parts of me currently aching: gums, right eyelid, fingertips, teeth, ears. How can I be so tired and still be so cross not to be out having (unspecified, fantasy, only existing in my head) Fun? Someone should just send me to bed with no dinner. Or take me to Chez Maman. It's definitely one or the other.

Couple of housekeeping things with a London bias, sorry.

I am appearing at this thing organised by Mr Robbie Sexy Mermaid Hudson (that is his real name) on Thursday 25 March at a public house in Kilburn. My part will be very short and ridiculous. I don't really know how to do performance type things. I have always managed to evade the public speaking training at work, because they video you making a short presentation. In my mind the words "they video you making a short presentation" are mysteriously transmuted into "they rip out your viscera with their bare hands and toast them on pitchforks in front of you". That's how much I enjoy that kind of thing. I have agreed to do it because I want to get out of the house and meet other human beings. Seriously, try me. Suggest I come and muck out your turkey shed, I'll almost certainly say yes if you can guarantee me conversation with adults. Or turkeys. Or the pitchfork.

Anyway. The rest of it sounds pretty fantastic. If anyone wishes to go, you can get the tickets from the email address provided by Mr RSM Hudson following that Tall Tales link. Possibly. They other popular people's fans may have already taken all the tickets. I'll be shit anyway, and that's not me being self-deprecating. But the other stuff will be EXCELLENT.

With my Cruel Tea arse pinny on, I'll be going to this to sell arse biscuits, cosies, magnets and aprons at this event on Sunday 28th March. It sounds really good. Probably quite strange. I will embrace the strange and try to sell it a rude biscuit. If you do come along, do please come and say hello. I will talk to turkeys or agricultural implements at the moment as explained above, so actual humans will be rapturously welcome. I can't guarantee I'll manage to form sentences, but, oh, I'll be so pleased to see you.

But for now, nearly 2 weeks in Belgeland beckons and I definitely need to make my own entertainment using only expired luncheon vouchers, 23 centimes and some rotting vegetables. On the strength of tonight, nothing very edifying seems likely to happen. I will, at least, try to shout less and write more. But I would like to have a little fun too... Go on, suggest things I can do to stop myself necking gin straight from the bottle and crying in bed by Tuesday. I obviously need a challenge.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Portfolio Careering

I have just finished a photo shoot for an article (no, not the kind that will bring me fame and glory and sycophantic profiles on the Late Review. More slightly schlocky bodyshock trauma for money. Look out for me soon in Real People claiming that I have an extra head growing out of my left thigh, it will almost certainly come to that. I can totally see myself selling a kidney just so that I can write about it). I am wearing a very great deal of make up and I think I am in at least second stage hypothermia, the bit where you start hallucinating, but before you get warm and sleepy.

I was supposed to bring summer clothes. However this morning, after a week of FaceGoop, a little light law, a new exciting writing gig, discussions with my new DOG SHARE (oh please, sweet jesus, let the weepette behave. Beatrice? Are you ok?) and the requisite amounts of sitting around staring into space, punctuated by phone calls from parents about Fingers's birthday party ("Un petit Lego fera bien l'affaire. Oui oui. 9h30"), I realised that I was fucked. My summer wardrobe - or the parts of it that fit, which are few - comprised:

1. 45+ unflattering tshirts and vest tops

2. One acceptable top in this year's complexion draining nude (dirty - blood stain on the front)

3. Two dresses, neither with hems

4. 1 crumpled pair of giganto-trousers, also with no hem.

I packed the top, reasoning that if the dry cleaners thought it was clean, it was clean enough (history does not entirely support this theory), poked the trousers vaguely with the iron and shoved them in a case. Grabbing a handful of other items and already painfully late, I belted off to the station. Given that I had already fucked up the shoot venue and had to shimmy around embarassingly trying to sort it out, I thought the least I could do was not miss the train (I have been a total rockstar of incompetence this week). On arrival several hours later, I realised that I had no bra that could go under the acceptable top and no time to buy one. I headed, anxiously, to the shoot. After make up (So! Much! Makeup! I am wearing the world's blusher reserves on my cheek. I have never had this much colour, ever) ,We all stood around and surveyed the crumpled, dirty jumble sale of my case.

"Shall I try this?" apologetic, I pulled out a stripy skirt and a blue t shirt, reminiscent of a 7 year old's summer school uniform.

The lovely magazine ladies tried their utmost to look positive.

"Yeah! Erm, let's try it!"

"I scuttled off to the ladies. The blue t-shirt was see-through; whichever of the 3 bras I wore lumpily visible. I picked the least worst, wrestled far too much cleavage into far too little undergarment and surveyed myself. Despite the peachy, glowy makeup, I looked old and bleary and saggy. I wondered how much a chin lift could cost, plucking at my jowls abstractedly in front of the mirror. I am sure that a couple of months ago I was feeling all world-conquering and sexy. For ooh, at least a couple of days. What happened? I ought to sleep more. A lot more. Maybe for all of 2010. Eventually, I forced myself back out.

"Oh! Great, er, skirt!"

The photographer took some pictures. My greying bra strap kept appearing, unbidden and having to be poked back in. I was not unaware of the irony of spending 90% of my disposable income of fancy underwear and still not having anything appropriate, let alone attractive, to wear under a t-shirt.

The light was deemed unsuitable in the venue, so we headed out to the park, me in a sleeveless, ultrafine t-shirt, cotton skirt, bare legs, peep-toe shoes. Temperature: 5°C with a significant wind chill factor. The photographer strode out towards a bench. The make up artist and I trotted after her, my pillarbox red heels sinking into the muddy turf.

"Can you lean back against that bench? Oh, is the metal very cold? Your eyes are running! Careful of the eyeliner! No. It's ok, I can't see the goosebumps from this angle. And now, can you lie on it? No, that looks awful, your blue skin is clashing with the green of the bench. Look at me, Belgium! Now look away. Look at that swan. Lean on the tree. No, don't lean on the tree. Can you try and stop your teeth chattering? It's accentuating your double chin. Can you just hold your .. no, not your tits. Oh, never mind. That'll do".

We finished an hour ago and I have been warming up in the Pain Quotidien ever since. Don't judge me. I am old and saggy and this blusher is really really heavy. I need a bit of belgo-comfort.

I go back to Brussels tomorrow lunchtime, and head straight to the children's art exhibition. Saturday morning is Finger's birthday party. It clashes with the Charleroi Urban Safari I am signed up to attend for my Shiny New Writing Gig. I have not quite reconciled these two yet. I do know I am spending the rest of Saturday in Charleroi and the rest of the weekend reviewing beauty products. Don't even say biscuits. Sssssh. I may be becoming slightly deranged, but at least I'm not bored. Long may it continue (but with sleep).

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Face Goop

I have been absent. Sorry. But there is a very good reason, and that reason is this that M and I have been slaving - well, mainly gchatting but, the most intensive, rigorous gchat you can imagine - over our New Secret Project That Need Not Be Secret Anymore.

Don't worry, we don't have a multi-million book/film/tv deal that you need to get envious of. We don't have anything tangible at all. But what we do have is:

Our new baby.

It's a beauty blog for idiots. Girl #101 if you like. Stupid beauty. On there you will learn what's under Giorgio Armani's regulation navy t shirt, how to do your eyeliner with an eagle, why you should never let Estée Lauder take a lock of your hair and how the beauty industry is dominated by lizards from outer space. We will be posting often, and ridiculously. And I really hope you like it. It's not just for girls. There are orcs. And there's , er, science. Lots of science.

Right. Gin.

Face Goop. Go ON.

Monday, 8 March 2010


This is a 'look what came in the post' post. (See what I did there? Yeah, nothing, shut up).

First, these.

Yes, there are two yellow aliens in my green bag. Do not be afraid. Also, to pre-empt any comment on my bag (which receives more adulation than anything else I own or carry, from the most eclectic sources, often male) c'est du Marks et Spencer. Yes indeed, je suis une fille de grand luxe. And very nice it is too, if a little unwieldy and good for bashing people on public transport. This is not a downside, necessarily.

I digress. LOOK at how awesome these are!

Lashes's alien:

Fingers's alien (Fingers was, I think paralysed by indecision when drawing his picture, so ended up with a fairly close copy of his brother's. I find this rather touching, but I imagine it's the kind of thing that rapidly leads to fratricide):

They are made by Lucy Moose who will stuff ANY drawing you make. Well, within reason. Layla's request for "a lifesized Hugh Jackman with working 'parts'" might be tricky. Best of all, I think, you can send her pieces of material that she will incorporate in the finished article. Like, your blanky, favourite jumper devoured by mothbastards, vieux doudou, or lapin puant (one of Lashes's classmates brought the legendary "stinking rabbit" on their class trip to the seaside. I fell in love with the description). Imagine!

Every single day since we sent the drawings away, one or other child has asked when the finished article will arrive. It has been a whole saga. They are very delighted. I am tickled, because I find the whole concept hugely pleasing. I want one of my own now. I waste long hours thinking what I would have, and what little bits of soft material I would want included. I should really get out more, but this is emphatically not news.

Second piece of post:

From the aforementioned Layla, our correspondent in the Aegean.

What could possibly come in a Turkish hairdryer box?

(Sorry about the horrific glare, too. I was too lazy and filled with dullness to take it again. But it's giving me a headache to look at it, so a bad call on my part. )


My first two thoughts on opening this:

1. You said you would look after the Holy Tortoise when he came on pilgrimage!

2. I can never let the CFO in the house when this is out. He would not be at all amused.

It's a shamanic charm. It will ward off the evil eye, and is a very wonderful housewarming present, thank you Layla, I am only joking about the HT. He was much bigger than that.

I would like it to pay particular attention to the following:

Mobistar bills
The Catholics next door and their musical instrument torture collection
STIB ticket inspectors and whoever is responsible for the maintenance of the ticket machine at my tram stop, which has been mofoing broken for FOUR MONTHS.
Michel Sardou who has infected me with a horrible earworm for International Women's Day.
Other things I am thinking very very hard in my head but can't write down.

What would you need a shamanic charm for?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Weekly Review - or the Reason I don't do Weekly Review often any more

I am trying to find a way of saying something other than "I am really really fucking tired. And a bit grumpy and self-loathing". Give me a moment. Oh, weekly review? We haven't done that for ages and, well, it fills a hole doesn't it.


My delightful small obsessive compulsive turns six and for the first time in either of my children's lives, I am not there to wish him a happy birthday in the morning, which is exceptionally odd and frankly, not very nice. To cheer me up, M and I go to the fleamarket and laugh at tat. We are particularly excited by this. After school, we have a sedate celebration, with green iced cake and plastic tat. My boy is as collected, understated as ever. I love him so much, strange little creature. M babysits while I go to a gig. They are pretty good AND it's warm enough to stand outside for a while afterwards without perishing like the little match girl. This will not be repeated all week, as Belgium sinks into a freakish nuclear winter.


Work. Painful exhaustion starting to build up already by this point, due to my inability to go to sleep without watching 3 very fuzzy, low definition episodes of 30 Rock and twitching compulsively for several hours.


I hate Wednesdays. This one is no different. In the evening, at least there is NOUVELLE STAR, my one French tv obsession. Wednesdays are looking up slightly, for the next couple of months.


I have a cunning idea for a story. No, not a fiction story. Reportage. It is about Charleroi and I will be executing my cunning plan next weekend. Sssssh. I fail to make any progress on anything more concrete.


We get caught in a police hold up on our way out of a toy shop, where some lunatics have decided to hold up possibly the crappiest jewellers in Belgium, then carjack and kill some poor woman. We scurry home through the police barriers and hole up at home, glad not to be dead. The CFO comes round in the evening and we drink wine and I fail to have any dinner and watch 30 Rock into the early hours, thereby setting myself up for a shitty morning the next day.


Much hideosity, shouting, squabbling, after an impressive opening sally by Fingers, who arrives in my bed, cruelly awaking me by announcing it is 8 am. I drag myself out of a deep sleep filled with anxiety dreams about my iphone snapping in half. When I finally drag my carcass to a clock, I see, that it is in fact 6:20. The day continues in the vein, punctuated by the unedifying sound of me shrieking like a harpy. We make our harried progress across Brussels to several dull appointments, hindered at every turn by Taxis Bleus. We play several bad tempered board games. The dog is terrified by the giant Mikado sticks, and with good reason.

The nadir comes when I am removing fighting children forcibly from the bath - what had, intially been MY bath - in full harpy-shriek mode. I swing around to grab a towel and knock a bottle of perfume to the floor, shattering into a thousand deadly and widely spread shards. Lashes gets a cut on his foot which bleeds like bastard, provoking polyphonic wailing from all household members. The scent of Fresh Pink Jasmine overpowers us all. None of it is really their fault. It's me - I am out of practice, after nearly three weeks without them. I never want to get to this point again, and vow to make sure it doesn't happen.

Into this scene of carnage walks the poor babysitter, as I make my brief escape to the Brussels late night museum opening event. The museum I am in has a Mexican theme. At one point I find myself watching small children in spandex tights and masks making some kind of vague attempt at Mexican wrestling. I think, fleetingly, that if I had wanted to watch children fight I could have done that in my own home, but I drown the thought in that most Mexican of drinks, vodka and Red Bull (eh? Where is my margarita, bastards?). There is nothing to eat. On arrival home I fall asleep slumped over on the dog with a camomile tea spilling in my lap, because I know how to party.


Immune to repeated assurances it is really, truly morning, I snarl all comers away until a more respectable 7:45. We spend most of the day in a windowless soft play park in a converted ice rink. It's ok, really, if very cold. I can at least sit in a corner desultorily chatting. Later, Lashes and I wrestle with verb conjugation and spelling. I am very impatient. He is very stubborn. Someone should knock our heads together, but Fingers is busy playing Uno against a stick. I spend some time trying to convince the boys they can't sleep in the giant box, which I have gifted them. Earlier in the day I found both Lashes and the dog holed up in there, in a pile of duvets. They looked very cosy. As I put him to bed, Lashes recoils and tells me I smell of 'produits laitiers' (dairy products). I have not eaten any all day. Maybe I am turning into a Bonne Maman crème caramel? It's long overdue.

I am going to try and break the no dinner pattern now. I am not hopeful. There is still a series and a half of 30 Rock left.

Go on, tell me about your week.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Extra special collaborative beauty product review

M and I bond over many things - ponies, whining, giant Stohrer macarons pistache-framboises, poking fun at sections of the blogosphère. But we also share a secret fetish. No, it's nothing like that, we are too filled with world-weary snarkdom to share odd sexual proclivities. No. We are both a bit obsessed with beauty products and make up. That's right, like proper girls. We swap beauty blog links slightly shame-facedly, and talk at length about implausible cellulite treatments. It's lame, but harmless. We are damaging noone but HSBC and their bastard colleagues.

So, we decided we should do an occasional product review column of beauty products and make up. Of course noone will give us free stuff, so we will review stuff that is already in our bathroom cabinets, or was in there when we were briefly solvent.

Here goes nothing.

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair

E: I love this stuff.

M: It's like a corset. FOR YOUR FACE.

E: It's like magic.

M: What does it do, though? It doesn't say anywhere. It's black magic, isn't it?

E: It just magically fixes you. Whatever is wrong with you. Like, it runs a diagnostic programme, and then skitters off and fixes the broken bits.

M: Do you think we could get a bath full of the stuff? And maybe a little vial for the soul?

E: I bet Kate Moss bathes in Advanced Night Repair, now she's tired of champagne.

M: Yes! She bathes in the milk of the Advanced Night Repair cow. Is it a cow? Or a goat? It's probably a goat. Or a donkey.

E: Pffff, it's a unicorn, dude. The Advanced Night Repair unicorn.

M: Of course. Where does it grow?

E: It grazes in the Elysian fields.

M: Yes! And it is milked by Valkyries.

E: So, conclusion: it is a magical elixir from the milk of unicorns and we recommend it.

M: Correct.

Elemis Aching Muscles Super Soak

(In the interests of full disclosure and bloggistic integrity, I should say that this conversation was composed from a range of past discussions on the subject. It's like one of those creepy duets where one participant is dead. M is playing the part of Elvis here. )

M: Elemis Elemis ELEMIS.

E: This should come with a health warning, because it's actually a narcotic, not a beauty product. Do not operate heavy machinery or combine with alcohol on pain of death. It should be prescription only. And kept in the locked cupboards at the back of pharmacies that the junkies try and raid in gritty films. With the methadone and whatever.

M: Elemiiiiiiiiiis.

E: Actually, what am I saying, it shouldn't even be legal. It's like roofies. You lose all muscle control, all free will. I bet heroin is exactly like this. Maybe less potent. Twenty minutes in a bath of this stuff, and you feel like all your bones have been removed. Probably one of kidneys too.

M: A plague of Elemis upon you and your kin.

E: Have you been drinking it? Don't drink it. What kind of crazed thrill-seeker are you?!

M: (dreamily) I once had a flatmate whose girlfriend worked in a spa. She was very fond of Elemis, so there was an unlimited supply of Super Soak and I could use it whenever I wanted.

E: I am surprised you ever managed to move out. Out of the Elemis CRACK DEN. I can imagine you all lying around, never moving, taking bath after bath after bath, the air a heavy fug of juniper and and clove and lavender. Filthy junkies.

M: It was the flatmate that had the collection of blankies. That he washed and hung on the line. Remember?

E: He had a girlfriend? Impressive. A man with collection of doudous can find a girl. There's hope for us all.

M: He ALWAYS had girlfriends. He once broke his penis on a girlfriend and ran around the flat screaming.

E: Eh? Are you kidding me? Is that a thing? How the FUCK? HOW CAN YOU BREAK A PENIS?

M: There's a ligament or something. There was blood and screaming. Apparently it's very painful. I was in my room thinking WHAT THE FUCK.

E: Oh my god. I feel a bit sick now. Well, if you will live with Elemis smackheads in an Elemis squat, this kind of thing is going to happen.

M: Where IS my fucking Elemis?

E: You've spent your giro on Elemis again, haven't you?

M: What's a giro?

E: I sometimes forget you are actually French.

M: Whatever. ELEMISSSSS.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


I haven't done the post I was planning today, because it required me to go up to the attic, a fact which tells you all you need to know about my energy levels right now. On top of that, I made the fatal error of agreeing to watch a DVD in my bed with the children (the deathless "Street Sharks - Requins de la Ville" in which a gang of renegade shark/human hybrids fight crime and eat burgers, whilst the evil Dr Pirhanoid creates a master race of sea creature / human hybrids, each more unintentionally hilarious than the last). Now I am stuck in here, trapped in the doughy clutches of my exceptionally comfortable mattress. The rest of the house is desolation and squalor. When I went downstairs to try and locate a ringing telephone, the sight of the dog sleeping in the remains of a box of Mini Magnums, his scrawny limbs arranged neatly around some chocolate stained, shredded bills, sent me scuttling back to bed. If I had any form of nourishment up here, I would most certainly not be getting up again. As it is, I have to go and switch Lashes's light off in a minute and it seems outlandishly hard - there are, like, 20 stairs! Honestly, how long before I can just abdicate all responsibility and leave him to watch hyper violent Japanese anime and smoke dope all night?

The odd thing is, I know I WILL drag myself up to switch that light off, and then downstairs to tidy up. It turns out that I do have some - admittedly very low - standards, and that not leaving the night before's plates and dishes out to greet me in the morning is one of them. Who knew? This whole, living alone for the first time aged 35, thing is an endless voyage of self-discovery. I have found out, for instance, that I don't want to eat in front of the tv, indeed I almost never want to watch tv at all. Or drink wine. Bleugh, wine. If I want a drink, I want spirits. I have learned that I can't sleep if I know the heating is on, or if my bedroom is messy, but that this doesn't extend to the bathroom, which can look like the black hole of Calcutta for all I care, or to all the lights in the house being out. I still want to sleep on the door side of the bed and however often I make a conscious effort to spread across the full 180cm, (reminding myself that I waited 4 months for the privilege), I will wake up curled in a foetal ball milimetres from the edge. I know that most evenings are fine, anything between blissful and bearable, but that Friday and Saturday nights home alone feel utterly wrong and depressing, often to the point of being physically painful. I definitely need a drink on those nights.

None of this domestic ephemera is interesting to anyone but me, and most people have known all this stuff about themselves for so long it barely registers. But I am finding the process of finding out how I like to live aged 35 very intriguing. The last time I lived alone was in a single college room in Oxford, aged 21. I found a photo of it today, actually - a Vuillard poster, a tiny rug, a neatly made bed under a sash window, an enormous pile of books. A bunch of tulips in a cheap vase. I kept it absolutely, obsessively immaculate. Of course, I was very peculiar and mad back then, preparing myself sad little meals of steamed fish and vegetables in my rice cooker, going to bed at 9 most nights, after painstakingly writing out everything I had eaten that day in tiny, immaculate print in a squared notebook to be brought out, proudly, for my appalled therapist.

I think a whole day of meals from that sad little notebook would barely do for my breakfast now. Sometimes in this chaotic, bewildering time, I feel that at 35 I have very little more sense than I did at 21, possibly even less. I have no answers, and the future is shrouded in a sort of haze of barely suppressed panic. But I do know that I eat more, get drunker, stay up later, make more mistakes, create more mess, laugh more that I could possibly have imagined at 21. And I can't help but feel optimistic when I realise that.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Kiss and Ride, Spring Edition

Pitifully starved of romance, my head has been turned once again by the siren song of Kiss & Ride, the forum where semi-literate Belgian commuters post their haiku form pleas for love into the ether, and where the ether responds with non-sequiturs about how many carriages there are on the 7h28 from Luik to Charleroi. It rarely disappoints. Although the Swiffer remains unrivalled as a totem of Belgo-romance, we have a strong performance this week from a folding bicycle. As always, I have kept the originals with all their myriad spelling errors for extra authenticity.

"You ate a banana.."

I'm imagining a particularly lubricious orange eating incident here. Note that there are NO details of appearance, not even gender. For all we know, the intended addressee could have been a poodle.

Je me suis réveillé dans le train ce matin, entre Braine-Laleux et Bruxelles midi (train à destination d'Anvers) et tu me regardais, m'a-t-il semblé. Sur le temps que j'émerge, tu as mangé une banane, un biscuit et une orange. Ton sourire m'a fait plaisir et ses regards qui se cherchent et s'évitent m'ont rendu muet. Je doute que tu lises ce message, la probabilité est grande que tu sois néerlandophone. Mais qui ne tente rien n'a rien. (Nicolas)

I woke up in the train this morning, between Braine-Laleux (ed's note: I suspect this should be Braine l'Alleud. But the shit spelling is of course part of the fun) and Bruxelles Midi, and it seemed like you were looking at me. While I was waking up, you ate a banana, a biscuit and an orange. Your smile made me happy, and these glances that meet, then slide away from each other leave me speechless. I doubt you'll read this message, because you're probably Flemish speaking, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Folding bicycle

Ok, I'm probably deluded, but I think this one could work, it's sweet and romantic. Come on bike lady!

A toi la jeune femme aux cheveux courts et noir, que je croise pratiquement tous les matins à Braine l'Alleud; et parfois même au hasard d'une rue de Bruxelles. Que tu sois accompagnée de ton vélo pliable, ou d'une connaissance, tes sourires magnifiques, ton regard si doux et nos bonjours timides sont des moteurs pour une bonne journée. Je suis à chaque rencontre sous le charme. Que ta journée sois belle

To you, the young woman with short black hair that I see practically ever morning in Braine l'Alleud, and sometimes even by chance in the streets of Brussels. Whether you are with your folding bike or with an acquaintance, your magnificent smiles, your gentle expression, our shy hellos make my day. Every time I meet you I am charmed, may your day be wonderful.

Ballet pumps in winter

Oh, the pathos. "You asked me the time, I don't have a watch". His whole arm is probably covered with time pieces now, just in case.

Je t'ai vu hier, dans le train en direction de Louvain-La-Neuve. O toi qui m'a envoutée de ton regard azur, mon cœur ne bat plus que pour te revoir. Je prend le train tout les jours pour te revoir, tu m'a déjà demandé l'heure, mais je n'ai pas de montre.Tu porte si bien tes petites ballerines mème en hiver. J'espère que tu viendra me parler la prochaine fois, toi cette jolie blonde a l'imper bleu. je porterais une écharpe rouge pour que tu me reconnaisse

I saw you yesterday in the train for Louvain La Neuve. Oh, you, who has put a spell on my with your azure gaze, my heart beats only to see you again. I take the train every day in the hope of seeing you again; you asked me the time but I don't have a watch. You wear your ballet pumps so well, even in winter. I hope you'll speak to me the next time, pretty blonde with the blue raincoat. I'll wear a red scarf so you recognise me.

Noisy Scouts

A bizarre Anderlecht supporter? The long stop at Rhode St Genese? It's poetry.

Peut-être penseras-tu à regarder "Kiss&Ride". Tu es, comme moi, monté à la Gare Centrale et descendu à BLA ce dimanche 28/02. Ns ns sommes souvent regardés et souris (les enfants scouts bruyants, le supporter d'anderlecht "bizarre", le long arrêt à Rhodes St Genèse). Tu avais un blouson en cuir, un jeans, des converses. Moi une veste & pantalon noir. Puis on s'est regardés s'éloigner sans s'échanger nos coordonnées...Il n'est p-e pas trop tard ? :)

Maybe you'll think of looking in Kiss & Ride. You, like me, got on at Central Station and off at BLA (Ed's note: Braine l'Alleud AGAIN! It's a hotbed of thwarted romance) this Sunday 28/02. We looked at each other and smiled (the noisy boy scouts (Ed's note: OH I HEAR YOU. Fucking scouts, everywhere, all day Sunday), the "bizarre" Anderlecht supporter, the long wait at Rhodes St Genèse (Ed's note: "The long wait at Rhode St Genèse" is a film title in waiting)). You were wearing a leather jacket, jeans, Converse. I had a black jacket and trousers. Then we watched as we walked away from each other without swapping details. Maybe it isn't too late?

Sagging muscles

I don't know about you, but I think this correspond tips over from 'amusing eccentricity' into 'completely mental' territory. "Flamme Intime" sounds like a cheap Ann Summers perfume.

Salut toi je te vois souvent soit sortir du train maastricht-visé, soit dans le thalys liège-paris... dès que je t'ai apercu, j'ai su que ma vie ne serait plus jamais pareille. Tu as ravivé ma flamme intime que je croyais éteinte á jamais. J'ai cru comprendre que tu te prenomais edgard, tes cheveux mi-longs et ton muscle avachi me laissent toute chose. Je veux te revoir et je t'attendrai chaque jour sur le quai de la gare.

Hello, you, I often see you getting out of the Maastricht-Visé train, or the Liège-Paris Thalys .. as soon as I saw you,n I knew my life would never be the same again. You have relit my intimate flame (Ed's note: no, this makes no sense in French either. It just sounds creepy) that I thought had gone out for ever. I understand your name is Edgar, your longish hair and slouching muscles leave me helpless. I want to see you again, and I'll wait for you on the station platform every day.

Prominent chin

Yup. I bet she'll love that description. She'll be falling over herself to get in touch. You do realise she's got a massive complex about that chin, don't you?

Tu prends tous les matins le 6h43 à Namur pour Bruxelles.. Ton petit nez en trompette; ton menton en galoche, tes longs cheveux blonds et le cliquetis de tes grandes boucles d'oreilles rondes me permettent de me réveiller en douceur tous les matins.. jusqu'à Luxembourg.. Merci à toi.. d'égayer mes jours..

You take the 6h43 from Namur to Brussels. Your little upturned nose and your prominent chin, your long blonde hair and the little clicking noises from your big round earrings help me wake up gently every morning... all the way to Luxembourg. Thank you for brightening my days.

Stalker seeks prey

Creepy as hell. What the hell difference does it make that you are as tall as each other? That does NOT MAKE IT OK

Mademoiselle, grande, au look asiatique, merci d'illuminer ma journée en empruntant le 529 de Verviers-Central à Liège-Guillemins. Vous dormez, ou feignez de dormir, je vous contemple (nous sommes aussi grands l'un que l'autre), et ne perds ps une miette de votre ligne qui me tente et réveille mes sens. Au plaisir de vous revoir demain et après.

Tall, asian looking lady, thank you for brightening my day by taking the 529 from Verviers-Central to Liège. You sleep, or pretend to sleep, and I watch you (we are as tall as each other), I don't miss the smallest detail of your figure which tempts me and awakes my senses. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow and thereafter.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Health and Safety

Oh, things are dull round here, aren't they? I'm overcome with a desire to say appalling, outrageous things, but then I have to swallow it down. Dull. DULL. I'll see what I can sneak past my internal censor tonight.

First a confession: I dropped Fingers's (raw) birthday cake on the floor. I scooped it off with a spoon, swearing and muttering, cooked it, and sent it to school covered in (rather successful, if I do say so myself) chocolate fudge icing. It was apparently the best cake they have had all year. Rave reviews. There's probably a moral in there somewhere, but I wouldn't know as I am a moral vacuum and have no remorse about this, or many other things. And now M can't blackmail me, because I have admitted my crimes to my internet peers.

Fingers was six yesterday, born with minimum fuss after a lovely lunch at Latium in Cleveland Street and a short, rather expedited walk to University College Hospital labour ward, which was mysteriously empty, for once. Born four months after my mum died, I rather feared I would go to pieces entirely once I was no longer carrying him, but there was no crying or collapse, just a very peaceful pleasure at his arrival and an aching sadness that she never met him. She knew I was pregnant, at least. One of the very hardest things to hear after her death was that she had been heading into Rome to buy baby clothes on the morning she died. Anyway, we look - and I think, briefly, felt - very serene on the few photos that seem to exist of those first few days after he was born. (though Fingers was a very odd, squinty looking thing for weeks. Sorry, darling, you're beautiful now). It was such a sad, desperate time, and he was such hopeful little animal in the middle of it. I remember walking around Russell Square in the weeks after he was born, feeling spring beginning to emerge and feeling tiny tentacles of optimism starting to unfurl within me. Of course, then we moved to Paris and it all went tits up, but that's another story.

His birthday was a low key event, the tone being set by the man himself, with his request for an extremely plain cake and a miniature entrenching tool. It was an odd gathering - boys with a modest collection of plastic tat, CFO putting in a brief appearance to drop off laser guns (for which the dog thanks him from the bottom of its heart), brain twin in the corner industriously making monster stop motion films, weepette cravenly fleeing the cross hairs of the laser guns. In the evening, once the CFO had left, the children were in bed, and M was huddled in front of her Macbook, barely visible under a pile of blankets, I went out with a someone whose complex personal life would give a lesser man several nervous breakdowns. Ah, modern life.

I have always liked my boys' birthdays - not the actual parties, which are several rings of hell shoved into a windowless room and filled with plastic and punitive acoustics - but the basic cake and presents on the day itself. I used to find it very comforting when we lived in London, how an odd assortment of friends and convoluted family (step-parents, half siblings, cousins) always seems to assemble, or call. It seemed right, and comforting always, that there are other adults in their lives, possibly because there were lots in my childhood and I loved it - my mother's lodgers, friends, lovers, colleagues - all the the trappings of North Yorkshire hippiedom. I want my children to have that here too. I am working on it, but am too pathetic and shy to make much headway. Be my friend! Spare my children years of therapy from being trapped in an overly-intense symbiosis with a parent whose best relationships are mediated through a keyboard!


1. I did not win a Bloggie, so the weepette Mexican Wrestling outfit is on ice. I might just put his head in a sock, but that would mainly be for my own amusement. Thank you anyway for voting if you did, and I am not going to go all passive aggressive on you if you didn't. I have been really quite shit at blogging for the last 6 months or so, ever more circumspect and boring. Ending a 16 year relationship, moving into a new house, continual Channel hopping, work woes, child anxiety, financial terror, will do that, I suppose. I would pledge to do better, but I just don't know how at the moment. I'm praying it's a fallow period and better things will start to occur to me unbidden, like they used to. Please, Nathan.

2. After an insanely busy February, March is staring back at me, blank and slightly forbidding. I am planning to staple my head to the kitchen table and try and get on with some writing work. I am haunted by writer-twitterers and their triumphal daily word counts, by the excellent advice for writing fiction in the Guardian, by the suspicion that I don't like what I am writing enough to get it finished. I am terrified I will lose my nerve entirely. I suck, and must face my fears and type some words and see what happens.

3. On a less tiresomely introspective note, Nouvelle Star starts today! Tomorrow here in Belgium, where we are cruelly forced to wait an extra day for French singing reality tv joy. Tragically, Sinclair, my perpetual crush, is not taking part this year. I will just have to transfer all my affections to the mysterious but genial André Manoukian, his luxuriant hair and his esoteric insults. I will devote a whole post to André's sayings soon. Just watch me.