Saturday, 31 July 2010

Weekend Noir

It's one of those special weekends in France (and by extension Belgium), where the whole fifty minutes of network news is devoted to TRAFFIC. French news is all about the local micro news story - the 'and finally' item in any right thinking news organisation - blown up grossly beyond the point where any normal human being could be interested. When we were living in Paris, the CFO and I watched with incredulity and delight as TF1 devoted a whole week of reports to the opening of a new viaduct. I have seen lengthy reports on cherry stone spitting competitions, dog fancy dress competitions in Larzac, the process for issuing school reports in Brittany and more reports from bakeries than seems feasible. I would never go to French news for any information on the world outside of France, but I sort of love the perpetual rhythms of it, the way that every year on a particular weekend there must be a report on the average weight of the cartable, or what facilities are provided for grape pickers in Bordeaux. You'll note I'm talking about French, not Belgian tv news. Belgian tv news requires a nuanced understanding of the current political and linguistic apocalypse that even I, with my potato aides-memoire cannot muster.

On top of this, add the peculiar fascination with holiday traffic jams and around now, the tipping point when the holiday traffic excitement outweighs all they other rubbish news stories arrives and it's totally acceptable to have ten minutes of images of queues at toll booths and interviews with the traffic police and families picnicking at service stations and the doom-laden pronouncement that "Bison Futé a classé ce weekend NOIR dans le sens du départ et du retour", black being the highest possible state of traffic alert. The French traffic information service is called Bison Futé - Wily bison. Because of all the animal kingdom, the bison is obviously both the wiliest, and the most interested in cars, cones and contraflows. I also like it when they talk about 'le chassé-croisé des juilletistes et des aoutiens" which makes it sound like some kind of highly choreographed dance fight between July and August holidaymakers, possibly set to music by Leonard Bernstein. I imagine the returning Juilletistes could brandish large pieces of local charcuterie sourced in the Ardèche, whilst the Aoutiens could perhaps throw their soon-to-be-abandoned pets (it's another peculiarity of French culture that abandoning one's pet at a service station as you set off on holiday is such a deeply engrained national habit that they have to run vast poster campaigns in May and June with big eyed pleading puppies, to try and discourage people from doing it).

I find this hugely entertaining. Well, I would if I weren't getting in a bloody car tomorrow morning to do battle myself. As a card carrying Aoutien, I will be accompanied by the weepette, though given how bloody much it has cost me to take him on holiday - €50 blood test from the Institut Pasteur, €45 of worming treatment, and a €46 Eurotunnel supplement (also payable, fact fans, for cats AND mysteriously, ferrets) - he will have to annoy me a very great deal before I abandon him at a service station. I will also be accompanied by the children, at last. It has been very peculiar seeing them so little in July and they are rubbish - touchingly so, but still rubbish - on the phone. I got a postcard from them today, which is a picture of a kitten, chosen by Lashes. The message reads, firstly in the CFO's writing:

"Fingers wants to say that he is sucking with his straw and it is leaving blood stains"

There is no further explanation of this statement.

Then Lashes himself has written:

"Maman miaou, aréte minou minou miao zip aïe maman on s'amuses zip". (sic).

They have been in the South of France, and on their return, for unfathomable reasons he is now regretting deeply, the CFO took them to a campsite in Ostende. I finally managed to talk to him this morning, and his voice had the haunted, hollow tones of one who has seen terrible, terrible things and will never be the same again.

"The shower block - seven showers - is only open between 9h30 and 11h00" he said, or rather croaked. "There are about 3000 of us. And we're right by the bit of the campsite where les jeunes hang out".

"Ooh lovely. Do they stay up all night listening to gangsta rap and smoking weed?"

A strangled affirmative.

"There there. You'll be back soon".

I want to be run ragged and forced to talk about Pokémon and have pointless circular arguments about stuff that doesn't exist, let alone matter. I want to have the relentless routine of small boys needing to be amused and fed and endlessly demanding that I buy them plastic crap that breaks within thirty seconds of purchase. I will be soon. I just have to wrestle that wily bison and the army of saucisson wielding juilletistes, find my way across three countries with only some handwritten post it notes for assistance, and work out how to open the petrol reservoir on this car. Wish me luck.

Bath and Beyond Report

This is a Bath and Beyond catch up because I am, briefly, back in Belgiana. I have twenty four hours to get my shit together and take possession of children and dog, before heading straight back to England on an even lengthier trip encompassing London, the Cotswolds and the Isle of Wight. Something has got to give. Maybe one of my eyeballs, or a temporal lobe? More likely my roaming bills. Proper posting should resume next week, because this could get monstrously irritating. What's that? It already is? I feared as much.


Fish nibbling my dead skin: about 30? 40?

Humans staring in open mockery at me having my dead skin eaten by fish: >10

Number of minutes before having foot skin nibbled by fish passes from totally outlandish to 'yeah, whatever, fish feet': 20

(There will doubtless be more about the fish pedicure over on Facegoop, but here I will just say there's something a little last days of the Roman Empire about it, sitting terribly blasé after the initial hilarity/horror, fidgeting with your emails as fish swarm around your feet, nibbling your dead skin. Is this what we have come to??? What will future generations think of this? I swear, it heralds the apocalypse, or at least risks hastening the time when we are governed by a race of gigantic, inscrutable, squawking seagulls).

Time lapse between having feet savaged by fish and recommencing savaging left foot again myself: 3 hours

"Wouldn't it be more fun", someone said last night, thoughtfully "if instead of lots of tiny fish, you put your feet in a tank with one GIGANTIC fish?" And, if you think about it, that would indeed be awesome, except instead of a gentle pedicure, there would be the ever present danger of losing an extremity. Even better for our jaded, desensitised, thrill-seeking culture. I am going to open The Conger Eel spa.

Audience members at Tall Tales who took issue with my portrayal of the EU public procurement rules: 1.

Gins consumed at Tall Tales: 3 (very reasonable, my body is, if not a temple, then at least a modest unitarian chapel)


Countries passed through: 3

Kilometres covered: 650

Fig rolls eaten: 20

Seagull related road near misses: 1

Human error related road near misses: 3

Human error related road near misses in which the human error in question may arguably have been mine: 1

Number of CDs available to listen to during 9 hour journey: 1

Number of times randomly selected Flemish radio stations played Rose Royce's Carwash between 7 and 9 this evening: 3

Profound philosophical thoughts whilst driving: 3 (not related to, or triggered by, Carwash)

Thoughts about snacks whilst driving: 100

Reflexive anxiety thoughts whilst driving: 8000000

Homicidal seagull thoughts whilst driving: 8

Puny triumph thoughts once driving finished: 1

Delight to be back in mould-scented, orange house: trace

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Bath Report II

Day 3 in Bath.

Shiny new Gap trousers tried on: 4

Shiny new Gap trousers bought: 0

Fits of self-loathing induced by Gap "Curvy" trousers: 1

Mildly comic whirlpool baths taken: 3

Discernible effect on skintone of concerted whirpool bathing, body brushing and Weleda Birch oil use: 0

Reader recommended cafés tried: 1 (Jika Jika. Good coffee. Improved carrot cake. What's with the obsession with carrot cake though, Bath? I am not a rabbit. Je ne suis pas un lapin. Ich bin nichts ein Kaninchen, No soy conejo).

Tweets: 18 (improved, but still crap)

Number of pairs of shoes dragged from Belgium in a small suitcase: 9

Number of pairs of shoes worn in last 3 days: 1

Dr Kargs crackers consumed: 0

Packets of Caramel Nibbles consumed: 1

Pointless vitamins consumed: 8

Words spoken to another live human being: Maybe 30?

Dead ends and deletions: too numerous to count

Words: Eh, who's counting. Not me, it's depressing.

Bath Report

Bath, day 2, and here are my achievements:

British supermarkets marvelled at: 2

Ginger cake eaten: 0

Compensatory yoghurt eaten: 17 pints

Books bought: 2 (Sloane Crosley and Nicola Barker)

Reader recommended cafés tried: 1 Roscoffs, vg in every way except the carrot cake. Oh yes:

Carrot cake eaten: half a slice. Bof.

Invoices submitted: 2

Number of attempts required to submit 2 invoices: 6

Number of times over money on invoices already spent: 700

Insults relating to Dr Karg collated: 10


"Tiring, devoid of nutritive value and ultimately unfullfilling. All the advantages of fellatio without mess" from this person


"Dr Karg sounds like a Victorian nutter who forcibly removes wombs and puts stuffed songbirds in the empty cavity. He then dries out the wombs and turns them into his crispbreads" from this person)

Dr Karg apologists discovered: 3

Body brushing sessions: 3

Nail trimming with knife accidents: 0

Tweets: 35 (this is very VERY VERY BAD. Internet 1, Willpower 0).

Words written: Ooooh thousands. Tall Tales piece (provisionally entitled 'Love in the time of the Works Directive'), 2 Facegoop posts, a lesser, but not insignificant amount of book words.

Sightings of Jordan on ITV2: Apparently infinite.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Out of office

This is just a reminder that posting is sporadic at the moment, because I am in Bath making a last ditch attempt to do stuff to my dog eared, limp, manuscript. Notably, I need to wrestle my way out of various plot failures, fill other plot holes, change some names I now hate and do an unflinching check for Lameness (multiple instances detected already). That is why I am not posting. So far, there has been some wrestling, lots of staring into space and a trip to the public library for a little light wifi. Shortly there may be an ill-advised attempt to cut my right thumbnail, which is broken, with a kitchen knife. I will not let myself out to the Spar to buy nail clippers until I have reached a particular level of productivity. That level has not been reached, so for now it's just me, a bowl of stale mint humbugs, and the kitchen knife. It's ok, there's a first aid kit in the kitchen, I spotted it earlier when I was looking for a secret trapdoor back to London. I have no idea if this exercise is actually useful, or even character building yet. Ask me at the end of the week. So far it's quite restful, at least.

In the hope of ensuring I get at least something positive out of my confinement, I have bought a pile of hippy crap from Holland & Barrett and a mountain of vegetables, and am attempting a few days Clean Living, complete with Epsom Salts, body brushing, effervescent milk thistles capsules, brisk walks in sensible shoes, 1001 ways with ruby chard and those revolting Dr Karg crackers. Oh, Dr Karg, you sadistic über-villain, your seed-based war on my palate rages unabated. There's a reason he sounds like an intergalactic war criminal. I imagine him to look a little like the Emperor Zurg from Toy Story, but with more hemp. I am, what, three hours into this demented health kick and have already had half a Lyle's Ginger Cake and two of the stale mint humbugs I found on the mantelpiece. It's going BRILLIANTLY.

Bath is ... lovely, actually. Warm. The oh so restorative spa waters make crap tea, but apart from that I have no complaints. It is oddly full of seagulls, but since I got a little distracted on the way here and ended up in Bristol, which had even more seagulls, I was prepared. M4, M5... Very similar when you're sweating terror from every pore and appear to be condemned to listen to Radio Malvern for all eternity. I was simply glad to be alive and in full possession of my wing mirrors (I am driving a car the size of Luxembourg) somewhere vaguely in the South West. Bath, once I finally found it, is beautiful and busy, and more importantly has a Waitrose. I am a little disappointed noone has asked me to dance a quadrille yet, but then I am very far past marriageable age and have entirely lost my bloom. Maybe all the milk thistle and body brushing will restore it? Unlikely, I grant you.

I will give you an update later in the week, I should imagine. If anyone knows lovely places I could go in Bath when I am not contemplating certain failure, eating industrial ginger cake or scratching my left foot, do let me know.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

My left foot

Within minutes of meeting up yesterday, I was showing the Brain Twin my left foot, which I have been scratching raw in several places for about a month. It's a nervous tic. This summer has NOT been easy so far. I'm 50% pervasive anxiety, 30% despair, 10% inertia and 10% foot scratching. Just imagine if I had done twenty sit ups instead of scratching my foot every time the urge overcame me in the past few weeks? I'd be Elle McfuckingPherson by now. Just writing about scratching my foot is making me do it RIGHT NOW. Admittedly sit ups on the floor of Pain Quotidien might look a bit odd. I could read a poem or something, do some calculus? Whatever. Anything but savaging my own soft tissue. I did it last year too, but I was still living with the CFO, who would catch me and slap my hand away. Now I can scratch unfettered, and it shows. Yet another of the unexpected consequences of living alone.

"Eeeeeeeeeuuuuurgh" she said, recoiling in horror.

"Really? Is it that bad?"

"Euuuuuuuuuuuurgh. My sister Skyped me her cat yesterday. It's just been neutered, and she held it up to show me the scar".


"Yeah, she said 'the vet says if there's a lump bigger than a hazelnut, there's a problem. That's a walnut, isn't it?'"

"Eeeew. Was it a walnut?"

"Yes. And apparently, the walnut bump was the cat's intenstines protruding".

"Right. So, basically, are you saying that my foot looks like a cat hernia?"



"So I can't have the fish pedicure?"

"Dude. Fish have feelings too. Also, there's nothing left for them to eat".


Any suggestions? None of your hippy shit, please. I'd rather something brutal.

(Oh, if anyone wants to come to this thing next Thursday in Kilburn, drop me an email - some of the people who are doing it are actually good and mine, whatever it is, will definitely be SHORT).

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tuesday Oddness

This afternoon was peculiar. I put some make up on in the ladies loos at work, walked out, had a moment of doubt and walked back in to confirm that I had, indeed, as I finished applying each item, thrown it carefully into the rubbish bin. Next, I went the wrong way along a metro line I use constantly (I mean, there are only TWO, it's not like it's hard to remember). When I finally righted myself and found my tram, I was delighted to see GALLIANO VEST MAN, who I haven't seen for the longest time. I got you a picture, but I was standing too close to get his magnificent grey mullet in. Also, I am chicken. He would terminate me. Flouncily.

If that vest was in a French magazine the strapline would be something like "Osez la transparence!". Which now that I think of it, is a slightly prosaic French version of 'dare to bare'. I like to imagine him lounging alluringly, in a selection of diaphanous vest tops, across an eight page spread in Gaël magazine next to a feature on "L'artichaut - légume de l'été et votre atout minceur" (Artichokes - summery and slimming!)

Until I can provide you with proper evidence, you're just going to have to trust me, this man is in his fifties and has a luxuriant grey mullet.

I note that Galliano Vest Man has forsaken Galliano, for Cavalli. Poor John. You've been drifting off the fashion radar for a while now and this really is the final indignity for you, isn't it? I imagine you crying into your protein bar, your prissy little Hercule Poirot moustache drooping with the weight of your salt tears while Christopher Kane and Erdem Moralioglu point, and laugh.

Most disturbing of all, my post when I got home was THIS:

The front reads "We should get off to a good start" and the back reads "A ninety two year old lady made this card, hoping you would like it".

I cannot begin to understand this but it seems indescribably sinister. She's going to come knocking at my door, isn't she? Is this a well known Belgo-scam? Really, that was all this neighbourhood was missing, the chance to be doorstepped by possibly fictitious nonagenarians with a taste for whimsical stickers and green ink.

Thankfully I am escaping tomorrow, for the first Facegoop London Summit. We have great plans, the brain twin and I, for video blogging and hippy baiting and mortifying beauty based cruelty of all kinds, but I rather imagine it will end up with us sitting in a park drinking warm wine and telling each other repeatedly how doomed we are. I am really looking forward to it. After that, I retreat to my hermetically sealed box in Bath. Oh! And on 29 July, I believe I am doing another one of those Tall Tales thingies. I have not remotely prepared for it in any way, and whatever ideas I had when I agreed have evaporated like the morning dew off a luxuriant mullet. If you have any suggestions of topics about which you would, theoretically, like to hear me speak for five minutes in a pub in Kilburn next week, I am all ears (and a little bit desperation. Possibly 76% ears, 24% desperation). Help!

Sunday, 18 July 2010


We got a tent yesterday. It will astonish no-one to hear I am implacably opposed to camping. This is not mere blind prejudice, for a change. I have camped plenty.

1. 5 years of natural history field trips in the midst of my adolescence. Actually, the camping part was only a backdrop to the week-long carnival of teen angst. Each year, it seemed, the humiliation did not lessen, but just mutated slightly (did not have vital Reebok black hi-tops, sharing tent with Annabel and her gigantic sanitary towel collection, ambivalence towards kissing Nick Moran and his terrifying brace, not being invited on midnight trip to roll hay bales around the neighbouring field). With wearying inevitability, my tent would flood at least once every year.

2. Duke of Edinburgh award. Can we just take a moment? Why the fuck is the Duke of Edinburgh giving out prizes for what is essentially CAMPING? I bet he's never tried to rehydrate Super Noodles with lukewarm water from an extinguished camping stove. Or forgotten his cagoule and had to wear a bin bag with holes cut out.

"Who are these folk who dress in green
We hear the people say
They ask if we're some foreign scouts come here on holiday".

Nope. We're a bunch of hyperviolent and unbiddable spawn of hippies, led, ineffectually, by other hippies, into disaster in a misty field somewhere on the North York Moors. Run! Run for your lives! BEFORE MARK GETS HIS GUITAR OUT. Uh oh, too late. Time for "Little Boxes". And a co-operative game about warring villagers who learn to share, whilst behind the shower block, Ruben and Joshua are learning to disembowel a squirrel.

4. Le Camping Sauvage
During our second summer together, the CFO took me to his ancestral campsite, a scrubby patch of ground on the Normandy coast entirely bereft of amenities, where each year, his grandparents drove their caravan the 20 minutes up the road from their home to sit in the drizzle for a month. His grandmother cried with rage when she lost at dominoes, and the nearest washing facilities were at the 1 star campsite three miles away. Best not to dwell on the shower block. With hindsight, I am astonished our relationship survived.

So we got a tent, the cheapest tent in the history of all tents ever, but I have absolutely no intention of going in it. We took it out of its bag and it shuddered itself into a vague tent shape. When the rain eventually stopped, I bundled it out of the back door along with the boys in the general direction of the garden, and went to make a cup of tea.

A few minutes later something made me look outside; I think it must have been the sound of cheap nylon screaming for mercy. I was greeted with the sight of the tent briskly triple salto-ing around the garden, its gaudy blue casing stretched to breaking point:

I'm not sure this is what you're supposed to do with a tent - stuff it to the gills with soft toys, then roll it around the garden until it explodes - but what do I know? It looked a lot more fun than anything I've ever done in one.

It tired them out, anyway. I like them tired. They are like charming small animals.

And now they've gone again and the house is very, very quiet.

Friday, 16 July 2010

On absence

I got my boys back briefly today. They're with me until Monday, then off with the CFO. The past two weeks they have been at a special campsite for the children and grandchildren of teachers with their parental grandparents, Team Sudoku. I am very tickled that such a thing exists. I imagine all the signage is perfect, with nary a misplaced apostrophe (not that that's an issue in France. All the verb endings would be impeccable and perhaps make occasional showy use of the imperfect subjunctive?). They have obviously had a wonderful time about which I will never hear more than the odd snippet, and quite right too. They're browner than I have ever been in my entire, melanin challenged life, Lashes is gigantically tall and Fingers now seems to have no front teeth at all. Maybe that's why he hasn't got any taller, it must make eating tricky.

It felt very odd to be waiting for them today. I had a tight knot of anticipation in my stomach, spent the day cleaning and tidying, buying food they like and tiny presents, all with a sense it shouldn't be like that. They were later than I expected, and I was less and less able to concentrate as the day wore on. These long stretches without them can feel like the starkest kind of personal failure. I've mentioned before, the constant low level anxiety that accompanies longer periods without the kids, an obscure feeling that something is wrong, or out of place. I know they're ok; better than ok. They're great, having wonderful holidays with people who love and enjoy them and care for them, and generally I fill my time without them well, I think. I see people, I write, I laugh, I lie in bed and wallow, or make myself a gin and tonic and read a novel. I'm learning, gradually, to enjoy the peaceful parts; not feeling the need to fill every moment with frenetic, compensatory activity.

But I'm reminded of something I wrote about Fingers a while back. I wrote this:

Your papa thinks I am a bit casual with you, but if I am, I am casual with you like I am with my leg, or my ear. You are part of me.

I suppose this is what I am realising I have lost, the offhand intimacy that comes with spending every waking moment with another person. It's not that it's all bad, it isn't. I am, indubitably, more appreciative, more careful of my time with them. I look at them more clearly and with more wonder when they come back to me each time, that bewildering mixture of completely the same, and indefinably changed. And of course, that shift would have come, in time, in any event. It comes to all parents sooner or later. But this is very much sooner and they aren't quite like my ears, or my elbows any more. They are separate, and that separateness is my doing. It's hard to accept, sometimes.

In the event, they rolled up at around four, an explosion of noise and irepressible good humour. It was wonderful to see them. Almost the first thing they did once their grandparents left was to tell me a long, meandering rude joke, the punchline of which was "Your arsehole is much bigger than mine". Then we went to the park, and Lashes sat under a tree reading a comic, while Fingers lay on top of me cackling every time the dog came and dropped a soggy tennis ball on my face. I will hold them very tight for the next few days and laugh at their jokes, and watch their shitty cartoons with them. And perhaps there's not so very much wrong with that.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Deceased Warlord

E: I don't know what heading to put on this email.

M: Don't ask me. I don't know when the last time I had a proper job was. I know nothing of such things.

E: You see, I am worried that because of how my email address looks, the message will go straight to spam.

M: Ah.

E: Yeah, that and the fact I've decided to head it "Greeting dearest! I am sending you warmest greetings from Lagos. I am Nigerian widow long time my last message goes unsanswered".


E: Or maybe "RX VICODIN IN 48 HOURS ANYWHERE IN WORLD". Or just 'Your bank account is broken, give us your PIN', then a shitload of Cyrillic script.

M: That should do the trick.

E: Doomed. We are doomed.

M: Not me. I have in-depth knowledge of bacon flavoured consumables.

E: Is it ok if I steal that for my email?

M: No.

Footlocker Fresh King

E: You need to watch this. I became hysterical.

B: Holy crap that is hilarious. "Now you're in Brussels" has to be one of the most ominous lines I've ever heard. It's like a jail sentence.

The Germans have a word for it

E: Thank you for the ninja cat and the barbary lions. Are you familiar with Transformer Owl? Or this? I love "the head is for the purpose of growing horns and so the mouth can be somewhere".

B: Transformer Owl is scary. I think he might want to cut me and take my shoes. And cut them. How about Mel Gibson's greatest hits set to kittens?

E: I worry about how I would have survived adulthood in the days before internet baby animals. Hard drugs, I think. I bet there is a word for this in Japanese. For what we do. A noun meaning "to give love and support by exchanging internet clips of great cuteness or humour". I just bet you.

B: I'm sure you're right. German might have one too, but it would have to involve pain.

E: Yes. The German version, all 84 syllables of it, would translate as: "the act of taking refuge in inconsequential internet ephemera in order to escape the rigours of daily life".

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cow polishing

I had a Petit Trianon moment today. I'm still trying to talk myself down actually. By 'Petit Trianon moment', I mean a brush with my fantasy occupation, as far-fetched and impractical as Marie-Antoinette's Hameau de la Reine, with its polished cows.

My fantasy occupation is to run a cake shop and café. An English cake shop, with fairy cakes, not cup cakes, plain but appealing sponge cakes and Arse Biscuits.When I was going proper, foaming at the mouth, off the rails mad at the end of 2005, I used to try and calm myself down, lying wakefully insane in bed, by imagining the menu at my fantasy café, and the décor. It would be a cross between Treacle and Peyton & Byrne, but all my own, and BETTER. (Incidentally, I alternated these fantasies with the most bleak, brutal Scandinavian crime novels. They were the only two things gripping enough to me at that time to take my mind of going nutso).

Today Beatrice and I stopped off in a café I have walked past many times but never been in to. She knows the owner. And, oh, but it is perfect. Not the slightly chintzy, cluttered cake shop of my dreams, but a more spare and stylish Scandinavian cafe. There's a minimal menu of coffee and kanelbullar, a gigantic 1970s map of Sweden on the wall, a couple of outsized delapidated leather armchairs among the ergonomic pine seating. But it's cosy and it smells and feels GOOD. It's a place you'd want to spend time in. We had iced coffee - remember I couldn't find iced coffee anywhere in Brussels? Well you have to ask specifically, he doesn't even advertise it, but, man, it was good.

Beatrice explained more to me. The owner is stubbornly, irrationally, against marketing of all kinds, and seemingly against profit, refusing to sell anything other than his core menu of coffee and cinnamon rolls, a couple of grudging paninis. He's made no money (astonishing!) and he's had enough of working like a dog, so he wants out. Beatrice and I look at each other, two eurodrones with a crazy dream.

So now we're fantasising. There's no good coffee in Brussels! It should work! It just needs some decent advertising and an overhaul of costs, says Beatrice. Flyers at the FNAC and the European Parliament, and we'd be packed. Especially with free wifi. I could do biscuits and cakes! I say. There's only one cupcake bakery in Brussels and nothing like I'd doing... I go into a reverie of adding a little extra counter for cake, imagine the take away cake box packaging, decide already where we should put our second branch (right by the Parliament to catch all those displaced eurocrats with per diems burning a hole in their pockets). I can see us, really see us, behind the counter, the sun streaming in through the plate glass windows (it's fantasy remember), happy customers chatting quietly at every table. In my vision, realistically, Beatrice is doing the hard stuff, and I am arsing around with icing.

It's a great, delicious fantasy. I already know it's going to get me through any dark patches of late night anxiety and despair in the coming weeks. Cinnamon rolls and scones and good coffee. Now excuse me while I get into my shepherdess outfit, I have lambs to dye pink and hooves to polish to a high shine.

Tell me - what's your fantasy job change? What kind of Marie-Antoinette would you like to be?


Laura Barton has written a lyrical, thoughtful piece in the Guardian about what it means to be Northern in exile (I realise it may seem ridiculous to people from decently sized countries that a person from one part of our tiny island can miss it when living barely two hours away, but we do, ok?). I was struck by the passage about what she misses:

"I missed the colour of the leaves that seemed to grow a darker, dearer green than those of the south. I missed the dour beauty of a region that was once the nation's industrial heartland, the mills, the mines, the blackened bricks, the canals, the way the landscape is scarred by the past – the rope-burns on the towpath bridges, the old pit-shafts, quarries, disused railways, the strange deformities of a land that has been tunnelled and burrowed and shifted and finally left to settle. I missed the voices. I missed the music of chuck, and love, and lad. I missed the cursing, the insults, the ruddy and bloody and wazzock and gobbin. I missed the sound of the rain and the smell of the pavements as it dried. I missed the light, the shift of the clouds, the flat grey sky, the thrill of a hot day. I missed its kindness. And often I thought of that line by Tennyson: "Bright and fierce and fickle is the south/ And dark and true and tender is the north."

Partly I enjoyed it because it's a beautiful evocation of the North West, but partly because it made me think what I miss about my homeland, my birthplace. I miss London all the time. I want to be there, would go back in a heartbeat if I could. I know exactly what I miss about it; the scale, and the anonymity, my favourite corners and my friends. But York? It's an afterthought. I was desperate to escape, first to Leeds which was bigger and brasher and had better shops, then to London, and after my first proper trip abroad alone (Morocco, at sixteen), to escape England altogether. That's how I ended up here. But it has never stopped me defining myself proudly, ridiculously, as northern. I spent 18 years there, after all. And what do I miss?

I miss the smell of sugar beet on a cold, damp, misty day. It's not that it was a nice smell, it wasn't, really. The more palatable, smell of York is of After Eights, dark molten chocolate from the Rowntrees, now Nestlé factory. But it's the sugar beet I remember most vividly, perhaps it was seasonal, the factory only operated for part of the year. Sugar beet is sort of sweet and acrid, but it's the smell of winter for me, new school coat and shoes, coming home from school when the skies are starting to darken and the sodium lamps are coming on vivid orange and being completely enveloped in the dampness, and the smell. York is flat, and low; frequently flooded. It sits in a damp hollow between two rivers, so the mist, and the smell lingered, I can just see how the factory chimney sent out a fat white plume of beet vapour, to sit under the cloud line. The sugar beet smell is gone forever, the Tate & Lyle factory has closed. It must be odd to be in York in winter without it. I think I miss winter there altogether, the smell of leaf mulch down by the Foss, and the quality of light and eating my toast so close to the electric fire I practically set my school uniform on fire. All that mist. It's never misty here. In my memories, it's always winter and it's always misty in York.

I miss, and don't miss, Tuesday night bell ringing practice at the Minster reverberating around the city centre. Living so close to it, the bell ringing, endlessly repetitive and invasive, would almost make the house shake, make listening to music pointless. It wasn't something to be enjoyed, so much as endured. And then, the quality of silence when it stopped was very particular; that relief, your ears not quite able to believe it wasn't going to start up again. On the very occasional weeks when there was no practice, you would wander round the house, a bit on edge, discombobulated, barely aware of what you were missing, but knowing something was missing all the same.

I miss the Saturday ritual of going the 500 yards 'into town', the time honoured circuit of streets - Monk Bar, then Goodramgate, Petergate, Stonegate, Parliament Street then Coney Street. Always. I still find it hard to deviate from this when I go back, regardless of what the intended final destination might be. Too many Saturdays with my best friend Alex, heading towards the mecca of the Coney Street shops: Miss Selfridge, Woolworths, latterly, and thrillingly, River Island. The obligatory queue for a Danish pastry in Thomas the Bakers. And that particular provincial town main street experience where you are statistically certain to see at least 50% of the people you know in any given afternoon.

But really, there isn't that much I miss about York; it's a middle class medieval town, utterly homogenous and crammed with tourists. I obviously miss Yorkshire people, because I gravitate towards them, want to swap phrases and adolescent hangouts with them (interestingly, they seem to be over-represented in my corner of the internet, I'm always running into more and it's always a pleasure). But it's more that I miss the rituals of home I miss. Sitting on the end of my mum's bed while she held court there all day on Saturday. Prog Rock in the kitchen making something ponderously labour intensive, while listening to a tape of Analysis, he has taped off Radio 4, a pile of fat, forbidding library books piled close by. Taking my sister to 'the lions', a patch of grass in the shadow of the Minster, with a sort of decrepit pillar with lions on the base, their features obliterated by centuries of rain. A trip to the Spar late at night for chocolate. Sitting in the tiny backyard in the summer listening to cricket on the radio and ignoring a pile of revision. I'm a bit sick of being an adult right now, it's hard work, and apparently, it just goes on like this until you go mad or DIE. That sucks. I want a couple of weeks back in the warm bubble of my provincial childhood, thanks.

What do you miss about the place you grew up, if anything?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

July Escape 2

After London, Paris, for the tiniest, but most lovely of escapes.


Paris, for me, is a list of unmissable cake shops - Stohrer (thanks to M), Hermé, Dalloyau, Ladurée, a place on rue Vielle du Temple that makes large green and pink biscuits shaped like mice. Loads of cake shops. When I lived there, and we had no money, cake was my lipstick, the tiny indulgence I used to allow myself to make up for the austerity in all other areas. The heat, and my own indolence, restricted the number of cakes I could buy on this visit, so I went for the ones that have stayed in my mind since New Year, when M and I unapologetically and systematically devoured a whole box of his petits fours. Sadahuru Aoki. Do you get that thing where you taste something, something you don't have ready access to, and then OBSESS about it, and when and how you can possibly get it again? I do, frequently, and I suspect I'm not alone. There used to be a particular coffee cake in a Jewish bakery on Avenue de Wagram near our flat in Paris. They only made it once a week, if that, but I would walk past daily just in case. I walked a lot when we lived there, which was a very good thing, or I would have been horrifyingly fat what with my single-minded pursuit of patisserie.

The Sadaharu Aoki counter at Lafayette Gourmet is a triumph of lunacy, with its incomprehensible double queueing system presided over by sweetly polite and self-effacing Japanese girls who are no match for Paris gourmands, drunk on patisserie possibility and rendered furious by low blood sugar and crowds. However. I did finally manage to get a Bambou (green tea and chocolate) cake, a bag of financiers, and a bar of his extraordinary salted caramel chocolate. I only had to tread on three sets of toes and get shrieky once. I cannot vouch for the state of the financiers and the chocolate after dropping my suitcase down an escalator, nearly killing someone behind me, but the Bambou was fantastic.

Here's a tiny and inadequate picture of a row of Bambous:

I ate mine on a terrasse at Opéra with long-suffering K, who accompanied me on my mad cake odyssey.

"Aren't you going to eat your cake?" she asked, after we had chatted desultorily for a few minutes.

"I've already eaten it".

"Whaaaat?! But I'm sitting right next to you and I didn't even see your lips move. There's not a trace of it!"

"Ninja skills, my friend, ninja skills". I eat very fast. Very, very, disgustingly fast.

"That's because when you were young, the packs of wild dogs that roamed Yorkshire would snatch the food from your plate if you took your time, isn't it Emma?" said B, sympathetically, after I performed the same revolting trick with a Croque Monsieur later.

Non-cake loveliness

- Lots of wandering round the Marais today, skulking in the shade (it was 30° and bright sunshine. By about half past ten I was a mass of prickly heat) with frequent refreshment stops. B was trying to shop, and I was trying not to. You can probably guess how that ended - I bought a dress, he only bought a pair of pants. We were both horrified by this outcome, though I do like the dress. It was very cheap, 70% reduced AND it is not black. It sort of looks grey on this picture but I promise you, hand on heart, it is blue.

Other things wrong with this photo, in which I attempt to replace a mirror with PhotoBooth: I have no head. This is not a deliberate attempt at anonymity. I think it's a little late for that. I seem to only have one breast. My hand is the wrong way round. I think I was trying to make my arm look thin. Instead I look like a double jointed, grey, shrouded, decapitated maniac. If this was the best one, I leave you to speculate about the others. Scary. It is nicer than it looks, the dress, I promise, though the eagle eyed may also note in this hi-tech photograph that it is missing SIDES. Maybe that is why it was so cheap.

I got distracted in the pants shop by this garment. Can anyone shed any light?

Are they control top pants, like Spanx for men? Or is it supposed to be very hawt and sexy? If the latter, it is yet again demonstrated how infinitely varied human sexuality is. Oh, I have just spotted that the label says "Active Slim", so perhaps it is the first option. Pants enlightenment, please.

- Great cocktails at Prescription in St Germain, particularly something with gin, and mint, and ginger. Completely delicious and deadly. One is enough. Repeat after me, Emma. One is enough. (Stable door. Horse. Bolted. Gin sweats on the morning metro).

- Reading this from start to finish on the train, unable to put it down. Funny, black, well written and completely compelling. There's a bit about Mick Hucknall that made me snort like a pig.

My very favourite bit of all was a late night zoom across Paris by scooter, in the heat, weaving through the Saturday night crowds and ZOOMING across the Seine. Vroom vroom, brilliant. I couldn't stop laughing. We used to have a scooter in London, it was a source of total joy, and the CFO has, almost always had, a motorbike. I have spent lots of time on two wheeled machines of death, and I totally love them. Well, I love them in the city. Less when you are on a 100km trip to a festival in the arse end of nowhere with only a shampoo bottle filled with gin to console you. In the city, the less appropriately dressed you are as a passenger, the more fun it is. I was very inappropriately dressed last night (I am not talking about helmets. OF COURSE everyone must always wear a helmet), which just added to the hilarity. When my children are a little older, I will of course change my tune entirely, and no-one will be allowed on two wheeled machines of death, still less without a full suit of body armour. In fact, I will probably hate them on principle. But last night was total bliss. Ssssh. We'll never tell, and I'll delete this when they hit 16.

I don't often say that, do I? Let us take a second. I had a LOVELY weekend.

How was yours?

Friday, 9 July 2010

Make Up

I like make up. I do, I really like it.

That little stash there, that's just what I travelled with to London, what I carry in my bag at any given time. There's more at home (even more so since starting Facegoop, possibly the worst thing to happen to my finances since, well, since I first got pocket money).

M is more about the skincare, but I'm all about the instantly transformative qualities of a bit of concealer, blusher, eyeliner. My face needs it, truly. Without lashes, I need the basic punctuation of eyeliner and shadow. The rest is optional, but I like how it looks; I like to give myself cheekbones and a colour other than my natural cadaver blue. I like to make my lips plumper and pinker than they are naturally. I do it because it's pleasing, almost meditative, and because it's something I do solely for myself that makes me feel good. There aren't many things in my life that tick that box in such an uncomplicated way.

I wasn't a particularly early adopter. Coming from the house of a radical academic, albeit one who was very partial to beautiful things, cosmetics were far down the list of priorities, behind my loathed French classes from a gloomily troubled Baudrillard disciple, piano lessons that flew in the face of my absence of natural ability, Julia Kristeva and books, books, books. Of course, I trailed round the Body Shop and bought odd idiotic bits and pieces like everyone else, but I was more enthused by the rare, heady trips to Leeds Warehouse for big, boxy t-shirts in red, fuchsia and black (oh, Warehouse was IT, the acme of sophistication). I know where I first got sucked in though; it was in the library at Quaker school and I was 16, when I discovered French Elle.

I can't imagine who decided at that rather ascetic establishment, that they should take a subscription to French Elle, but there it was, hidden discreetly behind Le Nouvel Observateur and L'Express, in the oak stacks of the John Bright library, untouched by anyone but me, each week a new issue. I would sit there in free periods and read it cover to cover. My eyes would run swiftly over most of the interviews, and the worthy pop psychology, glaze over completely for the recipes. But the fashion, and even more, the beauty pages, caught my imagination like nothing else. I feel confident that in 1990, I was the only 16 year old in North Yorkshire with an encyclopaedic knowledge of thalassotherapy treatments.

I remember copying down the names of perfumes, and products, in an exercise book and going to search for them in Browns or Fenwicks, the old school departments stores of York, hovering around the counters, terrified of the gorgons with their pantomime dame faces. I remember my first big purchases - a Chanel powder compact, and a Chanel lipstick, a very early nineties beigey nude called "Félin" (the only way I was ever going to be described as 'feline'), the smell of them, the little velvet pouch the powder compact came in, the luxury of it all. I remember how extraordinarily grown up it felt. Sure, my contemporaries were having sex, learning to drive, getting drunk and smoking dope. But I had my Chanel compact and it felt good. I wasn't the prettiest and I sure as hell wasn't the most popular, but I had the coolest make up.

Then later of course, my hair all fell out and making what was left of my face as nice as it could be was even more important. If I'm not wearing any make up, it's like that soap opera shorthand - it means Something Is Wrong. There's something a bit unappealing about loving make up, isn't there? It's says you're dependent on artifice; that you're not natural. Well I don't care. Make up has been my friend for nearly twenty years now, and I'm sticking with it. I expect that the older I get, the more I will wear, until at eighty or ninety, I will have a full, Barbara Cartland mask of slap, garishly slathered on with little regard for the facial features it is supposed to enhance. I hope to have a jauntily inappropriate wig too, maybe something voluminous in a nice coppery chestnut colour?

I converted my mother in the end, in a tiny way. After she died, I inherited the other half of the pot of Guerlain Météorites we had shared between us, pouring out the tiny balls into two containers. That batch is long gone now, tiny, shimmery multicoloured spheres proving irresistible to small boys, they ended up crushed and dispersed around various places I have lived. But the powdery violet smell of their replacements still reminds me of her when I occasionally when I open them up.

You know, presumably, that lipstick purchasing is inversely correlated with economic health?

Which, I imagine, is why I have bought THREE in the last six weeks, after not buying any for at least a year, maybe more.

And look, they are all identical:

(terrible picture, I only have my phone with me, but I love the sort of halo of fabulousness they are giving off. Quite right too).

That picture? That tells you of the total financial apocalypse that is my life, and possibly the fate of Europe altogether. But wotthehell. At least I can dance out in a blaze of, erm, nude pink.

(And YES, dammit, I bought a Tom Ford lipstick. Food and shelter are overrated)

July Escape 1

I am in London, always a source of joy and financial ruin. Someone (Boris, I am looking at you, and very unedifying it is too) has pedestrianised Trafalgar Square in my absence. Why was I not consulted? Hmmm? Ok, I am in favour, but that is decidedly Not The Point.

Thankfully, in Notting Hill, location of the Waffle Parental Seat (Posh Side), nothing ever really changes. Grimy trust fund teens and hedge fund mothers still mill around cupcake bakeries. Beautiful young dog walkers struggle down the pastel streets with five inbred labradoodles. Bendy, swishy, amazonian ladies sashay in and out of the yoga centre across the street talking of shiatsu and entrance exams. The tramps sit around outside Waterstones eating takeaway pizza from Strada and discussing whether the Yen is undervalued. There is, admittedly, a new frozen ice cream shop down on da Gate, manned by two sweet and profoundly dim boys with elaborate hair but this hardly heralds a sea change in the demographic. I try one. It's nice, but it makes me feel sort of dirty, at £3.70 a pop.

After a week of sitting on my own, scratching my left foot and sharing tins of tuna with the dog, I was very far from brilliant at yesterday's drinks/lunch/cocktails/party. There were only about four chairs in the room at the party, yet I kept getting stuck behind one of them, as if even the furniture were warning me not to try anything clever, like conversation. When I did escape I met some truly lovely people and caught up with many more, all very tolerant of my thousand yard village idiot stare.

(Shameless plug corner: the party was for my very wonderful friend Jojo. Her new book, The Last Letter From Your Lover - which I bought yesterday and am saving for the Eurostar, is by all accounts very very brilliant. Also, it is interspersed with real life letters from people dumping their partners, by turn horribly funny and evocative. BUY THE BOOK. PLEASE. That's how you do subliminal messages, right?)

It's taken me a while to recover from the marathon of mixed drinks and gossip and the most garrulous and strange taxi driver for some years and his large collection of family photos. I have drunk about thirty pints of tea and sat in cafés all day, apart from an exceptionally ill-advised foray to Kensington High Street which started off with me accidentally admiring the maternity wear in Marks & Spencer, and ended with me buying a pair of shorts, a garment I haven't worn since I was 16 (and for good reason, I imagine). Mr Houser escorted me away before any further crimes against good taste could be perpetrated (topic of conversation: Steve Jobs on a unicorn, mainly).

At one point I ducked behind the Coronet cinema to call the boys from an abandoned phone box. They are at the seaside and sound to be having the most idyllic time, full of waves and crabs and hamburgers. They talked for two minutes, happy to hear my voice, then dropped the phone kindly but decidedly, anxious to get away and get back to the waves and the crabs and the hamburgers. I am delighted with this, on almost all levels, would far rather they were having fun than pining. But it's odd how missing them affects me. It's not sadness, or loneliness, but anxiety. And I don't mean anxiety about killer crabs and tidal waves and natural disaster; those kinds of low probability events don't capture my imagination or feed my fear. I am not anxious for the boys or their safety, it's something even more primitive that that; a basic unease at not being with them. Is this how it always is when your children are away, parents? Even when they are 32? I would love to know.

It is now stupid stupid stupid late because of all the time spent scratching my left foot and my many mosquito bites, and because of the dullness of my brain and the unbearable smell of fake tan. Stopping.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Kein Dichtestress

I have spent a very great deal of time alone in the last week. I seem to have managed to go from the gloomy, "I-will-die-alone-and-noone-will-notice-my-adoptive-son-will-have-to-identify-my-weepette-chewed-corpse-from-dental-records (and that will be difficult because I can't remember the last time I went to the dentist)" phase to the frothingly mental but cheerful phase fairly seamlessly, so well done me. I have had lengthy conversations with both the dog and the bathroom mirror, and have started singing to myself tunelessly on the street. When I do see other people I'm a bit off-kilter, either insanely talkative or a dribbing halfwit who cannot form sentences. Often a little of both.

I am on my own partly because I am trying to write. Believe, me it's hardly Proust in a cork lined room, I have the mental rigour and impulse control of toddler and spend my time staring into space, mentally self-flagellating, scouring the cupboards for forgotten industrial confectionery and being sidetracked onto the internet. I am 30% dread, 30% defeatism, 30% ADHD and maybe, on a good day, 10% productivity. On a bad day I am 100% sure of failure, of mediocrity. There are lots of those. Thankfully, there is also lots of forgotten industrial confectionery.

Some part of me obviously believes that being alone is important, having the space to think. Everyone says so, anyway, so it must be true. I think I confidently assumed I would better at it than I am, but I probably underestimate the way fifteen years cohabitation, 8 years mothering, changes your default settings. My 'normal' has been calibrated to a fairly high level of promiscuité* so I'm all at sea with this solitude. I can't focus. I think this is why I felt I need to have more of it, to get over the strangeness. This may be a bit contrary, or indeed totally wrongheaded. Also, I may lose the ability to speak, and communicate only using a series of high pitched clicks and whistles after a few weeks. It's an experiment. WITH MY BRAIN. Sounds sensible when you put it like that, doesn't it?

(This reminds me of a dorky academic anecdote (and doubtless urban legend) my parents used to relate about a 'friend' who had dedicated his PhD to his supervisor, with the barbed inscription:

"To X, for providing me with the intellectual isolation from which true creativity stems".

Academics' jokes: rarely laugh out loud funny. Fact.)

This month is my writing month, anyway, and so it's solitary confinement. If I don't get the damn thing finished in draft by the end of July, I will be utterly, and rightly, furious with myself. To this end, I am spending the second half of the month holed up by myself in a flat in Bath, possibly without the internet (did you feel the cold chill that assailed me as I typed that? Brrrrrr). And even before I go to my pretty, Georgian prison in one of Britain's most beautiful cities, I am going to be knuckling down and working like a bastard. So posting may be light. Then again, it may not, because I am infinitely weak and pathetic and I like talking to you. But just in case, that's why.

(* After extensive discussions with the internet it appears there is no English translation of this French word, meaning 'lack of privacy'. However, M did manage to dig up this unbelievably brilliant German word, meaning "stress caused by living in too great proximity to others and having insufficient privacy". Dichtestress. It challenges all my easy clichés about the English that Germany and France should have specific words relating to the absence of sufficient privacy and that we shouldn't, but there we go).

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Dear Holiness, the Fridge God,

I have collected the ritual sacrifices you requested - 2 boxes of organic eggs, 8 vanilla Danette puddings, 2 chicken sausages, 6 Activia yoghurts, a bunch of radishes, 3 packets of coriander, 2 of mint, 1 large piece of ginger and countless potatoes. They are untouched by human hand, in accordance with your wishes. Please put them to whatever purpose pleases you and if possible, be merciful.

Your worshipful slave,


(ps I have washed the crisper basket, I hope this does not anger you)

Dear Neighbours,

SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUP UP. NOREALLYIMEANITSHUTUP. And if there is any more Amy Macdonald this afternoon, someone is going to get hurt.

Yours &c


Dear House

You still look like shit, despite my best efforts. Whilst we can both agree that my best efforts are pretty lame, I still think you are not even trying to keep up your end of the bargain. I request that you rectify this, by, at the very least, washing your own windows by close of business today. There are some of those wipe things in the cupboard under your sink.

Yours sincerely

Emma (solicitor)

Dear "Book" (that's a courtesy title. It seems overly familiar to call you 'disparate collection of word documents'),

I really hope you aren't as boring to read as I am finding you to write at the moment.

Please find your own way of making X find out about Y because every solution I come up with stretches credibility so far I want to just drag you to the recycling folder.



Dear Eyes,

Wow, you are so small and pink today! Do not let the tear ducts boss you around like that.

A concerned relative.

Dear Summer Sales,

Please, stop calling me. I have already told you, you and I cannot be together. You are just causing us both needless pain when you harass me like this. ESPECIALLY you, Comptoir des Cotonniers and you, Cos. You should know better.

I mean it. Don't make me take out a restraining order.


Dear Tadpoles,

I am really sorry. I think it was just too hot for you wasn't it? I am especially sorry at the sneaking relief I know I'll be feeling when I empty your bucket.

Yours in sorrow,


Dear Global Economy

Could you see your way to lightening the FUCK up a bit? Jesus! It might never happen. Miserable bastard.


Dear Readers,

Please write your own letter in the comments box. Anonymous letters are permitted.



Boring boring boring

It's Saturday night in balmy July when every right minded person is far, far, from the internet, but still the worm that lives in my brain thinks I ought to write something. Since noone is reading, however, I can be as boring as I like. You think you've seen me do boring before? Ha!

My day:

Went to the park twice with the dog. Oh, the mind-numbing tedium of walking the dog, who stays verrrry verrrry close to my side at all times, thinking with all the might of its tiny, pea-sized brain 'if I just stare up at her for long enough she will get sick of my pitiful staring and take a ball out of her handbag'. He is correct, but he forgets how appallingly I throw. I have put something, several things, out today trying. Things to do in the park:
- look for nice men to impress with my special, souped-up TurboDog (rare)
- be approached by elderly ladies and told about their sad lives (frequent)
- Outsource the dog to gangs of local youth keen to relieve the monotony of living in Uccle by throwing a tennis ball around. They are always welcome. (hot weather only)
- Look for rats (sighted about twice a week).

Tried on a very old dress. I don't know what masochistic streak makes me do this, it's the second in two days. Partly it's because 80% of my wardrobe is in the dirty laundry. This one, like the last, confirmed for me that while I haven't exactly got fat, my chest is massively larger than it use to be and everything is just that crucial few percent too tight for comfort. I'll never be able to trust myself to try and lose a little weight without becoming a lunatic. Lunacy is too deeply engrained. The best I can probably do is not buy any more crème caramels or large bars of Côte d'Or aux Amandes Caramelisées Avec Une Pointe de Sel. I am struggling with this. Boooring. Partly, it's that old non-coping strategy when times are hard creeping in, of getting irrationally dissatisfied with my fairly serviceable, though no longer bony, body. I will not give in to it. I have unilaterally declared myself too old for that kind of shit.

Bled out of my eyeballs trying to write 800 words that should have been as easy as breathing.

Cried repeatedly watching Glee. I seem to have a big reserve of tears to get rid of this week, and Glee is the perfect vessel for them. I was a little concerned at the indiscriminate crying but my friend B assured me that he not only weeps buckets at Glee, but also hyperventilates slightly. Reassuring.

Bought a dustpan and brush and a doormat in the local pound (euro) shop. I think this probably qualifies as the high point, well, that or the crying. Are you holding up? Is the excitement becoming too much for you?

Painted my fingernails with many, many coats of Chanel Dragon. I note, examining them now, that the right thumb is particularly rubbish. Lots of people don't really rate Chanel polishes, but I like this, it's a proper pillar box .. oh sorry, wrong blog.

Got creakily overdressed like an old lady and went up to town to poke at the sales, in an appraising, non-purchasing sort of way. Bought a new lipstick. Rouge Coco in Mademoiselle. Great colour and very, oh hang on, wrong blog again.

Read a lot of this Lorrie Moore which has a hell of a kick in the middle of a fairly meandering and uneventful seeming plot. It made me viscerally uncomfortable reading that section (I won't say, it would be a massive, ruinous spoiler). Clever Lorrrie Moore.

I am going to stop now because I am worried you might not be able to sleep after this amount of late night stimulation. Tomorrow, at this rate, I could probably deliver you a treatise on double entry book-keeping, or possibly just a photo post composed entirely of pictures of my beige floor tiles.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Chien Chaud and other stories

I have nothing to report. I can't report because I am in the bath. I have been in the bath all day apart from the bits where I was hiding in the freezer section of the supermarket and sharing a bag of ice cubes with the dog. I think it's safe to say neither of us is at our perkiest in the heat. It is 35°C in Belgiana and I think the Atomium is melting, globules of steel dripping down onto the decaying structures of Mini-Europe to the awe of the few, ill-advised visitors.

Let me say, however, that I am absolutely NOT complaining. It is beautiful, amazing weather. The junior Waffles are away in yet another seaside campsite (don't, I can't even think about it without shuddering) with their paternal grandparents, the King and Queen of Sudokuland. The CFOs tortoises are in heaven, lumbering around his garden with surprising speed and stupidity. And most importantly, until Monday when I will be absolutely compelled to get on a tram again, I can just lurk in here with the shutters down and my miserable, panting, bony companion lying at my feet, like so:

(this is not a creature that the evolutionary process should have spared, given that he is incapable of dealing with even moderate spikes or dips in temperature without collapsing in a heap of despair and ill-health, but at least he looks aesthetically pleasing in his despair, which is more than can be said for me).

If I find myself getting faintly crabby at the heat rash, or the absence of all ice creams but Magnums from the shops (who likes Magnums? Anyone? They're just rubbish, aren't they? The ratio of chocolate to ice cream is all wrong, unlike an old school choc ice, with that delicately flaking shell of, well, probably pure petrochemicals, but it tasted GOOD. Oh, I could go off on a whole reverie here about the ice creams of my childhood, and how a trip to the village shop for ice cream in the long, painful confinement in rural torture zones that comprised my summer holidays was the one bright spark in days filled with poking dead creatures and being taken for hikes, but I will spare you), I only have to remember the heatwave of 2003.

In 2003 we were living in a top floor flat, under the eaves, in Newman Street, W1, London. It was in every way the most wonderful, amazing place to live, and of all the places I have lived, the one for which I retain the fiercest affection, but high summer, baking under the flat, black metal roof, was a living hell. In the summer of 2003 (the one where all those pensioners died in Paris, remember?) I had a boiling, angry one year old and I was newly pregnant, it was the dream scenario. I don't remember much about it, except wanting to cry, but being too hot to, and one day so brutal that we had to decamp to Papa Waffle's house which was slightly cooler (I think I allowed myself to cry a little that day). The rest of that summer was spent in Coram Fields, a playground in Bloomsbury with a sort of shallow, fetid paddling pool and some of the scabbiest livestock known to man. I have rarely seen a crosser sheep than the two in Coram Fields that summer, and as mentioned above, my every childhood holiday was ALL about the pissed off sheep. I went back there with Antonia a couple of years ago and it had been moderately tarted up, but I was reassured to see there were still two furious sheep giving us evils from the back of a very dark stall. We had a penis loop to attract goats, so we didn't mind too much.

Perspective, distance, are odd. I look back at lots of things that happened in the last fifteen years or so, and wonder how, exactly, I got through them. Not just the big things, like deaths and funerals and repeatedly moving house and illness and splitting up, but the tiny ones too. Heatwaves, sleep deprivation, vomiting bugs, bringing a sofa back from Ikea by myself. I haven't had anything unbearable to deal with, but somehow things can look quite hard, unmanageable even, when you look back at them. I hope that means that people are, I am, resilient, rather than that I used to be a hardass, and now I'm a massive wimp. I try and tell myself that it's the former, anyway. I see lots of resilience around me, in particular from my amazing brother and his family, dealing with the biggest of big, shitty things on a daily basis with love and humour and grit. If ever I need reminding how pathetically tiny my problems are, I know where to look.

So. This year I'm a bit lost and a bit lonely, but this too shall pass and it's what I wanted so I can damn well have the good grace to make the absolute best of it. And yeah. Right now, it's hot. Nice, isn't it?