Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Au chômage

So. I am properly unemployed. A little melodramatic? Ok, yes, I suppose I can concede that. But let me have my moment of drama please. After ELEVEN years, I don't have a job. All that misery back here? That was me finding out, so I've known for a while, but still, now it's Actually Happened, I have my Belgo P45 (possibly, if I checked the post) and I've cashed my last luncheon voucher (or rather, let it moulder and expire in the bottom of my handbag), caught my scarf on the dangerous bannister on the main staircase causing near asphyxiation for the last time.

Here I am, then, jobless in Uccle. Sssssh! Don't tell my landlord. For the moment it's an amusing novelty. Ha ha! Redundancy! How marvellously zeitgeisty! Soon enough the reality will kick in, probably around the time the dishwasher finally gives up the ghost (anywhere between 5 minutes and 3 weeks from now, I reckon) and I realise I can't replace it, or when I can't run away to London when I next get Belgian cabin fever.

It's ok really. I'm "freelancing". Of course, as any fule kno, in the financial Ice Age that is 2010 "freelancing" and "unemployment" are synonyms, but we will gloss over that for the moment and instead compile a list of productive and improving activities for the long, wintry "freelancing" days.

1. Have a soap opera nervous breakdown

On soap operas worldwide, getting laid off is inevitably followed by a vertiginous plunge into catatonic depression, signified using the following visual cues:

- absence of make up (women)

- stubble (men)

- childrens' programmes playing in the background as the character sits listlessly on sofa staring blankly into space

- tracksuits

- daytime drinking

I can do all of these things very easily, why, I do most of them already! Except stubble, and that's what the François Nars Aigle Noir crayon (if I had an ounce of common sense I would use an Amazon affiliate link or something here, to try and wring some cash out of being mildly amusing. I don't) is for, after all. Maybe I could go to B and I's Halloween party as a soap opera nervous breakdown?

2. Go a bit Martha Stewart, or a bit Cranks cookbook. Or both.

I made cupcakes yesterday, wearing my frilly polka dot apron, like a nutter, then strongarmed the children into decorating them, against their will. I rather wished I hadn't.

Sinister. Clearly Lashes has given up on his recent crusade as Brussels's Sugar Tzar, following me round and intoning gloomily how many spoons of sugar everything I put in my mouth contains (rarely less than twelve, according to him).

I also made a frugal flamiche aux poireaux (leek pie) and some horrible cauliflower soup that I will ignore until I can throw it away. I am subconsciously harking back to the safety of my pulse rich hippie childhood. Discussing redundancy with Miss W - whose background is virtually identical to mine - a few months ago she mentioned discussing a similar period of straitened circumstances with her mother, who reassured her that she would be ok, because she knew exactly what to do with chickpeas. I was instantly filled with relief. I, too, know what to do with chickpeas. And lentils. And split peas. I could live FOREVER on a sack of lentils and a couple of carrots and onions. The children may plead for their father to take over sole custody, but I will be in rude physical and financial health and also live forever. Win. The only other downside I can identify to this plan is that I spent the whole of the past twenty four hours eating. I think some evolutionary response to imminent scarcity has kicked in and I will be vastly fat in about a fortnight.

3. Spend more time with family

I suspect they wouldn't thank me for it, unless I was willing to spend that time looking up cheat codes for Mario et Luigi Frères du Temps. I did speak to Prog Rock yesterday evening though.

"So, do you have a job?" he asked.

"No, no job. None! Not a sniff of a job!" I said with manic, misplaced brightness.

"I'm so glad for you" he said, enthusiastically. "You should be writing about make up and things. That's what you're good at".

I laughed in a deranged fashion and drank more wine. "Sadly that market is a little saturated. But, uh, thanks".

"I suppose" he mused "It's tricky getting UK freelance work when you're in Belgium?"


"And .. you have no thoughts of moving?"

"Nope. Can't. Ah well!" More manic laughter. More wine.

"I'm still really pleased for you. I hope it works out".

"Thanks. Me too". Wine wine wine wine wine.

4. Spend more time with dog

Christ no. Look how appalled he is to be taken out in the frost.

5. Undertake worthy, necessary projects

Such as:

- Replacing all the burnt out lightbulbs on the ground floor (I feel exhausted just thinking about this).

- Replacing my driving licence and health insurance card (only 11 months after I lost them)

- Finding a tolerant, flexible and cunning accountant

- hoovering

- ironing

- dealing with missing buttons and dropped hems.

- dealing with a year of outstanding paperwork



6. Undertake wildly ambitious, pointless projects

Such as:

- Creating an elaborate new personal grooming regime.

- Writing genre fiction set in the European Parliament (vampire MEPs? I think the boat has sailed on that one. I will have to reflect further).

- Learning a minority language. Like Breton or something.

- Starting a petting zoo in the garden. Better still, a falconry centre. Owls on tree stumps dotted around the garden giving the neighbours evils (as we used to say when we were twelve).

- Visiting all Belgium's minority museums. Incidentally, my wizened, black heart was warmed by your recent enthusiasm for rubbish museums. I am making a shortlist of others to visit, including the Flint Museum, the Plasticarium, and the Doctor Somebody Institute of Psychiatry in Ghent With Two Headed Babies in Jars. Tragically, the Musée du Chicon is currently closed due to financial difficulties, which I find incomprehensible. Where were the street protests? Surely this, more than the continued failure to form a government, the increasing bitterness of language divisions or the abdication rumours, is the clearest sign yet that Belgium is crumbling?

I must go, my maroon tracksuit, half bottle of Lidl vodka and The Tweenies are calling. Any further ideas welcome.


Jeannie said...

I have a 25-lb sack of pinto beans in my closet. I found it when I was cleaning out the hall closet. I used to have one of rice next to it but gave it to my son when he moved out. I always have these things in case of emergency--you never know. And I'm probably your parents' age ;). Sorry to hear of the job, but something better is around the corner.

Do you want to write a novel in November with Nanowrimo? ;)

Nina L. said...

I too am currently embracing the art of freelancing and find that most of the tomato juice i drink during the day suddenly has a decent splash of vodka in it. I wrote three neat to-do lists - one for job hunt, one for freelance commissions, one for daily chores - and have no idea where I placed them. Every morning I get up full of energy, which I then happily waste on Twitter, Facebook and other 'essential networking' platforms. I guess the only big difference is that life here in Cambodia is still fairly cheap so I've got some way to go before I run out of money. Mind you, I haven't checked my bank account in a while. Too busy job-hunting. Enjoy the newly found freedom, I cheers to you from afar with a delicious Bloody Mary... Nina :)

London City (mum) said...


Redundancy is what you make of it, although I am sure I do not need to tell you this.
Having gone through the process a number of times (4 at last count) I can say one thing for sure: there are better and far more satisfying things awaiting you. You just have to find what they are.
I agree with Prog Rock though. Your writing is phenomenal and way above much of what is bandied about today. Take the opportunity to make it something exceptional.


Betty Herbert said...

Without wishing to be vulgar, I can *so* trump that. George Osbourne actually managed to announce the demise of my job in his Comprehensive Spending Review speech last week. Oh yes. Parliament must be kept informed of my employment status. Do you hear that, people? PARLIAMENT.

Perhaps we need to found what's currently called a 'start-up?' I'm open to suggestions. Two-woman can-can troupe? A specialist cleaning service, like Kim & Aggie but with added existential angst & a slightly more cavalier attitude to actual cleanliness? I am in your hands.

Waffle said...

Betty - George Osborne PERSONALLY SACKED YOU???? Respeck.

Erm, maybe not the Kim & Aggie thing, I actually live in fear of them turning up one day to run their fingers across my hob. Maybe we could do life coaching? That sounds like money for old rope.

Anonymous said...

I was pretty impressed with the Double Percy, but the Quadruple Percy Cake is a work of genius. (And, in fact, I have saved the picture in my directory of 'Photos Which Cheer Me Up', which also includes Owl in a Box. Ever-so-grateful thanks to you!)

Is the option of lovely English tea shop in Belgium not a go-er? Who could refuse a quadruple percy?

Eireann said...

ok, so Guislain in December or early January? This likewise unemployed writer will be mooching off the (gainfully employed) Belgian for about a month then. Will email you.

Little Brown Bird said...

Like you I am newly unemployed.

My answer to the lentil eating decision (on the basis that they are cheap, healthy & easy to cook) was to go to Marks and Spencer and buy the puy lentils with bacon from their new Bistro range.

Absolutely delicious.

Your writing is brilliant...keep at it....


Anonymous said...

Lovely, this reminds me I must restart my blog so that I can have any chance of 'freelancing'. Stuck temping at the moment...

Jo said...

I agree with Jumping Snail. An English teashop in Belgium BUT with special Arse Biscuits! It'll be great! (You have plenty of time to make them now. We can place our orders?)

We know you will be fine and that you have a Grand Plan really.

Keep doing what you do; you're resilient, clever and fab.
Jo x

WV - TROLIFY. Love it!

Anonymous said...

I hope your redundancy proves to be a blessing in disguise.

Why don't you look into taking the world by storm with your Arse Biscuits and Cruel Tea? You could even do them in French and Flemish, for the Belgians...

And obviously, keep up your excellent, excellent writing! When is your book due for publication?

Whatever you do, be exceedingly kind and gentle to yourself.


Z said...

If I were in need of money, I'd certainly be a char. One could take pride in doing the dreariest of all jobs if I were being paid for it - and really quite well paid, considering. I suspect it isn't something you'd consider, however.

If not desperate for money, I'd lie around and relax for a few months. In fact, that's what I do now. I dedicate my life to it.

lisahgolden said...

I'd welcome you to the club, but it doesn't seem such an exclusive thing anymore, hardly worth mentioning.

Your list made me laugh out loud which echoed through the house which stands empty save for me and the 5 cats. Time to myself has been the best part of being unemployed. The eating of copious amounts of lentils has been the second best part. And the time to write has been heavenly. I hope you'll go for the writing - genre fiction or make up. It's all good when you're doing it.

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

Welcome to my world. Personally I have found reduncancy super-awesome, dusting aside. Free-lancing, I like it. I've been told I should write a book, is it easy?

Unknown said...

I got excited at seeing Percy Pigs. If I had the cupcakes and Percy Pigs I would either have done the same as your boys or eaten the Pecy Pigs (ears first) and then washed them down with the icing, getting into a sugar coma so powerful I would fail to eat any cake.

Unemployment and redundancy are genuinely sucky. But I'm sure you can cook with Pearl Barley too to thicken up your lentil and chickpea stew and make it go even further.

Unknown said...

Genre fictionidea : mindless zombies in European Parliament, (led by, say Nigel Farage), battling the Herman Van Rompuy-led vampire faction. Or some other more old skool, slightly boring but actually more frightening (because of added subtlety in creepiness) breed of undead who have been controlling the Parliament behind the scenes.

soleils said...

To the rescue! I saw your Tweet about dress... Look:


...if you can't find it anywhere else. Have used this site before (so thought they migh have this brand) and service is great.
Not sure you need ideas on how to spend money right now, but as someone who's been self-employed for nearly 20 years (!), I know sometimes what you need is a little retail therapy. Mais pas trop.

the polish chick said...

i have never seen a woman in a soap opera sans make-up. ever. they wake up with it, they go to sleep with it, they even exit jungles with it albeit artfully smudged, so you'll have to stick with the stubble.

i am crossing my fingers for your safe return to the workforce (if and only if you so desire). better yet, i am crossing my fingers for a miraculous monetary windfall, in which case i shall ask that you remember me.

JustaRabbit said...

Bean salad. That was my family's fallback in times of financial crisis. I still rather like the stuff. Beans & rice, not so much, if there's no cheese on it. And wow, is cheese ever expensive, relatively.

I am also freelancing. I was freelancing in London for a year and never really got myself together. But then I moved back to the US and something about it, well, I've started volunteering. I volunteer 3 different places, lest I get bored with any one in particular. Though I'm realizing that it's best to volunteer somewhere you might actually want to work one day.

Perhaps you could start a belgo-vegetable art musee. Specializing in using rather wilty local leftovers. I bet the gulag would schedule regular visits and you could charge ridiculously odd amounts of money for them to visit.

Office-bound in Brussels said...

Whatever you do, keep blogging about it!

A sneaky check of your brilliant blog while I'm supposed to be writing memos is one of my guilty pleasures, and proof that there is life beyond.

Anonymous said...

Prog Rock is really splendid. I admire him terribly from afar, and I would like to take parenting lessons from him. I fear, though, that it probably all follows from the unteachable skill of being a much more worthy person than I. Alas.

M. said...

I was really enjoying this post, until my eyes slipped across the word "Plasticarium" and promptly glazed over. MMMMMM. PLASTICARIUM. A world of plastic. Finally, you will reveal your secrets, sweet sweet plasticarium.

Emma Burns said...

Oh good golly...I wondered if something like that were happening backstage.

I'm unemployed and cooking a giant vat of kidney beans as we speak, to make refried beans. Yep. I'm like you, can live forever on a sack of beans. Though I have to freeze a lot of what I cook and rotate meals.

Baking is the secret to happiness with this if you're a baker at all. Everything from scratch. So ridiculously cheap.

And I wrote an entire novel in the first six weeks I was off work, rewrote another one the next two weeks, etc., so it CAN be done if you can avoid the part where you COMPLETELY PANIC. I can't. But then I write after.

Interview tomorrow. Fingers crossed. I have the flu at the moment, ha.

I hope you can make the down time into something fabulous! And survive without losing your marbles! That's the hard part.

Les Tombay said...

Museums - I heartily recommend the penis museum. Location might be a problem - somewhere in Iceland (can't remember where, but you wouldn't drive past it by accident).

The curator claims it's the only one of its kind in the world. There's some real whoppers in there. Not quite sure what my daughter made of it all but it made the 'boys' in the family giggle.

Btw - out of work?! Get in! Well done! I'm jealous ...

Margaret said...

I just left the unemployed, "freelancing" world. Some tips: Take a shower at *least* every other day. Go outside every single day (I guess you have to with Oscar). Don't drink before noon. I followed one of three. Guess which! (It's actually not the one you think.)

Rose said...

I'm fairly new so I don't know all the background but I think you should pitch a book!

****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I kept paging back up to the cupcakes...those are some awfully cute cupcakes. Maybe you should open up a cupcake shop? Aren't they all the rage these days in the US? I met a young lady who moved to Berlin...and opened up a cupcake shop, it's first one...hmmmm.

I was really hoping you'd be talking about waffles though...the gooey ones....here...that's why I clicked on your link! I see you are waffling about something else though.

I do want to wish you luck in finding the silver lining, any lining to feather your nest! Enjoy your blog:-)

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Great post. I'm particularly impressed with the creative use of the Percy Pigs (well that's what M&S call them). Also weepette's face is a picture xx

Jessica said...

These are all worthy projects, but really the soap opera breakdown should stop after Halloween because Martha wouldn't approve of it marring the seasonal festooning and other such cheerful preparations for Christmas.

Seasonal CruelTea biscuits should be added to the list.

This said... a teashop in Brussels that provided proper teas without a hideous markup would fare very well I think. Fairy cakes and other such small sweet dainty things would accent beautifully. Or you could skip the store and just become a 'tea dealer'... There'd be shady visits at all hours to your house, and you'd be able to justify making trips to London for business (possible tax writeoff?) to smuggle back suitcases full of Builders, PG tips and whatnot. I strongly believe people would support the brave who devoted themselves to the task of ensuring the anglophones in Belgium had proper cups of tea on the daily.

Definitely write. And I fully support the get outside at least once daily thing. When I had no job and was climbing the walls, it was really the thing that kept me most(ly) sane.

Anonymous said...

Oh my giddy aunt those Percy Pig cupcakes look like the worst kind of KAK! *vomity face*
sort of Heston Blumenthal-esque.

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